Thursday, December 17, 2009

10lbs In Two Hours - Mysore, Karnataka

First thing Jen and I did in Mysore was sign up for a 8 day Ashtanga yoga course. Ashtanga yoga is a series of postures (asanas) that are linked by a dynamic movement called the vinyasa. Emphasis is put on combining movement to breath and the journey between the asanas, not just the postures themselves. I've only done a handful of yoga classes back home and was excited for the opportunity to practice yoga in Mysore, the birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga.

My excitement quickly faded during the first class. Ashtanga is generally a self directed form of yoga in which you go through the series on your own with occasional adjustments from the instructor. I knew only a few asanas and quickly lost my way. The instruction from Ajay Kumar was very abrupt and firm with painfully deep adjustments. The cramped shala held 20 practitioners during class leaving little room for my usual theatrics. I easily lost 10lbs of water from the copious amount of sweating you do. It is definitely a rigorous two hour workout for strength, flexibility and calmness of mind. After the session I thought to myself, "F**k this noise! I'm out."

Once I got over my initial reaction I decided to hang in there. To my surprise I loved every moment there after and was shocked to see how far I progressed in eight short days. It was an amazing way to start the day. I was disappointed when it ended and wish I could have stayed for a month.I 'm looking forward to making this a part of my day we I get back home.

Mysore as a city has some amazing sights: Mysore Palace, Mysore Zoo, Chamundeshari Temple on Chamundi Hill and the boisterous market. Even though I enjoyed all of these excursions, the Ashtanga Yoga is by far the highlight of the city and even the country.

"Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind. "

Saturday, December 12, 2009

They're Dressed Better Than Me - Bangalore, Karnataka

With 7 million people roaming Bangalore, it has all the hazards you would expect: stifling traffic, choking smog, copious amounts of touts and expensive rooms. On the other hand it also offered many creature comforts we missed: real coffee, good restaurants, wide range of shops (including a Lacoste store, still expensive) and bowling.

Matt's friend Monique arrive in Bangalore to make our group four and the next night we embarked on a "regular" night out that included a nice dinner and two games of bowling. To make things more interesting we agreed that the person with the lowest bowling score had to dance in the middle of the bowling alley for twenty seconds. Amid the hectic lanes and thundering techno music Monique was true to her word and put on quite a show.

Monique wasn't the only one that stood out. To immerse ourselves into Indian culture Matt and I decided to grow mustaches, as is the style here (I'm pretty sure it was Matt's idea). The day before arriving in Bangalore we shaved our goatees and beards to reveal two glorious symbols of manhood. The agreement was to keep the mustaches for one week. To our disappointment we discovered that Bangalore men are much more modern in their style and opt to look good instead of ridiculous like the rest of India. Once again we stuck out from the crowd. Even westerners gave us funny looks. Most people dress quite nicely and that definitely enhanced my dirty backpacker look. The only thing I was missing was some patchouli oil.

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha "
Jen Allen

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is This The Rocky Horror Picture Show?!?

I've been to three movies now, and although the movies themselves have been sub-par, each outing has definitely been an event. Going to the movies in India can be completely annoying or completely hilarious depending on your mood. So far, for me, it's been the latter.

The event begins as one would expect by buying your tickets for the show. Once accomplished you are directed to wait outside in the street amongst a herd of people comprised almost entirely of men. Five minutes before the movie is about to start a hand is waved and the stampede begins. You get carried into the theater by the rush of people as if there were only on seat and all else had to sit on the floor. Seconds later, after throwing as many elbows as catching, you're in the theater and realize that every ticket has a seat number on it. The only thing that came to mind was "What the f#%@!"

Taking our seats I had no problem seeing over all the people in front of me as south Indian men are surprisingly short. Waiting for the movie to start I begin to wonder why the screen looked so odd. Ahhhh! Of course. Tis no screen, but a cement wall painted white... kinda. With the movie starting I'm noticing that it's a little louder that at home, no wait, a lot louder. When things start exploding I realize that the loudest scenes here are twice as loud as they are at home. Soon all four of us have ripped our ticket stubs in half and jammed them in our ears. With the ticket stubs not curbing the sonic onslaught I soon jam a finger in each ear to give them respite.

As if the movie wasn't loud enough, during one scene the hero is close to being caught in an explosion and the audience is cheering him on. When it looked like he wouldn't make it (sigh), he would at the last minute stave off death to the raucous cheers of the audience. Predictably, when the villain appeared on screen people would boo. If there was a song playing during a scene, people would whistle to the beat of the song. So weird. The only thing missing was toast, rice and cross-dressing.

