Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Wonderful Vipassana

When I first announced I would be going on a 10 day silent retreat it was met by great surprise and quite a few giggles. Miss Emma Lovell, communicator extraordinaire, chatterbox and vivaciously outgoing woman could remain silent for this period. But I did. And I have learnt now, that it wasn’t about that- it was so much more than that.

 

There is always a method to the madness in India and the Dhamma Vipassana course is no exception. The silence is to help with concentration, to have the ability to focus on self and to practice determination and diligence. It’s also called “noble silence”. We are not making a statement with our silence or shouting out the world. We are choosing out of respect for others and ourselves to practice silence and focus on this wonderful technique.

The 10 days was not a walk in the park that’s for sure. It’s a challenge and one that should not be taken lightly. It’s not a challenge like some say physical test of strength where once you have completed it you can tick it off the list. Vipassana is a change of life and a change in the way you are thinking. Actually it reminds me of the matrix with the red and blue pills. Take the red pill and go back to your normal life and pretend there is nothing more to the world than what you know, or take the blue bill and see how the world really is. With Vipassana the choice to engage and to take it on means that you are on the path to enlightenment and that you are on the way to a happier, peaceful and joyful life.

 

The group I completed my 10 day course with, very happy bunch on this day.

Vipassana is dedication, hard work and practice. Not only for 10 days, for life. Those who work, those who give the technique fair trial and have faith and devotion to the ultimate goal of truth and enlightenment will be successful.I’ve started walking on the path now and I’m so excited for the continued change.

 

I thank Lord Buddha and my Guru ji S.N. Goenka for maintaining this technique in it’s purest form and giving me this gift. My eyes have been opened and my world has changed. For the better.

Sad to leave the Dhamma Centre after learning and experiencing so much.

 


Looking forward to this awesome show and great to see it’s already selling out. Get in and buy your tickets now!

JMAC .:.STEPBACK.:.

Venue:The Owl & The Pussycat, 34 Swan St, Richmond
Dates & Times:
Thu 5 Apr 7.30pm

 

Fri 6 Apr 8.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Sat 7 Apr 7.30pm
(Media Night, tix still avail)
Tue 10 Apr 8.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Fri 13 Apr 7.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Sat 14 Apr 8.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Tue 17 Apr 7.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Thu 19 Apr 7.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Fri 20 Apr 7.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Sat 21 Apr 8.30pm
(Tix still avail)
Tickets:HERE

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Silence is golden at Vipassana

Today I will enter 10 days of silence and meditation in the Dhamma Centre of Jodhpur, India.

 

No phones, no emails, no eye contact and no speaking. Just silence, meditation and finding inner peace.

Yoga in the sun - Peaceful

I’m petrified as I sit here with a terrible stomach, aching head and what appears to be some form of gastro bug. But I am determined to complete this course and to find some calm in my hectic and busy life.

 

Please see below what is in store for me!

The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible.

4:00 a.m.---------------------Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 a.m.----------------Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 a.m.---------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
                                according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon--------------Lunch break
12noon-1:00 p.m.--------------Rest, and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 p.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
                                according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 p.m.----------------Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 p.m.----------------Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 p.m.----------------Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m.---------------------Retire to your room; lights out

 

For more information on Vipasana, visit:

 

http://www.thali.dhamma.org/vipassana.shtml


Lunch with a Kashmir Family

It’s an honour an a privilege to be invited to someones home and I was blessed to be invited to meet the family of my guide, Fayez Sheikh, from my Gulmarg snow trip.

A short drive down the hill from Gulmarg is the village of Tangmarg where we stopped before I went back to Srinagar. The car dropped me to Tangmarg and I was met by my dear friend Fayez and taken to buy chocolates for his kids ( I always like to give a gift.) we then drove a short 5 minutes and he played my song of the trip “Chamak Challo”. We stopped the car on a road near his house as we would walk through the snow to his house as it’s not safe for cars in winter.

