It is my last day in India. Happily, for the past couple days I have been staying with Mr. Michael Haslett, whom you DC friends will likely know well or have chilled with at least once. He is relocating to Delhi after living in Andhra Pradesh to set up the pilot scholarship program of his NGO, the D.deVoe Foundation, which funds the primary English-based education of underprivileged children in the Chittoor District of AP. Take a look at this video of a the bright and adorable 5-year-old for whom D.Devoe is providing a full education through grade 12 (all costs total $650), Bhavya Sai, leading her classmates in India’s (very long) pledge of allegiance:

So, we are in luxury here in Delhi, i.e. staying in the beautiful marble-floored apartment of his like-an-an-aunt-and-uncle. They run the National Campaign on Dalit and Human Rights— definitely an organization worth checking out. Relatedly, I had the luck of seeing Arundhati Roy speak when I was in Delhi last month– she is an Indian journalist/activist whose focuses on the disgusting atrocities experienced by Dalits, Avadasies, Untouchables and other marginalized groups of  India.  Perpetrators (e.g. Tata Steel, Rio Tinto, the Indian Government, IMF, World bank– recognize these names??…and I am sure many more) have destroyed their land, displaced their communities and dismantled their culture, among other fundamental human rights stripped away. This happens mostly in the name of creating damns and mines, rhetorically for increasing access to water and electricity, but in reality for money and power. She is controversial in her standpoints, but speaks out in ways most wouldn’t dare. Check out her piece on the recent Maoist insurgency. Personally, I think  brilliant, fascinating and inspiring woman for sure. Roy is also the author of The God of Small Things, a book that is on the top of my reading list. Oh, this reminds me of another story that I must tell:

Although it seems like the bad guys always win, there are some uplifting stories I have heard about local resistance movements while traveling in India. In Himachal Pradesh, I had a good conversation with a British guy who has made the little village of Vashist his home for the past several years and indefinitely. We started talking about the damns that seem to be springing up everywhere. In the mountains, American and European companies come in and claim to build damns that will provide electricity to rural communities. In turn, they get international cap-and-trade points that allows them to build and pollute more in their own countries (yeah, great climate change system we’ve got in place). In reality, if the damns even get completed at all (and of course after the companies get paid), the electricity goes to the national grid and those small communities see none of the promised benefits. In the meantime, the land is taken away, people are displaced, etc. etc. But, in one case, a European company (I forget the specific name), made a deal with a greedy enough towns person who owned the piece of land on which they wanted to  construct. Well, this land happened to be the site of a very holy shrine to the local village. Regardless t land was sold and the company started to build. Well, late one night, a crew of townsfolk climbed their little mountain and took hammers to that project, providing for a nice little surprise the next morning. The project commenced again. But then, late one night….local resistance. Now, know one knows what will happen in the future, but let us hope.

Anyways, I am back in hot, sweat inducing, polluted Delhi…though I must qualify that there are definitely good bits to this city. I arrived via train (a mode of transport that deserves a blog both itself) from Amristar, Punjab. The main site there is the holiest Sikh religious site, the glorious Golden Temple (when I get home I will post a day and night photo– def check it out). Amristar is also home to Jallianwalla Bagh, the site of the 1919 massacre by the British that killed thousands of Indians during a peaceful protest against Marshall Law before Indian independence. Aside from being extraordinarily overwhelmed by the brutal heat and massive, massive crowds (re-entry shock back in real India!), I was amazed by this place. First of all, they provide free shelter for “pilgrims”–Indians basically sleep anywhere and everywhere in the complex, from the temple floors to proper rooms in the huge complex, and foreigners have a separate shared area lined with beds (though we were welcome to the floor as well).  The toilets were free and super clean and totally free. Best of all was the volunteer-run mess hall, serving food 24/7 for somewhere between 15-30,000 people every single day. I doled out hundreds of chapatis as my duty, and received many grateful, amused and gleeful looks as a western woman serving food to all. It was fabulous. About an hour’s drive from Amristar I also experienced absolutely hilarious and weird spectacle that happens at the India-Pakistan border every day (video clip forthcoming).

Like India’s multitude of contradictions, I feel both sad and quite ready to leave this place. There have been so many moments when I feel absolutely desperate to leave, e.g. getting dropped off way too far away by the rickshaw driver and walking down the completely overcrowded streets with guys on scooters shoving by and the smell of piss and fried food takes over my senses. Or getting pushed by around by impatient women (have I ever written that Indians don’t believe in proper ques?) while waiting for the toilet in Amristar. Or getting stared at by some man while minding my own business on the bus. But then something miraculous happens, and I am rejuvenated. A shop keeper gives us a free snack, obviously filled with joy at how much we liked his food. A kind woman drags me into a bathroom stall with her (huh??) and, after cleaning the teeny little pants that her daughter made an accident in, I realize she has just secured me a place to pee. Or I look that stare in the face, and a huge grin appears coupled with a head bob.

This is India– no combination of adjectives can really describe its crazy magic. I think what I will do is simply leave you with this, i.e. what I am about to relive in t-minus 2 hours as I head to the airport:

