Joseph in India

A man might think he wants to go out into the world and travel around alone, independent. And then he chooses to join his family and spend three months in the daily company of beautiful souls like Vicki, David and Kelley. Laughter, thrills and amazing experiences have filled each moment.  With David and Kelley, we were always able to find the best blend of adventure and peaceful moments.

The life of a “householder” is far more rewarding and instructive than sitting on a cushion in an isolated cave, and the food is better too. Actually the food has been fabulous, from fiery chillies to aromatic woods and nuts. The green pastes, the red pastes, the orange pastes, such color in the recipes.I am already dreaming up new cooking ideas for our guests when we return.

So often I could look over and see the wonderment on your face, unobstructed by concerns, reveling in the beauty around you.

Thank you Vicki for the travel writing on our blog. You captured our spiritual experiences as well as our cultural blunders. The camera may have been the eye but you are the heart of our narrative to our friends.

What I Will Miss

This list is much longer………….. I will miss:

* fresh, flavour-full, delicious meals. all ingredients are purchased at the market every day, prepared as ordered and incorporating the local specialties (coconut, chilis, mint, red onions, pineapple, oranges, pomegranates, real bananas…..) yum! this means sometime take a while to receive – no problem!

* eating extraordinarily well for a couple of dollars a day

* listening to people’s perception of north american life. “is it true that you would pay money to a stranger (i.e. non-family member) to stay with your children?”,  “It’s very dangerous – I feel sorry for you to live in a country with so much violence.”,

* walking on marble everywhere – temple floors, our bedrooms floors, hallways, stairways, bus stations, train stations, restaurants, hotel lobbies, bathrooms – nice and cool!

* drinking fresh young coconut milk from the man who whacks off the top and sticks a straw in it. then after I am finished, he lops it in half and using a piece of the coconut, makes a spoon for me to scoop out the insides and enjoy a fresh and healthy snack.

* swimming in warm clear oceans, with no one and nothing in sight

* the absolutely amazing colours of women’s saris and clothing – oh, i bet they look at us and sadly shake their heads – how poor we are in colour and design.

* shimmering moonlit sea with outlines of coconut trees in the sky

* all the impromptu and unexpected conversations with people on all topics – mostly religion, karma and spiritual life.

* all the smiles that peep from from beneath saris as I extend my smile to women

* knowing that each day will bring a surprise

* being (for the most part) awake, alert and in the now moment

* waking up each morning and deciding what to do – or not! each day a new page, very few obligations, almost no responsibilities

* having hundreds of hours to read, rest, meditate, reflect

* having endless opportunities (each day) to duck into a temple for a blessing

* being in a country where virtually no one smokes or drinks alcohol. no fighting, no yelling, no butts on the street. we can attend events with thousands of people and everyone is enjoying themselves – families, children.

* being in a country where only once in 100 days did I hear one person raise their voice.

* seeing all babies and young children being carried in the arms of their parents or relatives – not one stroller in sight!

* being on holiday and in the precious company of my beloved partner, Joseph,  for days on end

* having so much time with David and Kelley – what great travelling partners they have been – flexible, patient, curious, open-minded, intelligent and fun-loving!

What I Won’t Miss

As we head home I cannot help think of what I am looking forward to and…… what I will miss. Here are some thoughts about what I won’t miss:

* negotiating/bargaining for everything – fruit, rickshaw rides, books, souvenirs, soap, rooms, meals – even money exchange rates!

* walking with total vigilance for anything that might hurt me – uneven paving stones, holes, hanging electric wires, open sewers, cow patties, low hanging rusted metal signs, cows with big horns (i already got struck once), motorcycles (and other moving things) coming the wrong way down a one-way street, uneven steps, wet areas

* the heat and humidity of the coastal south, having 4 or more cold showers a day and having to take a little ‘rest’ in the middle of the day, just to recover from the morning’s outing

*  ordering something for the first time and never knowing what you are really going to get.  I’m not sure where some of the language on the menus comes from – but you would not believe what I have received when I ordered a toasted cheese sandwich!

