Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nothing makes me ready to come home like being sick.

Cubbon park is a beautiful oasis in the middle of Bangalore.
The day after my train ride to Bangalore I woke with aches, chills and fever. At first I was hopeful that I was only travel sore but no - I have some kind of illness that doesn't sleep off so easily. With only two days in Bangalore I made a big effort to haul myself out of bed and get out a bit. I've done a bit of touristing but I've also done a massive amount of sleeping. I'm trying not to think too hard about the 20 hours of air travel ahead of me or how committed my time is once I arrive.

The "flower clock" in Lal Bagh botanical garden. Its a clock surrounded
 by disney-like dwarf statues. Behind the clock there is a green metal
door that says "Sno White Cottage" in stenciled white paint.
Like the stencils you would use to write "Utility Room".
 As far as I can tell there is no other disney content in the park.
Given my state, I've been rather drawn to parks here over palaces, temples and shopping. Yesterday I visited Lal Bagh botanical garden which has a strong colonial aesthetic. It is a manicured garden harboring lots of foreign species from all over the globe, little paths, bridges over nothing and a large glass house historically used for horticulture shows - after all no outpost of the British empire would really be complete without a place for horticulture shows. Despite my cynicism, most of Lal Bagh is quite pretty and peaceful. I spent a long time mesmerized by the cactus room staring into sprialing spine patterns and marveling about radial symmetry in nature. The fever might have had something to do with that experience.

Bangalore City anti-rape campaign.
Today I ended up in Cubbon park which is beautiful and houses a large library which unfortunately was closed for unknown reasons. If I hadn't been nauseous and feverish I would have spent a lot longer here reading in the shade.

Besides parks, I've done a bit of walking around, got a pedicure and slept a lot. In 24 hours I will be back in the U.S. which is weird to think about. I look forward to being able to communicate more effectively, not getting asked about my marital status by strangers, and eating salad. 

There's a lot I will miss about India in general and Mysore in particular. Despite my mixed up feelings, KPJAYI is a a pretty magical place to learn yoga. Sharath's devotion alone is inspiring and powerful. I haven't decided if I will be back soon. If I do come back I think it should be for two months at least which might be pretty hard to wedge into my life so maybe not for a bit but probably eventually.

Fancy shopping strip close to Cubbon park

View of Gandhi Bazaar while regaining my strength sitting on some steps.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Train to Bangalore

So with two days left in my trip but no days left in my apartment I had to go somewhere. Yoga season ended with led primary this morning and I grabbed a train to Bangalore where I will stay until early morning of the third.
Chikku stealing calf in the market.

So much trash! View out the train close to Bangalore
main station.
The train trip and Bangalore arrival was quite a change of pace from peaceful Mysore days. As I may have mentioned, Gokulam is especially cushy but all of Mysore is quite laid back (at least compared to larger cities). It's known for having lots of temples and yoga schools and has a population not much larger than Seattle (that might be the only commonality with Seattle though...). My train trip started out about in accordance with what I have come to expect - besides the headache of procuring a ticket by shoving myself up to two different counters yesterday it was pretty easy. My second class car was roomy and I was joined in my seat by two polite friendly people from Mundya (a nearby city) who were eager to demonstrate hospitality. The older man tried to get me to eat his lunch which he made taste (it was delicious). I managed to appease him by eating my own lunch while he ate his.

Train companion #2. He is trying to get me to
 hand him my phone so he can take a picture
 of me (and also look for games). I am
pretending not to understand what he wants.
Over the 2.5 hour journey there was a definite shift the best feature of which was a man who joined me in my seat who was very intent on talking to me despite his lack of English and my lack of Hindi. His strategy was to keep asking if I spoke Hindi either in the hopes that the answer would change or not understanding my shaking head and failure to grasp any of his conversation to be the answer it was. Unlike my previous companions, my new companion wanted me to give him food as well as show him games on either my kindle or my phone neither of which have games. He was charming.

The Bangalore train station is one of the most crowded places I've ever been. As the train pulls into the station crowds of men chase the train and try to throw their handkerchiefs onto a seat. As soon as the train stops they swarm through the tiny doors and will run over any de-boarding passengers in their way.

