True Indian culture, spirituality and cast and crutches...
My South India trip started off with a two week stay in an Eco Ashram, where I practiced meditation and did yoga for 4 hours a day (with it reaching 34 degrees some days). My journey to the ashram however was the least 'zen' experience I've had travelling so far! My flight from Nepal to Delhi was delayed and I had 20 minutes to get my bag, go back through security and get to my gate for my connecting flight. Running around a huge airport with backpacks, totally flustered, is not the best start to a calm mind and body!
For someone who had done a grand total of two hours yoga and zero hours meditation, this stay was always going to be a challenge. The bell would wake us at 5.30am and there was silence until 10am everyday. The setting was a gorgeous natural environment (despite the mice/creepy crawlies!) with some amazing people and really opened my eyes to another type of lifestyle.
I was lucky enough to meet up with my friend Jodie in a nearby city, Mysore, for a few days afterwards. It was so great to catch up, do yoga and a huge amount of shopping in an Indian Bizarre!
After a quick trip to Sri Lanka, I headed back to South India where I visited Fort Kochi and got to participate in some fishing with Chinese nets and eat more lovely food. A day trip to a theme park was also an interesting experience with everyone screaming their heads off on some very slow and gentle rides! After that it was onto Alleppey where I got to stay on a houseboat which slowly cruises the backwaters all day. Apart from a small engine fire (!) and seeing a snake attacking a rat right at the end of the boat when we were moored, it was a lovely experience.
The beach in Alleppey was beautiful and very popular with locals and tourists.
Next was an overnight train to a rural town of Virudhunagar. This is the closest town to the children's home I was volunteering in for two weeks. There is absolutely nothing to see or do from a tourist perspective in Virundhagur, apart from absorb the culture. And that's why I fell in love with the place. As I was volunteering and we were buying materials, food, prizes etc for the kids, I got to look in different shops, chat to local people and practice my negotiation skills. The people in the town are exceptionally friendly, don't overcharge you for things and went out of their way to help.
The best part about this place was that I didn't see another non-Indian around (except for the 5 other volunteers). For the locals it's very unusual to see a non-Indians so the local kids either get excited and wave, or go very shy and look very confused!
One evening two of us were having dinner at a local restaurant and the guy next to us started making conversation. He owned a shop across the way and invited us there the following day for chai tea and to continue chatting. We visited him before having to leave to go to volunteering that day, he invited us to lunch before we left town but unfortunately we couldn't fit it in. I very quickly became accustomed to getting my chai tea from the stall on the corner every morning and my fresh coconut cracked open so you can drink the juice before they then open it up so you can eat the inside. Such an amazing start to the everyday!
I feel that the way people behave on public transport summarises the culture of that area. For example, in Liverpool people chat to each other when they don't know each other and help each other if needed, which summarises their overtly friendly nature. In London people will avoid eye contact, be pushy on the tube and generally quite outwardly rude, but when someone needs help, 9/10 people will help and you remember that actually you are surrounded by nice people, they are just too busy in their own worlds when on their way to work. In South India,people have always gone out of their way to help despite most people speaking no English - and me not speaking any Tamil. They help point out your stop on the bus, offer to hold bags on overcrowded buses when you have your backpack and when you smile at someone you almost always get a warm smile back. Such an amazing experience.
I also attended a local festival which was a great experience with live performers, fair rides and stalls. It's a relatively unknown town and it was nice that we travelled on the bus to the children's home everyday, which took us out on the local bus into the countryside. Everyday I would pass this field and love the saris set up as a boundary around these crops (below).
Auroville is an international community near Pondicherry which is an experimental town in which everyone works together to create the ideal of human unity. There are approximately 2,500 permanent residents from 49 different countries, and countless more long term visitors.
My time there was incredible. I stayed at a guesthouse run by Aurovillians and hired a bicycle to get around on. I attended Tibetan meditation classes, created mandalas out of flowers picked on the way there (in a way so you don't damage the flower or rest of the plant) and visited the beautiful Matrimandir (pictured below) where you go to meditate/ concentrate. It has an amazing energy and the place and people there are very spiritual .
