This is how our travel blog adventure in our teacups as the story-teller of our travels and adventures, took us on a journey of wellbeing and happiness. We started this blog as our connected expression of creativity and our shared love of writing, photography and adventure and yet we often notice how many times this blog carries us on its own journey.
When you’re travelling some days it feels like you’re taking a sort of happy drug, keeping your energy and your spirits high. Until that is, you’re standing at the base of a stairwell and you have to second guess yourself if your bad back will allow you to make the climb. That’s how it was for my travel buddy Bhanu, as we looked at the top of the temple peak at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and wondered if it was worth the risk. You see, for months, no wait, years actually she had been plagued by a bad back that constantly gave way to a roaming sort of pain that on a bad day could extend from her knees to her neck and settle just about anywhere.
Any combination of muscle knots, spasms, tightening and misalignment that could make her virtually immobile for days at a time. But as all of you who suffer with chronic back pain know, you somehow find a way through, going from one treatment to the next until the months roll into years. When she said to me one day “I can’t remember a day when I wasn’t in pain” clearly the time had come to do something more. I had watched her undergo no shortage of mainstream and alternative treatments and spend entire days running from one side of Delhi to the next, all in the hope that acupuncture, acupressure, ultrasound, shockwave therapy, IFT, dry needling or physiotherapy would work its wonders. At this point we realised that to climb the temple steps anywhere in the world, reclaiming our health and well-being would actually be the first step.
And so we are sharing this with you because what we found next really is making a difference. We are all deserving of a fulfilling, wonderful and healthy life and we hope that this treatment that has helped Bhanu, might be the magic that changes your life too. When you think about it, the body has its own alchemy happening every day; we cut our finger and we hardly notice that in a day or two it has all but disappeared, so if the body has the power to heal itself, maybe from time to time all it needs is a little push in the right direction.
Maybe like our minds as we get older, it becomes forgetful of its earlier injuries and consequently we carry around old pains as reminders that we need healing but with a body too weary to fix itself anymore. In a nutshell, that pretty well sums up what Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy is all about; by gently injecting the body’s own platelets into the injured area it kickstarts the muscles, tendons and ligaments to start the healing process once again. It has a very successful track record with athletes, particularly with the knees, shoulders, elbow joints and is very effective back pain therapy. Being a sporty child Bhanu always wondered why as an adult such injuries should plague her, but perhaps this is precisely the reason; too much exertion, especially on damaged muscles naturally wears the body down.
We found a wonderful doctor in Sydney who spent considerable time diagnosing and determining exactly the areas of the body that needed healing through ultrasound, testing for strength and mobility and understanding her history. He then marked the areas and reconfirmed again through ultrasound to be sure of the specific injury and where to reprogram the cells for the healing to recommence.
As a procedure, it’s not time-consuming, in fact a couple of sessions of PRP Therapy over the course of a few weeks is often enough. This worked perfectly for Bhanu travelling from overseas and needing a strong burst of treatment in a short time. As effective as she has found this treatment, it has been painful in equal measure; I commented in jest after the first session that it felt like I’d gone through labour with her! But as fortune favours the brave, within a couple of hours the pain had subsided and the smile glowingly returned to her face.
Just the next day she came to me, with eyes full of happy tears and lifted her arm, an exceptional joy for someone whose shoulder had been hampered since childhood. For the first time in years the energy and life had returned to old injuries and we know that the ability to throw away a whole medicine bag of painkillers, muscle relaxants, support bandages and magnets is the result of PRP Therapy. Watching the transformation over the coming weeks just reinforced the belief that though the path to good health may be not always be a smooth one, it is one that we are all deserving of. Believe you will get better and with the persistence of the angels, keep searching until your good health enables you to be the best version of yourself.
We’ve seen how our travel blog has gently carried us to meet people, to expand our knowledge and join workshops that we might never have done if not for finding a hub to bring these experiences to. And so it was that the urge to travel and jump into new adventures was the quiet symbol to push her forward and reclaim her well-being. We have a diverse bucket-list of wonderful places and experiences to explore and with the healing power of PRP Therapy, we’re now one step closer.
