Delhi Belly: The reprise

After another perfect night of Parks & Recreation, a glass of red wine & half a brownie I doze off to sleep content. Ten minutes later my stomach is making some concerning noises & I am wide awake clutching it, silently begging no.

Yes. My second dose of Delhi Belly in 2 weeks. I was miserable. I was on the toilet all night with an aching stomach feeling nauseous & burning up. I lay on the cold floor in a desperate bid to regulate my temperature blocking out my forefront questions of hygiene. I cringed at my poor roommate who can hear every nasty bodily noise erupting from me on the other side of the door. It was a long, sweaty night (not the good kind!).

In the morning I was so grateful not to be toilet bound. My poor tummy. I can’t figure out what exactly it was. I am weak, unhappy & drained (literally). I am also homeless at midday with nowhere to go.

Clutching my dodgy tum I hobbled around the streets keen NOT to venture too far from my hostel & the sanctuary of the toilet. I was determined not to climb the 100 steps which would obviously induce some sort of bowel collapse & found somewhere to stay much closer. I found somewhere nearby that would have to do. It’s freezing cold, feels less safe & is more expensive, but it has a private bathroom & I don’t have to move far which are todays top criteria in finding a new room for the night!

My bowel movements were occurring less frequently by midday & I risked a chai with my friends before leaving the hostel. When I threw my 15Kg bag on without anal leakage I had faith that I was out of the woods. Sorry for being graphic – but surely you expected this kind of chat when you read the title of the blog?

My new room still contained the remnants of the last guests. They had left me an encouraging note amongst other things.

I did my best to make myself cosy & huddle in blankets with the aim of rest to improve my dodgy stomach in the safety blanket security of close proximity to the bathroom. My day ultimately over I browsed on Skyscanner thinking of my Indian visa expiration date quickly approaching. Open to all options I pondered where I should go next. Then I booked a flight to Nepal for a few days time. Just like that. I adore the freedom I have backpacking.

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My footsteps make their own path

Can I get your wifi password please?

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The solemn backpacker oath uttered daily. As soon as you take a menu you feel entitled to have access to their wifi. Half the time it’s probably the only reason you picked that cafe.

Indian’s with their dry sense of humour have made me laugh on more than one occasion with their wifi passwords.

The waiter stares me straight in the eye & announces ‘wifinoworking’ to the absolute horror of my friends & I we ask in panic that the wifi isn’t working hoping for a different response. “No, wifi no working. The password. Wifi no working.”. After several similar exchanges it becomes apparent that this deadpan comedic genius is telling us that the wifi is in fact active & working & the password to access it it ‘wifinoworking’. Fucking hilarious! This brilliance gives me faith in other people when I see how much pleasure they can squeeze out of an otherwise mundane job.

Here are some more gems I came across:

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Most creative method for telling you their wifi password!

Night bus: Rishikesh to Dharamsala, India


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My lovely Australian friend & I made plans to travel to Dharamshala for Holi festival. Our friends from the hostel are going to party central Pushkar for Holi but we are both hesitant. We are cautious of Indian men & feel Dharamshala will be a less overwhelming. I want to celebrate Holi, of course, although the thought of being crammed in a busy square getting crushed & groped by the sexually motivated & deprived is a living nightmare. Hopefully Dharamshala will have enough people to have a great party & a perfect balance where we don’t feel out of our depths.

Our 14 hour night bus cost only 900 rupees (£9) although it was far from luxurious.

Exhausted, in the blistering heat we waited with our worldly belongings & other travellers for our bus to arrive. After our scheduled departure time we were directed towards our rickety bus. Everyone filed to put their luggage in the hold where a guy was taking a fee for the luggage. Already annoyed I refused stating our luggage was included in the fare we had already paid. After a few moments of debate he clarified that the extra fee was actually for him to take the luggage from our hands & set it into the bus luggage hold we were standing beside. What the fuck? It’s as easy for me to set it in myself. My friend & I refused this chancer’s fee & set our own bags in the luggage hold, unsure if we would ever see it again….

