India Journal

This is a journal of Elisabeth's trip to India, Vietnam and Cambodia from November 2007 - February 2008.


November 29 - December 7
Auroville near Pondicherry in the Tamil Nadu Province

December 7 - 14
Chennai studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram

December 15 - 27
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
Ramana Maharshi Ashram and Mount Arunachala

December 29 - January 4
Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Ashram, Neyyardam, Trivandrum, Kerala Province

January 5 - ?
Varkala Beach, Kerala Province

January 26 - February 4
Vietnam, Cambodia & Angkor Wat

February 5 - 10
Tioman Island, Malaysia to Cambodia

February 11

I found out what it's like to be in an airplane for 19 hours. It was the longest day I've ever experienced as we followed the sun. It was like a kind of time warp. Fortunately when we arrived in Singapore it was night time so we could actually get some sleep.

We (Susan and I) spent a day in Singapore. Our separate flights from Singapore to Chennai (Madras) were supposed to leave around the same time - 10 p.m. - She was flying with Singapore Air, and I booked a budget airline called Tiger Airways. We planned to meet in Chennai, and there was a driver already arranged to drive us the three hour trip to Auroville. Well my flight ended up being delayed by 6 hours. Each hour they would tell us it was going to be another hour. I was worried that Susan might not wait for me. I really did not want to arrive in India in the middle of the night - 5:30 a.m. after a night with no sleep and have to try to negotiate a taxi driver to take me to my destination. I was very happy to see Susan still there waiting for me.

India is a total sensory experience. There is a distinctive smell - a rich and smoky one. The sounds bombard your ears, honking, traffic noise, and then a deep silence if you're in the right place at the right time. In the beautiful guest house we are staying in the bird sound, and jungle noises are amazing. The colours in India abound with brilliant coloured posters of movie stars, saris in rich purples, blues, and reds, and temples - a small one about every kilometer along the road.

The traffic is amazing to me. There is actually some kind of rhythm to it. What appears to a westerner like me to be chaos, has some sense to it. There really is a reason they are honking their horns so often. It is part of the requirement to drive in India - horn honking. The mix of cars, motor bikes, cycles, people walking is interspersed by the occasional cow. They seem so serene and solid.
In our trip from Chennai to Auroville there was even a point where a whole herd was in the middle of the road, some of them lying down, and somehow they managed to leave a small winding path - just enough for one car to get through. It's just part of the rhythm.

In my second day at the Verity Guest house, I sat waiting to rent a bike - here they call them cycles - a bike is actually a motorbike. I had to wait awhile. India teaches us patience. How to wait. From past experience traveling in India I know there is no point in being impatient. Take everything in stride. When you push the river it pushes back.

The bicycle is one of those old styled ones with no gears. It is a simple basic cycle. At first it felt strange being on it - it was hard to stear because the handle bars are so small, but once I got going I loved it. There is something so basic about it. I feel connected to all those masses of people, including my ancestors, who use it as their only means of transportation. It feels so simple and organic. It even has a simple lock attached right to the bike.

Auroville is a great place to start my trip as it is a kind of refuge in the midst of some of the chaos of India. The guest house is great, quiet and there is meditation from 6 - 7 in the morning and then a yoga class from 7 - 8:30. The food is great too. Auroville has a center called the Mantrimander. It is a huge building shaped like a globe. It represents the Divine Feminine. The philososphy of this conscious community is to create unity by honouring our differences. We have a time booked to be able to go into the Mantrimander.  It is not just open to the public. You have to make an appointment to go in. I look forward to that and will tell you more in the next India Journal entry.


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December 4

Did I already mention how much I'm enjoying getting around on my cycle. It is my favourite form of transportation. It slows me down. It feels very grounded and I love the sound of the bell. It lets people know that I'm coming. It is very important here to know the rules of the road. Driving on the left side applies to cars, motorcycles, mopeds, people walking and cycles. The only ones it does not apply to are the cows. We (Susan and I) went for our first appointment to go inside the Matrimander. The Matrimander is the center of Auroville. It is a huge golden globe building. Inside is completely white with only a large crystal in the center. In the ceiling there is an opening that lets in a perfect ray of sunshine that shines directly through the crystal. In order to go into the Mantrimander we have to book appointments. We went for our first introduction and today we will go for an hour to sit and meditate inside. As I said it is the center of Auroville. Auroville is basically a town that started in the early 60's. It was based on the teaching of Sri Aurobindo. The philosophy is to create a community with Unity through diversity as the theme. It is a conscious community. The attempt to do things like have organic farming, solar and wind power, and various activities like yoga, meditation, etc. Yesterday I went to a free flow dance class. When the leader they call the Mother chose the sight for this town she pointed to a spot on the map and it happened to be right where there is a huge banyen tree. The banyen tree in India is symbolic of regeneration, because roots grow down from the branches to the ground and then grow a new tree. It is right beside the Mantrimander. In 1964 people came from 124 different countries to take part in the ceremony to start the building of this place - they each brought a handful of dirt to place in the center and to bring all the 124 nations together. The community is a mix of westerners and east India people who are from this province Tamil Nadu. So they are the Tamil people.

Susan and I have been going to bed between 8:30 - 9:00 p.m. every night. And we usually get up at about 5:00 a.m. At the guest house we are staying at there is a meditation gathering from 6 - 7 a.m. and then and yoga class from 7:00 - 8:30 a.m. It's a great way to start the day. The food is great too. It has been a really good place to start our trip.

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December 6

I think I've finally figured out some of the rules for the road regarding honking. It makes total sense now that I think about it. You honk when you're approaching a curve in the road. You honk when you're passing someone. You honk when you're trying to squeeze between maybe a car and some people walking or on cycles, and everyone here seems to know what they're doing. Since I love my cycle and now have figured out how to stay on the left side of the road I also ring my bell at the appropriate times. My cycle is costing me 60 cents a day to rent. My accommodation and meals here have been $14 a day.
Susan and I are leaving this haven called Auroville tomorrow Friday and heading for the city, Chennai (what used to be called Madras). I'm a little nervous about that in terms of the pollution and chaos. We will go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for private sessions. I have also found out a lot about two centers in Chennai that may also be a refuge in the busy city. One is the Theosophical Society. They have 250 acres of beautiful gardens. And there is the Krishnamurti Foundation that also has beautiful gardens and trees. So we will check out both of those places and may be able to take part in some programs there, so I will tell you more about that later.

