Sunday, March 28, 2010

Houseboat, Allepy, Calicut, And Now Kalpeta

We floated from Kollam to Allepy after Varkala on a David-the-Gnome style houseboat. Three particularly interesting Indian men steered the rig, brought us food, then made friends with us and took us to visit their teensy village. Our chef introduced us to his friends (one of whom is an impeccable Michael Jackson-impersonating dancer) and family. The town and home we visited were not extremely humble compared to some I've seen in India so far, but they were definitely extreme compared to Western standards. Two small rooms house a family of...well, it's hard to tell how many people lived there amongst all the mothers and grannys and bouncing toddlers and children, but they were a bustling, healthy family. Glittering with contentment. Nothing but each other and who needs much else? The landscape of rice fields, fruit trees, and the calm Keralan backwaters shroud their village in peace and quiet.

Allepy is an awesome little town. We were quickly fitted with a small beach-front hut with hammocks out front, two bikes, and a bunch of friends. People like to talk to us a lot where ever we go, but these peeps buzzed around us like flies and even peered in our window at night (and then later stealing our treats by sticking their hand through the window bars) making it quite hard to relax. But despite the mildly annoying clinging behavior of the locals, that town was a breeze to enjoy. Good food, friendly, funny folks, an abundance of Indian culture, etc. We made a couple of traveling buddies as well.

From there we took the advice of a friend and headed for the mountains, though we had to train to Calicut first, a smallish town further north up the coast. There we found ourselves unable to stay anywhere for less than 1700 rupees/night (we are used to under 500/night). We saw the entire town from our rickshaw as we searched and searched for a cheap place to stay to no avail. Apparently there have been some new legal restrictions placed on business for dealing with foreigners, some extra paperwork and the like, due to terrorist activities that have happened recently in India. No one wanted to do the paperwork, apparently. But the place we did end up staying was like going to heaven. A hot shower, comfortable bed, legitimately-sized pillows. Cable television. Amazing. Poni and I promptly turned into slugs and spent much more time there than we intended, drunk with amenities and luxury. We did almost nothing in Calicut, actually, except see part of a movie in the local theater, and go to a bar by the beach. It was the first bar I've been to in weeks, and we stuck out like cute little sore thumbs in a sea of beer-guzzling Indian men.

Well, we did actually do a lot in Calicut if you count emotional and circumstantial processing. Our relationship status has changed from "couple" to "friendship", which is a bit on the heavy side for ye olde hearts to weather, but has lightened the mood considerably in many ways. Something about India makes coupling difficult for many a pair, or so I have heard. I think both of us have faith in the universe no matter our relationship label. If anything, India provides one with the ability to have faith in abundance, despite the colorfully grimy and predictable intensity permeating our experiences.

We peeled ourselves out of our king-sized fancy land of a hotel room and stuffed ourselves onto a bus to Kalpeta. Standing the whole way, surrounded with our baggage and screaming children and sweating bodies while a bus flew at maddening speeds up a mountain, whirring around deathly sharp corners and nearly flying off cliffs at every turn. I paused to feel a little frightened from time to time, but mostly gasped at the fabulous landscapes filled with greenery, misty mountains and tea plantations.

I sat on the balcony of our budget hotel room this morning, started my fourth journal of this trip, and noted the crisply cool weather nipping at my toes. I thought of it as an omen, considering the weather I expect to return to in little over a week. I cannot believe how the time has flown, and am again noting the subtle and completely obvious ways India has rearranged me.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kanyakumari and Varkala

A few sardine-tin packed trains took Poni and I to Kanyakumari, the very southern-most point in India. We watched the sunset. That's what we went there to do. Afterwards we headed for some darshan in a thousand-year-old Shiva temple. It was just a little pin-prick of a town. Eeerily free of mosquitoes, allowing me to lounge outside at twilight on the balcony of our hotel room, watching the Indian men smoke, drink tiny chais, tie their lungis up and down. If I must be reborn after this life, I wish to be born as an Indian man. (follow that link down to the entry posted Sunday, Feb 7th...I was there btw!) I could go on and on about their impeccable taste in fashion. They have perfected the art of "chilling out". They always look like complete BAD-ASSES.

Yet another train with people stuffed and hanging out the doorways took us to Varkala. We found a hotel room big enough to be our mini yoga shala. Cheap and run by very pleasantly and adorably stoned lads. Everywhere there are adorably stoned Indian men, many who claim, strangely enough, to be from Jamaica. White people are all over this place, trotting around with their thighs and shoulders and cleavage glowing in the blazing tropical sun. It seems a bit rude to me that Western people should dress in such a way in sacred India, but the tourist market seems to have expanded significantly, and all the shops along "the Cliff" overlooking the beach sell all kinds of tiny clothing for the pale and wealthy. I can't wait to make clothes.

Speaking of clothes, I am obsessed with Lady Gaga. I think about her for hours on end. Then I think maybe it will be good for me to have a job soon.

