Leaving the Warm Cocoon of Kovalam Beach
Leaving Kovalam, although I felt a bit trapped in the fake feeling temporary community of tourists that crops up each year around this time, was rather uncomfortable. I decided to take a 4am train to Madurai which was about 5 hours away. That meant that I had to get up and go at about 2:45am to catch my train. I was making some emotionally exhausting good memories with the Irishman and then ran to pack the last of my belongings before jumping in an auto rickshaw to the train station.
I got to the station all ready to board my train. Come to find out, the train was delayed for three hours!! That meant I would be waiting there for four as we left way too early even for a 4am on time departure. I took cues from the women in the women’s waiting room and set up a surprisingly-comfortable-but-also-not-comfortable-at-all yoga mat bed complete with shoulder bag and neck pillow for my head. The smell of human excrement randomly kept waking me up from dosing off. For some reason the smell of human waste is a constant reminder of being in India, or Cambodia, or Thailand. It just kind of wafts into whatever situation you find yourself. You could be at the classy-est party or in a slum and it’s there every so often tying humanity together.
The train finally came at 7:35. My seat was across from a man who was already comfortably sleeping in fetal position. He was significantly shorter than me but I figured I would give it a shot since whoever had seats next to me seemed afraid or uninterested in sitting next to me. I managed to get some restless sleep but mostly looked out at the scenery we were passing by on the way to Madurai. Once we reached there it was about 3pm, just in time to get something to eat and make my way to the temple. On my walk toward the temple, there was a small gathering of people drinking what turned out to be freshly pressed sugar cane juice with lime. The way the juice was pressing out of the cane and the way the people were relishing drinking it made me stop and get one. It was AMAZING! Each sip was better than the last, it was the most refreshing thing that had happened to me since jumping in the ocean the afternoon before.
The temple was spectacular. It was the best I had seen yet. First of all it was huge and second of all it felt very spiritual and there was a LOT of iconography and alters to visit and explore. One of the perks that could have been viewed as an inconvenience but which I found very useful was that you had to check your bags into storage and no photography was permitted. I checked all my bags and had the freedom to explore the city of Madurai all day with in and out privileges for the temple while I waited for my 10:50pm bus to Coimbatur.
I walked around the city which was quite nice and found a little spot to meditate. It was kind of a strange place the founding of which was based upon a guy who “experienced death” and thus had no more worries and achieved true self realization. I had trouble buying into that but it was a calm little building and a great way to pass 30 minutes. I made my way back to the temple where exhaustion set in due to little to no sleep and travel.
Made it to the bus on time where there was another bit of a wait as it turned out. This bus had fully reclining seats and blankets and A/C! I immediately passed out and had to be woken up at the final destination. Arriving to Coimbatur at 4:30am was unpleasant and gave me the feeling that I should immediately get on another bus for Ooty. This meant I would miss seeing the Isha Yoga Center and Osho’s Ashram which is purportedly one of the best places for spiritual awakening in India. Oh well. Ooty was awesome and I was glad to spend 48 hours there.
My plan was to rent a scooter. Epic fail as all rental operations were shut down so as not to deprive the auto rickshaw and other taxi services available. I was pretty sad about that because this wasn’t the sort of place you could walk around to get a sense of it. The hotel management sensed my disappointment so Shiva, one of the hotel managers, offered to take me to some spots on his motorcycle. He was a Brahmin with a family so any concerns about riding off alone with a strange man were allayed.
I said I wanted to be in nature and maybe do some hiking so he took me to one of the coolest places I have seen yet thus far. It was a Hanuman (god of servitude, devotion and letting go of ego) temple in a cave on top of a hill that you had to hike along a beautiful trail to get to. We were the only ones there other than a photography student and the temple care taker. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. The temple was built by British devotees over 200 years ago.
We saw some other more touristy sights which were also beautiful but underwhelming compared to the temple climb. Once we arrived back, he told me about taking the toy train to Coonoor which I did the next day. Found a driver who took me to the important sites to see. Tea factory, Dolphin Nose, Lamb’s Rock, a lovely day trip. Being that Ooty is a hill top town, temperatures were in the low 50’s at night. I found this to be freezing and huddled up under a blanket with a space heater each night after meditation (also done with indirect space heater air blowing in my general direction).
Time to make my way to Mysore which I wasn’t really thrilled about going to but was excited about a connection I had made in Kovalam with a woman who said she was a great cook and would be willing to host me while I was there. I got to her house where she had a meal ready. An inedible meal with the corner of a plastic bag emerging from the scoop of chickpeas on the plate that all but said, “Stop eating, get up and leave, now!” I listened and didn’t look back. I found a really shitty hotel for the evening that had wifi so that I could figure out next moves. I reached out to people who had been to Mysore that I knew as well as Suresh, the manager of the guest house I stayed at in Kovalam and figured out the area where I needed to check out. Gokulam, two blocks away from Sharath’s Shala, a wealthy looking neighborhood in Mysore.
The directions to get to my Airbnb indicated that it was right across from a place called Anu’s Cafe. I asked at Anu’s and they directed me to the place. I promised I would be back for lunch. I got settled in to my cozy room which appeared to be a grown son’s old room in a family house and made my way to Anu’s which had a small gathering of yogis eating and a self service family style meal waiting. Tons of variety and color, beautiful. I went downstairs after eating to meet with Anu who hesitantly agreed to have me in her kitchen during prep for an evening cooking class and subsequently the next few days!
She told me she actually did not really like cooking but she found a niche audience in the yogi community and has been open for business for the last 15 years! She showed me a spice I had never used before, ajwan (wild celery seeds). It has a Szechwan acidity without the numbing effect and a warm spice flavor with cumin finish. It pairs wonderfully with carrots, beets and other sweet vegetables. Ajwan came up again in my book Yoga of Herbs. The book says that it is pungent, and heating and helps with plasma, bone marrow and nerves, a strong digestive. I also relearned the importance of grating ginger the long way, maintains sweetness and structure.
I was ecstatic to have found an awesome place to stay and to cook right down the street. With no chance of getting into Sharath’s for yoga practice so last minute with such little time, I found a random place I could practice Ashtanga Mysore style with a guy named Nikhil. He has been pushing me in the last 4 days so that I have a few things to work on leading up to International Yoga Festival in a few weeks.
All in all, Mysore is pretty cool although the yoga community here seems very cliquish and exclusive witch is counter intuitive but also kind of what I expected. Tomorrow, I journey to Hampi…