gokarna to varanasi via the orphanage/ ashram

In the words of my friend Daniel: ‘in India there’s only one way to skin a cat’

hi all…

again sorry for the delay, i  blame laziness and time that i needed to compose my thoughts on this bizzar country…

so from leaving Gokarna, which was my last installment. whilst we were there we met Daniel and american guy who was volunteering at an orphanage in central Indian. he was in Gokarna with the orphanage who were on holiday there. One evening the kids put on a small drama performance and me and Or went along to meet the man who ran the Orphanage (Vinod)  and see the kids. we both decided it was a perfect place for us to do some volunteering and get out of the trap of beach living in Gokarna.

so 2 days later Or took a bus to the Orphanage, and i stayed in Gokarna for one more day to say good-bye to my beach life properly…one last swim in the sea, one last night to ly on the sand and watch the stars ect.

the next day i set out early thinking i could do the 160km in one day..slightly presumtpous after 6 weeks of the bike. a few things made my early start not so early, a broken spoke, a misplaced allen key and 2 flat tyres, but i was still on my way by a respectable hour. the first 20 miles went by quickly but after that it was a loosing battle against the heat. i stopped for my first unscheduled stop after 30 miles only 3 miles after my last stop, the heat and effort was getting to me and luckily i listened to my body and pulled into some shade when i felt dizzy from the heat. it was my first proper day with any cycling partner and it felt strange to know that i was on my own, no one to reassure me that it was flipping hot and no one ask if it we were in fact going in the right direction, and i missed it but liked it to. after my break in the shade i kind of felt better so i kept going short of any other options, but about every 3 miles i had to stop and sit it the shade to cool down. i was fairly obvious i wasnt going to get to the Orphanage that day so i set my target for just over the half way mark where there was likely to be a hotel, because I was tent less (not sure if i mentioned but my tent was stolen in Gokarna so i was awaiting a new one). i was told the road to the town had a 20km section of uphill, and after a completely flat ride when i hit a sign saying 20km to the town i was praying i was told wrong. Nope the last 20km where all up, i managed to hold of to a truck for half of it but the rest was all sweat and cursing and when i got to the town i was destroyed, i got an ok hotel tried to eat and then passed out.

i set out early the next morning trying to beat the heat. the road to the Orphanage left the main road an went through a national park which at the entrance boasted, elephants tigers and jaguars none of which i saw but the road was cool. i reached the Orphanage by mid day and found Or and Daniel both working on the new school building which was being built. i was introduced to the kids and the unpacked and had a tour of the bamboo buildings which made up the Orphanage, a kitchen school building and  separate rooms for guests and volunteers.

during the day there want much to do so we gave reading classes after lunch and then played cricket at dusk before the evening meal. the food was simple but good and lots of it, mostly rice and a dal sauce, and if we were lucky a chapati (a naan but less exiting) and before bed there was usually some games and Bollywood dacing lessons for us westerners. my first impressions where great, things to be done but freedom to do what ever we liked and the sweetest kids ever.

we spent a week there before we to a small trip to Hampi so Or could spend pass over at a place where there would be a proper celebration and other Israelis. Hampi is a strange place, its got a very strange energy and from the beginning i didnt really feel at ease there, i could put my finger on it but it was odd. we spent a couple of days walking around and riding from lake to lake on our scooter which was nice. and then we had passover at a jewish centre which was interesting… lots of hebrew and traditions but Or did her best to translate and involve me so it turned out to be a cool evening.

i wasnt sorry to leave Hampi and when we got back to the Ashram initially it felt great ot be back. hen we arrived we found out that Vinod had left to go to Bangalore and had left the place in the completely incapable hands of Manju (one of his many ‘friends’ as the kids called him). so we soon realised that we were responsible for 15 kids. while we had been away the oldest girl Bovia (14yrs) had come back from boarding school as she was having a hard time being away. we found her in one of the rooms alone with a guy called Marty (another ‘friend of Vinod’s) who was a middle-aged man with a wife and kids. she was holding his had and leaning on him and  they seemed closer than was  appropriate for a 30 something man and a 14yr girl. i sat with them to try and make them feel uncomfortable about what was going on while Or called Vinod to find out what exactly the situation was, and as we were to discover he was his unspecific self. he said he would deal with it. so that evening we both kept checks on where Marty was and where the girls where making sure to not leave them alone.