Maybe if we’d been there during the night we’d have felt the presence of the spirits, but as it was seeing the Agresen Stepwell in the soft morning sunlight, you’d hardly know you were in one of India’s most haunted places. They say that the murky water at its depths attracted depressed and saddened souls to the well, though in reality it was the life source for many in the Mogul kingdom. As a tourist spot it’s a little piece of well-preserved history near Delhi’s thriving centre and for locals, a sacred little getaway where couples sit lovingly together on the steps of the well looking into the depths of each other’s eyes.
When you’re a foreigner in Delhi it’s somewhat of a mixed bag, some things work in our favour, some not; but it’s probably fair enough that we pay a higher ticket price for entry into tourist spots. So there we were, standing happily in line at the Purana Qila, behind throngs of eager tourists when a guard called us out and immediately fast-tracked our entry. A little confused as to why we headed to the ticket counter and were given diplomatic status to jump the queue. Perhaps it was our matching cargo pants and converse sand-shoes, all the hallmarks of official status. We were in; 200 rupees for me, 20 for her.
Unlike many forts across India with their imposing high walls, Delhi’s oldest fort, aptly named the Old Fort, invites you along a corridor lined with tall palm trees towards Humayun’s Gate. Walking down this avenue I realise there’s something about the light in Delhi that I love; it’s a soft watercolour like mist that stills the air and against the afternoon sunlight, softens the contours of an otherwise rugged garrison outline. Though the fort is breaking down and the rounded stones in the wall seem to have just rolled onto the ground, the delicate towers with their spired domes and Arabic arches resemble two bell towers; perhaps once they were. This fort is the legacy of Emperor Humayun and another of his bold architectural tributes that sing of his craft and creativity.
Many historic monuments capture the moment where two kingdoms merge and this rambling old fort in Delhi has highlights of its pre-Mogul days before the Mosque was built. But for almost 500 years the Qila-i-Khuna mosque has stood out for its intricate style and size. It’s not overwhelming at all but rather small enough that it really sits at the congregational heart of the fort. It looks like it belongs in a little snow dome that you can shake and watch the snow flutter over. In beautiful Afghani style, its flourish of calligraphy and inlaid recesses tells the story of a faraway time and place and I love the allure of its mystery. In them I see their history.
Today I see the flurry of young families and kids snapping selfies and suddenly we realised that we too were starring in the pics. In the flash of an iPhone we’d gone from diplomatic status to celebrities, with fathers asking us to pose with their kids and shake our hands. Eager smiles and bright eyes smeared with kajal liner running up and saying hello, grownups asking to take my picture and pose with all the flair of a Kardashian. It never ceases to amaze me how fascinating foreigners are here. Though they clearly overstayed their welcome, it was more than 200 years of British rule and as many opportunities to overcome the novelty of a fair face. The other gal thought it was hilarious and eventually gave way to the peer pressure of the paparazzi and starting shaking hands too. These sweet exchanges were the highlight of our day not the other way around.
Spending time at a place like the Old Fort is at the heart of what I love about Delhi; a staunch and fascinating history, a layer of rich culture with a sprinkle of pampering like sweet icing on a cupcake. I say this because after ambling around the fort, a lunch stop in a gorgeous little cafe and a quick foot massage is a matter of course. The afternoon light is wistful, the experience of the day settles comfortably and my heart is happy.
For a brief moment you would be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped outside of India; what with it’s French street signs “Rue law de Lauriston”, Soho inspired street side cafes, bohemian stores fashioned from high ceiling white washed houses selling handmade treasures and trinkets, but then the searing heat, the roaming Sadgurus loosely clad in faded orange fabric smeared with incense powder and the auto rickshaws zipping along the broad streets reminds you that you are well and truly within the cultural vibe of one of India’s most darling of destinations, three hours drive south of Chennai in pretty, paradisal Pondicherry.
