Climbing out of the hole…

Following on from my recent downward dog tired post, I think (hope) I reached the nadir yesterday, and that it’s onwards and upwards from now on. We have had two days off and so I thought I’d be full of beans, refreshed for beginning classes again. However, when pranayama class loomed I was already feeling sulky and rebellious, not really wanting to be there. It all seemed too much like hard work and I just wanted to rest.

Then as I prepared to go to back-bending class in the evening, my mood deteriorated further. My body still felt awfully stiff, not helped by the long moped drive in the chilly dark the previous night. My left hamstring was playing up, feeling like it was teetering on the edge of going ‘ping’. But, above all, I was in a foul mood…

Generally I have what you might call a ‘sunny disposition’ – yes, I am prone to bouts of sadness and melancholy that pass through my life like scudding, black clouds, but rarely am I grumpy or angry and I generally tend to hold an optimistic view of life (except whilst the black clouds hover overhead). However, yesterday I felt a rising anger that had no particular target: sometimes it was directed at myself, for being injured, pathetic and feeble; sometimes it was aimed at yoga (‘why the hell am I putting myself through all this?!’); but, mostly, it was just chucked out at the world in general, like an amorphous cloud of poison gas, expanding to fill whatever space it’s in.

In back-bending class I veered from fuming (at Vinay, at the postures, at myself) to tearful and sad. It was very odd. I felt like a stranger in my own mind and body and I still don’t quite know what it was all about. No doubt it was a combination of factors including tiredness and injury, with hormones definitely in the mix, but still – it was such an unusual state for me to be in. Even if my mood is a bit flat, I am generally able to man up and apply myself to the situation I find myself in – but not yesterday. I didn’t try in any of the postures and I even found myself deliberately shallow breathing as Vinay encouraged us to ‘breathe well’ – who was this petulant child that had possessed me?!

The negative mood still lingered this morning, as I reluctantly trudged to Vijay’s shala to begin ashtanga classes again after the break – I clearly had an anger-over (the nearest thing I’m likely to get to a hang-over in Mysore). I had horrible feelings that I was at a cross-roads with yoga, ready to sack it all off.

But then we arrived at the shala, and there was the usual crowd, some smiling, some introspective, but all there to continue to graft away at their practice. Then there was Vijay, with his dazzling smile, namaste-ing us (can that be a verb?!) as we entered, no shadow of preoccupation on his face despite his no doubt intense previous couple of days meeting his future in-laws. Then there was the previous batch leaving the shala, with that look of calm good-will/knackeredness that I know so well. I felt my hardness melt slightly.

I told Vijay about my injuries and he smiled and told me to take it easy, to modify. A little bit more of my hard edge crumbled away. Then, as I moved through the familiar sequence, I felt my body start to open up and my ill mood gradually fade until I was just present with my breath, with the postures. It wasn’t my best practice in the world physically, but it really felt like one of the best emotionally – it was like a balm, soothing my furrowed brow.

Afterwards, as we chanted ‘aum shanti, shanti, shantihi’ to close the class, I felt a smile rise on my lips with each shanti. I had made it through. I am hopeful that this has been my low point, as I adjust to the intense daily rigours of practice – as with any kind of cleansing/purification system, toxins will be released, and perhaps that’s what it was: a whole load of s*** that I don’t need being released into the ether.

Only time will tell but, for now, back-bending class here I come, and today I will certainly ‘breathe well’ like I’ve never breathed well before!

Mysore bum

Yesterday we had a precious day off, as Vijay had his engagement party – quite a big deal in India, involving the priest chanting mantras for a good hour or so and a detailed look at the couple’s joint astrological outlook (in order to determine the most auspicious date for the big day).