 

On route to his house through beautiful snow covered trees and over a small river, we saw 2 of his other houses where in each one of his 4 brothers stays. Fayez has 6 siblings, 3 brothers and 3 sisters!! We then arrived at a tall 3 storey house – Fayez is a proud man.

 

The living room

Made of what I could see to be timber and then some form of cement, we walked up 2 sets of stairs and into a large sitting room with beautiful carpet laid on the floor and rich red kashmiri cushions. There were lovely curtains draped over the windows and the room has a warm atmosphere. Soon after we were joined by 3 year old girl, Nida, and 2 year old boy, Arif, with Fayez youngest sister, just 1 year younger than me. Amazing to see this skier and guide who has led me through dangerous terrain all week sitting  on carpeted floor with his 2 babies under his arms – so sweet.

 

Little Miss 3

I gifted the kids a chocolate and cookies packet each and they quickly got into the chocolate with glee. So cute- they peered at me curiously and munched on their chocolate- looking so sweet in their traditional wool capes.

 

 

 

The hospitality of Kashmiri’s is second to none and I was brought a big thick blanket by Fayez wife Ruksena, and his brother and sister in law. They also brought me the traditional coal basket (link to other blog on coal baskets) to warm my feet under the rug. The women greeted me by shaking my hand and kissing my hand, it’s so sweet and such an honour. We took a hot milk drink ( get name) and cookies and some delicious kashmiri sweets.

Kashmiri sweets

 

After the snacks I had the great honour of meeting Fayez mother, I had remained sitting under the rug til this point but when she entered the room I rushed to meet her and  made a Namaste hand pose and dipped my head, she took me in her arms and hugged me tight once on each shoulder, but a long and strong embrace. I felt  tears welling up and also felt the love of a mother – nothing compares to the hug of a mother and I felt so warm and nurtured. She took my face in her hands and kissed my forehead before leading me to sit under the rug and she sat next to me holding my hands. We had photos (unfortunately some came blurry) and then I showed her pictures of my family and also of her son Fayez skiing. We couldn’t understand each other but I thoroughly enjoyed her company. My driver Mushtarq was also now in the room and was helping translate.

We had a traditional Kashmiri meal and to Fayez’s delight I ate with my right hand only. We had naan, rice, paneer in red sauce, mutton shish kebab, chicken meat balls in a cream butter sauce and a chicken drumstick. It was really tasty food as always home cooked food is and only there was too much. It was so wonderful.

 

After lunch I kept warm with the 2 kids jumping on my lap and taking photos. The beautiful three year old perched up on my knees as I laid on my back and we played photo posing. She then started to pat my hair hahah. She was fascinated by the colour and kept stroking it. So sweet. Her little brother came over soon after and gave me such joy with his funny faces and warm face- we laughed so much all together.

 

Mushtarq announced it was time to go and I felt so sad. I’d had such a nice day and really felt part of the family. We took one big family shot and then hugs and kisses all round. I really felt close to tears, also would have to say bye to my friend from the week Fayez. We waved goodbye as I walked out into the snow and Fayez took my arm to lead me to the car. He checked with me that I would stay in touch and I would return – I promised I will – and in my heart I know it’s true. I got in the car and waved out the window and shook my hand whilst shouting “chamak challo”.

 

Fayez and his gorgeous sweethearts

How lucky I am to have such visits and to be so blessed to be included as one of the family. If someone ever invites you to their home to enjoy a meal and to be part of the family, do yourself a favour and go. Home stays in countries such as India are second to none and one of the most humbling and heart warming experiences one can have.

Playing around with cutie Arif


Awesome lady with a great attitude for the snow – watch out for her great photos and videos!

GIRLS SURF SNOW

I’m from Australia where my friends and I get excited about a 5cm snow storm. That was until I started to snowboard overseas. Now I’m in Gulmarg where it’s common for a snow storm to dump three metres.