the next evening he was back and again Bovia was hanging off him.. Vinod wasnt answering his phone so we decided to act the way we felt appropriate. i approached Marty and said as democratically as i could that i thought it would be better if he didnt come back untill Vinod was there, because we were in charge and we didnt know him and we didnt like the way he was acting towards Bovia. he didnt like this at all (apparently he was some what of an important man in the village and wasnt used to be told what t do) so he stayed around for another hour constantly trying to reach Vinod so i could explain my self to him.  Or both felt pretty vulnerable at that moment, we were the only responsable people inchrage and we had just pissed off and ‘important man’ and as i will explain more fully later on this culture has a tendency for some pretty brutal gang violence, so we felt scared for the kids and our selfs. this was the first moment we had serious doubts about Vinod and the ‘home’ he had created for the kids.

After a few days the mother of Vinods girlfriend came to help us and having the presence of a strong indian woman certainly helped and the following day Daniel returned which made us feel much more comfortable. We shared a our experience of the last few days and he was appalled, he had experienced pretty much exactly the same thing during his first week at the orphanage when Vinod had business in Bangalore and left him alone. he explained to us that Bovias mother as na alcoholic and had 4 kids by different men and went from boyfriend to boyfriend (not exactly uncommon in the west but here its pretty rare) and she was doing her best to follow the only example she had.

the next day we were watching the sunset on the rocks away from the orphanage, when we were being shouted at and saw some commotion. one of the boys after an argument during cricket had run off with the ball. the grandmother had him and was hitting him untill he broke free and legged it, at which point one of the kids called Manju who came bounding out of the orphanage like he was being chased by a tiger,  grabbed the boy and dragged him back to the orphanage. we all commented on how strange it was to over react like that and that was our first thought that he wasnt a particularly stable man. that evening Pradipa (the ball thief) was sitting alone looking very unset so i sat with him and tried to talk. there was some activity outside and the Yementa can running into the kitchen looking very scared and crying closely followed by Manju who was wielding a bamboo cane. he was waving the stike about in a really threatening manner i didnt know the situation so i didnt step in but i was watching him closely. they went out side and there was more noise and i saw Manju raise the stick and then there was a very loud thwack. without considering if i was being culturally insensitive or if it was any of business i shouted at Manju ran over to him and pulled the cane from him which he gave up easily. i was furious, and i told him exactually what i thought of him and like the coward he is  (and, i dont like to generalise but, like most India men seem to be) he wouldnt look at me and had nothing to say. on reflection i dont care if thats the way things are done here and if i was braking cultural norms, im not going to watch a small child be threatened and the hit by a grown man with a stick. apparently Yementa had called him a ‘mother fucker’ and unfortunately his mother had died recently and Manju was unstable due to this (Vinods explanation and excuss for Manju’s actions). but as we all said. firstly if he is unstable why on earth is he around your children whit no serpervision and secondly if your going to work with troubled children and you can’t handle being called a ‘mother fucker’ once in a while then your in the wrong line of work.

after yementa had been hit Vinod called and asked to speak to him. he told him on the phone that he was going to be sent to a hostel and then back to his mother, the poor kid was traumatised and balled his eyes out understandably. that was probably the last straw for us and we decided we couldnt stay any longer. we wanted to finish a pin board that we were making and have all the kids paint a picture on it which Or patiently supervised, and then leave. Also the next day the man that fixes the water came to the orphanage and was unhappy about a pile of hay that had been spread out from the kids jumping on it. he singled out Yementa and dragged him by the arm to the hay and raised his fists as if to hit him, so again feeling so tired of kids being threatened went over and made it very clear that he wasnt going to hit anyone, after that we didnt have water for a day until vinod returned and smoothed things out.

we stayed one more day and surprisingly Vinod showed up in the morning. we both made it obvious that we were not happy with him in his treatment of us and of his sever lackings in running the orphanage. he said he wanted to talk with us in the evening.

we sat down with Vinod and his girlfriend and he began by telling us about his fails as a man and a parent and then talking about his long term plans for the orphanage, which was to send the older kids away (not really old…8yrs old) to boarding schools, keep the younger 4 and concentrate on his new ‘vision’ where 25 kids from different shelters would come for one month at a time and do theatre. we explaing to him our experiences while he was away and what we thought of some of his discipline techniques  which he manovered around skifully. i liken him to a politician guru, lots of semingly wise stories that infact misdirect the questions asked. we both came away feeling slightly more understanding of his position but really very disapointed at not having our concerns answered.that night we spent the last emotional evening with kids, who were all so great and we both miss them alot and fear for the futures.

