Saturday night Sivananda AshramÂ has a talent show. I haven't done standup since I've been in India, and I was itching to get on stage. Oh, the "stage" is also the altar to Sivananda, Vishnudevananda and several gods. It's not your typical smoky comedy club; it's a sort of temple with 200 yoga-teachers in training, a few swamis and sadhus, and yogis, and yours truly. And I have to say that I totally rocked the temple with a set about Indian toilets and lusty yogis that ended with a hilarious and totally inappropriate bit about "being in the present." People were coming up to me for days afterward saying they were literally in tears from laughing so hard. It doesn't get better than that. (I actually captured the set on my camera and will send a link when it's up.)
One Friday (the day of the week dedicated to the Divine Mother) we took a bus trip to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. Spent a wonderful day with friends from Quebec, Brazil, and Colombia. We saw temples, the Vivekananda museum and ashram, a place where Gandhi's ashes were held, and best of all, the convergence of three oceans. In Kanyakumari, you can look out over the ocean, and see the sun rise and set over the horizon without moving from your vantage point. Oh, we also went to a waterfall and ate this delicious flaky desert made with ghee called Soan Papdi, which you have to try. Just do it. Seriously.
Something stranged is happening in India. It's raining. In March. You've heard of monsoon season? Well, it usually doesn't start for at least another month. Chalk it up to GW or pretend it's just a little spotting. Either way, it's raining, and it's wet.
It had already started to rain during my 30 km rickshaw ride to Sivananda Ashram in Kerala two weeks ago. I arrived with the brilliant and shining hope of beginning my lifelong yoga practice here. A Kenyan guy with dreadlocks said, "I tink you brought de rain," as he showed me to my dorm in the first of many downpours.
The Ashram runs two-week "Yoga Vacations" (as well as month-long yoga teacher trainings.) There's an exacting schedule of 5:20 wakeup with three daily gatherings for chanting, meditation, and, puja and four hours of yoga per day. It was exhausting until I fell in with a Bad Crowd and learned I could skip the boring stuff and sleep in! Waves of contentment and displeasure would pass over the entire ashram from day to day. One day, people would be complaining and talking about leaving, the next day, the louder voices were from excited Yoga Vacationers who finally achieved a headstand.
Much of the time, I was severely shaking from a deadly combination internet and telephone withdrawal and too much chai. My relaxing Yoga Moments were occasional. It would rain during yoga classes, overnight, while we were lining up for a meal outside, and miraculously clear up for a moonlight walk to the lake. The rain, thunder, and lightning, which are a delight to the senses, are also quite hellish on one's clothing. The sweaty yoga shirt, once washed in a bucket with some Tide, would hang on the lines next to our beds, fan fan running day and night, damp for three days, turning into a lush resort for some special Indian mold reunion. The clothes do not dry. I began wearing damp clothes hoping my body heat would cure them before the mold took root. And forget about dry feet or sandals, ever. (It's amazing I've come out of the place with all my toenails intact.)
Something about being in an ashram, lax as it was, made me agitated and anxious, and I think it has nothing to do with sitting with myself and having to listen to all those inner voices screaming things like, "Why are you doing yoga?" and "Your foot doesn't belong behind your shoulder." and "Who is this elephant god we're praying to?"
So… I was hanging out in Aurangabad for a number of days. It's a slightly larger city, less than a million people. You have to book trains quite far in advance, and I was a bit sick to take a bus, so I booked a ride in a car a day and a half from Aurangabad to Hampi, stopping at a mosque called Golgumbaz and a bunch of temples in between. Golgumbaz has the second largest dome in the world after St. Petersburg. I met a couple there who were married four days back, and they invited me to their wedding reception (my second so far)! But I was on my way to Hampi with Nandu and Shotrugun, two driver's of Ashok's, the rickshaw guy listed in the Loneley Planet for Aurangabad. It was in fact a terrifying day and a half of driving with two very pleasant men. Driving in India is one big game of chicken. It's mostly one lane each way, and the road is shared with cows, goats, chickens, kids, rickshaws, busses, and giant trucks that says "goods carrier" on the front and "please horn ok please" painted in English (and Hindi?) on the back. Technically, one drives on the left side in India, but you wouldn't always know it from where you are in the road. Honking horns while passing is polite, and pretty much everyone passes everyone all the time, regardless of how much space is between vehicles. And then a motorcycle passes in between whoever is passing who. There's nothing like the rush of your tenth near-miss, passing a bus at full speed, while also watching a bus pass a line of trucks in "your" lane, and not seeing one driver break a sweat or slow down. They make James Dean look like Howard Dean.