With cell phones ringing, people talking and ears bleeding, my friends looked annoyed and ready to go, and this was only fifteen minutes into the movie. Good thing the movie is two hours long. Even though I would be swearing like a sailor and storming out of the theater if this happened at home, somehow I found it amusing and most entertaining here.

"Are you sh#%ing me?!?"
Adrian Dujc

Friday, November 20, 2009

South Tibet.. I Mean India - Bylakuppe, Karnataka

In 1959 when China first marched into Tibet, thousands of Tibetan refugees settled in Bylakuppe where the Indian government gifted them 1200 hectares of land. This was the first of many Tibetan settlements in India. Since then three monasteries, schools, nunneries, and one of the largest Buddhist universities, Sera Monastic University have been built. To stay in Bylakuppe you need to obtain a permit from Delhi. We however managed to find a guest house near Sera Jey Monastery that was willing to bypass that formality.

The first night we arrived to Bylakuppe we went out for a bite to eat and happened upon Sera Jey Monastery where we were fortunate enough to witness evening prayers. 400 Buddhist monks chanting in unison in an open air hall penetrating the night air. We all listen and watched for the next 45 minutes without a word being said. The next day wondering around I unexpectedly found myself swimming upstream as hundreds of yellow and maroon clad monks exited a monastery. Can you drown in cotton? On our final day we managed to stumble upon 12 or so groups of 30 monks debating. This is done by yelling, pushing and slapping one hand on top of the other with force. It looked so bizarre, like dancing monks.

One of the highlights of this town has to be the awe-inspiring Golden Temple. As soon as you step inside your eyes are immediately draw to the three gargantuan golden Buddha statues that dominate the room. Once your astonishment has finally passed you will find immense colorful paintings depicting gods and demons from Buddhist mythology, piercing red columns with bright dragons and flowers carved into them and candles and incense burning at the alters. I felt very humbled next to these colossal Buddhas, but I guess that's the point.

Once again we have managed to find a place that feels out of India. With hardly any Indians, monks everywhere, and a town that is the cleanest Ive seen here, it really is a piece of pre-occupied Tibet in South India. I only wish I had more time to get to know the people.

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
Dalai Lama

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is This India? - Varkala, Kerala

With the red rock cliffs protecting the beach from the bedlam of India and the abounding choice of exceptional restaurants perched above, Varkala was the perfect transition from the far too short houseboat trip in Alleppey. Varkala is definitely the most tourist laden place we've been to. I haven't seen this many white people since I left all of you. In a sense, you're not really in India.

The food in India has been erratic in quality thus far but Varkala offered variation and excellence. In the evening as you walk along the the cliff side all the restaurants have a large table in front with all the fresh whole fish they've acquired that day. Stopping at one restaurant we chose a large snapper to be done in Tandoori style. The fish came gutted but whole baked with spices. The skin was crisp and spiced perfectly with the flesh moist and delectable. Definitely one on the best pieces of fish I've ever had.

On the second day I bought a frisbee. and with disc in hand we headed to the beach for a little fun in the sun. After flinging the frisbee around for a couple minutes we notice that three Indians had accumulated off to one side to watch us. Noticing their curiosity I threw the frisbee in their direction. A mad scramble ensued as they vied for positioning on the disc. After a few moments someone snatched the frisbee from the sand and raised it victoriously followed by a haphazard throw towards nothing. It seemed that every couple minutes more and more Indians came to join the tomfoolery. Jen, Matt and myself were in the three corners of the square spacing with ten Indian men ocuppying the fourth point of the square. Now we had a gaggle of men climbing over each other to get at the blue foreign disc. It was like watching ten eight-year-olds experiencing something for the first time. They were so full of wonderment, enthusiasm and vim. Absolutely hilarious.

By the third day we thoroughly fell in love with Varkala and rued purchasing our train tickets in advance. Now, with just one day left we wanted to make the best of it. We rented body boards and headed out to the surf. Early on I caught a favorable wave and road it all the way to shore for what was a glorious ride. For the next hour I battled waves as they crash down on me and fruitlessly tried to speculate where the next big wave was going to be. Growing increasingly haggard I became somewhat frustrated with this activity. Then, just before I had to return the board, I managed to catch one final wave to shore and my jubilation spiked once more. With raw nipples I turned in my board and lied in the sand for a much deserved rest in the sun.