Traffic in Delhi

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Being, in the Himalayas

April 30, 2010

Traveling north and closer to the sky, to Himachal Pradesh, has provided an absolutely necessary respite from the hot Indian plain, and simply incredible experiences. After arriving and fairly quickly departing HP’s capital of Shimla (i.e. Indian Tourst Town), I took the the bumpiest, windiest 10 hour bus ride ever and  arrived to the town of Manali (over 2200 meters elevation). Pictures forthcoming.
At first, I was both surprised and not to find my base, a little mountain village called Vashisht, divided by an overcrowded central road full of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and shops. With the help of my rickshaw driver, I found a cheap room down a little path. Feeling both tired and relieved, I stepped on to the balcony for a view so gorgeous it looked like a painting.  Suddenly, “bang, bang bang!!!” Loud drums to my right. Then “oonc, oonc, oonc!!” Frickin techno beats to my left. WHAT?!  Turns out, I happened to come on the end 2 days of a local festival–the neighboring temple’s Puja (devotional ritual) explained the drums and ‘celebratory’ techno of Indian tourists. Ahhh, yes, still in India. And, after realizing this reality, I began to enjoy.
Vashisht is the type of place I, initially, wondered how people could stay for so many months (apparently a common occurrence). That is, unless you have a decent amount of money to spend on some wild outdoor activities, and/or really like to chill and smoke charras all day every day.  But, this initial feeling wore off quite rapidly as I explored the beauty, met people, got over altitude sickness  and nicely settled into the mountain flow. Bathing in the natural hot sulfur springs, inside the village temple, warmed me literally to the bone and solidified the love.
The main highlight was a trek in the Himalayas, every bit as amazing it first sounds.  I was happy to quickly meet Polish woman, Kasha, who was interested in the same type of (not too too wild) adventure as I. So, we found us a trekking agency to make things happen. On the first day, Kasha, 2 porters each with 30 kilos on their back, a guide from Kashmir, and I set off for a 3 day, 2 night trek. It was on a beautiful, sunny day. After baby stepping it 800m straight up, we reached a glorious snow-line at 3600m high. Then the wind came in, and the temperature dropped to freezing, and it started hailing- all in a matter of 20 minutes tops. Then, our guide found out from descending hikers that there was too much snow for us to reach our campsite and ultimate trekking destination. Dissappointed, we  turn around and figured out a different spot to re-start from the following day.
It actually turned out to be a lucky occurrence, as we ended up with a new and fabulous guide and avoided seriously inclement weather that we were very unprepared for that night. Starting from Vashisht, Yagu led us on our first 16km day, through local villages and the surrounding nature for our second day. He entertained us with seriously wild stories from his years as a guide as we walked through constant rain for 7 hours, stopping once for a delicious lunch of Tibetan veggie momos and hot n’ sour soup. Extremely grateful for the fixed campsite that was our destination that evening, we immediately spiked our sweet milk coffee with local dark rum and dried off by the tent-covered campfire. We learned how to make 2 types of Indian bread- chapatis and stuffed parantha- and ate one of the best dinners I’ve had in India (note: It really was so good– definitely not our just desperate bellies distorting our taste buds!). That night, I had a deep sleep accompanied by strong thunderstorms and prayers that the next day would provide some sun.
…And it did! Well, mostly clouds and a bit of drizzle, but much better than the previous day and it was a beautiful ambiance in itself. The scenery was incredible, again, almost unreal.  Backdrops of huge snow covered mountains, alongside bright green mountains and stream filled valleys. Every time I looked, those  peaks and valleys never failed to take my breathe away. We saw multiple avalanches and rock falls, sludged through many feet of snow (which we never knew when it would be hard enough to walk on or lead to an entire leg-deep fall), and rock climbed up steep ridges that were scary to look back down.
After about 4 hours of trekking up we reached a steep ledge roughly 3500m high — a section that, from afar, I couldn’t believe we were going actually to climb. Suddenly, I had a sudden overwhelming, dizzying sensation and  just burst out crying. At the same time,  I started laughing because I couldn’t quite believe my reaction and felt  ridiculous and weird. But, Yagu was kindly comforting, and quickly made me feel better in that it’s apparently this is a “normal”  type of altitude sickness. In any case, we had gone high enough and were running out of return time before another big storm set in. We descended back down, feeling challenged, exhausted, wondrous and satisfied.
Vashisht was one of the few places that, so far, I’ve felt torn about leaving. I really began to love this place and realized I only skimmed the surface of what it has to offer. I must tell an interesting traveler story in particular: John Stoeks–a Dutch guy, who drove an autorickshaw from Bangalore (far down in South India) all the freaking way up to Vashisht. Here, it was stolen, and then recovered by kinder locals. He bathed and slept outside the entire time, according to him facing the biggest danger in the form of stampeding  cow herds.  He told us about buffalo and goat milk chai, one of which I would really really love try before I leave this country. Look out for his book some years from now.
Farther North, though not quite as high

Currently, I am in Upper Dharamsala, i.e. McCleod Ganj (about 1800m elevation). This is the home of His Holiness the Dali Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile.  The many red robe clad monks  make up a good portion of well over 100,000 Tibetan refugees who have make Dharamsala their home. It’s been eye opening to learning more about their history, and enraging that their home, culture, community continues to be destroyed by the Chinese. There are more Chinese soldiers than Tibetans in Tibet today. Last week was the 51st anniversary since the government was created, and I, along with thousands of others, crowded into the main temple complex to see His Holiness– quite a special experience.
Surprise, surprise, the town center is  insanely touristy.  I’m really not sure if there are more Tibetans or Westerners here. But, people are very nice and the shopkeepers much less intense than those further South.  But, I found serious respite about 3km up the mountain. Though it is increasingly scattered with guesthouses, Dharamkot is still a chill, traditional village with lots of baby goats, sheep, horses and donkeys roaming around– it’s a lovely place to be for a looong time. Bonus, I’ve  had excellent international company here– people I’ve met while in McLeod, and getting together with others I’ve met along this journey (including 2 friends from my yoga teacher training).
Overall this also is a truly amazing place with an endless amount to do, and totally not enough time to do it in. Sometimes it feels like it’s not real–  hiking up mountains and to crystal clear-blue waterfalls; choosing from various massage, meditation, cooking, reiki and yoga courses (plus more);  volunteer opportunities; the hypnotic sounds of monks praying; experiencing spiritual energies in the air…It’s also very conducive to hanging out and constantly meeting eclectic characters. For example, after dinner last night, I somehow found myself in the yard of a guesthouse listening to 2 Russians playing the accordion and drums, Frenchmen  flailing their arms while passionately dancing to the soulful rhythms, with an Israeli singing, a German observing, and others hopping over and joining in upon hearing the music. It felt like a movie.
I am both sad to leave this place, but I have a feeling that I’ll be back, at some point, and for a much longer period of time.