To make the most of the free time, Prasanth took four of us out on a day trip, to get out of the city and see some of the local sights. We made quite a convoy – three mopeds in a row, with Chris and I on our rattly TVS firmly bringing up the rear (Mysore bum indeed…). It was a good test for Chris’s road trip and the mighty steed did well – I only had to get off and walk once, up a particularly steep section! Leaving Mysore, the roads were pretty crazy, but it’s amazing how quickly you adjust to the madness. I felt pretty relaxed and even started to enjoy being repeatedly catapulted into the air as we flew over all the stealth speed bumps that the Indians seem to love installing so much.

It felt wonderful to leave the honking traffic behind and breathe cleaner air. Green fields, whispering reeds and swaying coconut trees lined the country roads as we overtook lumbering white Indian cows pulling wobbling carts of vegetables and sugar cane. People walked more slowly than in the city and the sound of revving engines was replaced by the busy hum of cicadas.

We took in ancient Hindu temples, ornate mosques and summer palaces, a dungeon with a lingering sadness and a traditional Brahmin village. As well as learning some of Mysore’s bloody history under the reign of the still-revered Sultan Tipu (much of which was at the hands of the British, as we were repeatedly reminded), above all the day offered the chance to embrace the potent spirituality with which this country is infused. You cannot help but sense and feel bouyed by its energy, which has the collective power of being generated by the masses and being truly engrained into everyday life.

Here are a few photos of our magical day:

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Sri Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangapatnam – an ancient Hindu temple with a dark, sprawling interior full of black deity carvings hidden in alcoves – there is usually a queue of prostrating Hindus at each one, awaiting their blessing from the holy man in attendance. No photos were possible inside, but it becomes darker and darker as you penetrate deeper into its centre. I almost felt like I was inside the body of a giant deity itself, going further inwards to its core. Slightly disconcerting yet also comforting being surrounded by all the serene priests in their white robes, with their round, brown bellies proudly protruding.

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Colonel Bailey’s dungeon – a sad place where British prisoners were kept during the Tipu-British battles. Colonel Bailey was in charge of one of the main onslaughts of the Srirangapatnam settlement, but ended up being captured and eventually died in this partially underground prison. You could still see the stone blocks where prisoners were chained up. Apparently lots of yogis take photos in the atmospheric light – perhaps it helps bring a positive energy to its melancholic history?

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Ornate detail from the Masjid-E-Aska mosque, next to Sultan Tipu’s mausoleum. He is still worshipped by muslims and Hindus alike as a great leader of his time who did a lot for poor families.

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We visited the ruins of an unfinished temple on a peaceful hill at Melkote in the mellow evening light and I just couldn’t help myself…

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Inside another ancient Hindu temple, this time in the eminently spiritual Melkote, a town which is occupied almost exclusively by Brahmin families, many of which share the Iyengar family name. We were there at dusk and it had a gentle, welcoming vibe, with priests meandering through the streets along with the cows and sleepy dogs, pottering about with various holy duties. And look, I even found the frond logo in the temple… 😉

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We climbed bare-foot up a long flight of steep, stone steps, still warm from the day’s sun, to reach Melkote’s precarious temple, which teeters on the edge of a rocky outcrop, 1700 m above sea level. After hearing some impromptu kirtan (celebratory call and response singing and clapping) amongst the worshippers, we were just in time to catch a pastel sunset from the hilltop.

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And finally, like all good days, we ended with a good feed, sampling some of the Iyengar thali specialities, eating with our hands off plates made from woven together banana leaves – the perfect way to steel ourselves for our night-time 1.5 hour drive home on dodgy roads with no light from the new moon in a country notorious for its road accidents, gulp…

Downward dog tired

We had a led class again this morning, meaning we’ve gone full circle with Vijay – I can see how the days could start to merge into one dreamy yogic existence here. Sleep, do yoga, eat, chat in a cafe for rather a long time, drink  fresh coconut, do pranayama, eat, socialise in a cafe for rather a long time, grab another coconut, do yoga, eat, socialise, sleep. And repeat…

In many ways it’s a brilliant life – no real deadlines except to turn up for class on time, plenty of interesting people to chat to, food so cheap that we can feasibly eat out every meal time, lots of downtime to read, relax, watch the world go by. Pretty good really…

But then, there’s the slight issue of yoga twice daily, five or six times a week (depending on when moon days fall) to deal with. I never thought I’d say this, but I feel like I’ve had enough of it! I’m firmly in the midst of the pain stage, which is normal when first arriving, and apparently lasts around five weeks, before you emerge the other side, blinking like an escaped convict who suddenly sees hope in the blue sky again after their stint of incarcerated darkness.