Namaste, Elisabeth

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December 10

Susan and I are in Chennai (which used to be Madras) and the city traffic and pollution is more intense than you can imagine. But it's a matter of relying on the autorikshaw drivers and just saying: "We're in Gods hands now" And of course there's all the negotiating the price of going anywhere. They always try to get as much as they can. If they offer a cheap fare they want to take us shopping somewhere as part of the deal. We have gotten used to how much it should cost. We tried walking somewhere more than 3 blocks away and got hopelessly lost so for longer distances it is better to use the autorikshaw drivers.
We have been studying at KYM which is the Desikachar organization and I am loving it. I have much respect for the man Desikachar. Everything I am learning shows me he is a teacher with high integrity, humility, and dedication to helping others. They way they work with people is private sessions, individually taylored to each person. I had a consultation and am now having a few private classes specificly designed for what I need. It is very good work and I have been experiencing the benefits. I am also enjoying learning how to chant the Sutras. Susan and I are taking a couple of chanting classes together. I have been reading about Desikachar and will get to attend a lecture on the Sutras with him on Saturday morning. I plan to bring back books on the Yoga Sutras for my teacher training students.
On Sunday night we went to a special video presentation at the Krishnamurti Foundation. It was one of Krishnamurti's last talks which was in 1979. It was wonderful. His words of wisdom remind me a bit of Echkart Toll. Here is a quote from one of his books:
"The mind that has put it's house in order is silent. That silence has no cause and, therefore, has no end. Only that which has a cause can end. That silence - which has no ending - is absolutely necessary because it is only in that silence that there is no movement of thought. It is only in that silence that that which is sacred, that which is nameless, and that which is not measureable by thought, is. And that which is, is the most sacred. That is meditation." Krishnamurti from a Public talk, Madras Nov. 29, 1981.
Krishnamurti is someone who was originally involved in a society called the Theosophical society. He left that organization and renounced any organized society like that but continued to have a following. There is a foundation here in Chennai on a beautiful piece of property. The Theosophical Society also has a huge beautiful piece of property 250 acres in the middle of Chennai that is like a park. We plan to go tomorrow.

Namaste, Elisabeth


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December 17

We are finally in Tirovanamala. It is a smaller place. Easy and a lot more relaxed than the city.
The transition from one place to the next is always a little difficult. We did hire a driver from Chennai to here and it was about 4 - 5 hours at times in a fairly intense heat. But the driver was a good driver and on these India roads that is much appreciated. It cost us about $35 each but it is worth it.
So now I am feeling settled in our new place. We will be here for 2 weeks. It is a town beside the Ramanamaharshi Ashram and right beside the sacred mountain called Mount Aranachula. There will be a big festival at the time of the full moon Dec. 23, around the mountain. I found a nice simple room on my own. Susan is in a place a few buildings down from me. I'm very happy with my nice simple room. There's enough room to do my yoga practice and there's enough air circulation with the windows at night. India is still noisy where ever you are.
We were just having tea and funeral procession went by. Very noisy. It is a blessing to witness India life and death.
That's all for now.


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December 18

Before I move on to the next teacher and place of learning I wanted to include some quotes from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram from my time in Chennai. The teacher is Desikachar. I really enjoyed my work at KYM. Here are some words of wisdom:

"Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the other." Desikachar

"The Mastery of Yoga must not be measured simply by the ability to master the techniques of Yoga like Asana and Pranayama, but how it influences our day-to-day living, how it enhances our relationship and how it promotes clarity and peace of mind." Desikachar

Now we are in Tiruvannamalai. It is focused on the Ramanamaharshi Ashram and around the sacred mountain Mount Arunachula. Last night we went to the daily chanting session at 6:30 p.m. It is in a huge building in the Ashram and it reminds me of a huge church with the accoustics. Beautiful. There is an area where you can do a kind of walking meditation. The men all sit on one side and the women on the other and the chant is like a call response in Tamil. I listen - the men chant a part and then the women. It sounded very beautiful. The chant is a little too complicated to sing along.

Yesterday as I mentioned when we were having tea at a cafe a funeral procession went by. It was very noisy. They carried the body on a platform on the back of a pick up truck. The platform was surrounded by flowers and there was a procession of people behind with flowers everywhere. Just before the procession started there were very loud noises like firecrackers and then drums etc.
It is very rich. In the procession the women were weeping and wailing loudly - their grief exposed and open to everyone to witness. Life and death here are together right in front of us.

Today it is raining and last night there was a wind storm much like home west coast of Canada type weather. It is coolish. The rain has been continuing all day and it's muddy.
I'm enjoying my simply room with the sounds of the Indian family downstairs - a baby crying now and then and other living sounds - I like it. I feel part of India life and yet I have my simple room with enough room to do my practices - my yoga. At night it has been a little windy though.

The time of celebration here is at the time of the full moon which will be a couple of days before Christmas. At that time people walk the 16 kilometers around the mountain in a kind of ceremony called Pradakshina - there is an outer circle following the road and an inner one following a path. I will do the inner one at some point - it can be done at the time of the full moon or any other day. Also sometimes people hike up the mountain to the top and it takes 2 and half hours - it is a good idea to start in the middle of the night 4:00 a.m. so that you get there for the sun rise and miss the heat of the day. I may see if I can do that one night but I need somebody to show me the way. I'll let you know how it goes.


