East side, west side – from 1 beach to the next, gokarna’s best!

One week and counting… are you dusting off your glad rags and getting excited about my imminent touch down at Heathrow, 9 am, 12th December (incase you’re not busy that morning….)

Well don’t get too excited yet, that’s a whole week of adventures in India where anything can happen and I still have a month to fill you in on. A month of beaches, pilgrimages, some social work and more than my fair share of sickness.

So several weeks ago I left you calm in the thought that I was spending my days mourning the departure of old friends, but happily practicing yoga, sitting by the pool and generally taking it easy. That very evening, complacently feeling I was making a recovery, but eating bland food to continue to evict the bacterial stomach infection we all picked up in Pondicherry, I was struck down bad with a case of ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’ that I could never previously begin to contemplate. Dear God, it was not fun.

Foolishly thinking a sachet of rehydration salts would set me on the road to recovery I hit the pool, preferring to language in the shade there than the 4 walls of my room. All well and good until the rehydration salts decided to make their escape and that sealed it for me, off to the hospital, one is seriously not well.

A mounting arsenal of attacks later and Dr Indirah Gandhi (still not sure how she felt about having been named after that not so of the people, declarer of The Emergency and instigator of the steralisation programme, former president of India) pumped me full of antibiotics via a drip as my poor old stomach refused to accept anything orally and I was pretty dehydrated. I slept on a manky hospital bed for most of the 4 hours it took to jack me back up and then weakly shuffled back to my fortunately rather nice room and slept slept slept.

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A few days of an inability to do anything other than read 3 pages of my book, sleep, wake up, eat a banana, sleep, read 3 pages of my book etc, you get the picture and are probably as bored as I was, just reading this.

Suffice to say, lesson learned, next time Caty goes to the hospital to get pills for her and JP, don’t say “no I’m going to ride it out”, say “give me the pills! give me the pills!”

A 5kg lighter, weaker but much recovered Em, left Mamallapurum and it’s cries of “come look my shop” every of the 100 times I walked past and headed to Kancheepuram, the famed city of Silk Sari’s, where every prospective bride dreams of receiving her bridal sari’s from.

Now the dark side of these silk sari’s are the 40k children working in the home hand looms of the city, when they should be at school or at the very least, out playing and just being kids. RIDE to the rescue! Rural Institute of Development Education, liberators of the oppressed and experiencers of injustice.

Before I was able to tour the villages and see their work firsthand, I had to help out with arts and crafts day at the local school. EEEKKKKK! So there was I potato in one hand, paint brush in the other, trying to inspire creativity in 15 kids aged from 2.5 to 5, who have probably never sat at home drawing, used paints, pastels or fimo. Bless ’em, they were a bit bewildered and lacking the imagination of what to do, on the whole just copying what i did up front.

And when the potato printing was done and the teacher abandoned me, there was nothing more languageless to do than a spot of yoga. So some big tall palm trees, swayed in the wind and went to sleep; snakes slithered around the floor and their personal favourite, miaowing cats turned into roaring lions! And they loved it!!!

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Totally affirmed my belief that yoga can be used as a therapy and educational tool for kids and firmed my resolve to study and practice it in Indjah 2008!

I took a tour round the villages, met some of the silk loomers, some of the self-help group members and then the next day took a tour of the Quarry. One of 39 illegal quarries in the town, the workers work their fingers to the bone in the quarries, where the men work from 5 am and get 150 rupees a day (not even 2 GBP) and the women do all their house chores and work in the quarry for the afternoon, as hard as any man for 50 rupees (about 60 pence). Then if the kids are really lucky, they get to help out too, doing small work. and if a shard of rock shoots off into somebody’s arm or eye, that’s that. too far from the hospital, no transport, no local health care and no compensation system in place.

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But I won’t tie at your heart strings too much all those miles away, whilst you’re eating your lunch. They do obviously accept donations to fund their work, but all I ask from you is awareness that such injustices exist.

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Wow, still 3 week’s to go and 70 rupees spent on Internet access already! I’d best hurry things along!

My heart aching from the delight of the little Dalit (you’ve heard of the untouchables, the bottom caste) girl for me simply holding her hand, I board a bus to Tiripathi and meet up with sweet, sweet Melanie from the scam charity in Virudhunagar for road trip v2!

And wowsers what a crazy crazy place! A football ground has nothing on the scale and freneticism of this place. For a incredibly holy place that a minimum of 5000 people make a pilgrammage to EVERY DAY, it sure wasn’t that calm or forgiving. Mel and I spent a couple of hours trying to get up the mountain from Tirimala to Tirupathi and a couple of hours trying to get a ticket just to stand in the next queue for 3 hours….

Pushing and shoving, queue jumpers and shouting; we’re funneled into the Venkateshwara temple, forced through the entrance with our feet hardly touching the ground, clutching each other’s hands; then it’s over in a second, a flash of ostentatious devotion and we’re ejected out of the other side.

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After that I could take on any crowd, but feeling a little over invaded of the personal space, Mel and I make our way down the hill and cure our queue fatigue by indulging in a night at the flicks, drooling over Charan, our new favourite moviestar. He can sing, dance, kung-fu kick ass, is a gentleman, a bit of a bad boy and pretty damn hot. Tom Cruise take lessons, this is a leading man 😉

The road beckons again as we stopover in Vijayawada on our way to Hyderabad and visit some pretty average cave temples, a Durga temple where white people are clearly a bit of a rarity, visit the ruins of a sacred buddhist stoupa at Amaravathi and stay in a crazy 1940’s style room.

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Next we catch a chill to Hyderabad aboard the night train and spend a few days suffering fevers and snotty noses as the Hyderabadan men leer at us and mutter indecencies pretty much to our faces. I was particularly impressed by the group of lads who walked past and shouted a greeting of “fuck you”. Charmed to be sure.

But parts of Hyderabad ARE charming; the lovely old Islamic buildings; the Golconda Fort; the Birla Mandir temple; Fab India (hee hee shopping frenzy mark 2!) and the modern art gallery we were incredibly pleasantly surprised by.

I got to hang out with my first friend in India, Vijayalakshmi, who was the other student on my Yoga course when I first arrived. Spent a lovely day, walking around the fort and chatting with her and then she looked after us like an angel when we were really sick. cooking us a lovely dinner; sorting out our bus tickets and putting us to bed over a dvd!

Buoyed by her kindness, we somehow find the strength to board a night bus to Bijapur in the grip of cold fever, relatively sleepless, we arrive cold but feverless (YAY!) to Bijapur and have a warming coffee and hot spicy sambar and idly brekkie before hitting our room and sleeping the whole morning away.

and now I leave you with us sleeping off our colds in dusty, charming Bijapur as I heed a call of nature and go find me some lunch.

Part 2 to follow in a fews days as i start working my way back to you guys via mysore.

Love to all, you special, special people

Em x

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