Out of sight out of mind!

This is not meant in terms of relationships, where it is either this or absence makes the heart grow fonder, and for me it is definitely the later, where as a solo traveler I find my heart yearning more and more for my family and friends, but I digress.

I found this thought running through my mind this morning visiting a local sight in one of the villages that make up Pokhara, the long suspension bridge.

Arriving after walking through narrow walkways with only one solitary sign indicating the direction, the last thing you would expect to find at the end of this concrete walkway, lined with the ever welcome open doors of simple homes, freshly swept daily of any dust and debris, glistening after the early morning shower, is one of the longest suspension bridges in Nepal. No grand entrance, it is just there.  As westerners, this a novelty, but to the locals it just forms part of everyday life.  A means of getting across the deep gorge, to work, to school, to visit friends, a playground for the young children of the village.


Two inch steel cables bolted into the surrounding rock secures this swaying structure, adorned with tattered prayer flags, over a rock strewn valley, with a small winding river waiting for the soon to come monsoon season to swell its banks. Looking down at first you just see the beauty of the surrounds, but on looking just a little further up the sides of this gorge, jars me to the core.  The cliffs are not decorated with foliage and undergrowth but are feet deep in refuse, which when the rains do come, will be swept down into the river polluting the water supply flowing into the picturesque Fewa Lake in Pokahara (which is very inviting, but you dare not swim). There are signs all around the city warning if there is no lake, there is no lakeside and therefore no Pokhara, with pleas to protect the lake.


I mentioned the cleanly swept doorways and entrances to all the homes, so the local populace takes pride in their personal homes, and with that a woman walks to the start of the bridge and calmly tosses a plastic bag full of household debris over the bridge onto the cliffs below, turns on her heel and returned to her immaculately swept home.  I am trying hard not to let this mar my experience.  Is this laziness, lack of education or out of sight out of mind? I am assuming this is lack of education and that she is oblivious to the fact that she is slowly destroying the environment she lives in.  If she can’t see the rubbish in her home, then it doesn’t exist.


I walked away feeling really angry at the devil may care attitude she appeared to have, and there was nothing I could do about it.  It was not possible to call her out on this as I would have if I had been back at home.  On typing this now, I have managed to quiet my mind with the decision that for the rest of my time in Pokhara, I can only lead by example and try and teach the youngsters I have the privilege to interact with on a daily basis, some sort of understanding of what long lasting damage this behaviour can have on the country that the passionately love.  I will make sure that when I leave it will not be out of sight out of mind – I will do my best to make a difference.


Namaste! – I bow to the god within you

“Namaste Chet Ji” is the greeting given to our Nepalese language teacher.  He is of small stature as are most of the people of this mountain nation, but not small in personality.  His wire framed glasses hide his slightly squint eye, but not the twinkle that comes to the fore when he throws his head back and laughs at out attempt to master the tonal sounds of his home tongue.  On enquiring why he always wears a typical Nepalese style hat, thinking that there may be some meaningful significance, he smiles and says he is going bald and it is to protect him from sun burn and keep his head warm.

As a teacher, a guru, he is part of the Brahmin, the highest caste and by adding ‘Ji’ to the end of his name is a sign of respect.  This respectfulness is carried through the Nepalese language with different connotation attached to a lot of their sentences.  For example, if referring to you, it is either “tau” for animals and things, “timi” for friends, family members and wives and the very respectful “topaai” the highest form of greeting which can never be used for a wife.

As a wife, your marriage will have been arranged and you would then immediately join the husbands family.  It is not correct “thik chhna” for a man and woman to shake hands nor for couples to hold hands in public.  Segregation is a natural way of life in this Hindu country and men can be quite arrogant when being forcibly exposed to the openness of western culture.  This explains a lot about the behaviour of an Indian gentleman, who found himself sitting between two South African women on a flight between Goa and Mumbai.  To us he was downright rude, arrogant and inconsiderate, but maybe the poor man just did not know how to conduct himself in such a situation.

Chet Ji explained how the saying of thank you is not a common practice in Nepal, and it is only the westerners who feel the need to continually thank.  To the Nepalese, it isn’t necessary and goes without saying.  He has been teaching for 25 years and is very appreciative of being offered the job of teaching the GVI volunteers visiting his country.

