which one of the ladies at Vipassana had given me. A great read that immediately had me hooked. Shantaram
was written in 2003 by Gregory David Roberts, a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison and fled to India where he lived for 10 years.
We bought Sandra a couple of gifts for her birthday (bracelet, garlic cloves, crystal) then met up with some of the crew from the Vipassana meditation for a dinner at The Hungry Eye
. Our bodies were all fairly wrecked from the gruelling meditation sessions. Sandra's birthday had fallen on one of the silence days so we could only mouth a happy Birthday to her, Mono Loco left a Snickers chocolate on her bed and was very excited to be allowed to have a sleep over on her mattress. We briefly saw Hilltop Helen who was ill with a terrible fever, the poor lamb. After dinner the beautiful Russian Alina who had gorgeous long hair and looks like a supermodel decided to shave her head on the beach. It's amazing what Vipassana does to a person for shedding old layers. Many ladies decide to shave their heads or cut their dreadlocks whilst they are travelling in India because India has a way of showing you truth and rawness, reality, mother India slowly strips you back and sorts your priorities. I don't think you can visit India without leaving with some permanent gifts. So, we all clamoured down the cliffs but it was decided that the clippers Flow had for his beard could not be used as they would make her skin completely bald and she would have looked quite strange. Instead, after a couple of beers Nadine used scissors to cut in a random, funky short and choppy style that somehow turned out to be a winner and looked stunning. We had all crowded around Alina and acted like backseat hairstylists with everyone discussing how to cut it, miraculously Nadine pulled out an Edward Scissorhands and somehow a new Alina emerged. Gold.
That night we slept in fear of the 4am wake up bell from the schedule of the last ten days and were most happy when it didn't happen
. We could lie in the next morning until 12 and rest our weary limbs.
And so we lay in for the next few days resting, venturing down to the beach and re-stocking supplies for the next month ahead. I'm loving the Himalaya natural products like shampoos and 100% herbal toothpaste, these Indian products are gold and i wel intend to carry a large sack of them home to Australia. We escaped and watched two movies Into The Wild
and The Case Of Benjamin Button.
We finally met up with Hilltop Helen who we simply adore and who one evening came to take us along with some friends of hers Carmel, Sanjay and a Russian named Dennis for dinner at a divine little restaurant called Baboos in the village back from the beach where we enjoyed some tasty and flavoursome Keralan thalis and chai. This was the best cooking we had tasted in Kerala and much preferred over the monotonous menus presented at the 'Vegas' strip of restaurants on the cliffside overlooking the beach. Helen was staying at a chilled place called Shiva Garden near another guesthouse/ restaurant called Johnny Cool with a good garden space.Mahashivaratri Festival
or the 'The Night of Shiva'
is celebrated with devotion and religious fervor in honor of Lord Shiva, one of the deities for Hindus
. Shivaratri falls on the14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun which happened to be February 23rd this year. I had hoped to be at one of the more important Shiva temples for the occasion but there was still some action at Varkala. Celebrating the festival of Shivaratri, devotees observe day and night fast and perform ritual worship of Shiva Lingam to appease Lord Shiva. Devotees strongly believe that sincere worship of Lord Shiva on the day of Shivaratri, pardons a person of sins and liberates him from the cycle of birth and death. Shivaratri is considered especially auspicious for women. While married women pray for the well being of their husbands unmarried women pray for a husband like Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband. To mark the Shivratri festival, devotees wake up early and take a ritual bath. After putting on fresh new clothes devotees visit the nearest Shiva temple to give ritual bath to the Shiva Lingum with milk, honey, water etc. On Shivaratri, worship of Lord Shiva continues all through the day and night. Every three hours priests perform ritual pooja of Shivalingam by bathing it with milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water amidst the chanting of "Om Namah Shivaya'
and ringing of temple bells.
