We finished our last day of class in Rishikesh on Saturday, and on Sunday had to bid farewell to the city we all fell in love with. I mean absolutely, one hundred percent, will be back next time for three-months, fell in love with. You could say I drank the Koolaid. Rishikesh, and more precicely just that area that provides a gateway to the Himalayan Mountains, along the bank of the Ganges River, is a place I will never forget and will always go back to. Friday morning, our group held its chanting at the bank of the Ganges at sunrise, and the power of that intention plus the serenity of the river gave me an infusion of spiritual energy I had not felt before. On Sunday, I went to the river at sunrise with just my friend to chant, and pray, and make an offering to the river that had left such an impression on me. And to say goodbye for now to the huge, sparkling marble Shiva statue that I fondly called My Man. I spoke in my last blog post about the wonderful people we met while in Rishikesh. Hence on Saturday night, we had a lot of saying goodbye to do!
We made the rounds to say goodbye to all of our new Indian friends, as well as the Brazilians we met during the course. (As a side note, we saw more Brazilians than people of any other nationality. I told Simone that next time I come to India, I better learn how to speak Portugese). Locally, we place our hands together in front of our chest and bow to say hello, thank you, and goodbye. But Brazilians are wonderfully friendly and kiss your cheek and give you a fabulously long hug before saying cio.
Before we left, we donated some of the warm clothes we brought with us to the local people in need. We found women tending young, dirty children with big eyes and smiles and gave them warm sweaters. Cathy bought one small boy lunch one day, and when he saw her later that evening, he threw himself into her arms and thanked her endlessly, and asked that she stay to meet his mother. We smiled and laughed with them and gave them what we could, until word got out that we were giving and a mob started following us, asking us for more. We gave what we could, then gently made our escape.
If you want to travel through small airports in India, do not bring a lot of luggage. If you do bring a lot of luggage, make sure you have a friend who can pitch a really convincing fit about overage fees so that you do not end up paying more for than your entire flight ticket for a few extra kilos. (And as a side note — America, can we please switch to the metric system already! Trying to figure out how a kilo compares to a pound is like trying to figure out how many oranges fit into a football stadium — your guess is as good as mine). And if you do agree to just pay the fee, beware that they do not take credit cards.
We arrived in Fort Kochin at 9pm or so on Sunday night. Even though it was well past sun down, it was balmy. I felt like I could drink the air. Which was good, because I felt a sore throat coming on. When I woke the next morning, that was confirmed. Luckily, I armed myself with a good herbal pharmacy and throughout the day downed about 40 capsules of various herbs, as well as some tincture and lots of Vitamin C. I am feeling better today, Tuesday, but not back to 100% yet.
We are staying in a homestay called Noahs Ark, which won the Trip Advisor award for best homestay in 2011. It is fabulous. We have a nice room, AC, and two things we havent had the whole trip — hot water all day long (of course, now that we are in the hottest climate of our trip) and a shower curtain! Really, it is the little things that make us happy.
Breakfast is served on the ground floor of the three story house between 8 and 10 am. Diana, the woman in charge, serves us fresh fruit and fruit juice, eggs cooked to order, toast and tea or coffee. Some days, she offers us tastes of traditional Indian breakfasts as well, such as Dosas with vegetables or rice noodles with a sort of banana concoction. It is very lovely, and we have made friends with the other guests staying here — a couple from England, a man from Germany and another from Wales.
The house is taller than it is wide, and open from the ground level to the top, where a large spiral staircase runs its height. We step off just one full revolution onto the second floor for our room, and another room or two plus a computer area are on this floor. The third floor has another room and access to a covered roof area, where I spent the sunrise practicing meditation, chanting, and posture (yoga).
Yesterday, we slept in, then walked aimlessly around the town, trying to get our bearings. At about 2pm, we found ourselves at the waters edge, watching the locals fish. I had never seen fishing like this before — huge nets pulled up by some sort of weight and pulley system. They let us try it and took lots of pictures. We continued wandering around, and ran into our friends from Dr. Guptas study, who we planned to meet later for tea. We had a lovely afternoon and a tasty dinner. I usually have a very solid internal GPS, but I think because of the headcold, it was not working yesterday and we got lost at night, after dinner. Luckily, a very nice man on a motorcycle pointed us in the right direction.
Today, we spent 2.5 Rupees to take a ferry across the bay to a larger city that houses a huge fabric store. It had six floors — the first floor had fabric and finishing items, the second had basic saris, the third fancy saris, the fourth ready made salwars . . . we only made it to the fourth floor. I was on a mission for fabrics for myself and for Mom, a silk Sari, and maybe a salwar (modern wear for Indian females — a tunic top with pants and a scarf, all matching). I walked away with all of those things for prices that felt like stealing! In fact, when the owners of our homestay heard we wanted fabric, they sent us to this place because prices are fixed and we would not get cheated. The girls who helped us with the saris were so sweet, smiling and asking us our good names, asking if my tatoo was a wipe off, nodding their heads in approval at my nose ring, and bobbing their heads from side to side with smiles when they liked what we chose.
Indian people are known for this famous head bobble. It only took me a few days to notice it here, but almost a month to try it myself. When Indian people talk, they wiggle their head from side to side. I have come to realize that this can be used as a form of acceptance, as in Yes, that is right. It can also be seen as a simple gesture of peace and friendliness — so just as I would nod my head and smile at a person on the street, an Indian person would wiggle their head and smile. I had not had the courage yet to try it myself, but as those young, wonderful girls helped us wrap our saris, asking us questions and answering ours, I found myself trying it. The response was incredible! As I smiled and wiggled my head from side to side, their smiles became wider. It was as if I had finally cracked some secret code. So, if you want to travel to India but do not know Hindi or any of their other langauges, just work on the head wiggle and a nice, bright smile.
Again, people in Kochin are so wonderfully nice. I have been trying to count the number of kind acts that have been shown to me just today, and have a hard time remembering. Our hosts drew us directions on a map to point us in the right direction. We still got lost trying to find our lunch place, and an older man on a motercycle stopped and asked if we needed help. He had us follow him as he drove out of his way to show us where to go. I did not have any small change for the ferry, so the ticket man would not give me a ticket. A man in line handed me exact change and said, It is no problem, madame. And those are only the ones I can remember with my stuffy head.
Right now, the girls are out finding dinner and I am in the room, resting. We did a lot of walking in the hot sun today, and I felt I needed to rest. They are bringing me a smoothie. Tomorrow we have a big day also, off to the elephant sanctuary and to see some beautiful waterfalls. I have three hours of Ayurvedic treatments scheduled for Friday, and a list of gifts to fulfill by the time I leave Saturday night.
I know many of you have been wanting pictures. I did not bring my computer, so uploading pics has been a problem. Here is a link to my Picasa album, where I have put in just a very, very small sampling of pictures to prove that I really am in India.