Smile




“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” Dr.Seuss



Having just completed a month of yoga, which also entailed a month of healthy eating (read: a month off the booze), the GF and I are due some well earned rest. Bonus, we find ourselves on the beach in Goa with a couple of weeks relaxation up our sleeves.

High, high up on our ‘to-do’ list of activities during this r’n r is a long overdue re-tox. I’m dreaming of sparkling wine at sunset, a cold bottle of Sula being the local Indian tipple, followed by a cleansing Goan Kings brewski or two, to help wash down some fresh fish from the tandoori. They’ve actually got a rapidly growing wine industry in India with some great plonk … but back to the plan.

Feet in the sand, sun setting over the sea, after a month off the booze the glass in front of me is full of tantalising bubbles, mere moments from my mouth. 

A long overdue “Cheers” is said in earnest, matched with that magical sound of glasses chink-chinking.

I inch the nectar upwards.

“A quick toast”, the GF announces.

“I’m just so proud of you”, she states, glass held high. “Proud that you fully committed to the whole month. Thank-you.”

The glass is getting warm. The sun is touching the ocean. I need to reply. Something short. 

“To us!”

Glassware is re-clinked.

Then, intuition takes over.
Hand grabs glass, arm lifts hand, glass touches mouth, liquid begins to flow.

“Aaaarrgghhh!”, I scream. 

I’m the first to admit I’m a baby when it comes to pain, but this is something else. A shooting sensation has just run straight through my front tooth, piercing my brain. I drop the glass as both hands reach up and cover my mouth.

The GF gulps whilst peering over the rim of her glass. She’s staring wide eyed my agony. She gulps again. Then gulps once more, finally asking after my well being.
My well being is not good.

Luckily, Goa is renowned for its dentists, and within ten minutes by rickshaw I’m lying flat on my back, in the dental chair, sober as a judge, mouth wide open.

Dentist goes tap, tap, tap.

I go aargh, ow, OUCH!

Seems there is a ‘minor emergency’, his words not mine. 

After a revealing X-Ray, a brief consultation, a local anaesthetic, and on my request a second local anaesthetic just for good measure, the dentist pulls my front tooth clean out of my head, and with it a huge cyst is drained, GROSS, and I’m prescribed a week of antibiotics.

‘You will no longer be in pain,” I was reassured. “Just remember, no drinking alcohol with the antibiotics for the week”. 

I can only, barely, smile.

Month in Mysore

 (Photo: Instagram@briana.n.yoga)

This piece is an extract from the novel ‘Stretching Truths: Travels of a Yogini’s Boyfriend’.

Landing in India is always exciting, and I had a blissful month in beautiful Mysore to start.  You can always tell where the rich live in India because every second house is a private doctor’s residence and the locals have perfect teeth as there are dentists everywhere. Gokulam, Mysore  is such a place, but with the added bonus of housing the famous KPJAYI shala, the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga. 

There seem to be more foreigners than locals in Gokulam, visitors from over 60 countries come to practice, a figure the local guru proudly throws around. All are very fit and healthy looking, with the air of zen around them, a benefit that comes from keeping a dedicated diet and doing hard yards on the mat. My GF fits right in.

“Who are you practicing with?”, is the go to conversation starter in Gokulam. 

“What? No yoga??”, a baffled bi-sexual beefcake asks in disbelief, disgust spreading over his radiant face. I realise a better excuse is needed to justify my excistence, literally as there are ‘Yoga Students Only’ signs on the front doors of some hotels.

However, there is a loophole in Ashtanga yoga that I will share with you. Ashtanga, the mantra goes, is 99% practice and 1% theory.

“I’m here for the theory”, just believable enough to blend in, the best way to get out alive when immersed within a gang.

The yoga tourist does have an interestingly different type of holiday. I dove further into their world by picking up some volunteer (read ‘unpaid’) work at one of the local cafes. A dedicated yoga student will start their day in the shala EARLY and sweat it out, sometimes for hours, building up an immense hunger. 

The cafe is  all low tables and pillows, with soft sounds of the rainforest playing through speakers, as the Yogi’s and Yogini’s arrive, carrying mats of questionable smell tucked under their arms and sustainable glass water bottles at hand. Breakfast is THE event of the day, after the actual practice of course. 

Being a waiter gives me a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the daily life of the yoga tourist. Interestingly, although everybody is very health conscious, anal even, about what they eat, they consume a LOT for breakfast, an event that lasts for hours. The whole experience is a bit like watching floodgates open.