"In between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed."
Sid Caesar

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Noise? What Noise? - Alleppy, Kerala

With much deliberation we decided to rent a houseboat on the Alleppey Backwaters last week. By far our most expensive excursion to date at $50 for the three of us for 22 hours.
The Backwater network consists of 900kms of waterways that fringe the coast and retreat far inland. No one knew quite what to expect but we were definitely not disappointed.

We first headed out to the coast and then quickly withdrew inland. Initially the canals were quite wide and had large tracts of rice fields beside them. As we made our way further inland the palm-laden canals began to narrow and village life began to emerge. Soon simple houses, schools, temples and shops lined the canals. Some of the settlements are located on meters wide spits of land only slightly wider than the houses they support. The walkways ranged from traditional cement to meter high mounds of earth reminiscent of the snowbanks I would walk on as a child. Many villagers still use traditional boats that enlist a large pole for propulsion to commute up and down the canals. There were even kids playing cricket on what I can only imagine to be a very frustratingly narrow field.

It was so peaceful and relaxing just floating down the canals. It was a nice change from all the dirt, pollution and noise of the cities. I loved watching the backwater life scroll by. The women washing cloths in the canal, kids playing (losing yet another cricket ball) and men preparing simple narrow boats for fishing.

Our houseboat was in the fashion of a kettuvallam (rice barge) that was modest in size. There where much smaller barges that were able to get to the narrower canals and barges that where two story opulent monstrosities. We had a Captain, engineer and cook aboard who were all extremely pleasant and warm. It felt a little odd being doted on, especially when you're used to being a dirty backpacker. The food was by far the best Indian cuisine we've had thus far. All three meals were extremely satisfying and enough to feed four or five people. I still can't figure out how our chef prepared the abundance of quality food in a kitchen that was maybe two square meters large.I wanted to watch him prepare a meal but I would have had to hang from the outside watching in.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Who Will Be There?

Some of my favorite episodes in India are the ones that involve odd english phrasing. One day at lunch Matt wanted to order a veggie sandwich but was unsure of which veggies the sandwich would contain. Upon asking, the server responded with, "Tomato will be there... cucumber will be there... and carrot will be there." All with a pleasant smile and a wobble of the head. It was as if he was listing off a guest list.

It's the small things in life.

Not For All The Tea In Munnar - Munnar, Kerala

Adoring the Western Ghats tremendously, we decide to travel to Munnar on the other side of the mountains. Munnar is only 235km away, yet it takes three buses and 8 hours to get there. I really do prefer taking the train.

Munnar is another small town in the mountains that proved to be even more stunning than Kodaikanal. Almost every foot of hillside is covered in tea shrubs and sprinkled with trees covered in orange and red blossoms. The assorted hues of green and patterns of the tea shrubs make for an ever changing backdrop to the bus ride up. This is the India I've been waiting for.

My favorite part of Munnar was hiring a rickshaw and going to Top Station, a station post on the boarder of Kerala and Tamil Nadu 39kms away. The scenery is tremendous. The sheer amount of tea that is grown here is overwhelming. The start of the trip started on a slightly irritating note as our rickshaw driver incessantly tried to sell us on other sight-seeing packages even though this one had just begun. He finally settled down after about an hour or so. Then, as Matt was asking questions about his rickshaw the driver suddenly offered his rickshaw for us to drive. Matt jumped at the chance with me slightly hesitant at first. Once I learned to shift gears I was on my way driving us up to Top Station. It was fantastic! My uneasiness faded as the road was quite vacant. This was a good thing as vehicles come within inches of each other and people here. My hearts not strong enough for that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Retreat! Retreat! - Kadaikanal, Tamil Nadu

With Matt feeling under the weather and the punishing 35 degree heat taking its toll on all, we decide to retreat to the mountains of the Western Ghats. Two buses, heaps of uncertainty, a friendly Tamil and five hours later we arrive in Kodaikanal. Everything in India seems to be a crap shoot, sometimes literally.

Kodaikanal is a small town that sits at 2100 meters surrounded by lush deciduous forest. With it's 35,000 inhabitants, pleasant 25 degree temperature and large cloverleaf lake, all three of us felt better as soon as we exited the bus.