Everyone crammed onboard & unenthusiastically absorbed the state of the bus. It was obvious no one was surprised when the fans weren’t working, to see the promised power points ripped from the sides of the bus or the distinct lack of curtains in places. If you’ve made it this far in India the filth doesn’t affect you anymore. We sat on the bus for an hour waiting for the driver to begin the journey. When I enquired after 30 mins a fellow backpacker laughed & shrugged ‘This is India’ in a worldly get-used-to-it manner. Fuck off mate. This is India, but I’m not going to sit & pretend it’s fine, I’m going to let the bus driver know people are waiting & not ecstatic to add another hour on to the already tedious journey.

Eventually when the driver returned from his many casual Chai we set off into the dusty abyss. A backpacker in the seat directly in front of me was suffering badly with nausea & snuggling towards the window in preparation to vomit. I pitied him but my selfishness dominated as I became concerned about the smell of his sick, questioned his aim & whether his sick would go directly out the window. I retreated to an empty seat near the back & enjoyed stretching out while I still could. I day dreamed out the window wondering about the lives of the people we passed….

As I was relaxing into the journey & getting lost in my book a strange man seized his opportunity to sit next to me & bother me. I am often told I am too nice, but I find it extremely awkward to be rude. I was making it incredibly obvious that I wanted to read my book but he insisted on talking to me. He spoke about Reiki, told me of the shining light & feelings he was getting from me, that I was a kind person, my smile, guessed my parents professions (incorrectly), that I was a free spirit & enjoyed travel (duh). I was trapped on this bus for another 12 hours with nowhere to run & this guy wanting to hold my hand to give me spiritual healing. Oh FUCK OFF!!! 

I made my excuses & moved back to my seat, sacrificing the extra leg room for peace from harassment. Naturally the guy followed me & sat in his seat, directly beside me. Fuck my life. At this point I’m not even surprised by these occurrences. My Australian friend had also noticed the pattern of me attracting weirdos into my path & offered me a smile of sympathy & mild amusement. The next logical step for me was pretending to be asleep. I instantly wrapped myself in my blanket & closed my eyes exiting from the world of annoyance. As you can expect this guy spoke to me at every point I was awake, when we stopped for something to eat he sat beside me & when we got to Dharamshala we just happened to bump into each other on a bi-daily frequency. One of these days I expect to be murdered in a dark alley by some random stranger who has just tagged on to me.

The uncomfortable bus journey dragged on with me pretending to be asleep for the majority. The window behind our seat didn’t close so the poor girls behind us as well as everyone in the back of the bus were frozen for the latter part of the trip. When we inclined up the mountains the bus was eerily silent & my stalker was fast asleep so I felt I could relax. As much as one can relax after 14 hours cooped up on a bus, faux sleeping & trying to avoid the person sitting next to you. The sun was slowly rising over the snow kissed tips of the himalayas. The views were spectacular with the colours of dawn melting the night shades away. I was completely awestruck at the view & overwhelmed by the beauty. My inner misery melted away & I felt blessed at where my life leads me.

I’m so sorry I could not take a better picture, but please trust me – it was stunning!

Bunk Stay Hostel, Rishikesh, India & my relentless quest to withdraw cash

In Rishikesh I stayed in Bunk Stay Hostel. It had just opened a month previous & was one of the few hostels with availability when I booked due to the Holi festival approaching the following week. The staff here were all very friendly & helpful. I was lucky enough to stay in my same room for the duration of my stay whereas people booking additional nights were being shuffled to different rooms. I was also extremely fortunate to meet a lovely fellow backpacker who is totally my kind of person! It’s so refreshing to bump into people who you just get on so well with from the offset. We have similar attitudes & our passion for food & tasting everything is on par! We tasted many ‘Hello to the Queen’’s in Rishikesh!

Bunk Stay Hostel had a great rooftop restaurant & common area with an amazing view of the monkey bridge, sunset & ganges. They offer free Chai around sunset time so it was the perfect excuse to sit & chat with fellow backpackers. I was lucky to fall in with a great bunch of people with a fantastic sense of humour.

