India – Yoga in Delhi (India)

I visited Delhi 10 years ago. I was attending an Indian wedding. It was a very glamorous affair as the bride and groom were both from very wealthy families.

The celebrations lasted three days. Day 1 was at the groom’s house. He paid to have his street closed off and then rode a horse down it whilst wearing full regal clothing. I’d like to see someone try this in Scotland. “Why is my street closed? Some prick is riding a horse whilst dressed like a fud!”

I don’t think it’ll catch on.

Day 2 was a ceremony for the bride in a luxury hotel. She sat on a platform getting her wedding henna tattoos applied. As she had to sit very still various people would go in front of her to entertain her. As the only white person at the wedding I was pushed forward to entertain her. I asked what I should do. Most people dance I was told. So I told her I’d dance a traditional Scottish wedding dance. Unfortunately I didn’t know any so I did the Macarena instead and hoped that song had never reached Delhi

It was a great occasion but I remember Delhi as being dirty, noisy and busy. I’d stayed in a dive of a hotel in the old town. This time I wanted to stay somewhere better so at least there would be some respite from all the craziness.

Thankfully the exchange rate and the power of the pound means Indian hotels are very reasonably priced so it’s easy and affordable to stay somewhere good.

Although they are Indian so their happy to rip you off if you let hem. For example a taxi from the airport costs 400R. The hotel offered to pick us up for 4000R! We turned down their offer!

Indians hotels have a lot of security which is a good thing in that it makes me feel safe but it’s a bad thing because it also make me question why ? What do they know that I don’t! Especially as India is a very safe country to travel in where I rarely feel troubled.

We tried to get a yoga class but they didn’t have any so instead we used their activity room to do it ourselves.

I was very impressed by the lights to the swimming pool

I was also impressed by the first television we had in a week that had more than just BBC World as an English Channel. After yoga we watched an episode of Friends. Sometimes it’s the small reminders of home that help break up a journey.

India – Delhi (Iain)

Indians in Delhi are very helpful when I’m walking. They would often stop me and ask “where are you walking to?”

Which would swiftly become an interrogation. “Why are you walking? Why don’t use use a rickshaw? Tell me again where are you going?”

I reply that I’m heading to Lodi gardens.

“You’ll not get to Lodi gardens this way. There is a protest on. It’s very dangerous. You should go to Connaught square to the shops instead.”

I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll give it a try.

“No, no, no. You can not go that way. Tell me where your going next. Have you booked plane? Have you got accommodation?”

I decide to ignore him and head in the direction of Lodi gardens. Within a few minutes another man has come up and demanded to know why I’m walking. I tell him I’m going to Lodi gardens.

“It is closed today. You won’t get in.”

I thought it was a public park that’s free to all and open all year.

“No, it’s definitely closed. You won’t get in. You need to go to market. It is open”

I ignore him and continue walking.

There is no sign of any protest anywhere. It’s just a normal road which for once in India is surprisingly quiet and easy to walk.

Of course, a third man approaches. I’ve now worked out that all they care about is getting me to go to wherever their own shop is. I don’t even bother speaking to him when he asks why I am walking.

Eventually I reach the garden. Its full of Indian families enjoying the late evening sun. It is definitely not closed.

 

Ice Skating For Dafties (Andrew)

What is the point of ice skating?

Apparently, ice skating started back when cavemen decided to cross a frozen expanse by gliding across it by strapping bones to their feet – and that’s where it should have ended.

First Caveman: Dave – what are ya doing, mate?
Second Caveman: I’m using the bones of a woolly mammoth to reduce the friction between the sole of my feet and the ice of this here expanse.
First Caveman: Aye, Dave, I can see how you might want to reduce the friction in order to move faster by achieving an optimal glide but…
Second Caveman: What, Sebastian?
First Caveman: YER STRAPPING A BONE TO YER FOOT YA CREEPY WEIRDO!!!!

Yet they all joined in and didn’t stop, not even when Dave went out in the ice and fell through into the icy water.

Which is why I hesitate with ice skating. No sport should involve possible death-traps!

Unless…

Torvil and Dean may have got a perfect score for shoogling about on ice, but how much better would it be, if, two minutes into Bolero, instead of standing up, Jayne Torvill caught a sea trout with her mouth after falling through the rink?

