29-02-04

THAT'S ALL FOLKS

Quietly now, while I turn a page,
act two is over with some custom change
the principal would like to leave the stage
the crowd won't understand
 

 
 
 
Wednesday February 25, afternoon, I shoulder my rucksack and head for the bus to Pondicherry, where yet another bus waits to take me to Chennai Airport. An interesting ride ( says the man of few words ).
Bright fluorescent lights and airco and clean toilets at the airport tell me that I have arrived... in another world. A world within a world where everything goes smooth- and efficiently. I am in the flow. At the immigration desk, the lady gives my passport photo a long and thorough look. After three months in India, six months on the road, perhaps I don't look quite the man my photo pretends to be, that man in the mirror ( see my opening blog ). I flash her a wide grin as all of my India experience rolls before my mind's eye. "Do I not look the same?" I ask. She smiles and gives me the stamp of approval.
From the escalator that slowly takes me to the next level, I turn around ... is that India staring back at me as I fade away? 
                                       Here I thought I was a thinking man,
                                     but I'm a sinking man,
                                    and I'm fading, fading away





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42 BYE BYE'S

the moon moving through water
reflected in 42 questions
rising on the flood
that leads to the other side
of being an ocean
instead of following
the waves
of interesting times 

Dorothee Lang, Varkala 2004
  her mind is Tiffany twisted,
  she talks of Mercedes Benz
http://www.blueprint21.de/diary/m57-tiffany.htm


Goodbye to muslim mosquee's call to prayer at the ungodly hour of 5am; to the ubiquitous Indian crows' early morning chatter; to smokey trash burning fires anytime, anyplace; the surf's symphony; puja on the beach; classic hero bicycles and Enfields; everlasting ambassador taxis, quaint tuktuks and smoke belching dying buses; men in longyis and madras shirts; eagles and ospreys; beggars, cripples; my Indian drum; dosa and idli; beer served in teapots; snapper tandoori on the beach; the German bakery; red betelnut stained teeth; makhanai lassi, camels and turbans in Rajasthan; Kerala sharkha shakes, discovered too late ( banana, cardamom and ice milk ); holy cows and not so holy sadhus; goodbye to huge, hectic, turbulent, larger than life, mellow India.

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AUROVILLE, in depth

To your nearest destination,
 boy you're slip sliding away
 
 

from Gokulam, sunrise on the Bay of Bengal

Visiting the Matrimandir - Auroville's central temple. 

At the gate I join the cue of visitors, mostly Indians, who arrive in busloads. About 1,000 people are allowed to visit per day, only between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.

The line moves steadily, proceeding at a meditative pace through the vast tropical garden leading to the Matrimandir. Signs along the way remind us to maintain silence. Ah, it’s good to be here, now. I realize that the slow, silent approach prepares us to appreciate this sacred place. When I get my first look at the giant golden globe  http://www.auroville.org/thecity/matrimandir/mm_main.htm   reflecting the afternoon sun, I can’t help but grin – the long line and the shape of the temple remind me of Disneyworld and Epcott center.

Inside, the scaffolding throughout reminds us that the Matrimandir is literally and symbolically a work in progress. At the top of the spiraling staircase, just for a moment I get a glimpse of the giant crystal, the size of a beach ball, resting in the very center of the 'Inner Chamber'. The cue never stops but turns around and we all head back down. At that very moment I decide that I must come back.

* *** *

I return two days later in the late afternoon. As a guest at Auroville, I have the privilege of visiting the 'Inner Chamber' during hours reserved for meditation. I experience one of those rare and precious moments where everything around me disappears and all that is left is now.

'Being fully present here and now let all that passes slip away in silent dissolution.'

* *** *

That evening I have the good fortune to enjoy a mandolin concert at the Sri Aurobindo auditorium. From what the informal posters say, I expect a casual one or two man recital in a small venue. What I get is a fantastic 5 man Indian 'fusion' band in an 800 seat arena. Sri Nivas and his brother form an electric mandolin duo, backed by friends on violin and percussion. I learn from the introduction that they have played with John McLaughlin and Peter Gabriel. The venue is superb, the percussionists are out of this world, the music divine.

Does it get any better? All the time!



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AUROVILLE, surfacing

'capsule', at Gokulam community.
 
