One more story from the south – Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu

When invited to accompany Jennie to the most southern tip of India, where you can watch the sun set and moon rise simultaneously, Jaspreet and I responded with a ‘hell yeah’ and jumped on the first available train back to Trivandrum.

What does one do at the most southern tip of India?
Holy blunder – Upon reaching the most southern tip of India, Jaspreet eagerly steps down the stairs to dip her feet in the water of this popular pilgrimage point. As she’s a couple of steps away from toeing the sea, she slips backwards and respectfully, without even an ‘oh shit’, lands half in, half out, of the water with a splat, dipping her feet, arse and back in where the Arabian sea, the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean meet. Being a bloopers fan and having an optimum view from the top of the stairs, I thought this was hilarious, but managed an ashram like ‘Are you ok?’ before bursting into a fit of laughter. I may have even clapped and slapped my thigh a couple of times. How many other people can say they’ve fallen arse first into the most southern tip of India?

Introduction to Gulab Jamun (a sweet fried balls desert) – A local delicacy of spunge bread balls deep-fried and doused in syrup, visually displeasing, in only the way two dirty brown balls can be, but absolutely delicious!

The ‘Aum’ prayer room – It took almost 2 hours waiting in line, with hundreds of pilgrims in intense heat, just to catch a two-minute ferry ride to the Kanyakumari temple island. Fortunately, the island had an ‘Aum Room’- a silent dark meditation room the size of a large study, with a single green glowing Om symbol and a tranquil audio repeatedly ‘Auming’ in time with your breath. I instantly fell into a meditational peace, which was miraculous considering how agitated I felt after such a long, crowded, and sweaty line up – Definitely one for the Sivananda suggestion box!

Be wary of so-called ‘guides’ that hang out at the tourist sites, memorials and temples.

A local man wearing what could be considered staff attire greets you on entrance and immediately starts stating the popular facts. You won’t understand what is was being said through heavy accents and bad grammar, or you may already know the history (who hasn’t watched the movie Gandhi?), however being a polite individual, you will stand there patiently and allow him to finish his talk, which will eventually end with a sorrowful piece about the tsunami, a bit about his family and how many children he has, and a request for money (In that order.)

And he may even attempt to steal your LED torch.

Day 3 – Cherai Beach – The adventures of Jaspreet & T

Cherai beach is listed in the Lonely Planet as the best kept secret of Cochin, just 26km from Fort Cochin. With this in mind, Jaspreet and I booked ourselves into the Cherai Beach Resort which from their website looked like a paradise right on the beach.

The traditionally styled hut was beautifully built into the earth with a high roof, and well placed on the backwater lagoons so one could literally lean out of the bedroom window and feed the fish.

There was also a tree growing through the hut. It was fabulous!

The night brought on monsoon rains which kept all but two guests in the safety of their huts. Being the food motivated, courageous, people we are, Jaspreet and I braved it through the monsoon, fighting our way through 200 metres of thick and heavy rain, strong winds, lightning, and flooded walkways, to the resort restaurant in time for the buffet dinner.

Day at Cherai beach
The beach was not the protective cove envisioned, there was no time to rest and relax between shielding and defending ourselves verbally and visually from the local men who positioned themselves high on the rocks behind us, the ultimate predatory viewing position, and from the men who would deliberately walk past, slowing down to near stand still and gawk, and to the men who wanted to take pictures with us. As Jennie said ‘taking a photo with them means you’re their girlfriend’.

It was this day that I perfected my ‘stay away from me’ death stare.

Day 2 – Backwater tours – The adventures of Jaspreet & T

We joined a 7 hour backwater tour on a house boat with a deck large enough to cater for the 10 tourist on-board. The scenery of coconut tree covered islands and rivers filtered with canoes catching mussels and chinese fishing nets was very pretty. My first move was to whip out the camera, which wouldn’t switch on, and after 15 minutes of wishing hateful shit on Olympus, I finally asked a nice Malaysian man with a 2 foot long impressive looking lens if he could kindly send me some of his photo’s.

Our tour guide, Srijiv (or something like that) was a funny little fellow, very informative but would end every sentence by repeating the last word questioningly, with a slightly confused look on his face, seeking assurance that he had indeed selected the last word correctly. It was a great way of engaging his audience, though it did make us question whether he knew what he was talking about.

