Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I only thought a handful of people were reading my blog. If I look at my profile page I see the number of profile views which I thought was the same as blog views. It's at about 2300, over 19 months. That's why I thought not many people read my blog - just a few loyal family members and friends.

But when Mariannick (of Chez Mariannick) told me they get people coming in every week because of my blog and I met someone at yoga for the first time who asked if I was the same Nancy who has the blog...I started to wonder. I finally found the "stats" button (is it new?) and it turns out I have over 16,000 hits in the last nine months. The most popular posts are:

Bangalore Restaurant Guide
Nrityagram Dance Village
Christmas Decorations
A Day at Soukya Holistic Health Centre
Bryan Adams Concert in Bangalore
Ganesh Festival - The Life Cycle of a Ganesh Statue
Andamen Islands (Part 3) - Snorkeling
Andamen Islands (Part 4) - The Other Side of the Island
Books Set in India

And who is looking at the blog? Well, I can't tell exactly but by country India is way ahead, then U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Netherlands, Finland, Ireland.

And here I just thought I was writing it for myself and a few curious family members and friends...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Holi: The Funnest Day of the Year

What do you get when you mix coloured paint and water? FUN!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Art of Living Ashram: What's It All About Part 2

The next three days were spent with a group of 40 people participating in the Introductory Course - people from all over India and some foreigners as well. The Art of Living operates in over 150 countries including an ashram in Montreal, Canada and a local center in Vancouver. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's goal is to spread peace by teaching people how to lead a stress-free life and by getting involved in humanitarian projects.

The three day course was a snapshot of what the ashram is all about. We learned pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, yoga, and discussed all sorts of questions about ones self. We learned about each other and did some amazing activities that really bonded the group in only three days.

The grounds were nice with lots of trees and each evening at 6:30pm everyone in the ashram gathered at the amphiteatre for Satsang. People sang songs (bhajans) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would come on stage. People were thrilled to see him and extremely reverent. On the second night the stage was filled with about 40 religious leaders from all over India - Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist etc. They had all gathered at the ashram that day for a religious/peace conference.

At satsang Guruji led a short meditation session and eveyone would participate. He also answered questions from the audience. His voice was unique and calming. He was not one of those charismatic, cult type leaders trying to sway everyone to follow him. But he seemed genuinely concerned about teaching and spreading peace. As he said - India has so much knowledge. So many people wanted him to stay in India and just teach the Indian people but he said no, he felt it was his responsibility to share knowledge with the entire world.

As far as the course went it was pretty good, somewhat thought provoking and I would be curious to know what the second course is all about. But it was so hot at this time of year and the hall we were in was a sweat box even with fans. Plus there were no chairs and we had to sit on the floor all day. For the breathing and meditation we had to sit cross-legged (sukhasana) or on the knees, sitting on the ankles (vajrasana). I do both of these in yoga and vajrasana we do until our feet turn blue (5-10 min. and it's supposed to be good for you) - but to be in these positions for 1/2 hr - 1 1/2 hrs is a killer. Add the heat and I couldn't stand it.

So the heat and sitting was a problem and then there was the food at the dining hall. I like Indian food, but it was mush - no texture at all. One day of it and then I had to opt out and go to the little cafeteria where I could buy fresh fruit juice, fruit salad, and grilled veg sandwhiches. But I didn't really look forward to standing in line for that food either because people were always butting in and you had to fight your way to the front of the line. It just boggled my mind that in a place like this where everyone is learning about peace and giving, people could still butt in front of others and think only of themselves.

Oh, and then there was the shower. There is no actual shower stall, the water just goes onto the floor in the bathroom and the drain is on the same wall as the shower head but on the other side of the toilet. There is a squeegee which you use to guide the water on the floor to the drain. Ummm, I didn't really get it so didn't really shower. Heat, no shower, no food, no sleep, no chairs = no fun.

A couple other things they could do is get a better lock system on the doors - they use locks like ones used in high school. Also, please give everyone a map - it's a big place and it was too hot to be walking around aimlessly trying to find the hall, the dining hall, and accommodation without a map.