 
 
 
 


Wednesday February 25. Lunch at Roma's Kitchen. A perfect pastoral setting. I start with 'epinards a la creme' and, to celebrate this last day in India, I follow up with dahl baat, the classic rice and lentils. Delicious.
Riding my rented Atlas bicycle in the oppressive midday heat, I absorb and savour every little detail of the road back to Gokulam, going past the multi colored bougainvillea shading the dusty red dirt road and past the aromatic cashew trees. At the boulangerie - the local bakery worthy of its french name - I pick up some croissants, comfort food for the road. Avoiding potholes and oncoming motorized traffic I slalom my way back along the little black top road past Oasis, Another kind of juice bar, and Aubergine, Mediterranean Cuisine where I enjoyed a few great meal and good "one dinner stand" company. I cross the main road and pedal on through the narrow streets of the local Tamil Nadu village where goats, cows, crows and dogs, pigs and chickens all dig through the ubiquitous trash and I end up back at the sandy driveway to my quiet 'capsule' - that is what they call the little guest rooms here - at Gokulam beach.


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DEUXCHEVAUX

 

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TUKTUKS

every day I get in the queu
to get on the bus
that takes me to you

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LIFE SAVER

Papanasam beach Varkala life guard

I thought I met a man
who said he knew a man
who knew what was going on
I was mistaken

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24-02-04

LEAVING VARKALA

When the rooster crows at the break of dawn,
look out your window and I'll be gone
here is the reason I am traveling on...
don't think twice, it's ALL right
 

 
 
 
'It doesn't get any better than this' was the catchy line from a German tourist describing Varkala that brought me here.
'Now is good and after Varkala there is better just coming' is the line from my German friend Dorothee that makes leaving easy.
 
I feel good and ready to leave Varkala. She has been very very good to me and now I am looking forward to Auroville and Bangkok.
First it's a short train ride to Trivandrum, Kerala's big city station - it's got more than two platforms. With an hour lay over I walk into the station's vegetarian dining room, drop my backpack at a table and walk up to the serving station to check out the offerings. In body language I am told that a server will come to the table to take my order.
Sitting down I realize the 'changes' in my behaviour after three months in India. I am no longer worried as I used to be when I first arrived in Asia  about usual suspect tramps and thieves lurking in dark corners eyeing my bags. I feel secure among the Indian people. Further more, in this restaurant where nothing is written in English, except a big sign 'Cooking medium: refined sunflower oil'  I am totally comfortable ordering a good meal: in this case poori masala with yogurt and tea. Poori is a chapati that's quickly fried in 'refined sunflower' oil.  Half a dozen servers are hovering over me for the privilege of pampering this 'western tourist' and I dig the attention. There are two tourists in this place for about 20 Indians; mostly because this is the kind of place that lacks visual appeal - it's got the unintended industrial look...but as I have learned, in these places the food is usually quite good, as it is again today. Back in Pokhara I saw a sign 'Feeling good starts with good food. I add to that 'Good food starts with feeling good', ay.

$$$

For this trip, I have reserved in the 2A/AC coach to Vilupuram, where I am to make my connection to Pondicherry, just minutes from Auroville.  The luxury of personal space ( a very rare commodity ) comes at a price in India - in this case a quite affordable 400 roepies over 3A/AC. There are two berths on each side of the compartment instead of three. A good call. I notice immediately  that the coach is a lot cleaner than the 3A/AC I rode from Goa to Varkala, but more importantly, the coach stays below half full all the way to Vilupuram. With 'room to move' I settle in for another moonlight ride down the railroad.
The train leaves on time at 4pm, and stays on schedule. From the controller I learn that at 5am I may expect a wake up call from the coach attendant. Since I am  traveling without alarmclock, ahem, I was hoping for something like that. In the quiet AC coach the night rolls away. By 4am my mind sounds the internal wake up call. Arriving in a dark Vilupuram at 5.30am,  I go looking for a connection to Pondi. Station master tells me there is only the bus ... they're working on the railroad. Catch the bus at 6am ... packed like sardines, SRO for the one hour ride into Pondi. Watch sunrise from the bus. At the busstation I grab some idli and curd for breakfast and then the tuktuk to Gokulam community in Auroville: it's 8am.









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23-02-04

INCIDENTAL TOURIST

THE BACKWATER TOUR

With my train for Pondicherry and flight for Bangkok booked, I feel the urge to move. I have been lingering lazily on the Southern beaches for nearly 7 weeks and feel the itch to go. I have just the time to play the deliberate tourist and book a backwater cruise, the big attraction of Southern Kerala.
 
