Orchha and the Yoga ashram

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The Friends of Orchha home-stay was in the village of Ganj, up the hill above Orchha. Ganj begun at the gigantic vine-covered mango tree; with it's hundreds of long, limp, branchy fingers that might stroke you on the head. A mud-house village of 64 families. Smooth mud walls merged into smooth mud floors which merged into smooth mud alcoves, shelves, benches, window ledges and smooth mud paths. Vibrant pista blue and deep ochre. Namaste in dusty streets. Cows, calves, chickens, buffalo, goats, puppies, children and motorbikes watched by girls and women lingering in arched, mud entrance-ways, toe-rings and bangles, immaculate coloured sariis. And breathtakingly beautiful. The village looked over the domes and spires of Orchha's Mughal temples and palaces, the river Batwa and forest until you couldn't see any further. 


At breakfast time we ducked through the low entrance into the kitchen of the family we were staying with. Sitting on straw mats (accidentally nearly sitting on the family father who was sleeping in a bundle of blankets behind us), we sipped chai while the mother stirred sooji (semolina-ish) on the open fire. Her two daughter-in-laws peered at us through a layer of their translucent saris, pulled up over their heads and faces. One pummelled chapati dough in a giant silver tray, the other pushed onions onto the blade of the sickle held between her toes. We knew just a couple of words of Hindi and they just a couple in English so meal times were silent smiles and confused gesturing. We discovered later that Shanti, one of the girls, was 18 and pregnant with her second baby, she lost her first. We thought a lot about how much of their lives to come, now married, will be spent in their mother-in-laws kitchen, maintaining the endless supply of chapatis…


Orchha is a small, lively town with lots of smiling faces and magnificent Mughal temples and palaces. We crossed the river and walked for 8km around a nature reserve where we found ourselves on a very long track, watched by hundreds of pairs of macaque eyes and realised we had seen not one other human for the entire walk. The macaques lined the road in gangs, grooming each other and scratching their bollocks. 'Don't make eye contact...' I whispered, which Angus thought was ridiculous. Then a car came, phew, might shoo the monkeys back a bit. The car slowed alongside us and begun throwing food out of the windows (for the monkeys not for us). Monkeys begun yobbing the car for crisps. The feeders got bored or ran out of food, and drove off, leaving us at the centre of hundreds of berserk macaques hungry for more munchies.




Relieved to be back in Orchha we stuffed ourselves on vegetable pakoras, koftas, garlic naan and banana lassis. Teenage boys with questions to ask and stories to tell stopped and sat with us. We climbed the Mughal temples to the top. Zero health and safety meant you really could climb, to the top, of spires, domes and turrets, with the vulture nests and their hilariously hideous chicks. We sat at the edge (or a slightly safer distance from in my case) with our legs dangling over the market below. Blue Roller birds had in-flight dinners of giant yellow bees from equally giant, gravity-defying hives that hung from the temple walls. People bathed in the ghats of the Batwa. Drums to a wedding ceremony in the square, a dancing colour kaleidoscope of sarii-d heads and swishing bodies. A group of school girls caught up with us on the walk back up the hill to Ganj. The eldest, age 10, was more witty than Angus and I combined, and invited us to her home for dinner.

11. 10 Jan - 21 Jan 15 XA2 Ekt

10. 10 Jan - 21 Jan 15 XA2 Ekt



Holly - Yoga teacher training course at Arhanta Ashram

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Sunrise Walk, Arhanta Yoga TTC

Sunrise Walk, Arhanta Yoga TTC

Sunrise Walk, Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

Arhanta Yoga TTC

One month at Arhanta Ashram completing a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training. Waking up at 5:30am, meditation and mantras with the sunrise and the dawn chorus from all colour, shape, size, and sound of birrrrrd. Pairs of Hornbills that fly like dragons. The Rufous Treepie which before we identified as the source of THAT SOUND, made us think we were inside a video game.
Falling asleep once the sun had melted into the hill, to the actually quite frightening lullaby of whooping monkeys, screaming hyenas and howling jackals just outside the window.
Days full, every sense, intense. Absolutely one of the most eye-opening/mind-blowing/life-changing months of my life.

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Angus - Ram rams! and parathas in Orcha

I waved goodbye to Holl one sad morning as she drove off with Amit-the-driver to her Ashram near Khajuraho. 4 weeks before we would see each other again. Amit drove a white Tata saloon with four 6x9 speakers on the parcel shelf... I would spend lots of time in it over the next month. Back into Mithla's kitchen for breakfast, tearful and it was cold… Munalal the father of the household I was staying with got me to sit right next to him by the chula (fire) and shared the little stool he sat on with me. He got out two bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), lit them both with a match, handed me one and with his arm around me he held his hands to the heat and gestured to me to do the same. Mithla (the mum) passed me a steaming chai, smiling with her buck teeth… Shanti (their daughter-in-law) shuffled around making breakfast. Nobody spoke any english. It was 6 in the morning. These guys would be my family for most of my stay. 

 For the next 28 days, primarily I was helping Ashok, who was a little younger than me, run the home-stay project I had volunteered to help with. We did lots of good work together, as well as riding around on his motorbike forgetting things, playing cricket, smuggling girlfriends out of town in Amit-the-driver's car, chewing tobacco and of course eating lots of food and perhaps drinking the odd shady beer*. 

*Orchha is a Holy site so technically it is illegal to drink alcohol...but Ashok had friends at the bar of one the swanky hotels.