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December 24, 2007

Our Christmas celebrations and solstice celebrations have been mainly yesterday for the full moon. We walked around the base of Mount Arunauchala. It is a special ritual called Pradakshina they do for the full moon. It is about 14 km and usually takes about 4 hours. We started at 5 p.m. so that we did part of it in the daylight and part in dark so we could see the full moon. There were laks and laks of people. Lak means a thousand. It was an interested experience - rich and crowded - many temples along the way that people were stopping at to do what's called puja. Most people were Indian most barefoot. They close off the traffic after 4 p.m. and some people start in the middle of the night. It's like a big festival. I wore my shoes. Especially because the previous night I got hit by a bicycle as I was crossing the road. It was just the edge of my heal that got nicked. I was wearing my sandals. So I realized the importance of wearing fairly solid shoes. So for Pradakshina I put on my solid shoes. We walked for about 3 hours around the mountain and when we started to get into the really busy town area decided to jam out and grab an autorikshaw. But since the main road was blocked off in terms of traffic he had to go a round about way and that was quite an adventure onto itself. He had trouble getting through a few very narrow streets and back roads. At times I didn't think we'd get through but he finally managed to do it. It was nice to get back to our little neighbourhood where we have what's called the rooftop cafe where they have some western style food. I had pumpkin soup, a salad, and carrot cake. This restaurant is one of the places where we can trust to have a raw salad.
Earlier this week we had monsoon rains for 3 - 4 days with the rain coming down in buckets at times. The streets were muddy and running with water. The air was very humid and nothing was drying. Finally it cleared up on Friday and the sun coming out. It was heavenly and felt very uplifting. That morning we hiked up the mountain to an ashram or cave where Ramanamaharshi spent a number of years meditating and living until he moved down to the ashram at the base of the mountain. The morning we went was relatively quiet. On the way up we met a wandering swami and took a break to chat with him. He had some teachings to pass on to us - it's called Satsang or the passing on of knowledge in a gathering. It is traditionally how it was done centuries ago. And some of his knowledge was very helpful to me in terms of my own teaching and understanding some of the ancient teachings of India. When we got to Skandashram, the cave, it was very beautiful. They have done a lot in the last two years to plant a lot of trees and shrubs and improve the path, so there is shade (much needed in the heat) At Skandashram they ask people stay in silence. It is small building built around the cave where Ramanamarshi spent years meditating. I went in and sat in the silence and in that moment it was a fairly profound experience. I could actually understand why someone would spend time meditating in a cave. The connection to the earth was profound, the sound of waterfall close by was refreshing, it was cool inside and there was a deep silence. For some reason it brought up in me a deep sense of connection with this place and my loved ones. I felt my heart breaking open as I wept.
At times I find myself resisting what India has to offer. Sunday morning I went to a chanting gathering. In a way I thought of not going, resisting and judging because it was mostly westerners at this particular gathering. But I went anyway after a night with not much sleep and found myself in the middle of it feeling like my heart was breaking open again. And I thought to myself: "Don't resist - let the experience whatever it is carry me - surrender to it"
The night after our time up at the cave - for some reason I had some trouble sleeping that night. I'm not sure why but after another gathering later in the day I bought some flowers and I was lying there in bed, the room was filled with the heady fragrance of jasmine, and my thoughts of the day. I was okay with being awake in the night. There are often so many sounds going through the night anyway. So a few nights with no sleep won't hurt me. I've been reading the autobiography about the Dalai Lama so that is very interesting. Last night after Pradakshina I slept some more but it was noisy all night. I think it will be a little quieter tonight. On Christmas day I will be going to a children's concert. I look forward to that.

Namaste, Elisabeth

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December 28

We are leaving Tiruvannamalai tomorrow so I am sending the latest update. Our next destination is the Sivananda Ashram in the Kerala province and we may not have as much internet access while there so I'm sending this update now.
On Boxing day Susan and I did what's called inner Pradakshina. It is the inside trail through the forest around the base of the mountain. Outer Pradakshina represents the outer journey and is along the road with many people. Inner Pradakshina represents the inner journey. We started early in the morning and remained in silence during it so it was like a walking meditation. It was nice to start so early. It is quieter at that time of the day 8:00 a.m. and much cooler. The trail is through the forest and fortunately it is well marked or we would have gotten hopelessly lost. It is done as a ritual to release old karma. So as I was walking it in a meditative way I was reflecting on what I wanted to release.
There were a few magical moments. The first was towards the beginning. Early in the morning we came to a clearing where 4 - 5 sadus were gathering around a kind of watering place like a pond only purposely built to collect water with a little brick wall to contain it. We came upon their morning ritual. A few were almost completely naked except for a small loin cloth. They were different ages. They all wear orange to symbolize the fact that they are sadus. One of the younger ones was quite fit, dark, and had long hair tied up in a kind of bun on top of his head. They noticed us but didn't pay much attention. I felt like we were intruding somewhat so didn't stay or take pictures. The thing that was so magical was the fact that it was like an idealic scene in the forest that was ageless. It could have been taking place 2 hundred years ago or 2000 years ago. It is ancient and yet here now. A little further down there were a few very small little huts perhaps where a few of them live.
Some one told me that the sadus apparently can have meals at any of the ashrams in the area. They can have 3 meals a day if they want. Sadus are like wandering gypsies on a kind of spiritual journay. They always wear orange as a symbol of their chosen path.
The next idealic scene during our pradakshina walk was a very small temple (very small by India standards) in the middle of the forest. This place was actually completely quiet and there were only a few people. As we walked up the steps there was a man dressed in orange (a sadu) sitting on the cement floor meditating and facing a pillar that had the words written on it "Silence". The words were intended for us or whoever else comes upon the temple but I found it rather profound that the man was facing those words. We stopped at the temple to sit for awhile. It is a rare moment to find a place of actual silence in India. This little temple is far enough away from the main road in the forest and it was actually quiet.
We continued along our way. The trail was about 10 km. It took us about 2 and half hours and we came out at about the same place we ended the outer Pradakshina walk on the other side of town. We grabbed an autorikshaw again and went into town to the really big Siva temple. It has 9 towers. It is huge and covers quite a few acres. They had security as we entered the temple gate - and the funny thing was that the main thing they seemed to be checking for was shoes. In any temple it is customary that you take your shoes off and leave them at the door. I decided to carry mine with me rather than pay someone at a booth. I put them in a plastic bag in my clothe bag, but Susan was carrying hers and that's what security stopped her for. She put them in her bag but then later another security person stopped her again and told her she had to leave because she had her shoes with her even though she wasn't wearing them. Here shoes are called "chapels" so later we sort of joked about it - calling security the "chapel police"
Other than that of course it is very interesting to be in one of the large temples. There were many people - and in the middle there was a live elephant giving people blessings if you fed him a snack.
This morning we hiked part way up the mountain for the last time. The construction crew was there consisting of people carrying bags of sand on their head walking up the stone trail like steps, some barefoot. It is amazing to see how strong they are. I tried carrying something on the head for a short distance but it would certainly take some practice to carry it without using my hands. You have to have very good alignment and be very centered to carry something on your head.
We have been here two weeks and it is time to move on. Tomorrow night we will be taking a 12 hour overnight train ride to the Kerala province. That should be an interesting experience.