Which isn’t to say I don’t like ice skating. I can see how strong and athletic you have to be to leap into the air, spin three times and then land on one leg while simultaneously doing the Floss. I can see that. But…

I hate ice skating. Or, to be specific, I hate me ice skating. Other people doing it is okay. It’s just not for me.

First, I can’t ice skate. Or skate. Or even stand. I fall over. A lot. So much, that spectators start to ask if I’m okay as I try and make my way round the ring, clutching the side and with an expression of pure terror.

I don’t get it. I know there’s a technique to skating but, whatever it is, I don’t have it. I just fall. And fall. And fall again.

And, what worse, knowing that I’ll fall, I went ice skating at the weekend and spent the whole time thinking “don’t fall on your left knee, that’s a bit sore, try and protect it. Just don’t fall!”

And I didn’t.

Well, fall on my left knee.

I fell on my right.

CRACK.

And now I not only hate ice skating, I have a massive bruise on my right knee.

And now, not only can I still not skate, I can’t run either.

I hate ice skating.

India – Indian Taxi’s (Iain)

Negotiating with taxi drivers is an art. There are two problems:

1 – Indian taxi drivers rarely know where anything is.
2 – They want to rip you off as much as possible on the price.

Problem 1 is fair enough. Varanasi has thousands of streets and lanes and no one could possibly know them all. Also the name I might call it might not reflect the local name for a place. Even the name Varanasi is a misnomer as it’s local name is Banderas.

The best thing to do is to give them something famous near to where you want to go and then guide them from that. I use an offline downloaded map on my phone to get about as I didn’t want to pay a fortune for roaming mobile data.

Problem 2 is annoying. My normal gambit is to approach the taxi driver and ask for a price. They tell me an outrageous price. I counter with a much much lower offer. They argue and tell me why I’m wrong before they drop the price slightly. I’ll then offer a slightly higher offer which they’ll reject. I then walk away. As I walk away they shout a new price. I make my final offer. We agree and off we go. It’s a tiring and annoying process but it seemed to work until I got to Varanasi.

I tried it but as I walked away the taxi driver just let me go.

Darn I thought. That normally works!

Just as I was about to turn around another man came up and said he do it for 100R but it would be on his bike.

I said yes. Myself and my wife got on his bike and the man started pedaling but we didn’t go anywhere. The ride was on a slight incline and my weight was too much for him!

He started pushing instead. Thankfully after a few minutes it got flatter and he hopped on and managed to bike. Unfortunately he had no idea where we were going so after another few minutes he declared we were at the destination. We weren’t. It was still a couple of miles away.

He called over another man and they studied my map trying to work out where the destination was. After some to-ing and fro-ing and some questioning of others they worked out it was straight down the road he was currently on. I had tried to tell him that but he hadn’t believed me.

I felt sorry for him as he hauled me along. The road was extremely busy. I’d never drive it let alone cycle it.

Eventually we got to our stop. I gave him 100R but then pointed at my wife and said “no 100R each”

An Indian taxi/bike drivers scam work is never done.

If only people in the UK were so entrepreneurial.

 

India – Yoga in Varanasi (Iain)

“Do you need a yoga mat?” asked the yoga teacher.

“Yes thanks,” I replied.

The yoga teacher got one from his cupboard.

Before he handed it to me he uses the end of it it to move a dead mouse along the floor to a corner of the room.

He then hands me my yoga mouse mat ‘shovel’. India is simultaneously spiritual and practical.

The yoga teacher is a middle aged man in a leather jacket and scarf. He doesn’t remove the leather jacket until half way through the practice. The scarf lasts until near the end.

He has a nice manner and a gentle voice. “We will begin with 15 minutes of mediation. Lie down on your mat and concentrate on the silence”

The silence is swiftly broken by the crazy frog ringtone of the teachers mobile phone.

A minute later his phone goes ping then shortly after that it rings, then later it gives off a weird cosmic sound. By the end of the 15 minutes I’ve only managed to meditate about his ringtones.

Again it shows the simultaneous spiritual and practical side of India. Yes meditate but don’t miss out on any important messages.

We continue by doing some hip opening exercises. he says “Sit on the floor cross legged. Then rock you legs like they’re a butterfly’s wing. Fly from flower to flower, pretty butterfly.” My hips are very tight. My butterfly crashed.

