"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." - Patanjali

Friday, February 24, 2006

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer Puppets

Jaisalmer City



If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son!
- Rudyard Kipling

Jodhpur Fort 3

The spectacular insides of the palaces...

Umaid Bhavan: the current residence and part hotel of the current maharaja

The spectacular enormity of Meherangarh

More insides...

An entrance to the fort

Jodhpur FOrt 2

The view of the palace from the ramparts..

One of the inner palaces
Pictures of the famed "blue city"...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mahila Mandals

A group of girls about to perform for the MM meeting

The meeting itself

Cricket under the mountains at sunset...

Some pics...of Sidhbari and around

The Samadhi and the mountains in the distance...

A little stream near the Ashram...love the play of light and shadow

View of the Dhauladar mountains from the top of my building in the ashram

A village kid...

Pristine surrounds...


Jhiyol is a town about a half hours drive from Tapovan, and thee venue for the latest field visit.
The aim was to assess the impact of the various Mahila Mandals, on the town, the health of the workers, and then to pick up on the positive aspects, while not neglecting the weaknesses. With this knowledge, a future policy can be charted, implemented and once again assessed in due course.

Apart from thee strength of the Mahila Mandals (mahila - woman; mandal - group) the need for participants is critical to the success of the seminar. The kids were sent from house to house to drag and convince the women - and men - to the meeting. Naren energised them with the slogan "Chalke milke baath karenge" (quite literally, walking, meeting, we will meet).

All the participants were split into groups to discuss the impacts etc. Th concept of splitting into groups based on the facilitator giving them a number of 1,2, or 3 was alien and took some time to organise. To open up and voice their thoughts also took some time, but in the end many came up with many salient points.

The inadequacies of the village were present all around us. In front of me a child squatted, near, but not close enough to a small drainage gully. The child urinated, the puddle forming between the child's feet, some being absorbed into the cloth of the his pants. Uncleaned the child stood, cheered at the thought of another mission completed successfully, not knowing or realising the simple task of being clean.

Meanwhile the men of the village were at home and didn't come because India were playing Pakistan. This was the excuse we got when we asked them to attend. It seems to me that, game or no game, while most of the developmental focus is - quite rightly - through the women, the men of the villages see little rehabilitation. Maybe its due to pride or alcohol, or lack of effort, but the sad fact stands.

The women though are sufficiently involved in all the activities and for CORD are the nodal points of any vikas (development) in the villages. From thee mahila mandals rise the other programs - self-help groups, income-generating schemes, bank linkages through loans, and many other developmental and community work.

Though these women may be different to what you and I know, there is one universal feature: the incessant need to converse, express, and share. At every chance noise would break out and the facilitators would have to scream to be heard.

Two of the messages delivered with the most potency are to ensure that all houses have toilets
and thee burning or plastic. At this session, of the fifty or sixty women present, only ten stood to confirm the existence of a toilet in their homes. A simple toilet can be built for as little as rs.150 - 200, yet its quite possible that many of thee toilet-less homes have a decent sized colour TV, with cable.

Plastics is more of a CORD campaign. The standard operating procedure is to collect plastic and burn them, thereby polluting the air and the soil into which the toxic ash will be absorbed. It was explained to them, that this will then affect their crops, the water which they drink, and the follow through affects not only for their kids, but all future generations.

It was also explained that the toxic gas would harm the lungs of everyone and may cause miscarriages, asthma and other diseases.

To close the session, the town folk were shown a video on clean water, acted out by over enthusiastic artisans. As a rule, Deepika didi insists each meeting end with a song and dance session. And these villagers, needed no help in getting started.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Jodhpur Fort

The size, relative to the cars...enormous!

One of the gates, still scarred on the left entrance from an attack by the maharajah of Jaipur some time back

Jodhpur from the bastions of the fort...

The monolith that is Meherangarh

One of the palaces of Meherangarh..