In Belgium it's Venice of the North. Here in Kerala it's Venice of the East. I have been hesitant to go spend 8 hours in a plastic patio chair on the upper deck of a small craft with about 80 other tourists to look at palm trees, but my friends have told me how wonderful the trip is. Read firsthand from Dorothee's journal how she saw the tour. 
http://www.blueprint21.de/diary/m59-backwater.htm
 
To paraphrase Kafka: " I need not leave my boat...the world will roll in ecstasy at my feet."
We dock shortly after a picture perfect sunset - unfortunately my only sunset picture did not come out perfect.
 
In the morning I go out walking early and watch the town of Aleppey wake up to the sounds of the neighborhood mosquee. The night before, I went to sleep to the sound of the mosquetos.

Typically, I am looking for breakfast; however the first shops to open up here are not the restaurants, but the flower shops catering to the devout Indians on their way to the temples.

In the afternoon, 'I'm back on the train gang', returning to Varkala. 
Tomorrow I am leaving Varkala.








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07-02-04

THREE MEN AND A BABE

got our Enfields running
got out on the highway
looking for the Five Falls
and whatever comes our way

 
 
 
 
 

Noon. We roll out from Varkala helipad. Our destination is a waterfall about 120 km East in the state of Tamil Nadu, neighbor to Kerala. Grahame was there a couple of weeks ago. Although he has some memory of how to get there, he can’t recall the name of the place. Memory clouded by marijuana fumes. We stop at every village and fork in the road to ask directions until we find out that we are heading for the town of Tenkasi. I rented an Enfield "Bullet", heavy and sluggish, like Grahame's memory, still built to this day the way the Brits built them 50 years ago. Humberto rides with me. Sybille rides two up with Grahame on his new model Enfield ‘Thunderbird’.

It has been nearly 20 years since I rode a motorcycle. I did a few test rounds yesterday. I am both excited and apprehensive at the prospect of riding the infamous Indian roads. White knuckled I make it across town, where we fill up and roll out. Rolling, rolling, rock and rolling. 

By the time we stop in the first village, I am sore in the groin and I have blisters on my fingers from gripping the clutch so tightly. Soon we come into curvy mountain roads. The centerstand is dragging on the road when we lean into the curves, and a few times we come out of blind curves "over" the center line. Scary. Slow down time. Got to make this moment last. Feeling groovy.

After a while Humberto takes over the driver’s seat. The Enfield, built by the Brits, has the gears and breaks reversed - left to right, up and down – compared to his BMW at home. There is a lot of grinding of gears in the first kilometers. Before long, we hit another one of many hairpin turns and Humberto mistakes the clutch for the brake, sending us into the turn too fast, off the road and into the dirt…dropping the bike…fortunately very gently. Humberto mumbles something of a Portuguese curse up front followed by an apologetic ‘Sorry Peter’ as we go down - such a gentleman. We both get up swiftly from under the Enfield and check ourselves - just scrapes and bruises. Pfew! We are very lucky - riding without helmet in T-shirts, shorts and sandals. We take a deep breath or two, even three, bring the bike upright and check for damage. Minor stuff. Within 15 minutes we are back on the road – I am driving again, a bit shaken but none the worse for wear. Soon we meet Grahame and Sybille who have turned around to come look for us.  Funny thing: just when we are about to get going again, an ambulance rounds the bend. The driver looks at us and in sign language asks if we need assisance.

When we cross into Tamil Nadu, the landscape changes rapidly. Lush green rice paddies turn to palm groves stretching all the way to the distant mountains. The thump-thump of the engine bounces off the palm and banana trees lining the long stretches of smooth black top in the afternoon sun. Yeah baby! This is riding. Relaxed in my seat now, a few times I bring it up to the top speed of 90km/h, but then only for a few seconds = I travel not to arrive but for the sake of the journey.

And if you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise, just remind me to show you the scars


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THREE MEN ... part two

 

 

We do arrive, around 4pm, at Aysha’s Resort. Just when we roll into the driveway, the Bullet dies on me. In spite of vigorous kicking and cursing by the three of us, it won’t start up again so after showers we head for Tenkasi in a rickshaw.

