The night bus was of course horrific but we are becoming used to them or numb to them I think. We do however have a bit of a bad taste left over from the bus as our stuff was pinched from our bags that we CHAINED to the chairs. The cheeky monkeys took Pauls clothes out of his bag, took his electric razor, camera, mp3 player, solor charger and some presents that we had bought for family, then put the clothes back in the bag. All this while we slept (sporadically) on top of the chairs they were chained too!!! The electrical stuff we are not too worried about as it is just an inconvenience. We can replace them and thankfully Paul burnt a DVD of the photos to date whilst in Hampi so at least we have those. Just no music which is a bummer but the presents are irriplaceable. Hopefully we have learnt from the experience.
We spent a pleasant afternoon in Goa and Colin who we met in Anjuna met us for lunch which was really lovely. We then got onto a train and headed for Travandrum, which to my horror I discovered at the platform that the journey was 24 hours long. As it turned out the train ride is definately one of my highlights so far. We got on the train at nearly midnight so the priority was of course to get some sleep so we pulled out our trusty sleeping bags and settled down for the night. The train is pretty dirty and smelly but I had expected worse. No one really spoke to us during the whole 24 hourse but there were smiles and nods and definitely plenty of staring. During the journey men (chai wallers) paraded up and down the many carriages calling "Chai, chai, chai" occasionally we would hear "coffee, coffee, coffee" and although the train served food which was cooked fresh in the dinner carriage, we saved ourselves for the station food. The stops at the stations were wonderous. A bustiling of food and drink wallers calling out, people stuffing bottles of water through the bars of the window, hot food being wafted outside the windows. Mostly deep fried stuff like samosas and many other things that we didn't recognise but it was cheap and tasty and safe to eat.
Once we arrived in Trivandrum we needed to get the local bus to Neyyar Dam which is where the Ashram was and that was an experience. Indians are hilarious when it comes to giving information. If they dont know the answer they will give any information which I may have said before is a little frustrating when you have a 20kg backpack on and you are wandering from pillar to post. So we have come up with a method of asking a dozen people and taking the average and in this instance it worked out and we got on the right bus.
We arrived very late at the ashram and after filling in numerous forms and agreeing to the rules (veg diet, no smoking, alchohol, garlic, onions, kissing etc.) we were allowed to go to our rooms. No kissing!!! No cuddling either, when we got to the rooms the single beds were at opposite sides of the room with a bit concrete desk in the middle to keep them apart :0( They certainly do their best to keep the ashram occupants Satvic (pure).
The very loud bell woke us up at 5:20 ready for chanting at 6. Arriving at the hall we were greeted by everyone wearing yellow t shirts and white pants. Paul and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows and wondered what on earth we had gotten ourselves into. However with time and explanation it all became clear and we rather enjoyed ourselves and were very sad to leave. Although the schedule looks gruelling here it is:
5:20 Wake up bell (VERY loud and the worst part of the day)
6:00 Morning Satsang (Singing and chanting)
7:30 Chai (this was sweet milky tea and became a huge treat)
8:00 Morning Yoga
10:30 Breakfast (some days good, some bad but usually consisted of veg stew, dosa, rice,chutney, and popadoms - not spicy)
11:00 Lecture (What is yoga, the benefits of a veg diet etc)
12:30-1:00 Karma Yoga (when you do a chore to help out)
1:00-3:00 Free time (but if you were keen you could go to asana coaching)
3:30 Afternoon Yoga
6:00 Dinner (much like breakfast)
7:30 Evening Satsang
10:00 Lights out
Phew!!! Paul and I had a private room and for that I am thankful as I am not sure how I would have coped with lights out at 10:00. If you were not in a private room you were in a huge dorm, male and female seperate of course!! It really didn't take us long to get into the swing of things and we were able to wear our own clothes - the yellow t-shirt gang were teachers in training. I am very happy as I went to the coaching and picked up loads of good tips and was able to accomplish the headstand. Even Paul started to enjoy the asana (he especially enjoyed the chanting but dont tell him I told you).
When the time came to leave we were a little sad. It was nice at times to not have to think!! Everything was taken care of and now we had to go out into the real world. We had to get the local bus to Allepey.
We have been warned about public buses but I actually find them really interesting to travel on, great for people watching and seeing the local life. the only down side is of course that you do tend to fear for you life a few times. I tend to look out of the side window and not worry too much but Paul's right foot hurts by the end of the journey where he has been using his imaginery brake pedal. This particular journey was a bit of a worry as the drivers eyes were very heavy and he was popping stuff left right and centre. I just kept looking out the window and enjoying the sights (like elephants parading down the street!!) There is not much you can do when you are on the bus so you might as well enjoy yourself.
The bus to Allepey should have taken 3 hours but ended up taking 6 and a half hours. This usually wouldn't have been a problem but we had booked accommodation that was recommended to us that was on the backwaters and relied on us getting the local ferry which apparently stopped running at 6:30 and it was now nearly 9 and pitch black. We rang the place and there was an alternate route, rickshaw to the jetty, row boat across the river, then a 'short' walk to the hostel. After a few hiccups that I won't go into here, we got the boat and were walking along the river towards the hostel. The wind picked up and it looked like a storm was coming in. We got to a section of 'path' that was merely 12 inches of concrete bridge with a drop into the water below either side. You could probably do this no trouble during the day and with no backpacks on but we were going to struggle. Bugger!!! What were we going to do?? And to top it off it started to rain!!!
Well I think Paul and I must have worked up some good Karma being at the Ashram as a little voice came out of the blue from one of the houseboats tethered to the side of the river. "You guys OK? Are you lost" We explained the situation and this is how we met Lisa our good Samaritan. She invited us onto the boat and offered us a cup of tea while we worked things out. The heavens opened and it started to storm, thunder and lightening. By this time it was 11pm and so we accepted her offer of crashing on the floor somewhere. The staff on the houseboat were amazing and cooked us toast and omlettes for dinner and then gave up their bed for us which we tried to refuse but wow, what great guys. We were even treated to a wonderful breakfast and then dropped off at Bamboo Stix, which definatley was not a 'short' walk up the river. Thank you to Lisa and James and to the staff of the houseboat that really looked after us.
Bamboo Stix was amazing. It is these amazing bamboo structures on the waters edge and although a little pricier than we were used to, it was worth it even though it was dorms. Paul and I were lucky and had a 4 person dorm to ourselves. We spent a couple of days of the water, lazing about and reading. We did exert ourselves on the second afternoon and went for a canoe trip on the backwaters which was really beautiful watching women wash their clothes and men bathe and children playing along side the river banks, seeing the houses and how people of Allepy live. Wonderful, truely wonderful.
After Allepey was Kochin (where the huge cantilever fishing nets are). We met a guy at Bamboo Sticks who lives in Kochin so he thankfully gave us a lift there which was wonderful. We even met him the next day (after the most disgusting nights sleep we have had to date being eaten alive by mosquitoes and bed bugs - Eeeuck!!!!!) and he took us for a tour of the area which was great.
It is getting to the pointy end of things now and so we are only spending a night or two in each place. That is the end of South India and now to the north and Jaipur - the india we have been anticipating all this time....