We got wind of the news that a festival was happening to mark the event at a temple along the beach. On the way to the temple we were stopped in our tracks by large bunches of ripe coconuts falling from the sky in front of us and landing all over the ground with loud thumps
. Looking up high into the palm trees above, we discovered a guy way up in the leaves cutting the coconuts free with his knife. Some of his buddies were shrieking in approval and racing in to collect the fruits, some of which had split open on impact. We waited on the path until all the fruits were down, these coconuts can be lethal. According to some experts and often talked about in travellers tales is the fact / myth that 150 people die every year due to falling coconuts (which is apparently 15 times the amount of people who are shark food). When the coconut palm, which is on average is 25 metres high, lets drop it's 2 kilogram coconut, it hits your unsuspecting soft skull at about 80 kilometres an hour which makes for a force of about 1000 kilograms, scary stuff! We are going to have to remember this whilst we sit under swaying palms knocking back lemon mint drinks and seafood sizzlers on the cliff. The tree climbing guys slurped the refreshing juice in glee then one of them offered me half a coconut to take on my way. The coconut flesh was moist and delicious, the best i've ever tasted, nice one. Then the song came to my head and stayed for two days:Hoi've got a lo-ve-ly bunch o' coconuts.
There they are a-standin' in a row.
Big ones, small ones, some as big as yer head!
Anyway, we made it to the festival where a woman was singing and dancing Kathakali style and people were starting to file in fast, some stopping to buy prayer offerings for Shiva from makeshift stalls on entrance
. Children in party dresses were asking parents for balloons and toys from the stalls and people were getting around chewing sugar cane stalks as they joined in the festivities. Rooftops were overflowing with spectators. Everybody was dressed in their finest clothing and in a jovial mood. A parade streamed in through the entrance gate and we ran along next to the giant decorated elephants with tusks, drummers, costumed dancers and other folk dressed as wacky birds. There was a decorated structure that had been made for the event and was like a tall tower that looked like the top of a temple. The whole structure sat on a platform on logs that men were crowded around and carrying around the temple grounds, others were pulling it with ropes. The whole thing was an accident waiting to happen as the men, some of them drunk or Bhang effected were lugging the tower into the thick crowd. Many times it looked like it would topple and fall crushing the crowd below it. Somehow they kept it together as Indians do and i took the opportunity to photograph the elephants who were off to the side with their handlers.
When we returned to the cliff that night we decided to find Helen for a cup of tea but when we arrived, Rosie the house dog she had fallen in love with at Johnny Cools place, was very ill, having seizures and looked to be dying from an unknown poison or illness. Helen was injecting water into her mouth and trying to make her comfortable. We sat close by to Rosie and watched her, all the while hanging onto the hope of a recovery. That night Helen slept with Rosie and we were sad to hear the next day, Rosie was gone and they had a ceremony for her.
Most days we spent the mornings at The Juice Shack talking with the owner and random strangers until we had overdosed on coffee
. Afternoons were usually spent watching the sunset and listening to the saxophone player soundtracking the yoga sessions on the beach. I ate vegetable chow mein at the treehouse a few times and we also ate at Cafe Del Mar or Cafe Italiano. We met with Hilltop Helen a few more times for chats, dinners and beach time. Helen likes to wear blue and is like a bright and shiny peacock flashing her wonderful feathers all over the world. She leaves for London next week. We also met the lovely Julie Bloom.
Later in the week Alina the hair cut Russian girl emailed me some photos and the news that a train shelf had fallen on her, i assume with somebody on it and landed on her leg breaking it and stranding her in Mysore, she is yet to make it to Gokarna.
So, next we are off to the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam near Trivandrum for a two week yoga vacation where we will practice asanas, pranayama, mantra chanting and meditation.
Let's not forget the LAME JOKE OF THE DAY
What did the hurricane say to the coconut tree?
Hold on to your nuts, this is no ordinary blow job!
There was a bit of an assault on the senses when we arrived back to Varkala Beach having just come out of the 10 day silence retreat. Everything was very loud and fast. It seemed people were talking like cartoon characters. We checked back into the same room we had taken last time in the family home. I like it because it has ocean breezes and you can hear the waves from the room plus they have a cat, one of the only ones i've seen kept as a domestic pet in India. On the way back on the train Nadia was bottlenecked into sitting next to another young Indian who had confused himself by watching too much porn and wanted to ask her all the sex questions he was curious about. Very annoying, i took an upper sleeper and started reading the book