Tag Archives: Explore

How I Became a Sculptor in Mamallapuram

The main street of Mamallapuram is lined with countless stalls selling immaculately handcrafted sculptures and most of the shops owners spend there days working on new pieces in front of their store. I was in the rare mood for shopping probably because I had a good reason this time, my dads 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to send something home for him.

Wandering through a few different stalls nothing seemed fitting, I got chatting with a local sculptor out of the front of his workshop and he downed his tools and invited me in for chai. I was asking him about getting a small piece custom made and engraved when he suggested that rather than pay someone to make it he’ll teach me to make something myself. The idea sounded great except for one small thing – my discernible lack of artistic talent. He was persuasive enough that I agreed to come back and start Sculpture 101 with him the next day.

Sculpting away...

Sculpting away…

Venkat – my new sculpture instructor – was patient, persistent and extraordinarily resilient, nothing was a better example of this than his story of losing his home, store and complete collection of his work and tools to the 2004 tsunami. An event tragic enough to floor even the strongest of characters didn’t seem to deter his spirit and with the help of the community he managed re-open his shop not long after.

I walked into his shop at 9:30 the next day and he was eagerly awaiting with the tools laid out and a cup of chai and biscuits. We shared chai and looked through some of his work while I decided what I wanted to make and the type of stone to make it out of. I started carving away at big block of greenstone with the idea of a lizard perched on a rock, this was to be my first piece and more of a practice piece than anything too serious.

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The next two days were spent drinking chai, going out for lunch and sculpting in-between. It was awesome I began to make friends in the town and despite my now sore and calloused hands my lizard was starting to take shape.

Then it all came crumbling down.

I was starting to put the final details on the head of the lizard and must have hammered a little too hard into a fault line in the stone and a huge crack ran through – off with the lizards head! I was pretty disheartened, my hands were killing me and a day and a half of work had just gone down the drain. In hindsight, it seems petty to have become upset at losing one piece when Venkat had lost so much more in the tsunami 9 and half years earlier.

Out came a new block of stone, this time I was using a stronger stone which would be harder to carve but also harder to break. I chose a seated Buddha in the palm of a hand. This piece was literally make or break.

The days rolled on in more or less the same fashion – lots of sculpting and lots of chai. Venkat gave me a little help here and there with some of the finer details (I was still a little rattled about breaking my last piece) and my Buddha was starting to take shape. Four days of sculpting and polishing paid off, I had completed it and couldn’t have been happier.

The finished piece!

The finished piece!

In celebration I took Venkat out for dinner that night at a little local restaurant where we feasted on lamb thali. As with all celebrations in India they never just last one day so the next morning we went to the market to pick up some fresh fish, lamb and beer. Venkat invited his friend, a chef of 15 years at Mamallapuram’s nicest hotel to come and cook for us at Venkat’s hut. Venkat lived in a village about 15 minutes away in a hut with a tiny kitchen and no electricity. That didn’t stop his friend serving up 4 amazing dishes.

Cooking up a storm.

Cooking up a storm.

I’m glad to have made such a great friend in Venkat and it is a true example of his genuine friendliness that during my 6 days of sculpting not once did he ask for a fee or a tip for his services and was reluctant to take my money when I offered it. Mamallapuram is a place I will hold in high regard for a long time to come.

Video: Rock Climbing in Manali

Manali is home to a whole different bunch of adventure sports, something I didn’t quite expect to see in the calmer Himalayan region of India. Although I’m using Manali as a place to rest up after a chaotic 4 and half months in India (not to mention the ride here) I figured a little bit of adventure wouldn’t hurt. Walking into the booking office, I had a choice of of canyoning, trekking, white-water rafting, snowboarding, mountain biking, and paragliding. I’d already taken on paragliding in Varkala and White-water rafting in Rishikesh so I decided to tick off another item off my Bucket List – Outdoor Rock Climbing!

