Finally Getting to India
It all started back in college. For a period of time I was a textiles major. One of my teachers showed us slides and fabrics from a trip she’d just taken to India. Seeing the intricate swirly patterns and vibrant colors of silks and cottons, I fell in love and wanted to go there too. Not long afterwards, I discovered yoga and Ayurveda, which added fuel to my fire. Then seeing pictures of gorgeous landscapes, and learning that vegetarian food would be available everywhere, I knew I had to go.
Back in 2000, while traveling through SE Asia and Nepal, I was supposed to visit friends in Dharamsala and the Andaman Islands, but due to my mother getting cancer, I returned home to be with her. Now, for the 2 1/2 years I’ve been back in Thailand, I have also planned on going, but at the last minute decided to visit somewhere else. Even this trip almost didn’t happen, because I’d heard the Chiang Mai Indian consulate makes it rather difficult to get a visa, so I thought I might just stay in Thailand. Then I found out about a visa service that charges more and takes longer, but gets you a visa. I applied, booked my tickets, and collected my visa just hours before my flight. Finally, after 20 years of waiting, I made it to India.
One thing I’d heard from most every woman I know that has been to India, is that it is not the easiest to travel there. You will be stared at a LOT, and possibly groped. Though I’ve traveled in over 30 countries independently, I thought India might be a good place to travel with a man, preferably an Indian man. Since I didn’t have one of those available, I chose to travel to one of the ‘easier’ places in India – Kerala. My first stop, the beach town of Varkala.
In the cab on the way from the airport to my home stay, this was a sudden traffic obstacle.
The kind driver pulled over for me to snap this shot. I love the elephant!
After checking in, and having a shower, I was famished. My first meal in India was a parotha and curry. A parotha is almost like a flattened out Indian version of a croissant – very buttery, (or maybe I should say, ghee-y?) With the coconut milk curry, this proved to be too rich to finish.
After lunch I headed down to the beach.
Looking at the cliff on Varkala beach. In this picture it isn’t obvious, but there was a huge amount of garbage on the cliffs and more was continually thrown down from the top.
View of Varkala beach from the cliff
Although it was pretty on the cliffs, there were tons of shops selling almost the same things in each one. It was a good place to shop, but walking along the cliff I was constantly solicited with, “Hello madam. Where you from? Just have a look, looking is free.”
I was exhausted from travel and in no mood for shopping, but besides all the shops, there were also tons of Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) centers. My arm really hurt and a massage sounded good. There are many types of Ayurvedic massages, but most include quite a bit of oil. My massage was supposed to be energizing and deep. It was, but with the rapid strokes, it wasn’t exactly relaxing. I left feeling better, if a bit oily.
The first of many gorgeous sunsets from a cliff top restaurant.
Upon waking in the middle of the night, this was the view from the balcony. I figured, along with seeing the elephant upon arrival, it must be auspicious.
Morning out the window – sweeping the dirt.
As I was eating breakfast, the Casa Eva Luna Home Stay owner – Esther, who was from Spain, though had been in India long enough to have Indian in mannerisms and speech – told me there was a puja (Hindu religious ceremony) at the temple. She called it a Pongali festival, though I’m not entirely sure what it was. The festival went on for several days. Esther invited me to go with her to the temple and had a tuk tuk coming to pick us up a few minutes later. I do not know much about Hinduism, and will not pretend to. However, I do know that there are many gods, goddesses, and religious rituals – pujas – which are usually colorful, involve food, and are sometimes extremely loud.
The following photos are what I saw and interpreted to be happening. To all Hindus, sorry in advance if my interpretations are incorrect, or in any way offensive.
Arrival at the temple
Hundreds of women preparing rice and masala spices for the puja.
Esther and her neighbor. I was grateful for her invitation to the puja festival.
Truly a living goddess
A colorful Hindu temple
A woman whispering a prayer to this statue of what looks like a sacred cow.
This tree was supposedly for fertility and abundance. I made a donation and was played a ‘snake song’.
At the base of the fertility tree. Is this Laxshmi?
A little bit scary symbols of fertility
Leaving the temple
I know it’s a bit difficult to see such frumpiness after the loveliness, but I had Esther take this picture to show my arm. See how bent the left arm is? That was as straight as it would go…and it hurt a lot.
My initial plans for Varkala were to be on the beach, go to yoga classes, hopefully surf, and learn some more about Ayurveda. Well, with my arm like this, and in being in a lot of pain, neither surfing, nor yoga seemed likely options. Feeling energized by the puja, yet disappointed about not being able to move my arm properly, I went to a cafe overlooking the sea and to ordered a lemon soda. The heat was intense, so I ordered a second while gazing out at the puja on the beach and rethinking my plans of what I’d do in India.
Upon arrival at the cafe, I couldn’t help but notice someone sitting at a table nearby. There was an energy about him and knew I had to meet him. It wasn’t like he was a guru or anything, but more like some kind of connection. It’s hard to not sound too new agey, but I was drawn to his presence. He was sitting with two other people. My arm was increasingly painful, and that gave me an idea. I walked over to their table and asked if they knew of any good Ayurveda doctors in town.
One man happened to be a body worker, and started asking me a bunch of questions. They asked me to join them for a masala chai, and we all ended up talking for over an hour. Eyal, the body worker, offered to give me a treatment. He was traveling in India with his new wife, Anna. During the course of that first hour, for a variety of reasons, the man who I was drawn to, Lex, decided to miss his train and stay in Varkala an extra day.
After having a wonderful 24 hours together, Lex postponed his flight back to Canada and changed his ticket to leave India until 2 weeks later to spend the remainder of his time with me! I was ecstatic!
Maybe something happened at that puja. Maybe there was a reason that I hadn’t made it to India until now. Maybe my arm hurting was a sign from the universe to change my plans. All I can say is whatever it was, it made me very happy.