He then says “Close your eyes and put your fingers on your ears then make a noise like a Bumblebee. Buzzzzzzzzz!” I follow his instructions. After a few buzzzzzzes I realize the flaw in the plan. Having my fingers in my ears and my eyes closed mean I can’t see or hear when to stop. I open one eye. Everyone else is watching me. I hope I wasn’t the only one doing the exercise!

He says we will finish off by chanting with “ohm” five times. He only does four. His mobile phone goes off and he has to answer it.

He ends by saying “Nothing is permanent.” I think to myself “Nothing is permanent unless its his phone being switched on.”

India – Queuing part 2 (Iain)

I’ve wanted to visit the temple of Kali since reading a novel about a man drawn to Kolkata to search for a poet but he becomes embroiled in the dark heart of the city. Its called Songs of Kali and has a lot of references to the temple. The city sounded wild and dangerous so I was intrigued to see it for myself!

The temple was only 9km from the hotel but, due to the terrible Kolkata traffic, this is a one hour 20 minutes cab ride.

As I walked towards the temple I could only see one sign. It said “This Way Inside” with an arrow quite clearly showing the way. I followed it and, unsurprisingly (see previous post about queuing) I had to join a large queue.

At this point a few Indians pointed out I had a bag and I won’t get in with one. I said it’s okay, I’ll put them into the official bag office.

After twenty minutes of queuing I got to the entrance. At this point some old Indian ladies spotted me and choose to skip the whole line and come in by my side. Assuming I’d be too ignorant a foreigner to complain.

This nearly started a riot as the Indians behind screamed abuse at the little old ladies.

You would think such a holy place would be immune to people skipping ahead or shouting abuse.

As soon as I got in, I walked to what I assumed was the bag office. It was the bag office. The back of it. I spotted a man and asked him to take the bag. He said no. Go to the front of the office. This meant I had to go back out! My wife said she’d wait so I wouldn’t need to join the line again.

I went out and, what a surprise, there was another queue. This time to put in bags. Also unsurprisingly a little old lady used me as cover to jump the queue so she could put her bag in.

“At last I can get in,” I thought. I turned to go back to the line but I spotted my wife. She was no longer waiting. She was now at the bag office. She forgot she had a bag. So we queued again!

This time a little old lady pushed her son ahead of me. Technically she didn’t skip the queue. He did it for her.

After dropping the second bag we returned and rejoined the original line. It moved quite quickly. Before we knew it we were inside the temple where ….can you guess what happened next? Yes – we had a queue but not just one. We had a choice of three queues. Each seemed to head to different internal parts of the temple.

We decided to not bother with them and walked around admiring the outside of the building instead before leaving to join a queue to get our bags back.

I think instead of calling the book Songs of Kali, it should have been called Queues of Kali.

India – Kolkata 5k (Iain)

One of my aims in India is to run 5km in every place I visit. Kolkata was tricky because the roads are very busy and the pavement is so crowded there is very little room to walk, let alone run.

Thankfully my hotel was near a park within jogging distance of the Victoria memorial.

I headed out early before the traffic got bad and before the pavements became too busy.

As I jogged we passed signs for the half marathon and full marathon. I’d like to know how this was done as there wasn’t any free space for a 100m race let alone a long distance event. I didn’t see any other joggers out so I’ve no idea how people train for the race.

The park was full of cricket matches which meant I had to watch carefully for flying cricket balls.

The route around the memorial was a mile. I did it clockwise and anti-clockwise to add enough distance to get to 5k

Ease of running score – 5/10 (but only if I run before 8am)

  *   I also had to continuously watch my footing even on the pavements as the surface is very uneven

Sights 9/10
– the park is full of interesting things. Cricket/football/herds of goats…

India – Yoga in Kolkata (Iain)

The yoga instructor was a very tall youthful looking man of 61 years of age. His babyish features and height weren’t the most striking thing about his appearance. That was his dyed bright orange hair. Very similar in color to Iru Bru. I immediately nicknamed him Irn Guru.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first Indian yoga class. He seemed quite chilled out, I thought it might be very relaxed. I was wrong

He started off by getting us to raise our right arms above our heads before bringing them back down.

“One!” He barked.

“Repeat!” He hollered.

I put my right arm back up and then took it down.