Notes from Mumbai

April 7, 2010

~Mumbai’s intesnse hustle and bustle, yet manageable flow.
~So many diverse faces and shades of brown; Indians from all over the country.
~Grabbing a very expensive watermelon juice at Leopold’s. recommended reading for everyone: Shantaram.
~Ordering lots of food (paneer tikka masala, mix veg curry, pani puri, veg biryani, masala puratha, jaljeera juice- i.e. cumin, lemon, salt, water– ewww but good for digestion!) for Danielle’s last dinner before sending her off to Holland. Tear!
~Walking the streets of Mumbai for 5 hours. Arriving at the most beautiful Victorian style train station I’ve ever seen. Being exhausted, and then revived by fresh squeezed mint-sugar cane juice. Ooh, I want some now.
~Meeting Radhika (one of my fave yoga teachers from DC) in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb that I’d say is akin to DC’s Mount Pleasant or NYC’s Brooklyn. Taking her roof-top yoga class and catching up over a long Chinese food dinner. With her bro and a couple of his friends, she’s running an awesome social venture. Check it out: http://www.greenlightplanet.com.
~Ridinggggg the local train (I missed my stop and came to the last station. Lucky for me all I had to do was stay on while it simply reversed its route) to see: Haji-Ali Mosque- becomes an island at high tide; & Dobhi Ghat- huge clothes washing area of thousands of colors.
~Mango juice so tasty my eyes popped at the first sip.
~My first Charras offering, curbside (regretfully, I declined).
~Fresh chapatis with mix veg in a spinach ‘gravy’ and lots of yummy condiments. Eat that while being watched by every staff member of the restaurant– “mam, we noticed you like to take the hot chili coconut sauce with your food. That is very different from other foreigners.” 🙂
~Returning the next night and ordering what the waiter recommended: spicy chapatis and spicy mix veg in a spinach gravy; needless to say, I didn’t need the condiments.
~Pleasantly surprised by Mumbai’s cleanliness
~Peeing in the swanky Taj Hotel bathroom. Getting in trouble for taking a picture of a menu. ummm hellloooo!! 400 rupees for idly or dosas? Yeah, that’s about 20 more expensive than what it should be (we’re essentially talking rice flour dough here). Watching the very rich drink god-knows-how-expensive coconuts, pool-side. Stepping out the door and across the street, the familiar ache of nausea and repulsion arise;extreme inequality is dependable for that. Too many hungry mothers and children, whom the Taj coconut probably have fed for a month.
~Speaking of Poverty. Never ceases to be truly hard to fully comprehend. And there’s nothing you can do, especially as a tourist, aside from giving food here and there. Even then I feel uncomfortable sometimes, mainly for the fear that in some way I might be reinforcing some terrible system that uses children as beggars for economic benefit (a la Slum Dog Millionaire)– thus even the food I give I make sure is open so it can’t be resold, and I just hope that child eats it.
~Reading a newly found philosopher, Krishnamurti. Contemplating my place in this crazy world, my role to do something (or nothing), how and where and for how long, in a way that is appropriaten and does no harm (a matter that must be considered whilst intending to do good).
~Admittedly, getting annoyed by those (especially overly enthusiastic teenagers) that talk (or try to sell) too much
~Fascinating, beautiful, hot, diverse, exhausting, difficult, delicious, contradictory…

Jai Hanuman!!

April 7, 2010

Hot Happy Hampi and Beautious Beaches of South Goa– a perfect post yoga teacher training holidayyyy. It felt soso good to be traveling again…exploring, pacticing the yoga of simply being and experiencing.

I’ll write about Goa first, as it was a gorgeous, relaxing time and easily summed up in some key words:
*Laguna Vista at Columb beach in South with huts looking onto a lagoon;
*The company of my beautious British, Dutch, and French yoginis, respectively- Fiona, Danielle and Laurence. Three wonderful, fun, uiquely amazing women I had the pleasure to get to know much more deeply, and with whom I felt totally at ease, while traveling;
*6:30am wake-ups for meditation, pranayama, asana practice;
*The best (and super cheap!) Aryuvedic massages. The Keralan brother-sister duo a 15-hour course offered every year….
*Lime-mint or ginger lemon soda. strawberry, cucumber, mango juice;
*Delicious Nepali food;
*And, of course- salt, sea, sun, sand (the four F’s my Dad pretends to hate).

Now, Hampi…I wrote most of this while taking the 8-hour train journey from Hampi in the state of Karnataka back to Goa, which is a travel experience in itself. So much happens. Hot beverage sellers walking up and down the aisle, who can say “chai-coffee” with as few syllables as humanly possibly. Hot food sellers who somehow manage full baskets of samosas and other yummy fired snacks, incomplete without their matching sauces! Cold drinks, fresh kurd (yogurt)…you want anything, it’s possible! Kids running around. People sharing their home-cooked food with you. Watching the scenery go by, accompanied by a welcome breeze. My favorite part of the ride, I think, would have to be looking up to see Laurence and Danielle snuggled into their 3-seater by 2 kind elderly men (there’s plenty of room in the carriage, by the way), eagerly chatting them up with a very limited selection of vocabulary. Danielle is now having her palm read by one man, Laurence is looking out the window, and the other man is sitting quietly, content in his tight seating arrangement. They offer us cookies, share ringtones and ask how many rupees is a cup of coffee in America (and are shocked upon hearing the answer).

The rest of this, I jotted down after ordering from a delicious selection of menu items ranging from “watermillon juice” to “chocolate bols” and “macroni” ad waiting two hours for toast and fruit salad, if that gives any indication of the pace and feel of this place. Hampi is in the Indian state of Karnataka, and is famous for its 500 year-old ruins from the Vijayanagara Empire. The sites of Hampi are spread throughout landscapes of enormous brown boulders and bright green banana plantations. We stayed in cute, simple huts across the river from the main village, which overlooked gorgeous kilometers of boulder mountains and rice paddies. It was actually our luck to be there in low season, late enough to have many sites virtually to ourselves but also just soon enough- literally the week before most workers were packing up to go back home (many are from the north). We explored crumbling temples in the morning before it got to unbearably hot, had looong lunches mid-day, and caught multiple red-orange Indian sunsets before loooong dinners.

One main highlight was waking at 5am one morning and getting a very dark auto rickshaw ride to Hampi’s Hanuman (Hinduism’s Monkey God) monument; our driver knew the winding road by heart, in the pitch black– for us it was a bit like a rollercoaster ride! We arrived at the base of this temple and climbed 600 steps to reach our pinnacle. Leged has it that Hanuman was born here some 16,000 years ago, also marking the mythical kingdom of “Kishkinda’. At the top, we joined the dedicated Indian “temple-keepers”, some overnighters, and a few “extended-stayers” who apparently were cultivating some Hanuman bhakti (one was a really white guy with bright red hair who stood out a LOT–not gonna lie, it was kinda funny). Best of all, we watched the sunrise accompanied by dozens of, naturally, monkeys!!!