Just a soy chai and plain toast to start, inhaled as it hits the table, followed by ragi flakes with more soy milk splashed on top, another chai. Pause. Something scrambled, usually tofu occassionly eggs if you’re a beginner,  and onto the first mug of black coffee. This is woofed down, ‘more coffee, please!’. Not a request, but demanded as the first hit of caffeine kicks in. Ragi pancakes follow, a dry heavy alternative to the fluffy style you may invision. This should be the end, even for the hungriest, but the glutten free chocolate cake comes out of the oven, and the crowd goes wild. Why the chef doesn’t bake two, or ten for that matter, is beyond me, but the cake sells out and those who missed a slice give me as evil a glare as somebody on a yoga high can muster. Not so much scary but INTENSE.

Eavesdropping is habitual for hospitality staff. Om shanti shanti, savasana, pinch-my-arse-ena, are all part of the lexicon. The dilemma of killing mosquitoes can become a heated discussion. The barriers to binding hands when your body is contorted in a box are high also high on the agenda. Kino McGregor’s latest Instagram post is always a hot topic.

The days can end after breakfast in Gokulam, as yogis have an afternoon rest, and then a liquid dinner at Anu’s, saving room for tomorrow’s morning feast.

Been to Gokulam? Did I forget something??

India taught me…

To travel is to learn, and learning is the greatest gift.  Discovering new cultures and new ways of life are the highlights of any trip. I’m coming to the end of my travels through India and these are some reflections on what India has taught me.

1. Yoga is a great way of life.

My GF is a yoga addict, so I kinda already knew this but for the first time, I immersed myself in the lifestyle. It’s hard not to in India, especially having spent a month in Mysore (the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga). Not to do yoga in India would be a travesty. There are studios EVERYWHERE, and most are by donation therefore suitable for every budget, so no excuses. If you are a complete novice, no problem! Remember that eveybody was a beginner at some stage, just start by practising savasana. 

  
(Instagram @briana.n.yoga doing her thing)

2. Train travel is the BEST travel.

Ok, I may reneg on this as I am three weeks off starting my first bike tour of Europe, but for now I’d rather catch a train any day. For long journeys you have to be a bit organised as train tickets go on sale 90 days before departure, and with a billion plus people they sell out quicker than you’d think. Over peak times and through popular routes, for the express trains book tickets at least a fortnight in advance. There are different class tickets ranging in comfort from deluxe suites to sardine cans.  On overnight travel, a second tier A/C ticket gets you a bed in a cabin of four, with three course meals provided for lunch and dinner, and tea/coffee/snacks  in between. Watching the country click click click by from a train is both romantic and hypnotic. Check out Wes Anderson’s ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ if you need any more inspiration. 

  

(Train to Udaipur,from Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

3. Plastic sux. 

One of the first things to hit you on arriving in India is the rubbish. From talking to travellers who have been returning to India over the years, the problem seems to be getting worse, however there may be a silver cloud on the horizon. Beaches in Goa have installed bins and collectors, and nearly every town has shops that will refill your water bottles. Use these! Let’s say you drink 3 litres a day, on a two week trip you’ll go through 50 plus bottles. Pack a good flask with you and refill for a couple cents at convenient places alone the way. It’s a great service, use it to avoid a dis-service to our planet. 

4. It’s OK not to eat meat.

A highlight to visiting Japan is eating sushi, an assado in Argentina, paella in Spain, shrimp on the barbie you know where. So do as the Romans do, in India, go veg, it’s what the locals do. There are only two types of restaurants in India, veg and the less popular non-veg. These have two sub categories, North Indian and South Indian. You don’t have to follow the food chain too far to realise that the chicken in your tikka masala isn’t the quality you’d get back home, but the dhal fry is to die for. If you go veg on holidays in India you can not only eat as much as you want of the tastiest food, you may find a new and healthier habit forming.

  
(Traditional Rajasthanian thali, from Instagram@nickisalwayonholidays)

5. You are the 1%.

I’m not going to get into the problems of poverty, but one thing that is made loud & clear on any travel to India is that if you can afford the plane ticket over you’re financially more secure than nearly everybody on the street. Nobody likes to be ripped off, but maybe haggle a little lighter, buy some more chai, give away all your coins, and let the kids practice their English on you. Be a Good Samaritan.

India, thanks for the lessons.

n