I had done a little bit of indoor before but that’s a whole different ball game. I ended up in a group of 6 plus our two instructors Ravi and Vikram. They seemed very experienced and took the safety side of things very seriously which was re-assuring as some of the rock faces were as high as 30m.

They ran us through a few warm up climbs and gradually stepped up the difficulty teaching us different techniques along the way but they were clearly saving the biggest climb until last.
Check out the video below and see just how big it was for yourselves (there’s a language warning on the video).

If you’re considering taking on any adventure sports in Manali I would highly recommend Himalayan Caravan, their guides were excellent and they even let us climb for 2 hours longer than we had paid for. (I’m in no way sponsored by them but was so happy with the service that I thought I’d share it).

Have you rock-climbed before? What was your experience like?
Is it something you would consider doing?

Indian Transport: The 24 hours from Hell

It was meant to be so simple, the plan was to leave Rishikesh and head for Manali. It was a rickshaw ride, a train and then an overnight bus into Manali that we could sleep through at least that’s how the travel agent had sold it to us. I had met 3 English lads to share the 18 hour journey with and we assumed it would be a breeze. As with everything in India, nothing is quite as simple as it seems as we were soon to find out. 

We get to Haridwar Railway Station and ask the Station Master when and where our train was leaving from. Platform 4 in half an hour. A train pulled into the station at around the time our train was due but it didn’t have either of our two carriage numbers on it and it was the wrong train number altogether. We could only assume it wasn’t our train right?

Wrong!

An hour later we went to check with the Station Master and only then did he bother to explain that the train had two different numbers and two different names. Well that was a good deal of help now.

Never trust the train numbers!

Never trust the train numbers!



We picked up a kiwi guy who had also missed the train and decided to split a taxi for the 5 hour trip instead of missing our connecting bus. This should be easy there was a plethora of booking agents nearby and we split up and checked out two of them. We got quoted 4500 and 5000 rupees, we decided to go with the cheaper offer, we went back and suddenly he had a change of heart and now wanted 5000, safe to say he lost our business.

Another agent told us he could have us in a taxi within 5 minutes, we would happily pay the 5000 this time to get on the road. We were in a taxi within 5 minutes but that’s when he added ‘We have to go change taxi’s because this one isn’t licensed for interstate travel’ More wasted time. We get to the new taxi about 15 minutes out of town and now that we’re away from the rest of the booking agents he decides he wants 6000 for the journey. Things get heated, we’re arguing back and forth and end up deciding we’d rather miss our connecting bus than pay this scumbag (it’s the only appropriate word for him). We walk away and he calls us back for 5000, we load up our bags and he now demands 5500. We were running out of time and he knew it.

The taxi is on its way and apart from the 3 fatal accidents we see along the way, it’s smooth sailing, that is until we actually get to just outside Chandigarh, the driver starts yelling at us in a mixture of Hindi and English and from what we understand (which wasn’t much) he’s not licensed to drive into the city. We rush out of the taxi and in our haste one of the English lads leaves his iPod.

We pull over a rickshaw and the 5 of us (the other 4 guys over 6 foot) pile in with our backpacks, we’re lying on top of each other with limbs hanging out the doors and window. Cue another argument. We have the destination punched into the GPS on the phone but the driver refuses to follow our directions, instead he pulls over to get directions from another driver who is trying to send us to the public bus station. He’s shouting in Hindi, we’re shouting in English. He drives off and our driver reluctantly follows our directions.

Rickshaws weren't made for 5 people with backpacks

Rickshaws weren’t made for 5 people with backpacks

The others guys bus leaves at 11:30 and we arrive at 11:15 – perfect! As for my bus, well it was due at 9:30 and you would think I would have well and truly missed it. A nightmare experience of Indian transport finally swings in my favour, my bus was late and due any minute now. Well any minute now turned into 1:15 in the morning before I sleepily boarded the bus, it was absurd to think that this was only the halfway mark.