In the past three days, I've seen my first monkeys, camels, and elephant in the temples. You can't swing a set of prayer beads without hitting an ancient temple here. There's one in my backyard. I passed through Bijaur, Badami, and Pattadakal, all with incredible carved caves, temples, pools. One of my favorite things is that there are constantly groups of school children visiting the monuments, and they all want to say hello and take pictures. They're totally friendly and full of life and playful. They're like sqirrels in Yosemite, who haven't had the fear of humans instilled in them. I got to hold a baby for a photo when a family introduced themselves to me at Golgombaz.
I booked a train ticket out of Hampi right when I arrived, in order to avoid riding the overnight bus. Met a guy named Mitch from Italy slash Germany, and we've been touring the temples and restaurants together.
Sai Baba was supposed to be in Hospet, so we caught aÂ half hour bus across the river, and walked for a number of kilometers to try to see him, but didn't find him. We had an incredible street dish called Gobi Manchurian (chinese fusion dish with deep fried cauliflower and red spices). There is a constant stream of male attention here. As I'm typing, the guy who runs the cafe has just asked where I'm from, what is my name, and if he can take a picture of me. It's flattering, annoying, and overwhelming. It's said that Mother India is a very male country, and I've discovered that female infantacide is somewhat common, which one reason there's so much dude vibe here. Did I mention this before?
Last night, the women at my guest house helped me put on my new silk sari (which is incredibly difficult and I don't remember how) put flowers in my hair, put a necklace on me, and we walked out to this restaurant called The Mango Tree, which overlooks a river and the cottages across the river. All of the shopkeepers shouted out, "Indian girl!" and "Nice sari!" This place is a wonderful tourist trap, but also a very sweet little community of people (about 2,000) who all know each other, and the kids run around all day on their own it seems (with no diapers! but I've seen much more cow poop than baby poop). We walked around and looked at drums in the bazarre (I'm going to try learning to play one today) and I got my hands and arms painted with henna last night while having lemon chai fed to me and chatting with the mendhi people who were from Delhi. Incredible mendhi work. (Still haven't uploaded my photos, but I'll send a flickr link to my album as soon as I do.) The mendhi woman was three years older than me and had an 18 year old son.
The computer I'm typing on is missing the enter key. It's very funny.
I just bought a book by Ravi Shankar called "God Loves Fun." Ravi says "Stop thinking. Thinking is the source of all your worries. If you didn't use words, you won't have any words to worry with." I have very few worries today.
My speech has morphed into the kind of English one speaks with babies. "You want eat?" "I from USA." "What you name?" It's like one big Robert Hawkins joke. "No step here!" "You five dollah!"
I made the right choice to take that off-the-beaten-path route down here. I'm off to Bangalore, Pondicherry, and maybe Auroville (or an ashram) in a couple of days. Looking forward to Ayruvedic massages, chanting, and meeting more new and interesting people every day. What a great perk of traveling!
I arrived inÂ Bombay a little while ago, and I'm well, if a little dizzy from the heat at the sweet chai…Â see, this morning I got up at 4:30 to ring the bell for morning chanting. Â It was the lat day of a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in Igatpuri at Dhamma Giri.Â Caught a ride to the train station, and took a 4 hour train rode to Aurangabad with some new Vipassana friends.
Â Aurangabad is a city about 7 hours east of Bombay, and like all the cities I've been to so far, the crazy streets are lined with little shops selling clothing, electrical cords, batteries,Â bananas, dead goat meat… Tomorrow, we're giong to see some caves carved by monks two thousand years ago (Elora). Tonight, though, Caz, Mahesh (who has a crush on Caz and is treating us all like royal guests in his city), and Annalia are going to see an Indian movie called Mythia!
Oh, and I just check the Fringe Festival lottery website, and it appears my show *The Punchline* will be one of the shows put on by the Fringe in September! Hurrah! Pictures of my travels are on the way…Â stillÂ working on uploading them. Â Thank you for all of your wonderful wishes for my trip–I'm sending you my best as well.Â