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January 9, 2008

We left Tirruvanamala on December 29. We had previously booked a train from Villipurum to Trivandrum and bought the ticket ahead of time. It is cheap way to travel - about $25 dollars for a 14 hour trip. Villupurum is near Pondicherry and Trivandrum is in the Kerala province and the other side of southern India - the west coast. Our train leaving Villipurum was leaving at 10:30 p.m. and we booked what's called a 2nd class ticket - 2 Tier. They didn't have 1st class so that's why we didn't book 1st class. We took a taxi from Tirruvanamala to Villipurum and didn't know how long that would take so we gave ourselves lots of time. It didn't take long though so we got to the train station about 5 hours before our train departure time.

It was nice to arrive in daylight. Susan kept telling me that at the train stations they have these people called red caps who help you with your luggage etc. But in this train station they didn't have any. For some reason while in Tirruvanamala I accummulated more stuff - clothes etc. So I have more luggage than I started with.. It's really too much to carry around. At the train station we had to go up a big flight of stairs and then down a big flight of stairs. The train station was an open station not inside is what I mean.

At first I thought it was sort nice to be in an area with no westerners. We were the only westerners. Everybody else in the train station were Indian people. It got quite confusing because we weren't sure where our particular car would end up along the tracks - so in other words we weren't sure where we should be waiting to get on. It was a very long train so we didn't want to end up far away from where we needed to get be. Nobody seemed to be able to understand or speak English to be able to tell us for sure, but we finally figured it out and in fact just before the train arrived there were signs with numbers etc directing us.

We got on at 11 p.m. and many people were already on the train sleeping - they got on in Chennai. We found our sleeping births. I was in a compartment with a man across from me and somebody above - 4 sleeping births all together. It was airconditioned but I did not like the feeling of stale air - no fresh air. I was not able to sleep at all. Somehow Susan has trained herself to sleep on trains. Not me. Also as morning came I started to feel quite ill. I thought at first it was just motion sickness. Yuk. I started making trips to the western style bathroom to throw up.

Other people started getting up - folding the berths up and sitting up for the morning. Fortunately the person across from me changed in the middle of the night and the new person was a very nice young India man on his way to medical school after holidays. It was nice chatting with him as it distracted me from feeling sick. He spoke very good English and was an interesting person. Susan and the one other westerner on the train joined us and I continued to be distracted from feeling so sick.

When we got to Trivandrum I was very glad to be walking on solid ground again. We did find a red cap to help us with our luggage and found a taxi quickly as well to take us to the Sivananda Ashram. So all together the whole train experience ended up being not very pleasant for me as I did not get any sleep and I felt quite ill.

I was at the Sivananda Ashram 20 years ago. And 20 years ago I was also not feeling well when I arrived. The drive to the Ashram was relatively short and everything seemed more clean and modern compared to 20 years ago. It also seemed more clean and modern compared to Tamil Nadu. It was an easy taxi ride compared to what I remembered so many years ago.

When we got to the Sivananda ashram we had to check in - in the heat of mid day and I started to feel very ill again - like a I might faint. But I finally made it to my bed in the dorm. And that was it I started throwing up about every half hour until there was nothing left and even after there was nothing left I was still throwing up. It was a complete purging. Finally at about 10:00 p.m. it stopped. I tried using some Chinese herbs I had with me when I could keep them down and then Susan got a few western medicines that I promptly threw up, but then I stopped and went to sleep.

I really don't know what caused me to get so sick. I haven't figured it out and in India it can be difficult to figure it out anyway. I have been very careful in terms of drinking purified water and very careful about what I eat. Maybe it was a combination of motion sickness and what I ate. Who knows but it was a purging. The next day I gradually started eating a little fruit at first then some rice and by the 3rd day I was up and around going to yoga classes meditation and chanting.

That's how I spent New Year's. It was quite an experience to be at the Ashram again after 20 years. Wow. It was very different in terms of the buildings etc. I hardly recongized it. They have built a lot of new buildings and they can accommodate so many people there. For the teacher training program starting Jan. 6 they had 220 people registered. Wow. I think my Teacher Training people are lucky to have a more intimate kind of experience for their training. The program at the Ashram is a full experience. The daily schedule is: 5:20 a.m. they ring a very loud bell to wake every body up. 6:00 - 6:30 a.m. is meditation 6:30 - 7:30 a.m. Satsang (chanting) 7:30 a.m. tea 8 - 10 a.m. is Asana class 10 a.m. is breakfast (they have two meals a day) 11 a.m. is Karma yoga 2 p.m. lecture 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. another Asana class 6 p.m. Supper 8 - 10 p.m. meditation and satsang again.

So that is quite a full schedule. I loved the chanting and meditating with a big group of people. I attended the beginner asana classes. It was nice to be there again and to be able to acknowledge in myself how far I have come in 20 years. As everyone (220 people) started arriving for the Teacher training course we left and headed for Varkala - the beach.

We are in Varkala now. I was also here 20 years ago. Wow. It is also so different. Back then there was nothing here - a few guest houses up on the cliff. There were very few people as well. Now it is a full blown holiday location. Many hotels and guest houses along the cliff, a sidewalk all the way along the top of the cliff. There are many westerners - mainly Europeans. At times it seems like it could be anywhere tropical on a beach with so many Europeans here on holiday.