The founders vision is supported by key attributes someone needs to help create a place where everyone unites for good.
Everyone pulls together to offer different services and for those living there they exchange goods and try to keep money transactions to a minimum. It was an amazing community to part of, if only for a very short time and it's interesting to see a town running in a completely different way to conventional society (albeit still work in progress). If you have more time and are interested visit their website and learn more about it, or better still visit if you can!
Hampi and falling off rocks....
The bus from Bangalore to Hampi was booked at £6 a ticket for a 'luxury' bed, with a TV and air con. So when I turned up and the TVs have all been ripped off the walls, there's no air con, the window opposite is stuck open and its 40 degrees, the emergency door which is against my bed doesn't close properly and you arrive in a town half an hour away from the actual destinitstion and they claim the bus was never going straight to your destination (when it certainly was before they realised they could scam us into their friends tuk tuk)...well the as when you remember where you are and that you can't really rely on anything....or complain about anything!
Hampi, I will remember for different reasons than most others remember it for! On the first morning I climbed up Magenta Hill which is a hill made up from huge boulders and a lovely place to see the sun rise. After a while I went and took an obligatory yoga photo, before deciding to go for a jumping photo. Well it appears that I simply forgot how to jump which is rather unfortunate when you are jumping off a tall rock onto one below which has a steep drop after. I just stepped/jumped out and kind of left half my body behind, meaning that I ended up with all my weight on one foot and very nearly tumbled head first off the rock! I was in agony and had to be piggy backed down the hill, but I was feeling quite lucky that all I'd done as something to my foot and a few cuts and bruises.
This next photo is the photo taken where I injured myself and as you can see nearly fell head first down the boulder!
I arrived at the Orthopaedic Clinic (which was of course down 12 steps) and waited in line for the doctor to arrive. After yanking my foot, he did an x-ray and the told me to wait outside again. I sat outside and the Indian lady next to me bent down and grabbed me ankle and made a 'is it hurting?' face. To which I grabbed her hand and reassured her with my 'are you kidding me?!' face that yes, it was hurting and her grabbing it wasn't a good idea!
The x-ray came back and there was no fracture, but I had torn my ligaments and needed a plaster of paris cast on my foot and ankle. It's quite funny that they made me sit on a table, hold up my leg up whilst they put it on and then make me hold my leg high in the air for 10 minutes whilst it set. This would be quite a challenge under usual circumstances, but when in pain it's near impossible! The locals found me riding along in a tuk tuk with my foot in a cast hanging out the side very entertaining and I can't really blame them!
On the last day I sent my clothes to be washed and paid the standard rate of about £3 for a bunch of clothes. In India you get a cold machine wash if you are lucky, or hand washing, which is far more common. In Hampi I realised my clothes were washed in the local river as when I got them back they had all the sand/sediment from the river banks as they'd been placed in the sun to dry. Living life like a local!
Goa was a little underwhelming, but I think that was circumstances rather than the destination itself. Crutches on sand is hard work and sunbathing wasn't really top on my list of things to do when I had my cast on. The beaches were gorgeous, and the beach hut I stayed in had an area that overlooked the beach/sea and the food was delicious! In fact food in India was a surprise. As someone who has never willingly selected Indian as their choice of takeaway, I'm a total convert. Once again it's the south that has come up trumps with their dosa being my all time favourite, along with a cup of masala chai tea. ?
When I was in Auroville, I bought a book called 'India Becoming' which covers the experience of an Indian man who moves back to India having lived in America for over a decade, and he talks about the struggle of India transitioning into modern times. It's one of the best non-fiction books I've read and I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in the changing traditions, jobs and times in South India.
South India is much calmer than North India, it's cleaner, not so crowded and more relaxing. I know you've read this before but...I can't wait to go back! Although next time I would pick a different time of the year though as b eing there when it was humid, reached over 40 most days and little to no air conditioning was pretty exhausting!
Now to work out how to recreate all those lovely dishes I've eaten there....