* getting cold unbuttered  toast 10 minutes before the omelette, getting tea 10 minutes after I finished the cold toast and omelette

* hearing the dogs fighting all night long and seeing the results in the morning

*  washing my clothes in a bucket in the bathroom (they are not looking too good right now!)

* sitting on heavy, wood, un-ergonomic chairs that screech when they are moved across the marble floors

* wet bathroom floors – ever try using a toilet and not let your pants touch the floor?

* the smell when we unknowingly walk down a “it’s OK to pee on the wall” street

* constant honking of everything that has a horn.  ALTHOUGH I see that this is a vital communication link with everything/one on the streets and the flow, and safety of the streets would not be possible without it! (I’m still not going to miss it!)

Mysore Sights

After three months in India there was an earnest search for some gooey chocolatey something!  as you can see by this photo – it has been found! there is a pizza place near our hotel and we just go for dessert. this one is called Chocolate Lava.

another find – ice cold coffee/chocolate drinks……..tum!

David discovered a ‘play park’ just outside Mysore called Planet X.  we went back and – believe it or not – drove go-carts, bowled, played air hockey, played mini-golf and ate! it was kinda strange – we don’t even do this at home! – but lots of fun and certainly a change of pace!

BELOW- this is how we shop for books.  trading, buying and selling on the side of the street.

BELOW – the market where you can find just about anything you might need – vegetables, fruit, bags, sugar (sold in solid blocks, saris, paint, kitchen utensils, knife sharpeners……….)

BELOW – the yellow flowers are marigolds threaded on a string. you buy them by the foot! people are walking around with huge bags of flowers………

BELOW – these are stacks of jaggery (cane sugar).

Tibetans in South India

We chose our destinations in India mainly for their spiritual content – and after 2 weeks of sightseeing in Mysore we feel the pull of a Tibetan Buddhist colony about 100 km away.  Unlike McLeod Ganj this settlement is off-limits to tourists except during the day, i.e. no overnight accommodations available in the town. it was wonderful to be back in the environment of the Tibetans and surrounded by many Buddhists temples.

Young monks walking through the courtyard. I popped into one of the smaller temples and there were about 5 or 6 young monks using the smooth wide expanse of the marble floor of the temple to play with their small toy cars!

Sandal Oil Factory

One of the other top loves of my life is the smell of sandalwood.  Mysore is the main area in India where this is produced so I was looking forward to seeing, smelling and buying some.

The first thing I learned is that the tree is called a sandal tree.   things are carved from the sandal wood but the oil is sandal oil. think of our indigenous trees. we call them cedars and pines and maples –  when something is made from the wood we do not call them cedarwood carvings or maplewood furniture. and this is the same with the sandal trees.

the next thing I learned is that the sandal trees have been seriously depleted to the point where the they are guarded and protected – the public is not allowed into the  forests and poaching is a problem. the trees take 20-30 years to grow and right now mos t of the trees are less than 10 years old.

At this factory, unlike the silk factory,  we did have a real tour with someone who could give us some history and information.  (no cameras and photos, alas!) the first thing we saw was a young sandal tree in the garden.  then we went to where the trees logs are split. only the inner core of the tree is used to produce the oil. the outer wood is split away and is sold by the ton for some carving and also cremation firewoodwood. then the wood is finely shredded and put into huge tanks where the first run of oil is steamed out. the residue from this stage is thick ‘dust’ and it is used for making incense. then this crude oil goes through another steaming/distillation process and what finally drips out is pure 100% sandal oil. it is very expensive and valuable – more so than even gold.

our guide told us that the factory is not producing oil right now as the re-establishment of the sandal forests is not sufficient to harvest.

we were able to buy sandal soap and incense and then splurged and bought  a small vial of pure sandal oil.