But it is still India, even though I hear Bob Marley playing in the restaurant and djembe drums in the background in the guest house I'm staying at. It is still India and one of the big attractions here at Varkala is that there's lots of yoga going on and there is also lots and lots of Ayurveda offered. Every body and his brother and sister is offering Ayurvedic treatments. I wanted to experience some of that while here so through some people that Susan knows we did find one of the more reputable centers. I have decided to do a week long program that involves massage and herbs etc.

In terms of the beach the waves are quite big here and the rip tides is something you have to be careful of. I did go for quite a tumble with one big wave a few days ago when we were swimming and hurt my right hand a bit. My pointer finger is a bit swollen and bruised but it is healing quickly. I can still manage to write and use the computer.

That's all for now. Happy New Year and many blessings to everyone.

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January 14

I'm almost finished my week of Ayurvedic treatments. It has been wonderful. It has been a program designed specificly for me and my constitution. Ayurveda is the science of health in yoga and is based on a wholistic program depending on one's dosha or constitution. The three doshas are: Vata - air, Pitta - fire, Kapha - earth.
I am primarily a Pitta. When I went to see the Ayurvedic doctor I said I wanted to do something about muscle and joint stiffness and I have a bit of cough since I was sick.
For my situation I was given some herbs that I take 3 times a day and every morning I have been going for treatments. The first 2 mornings the treatment was a general massage. With the general massage they started with me sitting on a chair and the practitioner massaged my head with oil. Then two people worked on my arms and then I laid on a table. The massage is done with quite a bit of oil - special medicated oil - and two people massage on each side of the body in unison and it is a fairly vigorous massage. It felt wonderful and after the massage they took me into the washroom and completely bathed me. That felt very nurturing. I felt like a little girl having somebody wash me - there is a warm bucket of water they use with a small container to pore the water over me and a special Ayurvedic soap that doesn't wash all the oil away. So it feels wonderful at the end because you leave feeling relaxed clean and refreshed.
For my week of treatments the doctor recommended that I eat a diet of mostly raw fruit and vegetables. So it is also a kind of cleanse. Most people eat there at their restaurant and have an Ayurvedic cooked meal but my diet is different so I have been eating at restaurants and eating fruit salads and vegetable salads. Here fresh salads are safe to eat.
The general massage was for two mornings. Then the next treatment for two days was something called Njavarakizhi - a pounding technique. That starts with a massage and then they wrap certain herbs into a clothe bag and it's called a bolus. Two people use the boluses to massage and pound the body. It sounds a little aggressive but it actually feels quite good. After those treatments I felt much more tired for the whole day. It is a treatment that helps with muscle and joint pain.
This morning I had the first of two treatments involving a kind of oil bath. The first part is the head - a technique called Sirodhara. They poured a steady stream of medicated oil over my forehead and scalp for about 30 - 45 minutes. Then they stopped that part and used a medicated oil that they poured over the rest of my body. You lie on a special wooden table so they can collect the oil and keep pouring it over my body again. That felt great and that was a process that took about 30 - 45 minutes. Again after the treatment was finished I got to have a bath so I left feeling very calm and refreshed and clean when I left. Tomorrow I get another treatment like that and then the last day will be a treatment to clean the ears and sinuses.
It has been a great experience. In the middle of the week of treatments I felt very tired but that is part of the process. It is important to rest and take care while doing treatments. I am feeling better today after the oil pouring technique. For a series of treatments they recommended a week as the minimum. My friend Sandy is doing 14 days. But sometimes it is possible to just get one massage. There are a lot of Ayurveda programs offered here. We are using one called Kairali and it was recommended by a friend of Susan's who was here before we arrived and doing a series of treatments.
I'm not sure if I mentioned it already but there are now 3 of us hanging out together. Sandy Melnyk from Denman Island joined us. She has been in India since mid November but has mainly been in the north where it is colder so she decided to join us here for a warm holiday on the beach.
We are staying in a guest house called Paradise Hotel. It has been okay but the first week there was a group of young tourists from Russia. They were fairly noisy at night sometimes partying quite late. They left and just yesterday there was another group of Russian tourists who arrived. Apparently the hotel is owned by a Russian person - so there are groups that come from there. It was quite a lot of fuss and upheaval when they all arrived but now they have settled in so I think it will be fine. I have moved rooms a few times because of one thing or another but I'm fairly happy with my room now. At night there is music you hear from some of the restaurants. I guess it is still relatively quiet by India standards. And the other thing that is heavenly staying on the cliff here is that we don't have to deal with any traffic. There is a walk way allow the top of the cliffe where all the restaurants and hotels are but cars and rikshaws can't get in that part. It's nice to walk around without having to worry about traffic.
One thing that seems to be more noticeable in a place like this where there are more European tourists is the number of people who smoke. So in restaurants that is something we have to deal with but at least restaurants are actually outside areas covered. We are so lucky in Canada that there are less people smoking and they are not allowed to smoke in public places.
I will be here in Varkala until January 23. So it will be two and half weeks here. It is nice to just stay put. I want to experience India but I don't want to be travelling all the time. So I am staying put here until I leave India. On January 23rd I leave - fly to Singapore - and then to Vietnam for 2 weeks.
Namaste, Elisabeth