He explains how the caste system, which has been banned, is still very active amongst the citizens.The highest caste are the Brahmins, who are the teachers. Second are the Chhetri’s the warrior and royal family members.  Then Baise, and finally Sudra, the lowest caste colloquially known as the “untouchables”.  According to Chet – Castes 1 to 3 have inbred moral values, whereas the Sudra’s, through eras of conditioning have few and no matter how hard they might try, they can never aspire to climb the invisible ladder.  Government is corrupt and nepotism abounds (by the sounds of it this is now a worldwide phenomena). Chet poses us a question with that twinkle in his eye, “Tepai lai kasta Trump chha?” “What do you think of Trump?” Our immediate response “Noraamro” – our Nepalese is getting pretty good. “He is not good” He laughs and agrees.

At the end of the lesson I build up the courage to ask “Linus photo Chet Ji?” with all the correct tonal depths.  Because we have learnt one word in a slightly different tone has 2 opposite meanings.  When in a restaurant and you ask for daal, make sure you say it without any aspirations. Because daal is not only a form of curry, but also a condom!

I am rewarded with another of his infectious laughs and a pat on the back.  “Yes, I may take his photo”.IMG_9083

To cruise or not to cruise ?

A few Aussies and a single South African walk into a British East India Club …………..!

That’s was the feeling I had whilst on my cruise down the Hooghly River. Hugli River. Hugli River, Hugli also spelled Hooghlyriver in West Bengal state, northeastern India. An arm of the Ganges (GangaRiver, it provides access to Kolkata (Calcutta) from the Bay of Bengal.

Coming out of a love filled retreat spanning the west of India and needing something to fill the gap before heading to work in Nepal, this trip popped up in my google search and fitted perfectly into my dates – it was meant to be.

Maybe it is coming from South Africa with our past history of apartheid and also living my childhood life in Durban, (which city still to this day purportedly has the biggest Indian population in the world, second after India itself), that immediately made me feel like I had taken a step back in time. Here where all the guests were white (or peach as my granddaughter will tell me) and the entire crew of the boat, made up of 28 male only Indians. It really hit home whilst sitting sipping an ice cold whiskey, served to me by an immaculately clad, ever obliging (almost subservient) young Indian lad, and I was reclining on the deck as the boat made its way leisurely down river, watching the daily grind of the poverty stricken rural Indians go about their daily life, that actually made me feel uncomfortable. It was too colonial! I brought up my feelings to one of my fellow English passengers and I saw immediately that they did not fully understand this feeling.  Must be a South African built in guilt of when Indian men were called Sammy’s. A Sammy is derived from the word ‘swami’ which was used by South African’s whites as a demeaning term for Indian workers. Ghandi, who was not spared that insult, succeeded in elevating the term.


The cruise itself was amazing.  The logistics of managing 22 (slightly older – I was the youngest guest on board) guests, where handled smoothly and seemingly effortlessly.  Even the disembarking from the long distance train in Farrakah where the allowance of 1 minute is given for all passengers and their luggage to be on the platform – almost Swiss like in their precision.  Here they had a team of “boys”, their term, not mine, offloading our bags like a well oiled machine, and then made a chain over the railway tracks to get these bags into the waiting vehicles.

Cruising down the Hoogly and stopping at numerous lesser known, but equally beautiful temples and ruins en route, is an experience I will cherish forever.  Far from the maddening crowds you can get a real feel for the beautiful people of India and the circumstances that they live under. The Assam Bengal Navigation Company that hosts this amazing adventure are unbelievably professional and no wants were left un-catered for. They literally bent over backwards to make this a memorable expedition.  Even to suggesting at the start of a day excursion, that the chef had run out of ingredients and were each given 20 rupees and had to go and bargain at the small local market for fresh fruit and vegetables for the chefs kitchen.


After visiting a local newly built school, which the company sponsors, my guilt started to dissipate as I found out that 5% of the cost of the trip goes towards the riverside communities upliftment. As ex colonials we are contributing to their much needed tourism industry.  So my answer is yes – go on that cruise and relax and enjoy the whiskey it is well worth it.