Gulmarg is a village in Kashmir, the state between India and Pakistan. Most Kashmiris are Muslim, but despite their religion most Kashmiris have a better relationship with Hindu Indians than with Pakistan.

Gulmarg sits five kilometres from the militarized Line of Control. It’s one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world. There are 700,000 Indian army troops that are in this state and I would imagine there is a similar number of troops over the Pakistan border. Gulmarg isn’t a very commercial ski resort, more a backcountry paradise for those who are willing to work hard for their lines or who don’t mind playing a game of cheat with mother nature.

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Milk Powder Scam India

Often when travelling India you will be asked for money or chocolate or a donation.  One irregular but common request is “milk powder” and you must be wary of this one.

Being asked for money and donations is a common thing and is unfortunately something you have to deal with. There are many many poor in India and I wish to help but giving $1 here or there or 10 rupees to a kid on the street is not helping. It sounds mean, but you have to resist and put money to better use with organizations that can help the greater good.

 

There is an interesting scam however that is going on and I got done on my second trip to India. It took me a good 3-4 hours to realize but I had definitely been had. What happens is a child comes to you and befriends you, you do the usual “sorry no money” and they insist they do not wish for money. They will spend a little more time with you and win you over, the children tend to be around 9 or 10, not so small as they have very good English skills.

 

After walking for a while they will ask you if you can buy for them milk powder. You ask for what? Not for them of course, but for the babies. The mother cannot get to market and the poor baby needs milk powder – also it helps the children. After tugging on your heart strings, you ask them to show you where the Milk powder is.

 

Here is where the scam comes in. there are 100’s of shops and stores in the area selling milk powder but no, you are taken around swerving through streets to a very specific shop as chosen by them. Soon you are joined by another child and perhaps a mother with a baby. They insist you should also buy for that mother as the poor baby needs it.

 

Once there, you are told approximately 1200 rupees – equivalent at the time in 2006 to A$45, now about A$30. As you are just spending in rupees it doesn’t occur to you until later that that was a fair lot of money.

 

I made sure the children took me to the mother and the baby and where they lived- they take you to some area with a group of people and casually they toss the milk to the mother and I ask “Will you get the food? I want to know you will get the food?” I get the standard Indian yes/no head nod.

 

Although I was done, the kids were sweet and 3 of them stuck with me for another hour or so and helped me cross roads and shop for souvenirs in the markets. Actually I had a lot of fun with them. I felt a bit ripped off when I realized hours later but what are you gonna do and now I just know it’s a lesson learnt.

Today, in Dharamsala, I nearly was had again. Same scenario with little boy- “no maam, no money, all I want is milk powder.” I shook my head and walked away. An hour later, I saw the same little boy walking two tourists who were filled with glee at the prospect of helping this little boy and saving his family. I wanted to run and warn them,…. But really, it’s not my place. Minutes later the boy came passed with his tub of milk powder in a plastic bag, shook hands with the couple and they parted ways –  I guess if both of their days were made, it’s ok.

 

If you are asked in India to buy Milk Powder, please say no to this child. They are part of a scam and an underground world that must be stopped. Only a few hours later that little boy will return to the store where he will receive money for the milk powder and give the shop owner a cut of the money too.

 

MILK POWDER SCAM INDIA – Watch out for it!

 

Have you had an experience such as this?


Ski India with Ski Himalaya

Skiing in India is not a well known activity and when I announced to people I would be doing this it was met by surprise. The largest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas towers above North India and thus there is skiing.

 

Gulmarg, Mt Apphawat, is a “ski resort” that has been established for more than 10 years, with a gondola for the past 6 years. This area is not well known as it is actually not a ski resort as we know it to be. It’s a back country heaven! If you come here expecting easy ski in/ ski out slopes, you are kidding yourself. And even with a large amount of reading and research, it’s difficult to prepare yourself for a mountain of this size and terrain variety.