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January 16

Today was the last day of my Ayurvedic Treatments and I got a pleasant surprise for the last treatment. It started out with one person massaging my head and arms while I sat in a chair and then she had my lie on a mat on the floor. She stood over me and there is a rope she hangs on to help her keep her balance while she massaged me with her feet - one foot at a time. It felt wonderful. She first did my whole back, arms and legs and then I turned over and she did the front. It was great. Then I got another wonderful bath. And I finished with a kind of nasal cleansing technique. It started with the use of steam around my head and nostrils and then while I was lying on a table the practitioner put some kind of drops in my nostrils. It sort of cleared things up and at the same time somebody was massaging my feet and hands. Cool. I have been a little congested since I was sick so I hope it clears that up. It feels pretty good so far.
Now that my treatments are complete I feel calm relaxed like I'm on a holiday. I'm sleeping better and my joints and muscles feel a little looser. There was a point a couple of days ago when I felt quite a sense of calm and happy almost euphoric. So I thought "Wow this Ayurvedic stuff is really working." And I expected the next day to be the same but it changed as everything does.
In Desikachar's book "The Heart of Yoga" I am learning about the Yoga Sutras and an essential truth is that everything is in constant flux. But there is something deep in us called "Purusha" that does not change.
To help us with the fact that everything changes we can do three things:
    1. Tapas - a discipline such as yoga, pranayama, meditation
    2. Self-inquiry.
    3. And faith in something greater than ourselves
These are just a few things to reflect on.
I leave India on January 23 and my next journal entry will be from Vietnam.
Namaste, Elisabeth

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January 17

I want to make a correction and add some information regarding the teachings of Desikachar from his book: "The Heart of Yoga" These teachings come from the Yoga Sutras. This is the book I am reading for my yoga study right now.
As I mentioned earlier everything is in constant flux.
Also we are subject to Avidya - which means incorrect comprehension. When we have incorrect comprehension we make poor decisions. "Vidya" is "correct comprehension". When we have correct comprehension we make good decisions.

Avidya manifests in 4 ways:

  1. Asmita - ego - "I know I'm right" "I have to be better than other people"

  2. Raga - demands - we want something today because it was pleasant yesterday. wanting wanting

  3. Dvesa - avoidance of what we don't like

  4. Abhinivesa - fear - insecurity, fear of death, fear that people will judge us etc.

What can help us in our lives to deal with Avidya and impermenance are the following:

  1. Tapas - disciplines such as yoga pranayama and meditation - in other words health.

  2. Adhyaya - study or investigation - inquiry - self-investigation

  3. Isvarapranidhana - this is normally considered to be "love of God" but it also means a quality of action. We can pursue everything we do with a quality of action and a willingness to let go of the fruits of our labour.

I love this last interpretation of "Isvarapranadhana" according to Desikachar. It is important to remember to put everything into what you do so there is a quality of action and to remain slightly detached from the outcomes.
So in short the three things are: health, inquiry, quality of action.
So those are my words of wisdom for those who are following my journey.
Love, Elisabeth

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February 1

There has been a bit of a break in my India Journal. So it is time to catch up.
My last few days at Varkala beach in India were wonderful. The day before I left I suddenly decided to try to purchase a tabala drum set for my sweetie back home. So that was a bit of an adventure. The manager of the Paradise Hotel offered to go with me to the city Trivandrum. It was a slow ride in about two hours by autorikshaw. But we managed to find a place and I bought a set - I think I got a fairly good deal. But it did mean a lot of extra luggage. I already had quite a bit of extra luggage because of things I was buying in India. I bought an extra bag to carry it all. I was planning to carry the drums on the plane as carry on luggage. I am pleased with my purchases so it's worth it I guess.
My last night in Varkala I got to sit in my favourite spot in my favourite restaurant, had the best meal ever, and it was the most beautiful sunset ever as well. So it was a very nice send off before beginning the next chapter of my trip.
I flew from Trivandrum to Chennai. That part was very easy. When it came time to check in for my flight leaving India I was a little worried about the excess luggage. Since I was flying with the budget airline Tiger airways I knew they had a limit on the luggage you can check at only 15 Kg. Well it turned out I was at 30 Kg which ended up costing me almost $100 dollars. So much for all that cheap stuff I bought. I did manage to still take the drums on as carry on luggage - I got away with it. I left quite a lot of stuff including the drums at a "Left Luggage" place at the Singapore airport.
At the moment I am in Cambodia.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (what used to be Saigon) on January 24. I had previously booked a hotel called Madam Cuc's. I arrived after many hours of traveling Chennai/Singapore/Ho Chi Minh City with one night overnight on the flight from Chennai to Singapore. So I was pretty exhausted.
And the city - Wow - it was overwhelming. I thought maybe I got used to Asian cities after being in India - but no - it was too much at first - in a city with 11 million people. Wow. It is busy and noisy. I also did not feel especially comfortable at the hotel. It was right on a fairly busy street - lots of noise - I didn't get much sleep. I also found that I was adjusting to a whole different culture again.
It's different from India. The language is very different and at times I felt quite frustrated with trying to be understood or understanding what they were saying. I was in tears at least once.
So lets just say I was feeling a little more fragile and vulnerable than usual - tested to my limit - on my own after traveling with Susan for 2 months.
At one point I was sitting in a restaurant and a woman came in selling books. She had a stack in her arms and I thought "Yes, I need a new book to read" I pointed to the one called "The Girl in the Picture" She pulled it out and I recognized it immediately. It is that famous photo of the girl just after a Napalm attack in the war running naked. When I saw it I burst in to tears. The woman selling the books must have wondered but nevertheless I think she completely understood and said "Yes, it's a sad story" My heart breaking open. I thought maybe I could avoid facing the war issue while here. I decided not to go see the famous tunnels dug by the Viet Cong for example. But nevertheless it is part of this country. You can't really avoid it and perhaps it is part of the reason I came to have it be part of my experience here. So I bought the book. I figure it's a sign you should buy the book if when you see it you start crying. The woman selling it felt touched by it too - we felt a connection and she said "maybe next book you buy a funny one so you can laugh too."
At the same time I knew I needed to get out of Ho Chi Minh city. Part of me wanted to leave the country and just go to beach some where else, but I knew there were things I wanted to do here. At the end of long journey I was already pretty tired from traveling etc
I booked myself on a tour that included the Mekong River by boat ending up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was a way of getting me closer to my destination of going to the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I will continue with part 2 in my next entry.