Good morning Kolkata !

Cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand, tip toeing quietly down the wooden floorboards of the ship’s corridor so as to not disturb the rest of the still sleeping guests, up the stairs which seem to squeak at every step in the morning stillness, to the soon to be sun basked deck. It is early morning in Kolata, it is quiet, the city has not yet started to awaken and it will be my last sunrise in India, before I head north towards Nepal.  The third leg of this journey of discovery.

I share this magical pre-dawn time with a single, tenacious spider, who has spun his web on the ship’s railings and I wonder where on earth did he come from, with the ship being moored in the middle of the river and seldom making contact with the riverside.

The flowing river laps softly against the side of the ship’s bow and there is a soft breeze, just enough to stir the potted palm fronds which adorn the deck.  The boat itself does not move and seems to almost sit defiantly atop the water.  This breeze too makes the surrounding smoggy haze swirl in little eddies.  These swirling eddies, may give the impression of a softness, but are actually warned at being dangerous to breathe.  With this haze comes an almost metallic smell to the air, which is combined with smell of the muddy waters wafting up from down below. I take a sip of my coffee which helps a bit to alleviate this not too pleasant aroma.

A call to prayer from the opposite riverbank breaks the awakening silence, which has now started to reverberate with the calling of birds and the first of the distance hooting of cars and motorbikes. An aeroplane flying high overhead almost heralds the sun rays just starting to force their way through the unforgiving haze. Instead of the grey surrounds, colours start to emerge, the ever present water hyacinth which has followed us downstream, turns an emerald green and nature performs its magic making the sky an colourful palette of pinks and oranges.

Life starts to appear on the surrounding boats, which have also been moored midstream through the night, the far off street lights in the city seem to have a magic switch and all turn off simultaneously, almost saying wake up, morning is here. My spider, my partner in crime, disappears and I wonder how and where he spends his day, before coming out again at nightfall.

Good morning Kolkata, thank you for showing me your beauty before all the harsh realities of living in this city emerge in the glaring light of daylight.


The beautiful people of India

She sits there, the old lady, crosslegged, in amongst the onions, potatoes, leeks and cabbages. This is her life, selling vegetables at the local market.  Images of her as a child are conjured up in my mind, carefree, barefoot, running freely along the dusty village roads. The only place she has ever known. The only way of life she has ever known. I am here to buy some ginger, she nods her head, takes out her hand scale and obligingly measures me out 20 rupees worth. This is all alien to me, but for her it is the norm, although maybe not serving me who stands head and shoulders taller than her minute figure. Her sari is a brilliant green and she has numerous jangling bracelets, which make a pleasant accompaniment to the background sounds of the market.

Next to me stands an intrigued young man, with dark inquisitive eyes. His shoes are worn, his clothes rather threadbare as he stands and openly stares. There is no threat. As westerners walking through their early morning market we are a novelty. Something different to break the daily routine of their day.

Walking past all the stalls, there are no shouts of persuasion to come in and buy, with threats of broken promises as experienced in the more tourist orientated towns visited. Here the ladies are incredibly persistent with pleas from every shop “Come buy” “Yesterday you promised” “Why do you not want to buy from my shop” They are first class sales people who eventually wear you down with their persistence and your own underlying feeling of guilt, knowing full well that when you say, “Tomorrow” you know inside you don’t really mean it.

In the cities, there is a  predominate feeling of maleness which made me do a bit of google research.  52% of this 1.3 billion population is male and on chatting to just a couple of these men, so this is by no means a true reflection of the mindset of all the testosterone driven people, women must stay and tend the home while they go out and work. This is very evident in walking around the big cities, where you may only see 1 woman out of 20 men crisp, collared shirt clad men going about their daily business. The women you come across are obviously from more forward thinking families and their mode of dress is very westernised, whereas out in the rural villages you will only see the ladies wearing their brilliant coloured saris.  Against the backdrop of the poverty which is around every corner, a splash of colour will catch you eye to reveal a woman just living life, oblivious of what an eye capturing picture she makes.