Sunset over Rishikesh

The staff at the hostel are really helpful. The morning I left I was having an absolute nightmare trying to get cash out of the atm. I tried the day before & none of the atm’s were working. It was so stressful as there were monkeys everywhere & I needed cash to settle my bill. I tried 7 atm’s on either side of the bridge but frustratingly they weren’t working or spat out an error number on my receipt docket, withholding my cash. I literally spent four hours on this mission before retreating to the hostel to ensure I had the money in my account. As expected, I did. When I explained my problem to the guys at the hostel one of them took me on his motorbike to try more atms. I warned him about my monkey fear & he calmed me when we sped past rogue monkeys. I still couldn’t access my money. The atm had cash because the person before me got money out, & I had money in my account to take out so I couldn’t understand the issue.

Totally fed up & stressed out I called into a travel agent to see if they would exchange euro’s I had. I asked if I could check if my card was working on their card machine & they let me do a transaction to get my money. Thank goodness! For a small fee I had rupees again!

My entire last morning in Rishikesh was wasted dodging monkeys & hunting down atm’s. If you go to India make sure you take enough rupees when you visit the smaller towns. It has been a real pain & complete waste of my mornings twice now. Example number 477 of how India is a hell of a lot more effort than it needs to be.

St Patrick’s Day in Rishikesh, India

 

The bridge is almost green, white & gold!

I have celebrated St Patrick’s Day all around the world! I have partied, drank Guinness & ate Irish stew in Dublin, I spent 3 wonderful St Patrick’s Days in the beautiful Swiss Alps (one of which I got too drunk to host a potato party – classic Irish move), Italy, Belfast & many in Co Down where the legend is laid to rest.

St Patrick’s Day hike in Verbier, Switzerland

This is my very first St Patrick’s Day in India! My tradition of drinking, making new friends & dancing into the night was alive & I was ready to commence festivities! Then it hit me – I was in a city where alcohol is banned….

Lets give that a moment to sink in.

An Irish in Rishikesh without a drop of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day is a sorry sight. Instead of the usual shenanigans I sat on the hostel rooftop & one of the Indian men who run the hostel taught me how to play chess. If you had told me that was how I would spend St Patrick’s Day at some point of my life I would never have believed you.

This feels like an out of body experience…..

Reiki Level 1, Rishikesh, India

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My first class of Reiki was scheduled for after the open satsang with Mooji. This ran over late because it started late & I had to run to my Reiki class so I wouldn’t keep my Reiki master waiting. I detest being late for anything. By the time I crossed the monkey bridge it was so busy, I was stressed out & panicked getting across. I arrived at my reiki class five minutes late, sweating & a bit overwhelmed from dodging monkeys. The reiki master was slightly concerned about the state of me.

He thought I seem emotionally traumatised, which I clearly was, so I told him about my very real & present monkey fear so he didn’t presume it was an underlying issue. He was very sweet & spoke casually about the monkeys, helping me with my phobia, & reassured me that I have nothing to worry about (I never believe people when they tell me this regarding monkeys, as if).

Over the course of the next few hours we went over the theory background of reiki & he did  a bit of reiki on me. I was feeling a lot calmer than when I arrived. He asked if he could do a bit of massage on me as he could feel how tense I was. As a massage therapist with shoulders which are so tight they feel like they are smuggling rocks I naturally welcomed the massage. Then he asked me to take my top off. Reasonable request for a massage. I took this off & lay back on my front again. Then he asked that I take my sports bra off. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this. Fair enough, the straps would get in the way – but I didn’t plan on getting topless in my first reiki session. Is this normal??

I hesitated for a moment to weigh up my options & decided to remain open minded despite the alarm going off inside my head. He stood at the other side of the room facing me so I asked him to turn around while I took off my sports bra & lay face down again. He massaged the top of my back which is always extremely tight, but possibly slightly more tense now under the circumstances. My mind wouldn’t settle as I deliberated whether he was a sex starved creep with a skewed impression of western females or he genuinely noticed the tension in my shoulders & wanted to help. I am hopeless, always looking for the good in people. I tried to let go of my negative thoughts & be as optimistic, careful & logical as I could.