My journey of course ended with an argument with a rickshaw driver who refused to use his meter, hardly budged on his price and then asked me for extra at the end because he got turned around and said the meter would have been more than the price we agreed on. I told him to use the meter next time. As an aside - I am not generally a huge jerk here. I am not unwilling to giving people money (though I don't do it every time) and don't fight to hard about paying foreigner prices. I get it  - I'm a foreigner. Sometimes I get some extra hand holding and directions, sometimes I get pushed around and pay a little more. Rickshaws are a different beast though and I'm pretty sure even Indians find them to be kind of a battle sometimes.
Monkey family on Chimmundi Hill which is home to a large
temple to Chimundishwari a special to Mysore deity
 and also many many monkeys. We climbed early on Sunday
 which was lovely.
St Philomena's Catholic church in Mysore

Happily I am arrived at my hotel which is charming but affordable, found myself a street food dinner and am using the internet from the lobby which is so densely packed with mosquitoes that I will wrap this little update up.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

No more eight o clock

Things are winding down in Mysore. People are leaving, the shala is less crowded. All the 8:00 am practice starts were moved to 7:30 and now we have only two days left both of which will be led primary. I am a bit reluctant to leave but also looking forward to easing back into real life. 

Masala dosa - I did not take this picture because of
my deep aversion to photographing my food in public
but this is what it looks like. Mmmmmm.
I am devoting my last days to working (as always) and eating as much as a possibly can without negatively impacting the rest of my life and my general sense of well being. The three things I am most focused on consuming are 
1) Dosa: Fried fermented lentil rice pancake (really its delicious despite that description) which, in its most iconic from is wrapped around potato and onion and served with sambar and coconut chutney. I have been trying to scheme a way to bring coconut chutney home with me. 
2) Thali: Pile of rice and side dishes. I wish I could do better than this in description terms but I am struggling. Sometimes it is served in a never ending style where people walk around and you can just keep asking for more of things.
3) Tropical fruits especially papaya. I also just learned to eat green mango with salt and chili - so good!

I did take this picture. The man across from me politely pretended
 not to notice. I was quite proud of myself for getting all that food
in my body using only my hands and hardly getting any of it on
my nose.
In other news: Continuing the theme of mixed feelings about everything from last week -  I was so enamored with transcendental meditation that I googled it. This revealed a fairly loud subset of people who think that TM and its associated organization is a culty scam. The basic argument is that the TM organization which I believe traces its origins back to its founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi takes people through a carefully scripted indoctrination wherein people meditate themselves into a trance-like state and are then gradually convinced of ridiculous claims and to become more deeply(and of course monetarily) involved with the organization. These claims include that practitioners will be able to levitate, become invisible and that if the square root of 1% of the population practices TM something miraculous will occur (for those of you who are number oriented its sqrt(0.01*population) not 10% of the population which is how I read that the first time). Based on the TM websites these all seem like plausible complaints and honestly it doesn't look like an organization I want anything to do with. Fun fact - David Lynch is big into TM and apparently believes most of the above claims.

On the other hand, I've been enjoying transcendental meditation and I really like my teacher Narasimhan who didn't mention anything about levitation or take us through a carefully scripted seven part initiation. I think for now I will keep doing what he taught me and ignore the organization. I am a bit suspicious because my main reasons for liking TM are that it is easy and feels good (right so of course its someones tool to obtain money and power). 

It bums me out and at the same time is sadly unsurprising that what appears to be a fairly benign practice is being used as a tool for apparently non-benign ends. I recall finding similar complaints about the Vipassana meditation organization founded by HN Goenka when I was trying that out. 

Since I seem to have worked myself into a cynical afternoon and you've already read this far - I will say that in the last six years learning about yoga, meditation, and that ilk of spiritual pursuits I have had one teacher in whom I have complete faith confidence and trust (and she is leaving! what to do!!). I have had four or five teachers about whom I had fairly serious misgivings surrounding some aspect of their teaching or organization. I still believe - maybe because I am naively optimistic - that most of them are genuinely positively motivated but don't really know how to approach their teachings given my misgivings. I have friends here who are much better at the "take what you want and leave the rest" approach but I still feel compelled to try to make it all cohere.