while i was there i really connected with Gopi the oldest boy who is a born entertainer and would give us singing and dancing lessons in the evenings, if he is not in bollywoood some day then they missed a trick. Dipo who we said was the man of the orphanage, so kind and such a big heart but very reserved. Vinod later told us that he had been sent back to his mothers 3 times and each time had to come bac to the orphanage because the situation at home got bad again. we were both so angry when Vinod told us this, the poor kid being sent this way and that, no wonder he had issues. Also Yementa was so cute, i wanted to take him home with me. we both started to connect with Bovia during our last few days and i think she would have gotten so much from time with me and especially Or, but we couldnt stay although it was definantly hard to leave.

we left that morning and got to the biggest city near by to arrange getting a train to Sikkim, a small northern state that borders with Bhutan and Nepal. Every train was booked and we were told to come back early next morning to que for the emergency tickets. there was already a que by 6;30 and when they eventually raised the barriers there was a scrum like nothing ive seen. it seemed so sad that this is what the authorities had driving the people to. it would have been easy to blame the people in acting in such a chaotic way but i knew that if we couldnt get a train then i would be one of the scrum the next morning.

we didnt get a train that morning, a early start for nothing, but the next afternoon we were booked on a train to Kolkata. At the train station i spent about 2 hours filling out forms and packing my bike and after paying i was assured my bike would be safe and on the train with us that evening. when we came back with 45minutes to spar before the train left, we found our seats and i went to check the baggage area to make sure my bike wasnt being left behind. i walked into the room to an empty space apart from my bike on the floor with my bags next to it. i was seething angry and went straight to the manager. here is how our conversation went minus the frequent swearing on my part:

me: why isnt my bike on the train

manager: sorry sir the baggage compartment is full, your bike will be on the  next train

me: no the baggage isnt full and my bike will be on this train with me

manager: sorry the baggage is full, no problem bike will be on the next train

me: no big problem, the baggage isnt full and my bike will be on This train now

manager: ok dont worry no problem, five minutes and we put your bike on the train

me: i do worry the train leaves in 15 minutes, and I will put my bike on the train

manager: ok five minutes dont worry.

so 5 minutes before the train left me and a guy ran to the baggage and put the bike and my bags on. it turns out it was all because i didnt give some porter a bribe, although how i was ment to know that was the procedure i have no idea. the bike was in a private courier compartment and so the manager wanted my old receipt which was in bag in our carriage, miles down the platform, he told me to go and get it before the bike could go on, but learning to having learnt not to trust any one in this country and to be stubborn, i refused to go anywhere until my bike was in the carriage and the door was looked, we had a little stand off but i won and when the door was shut i ran back and got my to ticket, with just enough time to get on the train as it pulled away. if i could have left India then and there i would have done so happily.

when we got to Kolkata we wanted to take a ferry across the river to our hotel, but i was told by the ferry guard that i wasnt aloud to take my bike, and i could have killed him, i think i called him a prick and the most unhelpfull dick in all of India and i stand by that even after i had calmed down. but really it was a venting to all of my frustrations and it was immature of me i know. so we got a taxi with my bike hanging out the back and some how we got to the hotel with i still in one piece. kolkata was very cool, it has a great energy to it, but we only stayed for a few days before we got a train to Darjeeling.

i feel like these past experiences in India and the time ive spent here have given me some insight into the country and the people. firstly i dont think i would trust anyone here, not that there arnt people  that can be trusted just the there arnt many. i also think that the extreme and crazy nature of the religion and especially the religious practices and festivals has made the people slightly mentally unstable  and unhinged. which is defiantly represented in the examples of mob mentality that are some common here. i have herd so many stories of fights breaking out and as soon as it gets violent hundreds all jump in. or if there is a car accident and there is a fatality and one person is clearly in the wrong that person will be killed there and then by an angry mob of by standers.

there doesnt seem to be any value of human life, or value of anything for that matter,  here. its like its the responsibility of someone else, perhaps again the root cause is having a deep faith in God (or Gods). when there is a higher power controlling everything and an after life to strive for what does it matter, what does anything matter. maybe im being harsh, and when you are surrounded by such poverty and deformity the natural mechanism to deal with it is to shut off the feelings of compassion and unity we all have in sharing the same species.