OK, I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but I feel stiffer than I’ve felt for a looong time, I have permanent low-level tiredness and lethargy, old injuries are rearing their all-too-familiar heads, the back-bending classes are challenging me both physically and emotionally, and my muscles are clearly rather annoyed at how I’m treating them – ‘Give us a break, Becky!’ they scream at me as I take my first forward bend of each class. I feel a bit deflated and frustrated – when will it start to feel good?!

Meanwhile, Chris is halfway through his Mysore ‘time’ already (one month) and busy planning his epic scooter ride through India. I catch him poring over a map of India with an eager gleam in his eye – and I’m envious! I find myself wistfully imagining myself escaping with him, riding pillion into the sunset to see what we can discover in this huge and enticing country. I love exploring, and I love the great outdoors, and I’m starting to wonder whether I can cope with living for three months in a hectic city, committing to the relentless yoga schedule and dealing with all these unfamiliar aches and pains.

But then I take a deep breath, take a step back from myself and smile through the tiredness. I know I’m in the right place. I know that getting through this initial painful stage is very much part of the process of being here. Tough times like this are where we find out how strong we are, how determined we can be; where we exercise discipline, humility and acceptance. Plus it’s great practice for developing that elusively equanimous mind, which, really, is the whole point of all this contorting and breathing. I hold firmly to the old cliche, ‘you get out what you put in’, and know that, when I finally leave behind this painful stage, I will feel doubly good for having stuck it through, for not having given up. I know that the pain is actually my body and mind becoming stronger and more supple, and who knows to what paradigm shift in myself this will lead.

So, here I shall remain, following Chris’s journey in spirit as I travel on my own personal journey. I may not cover so many miles, but I am sure I will still go far… 🙂

(And, by the way, having just re-read the second paragraph, I certainly don’t expect any sympathy from anyone for the current pain I am in!)

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This pretty much sums it up…

Institutionalised yoga?

I found out yesterday that I hadn’t got in to study at the Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPAYI) in February next year and, since I applied, I’ve found out that obtaining a place is as fraught and nigh impossible as getting hold of Glasto tickets…

For those that don’t know, Pattabhi Jois is the man who devised the ashtanga system of yoga, therefore his shala (which is now grandly known as the Institute) is considered to be the true home of ashtanga. Pattabhi died in 2009, aged 93, and on his death the teaching at the Institute was passed onto his grandson, Sharath, and daughter, Saraswathi.

Nowadays the Institute is a huge, commercial affair. Pattabhi’s original humble shala in Lakshimapuram has been upgraded to a huge, fittingly institutional-looking building in the wealthy suburb of Gokulam, over-shadowed only by Sharath’s even more huge, ostentatiously custom-built home adjacent. Students flock here from all over the world to learn at the true source and, for many, to try and become ‘authorised’ to teach ashtanga yoga by Sharath.

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The rather formidable new Institute building.

In ashtanga yoga there’s a bit of an old-school monopoly going on, whereby no ashtanga teacher training courses are officially recognised by the Institute and its purist followers; the only way to become ‘qualified’ to teach the system is through authorisation by the existing guru at the Institute (currently Sharath). Authorisation will only come after showing commitment to regular study at the Institute (probably over a number of years, although rumours abound that you can accelerate the process by flashing some cash, and possibly some cleavage too). For a select few, who show extreme commitment, certification is also possible – to my knowledge, we only have one certified teacher in the UK – the brilliant Hamish Hendry.