There was to be no sleep on the bus, it raced through hairpin turns on the skinny mountain roads at 60km/h narrowly missing the buses and trucks doing the same in the other direction. This was going to be a long 9 hours I’m just glad that no one was vomitting – just kidding! Wouldn’t have been a trip from hell if the two people next to me didn’t spend the last 5 hours vomitting into a plastic bag. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I talked about the Ten Year Holiday.

Himalya view from manali trek

The views from Manali were definitely worth it.

What seemed like an eternity later the bus finally rolled into Manali, All around me, the snow-capped Himalayas stretched up towards the blue sky with only rivers and waterfalls splitting them. Everywhere I looked seemed like a postcard picture, the air was clean and fresh and only then could I begin to laugh about the last 24 hours.

Have you had any horror transport trips? Let me know in the comments below, it would make me feel better!

The Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh

Rishikesh was a little known village on the bank of the Ganges River in India’s north until early 1968 when a visit by The Beatles propelled Rishikesh into the western limelight. While in Rishikesh The Beatles stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s ashram and undertook a course of transcendental meditation. The Beatles wrote over 40 compositions at the ashram, many of which went onto be released on The White Album later that year.

The ashram closed in 1997 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair but that hasn’t stopped it being a major drawcard for tourists even if entry is illegal and punishable by a 5000 rupee ($100) fine. The ashram is surrounded by a stone wall that holds signs warning you of the potential fine but abandoned buildings with such a history just hold too much temptation for the signs to be taken seriously so off we went looking for a low point in the wall to jump over.

The entrance to The Beatles ashram

The entrance to The Beatles Ashram

The second I got inside I felt as though I’d been taken back in time, the complex was huge and slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. The glass windows had been smashed and graffiti marked some of the buildings. Despite the damage it was very surreal to be inside this huge complex. I let my imagination wander as we entered the different rooms and meditation pods, it was easy to picture The Beatles walking around in between meditations or John and Paul writing tracks together in the now over-grown gardens. We excitedly speculated over which Beatle would have stayed where and later found out that Lennon’s room and meditation cell was rumoured to be building No.9 (one of the buildings pictured below) and supposedly where he got the inspiration for the repetition of the number in Revolution 9.
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The main meditation pods are housed in a huge building with over 100 separate rooms, most of them had their walls and ceilings covered in the river rock and they seemed like beautiful places for meditation.

The entry to the meditation pods

The entry to the meditation pods

The real highlight of the ashram is the meeting hall which has become a guerrilla art installation – The Beatles Cathedral Gallery. Every wall and most of the floor of the huge room was covered in murals, lyrics, quotes and poems as a tribute to The Beatles and other spiritual teachers. Perhaps it was the mixture of spirituality expressed in modern day art in a derelict building with a history of housing the greatest musical talents of all time that gave this place its electric atmosphere.

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

The Beatles Cathedral Gallery

It was a truly amazing experience that I won’t be able to do justice with my writing or photo’s. The fact that it’s all a big secret and we weren’t really meant to be there definitely added to the allure of this place. Get here and see it before the nature and time completely reclaim it.

theboywander

 

Walking with jaguars.

We’d just spent the night camping in hammocks in the middle of the Colombian jungle – Tayrona National Park to be exact. Tayrona National Park is 34 kilometres from Santa Marta and only a few hours by bus from the main city of Cartagena.

Tayrona National Park is an absolute must-see if your travels take you as far as Santa Marta or Cartagena. It’s 150 square kilometres of pristine Colombian jungle with the refreshing waters of the Caribbean Sea running along the northern coastline. It is home to over 500 species of birds, animals, bats, reptiles and a hugely diverse sea life. Among the creatures that thrive on the forest floor, nothing tops the king of the South American Jungle- The Jaguar.

Jungle accommodation

Jungle accommodation

There is accommodation spread throughout Tayrona National Park which usually consists of hammocks under an open hut exposing you to the cool jungle breeze, this also means insect repellant is an absolute must. The main area for accommodation is a 45 minute hike in from the entrance. Entry will cost you $22AUD and you can expect to pay between 5 or 6 dollars for a hammock.