“Two !” He shouted.

I repeated the action.

“Three!” He screamed.

This continued until he got to ten. I hoped it was over but he said “Now do the left arm”

One! Two! Etc

This militarist countdown continued for every pose except one of the later ones. He made me contract my stomach muscle whilst whooping out air from my mouth. It sounds quite easy but it’s actually quite hard. I looked forward to him reaching ten but he didn’t stop. He kept going pass twenty then thirty then forty before, thankfully, stopping at fifty.

He then shouted, “shivasna” and we all got a rest. It only lasted 30 seconds before he screamed “do it again!”

By this point I was tired, hot and sweaty. He must have noticed as he gave us all a two minutes meditation break. I mediated about how sore my stomach muscles were.

After the class I asked him what type of yoga it was. His reply: “easy yoga.”

If that was easy, I’d hate to see his hard class.

Irn Guru

India – How To Be A Shop Keeper (Iain)

Open shop and wait for a foreigner to pass by. Engage them in conversation

“Hello”

You will probably be ignored. Don’t let this out you off.

“Hello, my friend”

You might get a look back. Press ahead with a question.

“Where are you from?”

If they answer your onto a winner. Reel them in!

Say “I love <wherever your from>”

Tell them about a random friend/relative who’s been there.

“How long you been in Kolkata?”

They are now susceptible to your charm. Time to make money.

“You must come to my shop!”

“I want you to see my shop!”

“Not to buy. Just to see”

“It’ll make me so happy if you just see my shop”

Once they get in your shop lead them upstairs so it’s harder for them to get away. Offer them tea. They are more likely to buy if you keep them there for a while

I realized all this as I sat upstairs in a shop trying to work out how to leave!

It was tricky as there were two men. One doing the selling and one confidently blocking the stairs. The one doing the selling wanted to sell us a very expensive statue of Ganesh the elephant god. My wife said she’d buy one but only if it was tiny and cheap.
He showed us a small wooden Ganesh. “A great piece. Perfect for the home. It’ll make you money so it’ll easily pay for itself – you can’t lose!” he claimed.

Then the top of Ganesh’s head fell off.

Quick as a flash, the man said, “that is a feature. You can use it to put an umbrella on him!”

“It’s broken!”

“No he’s now an umbrella holder. Very useful feature.”

“It’s broken. Show me another one.”

He gets another. The top doesn’t fall off.

I ask why this one doesn’t have the umbrella feature.

“It does. You just have to pull his head hard.”

“You mean break it?”

His friend says “yes”.

I admired the friend’s entrepreneurial spirit but both of them realized they’d been rumbled at that point!

New Year’s Resolution (Andrew)

Goals are meant to be SMART.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Which is where most new year resolution’s fail. Resolutions are never SMART or smart. My resolutions involve

  • scoring a hat tick in the Scottish Cup final.
  • winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
  • do the floss.

Since I’m too old now for any of these to actually happen I’ve already failed my new year resolutions. They were DUM goals.

  • Daft
  • Unrealistic
  • Mad

But aren’t DUM goals the best kind? Who knows what you can do unless you set yourself a completely unrealistic, definitely daft, probably mad goal? Columbus wouldn’t have crossed the ocean, Neil Armstrong wouldn’t have stood on the moon unless someone somewhere had said to themselves “you know what, I can do this!”.

And most of the times you fail. But in the failing you’ll probably do much more than you ever would have done with a SMART goal because realistic goals are boring. That’s why, for this year, my goal is to WIN Challenge Roth.

Now, the last time I tried an Ironman distance race I completed it in 15 hours. Now the winning time at Challenge Roth might be half that at 7 hours 46 minutes, but that only means I need to go twice as fast. And, last time I did an Ironman, I stopped for a sandwich halfway through the bike course. That’s already 15 minutes saved, if I eat it on the bike.

And I’m not very good at getting out of my wetsuit. I really struggle with getting my legs out once the wet suit bunches up around my ankles. At Challenge Roth, they have wetsuit assistants who help you get changed. That’s an extra five minutes.

Now, I just need to find another 7 hours and 20 minutes and I’ll be on the podium!

So, this year I have set myself the challenge of winning Challenge Roth. And while I know the chances of me winning are quite small, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Because I have a goal. A DUMB goal. And that’s the best goal of all!