 

Never have I seen snow so fresh, mountains so wide, and so much ski-able terrain. Above tree line in the alpine region on the sharp peaks and deep bowls or below tree line amongst the grand pine trees, you will be kept busy with many runs. Not for the beginner this area, however there are areas in the lower grounds with smaller slopes and T-bars for those ready to dabble in skiing. As an international skier, I would not fly all this way if I were not intermediate to highly experienced.

 

Information is difficult to find and often vague. You really have to be specific in your search terms and trying to put a package or trip together yourself can be difficult. You need to think about transfers, hotels, guides (this is avalanche country and it’s strongly recommended), equipment transfer, avalanche packs and beacon training, food, lift passes and navigating the terrain. I went with a Ski tour company and I am so happy with the decision!

 

 

Ski Himalaya (www.skihimalaya.com) is a full tour operational company specifically for Gulmarg. Australia Peter Robinson has been running this business since 2002 and has a lot of experience with foreigners visiting Gulmarg. Peter partnered with Kashmir Powder cats, guides and touring company. Together they arranged my pick up from Srinagar airport, transfer to Heevan Resort (the hotel they organized for me which included breakfast and dinner), ski hire and avalanche equipment hire, A guide each of the 6 days I’m there and transfers in and around Gulmarg and Tangmarg when skiing and then back to Srinagar. Also they helped to organize my last night in Srinagar at a lovely house boat on Dal Lake and then return to airport the following morning.

 

Peter was great in regard to communication and I only booked with the company after numerous emails had gone back and forth. He made sure I would be competent for the terrain and they had the facilities to cater to my stay. He arranged all of these details and payment was made in Australian dollars well before attending. Learn more about Peter and how he started Ski Himalaya .

When I arrived I was met by the wonderful Mushtarq, driver extraordinaire. He is a safe and competent driver. He was very sweet in answering all my questions about what we saw on the way and gave me updates on what we were seeing  and which areas we were passing through which was great. He ws my driver throughout the 6 days and on one day picked me and my guide up after our run through Babarashi and took us to Tangmarg to check out the village, he then drove me and the rest of our group back up the hill in tricky conditions and even assisted other cars who were blocked. Mushtarq made me feel safe at all times and kept me well informed, all you want in a driver.

 

Bashir is the main man on the ground in Srinagar and is partners with Peter from Australia. Bahsir called me when I arrived, met with me the following day and arranged my trip back to Srinigar. He was always happy to receive a call and helped where he could in giving information and checking my stay was comfortable. Kindly Peter had told him I was a special guest and must be taken care of so he took this to heart and even met me in Srinagar on the way to the airport. His care and attention is appreciated and the communication lines between the guides, himself and the drivers is very effective and prompt, this is always good in these higher risk areas.

 

The star of the show however is Fayez Sheikh, head guide of Powder Cats and my personal guide for the predominant amount of the week. Fayez goes over and above to ensure the safety and enjoyment of his guests at all times. He assesses your ability, takes you on runs to suit you but also challenges you. Most importantly, first thing in the morning he checks your avalanche beacons and on one afternoon early in the trip he and another guide went through Avalanche search and digging procedure with us. No matter what time of the morning or evening, Fayez will be there for you. He is easy to talk to, fun and caring. He took care of me as a friend and I trusted him 100% with my life – when in avalanche situations, you must trust those around you. Spend at least one day of your trip with Fayez as he is the man! A brilliant skier and a wonderful human being.

 

To ensure your trip is safe and to have less worries, I would go with Ski Himalaya as a guiding and touring company for your ski trip.  Especially for your first trip. Do your research, read up as much as possible, and eliminate as many risk factors as possible – best way to do this is with this package.

 

 

Enjoy the snow, be safe and remember to check in with Gulmarg snow safety for weather reports and terrain information daily.  www.gulmargsnowsafety.com

 

Please also see my previous blog about Ski Himalaya which has information on an average week at Gulmarg. More posts to come re accommodation, activities and my daily experiences of skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir.