Anyway, due to its international popularity, the application process is heavily prescriptive and very competitive. There are all kinds of jobsworth rules – like, you have to begin your period of study at the start of the month, for at least one month but for no more than three months, you can only apply to study between one and three months before your start date, you must arrive at the shala between the hours of x and x to register in person with approximately six million passport photos etc… (yawn). It costs around £300 a month to study there, which is admittedly quite cheap by UK standards, but ludicrously expensive by Indian standards (for example I pay around £90 a month to study with Vijay, and even that is hugely inflated compared to the locals’ price).

What all this means is that, on the first day of each month at midnight Indian time, there is a panicked flurry of applications for three months in advance – what is collectively termed a ‘scramble of yogis’.

But I didn’t know any of this when I applied over a leisurely mid-morning cuppa, UK time – I thought I was being really clever and switched on by doing it on the first day of the month. Ha! So it was no surprise that I didn’t get in, as apparently the system operates on a first-come-first-served basis, although, again, rumours abound that Sharath hand-picks each batch (yes, that is the actual term for each intake, like loaves of bread!) based on the passport photo that you have to submit with your online application.

In fact, there are all kind of rumours floating around Mysore regarding the Institute. It is as though there are two camps: the die-hard purists who wouldn’t dream of studying anywhere but the true home of ashtanga, and for whom a direct lineage to Pattbhi is paramount; and those who turn their nose up at any mention of the Institute, and who tell tales of its very un-yogic feel (I have to say I was struck by the shards of glass on the tops of the boundary walls, as if to keep out the riff-raff!), of bodies packed into a room with some people having to practise in the changing rooms, of huge egos vying for Sharath’s attentions, of receiving minimal adjustments, of being a number not a person, of being elbowed out of the way by those desperate to get to the front of the room to have more chance of being noticed and, thus, being authorised, etc.

As per normal, I find myself sitting on the fence. Yes, those rumours paint a rather hellish scene, which doesn’t sound like the kind of place where I would flourish. But I always like to find things out for myself and, if nothing else, can you imagine the fertile soil for social observation and all-out nosiness at the personalities involved?! Plus, I have dedicated more hours than I care to think about to practising ashtanga, so it seems fitting that I learn at its source at least once in my life. And, as always, I fall back on my ‘try (more or less) everything once’ rule, which I’ve always subscribed to and have absolutely no regrets about. For me, life is about seizing opportunities and gathering experiences – seeing as much of what this crazy world has to offer as possible, which inevitably includes the bad as well as the good along the way.

So will I apply for the March batch? Well, let’s just say you may see my concentrating face lit by the glare of my netbook screen at midnight on December 1st… 😉

And if I get in? Well, great, I will feel lucky to have been given the opportunity and it will be a new experience to be had. And if I don’t get in? Well, great – more time with Vijay, or for travel round India. I quite like leaving decisions to fate and, as with most decisions, it’s a win-win situation as long as you make the most out of the path you end up taking… 🙂

Cow question time

Since my last post, I’ve had a euphoric back-bending moment, have been entered into a Karnataka State yoga competition (errr… hello?!) and have drunk many more fresh coconuts. But enough about me – today’s post will focus on that very Indian of beasts – the common cow… 🙂

Cows are everywhere in India – at first this is very weird and excitingly novel (cue lots of tourist shots like the one below).

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But, I think partly due to the cows’ calm acceptance of their own situation, it soon becomes completely normal to see cows roaming the streets and chewing the cud next to you on the pavement. But, even once you’ve normalised to the situation, there are still questions to be asked:

  • Firstly, who do all the cows belong to? This is probably the question most often heard on green westerners’ lips and, as Chris pointed out, this probably reflects our western obsessions with ownership and material possessions. Anyway, we asked our go-to man, Harish (the chef at Mandira cafe) and he said that they belong to the ‘cow people’, and that, despite wandering the streets during the day, they are rounded up and taken to cow sheds for the night. I am not sure who the cow people are, but I imagine they are likely to be from lower caste, traditionally pastoral families. For many families, especially in rural areas, the cow is an important member of the family, providing milk, butter, ghee and dung for fuel.