Srijiv prided himself in being an uncertified Ayurvedic practitioner, grabbing each girl (only the girls mind you) by the wrist, and informing us of our health issues.

Srijiv to Jaspreet – ‘You have a problem from here to here’ gesturing between her right knee to her right ankle

Jaspreet – ‘Well, I do have a big cut on my left shin’ displays a deep cut on her left leg

Everyone raises an eyebrow – sure, he picked the right leg instead of the left leg, but at least he chose the legs region correctly.

Srijiv, to T holding her wrist in concentration, then finally saying – ‘I’m too embarrassed to say your problem out loud’

T, curious – ‘Can you at least tell me what area its in’ thinking it must be in the neck but wondering why that would cause any kind of shame.

Srigiv – ‘It’s in this area’ indicates between under my belly button to the top of my thighs.

T, quietly to Jaspreet – ‘Great. It seems I have a problem with my vagina’

Exploring Kerala – The adventures of Jaspreet & T

Fort Cochin had come highly recommended with descriptive terms like ‘ visual retreat’, ‘beautiful’, ‘the main city of Kerala’, and a ‘cauldron of diverse cultures’ which lead to my high expectation.

Day one – Checking out the streets of Fort Cochin
Our first morning in Fort Cochin found us wading through the main strip of town knee-deep in flood water, carrying our shoes, and moving at a pace of .0002 seconds per km.

We make it to Jew town, a main attraction of Fort Cochin, with mud splashes all up our legs and arse, but it was ok, it suited the dusty, muddy, environment. Unfortunately, being a Friday, jew town was closed, making it a ghost town instead of the impressive line up of handicrafts and antique stores expected.

The effort came with the very dedicated rickshaw drivers/sales men, who kept cutting us off by parking their rickshaws right in our path, stopping us in our tracks to try to convince us that we should ‘do them a favour’ by letting them take us to a ‘government run’ art gallery (smell commission anyone?)

Rickshaw driver /salesman – ‘You need to understand, if I can take you to the gallery, I will get a free T-Shirt’

I fell for that line in Bali buddy, its wasn’t going to happen india.

Only in India – Currency sweets

Coming back in the evening to Fort Cochin, a small portuguese heritage town described as the ‘main city’ of Kerala, after a full day of beautiful backwater tours, we stop off at the local corner shop to stock up on water and nibblies.

This modern-day market was run by a middle-aged local Indian couple, she was on the computer register and he was at the cash register.

The screen showed 122 rupees owed. I hand over 125 rupees, to which her husband hands me back 3 Milkyway lollies.

T – ‘Erm, it’s meant to be 3 rupees in change?’

Corner shop man smiles serenely with a slight head wobble and states cheerfully in a voice that sung – ‘No change’

T, in slight shock, realised his cash register was actually a jar full of lollies –
‘You have no change?’

Corner shop man, with a toothy smile so wide it made his eyes tiny, repeats himself with a very upbeat –‘No change’ Then points to the 3 milkyway lollies he had handed me as currency – ‘Good health to you!’

There was no arguing with this kind of logic.

I kept the 3 lollies with the rest of my change, some lucky waiter was going to get a super tip tonight.

Kovalam Beach – Karma terror

If there was ever a place to ‘de-cult’, Kovalam beach was it. Kovalam Beach is a small touristy beach town, in the south state of Kerala only 15km out from Trivandrum. The beach is filled with volcanic black sand, fishermen, cafe’s, boutiques, and local salesmen who remember who you are, where you are going and what you have promised, Or should have promised to buy.

We booked ourselves into the Beach Hotel, which had 6 rooms directly on the beach boardwalk, where we could stare out to sea contemplating all that had happened and what it all meant.

Jennie, over her birthday dinner that night ‘I’m thinking of going back’

T – ‘I suggest you suit up and go armed with DEET.’ (the strongest bug repellant known to mankind)

That night, leaving dinner at a charming restaurant called Fusion early, I walk back to the hotel alone in the dark. There were a few comments from local Indian men that I chose to ignore, but overall I felt very safe.

Jaspreet enters our room only 15 minutes after me and we immediately start gas-bagging about our families, life interests, dreams, and the usual girly talk. Around 11pm we hear a wolf whistle come from outside but resonate clearly in our room. We pause for a second, then ignore, and continue our gossip session.

