Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wow. So much has been happening since my last update...

At this very moment I'm in Varkala, in the state of Kerala. It's a beautiful beach town on India's west coast. Wren and I haven't yet spent any time in the actual Indian village here - we're staying near the beach, a short walk from a clifftop full of places for Western tourists (there are LOTS of them here) with a long set of switch-back steps that lead down to the beach below. The beach here is surprisingly clean for an Indian place. But you have to pass by heaps and heaps of garbage to the side of the stairs on the way to and from the shore.

I'm even more tan now. Just a little burned. The sun here is fierce, but I love it. The waves are strong, and being near the ocean is magical, as always. The Western tourists here like to wear really skimpy swim clothes on the beach, and some Western women sunbathe topless (something I find quite rude, considering this country's feelings about body exposure in public). Some of the Indian men swim in trunks, but many of the Indian people I've seen in the water are fully clothed in their day clothes. Women in beautiful full saris, soaked in sea water, laughing and holding hand with their friends. Circles of little children in wet clothes, gleefully enjoying the waves. It's lovely to see.

We arrived here on train from Kanyakumari, the little town on the southernmost tip of India. We spent only a couple days there. I wanted to go there to watch the sunset (we never made it out to watch it rise, as i thought we might), at the point where three bodies of water meet: the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea. It is a small place teeming with Indian tourists. Much different from the expensive, Western-tourist places and vibes here. We took a short ferry ride (which was rocky and exhilarating and the women squealed and Wren got drenched in sea water, even though we were sitting in the middle of the boat) to a little tiny island (or rather, a very large rock) out in the water, on which we visited a temple and a memorial to Sri Vivekanda, who is said to have swam out to the rock long ago, where he sat for days in meditation. We visited an ancient temple on the mainland near the water. It was the oldest place I've been here so far. Over 1,000 years old. The energy inside was powerful and wonderful and intense. And the energy in Kanyakumari in general was good and healing, though the people were not the most kind and the touristy-ness was quite annoying at times. Still, I enjoyed it greatly. The train from there to here got so crowded that there was at least one man hanging out of the door the whole way. Wren and I had luckily secured seats before it got so crowded, and we were right inside the door, so I could see the people spilling out of the train just beyond Wren's head as we traveled.

Train travel here is fun fun fun! Dirty and sweaty, sure. But fun. Beautiful scenery and interesting sights flashing by, usually with a moat of garbage between the train and anything it passes. Everyone just throws it out of the windows. The locals encouraged us to do so. And the toilets on the trains (some Western, some squat-style) are basically just holes through to the ground below. It's kind of fun to see the tracks rushing by below when the train is moving. And I understood why many of the train station platforms smell like poop. And pee. And garbage. And gross. But what a fun adventure to travel this way! We've had 2 overnight train journeys on our travels so far. There are small, vinyl-covered 3-tiered bed platforms (the middle ones fold down during the day for seating) to sleep on. They are hard and a little dingy, but it was fun to sleep on them, in a summer camp sort of a way. Wren and I made some friends on a train ride. An Indian mother/son pair. They talked to us a lot and looked through my sketchbook and made Wren play her ukelele and sing and seemed to be fascinated and entertained by everything we did. For hours. Evening and the next morning. When it was time to sleep, Helen (the mother) decided "little children on the top" (even though I told her how old we were....), and so Wren and I gladly climbed to the top bunks. Ooh, and also, the snacks on the train are good. Men pass by every now and then, selling chai, coffee, fried Indian goodies, dosas, etc.

We've been in Varkala for a week now. The time is really flying! We left Mysore about 2 weeks ago, hopped on a train to Pondicherry (a very French-influenced city on the east coast), and then an auto rickshaw into Auroville, to visit my dear friend Ethan. Wren wrote a lovely blog entry about the place and our experences there, if you want to read more about it. (The Wiki article is worth checking out too.) Some highlights of our stay there: the 3 of us riding around together on a tiny moped, eating Western hippie foods (tofu, kombucha, raw Indian food, salads, etc. omg!), hanging out on the beach, visiting an energetically inspiring Ashram in Pondicherry, singing in an OM choir (yes, all we 'sang' was om) (this experience was made all the more interesting and poignant for me by the addition of some intense intestinal cramps that began to occur during the singing....oh, India....), seeing the Matrimandir (which looks like the Indian Epcot), watching DVDs that we bought for 25 rupees each (just over 50 cents) on Ethan's laptop (Wren was especially overjoyed to watch New Moon), singing songs with Ethan on the guitar... etc. Auroville itself is such a fascinating place. An experiment in human unity. I felt a strong connection to the ideals and founding principles of the place, though I'm not sure how I feel about the reality of it all in practice. It seems just a little cultish and odd, and the Westerners there seem quite unfriendly to outsiders. Still, quite an interesting place to experience. We were only there long enough to get a little taste of it.

I don't think we planned on being in Varkala for so long. It just kind of happened. It's easy to be lazy here. Back and forth between out hotel and the cliffside business and the beach. Eating lots of good food, playing and lounging on the hot hot beach. Yeah, that's about all we've been doing. We found a hotel room with a ton of space in which we can do our asanas in the morning. Wren had been helping me with some of my practice. She's naturally quite a good teacher. I've started to do dropbacks (from standing) into backbends, with her assistance. I don't think it will take me too long to be able to do them on my own. And since I've been here I've been doing headstands without the help of the wall, finally. I was quite pleased with myself! :D

Wren and I have made some spontaneous friends here and there on our journeys. I had an especially great time with a French man named Bruno who I met on the beach. He and I immediately hit it off, and spent a lot of time together before he had to leave to go back to France. We were super silly and playful together and laughed a lot and played on the beach, jumping into waves and building things in the sand (like a mermaid tail for Wren, after we dug her a hole to sit in...and then she haggled with the lady who walked by selling fruit, and bought us mangos that she and I ate side by side on the beach, all while she was a mermaid. Ha!). Bruno's presence was like a breath of fresh air for me. It felt like one of those serendipitous meetings of spirits that happens just at the moment you need it and feels like a gift from god. For serious. What fun we had!

Tomorrow morning Wren and I are leaving Varkala to take a trip through Kerala's backwaters on a houseboat. It will be just the two of us, plus the driver and a cook, who will prepare us all of our meals. Two days and one overnight. I'm so excited to be on the water! And excited to leave Varkala as well. Time to go!

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