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  • Where are all the bulls? So, there are hundreds of calves and cows on the streets but no bulls (phew) – something doesn’t add up. I learnt in pranayama yesterday that one of the five unforgivable sins in Hinduism is killing a cow (contrary to popular belief, this isn’t because they are particularly revered, but rather due to them providing so many useful products, especially milk – I wanted to ask ‘But what about the sheep and goats – don’t they provide useful milk too?’, but didn’t dare – BNS Iyengar doesn’t suffer questions too gladly…). Well, it turns out there’s a bit of a religious loop-hole (who’d have thought…) – yes, it’s a sin to kill a cow, but nowhere is it written down that it’s a sin to sell the male calves to Muslims/Christians etc who can then do the deed for you, guilt-free. So male calves are separated out and sent to the barbarians/infidels for slaughter, and a few prime studs are kept in the villages to maintain population levels. Cunning…
  • What on earth do the cows eat? There are no Anchor-butter-esque lush pastures full of fat Frisians here. Nope, the cows are pretty scrawny, with hip-bones painfully protruding. They are most often seen rummaging through the communal bins (they’re not the only ones – see pic below) or grazing along thin strips of patchy scrub along central reservations. It seems cows are very opportunistic eaters, not the strict herbivores that we’re used to in the UK.           P1010988  P1010993
  • Why are they mute (moote)? I don’t really have an answer for this but, seriously, there are so many cows here but not once have I heard the tiniest hint of a moo. It’s a bit weird. And it’s not just the cows – the mossies operate by stealth mission here too, with no irritating whine to inform you of their unwanted presence. Strange..

Meat and sleep – the universe provides…

Today my body is hurting BIG-TIME. Last night’s back-bending class stretched muscles I didn’t know I had – and that’s coming from a yoga teacher/masseuse with anatomy training! Vinay’s teaching techniques were unusual – he has devised a series of stretching and strengthening exercises, almost like calisthenics, that prepare the body for back-bending. You repeat each exercise a few times, with the emphasis on using slow, deep breaths to move the body deeper into each shape. Towards the end of the class we used this preparation to do repetitions of a few back-bends such as utrasana (camel), dhanurasana (bow) and urdvha dhanurasana (wheel).

I found the teaching style unfamiliar, and not an easy fit for my ashtanga-conditioned yoga mindset. It took me out of my comfort zone, which always brings with it a gamut of emotions; in this case irritation at the alien postures, frustration that I was finding it all so hard, a sense of deflation (‘I’ll never enjoy back-bends’), borderline boredom at its slow pace, etc…

It’s interesting to observe these emotions – they show I’m being truly challenged, and not just on the physical level, and that is always a good thing, as long as you’re up for the challenge of facing those feelings head-on and working through them. Then you can’t help but come out the other side a stronger, better person. So I am looking forward to this evening’s class, for whatever it brings up… 🙂

In the meantime, Chris is looking smug today, following a bit of a grump yesterday morning. To summarise, the grump was mainly focused on why the ashtanga yoga has to start so early in the morning (we set our alarms for 5:50am to make the 6:30am start) and how he’s wasting away because it’s so damn hard to get hold of meat in India. To be fair he has a point – between the yogis and the Hindus, there isn’t much call for steak…

Anyway, the universe was clearly looking down on Chris in pity yesterday. Firstly, Vijay decided our class would now start 15 minutes later to allow the first class enough time to finish (this now means we can set our alarms for 6:05 – five precious minutes after the critical 6am threshold of common decency). Secondly, we were graciously provided with a protein-fest last night by an empathetic onlooker, including eggs and…. (drum roll)… chicken curry (I just had the eggs – my new-found vegetarianism is still going strong… :)). I couldn’t possibly reveal our sources, but it seems that whoever they are can reliably provide Chris with a meat-feed whenever the grump descends next. Phew… 😉

Finally, here’s a photo of a beautiful, crumbling old house I noticed on a busy road round the corner yesterday. There are a few of these old-style buildings, usually set within large grounds, nestled amongst the newer builds, and often very difficult to spot at first due to the overgrown garden.