 Of course my biggest set of conflicting feelings are about the relationship between Sharath's teaching which I find wonderful, caring, and devoted and the running of the KPJAYI which I find baffling and, when I am more cynical, suspiciously money and power oriented. Maybe I will say more about that in the future as this is already kind of a long ranty post. 

Sharath's lovely mansion built last year. Each of the 400 ish students at KPJAYI pays the
 equivalent of 550 american dollars per month which doesn't include food or lodging. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

When you are too agitated to meditate you should eat icecream

Narasimhan surrounded by an ancient
unreadable manuscript written on
palm leaves.
Last week I learned transcendental meditation guided by Narasimhan. I first met Narasimhan in his philosophy discussions last year. He and his cousin Jayashree teach chanting of the the Bagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras in the city four times a week. I discovered that I really like chanting  and that Jayashree is an incredibly special teacher so I returned this year. 

I haven't analyzed my love of chanting very deeply but it seems to be somewhat separate from my feelings about the texts themselves. Both the gita and the yoga sutras are texts that I have read and found alternately interesting, inspiring, problematic and confusing. None of these intellectual thoughts seem to influence my experience of chanting which I find calming and meditative but with a unique quality different from silent meditation or yoga which maybe is related to vibration and breathing.

After we chant, Narasimhan talks about philosophy. Occasionally he will teach transcendental meditation afterwards to anyone who is interested in a four day sequence - I took advantage of this last week and am so far much more into TM than I anticipated. In the past I have done assorted styles of meditation (including half of a 10 day vipassana retreat but this is another story) and found them to be mildly beneficial and quite challenging. Given this past experience, I had low expectations. I've only been practicing for a week but so far I have found TM to be very pleasant and (most importantly for me) easy. Narasimhan instructed us to meditate for only 20 minutes twice a day with injunctions such as "If you are sleepy you should stop meditating and sleep." and "If you are uncomfortable, pause, find a comfortable position and resume meditating." On Wednesday when I reported being too agitated to sit still for longer than eight minutes the night before, Narasimhan told me that in that situation I can open my eyes and take several deep breaths. If I am still agitated I can do some light stretches or gentle yoga postures. If I am still agitated after that I should eat ice cream. "We have to fool the mind into calming down" he says. Obviously I love this advice.

Classical Hindustani flute concert - one of my favorite experiences here!
I am having an odd experience in my yoga/spiritual endeavors in India. It seems that in each realm - asana practice (physical yoga practice), chanting and now meditation and my relationship to Narasimhan as a teacher there is a similar discordance between my intellectual and my physical (for lack of a better word) experience. I love meditation and find Narasimhan a compelling teacher despite the fact that just last Thursday he told us that humans are a transitional evolutionary form between animals and the divine and on Wednesday he told us that great scientists are often disconnected from emotional and physiological experiences of the world because they are focused on rational explanation. I think both of these statements are total bologna but nevertheless totally trust and respect Narasimhan as a teacher. 

This dog got covered in colors during the Holi Festival
In yoga I have some questions I can't shake about how the school is run - from high fees, the process by which teachers are "certified" or "authorized" to teach, and some somewhat objectionable (to me) things Sharath has said in conference (weekly discussion of yoga philosophy and practice with QandA at the end). Despite this, I love practicing in the shala, Sharath has an amazing presence and physical intuition as a teacher and I generally find the vibes in the shala to be genuine, honest, and caring. 

For the moment I am not really trying to reconcile these disparities. As I go on it seems like less of a problem that they are even there, which, as a life long analyzer, is a bit new and surprising though not unwelcome.  
Deer in the early morning fog in the Nagarhole national park.
We saw Elephants too! But they were too far away and in the
bush to photograph so you all get deer. 
Heard of very large herbivores - also in Nagarhole. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Back in Mysore

The view from my favorite place to enjoy breakfast on the roof.
A few of these have crashed into our front steps which makes me think
 about shifting my dining location.
So I've already been in Mysore for a week and a half. I've been slow to post anything which I think is partly because the first week has felt so routine. Move in was easy - I found a nice simple apartment at a good price with a lovely Australian-British-Spanish roommate. We have a kitchen and semi reliable internet and the family we rent from who live below us are sweet and accommodating. In contrast to last year when I was confused for two weeks, this year I had my phone, internet, and apartment settled in a day and a half.

