Happy new year everyone!

Whatever you’re doing I hope that you’re spending the New Year in a way that satisfies you. Myself, I will be spending my New Year’s eve on a train going through Rajasthan and the subsequent days spending reading and reflecting on the past year – and thinking about what I want to do for the next. 

Watch on Posterous

Because I really like sunsets, I figured I’d send a little New Year’s greeting in the form of sunset ! 

Pump it up!

As I wrote in my previous post – Christmas was spent traveling and I visited both one of the holiest places for Buddhists (Bodhgaya) and one of the holiest places for Hindus (Varanasi). The Ganga river makes a turn back towards the Himalayas in a semi-loop on which Varanasi lies.

Since the main thing about this city is concentrated around the river, it’s also the river I’d like to write about first. Something many people are well-aware of (especially foreigners who’ve seen the travel accounts or movies depicting the river) the Ganga, especially around Varanasi, is heavily polluted.

What might not be obvious is that, in fact, it’s not the “obvious” things – the cremations, the bathing, the buffalo, the garlands and what not that are put in the river – that are causing the main problems for the Ganga. In fact, most (80-90%, I read) of the pollution comes from the practice of pumping raw sewage into the river from this city of 1.3 million people.

With this in mind, when I happened to stumble across a crumbling piece of urban infrastructure – an old water pumping station, I couldn’t help clambering my way across the outside wall and take a peek inside. I was allowed to stroll around until I tried to get a view of the insides the main building (which looks like it was built somewhere late 18th or early 20th century), when two men decided that they got a bit too stressed about having me poking around there and shooed me out.

This station clearly needed some upgrades, and no surprise that no cleaning of the water was going on here. In fact, there is an NGO that have been doing tests (in 2008) on the Ganga water which give you an idea of quite how serious this problem is:

Coliform standards (unit per 100 ml) in common Varanasi locations:

R.P. Ghatt …………………………..………………..82,000 FC
Shivala Ghatt …………………………..…………..430,000 FC
Tulsi Ghatt …………………………..………………..27,000 FC

Acceptable coliform standards are:

Drinking water …………………………..………………..1 TC*
Total body contact (swimming)………………………200 FC*
Partial body contact (boating) ………………………1000 FC

Treated sewage effluent………………not to exceed 200 FC

Of course, this is not a problem exclusive to either Varanasi, India or the so-called ‘developing world’, my previous home in Belgium used to have much worse water than here.

Had any postprandial somnolence recently?

I somehow have a fascinations for scientific explanations to things we
anyway know intuitively. I would love to have a book just filled of


Could there be a better way to spend an afternoon…


… than sitting on a balcony, reading, with views of rice paddies an a temple, a beer in hand and temperature just hovering above 20 degrees.

Merry Christmas, or Happy Enlightenment

This morning (Christmas Eve, no less), I headed off from my place in Bokaro to visit Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is, as far as symbolism goes, about as far away from christianity and Christmas as you get. It is the place where Buddha found enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree, the decendant of which is still standing.

My first impressions, entering into this place from the main road from Gaya (the non-holy sister city), is that of a buddhist Disney Land… I felt like an Alice, who, once entering from the main road and passing that holy bodhi-tree had fallen down into the rabbit hole and find myself, no longer in India, but in a saffron-coloured Wonderland.



  I guess I’ll happily camp down here for a few days, read my book and snack on Tibetan food in the Tibetan Om Cafe. My Laxmi hotel (named after the Hindu goddess of wealth, just to make the religious references a bit mixed up…) has a room with a wonderful view that I negotiated after being shown a horrible little hole.



So, merry christmas to all of you in red & white and happy search for enlightenment to all of you in saffron!


Photo by Nir Nussbaum

Mad Science

A friend of mine, with an overly sceptical view of natural sciences, sent me this article on how "science" is often misused to perpetuate and "proove" our held beliefs, norms and associated behaviours. 

The article lists a number of amusing (and scary) anecdotes about misused science, and comes up with the following five items to watch out for:

1 Do the Conclusions Fit a Little Too Well With Cultural Stereotypes? 

2 Does the Study Agree With the Headline?

3 Can You Spot the Double Standard for men and women!

4 Is There Another Conclusion That Would be Just as Valid?

5 Is the Study Even Science?

I love to quote research findings that I find entertaining on this blog, and while I often like to do additional research on stuff I read and hear, I do agree that before believing any results you find you definitely should question them. 

However, where I disagree with the article is where it states that scientific research should only be read and interpreted by those with an education to do so. It IS important that we provide access to science through blogs, media, popular scientific literature etc. 

Summarily rejecting any type of quantitative research and saying it's not to be popularly consumed (… or as the article sometimes seem to hint: not even possible to execute) based on a number anecdotes is hardly good science nor, in my view, accurate. 

Anyway,it makes good reading, catch it all here: http://bitchmagazine.org/article/mad-science

I got a gut feeling for you, babe (or: Love Is a Gut Feeling…)

Matchmakers: In Irish they are Babhdóir, in Yiddish they are Sadchen. For fruit flies, the matchmakers might be gut bugs.

Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) with the same set of intestinal bacteria preferred mating with each other, discovered professors Eugene Rosenberg, Daniel Segel, and doctoral student Gil Sharon at Tel Aviv University in Israel. They published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Fruit_flies When the flies’ intestinal bacteria were killed off with antibiotics, the flies mated randomly. When the bacteria were added back into their guts, they went back to mating preferentially.

Mating choice and reproductive separation are believed to drive evolution. And the researchers believe this study suggests evolution can be driven by a community of organisms living symbiotically, not just the individual organism. The symbiotic community of organisms, called a holobiont, evolves together. In this case, the fly’s intestinal bacteria influenced mate choice.

In the experiment, the researchers mixed two different foods into the agar medium on which the fruit flies were raised. One lived on a standard cornmeal-molasses-yeast mixture. The other was raised on starch.

Humans make it so complicated sometimes… why not just trust your stomache bacteria?