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Whistle Stop Tour of Southern India

Southern IndiaSouthern India

Click on the Southern India above photo to see the album

After a couple of months of intensive yoga training in Mysore it was time to explore more of Southern India. My first stop was Kovalam Beach, Kerala in the far south of India. I did a one week yoga workshop there but I was also being a tourist. The beach that the hotels are clustered around leaves a lot to be desired. Not sure why but when I was there a lot of the sand was black and icky. I was warned by my yoga teacher that the waves here are treacherous as well. He said the week before someone had their back broken and I can see why as the waves break close to shore, quite suddenly and powerfully. The lifeguards do a decent job of keeping people out of the danger zones but they can’t watch everything. The one nice thing about the beach was the beautiful, blazing orange sunsets.

I was happy to get away from the oily curry of Mysore and tuck into the Western fare available in Kovalam. One restaurant I liked was called the Lonely Planet. It was nestled in the swampy area off the beach and had a fish pond that drew a lot of different birds in, great for birdwatching. One day I saw a large snake at the side of the pond which I thought was cool. Later that afternoon I saw a much larger one of these snakes, over ten feet long, just by the gate to my hotel which I did not find so cool. This is the gate I blearily stumbled through in the dark every morning at six, on my way to yoga. Fortunately we never slithered into one another.

Kerala is noted for coconut production and the trees are growing big and tall all around Kovalam. When you get off the beach there are narrow footpaths leading through swampy coconut groves. One day I was walking along and on the path not two steps in front of me a coconut came crashing down from way, way up one of these trees. These coconuts are large, probably weighing five pounds. That would have left a mark! Some shopkeepers were standing by and said I was very lucky, I had to agree.

It has been said that India can really get in to your blood and after this trip I wholeheartedly agree, as it happened to me. What I am talking about is a mosquito-borne virus called Chikingunya which I contracted in Mysore, as did a few other yoga people at the same time. It is similar to Dengue fever but less lethal. Some of the main symptoms are severe aches and pains, loss of energy, rash, and fever. After I got it, I sought advice from my Ayurvedic teacher who is a doctor,. Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional Indian medicine. He said there wasn’t really a treatment for it but suggested I fast for three days, which I did. I recovered quite a lot within a week. By the time I got to Kerala the only issue I had was some soreness and numbness in my hands. From Kovalam I moved just north to Varkala with my main goal to seek some treatment for the Chikingunya. I saw an Ayurvedic doctor and he recommended a couple of treatments as well as prescribing some Ayurvedic medicine. The first part of the treatment was having a ridiculous quantity (like gallons) of heated, medicated oil rubbed into my body. Part two was the shirodhara which involves heated, medicated oil as well, this time dripped onto the forehead. I was rather skeptical about all this but after a few days with the treatment and medicine I had a significant improvement with only soreness in my pinky finger. I still feel a bit of a twinge in my pinky fingers but nothing to moan about. This wee tingle should disappear over time. The good news is that you can only get Chikungunya once, so I am done with that.

I found the beach at Varkala much more inviting than at Kovalam. It’s a nice long beach that is backed by scenic cliffs. There is a long strip of touristy restaurants and shops on top of the north cliff which is fun to stroll along and grab a meal.

From Kerala I headed back to Bangalore for a few days. Bangalore is the IT capital of India and it is more modern and sophisticated than most other places. For a few days this was a nice change from the more traditional India. When it was time to move on, I was tempted to head back to Mysore, only two hours away, for one last visit but instead I decided to move on. I chose to visit Pondicherry on the east coast next and I am glad I did. Pondy was a French colony for a long time and the French influence is really show up in the old city with quaint Rue’s, Maison’s, etc. I felt a good vibe there right away.

The Aurobindo Ashram and it’s many different ventures are major attractions. It was high season and all the Ashram’s guesthouses were fully booked ,which is a shame as they looked inviting and comfy. I did take a look around the Ashram and checked out it’s beautiful garden/meditation area. The Ashram has many different craft shops around town to support it and the crafts were very well done. Just outside Pondicherry is the associated Auroville community which is a “universal” community with people from all over the planet coming together with Utopian ideals. I took a day trip out there and it is really amazing what these people have created out of what was once a desolate wasteland. There is forest and beautiful greenery all around, The meditation center looks very futuristic. I would love to see the inside of it sometime; you need to make arrangements ahead of time to get inside. I would like to return to Pondy someday and spend more time at the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville.

In some areas of Southern India coffee is more popular than tea and Pondicherry is one such place. I am a hopeless caffeine addict and I kicked up my intake several notches here. The roadside stands make an excellent cup of coffee, on the small side, for less than 10 rupees (25 cents). I had a funny experience in one of the Indian coffee shops. I had just read the book “The Life of Pi” and in the foreword the author mentions the good coffee and french toast available at the Indian Coffee House in Pondicherry. It had been a long time since I had french toast so I searched for and found this particular coffee shop. Just as the author described it, the décor is quite rustic and the place is full of locals. I made my order of coffee and french toast but my waiter didn’t seem to get it. I said french toast a couple more times, he asked me if I wanted butter and jam too. I said no and off he went but he had the look that I sometimes see when ordering in a foreign land, meaning they don’t really have a clue what you want but will make their best guess. He came back with coffee and plain dry toast. I was gutted. I just drank the coffee and went up to the till to pay and they wondered what was wrong with the toast. I briefly tried to explain french toast again and they didn’t get it either but kindly didn’t charge for the toast. The next day I went back with the book and showed them the passage they were in and after a bit more discussion back and forth we figured out that the Bombay toast on their menu board was actually french toast I wanted. I went back a few times for the Bombay toast and coffee and was happy as a clam.

In south India the yoga is good but as far as travel and adventure I much prefer NE India. After my loop of southern India I headed to Shillong in the northeast, but that is a story for another day.

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Brad the Nomad

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