Unlike what is portrayed in the movies, there are not street urchins begging for wares on every corner. There are the little con artists though who will “innocently” forget to give you your change and act ignorant when asked for it. Personally I see very few children, in the cities and for the children in the villages, the novelty of seeing a group of Europeans strolling through their village is their entertainment for the day.  Some are very shy and will not be forthcoming with a smile, whereas others will wave and great and stand and smile obligingly for a photograph.  The occupants of the Dharvi Slum in Mumbai were, according to the guide, quite upset by the image portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire as they pride themselves in not asking for handouts and begging.


Walking around anywhere in India has its funny moments, from individuals who trying to be surreptitious, will stand just near you in order to supposedly take a selfie, but with you in the background.  The first time this happened I was a bit suspicious, but you soon learn that all there is nothing sinister about it at all.  Many will blatantly come and ask to have a photo taken with you.  Just as a tourist I want to take photos of them, it works the same way for them.


All in all – the people of India are beautiful – I cannot find a more perfect word.  Just that one word will do.  Very seldom do you hear a child crying or throwing a tantrum and everytime you are rewarded with a smile and a gracious thank you.  A humble people, who are extremely proud of their heritage, who are not afraid of hard work (the unemployment in India is 6,1%), making the most out of what they have.  Namaste!



“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
― Paulo Coelho

Beep – the horn blasts, then absolute silence as one, two, three steps are taken, another half a step and spring up, the only sound is the spring board squeak as I fly high into the air into a pike position and perform the perfect double somersault off the 3 m high spring board and a solitary splash into the cool blue waters of the pool. Going down deep and straight – keep the body straight is running through my mind to make as little splash as possible to help get good points in this high board diving competition.  This was a good 45 years ago – now the idea of going to stand at the edge of a diving board, I quake at the knees.

When do we learn to fear – why can we not live our lives with the fearlessness of our youth. Why do we fear. When did fear start to play a part in my life.  One of my goals is to live fearlessly. What is fear – only self doubt.

I found my heart in my mouth just the other day on leaving my hotel in Mumbai to get to the airport in the early hours. The surly night shift operator had arranged for my taxi, and his suggestion that I pay him instead of the driver just alerted my senses, his attitude was suspicious and him talking in hindi to his friends who all turned to stare at me as I left, really made me feel suspicious.  I knew the general direction of the airport but had to trust this strange man in his car, that did not resemble any image of a taxi. My mind has been conditioned. Maybe it comes from living in South Africa where our 6th sense seems to naturally kick in. I try and keep my sense of direction as the taxi  ducks and dives through the early morning streets of downtown Mumbai. When he takes an unexpected turn, my stomach does the somersault and images of being kidnapped and what to do start racing through my mind.  I can almost taste my fear.  He turns and says – “taking short cut”. And yes he did – we were at the airport within half an hour.

So how to curb this instinct. When did we become so conditioned – I have no memories of this fear as a child, or as a teenager, or young mother.  When did I become so fearful.  Quotes abound on the internet that in order to grow we need to get out of our comfort zone. At the same time I have friends who tell me how brave I am for doing what I am doing, as they would be too scared to do it.

Don’t let fear fuel your life. I have to dig deep to conquer my fears and what an amazing liberating feeling it is.  But it isn’t just the physical fear we need to conquer – it is that fear of stepping out of convention, of what others could possibly think of you, getting out of our comfort zones. The fear of the unknown – and if it is unknown – why fear it?

I good friend suggested when I embarked on my trip to Costa Rica, “Just say yes to everything – it may get you into trouble, but what an adventure.”  And I did, which resulted in my jumping off a waterfall in the middle of a Costa Rican rain forest. Made me feel like that child again off the high diving board.


Conquering fear is a daily challenge and one I am determined to master. To live once again with the fearlessness of a child.

Retreat :-)

Retreat – Verb – withdraw, retire, draw back, escape

Retreat – Noun – an act of moving back, pulling back, flight

– Noun -a period or place of seclusion for the purpose of prayer and meditation

Regardless of where the word comes from – the purpose of this particular retreat was to Make your Soul Smile.