After having the best Masala tea to date, Jen and I headed off on a 16km round trip hike to Pillar Rock. At about the 6km mark we came to Green Valley view, a beautiful view point of the overlapping mountains. Unfortunately, between the thick thick fog obstructing the view and the legion of tourists, this seems to be a fruitless intermission to the hike. The saving grace were the numerous macaque monkeys all around. I became very enthusiastic and begun to take a plethora of photos. No more than 5 minutes into watching the monkeys, one of the them started to growl at Jen, then another stole a little girls snack and yet another pilfered a water bottle. My love of monkeys fades slightly.

Within two more kilometers we came upon Pillar Rock, two towering 400 foot slab giants standing shoulder to shoulder watching over Green Valley. Lightly draped in mist the rocks took on a poetic scene. This was definitely worth the 8km hike. No sooner do we get to the view point, I notice the area peppered with macaque monkeys and become slightly concerned. These, however, are very docile and almost posing for the tourist paparazzi snapping away at them. Some parents even position their children within inches of the monkeys. I often think that parents are more foolish than their children.

With an already long day behind us we begin the long walk back to town. Once well out of the range of the monkeys, I open a much deserved snack of peanuts. I'm no more than halfway through my snack that I see a monkey 30 feet away charging at me full steam. While I remember the macaque being the size of a VW Golf, Jen maintains that it was no bigger than a medium size dog. Never-the-less, I know he wants my ever so tasty peanuts. Thinking quickly I put the peanuts in my pocket. Damn, no change in trajectory or speed. With only about 7 feet remaining between the monkey and myself I throw the peanuts to the side and with them the monkey follows.

I hate monkeys.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Madurai is a city of 1.19 million people and it feels like they've all come to see you once you step off the train. There is the constant presence of someone behind you here as all sense of personal space must have disappeared a millennia ago. Just when I though we traded in one teeming, hot, polluted city for another, two wonderful things happened; Sri Meenakshi Temple and Diwali.

The Sri Meenakshi Temple rises from the city like a towering reminder of the enduring spiritualality of India. It occupies six hectares with 12 gopurams (towers) of varying sizes with the 4 main towers elevating up to 50 meters. The towers themselves are breathtakingly beautiful. Each is intricately craved and a kaliedoscope of color. I'm pretty sure Matt and Jen grew weary of my constant photo taking.

The interior of the temple is just as magnificent as the gopurams outside. Detailed deity sculptures, intensely colorful ceiling paintings and an elephant blessing people combine to instantly burn this moment to memory. Hundreds of worshipers light candles and put colored ash on the deities as tribute as you try not to get in their way while you're the typical tourist snapping pictures.

Diwali (Festival of Lights) is a five day festival where Indians celebrate the victory of good over evil, Lord Raamas's defeat of Ravana. Unbeknown to us, we arrived on the first day of Diwali and there seemed to be little fanfare towards this festival or so we thought. By sheer coincidence we ended up on a rooftop restaurant for dinner. As we sat there ordering our food, there seemed to be a couple fireworks going off with plenty of firecrackers going off on in the streets below. Before we knew it the entire sky was lit up by fireworks. No matter which way I turned my head there were explosions of light 360 degrees around me. This city wide effort went on for 2-3 hours. I'd never seen such an event. It was as if the city of Madurai was on fire.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hot, Dirty, Beautiful

The first couple days in India definitely took some getting used to. All three of us fell victim to sunstroke to some degree and the food doesn't always play nice. I think I'm fairing the best in that department.

The cities are intensely busy. It's a constant struggle vying for a spot in the compressed streets where you won't get run over by a rickshaw, motorbike or bus. In Trichy, even at two in the morning it was ridiculously active. All night long you could here the relentless sounds of traffic people, and car horns. Garbage is strewn everywhere and street touts constantly hound you. Just when you're starting to think, "Why the hell did I come here?" You have a cup of chai, see the Sri Meenakshi Temple or a complete stranger with very little english helps you when you are completely lost.

Hot, dirty, beautiful........

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alive And Well

Well.... 5 countries, 4 planes, 12,728 Km and 47 hours later I've arrived in the small city of Trichy. By small I mean 850,000 people. You know, rustic.

It's very warm, humid and dirty here. The food is good except that I'm usually not in the mood for curry in the morning. On the up side everything is really cheap. Our room cost us $3/person/night. Food is usually $1/meal. Money goes along way.

You can call the search off, Ive found the mustache captial of the world!!! I think I've seen three men not have a mustache. I'm half expecting to turn the corner and find a shrine to Freddie Mercury. In a religon with 330 million gods one of them has to be Mr. Mercury.

Just wanted to let everyone know I'm OK. Hope all is well with everyone.

Much Love