From the moment we drove into the outskirts of town, the landscape was vastly different from that of Delhi, for starters, you could see the sky, stretched wide across the tropical panorama of lush banana plantations and dense green clusters of oversized palms all the way to the sea. This was the first time in India that I had seen the ocean and knowing that Pondicherry is perched alongside the Bay of Bengal and that we would cycle along its promenade was truly exciting. Apart from the signature dusty roadsides, the feel was completely different from the North; where Delhi is built up, the approach to Pondicherry is far more sparse, dotted with thatched roofs reminiscent of Thailand. Women, all of them, in bright cheerful sari’s, men wearing the traditional Lungi’s (long checkered skirts) knotted above their knees with their spindly legs poking out. And then as the walls of the houses and villages change from neutral to turquoise blue, peppermint green, pink and the yellow of fresh cut mango you find yourself in the heart of Pondicherry
The history of the City of Pondicherry is recorded only after the arrival of Dutch, Portuguese, British and French colonialists. A marketplace named Poduke or Poduca is recorded as a Roman trading destination from the mid 1st century. The Cholas of Thanjavur held it from the 10th to 13th centuries, only to be replaced by the Pandya Kingdom in the 13th century. The Vijayanagar Empire took control of almost all the South of India in the 14th century and maintained control until 1638 when they were supplanted by the Sultan of Bijapur. The French acquired Pondicherry in 1674 and held it, with an occasional interruption by the British or Dutch, until 1954 when it was incorporated into the Indian Union along with the rest of French India. This rich European history coupled with its prominent Indian heritage create an eclectic mix of cultural drama, touristy vibe and laid back coastal living (don’t even think about shopping anytime after lunch until evening, they’re sleeping behind the counters).
No matter where your feet carry you in India, the undercurrent of spirituality resonates everywhere and with Temples, Cathedrals and Ashrams standing harmoniously side by side, Pondicherry wears its Holiness well. One of the most influential Parisian’s in Pondicherry was the earnestly seeking and accomplished Pianist and Writer, affectionately called The Mother who in 1914 met her spiritual guide Sri Aurobindo and went on to create the Sri Aurobindo Ashram which blossomed under her guidance. Her influence lives not only in the educational centre but more fervently in the colourful garden where she lovingly attributed character traits and endearing personal qualities to over 800 flowers. Beyond the Ashram, her next vision was the concept of Auroville – a somewhat idealistic township devoted to an experiment in human unity and a place where everyone can live side by side, above all religion, politics and culture. In the mid 1960s the Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry proposed to her that such a township should be started and with a nod of assent, she gave her blessings. The best description I’ve read about Auroville is that it belongs to nobody in particular but to humanity as a whole.
To reach the Matrimandir, the spiritual soul of Auroville, the pathway is punctuated with slabs of sandstone decorated with hand-painted flowers and their spiritual attributes described below. Though I’m sure someone has strategically placed “courage” and “tenacity” to help keep your mojo going as you walk the main path because it’s absolutely scorching heading through the bush, “how are these women still keeping it together in a sari?” our clothes are sticking to us and I feel like a soggy paratha. It was one of many bemusing sights that kept us laughing. After seeing the Matrimandir or Meditation Temple which rises from the dust in the form of a golden sphere and is really quite spectacular, we went in search of a bus, actually by this stage a rickshaw would have done, but then along came an old yellow bus bumping along the uneven road and scores of exhausted women, grabbing and falling over each other in search of a seat. I think being the only foreigners (this includes my friend from Delhi) we managed to get a seat and became the object of curiosity for the entire non air conditioned ride. You see, there is no mistaking if someone comes from the North or South of India, their looks are so distinctive and I noticed often how many people looked at my friend. I could almost see them thinking “is she one of us?”. Many times people stopped to ask her if she was Indian, even asking if she was South American. What a relief! Never mind the real foreigner! Finally, we arrived back at the main centre, parched and on the brink of doing anything for an ice cold drink only to discover that the bordering-on-hippie township is actually a flagship for eco-tourism so no ice, no soft-drinks, no anything that could cool us down. Luckily for us, our auto rickshaw driver on the way back to the hotel was able to swerve into a local dhaba where we went into the back storage area to retrieve a cold bottle of coke and drank it with the zeal of the last supper.
In the centre of Pondicherry stands a Temple in dedication to Ganesh, the God of New Beginnings. With its pastel painted carved fresco’s towering over the charcoal cobblestone narrow streets, spilling forward with fat pink lotuses and strings of fragranced flowers, split coconuts and fresh fruit brimming at each successive stall, the main entrance to the Temple is an enclave of beauty, aroma and invitation. Its interior of gold walls and adorned Gods and Goddesses set into the walled cavities set a gentle humbling lull into the incense filled smoky air. With oil diya’s burning, broken petals and crimson dust scattered at the feet of the statues it was the first time I’d had a chance to experience this side of Indian life. In fact, a visit to Pondicherry in the South is a complete contrast to the India I’d experienced so far and a haven that like the beautiful temple offerings, is itself an offering of wonder, happiness and promise.
