I arrived in freezing Edinburgh on Tuesday, 16th of November. My attempt to write some stories on the way in India failed. Our one month stay in Mysore was accompanied by uncomfortable internet cafe's with half-working keyboards that are a writer's nightmare. When we travelled on to the Sivananda Ashram, to Varkala Beach and Fort Kochi there was not much time to spent in front of an electric box. The sun was luring us out, or in the Sivananda Ashram it was the neverending daily schedule of Satsang (singing repetitive Hindu songs), Asana classes, food intake breaks and meditation that kept us busy or bored.
Looking back now while sitting in a cold room with dark clouds passing by the shivering windows I'm filled with strange memories that could well be of a dream. But the time was real! The sun was real, my skin is brown! The colors were real and I brought stacks of shawls with me home to wrap up in an array of rainbows to sink back into warm memories. The sounds were real and I get sentimental hearing Kedars (my flatmate from India) Bollywood tunes.
Now it's time to tell the stories that me and Tove encountered during the rest of our travel, after we survived the monsoon in the Himalayas and escaped back to Delhi and from there jumped on a 33 hour trainjourney to Bangalore with the Shatabdi Express. Torkeling out of the station to hitch the first bus that crossed our way with a man screaming MYSORE MYSORE MYSORE!
Finally we arrived in the yogi capital for Ashtanga students. The city of palaces with the loudest honks in India. We arrived at the Patanjali Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga shala of Sheshadri and opened the heavy blue gates to wait for our guru. On a bicycle he came, jumped off and was a head smaller than me! A tiny robust man with a strong grip and sparkling piercing eyes welcomed us to PAVY shala. We looked at our wee apartment, nice big kitchen, a big room with a big bed covered with a massive mosquito net and a tiny bathroom out the back. Luckily Diego just finished his pranayama class when we settled down in our new comfi simple abode and he took us out to the local restaurant, Mahesh Prasad, then to the local vegetable stall that doesn't cheat with tourist prices (papaya for 10 rupees..yes) and the nearest supermarket, Big Bazaar. This was our home quarter, Krishnamurtipuram, for the next month.
|Proud puri maker at Mahesh Prasad, the best local restaurant! Veg Thali for 35 rupees, free refills and yummygoodness!|
Unfortunately I caught a massive flu on the AC train ride and was pretty much bed-bound the next days and missed the first yoga classes. Tove came back sparkling and superhappy and thus made me recover quickly with ginger and tulsi brew. Finally I could join her when my nose stopped dripping and my head pounding.
Amazing teaching by Sheshadri! My bones hurt for days before the muscles adjusted and the hips were opened. I couldn't believe how much I was able to bend, and how good a daily 2 hour intense practice felt. But my body wasn't used to so much work out and my cold returned with another week of running nose. Meanwhile we learned some new breathing techniques in our overpriced pranayama class and laughed our heads of in tiger breath pose.
|Sellers making long flower ribbons very fast.|
Mysore city centre was not our favourite destination, too loud, too busy. But when we made it and entered the maze of markets with all the colors and smells of millions of blossoms, colored powders, fruits and spices we were just overwhelmed!
During Dasara Festival we finally saw the massive palace lighted by some 80000 lightbulbs and enjoyed free Sitar concerts in front of the Maharashtras home!
|Sitar band with all females! Super good!|
We extended our originally planned two week stay to a proper month and in that time met great people, explored the region and got well into our yoga stretches with Sheshadri and his shy son Harish.
Highlights of our stay include our occasional balcony dance nights with Yoyo and Karine, our neighbors, or imitating the street vendours in their way to early shouts of OOOHH SAAAPOI! Very memorable are visits to Chamundi hill and Nandi the massive stone cow as well as shopping sprees to Fabindia. We managed to hitch a bus to get to Brindavan Gardens where Bollywood films are shot regularly and the nightly lightshow with all the fountains is quite magic. We also ventured to a nearby birdsanctuary to watch the crocodiles swimming around our boats and the massive bats hanging in the trees. The best trip out of town was to Srirangapatna, an old fort/island with the Tippu Sultans summer palace and the Cauvery river where we watched Hindu ceremonials by the ghats (steps that lead into the water). It was a magic atmosphere and people were completely hypnotized by their ceremonies, preparing little floats of banana leafs filled with coconutshaves, red and yellow powders, yasmin flowers and incense sticks. Monkeys were fighting in the trees while women were bathing in full dress. It's hard to put in words. To be able to observe those ancient traditions so close by was completely stunning.
Suddenly a calm month in Mysore was over and we had to say good bye to many dear friends that we found along the way. Valeria from Spain who is volunteering with a community of sex workers, Kfir who played amazing guitar tunes on our terrace with Yoyo from Indonesia. Karine and Anaelle stayed a little longer with Sheshadri but we met our crazy French girls in Varkala again.
Off we went on the day the colorful elephant parade was scheduled in Mysore. We had to give it a miss, our bus was leaving from the brand new bus terminal, 13 hours of mountain drives through the western ghats all the way down to Thiruvanantapuram or in short Trivandrum. The night was accompanied by some 80ies bollywood film and snoring Indian guys. The first thing we managed to do upon arrival was a proper filling with dosa and awakening coffee at the quirky Indian Coffee House in an old red brick twisted tower. On the road again to the Sivananda Ashram to get our heads into meditation and our legs into knots without pain. We entered the mountains again, forests of palm trees and banana trees as far as the eye can see. Magic magic! But also crazy busdrivers as usual, it seems as if mountains attract a suicidal breed of drivers.
