Bond, The Beatles and the teachings of Mr. Bob

Trip Start Jun 25, 2003
Trip End Sep 2004

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Greetings once again from India. We are now about one month into our stay in India and still no major gastrointestinal side effects, knock on wood, or rather thank Ganesh. (Ganesh is the elephant headed Hindu god considered a harbinger of good luck, I don't think there are any gods specifically associated with good bowel habits so he will have to do.)

We left Mt. Abu and romantic honeymooners for Udaipur and James Bond. The beautiful lake side city of Udaipur was the site of the James Bond classic "Octopussy" and there is no way to escape this fact. Everywhere I looked upon entering the narrow lanes of the city were signs decrying "Octopussy" showings, which I assume meant film screenings. I hoped to avoid the James Bond kitsch and focus on the city's history and beautiful architecture, but this proved difficult. We stayed in style at a beautiful guesthouse with a view of the Lake Palace, a gorgeous gleaming white palace accessible only by boat that appears to float in the middle of the blue lake. As I gazed out from a rooftop restaurant our waiter immediately pointed out that the Lake Palace was the site of Octopussy's lair in the movie. He then pointed across the lake toward the surrounding hills to show me the beautiful Monsoon Palace off in the distance. Making no mention of how the former Maharaja would retreat to that far away palace on the hill top to wait out the intense summer rains, he did smile and nod as he told me "that was where Bond was held prisoner." I thanked him for the information and took some pictures trying not to picture 007 racing around the placid lake in a speedboat with a bikini clad damsel in distress. As Jan and I toured the city we received more helpful James Bond related information - "This is the temple they drive by in the rickshaw chase", "this is the dock where Veejay gets killed" etc. Because of all the James Bond uproar I was a bit concerned when we signed up to take a cooking class, from everything else we had been encountering I assumed the class would feature recipes from the James Bond's Licensed to Grill cook book. Thankfully we received a reprieve from all the 007 references and instead learned how to make some of our favorite dishes, it seems Bond wasn't a fan of Indian curries - and he calls himself an Englishman. Though I didn't want to think of Udaipur as a James Bond movie set, I eventually broke down. When Jan went off to a traditional dance cultural show I went off for a not so traditional "Octopussy" show. I watched on an open air roof top overlooking the Lake Palace with the dramatically lit Moonsoon palace shinning off in the distant night. As I watched 007 escape from the Monsoon Palace on the screen in front of me I could turn my head and look out over the lake at it shimmering in the distance, very cool indeed.

Leaving Bond behind we got an overnight train for Jaipur. Jaipur, home of the striking Amber fort, became known as the "pink city" after it was painted pink for a royal visit by Prince Albert in 1853. By this point in our India adventure we had been to the "blue city" and the "golden city", not to mention several forts, so a city really needed something special to make it stand out. Fortunately Jaipur has great shopping. Within an hour of our arrival Jan had arranged with some other eager ladies to hire a private car for the day to whisk them through the teeming streets to all the best shops scattered around the sprawling city. Breakfast was spent plotting the location of the best shops out on a map and punctuated by Jan looking up from a pile of business cards strewn over the guide book, staring me directly in the eyes and stating "I'll need loads of our cash, and the credit card."

As Jan was driven away in air-conditioned luxury I grabbed my camera and was joined by two friends, John and Jenny, to venture out into the streets to get a feel for the bustling city. Fortunately it was an auspicious day to be out taking pictures as it was Shiva's birthday. Shiva is known as "the destroyer" in Hindu mythology so it was guaranteed to be a kick ass party. We found a temple dedicated to Shiva and bought him birthday presents before entering, it seems Shiva likes flower wreaths, fruits and vegetables. Luckily he isn't into expensive gifts as Jan had most of our money. The temple was hopping, lines of people holding similar offerings dressed in their best clothes pushed and shoved their way toward the Shiva-linga at the alter. The Shiva-linga is a statue representing the most important gods of the Hindu pantheon, and water that flows over it is considered holy. As an outsider it is often assumed that I will do something "inauspicious", so I didn't feel especially awkward fulfilling expectations by bypassing a lot of people and pushing my way toward the action. Once at the alter I saw people rush up to the Shiva-linga to pour a mixture of water and milk over it. They would then dip a hand in the holy mixture and raising it above their heads drip the milky water over their foreheads and into their mouths before being quickly ushered out by some official looking men trying to keep everyone moving. One of these men motioned for me to throw my flowers and vegetables into the mix, in all the excitement I had forgotten I still hadn't given Shiva his birthday present. I then knelt down and pantomimed dipping my hand in the holy mixture and drinking. In India even a holy mixture might upset the god of good bowel habits, and I wasn't taking any chances.