I’m not sure if the grass is ever greener on the other side, except if you’ve escaped the shroud of pea-soup thick smog that’s taken over Delhi, then the grass here is definitely greener along with the trees and the shrubs. So much so that we’ve been taking pictures of the leaves and sending them back to family in Delhi since the other gal thinks they look fake. It sets you off on a curious tangent to ponder the differences in a place that you don’t notice until someone who spends less time there points them out. At the same time as we are snapping pics of would-be fake plants the Prime Minister of India has dropped a bombshell stamping out would be fake, or black money. The smog thickens…
But that’s not the India I see, I see the culture and connection, the spirituality and ironically a sense of freedom I don’t always see here. I tell the other gal often that one day I’ll make her fall in love with India. But for now, she’s enjoying the freshness of the air in Australia, the broad stretches of white sand and the lapis blue of the waves beneath the summer sunshine. For an hour at a time; because we’ve learnt this week that you pay for parking by the hour at most beaches, not pay by the hour in advance, but literally an hour at a time. So you dry yourself, dust off the sand and pop another five dollars in the meter, or maybe move your car and then go back to the beach…repeat…and herein lies just one of the many reasons why your driver in Delhi is worth their weight in gold.
If there were beaches in Delhi (picture scenes from Bombay), the other gal says it would become a dumping ground (both rubbish and morning defecations) with people selling everything from warm coconuts to hot chai and not a swimsuit to be seen. But at least while you were rummaging enough space to lay down a beach towel, your driver could pop out and pick up your groceries, do a quick stop to get take-away or even run to the chemist and grab any medications you might need. You can literally buy some antibiotics over the counter, one tablet at a time, contrary to when we walked into a chemist here and I was asked for photo ID to buy an everyday painkiller. Really? After photocopies of my licence were duly taken I was given the box of tablets. This type of over governance while funny, often seems quite silly and ultimately time consuming. In India, it’s precisely the lack of governance that has probably gone a long way towards creating some of its many challenges but surely there’s a middle ground somewhere. There you can pick up birth control over the counter, here you need a doctor’s appointment and with many places only open for the same hours that most people are working, it’s a little tricky. That said, I’ll let the irony speak for itself. In the spirit of convenience however, the other day we saw a vending machine in Sydney dispensing Havaiana’s beach thongs for $30 a pair and wondered what’s next.
Every time we get in the car we laugh at the sheer expanse of Sydney, literally everywhere is 60km away and we spend hours chatting and laughing on connecting freeways and endless roads that lay like charcoal ribbons through the sparkling greenery. It takes an hour to get anywhere though we’ve covered great distances. It’s of no concern here to see that a place is 100km away, in Delhi that distance could take the better part of a day. I remember once seeing a sign for Agra that said 183km and thought we’d be there by lunch, but what with the donkeys, auto-rickshaws and rambling cattle I’m sure the sun was setting with the last visitors trickling out of the Taj’s carpark. We laugh at what we would see in India covering that far, here we see expanse and so we get why public transport doesn’t quite hit the spot here; the other day she asked if we get buses along the main road and when I asked if she’d seen one, she replied “I’ve hardly even seen a bus in Sydney.”
Our highly congested all-too-regular traffic jams on occasion resemble Delhi but without the dust and the street-side carts piled high with sweets pressed together open to the wind and pollution. If the residue of firecrackers from Diwali wasn’t enough to fill the air, we hear people are burning piles of cash rather than declare it in India’s latest wave stamping out black money. Yes, the air is cleaner here, but what you see on any given stretch of road in Delhi truly is a feast for the senses.
What Sydney may lack in a sort of unpredictable vibrancy, it makes up for in exactly what is born of it’s expansiveness; a far reaching open sky, clear air and a magnificent coastline that looks like a map from up high. It’s a city that needs time to navigate but here we never seem to have enough to fully enjoy its beauty, in India all we have is time. We love the differences, the personality of each city and laughing over the little comparisons that make you realise that you can’t really compare at all.