The last retreat I had ever been on I was only 13 years old, it was a religious one and was held at the Catholic Marian Hill Monastery.  The only memory I have of this auspicious occasion is sharing a small dorm room with 3 other classmates and having pillow fights at midnight with one of the nuns scolding us severely in the morning for being disruptive.  I therefore had no preconceived ideas about what I was about to embark on.  It promised a balanced experience where you would not be expected to walk around head bowed in silence, but to fully embrace all aspects of life – from dancing on the beach till dawn to questions with a holy guru in one of the holiest of cities in India.

They lived up to their promises, encompassing the teaching of seven sacred miracles. Intention, masterpiece, gratitude, balance, integrity, humour and love.

As this is a personal journey for each individual, the teachings are interpreted differently by each person and I found only one aspect that did not sit well with me, and that was the expectation that by the end of 12 days you would automatically be transformed into this ever loving, ever forgiving person ready to take on the world, warts and all. I wasn’t ready, still have quite a few glitches to work out.  It is a judgement on my part and maybe this is just part of my own journey that I am working through.

Apart from meeting some wonderful people who I will be able to call friends for life, there were some wonderful highlights, which will remain in my memory and hopefully enable me to iron out these pesky glitches.

Tuc-tuc race through the streets of Agra to a sunset tour of the Taj Mahal, puts things in perspective. The monument for love lives up to its expectations, and after driving through the abject poverty of the surrounding streets, to this marble grandeur can only make you marvel at how the local people live and how much we, as spoilt westerners, take things for granted.

Driving in convoy by landrovers, pre dawn, into the foothills of the Himalayas to watch the sun awaken the sleeping hill tops, freezing cold. To hear a woman sobbing loudly as the sun made it appearance. The beauty, solitude and peace was almost tangible.


A visit to an Ashram where guru Mooji was giving an audience is an unforgettable experience.  On entering the ashram, the instructions where silence, with cream clad westerners, many sporting pre-requisite dreadlocks, walking around with hands clasped enforcing the rule.  I felt a bit of cynicism setting in here as I felt you do not need to follow like sheep and dress the part and walk around with stooped shoulders to be enlightened. Sitting crosslegged on the cold concrete floor with hundreds of other elephant pant clad, barefoot pilgrims, who had come to India to find themselves, waiting for the main player to appear, didn’t help with my inner voice calling “bullshit”.  Then out the speakers a recording started of one of Mooji’s meditative teachings, which resonated with me and silenced that inner voice, my mind, to the extent I stopped feeling the cramp creeping up my legs and the cold and the disquiet of my mind.  Mooji then made his appearance – a calm beautifully spoken inspiring man, who could work magic with his words. The questions and answer session then began, with a tortured woman taking the floor with her question about life.  Mooji listened attentively and answered fairly.  She however was a seriously lost soul and would not leave the podium demanding more and more, and the reaction of the crowd of “enlightened ones” broke the spell, with the laughing and twittering at this poor woman.  I needed to leave this area to try and keep the magic that was still in my heart.

Learning the rudiments of Japanese Hojo martial arts on the sunsetting beach of Goa, here where any inhibitions have no option but to be let go, was a truly emotive and liberating experience.

And walking through the slums of Mumbai, where not one occupant put their hand out.  They make their living conditions work, do not complain and make the most of what they have.  Something we as westerners can learn a lot from. The whole time I have been in India, I have somehow felt I have been living on a movie set. Around every corner is a scene that cries out to be captured.  The people are all smiling and I know that through all of this, my soul is going to end up smiling from ear to ear.

Here I have to give credit to Brett Shuttleworth and the Smiling Soul Retreat – because my take on the word retreat, is not one of withdrawal, but one of awakening. Thank you.



Snap shot of a taxi drive through Kolkata

The local Kolkata Municipality could save thousands of rupees by not bothering to paint any road markings, as they do not appear to play any part in the daily lives of local residents making use of the potholed riddled roads of Kolkata.  Where there are 3 demarcated lanes, 9 times out of 10, you will find 5 + vehicles abreast, and the term vehicles is used lightly, as this covers the broad spectrum of the renowned 3 wheeled tuc-tucs, tricycles bearing all means of trade for the day, from live animals to mounds of foliage, the everyday sedans, bright yellow taxis with absurd metalwork guards protecting their tail lights, buses with their resigned passengers, motor bikes and anything else that has wheels. The cacophony of sound reverberates from the incessant hooting, which eventually just becomes white noise. It appears that if one driver is a nose ahead, he has the right of way, and will force his way, with hand on hooter to within a hairbreadth of passing traffic.  But out of all this chaos, must be some order, as somehow it all works.  Saying that however, the panel beating business must be one of the most lucrative, as every single vehicle appears to have had some kind of facelift to its body work.