After my quick massage I dressed & did feel looser in my back. We spoke about the theory of reiki again but I knew I couldn’t fully entrust myself to this man. It’s a shame I’ve had to put this barrier up to protect myself when all I want to do is develop & engage in a new skill. I have 2 more days of reiki & I’m not going to let the awkwardness of today hinder my learning. Am I being unreasonable? Is it because of what happened in Goa?

Meeting Mooji

A guy I met in Goa gave me a book to read by Mooji (you can read my book review here). Mooji is a spiritual leader & direct follower of the much loved & respect guru Papaji. My friends obvious enthusiasm & passion for Mooji peaked an interest within me & I quickly devoured the book. I admit that not all his teachings & theories were easily digestible for me but I am open to learn more.

Imagine my delight at seeing posters for a satsang with Mooji in Rishikesh while I was there! Surely this is more than a coincidence! I had to go. The next morning I got up early, hurriedly (& extremely stressfully) crossed the monkey bridge & made my way to Swami Swatantranand Ashram for the open satsang. People warned me about the massive queues waiting to get in & I read online about their queuing policy so I expected to be waiting a long time in line – imagine my delight when I arrived 30 minutes before it began & was able to walk straight in! I think the crowds were waiting early to get a good seat however I much preferred just strolling in & not having to wait. The hall looked really pretty & there were singers on the stage sounding beautiful. It was a relaxed vibe & people seemed spiritually tuned & excitedly anticipating seeing Mooji. I was so curious to see what I would get from the satsang & hoped I would absorb something of value.

The hall was about half full when I arrived & I sat on the floor about halfway down the hall. It quickly filled & we were tightly packed on the floor. My legs & bum were already numb by the time he started, 30 minutes late.

Mooji walked onto the stage & the crowd gasped & strained to see him. He seemed friendly with a warm face, good nature & calming presence. He invited the audience to participate & selected people to ask questions. Many hands shot up grasping at the opportunity to speak to Mooji. People asked for help in finding the right path, they asked why they still felt lost & what more can they do. People got up to thank Mooji & others asked complicated questions I couldn’t keep up with. Mooji answered them in a humoured manner. When he made a joke the crowd erupted laughing, holding on to his every word.

Coming from a Catholic upbringing which I found wholly uninspiring I found it so interesting so see people completely consumed by this spiritual figure. They were engrossed in this physical presence & deep, meaningful teachings. They nodded reverently & passionately when he made a point & you could tell that they were affected by this encounter. I remained as a bystander & did not reach my spiritual enlightenment as hoped.

Part of me would love to be devoted to something I believed so strongly in. I think it would completely change my priorities & erase all my idle mindless thoughts & selfish wanderings. On the other hand I like having my own mind & opinions & being on the trail to self discovery. I don’t want to worship another human… I would be happy to follow someone, on a more casual level, whose beliefs I trusted & could broaden my mind. I am not ready to join a cult, for now anyway!

If you are interested in finding out more about Mooji I will add the link to his website here.

Finding a Reiki Master, Rishikesh, India

Rishikesh is a spiritual hotpot of holistic & alternative therapies – what better place for me to begin my journey in Reiki??

I have an interest in Reiki. Coming from a medical background I can struggle with the lack of scientific evidence based research of holistic therapies. I am open to trying everything so despite my lack of conviction I had a reiki treatment as part of a treatment swap with my friend a few years ago. I was surprised to find I actually felt really good afterwards. I felt content, my head felt clear & I was relaxed. I was unsure whether this was down to forcibly lying down guilt free for 1 hour, being in the presence of my lovely friend & her calming nature or the actual reiki. Either way I was happy that it triggered a positive response.