The Art of Living definitely has its positives and its negatives. Michael had a very positive experience and he will most likely do the second course. I am very curious about it but I'm not sure that I'm ready to go "inside the gates" again just yet. Many, many people all over the world follow Sri Sri's teaching and I'm sure they are better people for it. If you are thinking of doing it - just do it, give 100% and see what you can learn in just three days.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Art of Living Ashram: Getting There, Part 1

Click here for the most recent The Art of Living Ashram: Getting There, Part 1

Last week I decided to stay at an ashram. I wasn't planning to do it, I didn't feel like I was searching for anything or really wanted to go to an ashram - I didn't really need that "Eat, Pray, Love" experience. But Michael and another person I know had gone for the three day introductory course and said it was "life changing," and "one of the best things to do in India."

The Art of Living is an international NGO, just outside of Bangalore. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the ashram Guru and he happened to be at the ashram while I was there which was a bonus. Everyone simply calls him Guruji, meaning "one who has great knowledge or wisdom."

My course started Friday morning so I had to be there Thursday night. Michael had warned me that the food and rooms were very basic. Our driver was in the hospital and the temporary driver assured me he knew where the ashram was. I left home at 6:45pm expecting a 1 1/2 hr drive and wasn't too worried when he stopped to ask directions after one hour. He did a u-turn and said he had missed the turn off - no problem. But after awhile he did another u-turn and then another u-turn at the same place as the first time. Of course it was dark and the road was busy, and there we were going around in circles.

I told him to pull over - I phoned Michael to get directions and the driver phoned my regular driver who was in the hospital. After a few phone calls and a short lecture "don't tell me you know where it is when you don't..." we got on our way and finally found the right exit. Between phone calls to Michael and the driver in hospital we arrived at 9:30pm.

The place was packed with people checking in. It turned out there was a teachers refresher course going on that weekend too - there were hundreds of them. I got to go to the foreigner check in (no line up), I also got to pay the foreigner price of $200US for the 3 days (not bad) but nationals probably paid a fraction of that.

Got checked in at 10:00pm and then onto a shuttle bus to the accommodation. I was the only one who got off at the "Nandhi" building and went to look for #14. The lower ones were all in the 100's, so I went upstairs but they were the 200's. Finally saw a girl and asked her and she said "Nandhi building - you have premium accommodation" and she pointed across the street.

So off I went to a tall round building, up the spiral staircase lugging my luggage and sweating all the way to the top floor to #14. There I found three guys standing with towels and sheets, which I thought was weird - I just assumed the building would be all female. They informed me that they were there to make up my bed but there was someone inside who had locked the door and they couldn't wake her up (it's a triple room). So I knock, they knock, we call out...and every other door on the floor opened and people came to see what the commotion was. But we couldn't wake this person up.

Finally I suggested they phone reception and get me another room, which they did. Down we all went - it's now 10:30pm - and we walked to the furthest building where once again the door was locked and we knocked, but luckily the woman inside woke up and opened the door - I'm sure she was not impressed, but then again - neither was I.

The room was very basic with two single beds, bedside tables, a small bathroom, an outdoor sink and a fan that was whirling as loud and as fast as helicopter blades. Quick introductions and then into bed. I couldn't help but wonder about that "premium room." Even though it was a triple - was it better?

My class didn't start til 9:30am Friday morning so I set my alarm for 8:00am and slept restlessly. At six one of the lights went on - my roommate was up. I closed my eyes and turned over. Then I heard her doing breathing exercises, similar to what I do in yoga. Then it went quiet but the light was still on. I roled over and opened one eye - she was sitting cross-legged on her bed facing me, eyes closed, with both arms straight up in the air - welcome to the Art of Living!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Indian Wedding Part 2 - The Wedding

Sunday morning we arrived at the same hall just as the groom was arriving. A band was playing and the groom was seated outside being blessed by the priest - surrounded by family and friends.

Everyone went inside, the the groom went onstage with a white sheet held up in front of him while the bride entered. They stood on either side of the white sheet until it was taken away and they faced each other sitting down after that.

Many rituals and blessings occurred. At one point rice was passed around to all the guests and everyone stood up at the same time and threw it towards them.

They sat holding hands, a coconut on top of their hands and coconut milk poured over their hands. Many family members were on stage with them. This went on for some time and unlike a western wedding the guests got up,walked around and talked while this was going on.

Eventually the grooms sister came to say hello to us and took Michael and I onstage to get a better view and take some photos of the ceremony. Then she said we should go upstairs and eat and come back down afterwards. Up we all went and the upper hall was full  of tables and chairs with banana leaves laid out. It was full of guests being served food. Very tasty Indian food and lots of different dishes.

