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Goan to Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


We left you last from a balmy beachside bar in Anjuna, which is pretty much where we stayed for the next month so there's not a lot to report from Goa, other than our mission to chill out and tan up was a successful one. Tan, of course, is a relative measure, but we're very happy with our new hue - best described as a darker shade of pale. Christmas was a pretty relaxed affair. In fact, Will was so relaxed he slept until 7pm; though this may have been due to the fact that we were on a hilltop listening to hard-core Goan trance pumping out at ear-threatening decibel levels all night, and most of the morning, before. Realising we weren't going to be able to make the most of Christmas day itself we decided to take a dawn stroll along the beach and with our souls singing with natural beauty and ears ringing with suspected tinitus we eventually crashed out at about 10am. For New Year we tried to do the same again (the dawn stroll, not the 7pm breakfast) and so, much more drinking and some truly awful dancing later we set out along the beach ready to become inspired. The view was somewhat less idyllic with the shore littered with beercans and the bodies of our fellow revellers, but not a bad start to the new year all the same.

A few days later we deserted Goa and headed for Amratapuri, an ashram run by one of India's only female gurus, Amma. Amma means mother in Hindi, she gets her name from her unusual style of blessing her devotees, namely by giving them a hug. It seems to work too, with over 2,000 residents at the ashram as well as thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. It's pretty easy to tell the 2 apart, one group looking slightly bemused and the other looking slightly unhinged. Being surrounded by so many serenely smiling, wide eyed Amma-lites, all dressed in white, was more than a little disconcerting, and we have to admit that we had some serious doubts about the whole thing. After watching that evening's bhajans (religious chanting & singing, including numbers such as 'Blessed is the Mother' and 'Oh Amma, What a Lovely Hug That Was' - available to buy on CD at the Ashram gift shop) led by the great lady herself, we were amused to see many of the devotees pushing and shoving each other in order to touch their hallowed leader as she walked past, including one lady profering her baby Michael Jackson style over the barrier. To be honest we were becoming more and more disturbed by the increasingly cultish levels of adoration on display, as well as confused by the unnecessary officiousness of some of the devotees, who seemed to be more concerned with herding the flock than helping it.

The next day we headed down for the darshan (blessing), still unsure of whether we would feel some sort of spiritual epiphiny, or if it would feel a bit epi-phoney. After receiving our ticket ('Please pay the bearer the sum of one hug') and joining the line we were dragged by the Queue Manager into the seating area to watch Amma with her devotees. Watching her at work we saw many of her followers becoming quite emotional, and they clearly got a great deal from their audience with her, and soon we were quite eager to get darshan ourselves to see what all this was really about...but how to go about it? The Queue Manager had taken our ticket, and we didn't want to push past the others (which would surely be bad karma). We asked the Stage Manager, he said to go back to the Queue Manager. The Queue Manager sent us to the Security Manager, who sent us back to the Queue Manager, who asked us for our ticket - the same ticket he had taken away an hour before. After a fun discussion where he insisted that he wouldn't have taken the ticket (because then how could we get Darshan?) and a little more queuing we were back in the seating area, with no darshan, no ticket, and no idea as to what to do next. The Stage Manager came to our rescue though and helped us back into the queue (out of sight of the over-zealous Queue Manager) and soon we were approaching Amma with open hearts and minds, ready for our blessing.

Being new at this blessing business, we were slightly unsure when we got there what we should do. Blessing ettiquette, or blessiquette as it is commonly known, was not something we had been briefed on, but the hug-helpers were clearly used to this and made sure we did everything correctly, including holding our heads close to Amma's substantial chest as she hugged us and mumbled a blessing into our ears. Despite our earlier doubts we both came away from the experience with a new energy and purpose, though this may have been partly due to our victory over the dastardly Queue manager and his evil attempts to trap us in line for the rest of time!

Our next major stop was Kanyakumari, the Lands-End of India. The town itself is fairly pretty, with Meditteranean-style buildings facing the sea and is also one of the holiest places in India, but then so are Varanasi, Rishikesh, Kolkata, in fact pretty much everywhere has a claim to be the holiest place in India. They have a plethora of holy places (especially the roads, as Bec discovered a few weeks before by falling straight in one!), maybe they should have a holy-off and decide the thing once and for all...but back to Kanyakumari. One of it's main attractions is India's statue of liberty, but this might be better described as the statue of poetry as it is dedicated to Thiruvallularalaralalalaaraalala, the most revered poet in recent times and a nationl symbol of Indian-ness. It stands 133ft tall, representing the 133 verses of his seminal work entitled 'Oooh, isn't India Holy'....or some such. The other thing that stood out about the town was the food, which is the worst we've had in India, it's all bad, it's wholey shit, so despite trying several different eateries we left for Pondicherry with empty stomachs, but luckily for us that's not a bad way to arrive in Pondicherry, which has some of the best food in India. It's no coincidence that the territory used to be run by the French rather than the Brits, you really can taste the difference, which is what we did for the next 2 days before moving on to our last stop and our last day on the subcontinent, Chennai.

The Lonely Planet was singularly scathing about Chennai, so it was no surprise that it was in fact one of the friendliest and most entertaining places we'd visited. Walking randomly around we stumbled into an amazing club, which included India's biggest Miami Vice & Lional Richie fan (Miami Vice Jacket, Lionel's bubble-perm). We, of course had to go back and pack, ready for our flight to Kuala Lumpur the next day, so with a heavy heart we left for our hotel, but as an added bonus we were both given flags by local Congress party members who had been holding a rally that day. It was a stange end to a strange trip in a strange country, one that we were looking forward to leaving, but also somewhat unexpectedly look forward to returning to one day.

Conclusions on a Country - Describe India in 10 words or less

India's a little bit scary, a lot of the time.
A place of hard beds, hot heads & early weds.
Delhi belly - often smelly - maybe best to bring your wellies.
Keep your eyes and ears open, but close your nose.
Facial hair - everywhere; people stare if you're not from there.

Please feel free to add your own!!

permalink written by  BecnWill on January 20, 2008 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: The World By Knight
tagged Amma, Kanyakumari, Pondicherry, Falling and MiamiVice

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