A word or few about future postings to this blog. The net connection at CORD is anything but fast, and attempting to develop the patience to deal with it seems like a mighty task. The other option is Dharamshala or McLeod Ganj (which rival Pushkar for selling themselves to the foreign tourist, thereby losing all possible charm) but this is hard, what with the 7 day working week (well almost) CORD employs.

So instead once every week i'll hopefully put up some of the better stuff from what i've written throughout the week on my pda. So if you find an avalanche of writing, you know why.

On the contrary then, pictures on the blog will resemble a flat plain of nothingness and be few and very far in apart. I still have the Rajasthan stuff saved in the blog from the fast connection in Jaipur, so this camel will look to its hump for visual sustenance.

Fat-cat capitalists

Whenever people come to work for CORD or have training seminars run by CORD, the ashram provides their accommodation and meals.

So imagine bankers attending a seminar on micro-banking. At dinner, the bankers, many of whom are general managers and other senior management, those who have scaled the heights of capitalism, and are indeed capitalism personified, wait for the meal prayer to be said, are served by and sit amongst those who have pretty much renounced all things material, and try to fit their over laden stomachs between tables more used to anorexic Swamis than voluminous bankers.

For all that the obvious point not yet mentioned is that they have come down from their perch to see how they can contribute to a scheme to help cash-strapped villagers, or more cynically, how to make money out of the money-less.

The Daily Routine

So I don't have one. Yet. But then I'm not too optimistic about getting one. There's an arti in the morning at 6, but I can't visually confirm that, because well, i've been asleep. To make up, when i've been in the ashram, attendance at the evening arti - also at 6 - has thus far been 100%.

In between i've been at CORD or exploring the ashram, checking out how things work and sitting in on various meetings that might be around, or meeting people - in short getting to know the place. To this end i've been greatly assisted by a CHYK from Ottawa, Canada by the name of Radha.

Radha has now been here since just before I left Sydney - approximately the 15th of November. She is also working at CORD, hoping to raise public awareness in Canada about CORD through a series of articles.

Anyway, Radha has almost been like a big sister. She's given me advice on the littlest things within the ashram as well as at CORD: told me what and where to eat, when the bookstore opens, where to get the best shawls from, the buses to catch to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, when the dhobi lady comes (more on this later!), what it's like in Sidhbari, the temple in a rock, where to find the multi-lingual sadhus with Phd's, who now sit around stoned, and a many plethora of the most miniscule thing. More than all the hive of information that she is, she's a cool, genuine person and a great friend.

So far though the two most important things i've learnt from her is that, one, life is a game - play it well. Two, everyone has a story. The many people who work at CORD, and those in the villages it seeks to uplift, have far dissimillar lives than what we have ever known or experienced. To discover these stories is one of the little known treasures of being here.

Hopefully I can at various stages share these with you.

Ok so this doesn't really give you much idea about a routine but like I said, don't hold your breath for one.

Finally back to the afore-mentioned dhobi lady. It had been four days since my arrival and the supply of clean clothes was lower than a Sydney dam! So Radha advised me all you have to do is pay her rs.100 per month and you'll have your clothes washed, dried and folded. She said: In the morning soak the clothes in some soap and leave the bucket outside your door: she'll take care of the rest. Sounds easy.

So I bought the soap and it struck me: Gandhiji cut his own hair in England so surely I can wash my own clothes? The first round went well, and as I write the whites are soaking in a solution of Hindustan Lever-distributed Rin Advanced soap and hot water. I didn't read the instructions so will let you know how it goes!

So i'm back and have resolved not to wear whites. The logic is as follows: if you have a black or blue shirt or sock the results are not immediately or ever discernable. After the washing procedure, one assumes the garment is pure and clean. With whites it's not satisfactory to just soak and rinse: the exam is pass or fail. If one can see a non-white colour, then the job is not yet complete. So I realised this and failed the test: I forego white!

