Tag Archives: India

The one lesson India can teach us all again and again is about the limiting power of our own expectations. Will my chai be sweet? (yes) Will my chicken be spicy? (yes) Will my cheap hotel have hot water? (no) Will my expensive resort not have hot water? (no) Will the train be on time? (no) Will the person across from me ask me where I am from? (yes) Will the taxi driver rip us off? (not this time) Will I pay too much? (always) Will I be able to keep my temper? (yes) Will my Ashtanga yoga class be hard? (yes) Will my Hatha yoga class be easy? (yes)

The most beautiful thing about being in the country where everything is true, while simultaneously so is the opposite, is that at some point all of your expectations will be wrong. Each of the above questions, I have gotten wrong at some point in this journey, and every time, even after months in India, it was a surprise.

After my 3 months here, I have begun to genuinely enjoy the humor that comes from when something I am so sure of, happens so differently from how I expected. I am learning to let the world and the people around me, surprise me. From that is coming a new kind of joy. A joy that comes from seeing the world or a person for what it/he/she is instead of what I want it/him/she to be.

One of my favorite yoga instructors in NY used to always start class by challenging us to dig back up that joy we used to have while playing as children. I see now that his challenge was 2 fold – not just to play physically, but to also play mentally with power of dropping our expectations and taking the moment for what it was, limitations and all. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this is why children can be so innately happy, even in midst of hardship — because they have not yet had the chance to create the expectations that limit us as we get older.

How much more could we accomplish, how much happier could we be if we just went forward, dropped our expectations, and asked the world for nothing? Nothing, but to surprise us.

Considering I ate here 5 times in 3 days, it’s a pretty solid favorite find. Hidden in a little alley in the old part of Fort Cochin, this café offers the best salads and soups I’ve had in India and a pleasant dose of local art. The tables, many made of old sewing machine stands and each with their own fan, meander through a series of open sided rooms and courtyards. The feeling is magical and the butter oatmeal will convince you to come back again for breakfast tomorrow.

I am usually a proponent of sunsets, enjoying the last lingering light on the horizon that fades away into a blanket of stars and the promise of dinner conversations and new beginnings to come after the night. Sunrises don’t have the same effect for me, however in Kodaikanal (standing on the balcony at the Greenlands Youth Hostel), I have found the exception.

On a day with few clouds

After our adventurous bus ride from Goa to Hampi, I was even more excited to be taking another bus from Mysore to the Western Ghat hill station of Ooty. Several people had told me the town was beautiful – the “queen” of the southern hill stations – and so I had hoped that what I was sure would be a long, nauseau filled day would be worth it.

The day started with a 30 minute late pickup (not too bad all things considered) and a soon to follow attempt to have us vacate our seats and move to the very back of the bus by claiming that where we happened to be sitting was somehow, magically, reserved. (By “reserved” they meant that a gaggle of young men were getting on the bus and apparently all wanted to sit together in the front – we must have looked like the easiest couple to displace) The attempt didn’t work, and we kept our windshield view.

An hour and a half into the trip we had gone a total of about 10km, which was apparently far enough to justify a chai (tea) stop. I obliged and took a 5 rupee (10 cent) cup of what seemed to liquid sugar with a shot of tea on top – delicious! Now, totally hyped up on my sugar and caffeine, I was ready to settle into my “reserved” seat, listen to some NPR podcasts, and enjoy the ride. My plan, however, was thwarted. Only 30 min (another 10km) later was breakfast — otherwise defined as a 20 min stop in a bus parking lot to grab some chips and more chai, and to watch the cows, people, and monkeys mingle amongst the dust and trash piles. Now doubly caffeinated, I was anxiously tapping my feet as we rolled along at what seemed to be a better clip, until (you guessed it!) stop number 3 at a whopping 2 and half hours (the whole trip was only suppose to be 3hrs) and maybe 30km (out of about 250km) into the trip. This time a silk store and (hold your surprise) chai stand were on the menu. Where we ever going to get there?

Another 30 minutes slowly passed until we all scuffled back onto the bus. This time, I hoped, maybe we would make some progress. And boy we did! From here on out it was as if we had entered a rally car race. We were cruising and swerving and honking up a storm. No more chai stops on this adventure! We were on our way. We passed through what was marked as a national park, but instead appeared to be more of a major trucking route than anything else. I saw my first “elephant crossing” sign. We stopped to check out a deer. And soon we were in the hills, white knuckled and core engaged while trying not to be thrown out of our seats as we made our way up 36 (they were numbered) hairpin turns. Not to worry because each had a reassuring center line (on what was probably only an 8ft wide road) and a posted reminder about the emergency number for the closest ambulance service.

Luckily, we made it all the way to Ooty and found a small oasis at the YWCA up the hill from the bus stand. In the end Ooty itself was intruiging, but it wasn’t everything I’d dreamt of (I kept walking around asking “beautiful”?). At least it was an adventure, and, even more than beauty, I think that is what I need right now.

Mysore is a city of yoga and spirituality. Having just finished my yoga training, I am sure that you could imagine my excitement at getting into the yoga scene here – instead I was quickly distracted by something that to me is just as interesting, the silk scene.

This is one of the several places in India where there is a long history of silk production. You can see it everywhere, in the advertisements, the stores, the saris the ladies are wearing as they do their afternoon shopping down the street. Silk seems to be woven into the culture here as surely as the strings of jasmine are woven into every woman’s hair.

Silk production in Mysore is controlled by the government, which means that if you want to see the process you have to go to a government facility – so, government facility, here we come.

Most of the silk worked in this area is mulberry silk, which is a strong, fairly white variety of silk with a longer staple (fiber length). The initial phases (and probably the most interesting parts) of the process are off limits, but the spinning and weaving are open for tours. Unlike silk production in some parts of the country, everything here is done by machine. As we walked into the spinning room, we were greeted by huge spinning machines and the whirl of pink (S twist) and green (Z twist) threads flying onto multicolored plastic spools. Speckled among the machines are women in beautiful blue floral saris slowly making their way around to see that everything is in order.

Making our way into the weaving center, the dynamic totally changed. The thumping of heddles in the old Swiss and Japanese machines was deafening, and the beautifully dressed women are gone. Wooden pegboards are fed through the looms telling the heddles when to lift and lower to make the appropriate pattern. Hanging off the end of almost ever loom is a dirty button up shirt. And watching over the flying shuttles is a man on a stool. Weaving is a man’s world apparently, perhaps because they aren’t required to wear the cumbersome 6 meters of fabric a sari encompasses and can therefore easily bend over the loom.

Even if walking through the factory could make us feel like we were back in England during the industrial revolution (or for me, back in undergrad), the gods won’t let us forget that we are in fact in the southern subcontinent. Watching over the whole operation is a myriad of Hindu gods. Each wall has its own image, and each image is surrounded by a string of flowers and blinking lights.
Only in India.