Namaste, Elisabeth

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February 5

When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh (most people here call still call it Saigon so that's what I'm going to start doing) I found out that I arrived right around the time of Chinese New Year. They call it TET here so that meant that things were going to start getting even more busy with a few days when everything would shut down - everybody on holiday celebrating TET. Originally my plan was to go to Cambodia and then come back to Vietnam and go to the highly recommended island called Phu Quoc. But when I tried to book a flight nothing was available for the time period I was looking for February 1 - 8. Nothing going there or coming back. Since I had only a short time for Cambodia and Vietnam I wanted to get a flight there at least one way. Given that I wasn't sure if I would have enough time to go all the way to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and get back to Vietnam and go to Phu Quoc.
So instead of trying to figure it out ahead of time I just knew that the priority was Angkor Wat so I started heading in that direction. Thus I booked the tour in the Mekong Delta by boat ending up in Phnom Penh, Camdodia. I just wanted to get out of Saigon as quickly as possible.
The tour (which only cost $26 US) started by bus and as we were heading to the boat the tour guide mentioned that if we wanted to stay overnight on a boat it would just be an extra $10. The original tour plan was to stay overnight at a hotel. When the over was made at first I was a little anxious about what to do - since getting a decent nights sleep was important to me. I had no idea what to expect on the boat or the hotel. As we got closer though I decided to take a leap of faith and go for the overnight on the boat experience.
We we got to the Mekong River we started on small boats that took us on some tours in that area. It was really fun being on the Mekong River - so much going on. It's like a big highway. We started heading up the river and there was much to see. Myself and a few others on the trip decided on the overnight boat experience. And I'm soooo glad I decided to do it.
The boat itself was pretty rustic and there were about 15 tourists on it. Even though the tour guide said we would have our own room. That is not what happened but I was okay with whatever experience was being presented. The sleeping space was like one big dorm with little compartments would could pull a curtain across, so there was some privacy. And the engine noise wasn't too loud so I actually got some sleep. In the evening we had supper watched the sunset and I sat out front in the dark watching the night life on the river - stars in the sky. It was really neat.
But the most amazing thing was waking up on the Mekong River watching the sunrise at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of a river market area. It was beautiful. It was definitely a high light of my trip. So I was sooo glad I decided to take the risk and go for the overnight on the boat experience.
For the next part of our boat trip we switched to a smaller boat again and continued heading up river. When we got to Cambodia border our tour guide helped everyone with their Cambodia visas and we had lunch there but had to wait 2 hours for the next boat on the Cambodia side - it was 2 hours late. Finally when we got on that boat it was quite a bit rougher - much noiser and the seats were very uncomfortable. It was interesting to see the view from the river of the country side in Cambodia - it was more in the country - few people - and farms - poorer conditions but farms that looked well cultivated. The boat ride at that point was way too long - 4 hours of noise and uncomfortable seats.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time we got to Phnom Penh. I wasn't sure where I was going to stay in Phnom Penh. I was starting to get a little nervous about being in another big Asian city. We ended up there after dark about 7:00 p.m. The last part of the tour was by bus along a very bumpy dusty road and the bus took us directly to a hotel called the King Angkor Hotel. By then I was talking to a fellow traveller from Montreal (Claude) and we both decided to stay at the King Angkor Hotel. It was fairly nice - quiet rooms - a good price. Claude was also heading for Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat so we talked about doing that together.

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Cambodia continued.

The hotel was down a side street so was not too busy or noisy. And the staff were very helpful. One person in particular (Tholl) spoke very good English and was helpful with my ongoing travel arrangements. He also helped me get another Visa for Vietnam since the one I had was only a single entry visa so I needed another one to get back into the country. I needed to wait the morning for that. Claude and I both decided to take the one hour flight to Siem Reap - he took a noon one and I had to wait for the Vietnam visa so took a flight later in the day at 6:00 p.m.
I had some time in Phnom Penh so went a place called the Silver Palace which was very beautiful and other parts of Phnom Penh were also nice - clean - some culture - I thought I'm liking it more than Saigon. I decided also to go to the Killing Fields. I took a tuktuk there - a long and dusty ride. I thought "this is part of the Cambodia history. It is important to face that fact." There was a huge monument which had inside it stacks and stacks of skulls. The area also showed were there had been mass graves. It is all a very difficult to comprehend how something like could happen. They say 3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge Regime.
While I was in Cambodia I continued to do some reading and talking to people about finding out details to help me understand it.
It was right at the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over and it lasted for 4 years. The Khmer Rouge were guerilla fighters trained by the north Vietnamese originally and part of the communist cause but many joined because of the bombing by the US in Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Pol Pot was the leader. The Khmer Rouge Regime ended in 78/79 when they were defeated by the Vietnam army. Those are just a few of the basics facts.
I'm not sure if it really sunk in when I was at the Killing Fields monument. But the thing was very interesting is that on my flight from Phnom Penh I was sitting beside a Cambodian man who now lives in Geneva. He survived the Khmer Rouge period. It was fascinating talking with him. He was a very well educated man - a lawyer - who immigrated to the US as a refuge in 1979/80. He was a warm and friendly man and talked about his experience openly. He survived. He said a few things which I will pass on. During that time people were not allowed to read or have books. They would be killed if they did. He found 4 books and secrety read them. The 4 books he found were:
1. An French/English dictionary (so he could learn English) (he already knew French from school)
2. A James Bond book
3. A book by Freud
4. A book written by a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust.
In a sense these blessings being able to read these books helped him survive. He got a quote from one of them I believe that went like this:
"Hope is the willingness to understand that everything has an ending, and the ultimate ending is death"
He had the hope that the Pot Pot Regime would eventually end. And it did.
How could it happen? After the holocaust perhaps the world thought never again could we allow something like that to happen - well in 1975 - 79 it did.
I thought it important to include something about this in my journal. I said good-bye to the fellow I met on the flight and felt blessed to have an opportunity to talk to him.

