We’ve made it to India! For the next few months, you will see the focus of these little antidotes shift. Yes, I will still write about our experiences with the people, culture, cuisine and any other adventures we have, but I am here to practice yoga. I aspire to write more frequently, and get a bit more personal. It may suit some of you, others may choose to bail. Suit yourself, but I have a feeling it’s gonna be an interesting ride.
It was in 2005, during my first teacher training at Yoga Thailand (now Samahita) when the little voice in the back of my head began to suggest I go to India; specifically, Mysore. The birthplace of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Playing to the natural human characteristic of avoidance, I have consistently been able to formulate an excuse why NOT to go. No more excuses. Thanks to the amazing support of my husband, here I am; 7 years later.
I had mixed feelings checking into our Bangkok-Chennai flight. I love Thailand. It has become not only the place I go for focused learning, dig deeper into my practice and thus myself, but I have made some amazing friends there. It seems my trips to Thailand always come at the perfect moment, even if I have no idea of it at the time. Besides, Vancouver, it is the only other place in the world where I feel grounded.
Leave it to Dale and I to show up at an airport, check-in, go through customs, have two hours to spare and almost miss our flight. Retarded. But it was worth it, we splurged with our left over baht by treating ourselves to sushi. Although it was less than mediocre, we didn’t care because it will be March before we’re in Vancouver to have the real thing… sushi in India just seems like a bad idea.
We met a, belligerent, German “business man” at the gate. He talked at us, as loud as possible on the bus ride from the gate to the boarding stairs. He complained about this plane ride “full of Indian men who yell the entire trip”… “Nothing works in India; they have no idea how to do things.” — “I’m in India 6 times a year, and it never gets better.“ “They have no respect for another person, they drive fast, hit someone and just keep driving, and no one cares.” “There is nothing to see in India, it is the bottom of the barrel, a terrible place.” “On my first trip, I said to myself, It isn’t possible for any place in the world to be worse than this, then I went to Bangladesh and found a worse place”… and so he went for10 minutes, non-stop. Who pissed in his cornflakes? May I remind you, the flight WAS, indeed, full of Indian business men; who all speak and understand English. This guy was an ass and made us feel very uncomfortable. Wipe it clean, I said to myself, no one is ruining this for me unless it’s me. Although he rambled on about a house in Italy, Germany, India and a new one going up in Thailand, we doubted his true success. After all, he’s still travelling to a place he hates for his own business after 20 years. Figure it out buddy. Hire someone to do it for you.
We scored the front row on the flight, I think we paid extra somewhere along the line for it. It ended up being the best seat in the house, with the best possible person next to us, to complete our row of 3. It was then we met Anand. If you could picture a mid-thirties, happy-go-lucky, family oriented, Indian business-man-turned-shopaholic, then you’ll picture Anand. He was an absolute delight. He taught us more about Indian culture and way of life than anything we could ever read in a book. It gave us great insight into the actions and behaviours we have experienced over the last 10 days, that otherwise would have left us running for the next plane home. Not because they’re wrong, but because they are so different than what we grew up with that our lack of understanding would have left us judgmental and frustrated. He taught us about growing up in a family where everyone lives together. I mean everyone, the whole family. It is not uncommon for a couple to get married, have children and continue to live with his parents, siblings and any grandparents they more be fortunate to still have around. Yes, all in one house. Community living. Everyone chips in. The wife and mother’s role are to tend to the house and children. The men are the providers. Grandma and Grandpa are there to take care of the grandchildren should mom and dad decide they want to go out. They don’t even need to ask. When a woman marries a man, she is not only agreeing to marry his whole family, but to commit to a life of living with them as well. He told us about meeting his wife, and the arrangement between the two families. He also educated us on the caste system which is the way things work here. For the first time in my life, I actually understand what a caste system is and a possible explanation why our education system doesn’t recognize highly educated professionals from India. A high percentage of them, regardless of their grades, had a reservation to attend medical school virtually upon birth. And, so they did.
Anand was also very candid on his opinion of where India is lacking in order to bring in foreign tourism. Unlike Thailand, India still struggles on the tourist circuit. Only the brave venture here. And given my experiences so far, I would highly recommend visiting a Southeast Asian country, or Peru first. They are good warm-ups. He gave us some excellent advice on where to go to see the beauty of the country, and in his mind, the best places to visit. He was very generous towards us, offered us his phone number should we need anything while we’re in India. He was even nice enough to change some of our Canadian dollars into rupees for us.
We took a taxi to our less than desirable $35 per night hotel by the Chennai airport in order to catch our flight to Bangalore early the next morning. The 15 minute ride gave us a very quick introduction to being a car passenger in India. It is absolutely crazy. It’s best to close your eyes and just hang on, as the driver proceeds at a very fast pace, pointing the car, honking and just driving wherever he wants. At first, there didn’t appear to be any sort of system to it, just drive. But upon further observation, those guys are very skilled. This link shows you a good example.
When we arrived in Bangalore the next morning, we found our pre-booked driver easily, and were on our way for the 4 hour drive to Mysore. Again, just close your eyes and try to relax. Drivers don’t stop for anything unless they are going to hit it. They only slow down. They get out of the way of anything bigger, but blow by pedestrians who are risking their lives crossing the street. It was on this ride that one of my visions of India came true. Exactly how I imagined it. We were speeding along, dodging cars and people. Then all of sudden we came to a halt. A cow crossing. Literally. Cows have free reign here. They are sacred animals and regarded as a major source of food with their milk. No one would ever hit a cow, and this cow was meandering across the road, nibbling on any bits of green it could see between the garbage piles. We were in India less than a day, and already nothing made sense.
Our room at Urban Oasis was nice. We had A/C, even though we never turned it on, it just didn’t get that hot, and the fans were strong enough to create a small hurricane in the room anyway. The service was unlike anything we’d experienced before. Well, maybe at the Ritz. The only thing is, at the Ritz, you know it’s coming, it’s what the Ritz is built upon. When you’re not expecting it, it feels a bit awkward. Servitude – that’s the only word I can think of to describe it. Everyone was so pleasant and uber helpful. Our plan was to stay for three nights while we tried to organize an apartment for the next few months. Over the next couple of days, we found some reasonable places to eat, despite getting lost with directions like “go up the hill and down the hill, turn at the coconut stand and look for the yellow house”. Yeah, sounds simple, but when you’ve never been to a city before, the word “hill” has no reference. It’s hard enough walking here, without sidewalks, amidst the traffic, let alone being lost.
English is widely understood, which makes things much easier. I’m not sure we would survive otherwise. It is still hard to understand the very strong accent, and I’m always asking people to repeat themselves. But, I get better everyday.
After looking at 5 places, with the help of Shiva (our go-to guy for everything), we settled on a large bedroom, with private entrance, a decent sized fridge, some dishes and a massive balcony. It’s more like a small apartment and is the top floor in a family home. The only thing it’s missing is Wi-Fi and a kitchen. We managed to rent a gas stove for the month and buy a wi-fi stick to keep connected. The gas burner has saved us. After five days of eating out, I was starting to go crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian food, but it’s hit or miss. Eating out is a recipe to pack on the kilos as the food, although primarily vegetarian, is laden with fat and finding anything green is rare. Raw food is almost non-existent. By our third day we started to ask ourselves what the heck we are doing here. Now that we have our own place, we feel much better.
Our place is a nice, five minute walk to the shala, so I don’t have to worry about driving. The only downfall is it’s loud. We are on the corner of a main street, so we go to sleep every night to a continuous melody of horns and engines and sometimes Indian music blaring from a nearby temple (or maybe it’s a nightclub). I sleep with earplugs.