We stayed one night and spent the day exploring the jungle and coastline before stumbling upon a little beach called La Piscina (after hearing the name my mind was cast back to the book Marching Powder but luckily enough this was a completely different kind of ‘La Piscina’). La Piscina is a beautifully calm beach secluded from the notorious currents that menace other parts of the coastline. We spent hours under the sun with regular trips to the juice stand at the end of the beach for freshly squeezed jugo de naranja.

La Piscina

 

We ran back through the jungle to our camp and noticed the fallen coconuts all over the ground from the trees above. We attempted to treat ourselves to coconut milk in the most primitive fashion, we scoured the surrounding bushland for anything that could help us tear open the hard shells of these delicious coconuts. We found a metal bar and some rocks, brought them back to camp and set about opening out afternoon treat. The 3 of us spent the next hour on rotation trying to crack one open. As a survival method, I’m sure we burned more calories in opening the coconut than we actually received from eating but it was by far the most delicious coconut milk we had ever tasted.

Fresh Coconut Milk

Fresh Coconut Milk

The next morning we had two choices for the return leg of our journey – a 45 minute walk back to the entry we had come from or a 6 hour hike through the jungle to the closest town. Of course, we chose the 6 hour hike. We strapped into our standard issue hiking thongs, packed away our 6 litres of water, nuts, tuna and bread and went to thank the owners for an incredible stay. We told them of our plan to take the 6 hour hike and they told us without a hint of humour in their voice ‘Be careful of jaguars’. We walked towards the exit of our camp, laughing off what we thought was the joke they played on every backpacker that came through. We were joking around and doing our best to imitate jaguar roars to each other when another group of backpackers walked past and asked us whether or not we had also heard the roars this morning. We stopped dead in our tracks and realised maybe this wasn’t just a big local joke. They explained there had been reports of two jaguars roaring not far from our camp early that morning. We decided to make the 6 hour hike out anyway.

We spent the first hour or so on edge, with our ears wide open for signs of a lurking jaguar. We soon came to accept the fact that the chances of seeing one were pretty unlikely and we allowed ourselves to become distracted by the beauty of the surrounding jungle. We stopped for lunch perched on top of rock overlooking the jungle and coastline, made our lunch and soaked in the Colombian sun, it was completely silent.

No sign of jaguars yet…

The remainder of the walk led us through ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls and a family living deep within this jungle. We made it jaguar-free to the nearest town, some 6 hours later and got a bus back to our hostel where we succumbed to exhaustion in the pool. This is not a trek I’d want to do solo!

theboywander

The Boy Wander begins…

IMG_2104Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all. – Helen Keller

It seems I’ve long had an infatuation with exploring and anything new. I’ve always struggled to stay settled in one environment for too long but I never really had an appropriate outlet for it until I discovered travel.

After spending some time in New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland throughout 2009 I was given my first glimpse into travel and set about following these trips up with a more serious adventure the following year which took me from the ski fields in Canada, down the West Coast of the USA, across Central America, to the rainforests of Colombia.

Returning home after 9 months I thought I’d ‘gotten travel out of my system’. Now that mindset and what I think is wrong with it warrants an entire post itself but basically I thought I’d come home and begin setting up the life you’re told you’re supposed to.
Within a year of being home I had come to the realisation it just wasn’t right….I had to explore again.

The plan is….well there’s no real plan as such. I fly to India in early February from there my plans will be spontaneous where possible as I endeavour to find the rhythm at the heart of every town and city I visit.

As for the next 8 months I will look to share more about what drives me to explore, my travel preparations and a bunch of useful tips as well as a locals guide to Sydney and its surrounds. I promise to show you a bunch of stuff you won’t find in any guide books and only the truest of locals know about.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on NSW’s beautiful South Coast. As promised here it is Forget Sydney.