From Hot Happy Hampi Beautious Beaches of South Goa

The rest of our high-flying morning was spent watching, and guarding from, the monkeys steal anything and everything (they particularly liked snatching cigarettes and lighters), and having wise broken-English discussions with the Hanuman devotees: one guy frequently fasts for a good meditatio and to become pure, so he ca look directly at the sun for 2 hours every day…Some 2 hours post ascent, were suddenly here bells ringing from the small temple and the guys still hanging around quickly run into the temple, motioning the rest of us to follow. More bells, accompanied my hypnotic drumbeats. Morning puja (honoring ritual) has begun. We watched as the main temple keeper lit candles and performed the ritual ceremony at the sparkling Hanuman alter. We watched, listened, felt, soaked in the magic.

As we got ready to leave, the main monkey guy cried, “sit! Must stayed for breakfast!” Of course, we could not refuse. After eating deliciously simple dollups of spiced and gheed, polenta-like porridge, alas it was time to leave (despite further insistence that we stay for lunch). Filled with this unexpected, amazing experience, the now hot sun shining strongly on our backs, we made our descent back to earth.

Repetition is DEATH

March 14, 2010

…says Tantra, and my yoga philosophy teacher, Emil. Well then! Semi-unintentionally, I had quite the life-extending few days. I suppose this entire trip, actually, has been good for longevity, but I had some amazing new experiences over the weekend.

Starting on Friday, we had our typical morning of pranayama, meditation and asana. But the afternoon brought the time for teaching– coming up with 20 minute sequences based on some theme. We’ve now done this a few times, and it’s been an invaluable part of the training– but also damn hard! Hard to come up with a proper sequence for such a small period of time, but also pretty emotionally draining (it takes about 3 hours: we split into 2 groups, practice, and then discuss how it went, giving and receiving, constructive criticism, eeek!).

Anyways, this time around we were to teach as if our students were all beginners, while taking into consideration knee, back and neck injuries.Everyone did really well and is totally improving. And it’s getting easier and more comfortable. But my turn came and, long story short, I had to deal will some discombobulated energies and certain distractions, which made it a bit more challenging to hold things together. Including Virgina’s gas, which was disrupted when I demonstrated ananda balasana (happy baby pose)- i.e. picture knees wide pulled into your chest; great exposure to the crotch area, and an even better one to teach with your butt facing the audience. Everyone lost it. And so did I, having taken all of these sequences VERY seriously. So, during my evaluation period first I burst out crying in front of everyone (hellloooo vulnerability!) and then we and ended with hysterical laughter. These things, they are all mini breakthroughs in their own way.

Then Fiona and I had to take advantage of our last chance to do a Kundalini yoga class at another yoga studio close by. This type of yoga s is rooted in Tantra, and is a strong practice that focuses on breathing, intended to WAKE UP one’s kundalini (coiled, snake-like) energy, which is said to be stored at the base of one’s spine. Yep, it was strong. Lot’s of intense breathing exercises, much of which we did while holding abdominal engaging postures. Needless to say I slept really well that night.

One Saturday, we had all morning with Emil. It was our first time doing asanas with him, and not surprisingly, he has a solid practice (that man can sit in padmasana for lord knows how long!). It was also nice to do asana before breathing and meditating, coupled with silence the whole time. It was quite conducive to a beautiful, still mediation.

Following, we had our glorious philosophy lecture, reviewing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the main text of classical/Raja. The sutras are 196 concise verses which lays out the 8 limbs of the Ashtanga Yoga system (not to be confused with Hatha Yoga’s school of Ashtanga Vinyasa). The sutra’s only mention asana once, albeit significantly; it’s main focus is on attaining freedom, or Moksha, through inward-focused, meditative practices.

Now comes Tantra– you may have heard of it, that scandalous practice that’s totally sexified by the West. Sure it includes that piece, but it’s only a small part! Basically the Tantric Era came out of a reform movement by the common folk in the North/NE of India. Rather than viewing the physical body as an obstacle, the Tantrics viewed it as a vehicle for attaining Enlightenment (how exciting!). (Tantra also gave rise to honoring the feminine). It posits that the universe is held together by waves or vibrations (spanda); like a fabric that interconnects everything and everyone in the cosmos.

It’s very exciting stuff, this Tantra. In order to become free, we must EMBRACE our experience- tap into what’s really here, right now, on every level. This means psychologically (reminds me of Vipassana, or Mindfulness, mediation) and physically. The Tantrics experimented–how to tap into these vibrations, this universal energy?? What happens when we stand on our head for 1 minute..15 minutes..3 days..sound familiar? Yep, apparently Tantra is system that gave right to what looks like the asanas we practice in Hatha Yoga today (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only mention the need to develop a steady, comfortable seat). Suddenly, the body is a tool for finding inner freedom, and we should use it to evolve.

Later that day, I went for a massage. This is no regular massage, now. It was a life expanding massage that lasted about 3 hours. Best part– it was freeeeeeeeeeeee!! I had received one a week ago (the masseuse is a friend of my yogamate), and apparently the resulting energies from my previous massage (2.5 hours) had a positive effect on him all week. He used quite a bit of Reiki, and after both sessions, i felt this amazing energy like I nothing have ever felt before. The first time it was like these energetic sensations coursing throughout my body– I felt an extreme sense of lightness, like floating up, and then it came back down, grounding. If I concentrated, I could direct it to certain areas– up an down my arms, pulsing in my palms and feel, beating into my heart. The second time, it was more concentrated in my belly and at the base of my spine (Kundalini rising??). That night I didn’t eat dinner ‘cuz I wasn’t hungry (and for me skipping dinner is some serious non-repetition)!!

Today, it was beautiful. After another wonderfully deep sleep, I chilled and ate brunch with my new friends on our sacred day off, all of whom I will miss dearly after this last week (though I will have come continued adventures with a couple of them ’til the end of the month). Facing the heat of the day, somehow asana and meditation called. It turned into a spontaneous 2 hour, Prana Flow inspired self practice that was wonderfully juicy and so in the moment.

Then Virginia came in with her iPod. The dancing began, and the non-repetition continued. We danced and we danced and we danced throughout the yoga shala. Leaping and shaking and cartwheeling, just moving. It was glorious. We even got some people to shake their bootys, pool side. It brought us back to the beginning of the training, when Sue led us in a Yoga Damce, which was all about SHAKING it out (actually there are gurus that lead people in the vibration practices– you can take a type of tobacco that induces intense vibrations throughout the body, apparently extremely healing. Don’t worry Mom, I won’t try that. I don’t think. Just kidding I really won’t 🙂 Anyways shook and shook and danced so freely–Now that’s a movement meditation. These practices, they should happen often and then, I think, we will all live more inspired, full, connected lives.