Snowboarding at Gulmarg, Kashmir

Snowboarding or skiing or even just visiting, this is an amazing place to be. Village is at 2700m, the mid-station gondola at approx 3200m and then skiing from the top of the Gondola at 3900m. If you choose to hike to the summit, which is very possible, you will be skiing down from a whopping 4200m.

 

Stunning views everywhere you look and on a day like saturday 3rd March, Blue bird skies,you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. By far the best snow I’ve ever ridden on and some of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done but worth every minute.

 

See some pics of me riding the mountain I now love.

 

 

 

Make sure to check in with Gulmarg Snow Safety for snow reports.


Bollywood in the Himalayas of Kashmir

Who says the snow is all about skiing and boarding?

Here in India, a little bit of singing and dancing in the Himalayas is expected. We learnt from many a Bollywood movie with Sound of Music-esque shots in the mountains professing undying love for one another.

Today I decided to show Tom, my Aussie ski buddy, how it’s done. The ultimate Himalyan love/ dance extravaganza must go to the king and queen of bollywood:

Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan – Humko Humise Chura Lo [HD]

 But we did pretty good….

We shook our hips like Chikni Chameli

We did some Desi Boyz moves

Oh my Gosh Akshay Kumar

and of course I had to get the classic Shah Rukh Khan shoulder waggle in there.

I think there is a Bollywood story in the making here.

All shots are taken in the beautiful mountains of Gulmarg, Kashmir. The Himalayas. At this point we were at approximately 3200m. We were snowboarding and skiing at 3900m. We decided a little comedic relief after lunch would give us the boost we needed for the next runs.

Theme: I love you, I don’t love you – wait maybe I love you, woo me a little more.

Exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FWO672mLvc&feature=related

Exhibit B:

Top 10 Favourite Bollywood Songs of Shahrukh Khan Part Two


Adventure in Gulmarg, Kashmir

My trip to Gulmarg, the foothills of the himalayas, has been an adventure to say the least. First time to Kashmir, first time going through Srinigar and first time in Avalanche country as a snowboarder. I’ve had an amazing trip already and still have a few days to go.

 

 

Here are some snippets and short      descriptions of what I’ve been experiencing each day. I arrived on sunday 26th Feb, started skiing Monday 27th Feb.

 

 

 

Day 3, Tuesday 28th Feb:

Have been out of touch last few days as I’m in the snow in Kashmir!! Most amazing snow I’ve ever seen, fresh powder yesterday and fresh tracks on every run. Hardest day of my life boarding as we’re at 3800m but I love it!

 

stunning views of Gulmarg

Day 3,Tues 28th Feb (evening time):

Another huge day on the slopes. 8 hours door to door and some amazing bluebird skies over more fresh powder. Some of the smoothest runs I’ve ever done. Alpine area closed tomorrow – Kasmiri army have decided to test out explosives in the area so due to extreme avalanche risk, Gondola will be closed 😦

 

Day 4, Weds 29th Feb

Another incredible day today in Gulmarg. Not so much boarding, but a great run through the huge pine trees with views of the valley below and stunning bluebird skies. A great afternoon in the village with new friends and some hilarious/ death defying moments driving back up the icy hill – including digging out the car!!

 

walking in the village

Digging out the car

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5, Thurs 1st March:

Snowfall today at the beautiful gulmarg, whilst we were riding which is just too pretty. Lower areas today and riding the cat tracks which brought back memories of hard packed runs from oz with just a light dusting – actually ride that well! Onesie shopping in the arvo was a hoot!

Riding through the trees

Day 6: Fri 2nd March:

Feeling like a woos today 😦 minor altitude sickness has me sentenced to bed rest and lots of water. Hoping I can get out for some bluebird sky skiing this arvo.

Let’s see what the last few days hold!

Expect to see much much more about this adventure.

For more info on conditions here at Gulmarg, Kashmir, check out the Gulmarg Snow Safety website: http://www.gulmargsnowsafety.com/


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