the issue of class is also something very noticeable in the culture here, for my observations more so that cast. the disparity of wealth here is very extreme. And there seems to be a great acceptance and apathy toward this unjust hierarchy. which i think outlines the level of suppression and submission of the people, which perhaps has something to do with the colonial past, as Daniel puts it ‘ in India there is only one way to skin a cat’.

traveling with a girl has also opened my eyes to the level of sexual repression and the vulgarity of the male population. its very often the first question we get, are we married,  and when we say no we get sly looks and smiles. in the news papers here there is always a story  of rape and often gang rape, which unfortunately doesnt surprise me for 3 reasons: firstly as i already mentioned alone they are very cowardly but in a group they are dangerous, secondly the women here are treated like dogs and thirdly because of the level of sexual repression and frustration. the level of contact between men illustrates this nicely. it is obviously the only out let for the physical erges that is culturally acceptable.

i expected alot coming to India (too much i now realise) , i expected to feel connected to a deeply religious country but in fact i havent felt the least bit spiritual here, infact i think it has caused many more problems than it has ever solved. i have a love hate relationship with this country, but i think i hate it more that i love it. if i could be here and be invisible may be it would be different.

sorry for the rant but these are things that i needed to vocalise, i also hope i haven’t come out as a racist, not my intention, but this country has gotten to me and there is definantly something about the people that is unlike any of the countries so far.

back to my travels… so from darjeeling we went to Sikkim which is stunning, amazing tropical forest and mountain views and great Tibetan people. we spent 2 weeks walking around and now we are in Varanasi (India proper) and its hot 45 degrees, so hot in fact we have to sleep on the roof. 2morrow we leave to escape the heat and heat to Dharamsala, back into the mountains.

it s a long one so sorry if its boring

love jack


  1. han said,

    Oh my god you need to come home and write my sociology essay for me, I wonder how I would go about referencing your blog!!!!
    I guess all the stuff you experience, good or bad makes you a better person, it seems like you have seen so much, well done for standing up for what you believe in, Charlie will be very proud!
    He is finally walking, well one handed and about 10 steps on his own, he now walks himself to bed which is lovely!
    Hope you have changed your plans on Thailand, dont think thats a great place to be at the min!
    Cant believe you are complaining about the weather, you could always be come back to the lovely british summer i am sure we are going to have!!!
    Lovely photos, I saw the ones on ors facebook too, really looks like you made a difference to those kids.
    Miss you loads, very pleased you have put this up it is a very much welcomed break to sociolgy!!
    Lots of love always
    Hannah Jamie and Charlie

  2. Mum and Marg said,

    At last another blog entry and what an experience must have been tough leaving the children
    Hannah’s right think you need to re-think Thailand at the moment
    Hard to believe you have been gone 15ths – please send us some of your hot weather we need it
    stay safe and be careful
    lots of love

  3. polly said,

    hey jack,
    blimey, sounds like its been a rough month or so.
    i would loved to of witnessed that ‘conversation’ at the train station oh and the meeting with the most unhelpful dick in india ha ha ha ha nothing nicer than arguing and winning!!!!!!
    that orphanage sounds horrible, poor kids. unfortunately if that is obviously acceptable there – well done for jumping in.
    everyone full of cold here (apart from me for once!) hoping to stay away from any more germs before we go to cornwall. hey why dont you get on a plane and meet us there!!!! nathan would love to see you.
    well hope you get to some nicer places
    take care bro
    love polly xx

  4. han said,

    good call Pol!!! miss you loads jack xXx

  5. sara garicano gabas said,

    Hola amorcito!!!
    India is not easy,i know….but is “unique”… I had the same emotions,love and hat at the same time, but that is a good thing, never leave you indifferent, are emotions come and go, always moving, as the contry itself…
    En español…
    India no es un pais facil…pero es unico…siempre esta en constante movimiento y constante cambio y eso nos hace cambiar y movernos a nosotros, excepto en Gokarna, que nos quedamos un poco atrapaditos pero disfrutandolo…
    No se cual sera tu siguiente movimiento pero ahi van un monton de besos españoles..
    Te quiero mucho…. Cuidate y disfruta
    The lazy girl

  6. sara garicano gabas said,

    obviously i didn´t mean to say “hat”….i mean to say hate…
    Love and more kisses

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