Visit to a Silk Factory

As someone who loves fabrics and colours – a trip to a silk factory was an exciting idea. we took an autorickshaw there and as we approached our driver pointed out rows of two story bungalows. he said these are the homes of the factory workers – over 2500 of them. the production of silk cloth goes on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

after checking in our bags (no cameras – sorry – no pictures!) we walked into a complex of a dozen one story buildings with wide walkways between them. we soon realised there was no guide and no tour and we had no idea where to go or how to start, so we poked our heads into the first building.

basically our ‘tour’ was walking around and through buildings and where someone spoke English and had the inclination and/or time, we would find out something. the only part of the process from cocoon to fabric that we didn’t see was taking the first filament off the cocoons. we entered a large, warehouse-size building with probably thousands of spindles being filled up with silk filaments. we could not actually see the silk going on to the spindle – we could only see that the spindle was filling up with it. only when a woman stopped to mend a broken piece, did I get the chance to feel and see the filament, by turning it in the light and catching the reflective surface. the noise was quite loud in this vast room.

then people pointed us out one door and we went to another building where about 10 filaments from these spindles were being brought together to make a silk thread. and these threads were being pulled onto a larger spool.

in the next building we saw them making gold thread and then we went into the actual weaving room. the noise was so huge we could not talk but observed hundreds of heavy duty mechanised machines taking all the threads, the pattern boards and the looms and producing sari-width silk fabric.

we visited the rooms where the fabric was dyed in huge concrete vats, where it was dried and where it was cut up and packaged.

one of the most amazing parts of this experience was that there were no boundaries or signs or anything (!) between us and all this incredible powerful machinery and hundreds of workers. we talked to people when they stopped to talk to us. we stood right next to pounding, powerful huge pieces of machinery that would mince your arm before you ever saw it coming. there was one large area where about a hundred threads were speeding  over a distance of about 20 feet onto a 15×8  foot roller. if we had not entered slowly and watchfully we easily could have walked right into these threads as they are virtually invisible. it took a moment to see that there was any connection between these 2 big machines. so needless to say we were very careful to keep ourselves safe and to not interfere with, or disrupt in any way, what was going on all around us.

Sacred Chamundi Hill

One of the places we wanted to visit was one of the 8 sacred mountains in India – called Chamundi Hill, just outside Mysore. we jumped on a local bus and took the drive up to the top. we feel quite at home in temple complexes now so we shed our shoes, got some offerings and joined the others who made the same pilgrimage.

Some history from the web: Chamundi’s main hill features a long stone stairway leading to the top of the hill. There are 1,180 steps in all, with the first 600 steps being steeper than those higher up. En route to the top, the steps pass the large statue of Nandi the bull; the statue is about 16 feet high and 25 feet in length. Nandi is the vahana (vehicle) of Lord Shiva. This Nandi is over 15 feet high, and 24 feet long. Local monarch directed the steps’ creation in 1664 and the installation of the statue of Nandi.

According to legend, the demon Mahishasura, king of the area that is currently Mysore, was killed by the Goddess Chamundeswari (also Chamundi) after a fierce battle. The hills are named after the goddess, and a temple honors her. The temple has a beautiful idol of the goddess. Chamundeeswari, or Durga is the fierce form of Shakti who vanquished the demon Mahishasuran.

BELOW: here is Kelley and Joseph are getting their thread-like ‘bracelet’ and mark on the forehead (tilak)  from on of the priests you can see lined up outside the temple.

part of the lure of this temple is that there is a carved statue of Nandi (Shiva’s companion) about halfway back down the mountain. there are 1000 steps that can be walked so we walked down. on the face of one of the steps was a small pictured tile and offering….

Here is Nandi in all his glory.  you can see how big he is by the people standing in front.

Travel to Mysore

We travelled from Pondicherry to Mysore – about 450 km in a rented car. the trip was by far the best road trip we have had in India. (We are definitely getting more experienced in what to ask for, what to make sure happens and doesn’t happen, etc.). Mysore is in central India on the Deccan Plateau. It is cooler than anywhere we’ve been in the south and it is also drier. we are drinking lots of water to help our bodies adjust to this phenomenon. we  read in the newspaper that Karnataka (the state we are in) is experiencing record breaking cold spell – a low of 8 degrees! (celsius)

On our 8 hour drive from Pondicherry to Mysore we saw Arunchual – the mountain where Shiva turned himself into a beam of light to stop an argument between Vishnu and Brahma. There is a wonderful story to go along with this event and it is a revered place of pilgrimage – surrounded by ashrams and shrines and temples.

we passed miles of granite quarries – big trucks coming out onto the road with massive slabs of granite on their long beds. we could see the seams of granite being cut off the mountain sides. these pieces are shipped to towns and cities where carvers will be hammered and chiselled them into temple idols, gods and goddesses.

we arrived on festival weekend – harvest and bounty being celebrated. the cows are given a turmeric bath and their horns are gaily painted and hung with bells.