I am always keen to build my skills profile & reiki is one of the things I was drawn to. I walked around Rishikesh checking out places I could learn Reiki. Some of them offered the Level 1 course on unsuitable dates for me & I only found 2 others that seemed ok. I was really annoyed to find that it was only male teachers. I don’t have a great impression of Indian men (read here for my reason why) & when learning Reiki & trusting someone I know it will be more difficult with a male teacher than a female. I booked with one teacher & when I went back to confirm he kept staring at my breasts so I awkwardly cancelled & left feeling so frustrated*. These men are creeps! The thought of being one on one with this guy made my skin crawl.

Another teacher was recommended to me by someone I met in a cafe who categorically confirmed he was not creepy. I met him & booked not feeling fully confident in him, but better than the previous option. How can it be so difficult to find a decent non-sexually threatening reiki teacher in India?? Everything is 100 times more difficult in India.

 

*Not that I should justify myself as being non provocative, for the record, I was wearing a sports bra to make my breasts appear smaller (this is now the only bra I wear in India) & a high round neck t-shirt.

Rishikesh, India

On my arrival to Rishikesh I didn’t even have a chance to sigh in relief at being in more serene conditions due to the suffocating volume of monkeys roadside. I wound my taxi window up frantically & looked terrified much to my Swiss taxi companion’s amusement. I was a fool to think escaping Hampi would equate to escaping monkeys. It was a 20 minute taxi ride to Rishikesh passing many monkeys who had ventured to the outskirts of the jungle. There were many signs for drivers to beware of elephants crossing – similar to those we have for cattle & deer back in Ireland. Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants but maybe that was a good thing because I heard 8 people per month are killed in Rishikesh by ‘angry elephants’. I’m not sure why the elephants are so angry or how they murder their victims…. In my head they are a peaceful & placid creature.

I spent the entire taxi ride trying to keep my shit together & fretting about what side of the bridge the driver would drop me off. Surely enough he ditched me on the opposite side of the bridge to my hostel. I wandered towards the shops looking for a bridge & quickly found it, along with picking up a Dutch backpacker. This poor guy was my rock for the next ten minutes!

As we approached the bridge I immediately told him about my paralysing fear of monkeys & unburdened all my angst about crossing the monkey bridge. His face was a mix of empathy & vague dismay at stumbling upon such a vulnerable & somewhat ungrounded fellow backpacker. As we descended the steps to the bridge my internal organs strangled at the sight of several monkeys jumping & grabbing at people from the bridge railings. I looked desperately for another way across the river. I was out of luck. This was the only way to my hostel. My Dutch companion watched as I lost all my composure & stepped reluctantly towards the busy bustling bridge of fear.

Inside I was screaming as I took the first few steps towards the monkeys. The bridge was overcrowded with people walking slowly, taking pictures of the Ganges & taking pictures with the monkeys. Motorbikes were haphazardly speeding through the crowd & the bridge was narrow enough to touch both sides with my arms stretched out. After passing the first set of monkeys I felt my confidence & carefree adventure crumble. I was now trapped on all sides by monkeys & my only viable escape would be to throw myself off the bridge & tumble into the Ganges. This option was looking more appealing by the second.

I tightened my backpack & clutched my rucksack tightly, put my head down & powered through the slow messy slew of people. Monkeys jumped on the ground in front of me & dashed along the railings carrying their babies. A man popped out at me with one on his shoulder asking if I wanted a picture with it. I recoiled & prayed for this nightmare to end. I was halfway across the bridge pausing reluctantly for motorbikes to pass & shouting ‘excuse me’ to the lackadaisical tourists enjoying the scenery. My heart was beating out of my chest & my palms were sweaty. I was never so happy in my life to see the end of a bridge!

6 monkeys were gathered at the end of the bridge & I could see others on the roofs & power lines on the other side. I knew my monkey ordeal would not be over once I made it to land again. I wallowed in horror as the incessant screaming in my head fizzled out & I forced my legs to complete their task. I passed the last pack of monkeys without incident & scurried away from the bridge as fast as my backpack carrying body could go. Luckily my hostel, Bunk Stay, was easy to find & I was quickly at the bottom of the set of steep stairs to reach it. The crowd on the other side of the bridge was a blur as I was recovering from my traumatic ordeal & still on edge of fear of more monkeys. My Dutch friend reassured me & I felt my anxiety not subside, but not escalate further in his company.