Now I must go practice my repetitive pattern of applying (homemade!) bug repellent before I am eaten alive by mosquitoes. And eat dinner. I guess somethings must stay the same, relatively speaking!

Yoga for Your Digestion

March 4, 2010

Namaste from Goa!

I am in the midst of my 230ish hour Yoga Teacher Training course, Shakti Spirit (already 4 weeks down and only 2 to go). It has been nothing less than remarkable. I feel the need to give a pre-emptive warning- I think this is my longest post yet. I haven’t really felt up to writing until recently– there has been so much to absorb and try to make sense of, so here´s to packing it in. But to start, you can look at some PICS, starting with the train bathroom! And at least scroll down to watch the hilarious video at the end.

We sleep, eat, mediate, practice asana and do our vast amounts of learning all at Satsanga, an incredibly beautiful and well run yoga retreat center in Parra, Goa. It’s a bit cut off from everywhere, which has turned out to be perfect for much needed peace and concentration. The amazing food is thanks to the in-house Keralan chef and Aryuvedic natural remedy expert, Mani. She has one the kindest set of eyes I’ve ever seen. Everyone has his or her own gorgeous room (well, we do get roommates…small ants, big ants, lizards, frogs…). My room has a porch swing and over looks a very utilized pool–it is freaking HOT here.

There are only 11 of us yoga teachers-to-be (though just one male here with his partner– they just got engaged a few nights ago!!). It’s such an international group, including our teachers- U.S., France, Czech Republic, Poland, U.K, Lichtenstein, Australia, Austria, Germany, Croatia, and The Netherlands). We have a great group dynamic (thank the yoga gods!); we all gelled and support each other quite nicely.

So, the teacher training program is so great. Our main teacher, Rachel Hull, is an encyclopedia of knowledge. She has designed a very rich and full (often we go 6:30am-6 pm) schedule. It’s been a bit like a puzzle- many components that have all started to come together into a comprehensive picture. All of our teachers are amazingly talented, and kind. Each gives so much with their individual expertise.

This training falls into the Hatha yoga category, which is what’s most commonly practiced in the west but often misrepresented as simply easy stretching poses. I now understand Hatha to be a system of yoga utilizes the following to attain personal freedom: asana (physical postures) pranayama (breathing exercises), bandhas (muscular ‘locks’ for moving energy), and kriyas (cleansing techniques). In sum, our specific program schedule includes: asana class and teaching technique, pranayama & meditation, anatomy, teaching skills, aryuveda, and yogic philosophy. Here’s more detail on these main components for those interested:

Asana- our 2-hour classes, led by Rachel and Jodi Boone, happen at least once a day Monday-Saturday. They are intelligent and precise with great focus on alignment while being creative, relaxed, incorporating flow and full of intention. These classes, along with 2-3 hour ‘technique’ classes have prepared us but by bit for teaching- learning and practicing adjustments, detailed breakdowns of many of the postures and sequencing; and creating our own bi-weekly 2 hour self-practice sequences.

Emil Wendel teaches our yoga philosophy classes, as well as the pranayama and meditation. Emil is an amazing, wise man who has lived in India for over 30 years, is a Sanskrit scholar, and tells great stories. We’ve just started our philosophy classes, which I love—what is yoga? Where did it come from? How is it practiced? How do we humans relate to and understand it? Much more we haven’t yet come to. You know, easy stuff. Fantastic person to study under.

Meditation and pranayama classes are Monday-Saturday, 6:30am-7:45am. Most days, Emil leads the sadhana (practice) like this:
1) Centering, guided meditation;
2) Anapanasati (watching the calm, natural breathe);
3) Ujjayi pranayama- a diaphragmatic breathe (if you’ve been to a yoga class, it’s the one that sounds like an ocean wave). What’s actually happening is you are contracting a part of the throat called the ‘glottis’, which automatically activates your perineum floor, i.e. mula bhanda to direct energy in the body. Ujjayi also lowers your heart rate and helps calm the mind.
4) Shat kriyas (intense, cleansing breathe- kapalabati & bastrika); then back to anapanasati
5) Focusing pranayama (viloma, bramari, samavriti, nadi shodona; mantra- e.g. chanting OM for 10 minutes—TRY THAT; the vibrations and, if you are with people, harmonies, are awesome)
6) Anapanasati, Silent Meditation

Another component of our training focuses on Aryuveda, the ancient medical science and healing system of India. It parallels Chinese medicine quite a bit (e.g. Aryuvedic refers to ‘prana’ like ‘chi’, meaning life-force energy). We’ve only just scratched the surface, but here’s a jist of some aspects. In Aryuveda there exists 3 doshas that make up all life- vata, pitta, and kapha. Essentially the doshas are compositions of the body and mind. Everyone has at least a little of all 3, but usually 2 are dominant. Based on your constitution, aryuveda recommends certain foods to eat and avoid, lifestyle choices, specific cleanses to rid yourself of ama (toxins) and other treatments/remedies to keep yourself in balance- or rebalance/pacify the doshas.

Yoga and Aryuveda complement each other in many ways- one tangible example is that a certain asana sequence can help balance someone if a particular dosha has gone array. If vata is haywire, do a calming and grounding asana practice. If pitta is up, practice cooling and restorative asanas. If you’ve got too much kapha going on, do an energizing and enduring sequence. Oh, we also had a nice group yoga-aryuveda bonding experience doing a shat kriya (cleanse) called jala neti- pouring in a snotting out salt water through our noses!!

So, we all got to have consultations with a local and well-known Aryuvedic doctor. She diagnosed our individual doshas and gave any necessary treatments, seemingly by looking at our tongue, eyes, skin tone, feeling our pulse, and asking a few very direct question that made you go, ‘how did she know to ask that?!’ I am pitta-kapha, equally. And apparently my body is low on ama (toxins), but I consistently carry shoulder and spine tension. So, poor me, my prescribed treatment was a back massage and a special relaxation technique, called “shirodara” (for a 1/2 hour you literally get warm oil poured on your forehead).

Our anatomy classes with Chris Kummer were awesome. He’s a super dynamic, fun and incredibly knowledgeable teacher– for one class he bought a goat arm to show us some structural parts; very effective teaching style! We learned about pretty much all of our anatomical systems and how they all link together- did you know there is tissue in the body called fascia? One line of it literally links your foot to your head… Makes asana postures and their impact in the body sooo much more complicated, yet also fascinating. Chris namely taught from the perspective that its all about balance and awareness. And, almost everything is- tada!- changeable. Yes, you can improve the curve of your spine and create arches in those flat feet. If you get a chance, take a course or workshop with this man- I would for sure study with him again if I ever get the chance.