PS I wrote all this last week, and have now tried to find the dhobi lady. Also, we have been joined by a CHYK from the UK, Jay. More on him later.

Sidbari II

To the person who knows a little bit of a little bit about India, Sidhbari is best described as being close to Dharamshala, the town closest to the Dalai Lama's temple and residence, McLeod Ganj.

To (s)he who knows nothing about India, Sidhbari, Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj are situated in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, at heights varying between 1100m (Sidhbari) and 1770m (McLeod Ganj) above sea-level.

About one kilometer from Sidhbari, lies the ashram of Swami Chinmayanda, Tapovan. Right next to Tapovan, down a long rocky path sided by a forest whose eminent resident is a cheetah, is the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development - CORD.

Tapovan regularly hosts camps run by various Swami's, and is currently at the beginning stages of a Brahmachari course in Hindi (as compared to the same course run in English at the Powai ashram in Bombay). So with regular events such as camps and talks, there is ample accommodation within the complex. I am in room 130 (ekh-sou-theese in Hindi!) in the Hanuman building, named as such because a gigantic statue of Hanuman is adjacent to the rooms. At the entrance of the building is the path which passes by the Samadhi of Swami Chinmayanda.

In the far distance behind the Samadhi lie the lower snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. If the range is followed to the left, the eye will grace Dharamshala, and then higher up, McLeod Ganj.

From the Samadhi a small pathway ambles toward the statue of Hanuman, opening to a courtyard. On the left is the kutia of Swami Chinmayananda, and as the path takes a right turn, there lies a large hall for discorses and so on. Opposite the hall is the dining room. On the right, after the hall, are more accommodation blocks. At the end of the pathway is the Ram mandir.

Throughout the ashram are plentiful trees, gardens and lawns.Tapovan in it's entirety, is a luscious peaceful abode, where the quiet reigns, and the vision of one man comes to life.

All of the above is an unsuccessful attempt at trying to describe the surrounds of Tapovan. I've purposely kept the description strictly factual, and not tried to convey the ambience, only because its best experienced in person and, try as you may, no number of words, or pictures from any angle, will do justice.

The room I am in is simple and plain. As soon as one enters, the tiled room feels about half the size of my bedroom in Sydney. On the immediate right of the entrance is the door of the bathroom and beyond that, a large window with views of the Samadhi and then the mountain range. On the opposite wall of the front door, is the entrance to an enclosed balcony, which faces the road leading to CORD.

In terms of furniture the room consists of two individual beds with mattresses, the heads of which are beneath the mountain-facing window; on the opposite wall, a wooden, meter-long rectangular table with a plastic garden chair; and next to the table, a small four level rack, which, with an abundance of cupboards, I would use for shoes. Given that I don't have that luxury, it's home to, no, not clothes - they lie on the unused bed in pile similar to the mountains in the background - but to books: apart from my dear Lonely Planet and the less-dear Eyewitness to India, I have Hindi-English and English-Hindi dictionaries, a Teach Yourself Hindi guide, and three or four novels, which I picked up in Jaipur.

Three of the walls are plain and unmarked. The one which the rack and table lean against are adorned with two pictures of Gurudev, a mirror and a series of hooks.
All in all, given the number of hotel rooms I've stayed in over the past month, were I a hotelier, I would quite easily charge rs.300 or rs.350 per night. It's neat, comfortable and very unfussy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The wedding

This comes more than 2 months after the event, but the pics of Sunita and Judge's wedding are up. They can be seen here.


In the past week, I have seen Jaipur, caught a bus to Delhi, saw a little bit of the city, then caught a train to Pathankot, a bus to a tiny village Gaggal (?) and then a taxi to Sidbari.

This place is awesome, and hopefully over the next few months I can give you all an accurate picture of what the ashram is like, as well as the work that CORD (Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development) does.

I still have many pics from Rajasthan to put up, so that will happen as well in the not too distant future.

Hope all is well with everyone...