 

After Nepal, Delhi and Rajasthan, I thought I had my fill of temples; you might say I celebrate my religion exploring local epicuriae. But this is one gorgeous and unusual temple, Dravidian style – a little bit of trivia from my Lonely Planet. Only problem is, Grahame and I, in shorts are not allowed in. ‘No worries’ says the man - in sign language - at the gates. We follow him to a textile shop across the street where for 20 roepies apiece, we get outfitted in a large kitchen towel turned wraparound skirt, and dressed in the local male fashion we gain access to the temple, just when there is a parade of drummers and elephants decked out in gold passing by.

After the temple we wander around town until dusk and then gather at the temple steps with the locals, just watching the wheels go round and round. We are the only foreign tourists in town and are genuinely made to feel welcome.









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THREE MEN ... part 3

Tenkasi Tango
 
near the falls, in Aysha's halls
we park our wheels and go find meals
near the temple
so simple

 
 

In the morning we head for the nearby market place where we breakfast on masala dosa and idli - TV in the back room tuned to wrestling - before hiking to the falls. Lay back and groove for a couple of hours on the boulders in the refreshing mountain stream, 

We bring my Enfield to the local mechanic for a quick fix while we find lunch: meals – as they call the thali here - eaten with the hands off banana leaves, all you can eat, can you believe for 15 roepies?

When we pick up the Bullet after lunch, four pair of hands are all over it: it looks and runs like new - at least until we get to the corner, where it stalls again. Back at the shop, they give the battery a quick charge and this time we’re off for good.

Well, at least we get out of town, where I stop for a Kodak Moment. When we start up the rear tyre is flat. Bullocks! Fortunately, we only have to walk the bike 300m back to the nearest tyre shop, where they tell us we have ‘triple puncture wounds’ and need a new inner tube. All right, all right, I think, just get the bike back on the road so we can make Varkala before dark. It is near 3pm by now, and dark by 6.30. Once the tyre is fixed, the shop boss takes it for a spin and finds an opportunity for fine tuning the suspension and showing of his skills. 45 minutes later then, on the road again…

’Next stop Varkala!’ yells Humberto. What a grand ride it is, with just one stop to pee and drink roadside chai. At our final turnoff for Varkala, with less than an hour to go under a reddening sky, I stop to check on fuel. We’re good. I roll out of the gas station, look the wrong way, see a clear road and pull the throttle when Humberto screeeeams in my ear…a big yellow truck coming from the right panic breaks with screeching tires, momentary chaos and confusion and, by the mercy of Ganesh, we pull out, by a hair, unscathed, except when I look at my right foot there is blood gushing from my big toe, that scraped the road in the maneuver. We pull over to the side of the road to apply first aid – we are already well equipped after yesterday’s accident – and attract quite a crowd in the process. Moments later we are happy to get out of there and into the dust of the dusky road.

In a zombie like trance, eyes and faces black, and with greasy pants we roll onto Varkala helipad with just minutes to go till sunset.

Three men and a babe on a treacherous road for two days and one night, come across  cows and dogs, monkeys and chickens, buses, trucks, incidents and accidents … but no hankie panky, ay Grahame




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HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

like as the the birds that gather
in the trees of afternoon,
then at nightfall vanish all away,
so are the separations of the world
                          JK, Dharma bums
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Humberto, Varige, met Dorothee on the backwater boat to Varkala. I met Dorothee, Lufthansa, in Goa, over breakfast at Camilsons. Dorothee left for Hampi, where she met Sybille, Swissair. Sybille met Grahame, Air Canada, touring the backwaters on a houseboat.
 
Somehow, one fateful morning, for the first time, we are all together for breakfast at Cafe del Mar. That same afternoon the five of us get together for a long and lazy lunch to send off Dorothee, who is leaving on the nighttrain, the lonesome traveler's favorite transportation. Could that be because when we wake up in the morning, after a nightride home away from home, the thrillsof the new town drowns the heartache that is leaving people and places we call friends and home for a while?  
But here, right here, between the red cliffs and the waves, we feast on a tasting menu as international as the company. Prawns fried rice is served with vegetable curry and chapatis, followed by spring rolls and 'spaghetti al olio e aglio' and then barracuda in garlic butter...and damn the torpedos.
Did the radio play a forgotten song, Sybille dear is coming on strong:
'She's leaving on a nighttrain, don't know when she'll be back again.' 

sneak a peak at Dorothee's journal for another look at this day

http://blueprint21.de/diary/m60-itsindia.htm

or http://blueprint21.de/diary/m58-kochi.htm
 




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