Teaching skills with Sue Pendlebury were super quirky, fun, exposing, brilliant. She totally brought us out of our comfort zone, helped us open up as a group, and seriously increase self-awareness and work on group speaking & communication skills. Of course, here we first tackled the hardest and scariest part– actually teaching. The first time was on the spot, and we were told to pair up and teach a sun salutation. I think my mouth and brain temporarily disconnected. Eeeeek, so not fun! But as they say, practice makes perfect (though, right, perfect doesn’t really exist- a nice secondary lesson to be reminded of in this training)…it’s gotten better, a bit easier, and fun. Umm phew! I still have, of course, far to go, but everything has been a good and valuable experience, in many different ways.

There’s so many other little details and little bonuses: taking asana class at a nearby yoga studio; karma yoga picking up trash on the beach; bhatki yoga (doing Bhajans- a wonderful experience of probably 50 people singing beautiful, devotional songs); yantra yoga (our beautiful flower yantra- before and 3 hours later), Sue leading this crazy vibrational wild dancing yoga class, getting chalked during the color festival…

For our much needed 1.5 days off we get out a little. On one Sunday evening outing, we were quite lucky to come across this ‘lil roadblock:

From Hilary's Goa Pics

I have learned so much, and there is loads more to learn and digest. Obviously, some days are harder than others and I am certainly not without frustrations, but it’s been really such an amazing experience. And truly an infinite process, this whole yoga thing. I feel like this is all a beautiful yet ever increasing mystery- definitely an endless journey of discovery and understanding. Hard to put to words (through I have written quite a few, haven’t I!)…hope I didn’t put in too many abstract details for those of you actually still reading, but hopefully it gave a good picture of what the heck I am doing. And of I’d love to share these practices in person!

Hilary

Kerala part deux

February 5, 2010

Finally, more pictures!! From last last part of Tamil Nadu and all of Kerala. Hopefully one of these days I’ll label ’em…

Anyways, I forgot to mention a key event from the beginning part of our Kerala trip– festival! The “Puyam” Festival happens once per year around the full moon. We happened upon a procession en route to Kollam, and it was WILD. Namely, face-painted men with a thin bone/rod pierced right through each of their cheeks; even more unbelievable and painful were those hanging from wooden planks by four hooks in the skin of their backs. Whhhaaatttt. Apparently they are in a diet, ritual and sometimes drug induced state to do this. It was really amazing to see.Wish I had a picture.

Further north, in Alleppey, we skipped Kerala’s most famous tourist attraction (boat tours in the “backwaters”), and instead headed to Green Palm Homes, a homestay in a little village on the island of Chennamkary. Met great people here, ages 25 to 65 both guests and staff. It was so chill and everyone so open that by the end of our meager 1.5 days it felt like everyone was old friends. They also had rain-caught, filtered water so we could refill our water bottles with cold fresh water.

The owner of the meticulously run Green Palms, Thomas, grew up in this village of roughly 1,500 people, and have been in operation for 20 years. Importantly, they are very connected to the community and use their business largely for it’s benefit (we were told the family doesn’t actually make much, salary-wise, from this business). The first thing Deepali and I did was explore this beautiful tropical island. The path kept mostly by the water, where people were washing clothes and dishes, bathing, and fishing.

Thomas gave us loads more information on what he called “the evening walk: mostly walking, less walking” as opposed to “the morning walk” that was just the opposite. He is clearly a man with a mission to preserve the land that is his home and traditional way of life of his community. I found it fascinating and want to try to tell this story; hopefully I’ll do it justice (and get my facts right!).

So the island is 22 km in total, and hosts 5 villages. Amazingly, their is a 50% Hindu and 50% Christian population on this island (no Muslims). The Syrian-Christians came in the 4th century. Then the Roman Catholics came and forced their way in and apparently demolished their churches up until 100 years ago. But now everyone “is very good friends.” Phew.

Chennamkary is off of the Malabar Coast and around it weave Kerala’s man-made backwaters, which connect to the Arabian Sea. The island consists largely of beautiful, lush ride paddies that stretch for ages. Kerala is “the rice bowl of India” yet, as the irony of global agriculture goes these days, Kerala is not self-sufficient; they have to export enough they end up importing 50% of their rice. Also,Thomas owns 10 acres of paddies himself and tries to employee members of his community whenever possible. But, he has a hard time finding skilled laborers interested in this work, for more and more people (especially the younger generation) is not interesting in farming.

Ecological and climate issues are big problems here. Sadly, the villages learned the hard way decades ago, when the they tore down irreplaceable mangroves and built a concrete wall to help deal with soil erosion. Due to the pollution caused by the ever increasing motorized (and HUGE) houseboats, the villages were also hit harder by these emissions, which the mangroves would have helped to decrease and serve as a natural shield. There are some environmental regulations and eco-friendly boat certifications in place, but the corrupt Indian bureaucracy doesn’t help the whole implementation/what-happens-in-reality piece.

Also, the island is sinking. The walls need to be maintained and increased, and their dikes continuously need to be built-up. They have specialized “mud-diggers” for this– these guys go out to the deep part of the waters and dive to the bottom to fill their canoes; they can fill a 2-ton canoe in 45 minutes!! Unfortunately, similar to the rice harvesting situation, this job isn’t so appealing to the young and strong; Thomas thinks the island will have many machines come 15-20 years.

Another interesting practice is the letting-in of sea water to kill the African introduced water hyacinths. These beautiful flowers unfortunately are accompanied by foreign weeds, and de-oxygenate the already polluted water. To control them, the people let in salt water from the Arabian Sea, before the monsoon season. The salt isn’t good for the fish and certain plants, including banana trees and rice, but then the monsoons come and essentially flush out the sea water. Sometimes extra help is needed, but this usually allows the fish and plants to return. Clever! But this all means they rely on consistent weather patterns. These past 5-8 years, Thomas reports that there is increasing weather variability, e.g. rain in the dry summer and sunny days during the monsoon season.

Finally, there is a “suicide tree” nearby (though I didn’t see it, as it was part of the morning walk). On it grows beautiful yet extremely poisonous fruit. This is where many farmers committed suicide when times got tough. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

This all sounds like a tale of tragedies, but it seems like people are doing OK, I hope. There are new houses being built, lots of coconuts, bananas and other food growing on this very fertile land. The reliance of people who face these difficulties is amazing. And everyone was kind.