Kerala is plastered with Hammer and Sickle signs, the communist party is ruling the county! But it was only one week to the next election. The lamp posts, walls and trees were plastered in posters, with a surprising high amount of women trying to catch peoples votes for the election. I liked Kerala already. Childhood memories of my communist pasts were digged out but the colorscheme of murals was much more up to date and a proper neon rainbow overdose.
|Election days outside the ashram (c)Tove|
Ashram life was strange for us after our lazy Mysore days. Suddenly we had a strict daily plan that started at 6am with singing and ended at ca. 10pm with, yes, singing! Inbetween an array of asana classes, lessons (or more singing) and a short period of Health Hut niceness with fresh fruitsalad and the best banana lassi. Though the regime had it's pro's we were just not made up for it and I especially felt uncomfortable and observed to obay their partly overstrict rules. I felt treated like a stubborn child if I chose to miss a class in order to read a book on yoga. The western people that were running the ashram at that time seemed almost paranoid if someone missed a Satsang.
We decided to leave earlier than planned and said goodbuy to some lovely new friends. The only thing we would miss was the stunning gardens/forests of greenery with massive jackfruit trees. The silent walks in the morning or evening (with full moon beaming) were the highlight of our stay and we take some meditation advice with us, knowing for myself that crosslegged awkwardness is not my way to enlightenment nor am I sure I actually want to be enlightened at all.
THE BEACH WAS WAITING! Karine who was supposed to meet us in the Ashram changed her mind after exchanging some poignant text messages that we managed to send from the no-mobile-prison aka ashram! So she waited for us on the golden sandy beach besides Varkala cliff and waved from the wavy waters of the Arabic Sea.
A week of splashing fun, pineapples, Lassi's, Baracuda, Butterfish and Kingprawns was ahead of us! Starry nights at a tiny fishing village beach with scared speedy crabs running around. Lightning from thunderclouds in the distance, swaying palmleaves and a cold Kingfisher beer. We were in paradise! We lived in a cheap second floor bungalow with Karine as our neighbor again and we went swimming after our healthy fruity breakfast and went swimming after momo lunch and before fish dinner. Inbetween a lot of bargaining with the local shops, jewellery, shawls and FINALLY skirts and shoulder free shirts! This was maybe not the real India but it was a necessary time of peace, fun and sunshine nearing the end of our journey.
|View from our terrace (c)Tove|
Again we met great folks to hang out with, got lots of tips from the holland guys Harm and Camille, swimming with Sanjin and Niccolo our italian friend we met at Navdanya farm in the north. Banter with the ashram girls that followed our escape! Blue sea endless, thin horizon with a pearl necklace of fisherboats, dreamy purple pink skies and low fi indian tunes. A trip to the maze of the backwaters was equally stunning and relaxing, on a canoo passing the normal Indian lives of farmers and fishermen, housewifes and schoolchildren.
We ignored the rats that ventured through our hut at night. By the end of the week we were glad to leave them behind though. A new place waited for us to be discovered! Post Portugese Kochi was next on the list and the most stunning train journey yet was ahead of us!
Train journeys are like nothing else in India. Staring Indian guys, shy colorful Indian women, the interior wonkiness of age old trains, old school wind fans, chai vendors shouting and shuffling through the corridors, naked feet dangling from luggage racks that are used by people to sleep on! The trains are a different universe and one of the experiences that make India the India I love!
|Train journey to Cochin through forests of palm trees!|
Ernakulam Town was our station but the place looked more like Manhattan after an earthquake. Glitzi glassfront towers next to brittle shags, next to rikshas, next to posh cars. Ernakulam is bustling with business opportunities and is as dirty as the rest of India. We left quickly into our overpriced riksha and escaped to the calm oasis, a walled maze of family homes and tropical gardens called Fort Kochin.
Our homestay with the christian Jojie-family welcomed us warmly with sparkling clean rooms and the poshest shower I ever encountered on the sub continent. The water was still as cold as everywhere else. But who cares about that if the temperatures are reaching 30 degrees every day!
The biggest surprise was that we met some Swedish friends again which we have last seen in Varkala Beach. Soon the next days were planned together and it was great to fall back to some group activities in a new place.
|Ginger market in Fort Kochi|
Fort Kochin is beautiful with it's many cute spice shops, antique shops and the ever looming cheaky kashmiri fabric shops. European look mixed with Indian traditions, Christian churches with Hindu temples, cows with crazy busses. No matter were you go in India, some things just always stay the same!
A trip to Munnars teaplantation was another highlight of Kerala. Lush green hills with fingerprint-look alike labyrinth's of teaplants, high up in what looked like Scottish Highlands Indian style. We hiked up to 2000 meters and watched the wild elephants below in awe! Unfortunately we were the unlucky ones to experience the not so lush monthly spraying of pesticides which refrained us from shopping Munnar tea in the thousands of stalls. The beauty of the place got spoiled when realising that after all this is a highly industrialised monoculture, kept alive by cheap workers who spray the chemicals without any protective gear.
The end of our trip is near but now I need some food first!