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In fact, our place is also an original building – it has an old-world charm and a sense of faded grandeur – I love it. Here it is… 🙂

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The slow count

This morning we had our first led primary series class with Vijay – it was a sloooow count, and I swear he slowed down even more for navasana (the dreaded boat pose, where you balance on your bum in a V shape) and utpluthih (where you lift up onto your hands whilst in lotus and hold for an excrutiating final burst of pain before savasana). Chris said he caught Vijay’s eye whilst grimacing in navasana and Vijay gave him a big grin and chuckled to himself – sadist!

It was good though, despite tight calves from yesterday’s expedition up Chamundi Hill. I seem to be becoming slightly less like a lake of sweat with each class, so hopefully I’m starting to adjust to the climate.

This afternoon I have my first back-bending class with Vinay Kumar, Vijay’s elder brother. I feel like a massive cliché doing this intensive four-week course, along with almost every other westerner here, but it’s an opportunity not to be missed. People rave about Vinay’s teaching, and in particular his emphasis on letting the breath guide the postures and not the other way round. Plus back-bending is a bit of a sticking point for me, and I just know the course will do me all kinds of good, and probably not just on the physical level, such is the magic of back-bending.

What this means is that, as of today, I officially become a commuter, as I’ll need to get a rickshaw or moped lift to the Gokulum area of Mysore each day for Vinay’s class – around a 20 minute drive from home. This also means more trips on the mighty TVR, which I managed to grab a picture of earlier, before it disappeared in a cloud of dust and throbbing engine (ahem…).

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I have managed to avoid being a commuter for quite a few years now, and it seems ironic that this now happens whilst being a yoga bum in India. But then again, I’m not sure I could be classed as a bum, given the rigours of my new daily schedule:

  • Ashtanga yoga 6:30-8:30am
  • Pranayama: 12-1pm
  • Back-bending class: 5:30-7pm

So poor Chris now well and truly becomes a yoga widow, and I may well become a gibbering yogi wreck…

Finally, I will leave you with this piece of ancient Indian wisdom, picked up at one of the hotels recommended by the Lonely Planet for food, where we had a very lacklustre meal the other night, then afterwards noticed a heaving, enticing street food area just round the corner, with delectable smells wafting through the air yet no mention in the LP, doh – lesson (re)-learnt. In case you can’t read the top bit, it’s a list of ways to prevent a hang-over, and only in Mysore would this list include pranayama – love it!

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Elvis legs

Well, so much for the much-anticipated lie-in… Despite new sheets, I slept fitfully and, as predicted, was woken at 5am by the orchestration of chanting (the bass line), muezzin (the melody) and Danny the dog howling (harmonies of sorts) – apparently from time to time he likes to provide enthusiastic accompaniment to the call the prayer.

Still, this afternoon we fought the urge for a siesta and instead went out on our first road trip – Chris has rented a scooter to see how it runs before he commits to buying one for his big trip. I believe it’s a TVS XL Super, which is a fittingly over-stated name for what is barely more than a push-bike – we’ve decided the Indians do not share the British tendency towards modesty…

It was a bit wobbly to get going with two passengers and at first I was a bit tense due to being acutely aware of the fragility of my human skin, the comparative robustness of the tarmac and the lack of any kind of barrier between the two. I couldn’t prevent the rise of various vivid images of the gruesome splat that would be left of me, should we crash. However, amongst the melee of others in the same boat (or rather scooter), I soon relaxed and began to enjoy being part of the ordered chaos and feeling the breeze on my face.