This fascinating tour ended with a little canoe ride back to the homestay, with Thomas leading our drivers (employees from the community that are in need of work at the time) in traditional folk song.

The next morning we somehow woke up at 6:30am for a 2-hour canoe ride- me Deepali and another American woman. Somehow I was appointed steerer. Ummm…well I got the hang of it, though admittedly made smaller rather than bigger S’s over time. The totally straight lines were less frequent. Hehe– good fun!!

I got cooking secrets for some traditional Keralan food– in sum, lots of coconut is used (and the villagers make their own oil and milk). Anna, the head chef and Thomas’s Mom, provided us with our 3 meals daily, led this demonstration. And then we headed onwards.

Now I am at the very end of my stay here in Kerala– had a really nice day in an island part of Cochin/Kochi. The highlight was my first real shopping experience here- delicious spices and tea purchased from a women’s cooperative.

Tonight I’ll take my first long Indian train ride (!!) of 16 hours. Then I’ll stay for 6 weeks in an area called Verla Canca, Bardez in India’s coastal state of Goa. Here I’ll do my 200 hour Yoga Teach Training, which was the catalyst for this trip. You can check out Satsanga Retreat Center where I’ll be “living” and is, conveniently, the home base for the training (more on that later).

Hil

Canoe rides and hugs

February 1, 2010

Greetings from Kerala! This is the only state in Kerala dominated by the Communist party, but more in the socio-economic sense rather than imposing in a religious/oppressive political party sense (if that makes sense)!

I managed to take multiple forms of public transportation these past few days. To get tp and from the airport, I took the train and bus rather than cabs—and probably saved about 500 rupees. The public ferry system is lovely (yes, I will start using adjectives such as this now having hung out with Brits for a couple days). Best part of public trans are the random positive interactions with people. Today Deepali and I were on a local bus with our packs on, each shamefully taking up 2 seats. Then an older woman came on, and although there were still open seats in the back, she plopped down right next to me and nudged her way in. It was so great! We looked at each other and laughed, then proceeded to ride comfortably squished for the next 15 minutes. She didn’t even move when the seats right next to us cleared out.

First stop from Trivandrum, after Deepali arrived from her 40 hour (!!) train ride at 3am, was Kollam. Here we lucked out with a superb little guesthouse in the sand, maybe 20 meters from the ocean. A wonderfully quiet and beautiful respite from the non-existent sidewalks on the incredibly crowded and polluted roads of the Indian cities I’d be staying in.

We had booked a canoe tour of Ashtamudi Lake and around Monroe island, which lasted about 3 hours and was made even better with the good company of 3 Brits and an Aussie. The ride was so beautiful and relaxing, slowly weaving down just one part of what I think is part of Kerala’s backwaters.

Our very nice canoe driver always warned us when we needed to dug under multiple concrete obstacles; showed us nutmeg, black pepper and cashew trees; took us to see how they made wooden boats (from the jackfruit tree family) and the string that primarily held them together (made from coconut fibers); pointed out a gorgeous Kingfisher bird after which the most popular Indian beer is named.

One of the Brits tried the local beatlenut, which you chew in a paan leaf, and apparently has the effect of coca—I have a wicked (there’s those crazy adjectives again!!) photo of him with a bright orange mouth and teeth full of what looks like tobacco chew. Best of all, another guy shimmied up a tree and picked everyone fresh green coconuts full of delicious juice. Yum. Oh, another funny thing was that they somehow had a loudspeaker system set up in various trees, so we beautiful tropical sounds were frequently, shall we say, “supplemented” by pretty Hindi music and the occasional mantra song.

The next day we took a 3 hour ferry north to Amritapuri, the home of Amma and the Mata Amritanandamayi Devi ashram. This is actually an amazing place. Amma is famous throughout India and all over the world for being the “hugging mother”: her mission is to provide unconditional love and compassion to every human being on this earth, reagrdless of ethnicity, class, religion, whatever, and she does this by giving hugs. Amma has hugged over 2 million people, and we are told that her longest hug session was a whopping 27 hours (no pee breaks or anything!!).

Amma also does continual humanitarian work as well. She rebuilt some 500,000 homes after the Tsunami. These past few years she has started to address the problem of farmer suicides in India that happened by the thousands (big props to Monsanto and ConAgra). Her philosophy here is that purely economic focused solutions won’t work—you need social and psychological interventions to really show them that there are other ways out. As part of her plan, she gave many scholarships to the children of affected farmers and continues to press for ways that humans can be more compassionate towards each other. From what I know, I have much respect for this woman.

Deepali and I were quite lucky to catch her on a day that she was giving Darshan, and before her 2 month national and international tour that starts next week. This was a “light” day for hugging; only tokens 1-1800 were given. And as international visitors, Amma likes to hug us last–so we waited until 10:30pm to received our hug.

When my turn to get a hug came, I wasn’t sure how it’d go, or smell given the ~1500 people that laid their sweaty heads on her cheast prior to myself. But she actually smelled of cloves and burgamot oil, and I received a very warm and strong hug that left me with a racing heart and a whispered blessing (plus a banana!). I guess all that waiting and watching her giving hugs on a big movie screen for some hours led to quite the adrenaline rush…or maybe it was the shared energy…

I then sat in the group of people around her, actually one row away from her seat, next to other people obviously in awe, some crying. Really interesting people to observe there, for lack of better words.

I must add that the ashram itself is an incredible system—it has grown into something like a large village/small town (e.g. they have a general store, a bank, 16 story accommodation buildings…). They feed 250,000 people per month, it’s administration and other labor duties are performed completely by volunteers from all over the world (some have been there for over 20 years!). And they never, ever turn anyone away if they are in need of a place to stay. It’s also unique in that they are very flexible—although the Ashram has a set daily schedule, residents and visitors are never required to participate. I decided to skip the 5am Archaya, but did opt into the 6:30am beachfront meditation session.

Well, that’s more than enough for now. I’ll try to upload more pictures and break up all this text in the future, but have yet to find another computer since Chennai that will let me transfer many pics at a time and internet is kinda slow.

‘Til soon!
Hil

Random fact: Marina beach, Chennai’s eastern border, is the 2nd longest beach in the world.