Leaving Jaipur our next stop was Bharatpur, home of a world renowned bird sanctuary. The area is mostly marshland making it an ideal nesting site for migrating birds, and ideal hunting ground for the Maharaja. Unfortunately for the Maharaja, modern India frowns upon rich men riding elephants and shooting exotic birds, so the beautiful marshland once set aside for his private hunts has been changed from game reserve to nature preserve. Jan and I were driven around the sanctuary in a cycle-rickshaw by a wonderful guide. As he cycled along he would stop to point out and describe the birds we saw. Storks from Sri Lanka, eagles from Kashmir and ducks from Mongolia and Siberia among others. (I have to admit after eating only vegetarian food since I have been in India the ducks were making me hungry.) Our rickshaw driver had been a guide for fifteen years and not only knew a lot about birds but also about photography and offered me pointers on composition and lighting. Overall we had a fantastic time, he even let me pedal the rickshaw - making me even hungrier.

From Bharatpur on to Agra and the world famous Taj Mahal. I can't imagine anyone reading this hasn't seen a picture of the Taj before, nor been subjected to the trite line "The largest monument ever built for love". After so much build up I was expecting a let down, after all I had been to the "Taj Mahal Hotel Casino" in Atlantic City, New Jersey countless times and hadn't been that impressed. But upon seeing the real Taj Mahal in person I was awe-struck, we spent every spare minute looking at the Taj Mahal. We ate on roof top restaurants with views of the Taj, took nature walks around the Taj, and even when visiting other spectacular sights, like the Red Fort, stared off at the Taj in the distance. Up close its perfect symmetry is amazing, and from a distance it appears to be made of clouds. So despite the Discovery Channel it's hard to be jaded, it is truly one of the wonders of the world and I wish everyone could see it for themselves.

Leaving Agra we finished traveling with our Intrepid Tours group and had to start planning things for ourselves once again. A daunting task as we had been with groups since we left Cambodia and were out of practice in figuring out where to stay, what to eat, or what to do on our own. So we decided to continue travelling with friends who were going north to Rishikesh to chill out, do yoga and relax after our whirlwind tour of Rajasthan. By lucky coincidence, one of them happened to be our former trip leader who continued to plan everything for us. Rishikesh is situated in a bend of the Ganges river surrounded by hills in all directions. In the morning the wind blows down from the Himalayas ringing the bells of the ashrams adding a layer of sound to the ever present chanting. It is a beautiful, peaceful place - no wonder The Beatles came here to find their guru back in 1968.

Like the Beatles we were in search of a guru as well, or at least someone to teach us yoga. I was a bit concerned we would get someone who would be a bit too metaphysical. I enjoy the stretching and balance of yoga but didn't want to focus too much on breathing through my third eye. Turns out I had nothing to worry about in the teachings of Mr. Bob. Seeing a sign for Yogi Mr. Bob we called his mobile phone and arranged a session. Mr. Bob arrived on his motorcycle, loosened his pony tail and once sitting comfortably in his velour track suit began putting us through the paces with all the touchy feely-ness of an army drill seargent. We agreed that he was a bit unconventional but liked the postures and poses he taught us, so we decided to stick with him. So now twice a day I am a disciple of the teachings of Yogi Mr. Bob. I don't think I am in any danger of being enlightened.
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