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Siem Reap
I stayed in Siem Reap 3 days.  It is a dusty touristy place centered around seeing Angkor Wat.
My hotel was okay - didn't spend much time there as I was out touring around.  It turns out the area is so much more than Angkor Wat.  In fact the whole area used to be about 1000 years ago a whole ancient city called Angkor.  It was originally the capitol of Cambodia.  So the ruins consist of many sights and in order to see it all you have to hire a driver.  Claude and I hired somebody and took a tuktuk all over - many things to see in a day.  My first morning we got up very early so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.  That was pretty amazing.  Then we went to a place father away and came back in the afternoon to tour around the inside of Angkor Wat - and what can I say it is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.  Beautiful ancient huge.  The next day more sights to see.  My absolute favourite was a temple area that being completely embraced by the jungle.  There were huge trees 500 years old growing out walls and buildings.  In fact there is one huge tree in the middle of it that they used in the filming of the movie "Tomb Raider".   So that was my favourite.  My last morning I went on my own (Claude flew to Thailand that day) to see Angkor Thom which was the old city and there is a place called the Bayon which has many towers with these very large buddha faces on them.  It is one of the well known images of this area. 
I decided to take the 6 hour bus ride back to Phnom Penh that day because I didn't really want to hang out in Siem Reap any longer than I needed to.  Too busy and touristy for me.
By the time I got back to Phnom Penh I was exhausted - after 3 long days of touring around and then a long bus ride.  I knew I didn't have much time left for the remainder of my trip to Vietnam etc. 
But I decided to have a rest day with nothing scheduled. 
The next day Tholl took me out in the country on a motobike.  I figured it was time to have that Asian experience since that is how the majority of people get around in Asia by motobike.  We went to a small monastery and temple and then went to his home to see how his family lived.  I appreciated having a window into the life of a Cambodian family. 
My next step was I wanted to get a beach somewhere to finish my time in Asia with a place to rest before the long journey home.  I knew that I would not have time to get to Phu Quoc in Vietnam.  By boat and bus it would just take too long and then I would still have to get back to Saigon for my flight back to Singapore.  So I ruled that out.  I seriously considering heading south to a Cambodian beach but I knew that I would not have much experience in Vietnam other than what I already had.  So on the spur of the moment I decided to spend the money and book a flight from Phnom Penh to Saigon.  I called a taxi driver that I met when I was In Saigon before.  He picked me up at the airport and I asked is he could drive me to a beach area 200 km. north of Saigon.  So I spent the money (quite a bit) to do that.  I cut what would normally be 2 full days of travel into one day.  The drive took 4 and half hours and I arrived in this beach area called Mui Ne in the dark.  I just took the first cheap hotel I could find - said good-bye to Bee my taxi driver.  He had to drive back to Saigon in the dark late at night.  I hope he made it back okay.  The next morning I started looking for the right spot.  I persisted in looking for a place that I found in the Lonely Planet guide - it took quite awhile as it was far away from the place I got dropped off.  The place I got dropped off was a newer section with many very expensive resorts.  So I was glad I persisted because I found this beautiful little slice of heaven (a quarter the price of the fancy resorts) but still right on the beach - I rented a room/cottage right on the beach, away from the road.  Yea. It is heaven - the nicest place I've been since I started my trip and quiet - heaven.  So a good place to rest, get some sleep and feel well rested before the long journey home. 
I feel blessed.
Namaste, Elisabeth

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February 13

I am home - back in Courtenay right now and here is more on the last part of my journey in Vietnam.

When I left my paradise spot at Mui Ne Beach I still had one night in Saigon before flying back to Singapore and home. I was a little worried about that because of my first experience a few weeks before. It was still Chinese New Year or TET in Vietnam so I wasn't sure what that meant. I wanted to see if the taxi driver I used before might be able to pick me up upon arrival in Saigon but the owner of the resort assured me that once I was in the center of the backpacker area of Saigon it would be easy to find my way around and find my hotel. I booked a hotel that a friend recommended that was supposedly down a quiet street.

On my way there on the 5 hour bus ride I was thinking: "I remember what it was like 20 years ago when I went to India and how when I first arrived in Delhi I was overwhelmed and disoriented, and after traveling for 6 weeks in India I went back to Delhi and had a completely different experience wondering what all the fuss was about in the beginning. I got used to it."
So I wondered if that might happen with my Saigon experience as well.

Well the owner of the resort was right. The bus dropped me off on De Tham street right in the middle of a popular backpacker area. I didn't get swamped with taxi drivers wanting to take me some where. I had my map in hand from my Lonely planet guide and easily found my hotel only a block or two away. The hotel was down a kind of back lane - very nice and quiet and it was a whole different experience. The TET New Year celebrations by the Vietnamese people actually had the effect of quieter streets and less traffic than usual. A number of places were also closed but there was certainly enough open to eat out and still find a few shops to buy some silk clothes before leaving that part of the world.

Another blessing that occurred was that as I was walking down the a street in the middle of Saigon out of the blue I ran into somebody from Courtenay that I knew. How amazing is that? What a small world. A man by the name of Brett was walking down the street and he was just finishing a month long stay in Saigon with his girlfriend Coreen. They stayed there for a whole month - Coreen attending yoga classes and Brett playing music with some people. So we went out for dinner together that evening. It was great sharing stories with them and hearing about their positive experiences in Saigon.

I got a good nights sleep that night and in the morning as I wandered around that area I thought "Wow. I could actually hang out in Saigon for awhile longer if I had more time, now that I was used to it" I liked that area of the city and it was easy to get around.

I only had one night there though and then off to Singapore for two nights before flying home. For some reason I haven't had great experiences in Singapore. It is a very metropolitan city and very expensive. So I stayed one night at a kind of hostel with my own private room - more expensive than any place I stayed during my whole trip - and it was noisy - a very loud fan noise right beside my room from the bar downstairs and a TV in the sitting area on most of the night. Plus I'm pretty sure I got some flea bites during the night. I moved to another hotel the next night - even more expensive for a very simple room but clean and in a quiet area. I slept better but the air conditioner that you couldn't turn off was still a bit noisy. So I had two nights without much sleep before getting on my 17 hour flight home. I didn't sleep on the flight either. So now I'm home getting caught up on some much needed sleep and very much appreciating my nice quiet home and my own bed.

Blessings from Elisabeth

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