The day after the wedding I took a drive Puducherry/Pondicherry, which is about 3 hours South of Chennai. Sweet coincidence that 5 guys I met at the wedding were planning to go the same day as I- so I hopped on their ride. Perhaps a slightly offbeat thing to do as a single woman travelling alone, some may think. But they seemed fun and super nice (and they are)! We had a really fun trip with multiple adventures in between (including the craziest driving I have ever experienced!). Pondicherry itself was honestly nothing too great; mostly dirty and touristy.  I suppose the draw is that it was colonized by the French,  and apparently it’s an educational center. But we had a really good trip, and it was really great to hang out with Indians my age (even though they spoke Hindi at least half the time)!! One thing I may have mentioned- these guys are super tight and not at all afraid of showing affection towards each other. I really love that.

Amidst the whirlwind adventures, I definitely feel the extraordinary array of  contrasts and intensity that is India— all of which I about before arriving.  I don’t think I have really even started to process it yet.  The first BOOM of emotional waves was probably in Triplicane, the bustling area of my fabulous budget hostel– the lows of  steeping onto the hot street full of gross amounts of trash and way too many autos, kids sleeping on the ground covered in flies. The highs of finding a teeny side street with a fruit/veggie/meat market.  Then the wave comes again– getting chased by a stray dog, yelled at and ripped off by a woman while buying fruit, being helped by another really nice fruit vendor. Woooooosssshhhhhh– that blanket of overwhelming feedback.

The distusting poverty is by far the worst. I’ve seen it in quite a few countries now and it never fails to impress. India also has her own unique disturbing characteristics. Much and continual growth, right along with the majority who have less than nothing. Urban poverty, I think, is particularly hard.

This all followed by a trip to the Vivekananda Illam for a really nice free one-hour meditation class (and I was sturck that they gave out free channa to everyone afterwards– here a beautiful contrast: generosity yet having very little). I wanted to write about our monk’s Om (actually A-U-M) lecture, but I think I need to part from this blog thing. Man, I hope these posts are entertaining for you all still reading!

Now I must go eat…Indian food! Then I am to meet Ambika, Ujwall and Ajay for some hooka, and that’s it for Chennai and I. Tomorrow morning I fly to Trivandrum, the capital of the state of Kerala, to meet up with my friend, Deepali, and explore for about 9 days.  Shout out to Flow Yoga Center peeps on behalf of us both!!

Sendin’ love,

Hil

The day before the wedding came, i.e. after lunch at the Rao’s, and Ujjwal invited me to go out to a pre-party with him and his fiance’s friends that night, and sleep over his house so I could just go straight to the wedding with his family.

Quickly, I went shopping for an outfit for the wedding. Ummm????? I thought it might be odd, and definitely expensive, to wear a sari. So I bought a nice (lime green!) kurti, which is a bit like a long shirt/tunic. I got approval from a couple other Indian girls in the dressing room– they said it was “cool” and gave me a thumbs up. Done.

I got picked up from my guest house– party time. Indians, especially the Indian men, totally know how to get down. And they are not at all shy about dancing together, or being affectionate. Quite a refreshing thing to see! And pretty much everyone was around my age and really open and friendly– so I met other great people there. [In general, met so many wonderful people. Though I admittedly had to ask their names like 3 times and I still can only remember a few..eeek sorrry!]

The next morning the “getting ready” and rituals began around some ridiculously early hour for Ujjwal and Disha (she was obviously in a separate place). Ujjwal’s mom woke me around 7:30am; I showered, put on my kurti, and went out to the living room area…. got one look from Babba and her friend Gayatri (who was helping the women get dressed and made-up) like “Oh nonono!“Luckily Ujjwal’s sister, Kavita, had an extra sari. Gayatri wrapped, folded and pinned me, did my hair, and put some pink blush all over about half my face 🙂 After they seriously came to realize I had absolutely no jewelry except for some small earrings, Kavita kindly gave me a necklace, earrings and bangles– otherwise the outfit would have been very incomplete!!

Around 11am we–as in me and much of Ujjwal’s close family, which was a lot of people– proceeded to the wedding hall for the morning ceremony–see the photos here. I sat next to Mamma Sa (sa is for respect) in the car– her endearing family nickname is now easy to remember. I thought Mamma Sa, had the most beautiful dark skin and this wonderful sparkle in her eye, plus a really spunky personality. And she did the Indian head nod that I love– this kinda of side to side motion that’s not shaking your head yes or no, but can mean either. For some particular reason I just loved it when she did that.

We got to the wedding hall and I sat with Ujjwal’s whole family before beginning the procession to the bride’s family, with Ujjwal on a horse and everyone else following. Lalita and another very warm outgoing woman (argh, I forget her name)…especially took me in and made sure to include me in EVERYTHING (e.g. the very small circle of people dancing in the front of the whole crowd when the families came together).

The various ceremonial rituals lasted for a couple hours. Then, of course, we ate!

All of the food was in this big hall, for both the morning ceremony and evening reception. Most of the food from North India, as that is where both family's are from originally, and some from the South. They also have Chinese--Indian food; about this, I have no comment.

Finally back to Ujjwals– more interesting and fun rituals for a few hours! These also included many rounds of teas, and lots and lots of laughter. It was absolutely amazing to be a part of it all. The family was so amazingly hospitable and inclusive .

During this wedding ritual, the bride negotiates with men in the groom’s family for a certain amount of money– one includes hiding his shoes and “bribing” him to give enough money before he get’s them back!

We then had an hour or so to rest before getting ready for the evening ceremony. Horrors, I had to wear the same sari! I had spoken to multiple women about this and the conversation went something like: Them: ‘You don’t have another sari?’ Me: ‘No, no this is the only one.’ Them: ‘Ohh. OK….you sure you don’t have another??!!’  However, not all was lost, for Gaytri folded it as they do in Northern India (I had worn it Southern style in the morning).

So, back to the hall at 8pm for the reception. More people came to this part, during which  the guests greeted the family, gave gifts and– of course– ate!  Amazingly, this wedding was a “small” one– only 400 people. They also cut down on the dancing and music part, I think mostly due to the limited time Ujjwal was in India. Regardless, this was plenty of wonder to take in. Hours later, I got a ride back with Ambika and Ajay to my 350 rupee per night hotel room (really hard to find cheap and decent places here in Chennai- I’n glad that one only a one night thing).

I am still in semi-shock and awe — how fast it happened, the beautiful people and traditions, how tight (and huge!) the families are… I am so grateful to have experienced this in such a comprehensive way.