We got massages. Amazing massages. I have had fish. Amazing fish. And we have been to the beach, and played in the waves. Poni and I have splashed in our own waves. Waves of nausea, waves of sleeplessness, waves of social interaction, waves of awkward miscommunication, waves of emotion spurred by the awkwardness. We seem to know how to ride waves really well, actually. Or we are getting better.

Tomorrow we rise early to go to Kollam for our houseboat tour of the backwaters of Kerala. This is our "splurge" for the trip, though we tend to do a lot of splurging. Just us, our cook, our driver, and the jungle floating by...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


O.M.G. Salad greens! Kombucha! Tuna salad sandwich on wheat bread! Glorious foods I have consumed here in Auroville, the first stop for Poni and I on our brief tour of southern India after months in Mysore. Auroville is a self-described "Divine anarchy" where people from all over the world have worked to create a sustainable community that is not based on religion, but rather a unifying consciousness of the divine. Based on the ideas of two people, Sri Aurobindo and someone known as "the Mother", and founded in 1968, this community seems to be a visionary success, if not a bit angsty and cultish. Indian people make up about forty percent of the population, the rest mostly white or Western. People wear miniskirts here and get all touchy-feely in public. They eat at a giant solar kitchen and meditate in a bulbous temple dubbed the Matri Mandir, a structure straight out of the heart of what I imagine the late sixties to have been like.

Not only have Poni and I had amazing raw, vegan, organic, and completely non-Indian Western hippie foods in abundance, but we have also seen the BEACH, and a beautiful ashram in the city of Pondicherry, a quaint and very French-influenced town about ten miles outside of Auroville. Our guide, and Poni's longtime friend, Ethan, has been showing us around when he has time outside of his busy schedule at the Youth Camp he teaches environmental science at. The "youths" are spirited American college students with idealism glittering in their eyes. They and their camp (and subsequently Poni and I as well for the past few days) are kept clean and extremely well fed by the Tamil Indian folks working here. Much of the grunt work in Auroville, it seems, is done by Indian hands, which is no doubt a subject of constant moral debate for the rest of the community. I am feeling quite at home here, gobbling herbal energy ladus and fruit keifer drinks, Poni and I debating the debatability of the term "anarchy" as it has been applied here, and being constantly reminded of my glorious days at Fairhaven College in Bellingham, where I too once had idyllic glittering eyes and a fierce passion for unity, knowledge, progressive thinking, and what have you. Not that I don't still feel that way now, I just feel a whole bunch of other things as well.

It has been a lovely stay for the most part, but the time has inevitably flown, and we are preparing to leave tomorrow, much to the chagrin of Poni, who has fallen digestively ill again, and will be missing his friend Ethan, who has been a refreshing figure in our travel adventures.

As the moon wanes yet again, I find myself dreaming of family and of babies I might have one day, and missing my friends harder than ever. I have dreams congealing in my heart for the chapter of my life which will directly follow India. All plans of the past have been weeded thoroughly and all new ones have begun to flourish in their place. I have been sleeping and sleeping and sleeping, and meditating and meditating and meditating. I taught some more yoga to a few folks the other day as well, which may have been my first experience teaching anything at all to a group of folks. It was really fun and taught me a lot about...teaching.

Next we head to the state of Kerala and the very tip of India (which is still in Tamil Nadu) to see some amazing sunsets/rises. We plan to spend most of our time on the beach, and possibly on houseboats in the backwaters, and most certainly eating more amazing food, though perhaps not quite as hippie fresh as the foods of the past few days.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dear Mysore...

Thank you.

Thank you for the yoga, my Guruji Iyengar, travel buddies and Ukulele time. Thank you for all of the Gods in the air, in the cows, in the smiles, under my nails. Thank you for the songs you've inspired, the tears, the blood, the sweating in excess. Thank you for the pranayama, the mudras, the philosophy that has changed my life. Thank you for Lungis, and Idlis, and scooting around. Thank you for the romance, and the enforced time alone/ coupled. Thank you for all the lessons I have to learn every day, for the street boys I battle, for the crazy full and new moons. Thank you for all the weird yogis from all over the world I have met, and for the oddly boring parties that have served as awesome performance opportunities. Thank you for the pool, for all my sunburns that have almost evenly tanned my hide, for the romance and the magic. Thank you for the digestive problems that have thoroughly cleaned out my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual systems. Thank you for breaking both of my Ipods for no apparent reason, and forcing me to play more music. Thank you for the beautiful garbage and the coconut men and the constant holiday celebrations. Thank you for the market, and Indra Cafe, and Joe and Dave and Nok and Ness and Nigel and Annie and Mark and...Thank you for Poni and power outages and dancing and sleeping and walking and laughing and crying. Thank you for making things clear to me. Clear-er at least. Thank you for the yoga teaching certificate and for the meditating. Thank you for all of the droning days that go so quickly and slowly. Thank you for making me feel at home here, finally. Thank you for giving me a break. Thank you for being awesome and horrible and amazing and boring and accomidating and supportive and for kicking my ass.

See you next year, maybe.