Once we finished eating we went downstairs near the stage where different blessings were still going on. The four of us were brought up onstage to give our wishes and have a photo taken with the bride and groom.

Then more blessings and rituals. Finally they walked around the stage several times and then down the aisle and outside where the band played while they continued with more blessings.

The coconut is obviously a very important part of the ceremony. At the beginning when the groom was outside they smashed two coconuts, next the pouring of coconut milk over the hands as the couple held a coconut. As the couple walked around the stage they followed his sister who was carrying fruit on a plate, including (I think) coconut. And just like the night before, we each received a wedding favor of...a coconut.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Indian Wedding Part 1 - The Reception

The Wedding Reception
We were invited to an Indian wedding this weekend - finally! Well, we had been invited to a couple before, but both were people we didn't know and out of town so we didn't go. So we were really happy to be invited to the wedding of someone that Michael works with.

An Indian wedding is very different from a western wedding. For starters, the wedding reception was Sat. night and then the wedding was Sunday morning. Apparently most people go to one or the other, not both. As happy as I was to go to both, two events in 24 hrs did cause me a bit of stress - it meant wearing two saris!

At home, Michael tried for 45 minutes to pin the dupatta (the "scarf" part that drapes over the shoulder). He did a pretty good job but I looked a bit like a football player on one side. We did have to go to another event first at the Leela hotel so I went to reception and asked the girl at the desk to help me. No problem, looked like she did it all the time and even Michael had to admit it looked a lot better.
We got to the wedding reception at 8:30pm and basically what happens is the bride and groom stand on a stage all night, receiving guests and having their photos taken with everyone. There was a long line up on the left side of the hall but all of a sudden someone whisked us up the middle aisle and straight up onto the stage. We said hello, had a photo taken, and were introduced to the grooms mother, father, and sister. The ladies all wore nice saris and lots of gold jewellery (I was definitely lacking in jewellery), the men wore dress pants and shirts.

Next, we were directed upstairs where lots of people were already mingling and enjoying an Indian buffet. We had a bite to eat and talked to a few people from Michael's work. And then we were off - we were there all of 40 minutes!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What Else Has Been Going On?

So much going on in the last few weeks.

Michael and I went to an excellent French wine dinner at Caperberry a few weeks ago. Master Sommelier Franck Chausse made it a very enjoyable evening discussing and tasting French wine with us. Chef Abhijit Saha paired the wines with a wonderful meal. Not quite enough wine - everyone would have liked seconds - but nice to taste French wines for a change.

Michael went to AyurvedaGram Health Resort last weekend. I had won a two nights stay, plus two treatments (for one person) - so I gave it to Michael and I was going to join him the second night. It started off well - the grounds, the food and the first ayurvedic massage were good, he said. But that night I got a text:

10:30am: “Don’t want to freak you out but there are rats here! It chomped on the soap bar and left poo pellets around the outside bathroom. Not pleasant! Might have to rethink our plans for tomorrow.”
12:15am: "This is ridiculous. It is so loud on the top of the roof. I might phone reception to switch rooms!"
12:20am: "Oh, and here comes back the mosquito. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
7:09am: "A restless sleep but I survived. My worry of having rats fall from the rafters onto my head never happened. Still i am going home today. That was crazy! And that darn mosquito was still there in the morning."

Michael came home in the afternoon and we ended up going to Chez Mariannick’s one year anniversary party and having a blast – dancing to real music with strobelights and alcohol - past midnight which is illegal here in Bangalore I think. Sure enough after we left the police came by and shut the party down.

What else? The charity team has been working hard and we had a long meeting yesterday to finalize our recommendations for funding allocations for the year. Monday we present our recommendations to the Executive Committee and trustees.

I have another photocompetition this weekend which requires a lot of work going through the photos, narrowing them down to the best six, and going to the photoshop a few times to get them printed out properly.

Alanna got her braces off and she is very happy and her teeth look lovely. Craig had his 12th birthday - quite low key, we went out to Toscanos for his favorite salmon pesto pizza and got a cake from Bliss. Midterms just finished and went well, one more set of final exams and then we will be done with that school!

Still lots more to blog about - The Art of Living, and The Meditation Pyramid, and my adventures cooking Indian food at hom - but I think they will require posts of there own.