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5am looking over Ganj with the Chhatris of Orchha in the distance.    

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Mithla and Munalal. They worked so hard and were always so kind to me. We spent a lot of time together working and despite us not talking a word of each others language, we had a right laugh.

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The guys would pull up the water from the 400 year old well, normally in old 15 litre oil containers. The girls would carry the water back in stainless steel pots on their heads. We pulled up about 75-100 litres a day to keep Mithlas household and homestay running well.

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Most of the bikes were the same. Made of thick steel, single speed, old school calliper brakes and heavy as hell. They can carry what ever you can strap to them. Munalal would always come and help, he had bad knees but was as strong as his son. He smoked bidis all day long.

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A small part of most mornings would be spent slowly choking to death in front of the fire with Munalal and a goat. Most fires ran on cow dung patties with a sprinkling of goat droppings.

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The famous auto rickshaw truck race. Not really. Actually really…its usually a friendly race in India. There are 12 things you mostly see on the road; dogs, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, auto-rickshaws, funny small cars, Tata 4x4's, tractors, elephants, wonky buses and mad max style lorries (in size order). The buses and lorries have horns that sound like a rattling oil-liner fog horn on hydrogen. They give you small heart attacks and drivers always have their fingers on the buzzer.

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Road side tattoos, sketchy as hell. Elephants have right of way. People were throwing money down to him…the nelly would pick up the bundles for the driver if they landed on the floor.

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It took a man 10 minutes, beating it with a bamboo staff to try to get it to go over the bridge, wouldn't go. It took a lady 10 seconds to bring it some food and entice it over.

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Always animals in the yard…anything from rats to cows. Wild Langur monkeys run on the roofs and piss everyone off. Knocking off TV antennas and dodging sticks and stones thrown by neighbours.

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RamBabu and Rekha. I stayed at both of their houses, both being as friendly, welcoming and hardworking as each other. 

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Cricket matches were loud and hilarious. Teams are groups of friends, no official kit, no pads and a rubber ball. Always with a commentator hooked up to a loud speaker, cranked up to volume 11.

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Half way through my stay, Erika…a 75 year from Switzerland who was helping us with the home-stay, fell off the back of a parked motorbike and broke her back and her arm. Erika has been visiting Ganj for years and is like a grandmother to many of the children there, as well as a huge help to the majority of the families. Her accident shook and worried the people of the village. There are too many details of the 4 day hospital trip to write about here but it was an experience neither Erika or myself will ever forget. 

Very quickly it was dark and Erika, who was as white as a fridge, was lying in her bed in a huge amount of pain. She couldn't move and had a crowd of people around her, who also looked terrified. No ambulance, no real doctor. We managed to buy some opiate pain killers from a pharmacy in town (Ashok was fast on his motorbike) and luckily a guest at the home-stay was a nurse and was able to give Erika a few injections. Into Amit-the-driver's car and off we went to the mysterious Jhansi 'private' hospital, 40 kilometres away, that had been recommended to us. With Erika wedged up between the door and Ashok, to stop her from moving too much, we hit the roads, which were worse than the surface of the moon. In the hospital it was dark and there were people sleeping on the floors. There was only one doctor on duty who at first seemed drunk, but later on we found out he was ill. A few x-rays later and we got Erika a private room and a box of heavy painkillers, it was 4am. We stayed there for the next 4 days and nights. 

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Hospital laundrette.

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When it was time to get Erika back to Ganj, the hospital stretcher didn't fit in the ambulance that we'd rented so 6 of us and a stretched out blanket managed it. I was super tired and smelt funny, but would miss that spooky place. Everyone there had been so kind and were sad to see their foreign patient leave. Erika, and myself, will be forever grateful for their help and enthusiasm.

 Erika is now back in France recovering. The time we spent together was rich and full of good conversations. Erika is a fantastic person and has a huge heart, not to mention being very very tough!

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Mini + Kushy pulling faces. My little sisters for a few weeks. Their parents, Suren and Kiren, took good care of me. Kiren cooked me the best food of the trip - parathas and home made mango pickle, fresh from the pan every lunch time. Suren had the happiest aura in India, constantly singing and vibrating around his home.

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Mini, Kushy, Suren and I hopped on the motorbike one day (4 on a bike). I thought we were walking to the top of a nearby hill or something, but 20 minutes later we were at a festival on a Holy mountain. We were told that the festival was only held every 11 years. Lucky lucky. Suren and me took our shoes off, kissed the ground and walked around the temple 10 times holding hands, amongst the heaving, dusty crowds of people. It was proper hot and all a colourful blur. Overwhelming is an understatement. Afterwards, we walked back down the mountain (large hill) and took Mini and Kushy to the the sketchiest fun fair in the world. The girls went on the slides and I got an air rifle pointed at my head.

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Deepu helped with the cleaning at the home-stay. We watched lots of discovery channel together and he showed me his pigs. He wasn't the best motorbike rider in India, we may or may not have had a few bumps. Once, he showed me where to buy pork in Jhansi…it was a shady experience.

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One day it was walking around eating its own poo, next day it was all in bits. Mithla carried the meat down to the market later on, she said she would get 40 rupees a kilo for it (40p/kg). The skin was stretched out and hung above our heads to dry. 

I experienced so much kindness in Orchha, the families welcoming me into their lives as if I was one of their own. I will always remember them and I will never be able to really explain just how positively wondrous my experience was. 

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