David and Jospeh grill the spices vendor about the quality and grades of the cardmon, tumeric, cinnamon and black pepper. they enjoyed tasting the wares for freshness and of course everyone enjoyed the conversation that goes along with the stop at his street  ‘shop’.

In front of every temple or shrine is someone selling flowers and/or coconuts to offer. this was a beautiful selection in front of a tiny streetside shrine that is just to the left of Joseph’s elbow in the last picture.

Scenes & Stories from Pondicherry

Our last week in Pondicherry was spent purely enjoying all the things we love most about it.  and there are many!

First of all – the eating!  Two things factor hugely in our choices of where to eat in Pondicherry. One – we have been in India for a loooong time (at least 300 meals!) and although we thoroughly enjoy Indian food – a change is nice! And two – Pondicherry as a former French colony and has a huge population of French residents plus thousands of French tourists. This means lots of opportunity to enjoy French cuisine.  One of our favorite places to eat last time was the Banana Cafe and we were delighted to find it was still there. The budding chef has practiced his craft with diligence for the last three years and we really enjoyed the results. The owner recognized Joseph and they  continued their previous discussion on Baal singing from the Bengal region. We had aubergine gratin, leek potato gratin with freshly grated beets and carrots with perfect light dressing. the atmosphere in the courtyard was pleasant and we enjoyed many conversations with other patrons from tables nearby.

Then someone took us to Baker St -a real French bakery. ohhhh – we ate there each remaining day – enjoying quiches, fresh salads, mouth watering flaky croissants, lots of real chocolate treats and David even ate an entire (small) carton of Hagen Daz icecream. and each meal – less than $5. (except the Hagen Daz which was the equivalent to more than one night’s’ hotel fee)

As we strolled the promenade along the sea every evening we enjoyed fresh cut pineapple and freshly roasted peanuts.

Although David and Kelley had been swimming in the sea, I had not – as there is no beach in Pondicherry – just the rock breakwater. so one day we had an outing. The three of us jumped into a rickshaw and said we wanted to go to Auroville Beach. The driver said he knew of a nicer beach and after much negotiation, hand waving and a few words of English tossed in – we agreed to go there. It was beautiful – totally deserted except a couple of picturesque fishing boats. the waves were good – enough to toss us around, but not injure us! A couple of boys walked by and one jumped in with us, which is unusual as we have rarely seen Indians do more than wet their toes. And in the usual India way, he swam right along with us – although, of course, the whole beach is empty as far as the eye can see. But we have become used to this and chatted with him and enjoyed ourselves at the same time. we came back salty, wet and sun kissed!

at our last night in one of our favorite eating places (fresh salads, ratatouille, felafels) the woman who worked there every night made a comment to us as we left. she said “I can see you have a very happy family. it is good to see such good feelings – especially between the mother (me) and the daughter-in-law (Kelley). This is not so usual in India”. we thanked her for sharing her perceptions as it was very open and frank. and we remembered how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy each other’s company without the heavy obligations  of familial restrictions and expected/governed roles and behaviors.

Wise words to live by…….

In front of one of the most prestigious hotels in Pondicherry………..

walking on the promendade…….young men and women stay very close to each other – even when there is lots of room. it works great when you live in a land with so many people.

relaxing in an outdoor eatery

a beautiful sunset from our balcony window. wow – am i ever going to miss these!

this is Lakshmi the temple elephant who blesses anyone and everyone – with a gentle tap on the head. i got my blessing last time we were here and i can still feel the solidity and the softness.

i purchased about 20 small hand-made bags from these young women who take old saris and piece them together to make beautiful, colourful bags of all sizes. I enjoyed lively interaction with 3 diffferent women, spreading out the sales.