India was challenging for me. Even if I arrived there thinking of being a well balanced, strong, and peaceful person, India really was able to touch few of my weak points, but it was a constructive experience because it tested me and gave me a wide perspective on myself.
Uncomfortable things about India
- The concept of personal space doesn't exist: Indians just get on top of you, and it's totally normal for them. They don't usually give you the way just for the sake of being kind, it's all about survival instinct there!
- They honk all the time and the streets are noisy, congested, and polluted. The only driving rule is: do whatever you want but make sure you honk so everybody else know.
- Communication with Indian is very difficult: few of them actually speak English. They can't say no, they bubble their head all the time and you don't understand a thing: it could mean yes, no, maybe, I don't care, or you are a nice person!
- Tourist prices are usually at least double Indian prices: you have to bargain for everything, and you loose the sense of what is a fair price, which actually varies a lot from town to town. Vendors call you all the time also from far away and hassle you.
- There are a lot of things that Indian women don't usually do. For instance, chai tea stalls on the streets are very popular among locals but I haven't seen any woman having tea there; there are very few women in the streets in the evening; you should cover your legs, shoulders, and wear loose clothes. As a woman I've been wearing long baggy or alibaba pants (btw very fresh!), tunics with long sleeves or t-shirts. It's very handy to have a scarf: every woman there is wearing a scarf over the chest or a sari. I've heard there are agencies that organize tours for Indian men to touristy beaches to watch western half naked girls...
- They croak and spit all the time, including women in this case!
- It's not cool to show any affection in public, the most you could do is holding your "husband" arm, and if he's not your husband maybe just say he is to not disappoint them!
- Indians stare at you with no shame, sometimes they also giggle at you and you have no idea why.
Funny things about India
- I think they are stock between the 70s and 80s: big mustaches, colorful overdecorated outfits, a ton of huge gold jewelry.
- They are crazy about weddings, saris, and jewelry. The streets are covered with ads of happy brides dressed like princesses with the the most luxurious silks and the heaviest earrings and necklaces.
- They eat with their right hands, and make a mess out of it: it's actually very entertaining looking at them eating.
Varkala is a nice town along the coast of South Kerala, it develops along a cliff, with the main road pierced with a lot of shops and restaurants. It is touristy, and you need to get used to be called out by the local vendors, but it's still not overwhelming: there's no loud music played, and the scenery is fantastic, overlooking the ocean, the fishermen at work, and daily passage of schools of dolphins.
We stayed in Odayam beach which is a little north of Varkala, about 10 min pleasant walk along the ocean. Here the beach is wide and not crowded. We found a nice hut with private bath, hammocks, and sea view at Ashtamay Beach Resort, $20 per night. They also have very good food here.
I discovered a mind blowing dessert here: it's called Hello To The Queen, and it features warm banana slices, chocolate chips cookies, nuts, and ice cream... absolutely delicious!
This was the perfect place to relax, and enjoy the last few days of the trip, while getting a little tan, eating good food, and buying gifts for my friends back home.
After a long day of travel by bus, rickshaw, and taxi we arrive at Sivananda Ashram at dusk.The setting is beautiful: on a leafy hill in front of a lake with manicured gardens and lawns. It's high season, there are a full Yoga Teacher Training and Yoga Vacation Programs going on, the regular dorms are full and we end up sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor of what used to be roofs and now are dorms, but we expected something like that. $10 per day all included.
At Sivananda there are a lot of rules, for instance:
- 2 mandatory Satsangs, one at 6am and one at 8pm
- 2 mandatory Yoga classes, one at 8am and one at 4pm
- You cannot leave the ashram
- Meals are silent, sitting on the floor of the dining room, you are supposed to eat with your hands
- Silence and lights off from 10:30pm to 7:30am
- Dress code: legs covered, no sleeveless shirts, no tight/transparent clothes, also during yoga
- Celibacy, no open signs of affection, separate dorms for men and women.
I guess we are too free spirited people to deal with all this for too long, and we ended up staying just the min 3 nights. Even if I love practicing yoga, and the yoga here is excellent - still very different from Vinyasa - I don't like the idea to be forced to do it. The Satsangs - big communal meetings for meditation, chanting of mantras, and lectures from the swami - were way too loud: they started with what sounded to me like a Kapalabhati boot camp - "one! two! one! two!" - and then after 30min meditation there was a mantra aggression, the speakers were so loud that we had to close our ears and few times we had to walk out of it, no matter the rules! One morning we went for meditation by the lake - we are such rebels! - which was so peaceful despite the loudness still in the background.
The food was very tasty, I brought my own spoon because I just don't like to eat rice and soups (?) with my hands. We met nice people, but with all these silence restrictions I didn't have the chance to know them better.
It feels good to be in the real world again after the clinic, now I even enjoy the noise, the hassle, and all the surprises that come with it. 6.5 hrs of buses to get to Kochi. Fort Kochi is an artsy town on the ocean, touristy but still pleasant with cute cafes- go to Kashi cafe-, colonial architecture, and a lot of irresistible shops: alibaba' pants, shirts, antiques, spices, jewelry, paintings! We rent bicycles for $1.5 a day to explore the town better and discovered beautiful graffiti, art installations, parks, and Jew Town with even more exciting shops! There's also a Palace, a synagogue, and old Chinese fishing nets particularly nice at sunset. One day we took a ferry to a near town with a big celebration in honor of Siva: imagine a "normal" street fair around the main temple, with the exception of occasional decorated elephants passing by the crowd, dangerous fireworks in the streets, funny theatrical performances and musicians here and there. Did I tell you that Indians are totally crazy about weddings? Most of the ads in the streets show happy brides over ornate with heavy gold, precious stones, and the most beautiful silk saris. We passed by a three story department store completely dedicated to saris, fascinating. Another day we went for a half day tour of the backwaters, a series of canals within scenic natural setting where people live, cultivate spices and make ropes the old way out of coconuts shels.