Tuesday, September 16, 2008

purnam adah purnam idam

We left Delhi first thing in the morning. We were headed to Agra, which houses the Taj Mahal.

Driving on India's roads in a bus is quite an experience. Drivers honk their horns like mad, and pass each other as if on a racetrack. But there is no road rage. Rickshaws and pedestrians seem to have to make the most compromises; the bigger the vehicle, the more entitled the driver. We learned that the speed limit is 60 kph ... that's roughly 36 miles per hour. Not fast. So the distance between locations isn't necessarily that great, but access is quite limited. The view through the windows displayed many workers walking along the road balancing huge parcels on their heads. Cows and water buffalo meander as they like, with stray dogs also adorning the landscape. We saw camels and what looked to be a genuine caravan ... 8 or 9 huge ballooning parcels on carts being drawn by camels parading along the road. Monkeys are a common sight, and the urge to pet them is always overruled by a fear of rabies.

The trip to Agra is said to be five hours. In truth, it's maybe 7. We make a few stops for snacks and to pee. Ah, yes, the bathrooms. Often there are western toilets, sometimes just porcelin treadmarks leading to a hole in the ground, complete with a handle to flush. Always carry t.p. with you! Sometimes a person stands outside the bathroom 'selling' a swatch of paper for 5 or 10 ruppees. We've even encountered signs that say, "Toilets are free; please do not pay."

En route to Agra, we stopped at Akbar's tomb. It's called Sikundra, I think, and it was really lovely. Beautiful grounds ... more monkeys, some deer and what looked like gazelles grazing on the lawn. We were told there were some peacocks, but I didn't see them.

India really is about peak experiences threaded together with hours of bumpy, hot and even uncomfortable travel. It's as if she is saying, "You want to see what I have to offer? How much do you want it?" And she only drops her veil if you are willing to endure much discomfort.

The group yoga practice has necessarily shifted during this portion of the journey. At many of the hotels we've been granted open space for group self-practice, which has sustained many. Others express a yearning for that shared group experience which works as an adhesive keeping the group glued together.

This trip is definitely the maiden voyage. We're all learning together. And yet, amidst the challenges and the things that might be better executed differently, it is still perfect in its own idiosyncratic way.
After leaving the houseboat, our mission was to get to Delhi.

The flight carrying 15 of the group was too full by the time the last 3 pilgrims signed on, so that small group had to fly from Cochi to Bangalore for the night. Early the next day they would then fly to Delhi, with the rest of the group arriving one-half hour later. Or so was the plan.

Our tour organizer, the very calm and organized Col. John, assured us that arriving at the airport one-hour in advance was good enough. However, it turns out the flight was over-booked, so just 4 of us got to travel to Delhi to meet up with the other three, while the rest of the group were being moved to another flight. Their itinerary had them leaving Cochin just 1 hour later, jumping to Mumbai to pick up more passengers and then landing in Delhi. They should have been just 90 minutes later. Of course, that flight was delayed, and they didn't arrive at the Hotel Good Times until 3:30 pm.

Having been on the first flight, Paul and I stayed near the hotel to greet the second group and make sure they 'made it.' Once they checked in, they hit the ground running, hiring rickshaws and jumping on the metro to soak in as much of this large city as possible in the short time we had available to us. Many went to the Red Fort and Gandhi's funeral pyre; some went to the Mosque, which was insanely crowded. Paul and I did some bartering in Connaught Place, shopping and stopping for a beer.

As we walked around I kept realizing that all of 'it' was the "real" India. We ate in a cool, urban hipster kind of restaurant/lounge. The music was anything from George Michael to house music. The place was populated by locals, most in their 20's. My projections of India wanted to be met with sitar music and a tabla player. I thought we should be sitting on the floor and eating with our hands. And that happens in India, absolutely. But so does this. It was a necessary realization.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Maha Swaha

Whew! What a journey this has been!

The group arrived at Manaltheeram Ayurveda Resort between Saturday and Sunday, the 6th & 7th of September.

After 23 hours of travel, we landed at the Trivandrum airport a bit weary, but filled with excitement and anticipation. Our transport was waiting for us (something that was a bit surprising to Jill, given her previous experiences in India) and that ride to the resort was an unforgettable experience. We shared both sides of the road with rickshaws, pedestrians, transport trucks, and so many mini-bikes/motorcycles carrying groups of 1 - 4! The smell of petrol burned the insides of our nostrils, and the blast of the horn was our soundtrack.

We were greeted at the resort with a mala of fresh jasmine flowers and coconuts to drink out of. A table had been set up, perched at the edge of the property, peeking over the fluffy caps and swirls of the Arabian Sea. Palm trees swayed their applause at our arrival, and the staff was incredibly gracious. After 3 plane rides and many hours of transit, this was paradise!

The resort so beautiful! We stayed in bamboo huts. Practiced yoga in an open-sided building facing trees, listening to a symphony of birds accompanied by the sound of the Sea. We each got Ayurveda Massage, many with Shirodhara, all of us coated in oil to nourish the skin and hair, and to rejuvenate the spirit after the arduous journey to the sub-continent. Unfortunately the treatment fanned the irritation on my husband's skin. He spent quite some time in the airconditioned hut, playing his guitar and drinking scotch.

On the fifth day we signed on for an incredible journey to the very tip of the continent. It's a point of convergence where three bodies of water meet: the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Here we boarded a boat for a quick jump to the Swami Vivekananda Memorial. This temple was profound and filled with Shakti. Here we learned that when the Tsunami hit in 2004, 1500 people were inside this temple. Right next to the temple, maybe 100 feet away, stands an enormous statue of a famous poet from the state of Tami Nadu. That statue was completely submerged in the Tsunami, but the temple wasn't hit at all. Miraculous.

We spent the next day on a very lazy houseboat floating on a lake in Kerala. Our hope was to cruise the backwaters on this boat, but the boatmen were all on strike. Swaha. This was just the first of compromises we had to negotiate.

Next we headed to Delhi. More later.

Sending Shakti and Love from the Motherland,