Picture this: you’re riding through the Sri Lankan countryside, beach on your right, green palm trees and rice paddies on your left, the occasional elephant dotted in and amongst the jungle, Sri Lankan reggae blasting out, bass heavy, lights flashing and that’s a Sri Lankan bus. Incredible.
Picture white sandy beaches, palm trees curving with the wind and a big blue ocean all to yourself and you’re thinking of Sri Lanka. The beaches here are nothing short of perfect. Enhance that with a fresh king coconut given to you by a local and you’ve hit the jackpot.
There are few things in the world that bring quite so many laughs as surfing. Even if you’re terrible at it, blue skies, friendly waves and a day of falling into the Indian Ocean because you’re constantly laughing too hard with your friends will never not be a good idea.
Forget the fact that after you’ve been scraped up against the ocean floor and will, if you’re like me, be left with battered and bruised legs for the next few weeks. It will all be worth it.
Meditation is something that I have a love hate relationship with. I’m a pretty level headed person but I do have a mind that runs at 100mph at all times. Trying to make that stop sometimes seems like an impossible task and a mountain that seems like too much effort to climb. I have a lot of ways to combat it – drawing, running, writing, hiking – so meditation isn’t always something I consider necessary. I try now and again, and probably more often than the average Brit, but I think for the most part I don’t have a method that allows me to just sit somewhere and switch off completely for an extended period of time.
But whilst in Rishikesh, I tried a meditation class that focused on breathing. Usually if I do this then my mind wanders instantly. The second I think focus on breathing then I almost instantly think of everything else I could possibly think of. Ie ‘don’t think of an elephant’ kind of scenario. Anyway, this guy had some interesting techniques, that required you to really focus on your breath, deep, quick breathing for a period of time. After that, we breathed normally, and I realised in that time that I had been so focused on that totally unnatural technique for breathing that when I stopped I realised I wasn’t thinking of anything at all – and best of all I could maintain that for a while. And it was incredible! Nothing.
Having spent over a year in Taiwan and having thoroughly enjoyed the sweet tropical fruit of every season being right outside my door, I was pretty certain that there wouldn’t be a place in the world that could compete with the sweetness of a Taiwanese mango. I was wrong. India has mangoes to die for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are well worth braving that infamous Indian summer for the sake of consuming them.
Just over a week ago, Shannon and I headed up to Rishikesh, known to all yogis as the yoga capital of the world. Yoga is something I go through phases of, as are a lot of things because I’m quite fickle, and I either find myself in a do yoga everyday kind of month or it never crosses my mind.
As you can imagine, most of the people hanging out in Rishikesh are yoga fanatics, chilling there to become instructors/ find themselves and I don’t know what else and of course you don’t have to be this serious to enjoy Rishikesh’s yoga charm. But there is definitely a vibe about the place that makes you want to jump straight into that warrior two pose standing next to the Ganges. If you find yourself in the yoga capital of the world, even if you don’t consider yourself a yogi, then you shouldn’t miss dedicating a few hours to that mind body connection.
It seems to be an ongoing trend of the trip that too many people are squeezed into too small a space. Today, Shannon, my brother who recently just joined us, and myself squeezed into a tuk tuk in Colombo. Comfortable isn’t a word I would.
You know when you tell people that you’re going to India, they’ll tell you to be careful long before they tell you to have an amazing time. These people will never have been to India. I always find this really funny because I like to think that I never would degrade anything before I’d experienced it for myself. Like when your parents tell you to eat your vegetables when you’re younger and you say ‘I don’t like broccoli’ and they say ‘how do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it?’. Same goes for anything right? In my books anyway.
India for me has always been this colourful, diverse country filled with beautiful places and beautiful people, and yes sure, as a blonde haired, light eyed 5’9er, it’s also a place where I’ll get a lot of attention and should keep my eyes open, but, honestly, that was always one of the last things to cross my mind.
Anyway, for all that commentary of ‘be careful’, India has shown nothing but kindness to us.
On the plane from Nepal to India, I happened to find a young boy in my seat. And rather than say ‘oi get out of my seat, lad’, I decided to let the little one keep the window and instead sat down next to his Dad, who promptly started a conversation with me. He was from Sikkim, picking up his kid from school in Delhi for the summer holidays. Sikkim and the area is a relatively difficult and expensive place to get around because there is very little public transport, especially from the airport. This man asked if we would like to share a jeep up to the point where we needed to get our permit for the area. I’m sure a lot of people, my parents, who I’m very grateful are not tiger parents and never have been, would certainly advise against getting into a jeep with a stranger and his son in northern India, but I’m the type of person who has decided if I trust you within the first few minutes, and he seemed like a good guy.
It turns out my instincts were very correct because not only did he transport us all the way to Rangpo checkpoint, he also took us out for a local dinner and then called a friend to transport us the rest of the way – for no money, for nothing. Just to be a good person helping two travellers out. I’ll be sure to pay the kindness forward in my future.
So we spent five whole days chasing mt. Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. You’d think that a mountain that big would be pretty hard to miss and almost impossible to hide, but you would be wrong if you thought this. From Pelling to Darjeeling, we looked everyday to see this monster, but instead every day we were greeted by thick cloud. In fact, besides the ride up to Darjeeling, we actually spent two days in thick cloud with not even the neighbouring hills visible. But, I suppose if it wasn’t seen this time, I’ll just have to come back and search again.
I hate to think of myself as falling into British stereotypes but sadly I do and I do hard. I always check the weather and lll usually complain about it too, I am overly polite to people I don’t know or I don’t like and I do drink a stupid amount of tea. It is a warm hug in a cup, why wouldn’t you want to drink it?
So being a tea lover, I was overjoyed to be able to visit the home of my favourite tea here in India – Darjeeling. So yes I had a cup (a lot of cups) of Darjeeling in Darjeeling. It was splendid.