Mysore in September


(Photo KPJAYI Main Shala, Mysore. Courtesy Instagram@briana.nicholson)

Back in July when organising flights from A to B, the GF pointed out that since we were flying over India anyway, we would be mad not to touchdown for a yoga fix in Mysore. The GF is full of good ideas, and I was happy to agree.

“This time, you should practice yoga with me,” the GF added, after the flights were booked.

“Hmm……”

Well every healthy relationship needs some give and take, and always willing to try something new, I bought myself a mat, a pair of Lululemon shorts and jumped on the yoga bandwagon. In for a penny and all that. I was to learn that we had signed up for a month of Ashtanga yoga, at the ‘source’, KPJAYI. 

If you don’t know what Ashtanga is (I didn’t) I won’t bore you with the details other than to let you know that it is a flowing set of moves (asanas) that stretch and bend you for about an hour a day (longer if you’re better). But, you NEED to know the moves, so before jumping on the plane a crash course in Ashtanga was needed. Thanks YouTube!

Arriving in Mysore in the ‘off’ season the GF and I realised we had stumbled on a secret. Gokulam, the suburb where most of the yoga shalas are situated, is super quiet. Tranquil even. We had been here before, in the high season when the town is busting at the seams, with lines for restaurants, hotels over booked, Insta-famous yogis everywhere. Not the zen place that you’d expect. But now……well ‘shhh’, don’t tell anybody, because it’s bliss.

The head of Ashtanga’s lineage, Sharath is out of town. He’s touring abroad, but his mum, Saraswathi is still holding class. Both classes are packed to the rafters over the high season. Sharath holds class in the main shala, a big, beautiful room that is the epicentre of Ashtanga, a place where yogis worldwide need to wait and wait and wait to register for a place months in advance to get the chance to practice and improve. Saraswati has another shala around the corner. But with the head honcho outta town…. 

The GF asks Saraswati, “Are we practicing in the main shala for ALL of September?”, a little over excitedly.

“Actually”, Saraswati replies, “it is MY shala. I just let my son use it when he is here, but he is not here, so we will practice in MY shala”. 

Big smiles all round.

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??

UdaipurĀ 

  

(Photo: Instagram @nickisalwaysonholidays)

Warning:

This is not a travel guide, nor an itinerary for the tourist to follow so they can tick off boxes from a predetermined list. This is a picture of Udaipur, the beautiful city and it’s friendly inhabitants. Hopefully this will encourage the traveller to visit the state of Rajasthan in northern India and explore all that Udaipur has to offer.

Why people would settle in Udaipur is instantly apparent as you cross the open arid plains of Rajasthan, up and over the Aravali mountains and down into the city, where the picturesque Lake Pichola sits, full of clear blue water pumping life into an otherwise inhospitable landscape. The lake can be crossed by footbridge onto a small finger of land, Hanuman Ghat, where hotels, restaurants and tourist shops have sprung up in response to the demand this city attracts. The beauty of this oasis is accentuated by the huge City Palace that hangs over the lake, a sprawling complex that commenced construction in 1553 and took nearly 400 years to complete. Lake Pichola also hosts the uber cool floating Lake Taj Hotel, a retreat where Bollywood stars and famous cricket players can escape the spotlight and paparazzi.

A small hill centres the city on which two main roads intersect at Jagdish Temple, from where tourists flock onward to the gates of the City Palace. More interesting are the narrow side alleys where the locals live shoulder to shoulder, so tight even the rickshaws can’t squeeze through. On the alleys you can see old carts being pushed by vendors selling vegetables or sugar and spices or small knick knacks, shouting prices at the prospective buyers overhead who hang their heads out of the thin tall terrace houses. True window shopping. One alley winds its way up to the local school, perched on the hill with a breathtaking view. Exploring on a Saturday, the schools courtyard had been transformed into a cricket oval, the young students eagerly encouraging my GF and I to join in. I was quickly dismissed by a 10 year old fast bowler, Adarsh, who after taking my wicket whisked my GF and I off on a personal tour of his school. The pride he showed for his hometown and its sights was consistent with that of all the locals we met. 

Mornings have been spent in Prakash’s yoga shala followed by breakfast on the lake, listening to the local ladies, drenched in their bright multicoloured saris whack whack whacking away at the washing. Then a wander/wonder around the Bada Bazaar, past the fabric sellers, fruit stalls, snack shops selling irresistible sweets, the silver shops the region is famous for and a traditional shop with matted flooring where you can pick up an authentic Rajasthanian turban. The afternoons require a visit our favourite chai wallah whose store is impeccably clean with bright green wooden tables and an ancient radio blasting Bollywood ballads. The early evenings are majestic on top of a roof at one of the Hanuman Ghat havelis, looking east as the last rays of sun light up the City Palace. Above the lake there are flocks of birds; black ducks, kingfishers, green King parrots, stalks, pigeons, doves, wrens and finches, all being looked down on by a handful of kites circling high above. The numbers are incredible, and you can’t help wandering if the Chinese had similar vegetarian diets, would there be this array of wildlife around the ancient lake of Hangzhou?

At 7pm chants and chimes are heard from the local temple, whilst the mosque starts its sermon. Rather than being conflicting noises, these rituals sound harmonious as the sounds drift over the still lake. A harmony that will be remembered on the travels, ever alwaysonholidays.
  

(Photo: Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

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