Fruit sellers outside of Devaraja market
Arriving in India and making the 2 hour trip from Bangalore to Mysore was a rush. The air was warm even at 2am and filled with scents - food, animals, exhaust and I am sure many others. During my taxi ride I was flooded with a sense of being in the right place. It's funny to say that about a foreign country I have no familial or cultural connection to. I almost worry that I'm not really entitled to that emotion but it is there and very strong. I kind of recall having this feeling last year when I had barely been on the ground for an hour. It's not a feeling of belonging as I certainly don't - I am comfortable enough to be able to buy what I need and get where I want to go but often am aware that I am missing big cultural cues or have no idea why something is happening. I obviously stick out like a sore thumb but people are generally friendly and helpful (or want to sell me something or ask me for money). It is more maybe a sense of ease - I feel comfortable here even when things are chaotic and weird. Admittedly I live in a very comfortable neighborhood in a quiet chilled out city so maybe I would feel differently in a different place or if I wasn't half escaping from normal life to be here.

Flat mate Megan whose slang I seem to be acquiring. The vermilion on her forehead was applied somewhat non consensually by a man walking around collecting money on a tray and giving what might have been blessings.

Flower aisle of Devaraja market

Generally I have been laying low here. I am trying to be productive on my work and trying not to get distracted by socializing. I've been practicing with Sharath since Monday although Thursday was the full moon (no practice). Typically after yoga I come home and work if the power and the internet are on. I have made the time to get in to the city for a trip to the main market and today a few friends and I took a bus out to a temple and the river on the outskirts of Mysore.

Ranganatha temple at Sri Rangapatna

Shrin type building built around a tree on the river bank.
Washing, bathing, playing in the Cauvery river.

Time card. I have to bring this to every practice and
stick it under my mat. I have since been moved
from 9:30 to 8 which is much better for m.
Yoga-wise it's been an uneventful week. The lineage of yoga taught here and which I study at home is divided into sequences - primary, second etc (there are six but I've never heard of anyone besides Sharath going past fourth). At home I practice most of second series - there are still a few postures I don't do. When students arrive in Mysore they are asked to practice primary for a week and then they may or may not be instructed to move on. I have heard that Sharath is slow to move people on so I am kind of anticipating doing primary the whole month. I will admit that I have to make an effort to not get bored doing primary. This is probably a worth-while challenge to meet but it is a lot less exciting than meeting the challenge of physically demanding postures. I think it also might be a lot harder and worry that I either won't be able to or just won't do it and will let myself be bored and distracted. We'll see.

Finally - although India is covered with animals, I am still enamored with them. Here are a few- more to come.

There is a tiny baby on her back.
You can just see his little tail.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Arusha first impressions

I've now been in Arusha, Tanzania for four days. It seems to be a medium-small city with a pretty rural feel to it. People keep asking me to compare Arusha and India when I tell them where I've come from though I find this comparison project pretty intractable.

Mostly I am qualified to speak on the relative ease of living for a foreigner with no language skills and general impressions of traffic and food. Some people have been unwilling to accept that I find Arusha quite a bit less chaotic than Mysore in a lot of senses. The traffic is simpler - it is mostly cars and vans as opposed to scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws and animals and people more or less follow lanes and honk only when it is necessary to alert someone to their presence. Tooling around on Klara's motorcycle is extremely enjoyable. When its not cloudy there are beautiful views of country side, Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro. There are also fewer animals wandering around.

I don't know any Swahili which is a bit challenging here. Many people know English but not as consistently as I found in Mysore. Swahili is a little more graspable than Kanada - I can get through greetings and remember words for items on menus. I have also learned the word mzungo which means white person and is sort of a chant that follows me around the city.