We headed out of the city towards Chamundi Hill, on the top of which is a famous temple. It felt great to leave the city and its honking traffic behind for a while, and find some relative tranquility. We paid 5p to park the scooter at the bottom, where a man was present to throw coconuts at monkeys, should they decide to invade your steed – money well spent, given the mischievous look in those macaques’ eyes.

There are over a thousand steps up the hill to the temple and boy did my thighs know about it by the end. Each step is daubed with little spots of coloured powder, religiously (literally) put there by the particularly devout as they make their upward pilgrimage. We also noticed lots of young couples, who looked away sheepishly as we passed in a ‘we’re not really here, honest’ kind of way – we figured this is one of the favoured hang-outs for illicit lovers.

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The path was quiet, lush and mercifully shaded – dragonflies and butterflies danced amongst the canopy and jasmine bushes sprinkled the steps with their fragrant confetti. Half-way up was a giant tar-covered effigy of a cow with a family of macaques reigning supreme on its back. Worshippers pressed silver coins into the tar and queued up to receive honey and water from the holy man, who dished it out with  a spoon whilst simultaneously texting on his mobile phone. I was wondering whether it would be OK to take a photo then Chris pointed behind me towards a crowd of Indians holding aloft their clicking smart-phone cameras. Modern India indeed.

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We were greeted at the top of the steps by a noble-looking cow, who stood on the threshold between the peaceful steps and absolute bedlam beyond.

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I had expected a lone temple standing on a peaceful hill-top in reverential hush, but instead it was like a busy market-place, full of noise and gaudy colour.

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Hundreds of Indian families, the majority of which must have driven up on the road rather than taking the steps (these are clearly reserved for loved up teenagers and foolhardy foreigners), were descending on the temple and the surrounding food and souvenir stands, and the queue to enter the temple was ridiculous. The temple itself is a huge gold pyramid, ornately decorated with deities. Little bit OTT for my taste, but pretty impressive.

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We were surprisingly the only westerners there and, for the first time on this trip, we received loads of attention. Chris was whisked away by a group of young lads to have his photo taken with them, with the word ‘tattoo’ coming through the local dialect loud and clear. He was then commandeered by a family, who wanted his picture with their young son. A bit of a crowd had gathered by this point, and Chris extricated himself with difficulty after a few more paps, and was left feeling rather odd about the whole thing. Note, no requirement for photos with the girl foreigner – charming… (I should have revealed my tattoo.)

Anyway, we made it back to the bottom of the hill in one piece but ended up with bizarrely out-of-control shaking legs – the car park man chuckled and said,

“Legs vibrating?”

Yes, that’s exactly what they were doing, and it’s good to know we’re obviously not the only ones with inadequate quads. Yoga clearly doesn’t make you hiking fit… 😉

Return of the monsoon

Today I learnt that hareem pants are not good in a downpour – whoever said the rainy season had finished here has a lot to answer for… We were having lunch on the street with 25p man again (his pakoras are so amazing!) when we heard ominous rumbles that were definitely not emanating from our bodies – neither our bellies nor the more sinister alternative. As we headed home, the sky went a disturbing shade of dark grey, and then all hell was let loose as the storm broke, taking our breath away with its out-of-nowhere intensity – the monsoon revisited…

Ropes of water pummelled downwards whilst dust bounced upwards. Dogs and people alike rapidly retreated beneath the mighty umbrellas of the street-side tamarind trees and the smell of wet tarmac filled the air. Traffic magically disappeared, and the only things left in the open were unconcerned cows, swirling eddies of leaves and two mad Brits, who insisted on continuing the walk home regardless.

Still, it was a good excuse for a cup of chai and a chocolate brownie when we arrived back, bedraggled and shivering – I didn’t expect goose pimples in India!