Ten minutes later we hear the whistle again, this time it sounds closer, clearer, like it’s coming from right outside our window. We pause for longer, and tense, but decide it’s just some idiot in front of the hotel, and not particularly aimed at us.

More talking. The whistle sounds again, this time on the other side of the room coming from our back window.

Jaspreet and I freeze. Creeped out, we pull our knees into our chest, sit deadly still, and listen for any clues to what this ghostly whistler was doing.

Whistle again at the back window

T, whispering – ‘I am NOT going outside to see who it is. I’ve watched enough horror movies to know that that’s how it all goes wrong.’

Jaspreet, fearfully as we huddle close together, too scared to move around the room –‘It makes you realise how protected we were at the Ashram’

We bravely crawl out of bed and stealthily check all the locks and bars, creeping low to the ground trying to decide what heavy furniture to push up against the door, but too scared to look directly out of the windows or make any noise.

Jaspreet – ‘I don’t want them to know there are only 2 girls in here’ blows her nose loudly like a foghorn

T – ‘Good idea’ following Jaspreets lead, does several manly, chesty, coughs.’If anything happens, I’ll grab the chair and you can use the clay vase’

Another whistle comes again from the front window. The creep was moving from our front to back windows, whistling and looking in.

We stay under the bed sheet, horrified, our eyes pinned to the triple-locked door in terror, wondering how much this person could see through the filtered window blinds.

Jaspreet – ‘That’s the thing about India, when the lights go down, the creeps come out.’

I wondered if this was ashram karma for initiating a mass exodus(?)

The next day I had a word to the very apologetic hotel manager who promised to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.

The Great Ashram Escape

A couple of days into the ashram I mentioned to Jaspreet that I was thinking of leaving early to explore Kerala – The rest was history. By the end of that same day we had decided to leave on the 20th September.

On the 19th, while cleaning up after dinner, Misha finds me and asks ‘ Are you guys still leaving tomorrow for Kovalam Beach?’

T – ‘sure are!’

Misha – ‘I’m coming with you’

As Jaspreet and I are in the internet room trying to book our accommodation for Kovalam Beach, Jennie pokes her head in the room,‘There you two are, book 2 rooms, I’m coming with you’ and displays her freshly mosquito bitten foot.

That night I was feeling good, satisfied with everything experienced from the ashram. It had been my birthday today and after singing me happy birthday at Satsung, the ashram kindly presented me with a gift, a yoga living book.

In my room, I see a trail of ants crawling up the walls. Instinctively, I use my new yoga book and start beating the ants, aiming and repeatedly slamming the book down with all my might, crushing and imprinting the ants against the wall.

Jennie, watching me calmly from her seat across the room, softly narrates – ‘And on the last night there was a massacre…’

By the morning of the 20th, a group of 10 had made the decision to exit the ashram early and head to Kovalam beach. Considering there were only about 50 guest to start with, this was a sizable group.

T, worried –‘I hope they don’t think I said anything bad. I actually had a good experience.’

Jaspreet – ‘I’m sure they don’t, but lets all check out at different times’

We all met at Kovalam beach, smokers smoking, meat eaters eating meat and everyone drinking beer.

Jennie, to one of the locals – ‘ We’d like to sing you a song’

Everyone starts singing the 25 verse Sivananda daily chant that we had been made to sing twice a day, every day, at the ashram.

‘Jaya Ganesha jaya ganesha jaya ganesha pahimaan. Shree ganesha shree ganesha shree ganesha rakshimaan..’

We simultaneously stop and go quiet after only the first line, of the first verse, while the little old Indian lady waits expectantly for the rest of the song.

Jennie, surprised, explains to the lady – ‘ Sorry, that’s all we’ve learnt.’

8 days in an ashram.

Ashram highlights

Lectures about not eating meat or dairy, or at least severely cutting down – This encouraged a group discussion after class about how much the meat and dairy eaters missed burgers, ice cream and cheese. And wine.

The oil and herb bundle massage at the Ashram – Imagine being marinated and tenderized, beat down with herb bundles, by an Indian lady wearing a cooking apron, while laying naked on a life-size wooden chopping board next to a stove.