At the top of the steps, breathless & emotionally exhausted we checked into the hostel & I went for a much needed lie down. How am I going to cope in Rishikesh??? My anxiety is palpable.

About Rishikesh, India

Rishikesh is located 230KM North of Delhi, resting at the foothills of the Himalayas. The more scenic & popular tourist destination is about 2km upstream from actual Rishikesh city. This area is split by the beautiful turquoise River Ganges which rushes below Lakshman Jhula, 450ft of steel bridge connecting either side. This bridge is barely 6 feet wide & is crammed with tourists, locals, monkeys, vendors, cows & motorbikes whizzing by. It is not for the faint hearted! For me this bridge embodied the very essence of India! All it needed was some delicious food….

This area is full of backpackers & tourists & all the things that draw them there – ashrams, cafes, restaurants, massage & other therapies, yoga classes/courses, activities, shops, street food, an array of accommodation. The small town has a great buzz about it.

Rishikesh is known for being the birthplace of yoga & is referred to as the yogic capital of the world. There are numerous yoga schools offering intensive courses & daily classes. If you enjoy yoga you will be surrounded by many like minded people. The streets are full of people carrying yoga mats & glowing from their spiritual journey & self healing.

If you intend to take a dip in the Ganges, Rishikesh is one of the less polluted points to do so. The 2252KM long river flows from the Shivlak mountains, in Uttarakhand, the residing state of Rishiskesh & hasn’t accumulated as much pollution by Rishikesh’s river banks. The River Ganges is deemed to be one of the most sacred rivers in India, flowing through numerous holy cities & worshipped by Hindus. It is also extremely polluted due to the dumping of untreated sewage, industrial waste, religious offerings & dead bodies (cremated & non-cremated/decomposing). Despite this pilgrims still travel from around the world to take a ‘holy dip’ & cleanse in the waters. After my recent bout of sickness I opted out of this opportunity.

Rishikesh is a very spiritual area & has been meat & alcohol free to coincide with the holy city status it carries & to align with the religious beliefs of the communities it harbours. It is an absolute haven of tasty options for the vegetarians out there (& non vegetarians!), as is most of India!

The Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Ashram in Rishikesh in the late 60s boosting it’s fame in the West & assisting to shape it into the popular destination it is today. Their stint here learning meditation was creatively inspiring for them. Their endorsement opened the west to meditation, changing attitudes worldwide & sparking international interest in Indian spirituality. The ashram has since been abandoned & jungle & monkeys are taking over the ruins. It is well worth a visit for Beatles fans. I have heard several reports of paying an entrance fee or hopping a wall to get in. Obviously due to the monkeys I couldn’t go.

Rishikesh is emerging as the adventure capital of India, offering white water rafting on the River Ganges, bungee jumping, trekking, canyoning, mountain biking… It truly has so much to offer!

If none of this tickles your fancy & you are keen to pick up a new instrument while in India, Rishikesh seems like a popular place to learn the Indian Sitar. A friend who was learning it said it would take him years to become competent in it although he was very enthusiastic about learning.

As with most popular backpacker destination, Rishikesh has ample various ranged accommodation available. I stayed at the newly open Bunk Stay Hostel & I was happy with my experience. There are also a lot of cafe’s restaurants & the apparently popular German bakery – who knew this was a thing in India? There is a nice selection of restaurants, the ones I visited were reasonably priced & I didn’t get sick during my time here! Bonus!

If you need to buy souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, ayurvedic medicine, yoga mats, spiritual books etc, you can get pretty much everything here. There are also a few places offering a packaging & delivery service if you want to send a parcel back home. They cater really well to their backpacker market here! Rishikesh seems to have it all!