This afternoon Chris tackled the city market on a mission to buy bed linen (he’ll kill me for saying so, but this is actually his dream mission – he’s drawn to soft furnishings like a moth to the light) whilst I gave an aching yogi a Thai massage (I think my massage services may be in high demand given the number of groaning yogis clutching sore muscles…). The mission was successful – check out these matching bad boys:

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Is there anything more exciting than the prospect of new sheets?!

Tomorrow is our first day off yoga in eight days – we’re very much looking forward to a lie-in, although we may still be woken by the usual 5am chorus of omms and chanting from the adjacent yoga hall (the ‘local’ yoga classes for Indians tend to start this early, to allow the lazy westerners the later slot of 6:30am) combined with the rich Welsh baritone-like warblings of the Muezzin (very different from the half-arsed nasal drone I became used to in Morocco). This ‘spiritual mash-up’ very much represents India’s religious diversity – yet another thing I love about this place, although perhaps not at that hour on our day-off…

We’re tired and achey from our yoga exploits but it’s going really well, and Vijay suggested I start working through second series next week, which made me feel both glad and a bit ‘meh’ – it’s been great focusing on primary series this week and sorting out some of my bad habits and weak spots that are so easy to brush over in my self-practice (e.g. ‘hmm, I’m not wearing the right leggings so I’ll skip gharba pindasana today’ or ‘no one will ever know if I don’t make an effort to bind in supta kurmasana’ etc) – there are no such short-cuts in Vijay’s class… But it’s time to face my nemesis of kapotasana – so bring it on I say… 😉

Anyway, we’re off to have it large tonight thanks to tomorrow’s lie-in – who knows, perhaps we might even stay up until the unheard of hour of 10pm?!

Home sweet home

Today I thought I’d describe our new digs and our new home town. We’re staying in one of the five rooms at Yoga Mandira (I learnt that mandira means temple). It’s a lovely old-style building with a yoga hall at its centre, a shared kitchen, a communal seating area and an outdoors café to the side. It’s set within a large, flower-full garden, which is carefully tended each day, and is on a quiet street just off one of the main roads through the area of Lakshimapuram. It’s tranquil here; you can hear the birds, children play on the street outside, the staff play cricket in the garden and Danny the dog languishes in the shade.

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Our rather dingy but nonetheless cosy room – if you haven’t already spotted the ridiculous photo-bomb, look again… 😉

Yet less than a minute’s walk away and you’re amidst the noisy mayhem of Mysore traffic, where the only rule of the road seems to be to honk your horn as much as possible. Somehow the system works though, and it makes me chuckle that the only thing that has the power to stop the flow of traffic is a cow. You see them lumbering casually across a busy intersection or grazing along the central reservation of a dual carriageway, oblivious to the chaos they are causing as people swerve to avoid the karmic catastrophe of a bovine collision.

We’ve taken to going for evening walks around the block, which I love for the insight into everyday family life. The side-streets come alive at dusk – children play together in the middle of the road, their parents looking on unconcerned as mopeds flash past, often without headlights, weaving around their various games. Women sit together on steps, chatting and giggling. The mood is happy, light-hearted and playful. Laughter flows, smiles shine through the creeping darkness and the gorgeous scent of cardamom wafts out of brightly-lit open doorways. I can’t help but compare this social hubbub to the average night-time UK street of quiet emptiness. There is such a sense of community here; clearly the street residents are firm friends. It’s a joy to walk through this scene, and to briefly feel touched by its warmth and infectious happiness. As the light fades, large bats swoop low around the tamarind trees that line all of the streets here, gleaning insects from the leaves.

Often when we return, Vijay, one of the staff, has lit a candle and incense beneath a terracotta pot in the garden, with a single marigold flower placed on top as an offering. The simplest of shrines, and all the more beautiful for it. It feels like a cosy beacon, welcoming us home.

More street scenes:

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The technique for making these road drawings is incredible – they use powder chalk and somehow trickle it onto the road through their fingers into two or more parallel lines, like you can see here.

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Spying on our neighbours…