A true Wonder indeed

Well, I made it. 45 hours in an Indian train. I survived. It’s certainly not an ideal way to travel, in India especially, but the learnings, not to mention memories, of this experience shall be with me for a lifetime.

I’m in Agra at the moment, staying in the lovely Taj Inn Hotel. To be honest, I’m feeling a little off at the moment. I’ve realized I feel like I’ve lost something big in my life by no longer having my routine of yoga twice daily with my teacher. Looking back on how I felt during the first week of class to how I feel now, I would never have thought I could possibly miss the rigid routine and long hours. But I do. My energy levels are also not as they were. Granted, traveling in India is tough. Even with a driver – nothing is simple and the constant noise can easily unsettle someone. (But generally, the noise is fine). I think it’s just the reality hit of life outside of the Gokulam bubble.

In saying that, however, this is the time where I can determine the type of person I want/choose to be. I can be the one who commits to remaining still and calm in the face of a crazy, loud and overwhelming (at times) world; or I can choose to give into all of that and allow my mind to control me rather than the other way around. At the end of the day, my perception is what I choose it to be and I can either choose to keep being present and appreciating all of the experiences (train and all!) or live in an unconscious state where I miss the little beauties in the world and fall victim to an unskilled way of thinking. (Unless you haven’t already noticed, by talking this out I’m actively working to better understand my thought processes at the moment so I can control them better).

Yoga has taught me so many lessons, the most important being ‘presence’. I’ve found this a real challenge since being on the road and trying to practice in different hotel rooms (some of which are not the most inviting spaces to practice in). And again, although this comes down to my perception, I’m certainly looking forward to creating a nice space for myself when I return home. This really is important for any practitioner. I also need to be gentle on myself and recognize that this leg of the journey was always going to be a challenge – it’s been like swimming in a lovely heated pool to throwing myself into a cold ocean with waves crashing around me. So acknowledging this is important. (I’m rambling. I hope this makes some sort of sense?)

In saying all of that, I’ve had a wonderful afternoon visiting the Baby Taj and watching the Taj Mahal from across the river as the sun set upon it. Truly magical moments. Of course I wish Owen could be with me, but he is here in spirit. And it just means I will need to bring him with me next time!

Oh, and the 45 hour train ride has certainly been worth it thus far. There really is a magic about the Taj. I was overwhelmed when I saw it from afar for the first time earlier today. Tomorrow I shall visit the Taj Mahal with a tour guide. If ever there was a time to spend the extra money on a guide, it’s now. One of the Seven Wonders of the World needs to be understood, so this is a treat to self.

With a 3.00am wake up tomorrow, it’s now time for bed. I have a Taj Mahal to see!

Namaste xx

24 hours later and a little more feral than normal. “Hello Kovalam!”

I left Mysore yesterday morning at 9.30am. Today, I arrived at my hotel, Jasmine Palace, at 9.50am. In short - buggered.

The 16 hour train from Bangalore was nothing short of ‘an experience’ to put it nicely. Dealing with people sitting on my bed, bumping me through my curtain, fart smells, men walking up and down the aisles yelling (I’m not joking - yelling) “coffee, coffee, coffee!” or “chai, sweet chai, chai!”, screaming children and snoring about sums up the experience. Not to mention the toilets. I swear to God I nearly died when I saw them. I knew they wouldn’t be good and in anticipation of what I would find I held on for as long as possible. But I was mortified when I saw the toilets.

Walking out from my carriage into the part which joins the carriages, I was instantly struck by the foul smell of urine and shit (excuse me, but it’s the truth). Those smells combined with hot, humid conditions were just revolting. Trying not to fall off the speeding train, (as all the doors are open and the train tilts at every corner), I steadied myself against the wall of the first toilet door. I opened the latch and saw an Indian toilet with a combination of water, urine and poo sloshing around on the floor. Jesus Christ! Slamming that door shut I went to the next one. Same again. In hope to find a western toilet I tried a third door but again the same story only this Indian toilet had tiny raised platforms for your feet to go on. By this point I knew I just needed to suck it up, do my business and get out. Thank God for my baby wipes and Dettol gel in my pack. Refusing to stand on the feet cut outs, for if I slipped my feet were going into the hole, I just spread my legs as far wide as possible and went. Where I went, I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have made any difference to how sanitary the toilet was. With wee spraying on my feet I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Disgusted, I wiped and sanitised everything when I made it back to my sleeper (which now appeared cleaner than ever before compared).

I slept on and off all night, with my feet raised against my pack (mostly so I would notice if sometime tried to take it) and cuddling my small backpack which has my passport, wallet etc inside. My bed felt like a rock with a big hump in the middle of it. Let’s just say comfort doesn’t come close. However when I saw other trains pass us, similar to the one I was on, with people’s arms hanging out of barred windows, I was certainly grateful to be in the seat/sleeper I was in. The rest of my train would have been like this also - and 16 hours in ‘cattle class’ (as they call it) would have been nothing short of horrendous. It’s going to be interesting when I do the same trip but for 3 days straight to Agra! I will worry about that when the time comes.

Waiting for the train to arrive in Kochuveli, I sat in my sleeper stretching my legs and doing some forward bends, like Paschimottanasana and Marichyasana A. It was nice to try and get the circulation going again. That’s definitely a benefit of yoga. It can come with you anywhere.