The language barrier makes the market here harder for me than the one in Mysore even though it is a little smaller. A bit tangentially - I was struck the first time I went to the market by the powerful and diverse smells. This market has meat! Alive and dead! Also there is a fish section. I never thought about how different the scents of different kinds of dead animals are before now.
Wali Na Maharengei (beans and rice). The other staple starch is ugali which is corn flour paste and tastes like nothing and gives the sensation of eating play dough. Needless to say it is harder to be a vegetarian here but it's not too bad. I do miss the cheapness, plentifulness and tastiness of South Indian food.
One of the luxuries of visiting a friend is that she knows cool people who take care of me. Yesterday Klara's friend Rob who is a guide for people headed up Kilimanjaro and other expeditions called her to tell her that a few of his clients were headed out to a hot spring and I could join if I wanted. So 6 of us jumped on a public bus to Boma Ng'ombe. When we got there we negotiated a half hour taxi ride which turned out to be two rickshaws (not as common here actually) over totally rocky off road terrain terminating at a completely idyllic crystal clear water hole. A few times we had to get out and walk/ push our vehicles over obstacles - I was pretty impressed that we made it but it was totally worth it. The water wasn't hot so much as perfect swimming temperature and the shining attraction was definitely the rope swings. Some of my travelling buddies pulled off some impressive twists and whatnot and I had a blast mostly just swinging around and then dropping like a big splashy rock.
Because I think Rob is fantastic and took Klara and her room-mate on a really nice Saffari and is super passionate about Kilimanjaro and guiding Everlasting Tanzania Travels is his company. More about the Saffari thing later - it's a bit of an odd phenomenon.
Rope Swing

Two of my travel mates swimming around in a little patch of paradise.
Today I am taking advantage of the internet and drinking water at the music school Klara works at which shares a campus with the International School of Moshi mostly attended by the children foreigners. They are getting ready for a concert tomorrow and winding down for the year.
At the school

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Last days in Mysore, first days in Arusha

I arrived in Arusha Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of air travel and queuing for air travel. Just a quick heads up to anyone leaving out of Bangalore - it took me 1.5 hours to get through check in, immigration, and security at 2am. Also I got to go through the women's security line which is faster than the men's. Otherwise the trip was basically smooth and even relaxing in the sense that when I am flying I have zero obligations and can do whatever I want. I had great seat-mates on my flight from Dubai to Uganda and slept most of the way from Bangalore to Dubai.  It turned out that I needed proof of a yellow fever vaccine to get in to Tanzania (this is new I think) even though when I checked before my trip it wasn't required. Fortunately I could buy such proof in Entebbe (erm...)
Me (fresh off the plane) and Klara at the largest Polish cemetery in Africa.  Because what else would be our first stop in Tanzania?

I spent my last day in Mysore going out to Melukote which is a town 50km north of Mysore and home to some famous big temples (of course. temples everywhere) with some of my favorite people from my Mysore times - roommies Beth and Chris, Louise from Brighton and Megan from Montreal. It was gorgeous and a nice way to say good bye to India. Better than sulking around Gokulam and thinking of everything I'm gonna miss.
This isn't Melukote. Megan and are waiting outside the Chamundi hill temple after a sunrise climb and this monkey is stealing peoples offerings. (File under things I will miss)
My last practice was with Saraswathi was a led class on Saturday. It was nice to end with the led class - once a week we go to a class where Saraswathi calls out the counts and the postures and we all practice together. Every other day people do their own practice to their own timing. It's sort of relaxing to go to led class even though there is a risk of being left in hard postures for a long time because you don't have to remember what count you are on or what to do next. You can just sort of let the class sweep you along.
Letema was part of my welcoming party at Kilimanjaro airport. This is him in the Arusha history museum with a picture of President Nyerere who was the first president of independent Tanzania and is a national hero.
With Saraswathi after my last Mysore practice. 
So I'm back to learning a new city and a new currency. Klara seems to have some plans for us. We've been driving around on her motorcycle which is a blast and Letema took his holiday yesterday (independence day) to tour me around and get me oriented. It was really really nice of him. He also told me about his experiences growing up in a Masai boma and moving to the city. As he says - you could write a book about it. I hope he does - he is very unique and incredibly interesting. In the interest of getting this up before I run out of battery I will pause now but more on Arusha later.