Free Fridays – Fridays were free days where we got to go beyond the ashram and visit the neighboring towns. After what looked like a losing battle with a gang of rickshaw drivers, a bus pulled into town and a fast decision was made to jump on. The next scene was straight out of a Benny Hill episode as the 5 of us ran round and round the bus looking for the entry.

Blocked –
My digestive system stopped working in protest to the vegetarian diet. This lasted for 8 days.

Greed, hope and desire – are the enemies of inner peace. Not that we should be hopeless, just aware of the present without putting expectation on the future. It’s about the practice, not the outcome. The journey, not the goal.

Mosquito’s– Were eating Jennie and I alive (Jennie more) and we now looked like guest in a skin disease clinic rather than an Ashram and had become actively involved in chasing and exterminating anything with more than 2 legs that didn’t have a tail.

Talent show – Yes, there was an ashram talent show. On principle, I refused to participate in the talent show because I have no talent. My fondest and funniest memory from the talent show is when the Irish girls were getting the audience to separate into 2 dancing lines in preparation for some Gaelic dancing. I turned to Pablo, a young man from Spain and asked ‘Want to be my dancing partner?’, to which he responds a seriously ‘Nope’.

The Lake Sadhu

One particularly hot afternoon, Lena, Jennie, Jaspreet and I decided to skip asana class and go for a swim in the lake right next door to the Ashram. At the lake, we see a sadhu, an Indian holy man who spends his life walking all over India from ashram to ashram, swimming with 3 other ashram guest who looked extremely uncomfortable and had grouped closely together in the water.

The Sadhu had a crazy look, you know, when you look really really really happy? And had a more crazy laugh, a totally uninhibited laugh that carried with the wind. It was not how we were used to seeing a sadhu, who are normally quiet and usually like to be alone.

This Sadhu looked around 40, had burn scars all over his body, was high on the green, and was quite happy to interact with the people. Us people.

Jennie – ‘Right. since our man’s here I’m going to go straight in’ walks into the lake fully clothed from wrist to ankle

Madina, who had already been in the lake when we got there was waiting for the Sadhu to leave as she only had a shirt and swimming bottoms on. Unfortunately, it looked like the sadhu was waiting for her to get out.

Lena and I sat on the shore nervously as the sadhu tried to explain himself to us. Firstly, he was a Sadhu, showing us his sadhu ID card that was hanging around his neck in case we had any doubts. Secondly, he had traveled many places in India, displaying his little scrapbook where he had drawn dotted colourful Indian deities and listed cities, and thirdly, did we want a smoke?

Normally, I would think it quite rude refusing to have a smoke with a holy man. But this holy man did have an air of madness around him, with a slight hint of sleaze on the side.

We politely but firmly refused (4 times). The sadhu was disappointed – we were no fun.

Before he left, his message was loud and clear as he turned to the lake, arms up high and victorious as he shouts‘ ENJOY ENJOY ENJOY!’

Signs to stay – Ashram life

My exit plan was delayed with the broken ashram internet connection. Besides that, I had woken up with a new attitude. Really, there was nothing hard about staying in an ashram. I just had to slow down.

I get back to my room after the daily lecture to find that I have a new roomie

Jennie, a British forensic scientist who had just come from a conference in Sydney, was a Godsend to me. She’s a spiritual seeker, smart, and has a great sense of humour, which was a necessity with some of the ashram inappropriate jokes that were flying out of my mouth.

Jennie – ‘I ate a bacon sandwich this morning’

T – ‘Watch out, they’ll smell it on you’

It seemed the mosquito’s could smell it on her, and they loved it, giving Jennie many welcoming bites on her first day. Jennie had no problems exterminating mosquito’s and ants, or switching her natural repellant to chemical, she was a Virgo with a birthday the day after mine. It was perfect.

Jennie – ‘Amma (the famous female hugging Guru) came to london and my spiritual friend and I got tickets to see her. We thought we’d have some Indian for dinner then get our hug. Easy. It wasn’t until 7am in the morning, after spending the night on the auditorium floor, did we get our hug. And by that time I was really irritated thinking ‘this better be some hug’.. And it was – she hugged me and everything was instantly good, there was an energy about her. She’s a very special lady.’

T – ‘Did she say anything to you?’

Jennie – ‘Before she hugged me she said ‘Maradona’, which is the Argentinian footballer. I thought that was weird but then I got a hug and decided to forget the Maradona bit.’

Previous Older Entries