The whole city however, could do with a facelift, the appearance of lack of maintenance, dust and grime, broken pavements, pot holed roads, half completed and half demolished concrete block buildings line the roads, with refuse strewn every which way – just a general feeling of not caring.  The people get on with their daily lives despite the squalor, and it must be true that if you see the same crack every day, you eventually stop seeing it. Children squatting in the gutters, bathroom ablutions taking place out of buckets on the side of the road, a couple of workmen appeared to be trying to attempt some maintenance by painting roadside railings, which were still covered in dust with the original paintwork rusted and peeling.

One job which would not be an envied profession in this town – would be that of an electrician – as the spiderweb of electrical cabling would be a challenge to any spider who wove the most intricate of webs.


A couple of landmarks on the airport route are the large Marriott Hotel, a massive new hotel being constructed by the ITC group and the biggest surprise of all, a replica of Big Ben. There are pockets of the city where some of the residents have tried to improve their living standards, with brightly painted and decorated building facades which stand out against the otherwise grey and smoggy backdrop. Despite all this Kolkata has a nervous, addictive vibrancy and I think it may snow in the city today – as my taxi driver actually used his indicator.

A lone wolf in India – as the adventure begins – Chapter 1

The longer we are alone, the more selfish we get – and this is something I have come to realise with enjoying the liberating euphoria of managing difficult circumstances whilst travelling solo and then joining up with a group, where all decisions are taken out of your hands.

The first instance this became apparent to me was arriving in Delhi – and meeting up with other participants of the group and sharing a hotel transfer – which to me is all part of the journey, but not always so for others.  I love the unknown complexities of other cultures, whether it be how they drive, how they eat or how they interact.  Now having to share a transfer driving through the craziness and seemingly devil may care attitude of the local Indian drivers, I would have just absorbed the whole experience and soaked up the atmosphere, whereas others comment on the disasters of the system and compare home countries with the country they are visiting, together with the cringeworthy question to the taxi driver, “Who discovered India?”  This I have to admit marred my first taste of this diverse country. The one con of group travel – a compromise I needed to make over the next two weeks of being part of a group.  Everyone has their own way of handling situations and when put together with a group of 18 others, it can be quite challenging at times.  But I came to India on the first of three legs, to join a retreat, to be guided on how to let go, how to stop taking myself so seriously and to stop judging. To each their own.


A group of 18 people from all walks of life, different ages, different countries, all on the same journey, but for vastly different reasons makes for an interesting trip.  The awkwardness of having to share a room with a complete stranger, with different toilet routines, likes and dislikes, could be a real hit or miss situation. Do they snore, are they night owls or early birds, tidy or messy – immediately puts you out of your comfort zone, which is one of the aims of the retreat – stretch yourself and learn. To be tolerant, to be flexible. Things the entire world needs a lesson in.

At the same time – I was here for self improvement, to learn how to say no. To stop feeling guilty of my choices, to stop making excuses.  Stand up and be counted.

Sitting here now typing this first blog of my experiences over the past 12 days, and maybe rambling a bit, where my mind seems to be racing faster than I can type – I know that I have always been tolerant and flexible and willing to compromise, but at the same time cherishing my next leg of this Indian journey of solo, one on one travel, where my psyche has changed from being part of the pack, where a switch has almost been turned on.  My current view is over Mumbai, sitting on the 9th floor of the hotel, watching the ships coming in and out of the harbour, local boats ferrying people out for day excursions into the bay, the Gateway of India to the left with the majestic Taj Mahal Hotel dominating the skyline – I will be going there for lunch today. Solo!


So bottom line is – I am ultimately a lone wolf and whilst the past 12 days of sharing everything has been a truly amazing experience, I revel in being able to go where I want to go when I want to.