Arriving at the Kochuveli train station, a tall Indian man dressed in the whitest of white shirt and pants, with contrasting back leather shoes, immediately came to me. I think I’d been off the train for about 5 seconds before he approached me. Clearly I was the only white person on the train. I followed him to his gold sedan which had seats covered in white towels, smelled of incense and was nice and cool. Everything about this man just seemed clean, which was so refreshing after the trip I had just been on. I suddenly noticed a ‘poo’ like smell in the car. I wondered if it was something in his car, or something one of us may have trodden in? I wasn’t sure. But then I suddenly worked out it was me. I stank. When I smelled my clothes up close, they smelt fine. But I think there was a combination of smells (collected via my 24 hour journey) coming from my hair, armpits and clothes which created a concoction of ‘poo’ smelling Jessica. I was utterly embarrassed. Hopefully the smell didn’t waft into the front of the car…

We traveled for about 40 minutes to Kovalam, where my hotel, Jasmine Palace, is located. Travelling down a steep, unkempt narrow lane, we arrived at my hotel. I was so relieved. Step 1: Shower Step 2: Food. After check in I was taken to the most stunning, large room which overlooks the pool. What a change in sleeping arrangements! The bed is big enough to fit 5 people in it! And the view is just magnificent. I felt instantly relaxed. WIth a quick check in back home to Owen, so he knew I was alive, followed by the best shower of my life, with wet hair I ran downstairs to the closed restaurant who agreed to make me breakfast. Toast and jam has never looked so good. As mindfully as possible, I scoffed my toast and fruit salad. I then took some time to enjoy my black ginger tea whilst admiring the pool and grassy outdoors. I was completely calm and enjoying every second of just being.

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I spent the afternoon walking along the seafront admiring the beautiful coastal town Kovalam is. Westerners were lying on the beach in bikinis which was an odd sight to see, but clearly accepted here. Indian’s swimming fully clothed, in their saris and jeans, was equally as odd for me. How vastly different cultures can be.

I moseyed up to the red and white striped lighthouse which stood on the edge of a far cliff. As a foreigner I have to pay three times what the locals pay to walk go inside the lighthouse. Ridiculous! But ok. After one scary vertical ladder climb to reach the very top of the lighthouse (did I mention I’m scared of heights) I was speechless by how beautiful the view was. Coloured homes drowned in coconut trees lined the beaches, there were multiple coves and in the far distance was what looked like a palace from Aladdin. It felt truly magical. I sat up there for some time, just being present, enjoying everything about being up there. It’s incredible what you notice when you just stop.

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After climbing down, holding onto the rails for dear life, I walked along the beach with my feet in the warm water. It was so lovely to be by the ocean. I don’t tend to swim, but I do love the view of any beach. Hungry, I stopped at Malabar on the oceanfront and ordered dal fry, coconut rice and plain naan. An odd meal to have by the beach, but when in India! The meal was divine, as was the view. I sat there for sometime, enjoying not having to be anywhere, before walking to a lookout to watch the sunset. By this time Kovalam was beginning to glow. There is such a beautiful, relaxed atmosphere here which I really enjoy being a part of.

This evening has been spent committed to re-packing my pack - which I did an awful job of the first time - and just relaxing in my room before a big day tomorrow. My alarm is set for 5.00am to practice yoga in my overly large room. I’m quite excited by this. It will be my first proper self practice since finishing class on Monday. Nervous and excited!

Namaste xx


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Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

What a day. The energy of the day just felt off. From 4.30am in the morning when a friend from class pointed to a gathering at a home where someone had just passed, everything from then just felt uncomfortable. Chanting Om for half an hour this morning seemed easy when you realise you’re alive and breathing.

The exam was fine. I flew through it which was fantastic. There was the odd question I wasn’t sure of, but overall it was great.

I noticed during the exam Brittany wasn’t there but she arrived 20 minutes late, sniffling and and covering her head with her shawl. She was clearly upset. To be honest I thought she may not have passed the course and had just been told the news. I feel totally crap now that I know what really happened. After an Ayurveda class, which immediately followed the exam, Bharath told the class Brittany’s mother had passed away. The death was unexpected and happened while she was sleeping - as I understand. By the time Bharath told us, Brittany would have been on her way to Bangalore where she was booked to fly home to California at 8.00pm tonight. How terribly sad. I can’t even contemplate how she must be feeling right now. We sat in silence for a minute and chanted three Shanti’s for Brittany’s mother. The silence was deafening. We all felt sick with the news. How tragic.

After lunch with the group at the Royal Inn, as a mini celebration for finishing our studies (the group wanted to try and keep up their spirits), I rushed home to speak with Owen. A blubbering mess, we talked about life and death. How death can throw people into the present and remind them they only have now. At any time we could get a similar call, as morbid as it sounds. We just don’t know. My struggle to accept this fact makes it even more terrifying and I’m the typical westerner who tries to ignore this reality. But at the end of the day, this is the reality. None of us can stop it. I guess this is why I’m so committed to living my life how I dream. To follow my heart. To enjoy every moment to the fullest. Because at the end of the day, this is all I/we have. Moments.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti