Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bussing It Outta Jodphur

We are definitely not in Kansas anymore! Indians in the North are very different from those in the south.
Snake Charmer in Rajisthan

This morning as I sit with my morning chai (quite delicious actually with lots of ginger) I notice that the people around are morose and serious. My own smile, previously a means of communicating, is ineffective here. Maybe the desert influence affects the moods of the population. My struggle to defer judgement and forgo opinions reappears. This is Rajasthan, the epitome of intensity and heat and I won’t be here long enough to even begin to understand. Hindi and Rajasthani are the two languages spoken here. Unlike Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in Southern India, not many people speak English. All perception then, relies on the visual. And we definitely look different from each other! I can’t even begin to imagine what others are thinking about us. And yet, when it comes right down to basics, we are really all the same.

We board our (7:30 am) bus in Jodphur to Pushkar after a few surprises. First, after paying a rickshaw to deliver us to the bus stop, we discover that the bus is being prevented from entering the town and we have to take another rickshaw to get there. We watch all the people with their families and their belongings pack into rickshaws eagerly. We are told it will cost another 80 rupees. “No way” I say. “We’ve already paid to get here.” I am convinced that the other people are not putting up any more money. The travel company should be paying for this mishap! My negotiation pays off and we are given the same treatment as others. I feel a bit triumphant! I am no longer the ‘fresh monkey’ I used to be during my first visit to India.

Finally we get on our bus and settle in. We wait without the engine starting for what seems like a long time. I decide to take advantage of the wait and find a toilet. My search for one is unsuccessful. It’s okay, I figure. My many years of teaching and my numerous bus rides in India and South America have conditioned my bladder well. I can wait. “Let’s just leave already!” It is now 10:40.

Waiting Place
The bus never leaves. Instead we hear shouting in Hindi from the front of the bus. In response, everyone around us gets up and, gathering all their belongings, they begin to get off the bus. We wait until the end. We are travelling heavy and we’re not sure what’s happening. Finally we follow the crowd. Outside we are left on the side of a road, in, what seems like, the middle of nowhere. All of us… waiting. We discover that the bus we were on has been ‘seized’ by police because of failed inspection and lack of appropriate papers. We are instructed to wait (about 20 minutes) for the next bus.

Though there are not many places around, I decide to find a toilet. I leave the group in search of some place where I can go. I return within minutes. No luck! Now I’m getting nervous. If the bus does come soon, I will be stuck without access to toilet…and I already have to go badly. Paul offers to help. Maybe he can hold up a towel, but I’m reluctant. There is no place to hide in India!

Finally I make eye contact with a Rajasthani woman who is holding one child with two others at her side. Our simultaneous smile to one another confirms for me that I have found a comrade. I approach her slowly. “Toilet” I ask quietly. She responds in Hindi. Of course, I don’t understand. She puts the child from her arms on the ground and leans over to grab my hand. Together we walk to the side of the building. There is a broken down wall surrounding a small square of land. Garbage is piled in various corners and scattered all over. The smell of rotting discarded waste is overwhelming. I know I have no choice, and, as my new friend stands guard, I squat right there to pee. I feel so relieved and so grateful for her help. Women… anywhere and everywhere… so much the same… same and different.

The 'Ladies' Room
Finally our new bus comes and we board. It’s comfortable with plenty of space in our sleeper cabin. Within 200 metres, however, our bus stops again. We’ve been pulled over by Rajasthani police. Everyone on the bus seems to be calm. I am definitely feeling okay. It’s a Rajasthani experience, no doubt. As we wait and watch the commotion outside our window, between the bus driver and the officers, I wonder what will be. I think this is normal. No one seems to flinch. Paul is starting to lose it. So is the baby sitting in the front of the bus.

There are no explanations. No apologies. No one tries to communicate with the passengers.

Finally the driver returns. I can’t read his face. It is only the sound of the ignition turning and the shift into gear that affirms that we are, once again, on our way…for now. It is 12:14!
New Friends!

Friday, February 22, 2013


Jaipur is different from other parts of India. It is more intense…less spiritual and more material. The feeling here is a response to my senses. The colours of the buildings and the products being sold all over the city startle my perceptions. Sounds on the street blend with the visual stimulus and complete the experience. It is the Jaipur of the pictures I have seen in my life on posters and in books. It is, in fact, like a movie that I have become a part of.

Walking on the elevated sidewalk, I am careful to avoid stepping in the human feces that cluster in piles along the path. Smells of urine along the way, remind that men live not far away, perhaps lying directly in my path. As the city awakens, outside grills begin to burn, preparing samosas and chicken tikka kabobs for fast food satisfaction. Deep fried sweet treats, warm from the deep vats filled with oil, emit a tempting aroma.

The temples and forts and palaces dominating specific areas are also not exempt from the consumer bug. I make regular attempt to veer away from the shops and the merchants as I walk through the buildings. The Amber Fort, spectacular in its design, and its energy, completely inspires my imagination. The courtyards open to gates that lead to private palaces of the kings and several pavilions and halls offer me a chance to pretend. I imagine the Raj community living here five thousand years before. The Kama Sutra, the first publication of sexuality began here! 

I love to find myself immersed in those daydreams. So, no wonder, I get disturbed when a young man approaches me with  “Ganesh made from rosewood?” he says. “How much?” I ask (stupid me!) “1200 rupees”. “1200 rupees!” I shout. “That’s crazy! I just bought one for my son!” “How much then” he asks following me right out the door. “I’m not interested” I say annoyed. “800 rupees” he retorts. By the end of the interaction, he had reduced the Ginesh to 200 rupees. That’s ridiculous! Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind to go back and grab it! But I didn’t want to feed that behaviour.

  Jaipur is a city of consumerism and we completely got sucked into it. Here one can buy precious and semi-precious gems for near to nothing. Silk carpets created by human hands are intricately woven by villagers who have lived with the process so long that they don’t even need to refer to a template. They understand how to design and produce incredibly ornate carpets from memory.

Today Paul and I visited a carpet shop. We met the weavers who are descendants of carpet weavers. Each strand of silk or camel hair is intricately woven in to the design. With a machete like knife, every strand of wool is carefully cut. The designs are absolutely fantastic. The work is completely unique and magical. I’ve never thought of a carpet as an emotional object! Watching the energy with which the weavers work, made me realize the commitment and sweat that is shared through the art.

I think about all the ‘things’ available to buy. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in one stall, it will definitely show up just down the road. And simply walking down that road can be a challenge! With such a high concentration of people, and incredible pollution, breathing can become difficult. Rickshaw drivers, tour guides, merchants, anybody with something to sell make walking through the streets almost unbearable for me.

“See my shop, ma’am.” Calls a dark-skinned older man, as he hurries to walk beside me. “Cheap, cheap. Good prices. No buy. Just come and look.” “No thank you.” I reply.
“Please just to look. Come drink chai. No buy. Just look.”
“No, thank you”, I say just a bit more emphatically, this time with my hands clasped at my heart in the form of ‘namaste.’

“Just one minute!” he perseveres.
At this point I turn around to face him. I clasp my hands at my heart. “Sir” I say firmly, “No thank you. Namaste. Have nice day.”
I’m learning how to get along here. It has taken some time, and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to live here and be doing this all the time, but I am figuring it out. There is a firmness that’s necessary; a respectful assertiveness that acknowledges my own needs as well as theirs.
In the pink city of Jaipur, life is all about money. For many, seeing a western couple walking down the street, signals dollar signs. My challenge is maintaining a sincere respect for people who view others as anything but human. And I also know that talking to one another is a powerful way to work through these misconceptions. People who I talk to on the street become interested in who I am, and know, too, that I’m interested in them. We become more like each other, because in the end, we find the similarities that connect us. “Do you have children? What do you do in your country? What do you think of India? Tell me about your family” are all topics that arise instantly and easily on the street. India is teaching me to take the time to listen and also to not be afraid to share ‘my story’ as well.

By the way, we are not leaving Jaipur unaffected! We bought an enormous amount of those ‘things’ while here. Carpets, bedding, precious stones and many treasures to share with friends and family back home. We even needed to buy another bag to carry it all!

Monday, February 18, 2013

One World

 I have been somewhat out of touch with my ‘other’ life these past few weeks. Paul and I have been moving around a bit. After choosing our destination, we seek out small intentional communities wherever we land. We are realizing that, throughout India (as it is I’m sure throughout the world), groups of like-minded people are gathering together to establish life style that supports sustainability and co-operative living. We have been spending days at a time with communities of other people, cooking food, hiking, playing, and working around the area doing whatever needs to be done.

After leaving Fort Cochin, where we spent 5 weeks with our Yoga teacher, our first stop was Kodaikanal. We lived there for 5 days at Karuna Farm, a self-sustaining agricultural community that encourages organic farming and welcomes families and individuals to help on the land. 

Travellers mostly, come to Karuna. Many, many Israelis know about it, since part of the impetus for its existence is inspired by an Israeli man. Getting there happens strictly by word of mouth. There is no promotion. You just need to be aware of the place! We were told about the farm by our friend on Gabriola. It stands nestled in the beauty of the southern crest of the upper Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu. Our experience in Kodai motivated us to explore Tamil Nadu further.

After Kodai, we took an overnight bus to Thiruvannamalai. There we found a family of spiritually minded people who have established a life style at the foot of the sacred mountain, Arunachala. They also, don’t publicize their place. Our Yoga teacher sent us to them and we just hit it off together instantly. The land sits at the bottom of an awesome mountain that is said to be where Shiva was manifested. A Guru, Ramana Maharshi, lived on the mountain for 7 years, meditating, receiving students and just absorbing the energies left by Shiva’s presence. Thiru offers a very powerful experience for me. Being with the mountain reminded me of the security I felt during my time in Guatemala  surrounded by volcanoes. There’s a sense of protection, like receiving an ongoing hug from Nature. We plan to return to Thiru and spend a month or so, settling into land there, and being with others who also choose to be there. Practising yoga with Nature! Who could ask for more?

Our last retreat was in a Gurukala in Bangalore. It was (for me) a familiar place, a place I have been coming for years. I love being there with my friend Margaret and anyone else who happens to be around. This year we planned our trip to Bangalore to coincide with the Guru Puja that happens every year. It is a festival of learning and meditation and cooking and eating food, and just gathering together with people. Lots of singing and dancing happens over the weekend, along with great socializing with great people. The land we live on is green and rich. Cohabiting with 5 cows, many rabbits, dogs cats and wild monkeys, all running free. It has been a sort of refuge for me over the years. This year it was great to introduce Paul to the ‘scene’.

 Gurukula means ‘a family joined together by a 
teacher’. The teaching is that of Narayan Guru whose message is continued by other Gurus even after his death. The current Guru, Muni Narayan Prasad writes volumes about creating a world where human relationships are based on collaboration and compassion and love, and where all of us live by one single authority. It is a world of concord and harmony where the basic human instincts to fight are used to deal with the suffering and miseries of self and for others. Instead, the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress become more important than the satisfaction of desires and material enjoyment. He teaches about building individual capacity before seeking changes in the outside world, about mutual respect and the pursuit of equal opportunities for safety and health for everyone, everywhere. He stresses that no one need be downtrodden, that we are all God’s people and we need to be there for each other with compassion and love. I like it!

These particular Gurus promote a ‘One World’ focus, where economy, politics, religion, all exist to promote a thriving existence for everyone. I’m not much of a “Guru follower” but I definitely believe in many of these ideas. I am finding, more and more, that there are many individuals seeking out other like-minded people, forming communities that model lifestyle that will change our world. These communities, practising life in similar manners... just differently, will begin to find each other, and our world will become stronger and more compassionate. I want to be a part of that! As I travel in the world I strive to live that dream!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013



I am a little bit in a state of bliss! I’m riding down the main road in Thiruvanammali. It’s early morning. The sun is settling in for the day. There is a rumble in the streets. People are gathering for chai at the popular chai dhabba. Devotees stream in and out of the Sri Ramana Ashram. Chanting is taking place now and it is very popular time of day to attend. I am feeling absolutely wonderful. As I ride, I acknowledge how good I feel. I don’t know why. I just feel great! 

Thiru presents as somewhat of a magical place, although it doesn’t necessarily come easily. Arunachala Mountain is awesome and when I tune in to its presence I am able to tune into my own strength. The mountain affects the spiritual energy of the entire town of Thiru. It’s a bit like, Rishikesh in its’ intensity. However the mountain creates a more stable solid presence than the flowing movement of the Ganges which is the source of spiritual energy there.

Most of today we spend with Anand at his place, just talking. Beginning with early morning Yoga led by Krika, a visitor from Italy, the powerful connection with the mountain Arunachala ensues. I am reminded of my intense relationship with San Pedro in Guatemala. Again I feel the warm, embracing energy of the mountain’s message.
Waiting for the milking session

We arrive on bicycle, peddling through the small village off the main road. Cows, just waking from their night time sleep, line the small pathway waiting to be milked. Each household has at least one member of the family perched on a stool, releasing the milk for each cow. The roosters walk helter skelter on the dirt surface. Old men squat on the side of the pathway, brushing their teeth and scrubbing the sleep from their bodies. It is morning, and the quiet is loud. 

We met Anand through our friend, Sajee. He lives at the foot of Arunachala Mountain on a few acres of land with his wife, Giathri and their two sons. Their intention is to sustain independent living by growing food on the land, keeping dairy cows, growing native fruit trees and providing a beautiful space for creative expression. Small bamboo huts around the compound provide place to welcome visitors who chose to stay. Many do! Solid floors with a mattress placed on the ground and a mosquito net for protection keep the accommodations simple and adequate. Many people seeking peaceful existence come for long periods of time. Everyone who stays contributes to the everyday responsibilities of the household. Anand makes it clear, “There are those that are just meant to be here. That’s when they appear.” It is, for me, an ideal existence. Paul and I are already starting to plan an extended stay with Anand and Arunachala.

After a breakfast of black coffee and fresh fruit (papaya from his trees), Anand talks about life, about being here and now, about releasing ego, and about allowing ourselves to just ‘be’. He refers to his transition from trying to change the world to ‘trying to change his world. Those are not his words, actually. They’re mine! I, too work at that transition. Anand seems to know that about me too. I revel in our conversation. His intuitive acuity is mind-blowing, as his comments to each of us are so precise and so right on.

playful morning

We find a guitar so Paul is able to play. His beautiful song ‘We’ll Know’ is received with joyful appreciation. “You wrote that song just to sing it here”, say Anand. I think he’s right. I’ve sung that song hundreds of times with Paul, and the experience of singing it here, in the presence of Arunachala and embraced by our new friends in Thiru is profound. 

Meeting Anand and Giathri has enriched my visit to Thiru. I do get the vibe of spiritual energy and grounding by having the opportunity to sit quietly in Nature and absorb the Mountain’s presence. I leave the city today with purpose and intention to return and a pure feeling of bliss!

Cleaning up from yesterday

Monday, February 11, 2013

Just Pedaling

This morning, Tamara and I decide to ride our bicycles around the foot of Arunachala Mountain. Along the way I took many pictures. The sights I see often inspire me. I thought a pictorial post of our 14 kilometre ride is in order today.

One of the things I love the most about India is that prayer is everywhere. Even the tuk tuk drivers have some form of divinity on the dashboard of their vehicle. Pooja structures are visible often, from very simple monuments to most elaborate and intricate architecture. People stop to make offering regularly during the course of a day. Struggling for spiritual wholeness happens every minute!    

The 14-kilometre bicycle ride circles around Arunachala Mountain. It is said to be the place of manifestation of Shiva and where Sri Ramana Maharshi spent his adult years in meditation. He was a wise and quiet teacher, who led through modelling, not through oration. I appreciate the manner in which he shared his wisdom. His book, Who Am I? is his way of verbally sharing his lessons. It is full of profundities, especially for those open to hear it. The mountain, in its awesome presence, is always in sight throughout the morning ride.

Thiruvanammalai is inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Ramana Maharshi followers. The fields are rich in agriculture. Rice, bananas, coffee, and various fruits and vegetables grow here. Most of Southern India’s vegetation comes from Tamil Nadu. It’s really unfortunate that pesticides and chemical additions are used so abundantly. There is a beginning of a consciousness recently to become more mindful of organic growing methods. India’s greatest commodity…. her people, gather all day, every day to sow, reap and harvest the growth. Scarecrows are meant to scare away pests. I think they’re funny!
It’s a country with many people, and people die! Cemeteries line the streets in specific areas. The stones are colourful and bright. We have seen several burial processions in various states. The rituals practised in Hindu burial are, in many ways similar to those of Jewish practise, at least in terms of the regimentation of scheduling for burial. With the numbers of people living in India it is not unusual to see funeral processions in the streets.

During our bike ride, Tamara and I stop at a neighbourhood store that reminds me of the thrift shops I visit whenever I travel in Canada and the United States. Same-same but different! These women sit here all day waiting for people to buy. (For that matter so does everyone who owns any kind of shop in India). I just love spending time talking with the people here...especially the women!
Dhabas are the fast food standard in India. Delicious street food. I never know exactly what I’m eating, but it is always good! Spices make the foods unique tasting. Usually deep fried in fresh coconut oil, I am always satisfied….and you can’t get cheaper than this!!! Mmmmmm…breakfast!

Annamalaiyar Temple is definitely a sacred place. Everyone takes off his or her shoes to acknowledge the sanctity of the place. In a way it neutralizes all of us. We are all in bare feet, regardless of gender, colour, or social position. I like that! Prayer is evident everywhere in India but especially in the holy temples. It is easy to see people in deep meditation and prayer, and it is also common to find people picnicking or just hanging out comfortably on Temple grounds.

Sadhus are people who commit their lives to becoming enlightened. They separate themselves from society by renouncing all worldly possessions, often living in caves or in forests (or on the streets). Many live in communal environments and ashrams. Most Sadhus wear orange, a colour like fire, to help burn away the need for earthly desires. Instead, they focus on simple and pure living. In general, Sadhus smoke a lot of pot. It is considered to be a mind-opening journey to ‘truth’. These guys are definitely engaged in practise!

I just love the people here and their outward show of love!


Sunday, February 10, 2013



As I wander through the holy grounds of Thiruvanalammai, I find myself with my hands clasped together at my heart. “Namaste” I say, in greeting to people I pass, “I bow to the light in you”. I am realizing that  ‘holy’ is found more in the people I meet, than in the land or in the historical events that took place here.

“Keep a smile on your face”, Sajee reminds me through periods of meditation. So I practise that daily. It has become easier for me to “keep a smile on my face” throughout my day. What’s not to smile about? Our world is so rich. We are full of diversity and culture. We have choice. There are many people sharing the gifts of our Mother Earth. I can only smile to each one as I pass. “Namaste. I bow to the light in you”.

Our meditation walk begins at the foot of Aranachula Mountain. Though many people ascend the mountain daily, it is relatively quiet along the rocky path. It is, for many, a holy place, a mecca for meditation and prayer. There are many westerners here seeking inner growth and enlightenment, several who have been here for years! I can’t help but notice how serene they look; some even look miserable! Some people react to my smile in a responsive manner. Some don’t respond at all. I wonder, “Why does enlightenment mean you have to be miserable?” Self -awareness can bring joy and openness with a love of life and of self. Smiles express that love!

The children along the way want to play. The birds sing from the mountain trees and dogs bark at passersby, sensing danger or intrusion. These sounds blend in to the atmosphere. Other than that, there is silence.

I chose to lag behind Tamara and Paul to experience the journey up the mountain in my own way.

Sadu action along the way
As I sit for a while on a rock, the sounds of Thiruvanammalai are obvious from below. Horns from vehicles, and the rumbling of buses and cars, even the mooing sounds of the cows that walk freely in the streets, are clear. Walking further up, these sounds begin to disappear.

A sadu sits on a rock on the side of the path. “Welcome”, he says to me as I pass. “What’s that book? A journal?” he asks, pointing to what I’m holding in my hand.
“Yes. It’s my journal.” I respond.
“You’re a writer?” he confirms.
“We are all writers”, I answer.
“What do you write?
“I write what is in my heart and my head”, I say to him.
“Ahhh! The head is just a physical organ”, he says. “Everything you need is in your heart. Too much thinking.”
“I know. I know”, I smile, “and I strive very hard to understand what is in my heart!” And my journey continues.

“Good morning” says the Tamil worker as he continues digging. “Beautiful morning. I am working here...working.” he says lifting the heavy scythe with one hand and pointing to his shovel with the other.
“Thank you for working”, I say, “It looks very beautiful”. He responds with a grateful smile and an ‘Indian’ nod. “Tank you. Tank you”, he says.

I am happy I came to Aranachula Mountain with no money. That way I won’t be lying when I say to beggars along the way, “Sorry. I have no money with me.” I don’t usually feel ungenerous when I deny moneys to beggars. I just don’t ‘do’ money, I’ve always said, I give my time, friendship and love. But no money. Where does the giving end? Too many people asking and not enough resources to give to everyone! It’s an endless pursuit. And I think that begging is a poor practise that I don’t want to perpetuate.

Lesson in Tamil
Instead, I stop for a while with a very old looking woman, who, when I tell her I don’t have any money to give her, seems to gesture to me “But please! I’m hungry. I’m tired. I don’t sleep. My head hurts.” I place myself behind her and begin to massage her head. I move my hands along her forehead to her temples, applying a gentle pressure there. She surrenders to my touch, and as she closes her eyes, I continue to massage. In the end, I place a kiss through the wrinkles on her forehead. Standing before her again, I clasp my hands at my heart. “Namaste” I say as I ready myself to leave, “I bow to the light in you.”

Two young boys pass me on the path. We spend some time talking, learning from each other, and writing together in my journal. The Tamil language is a whole different alphabet!
Monkey Business

The monkeys on the mountain are frisky. They frolic with each other avoiding contact with humans, only interested in the food we eat along the way.

My journey up (and down) the mountain brings me to a place of understanding. It is said that Sri Ramana Maharishi lived for 7 years at the top of the mountain, reclusive in a cave, meditating in solitude and quiet.  The trek up the mountain is in reverence to his teachings, which he expressed through modelling as opposed to discourse. I wonder out loud:
1.     How did he get his food to eat while he was in his cave?
2.     Why would he spend 7 years of meditation secluded in a hot, dark cave when, outside there is so much beauty and light that Nature provides?

I am reminded that Gurus seeking enlightenment, search within, and purposely disconnect from the outside world. “No thanks”, I think to myself, as I continue to smile with those around me. “Namaste, I bow to the light in you”.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

KodaiKanal and Alfie

We have the most amazing experiences! I don’t know how it happens, but it does regularly! We meet fabulous people, who welcome us, and take us under their wing, enhancing our journey all along the way.

Our new friend...Alfie
While waiting for our connecting bus at Pallani station to get to KodaiKanal, we stop for a masala chai at the booth just inside. It is 3:30 in the morning! Chandran (‘Alfie’) the owner of the shop, offers us chai. He refuses payment (even though we each had 2 cups) and we spend the wait talking together. Alfie is a retired sailor who has spent many years in the United States and Canada throughout his career. A native of India, he has several business ventures in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, all of which are related in some way to tourism. He, too, was on his way to KodaiKanal, and he and I sat together on the bus. Not only did Alfie insist on paying for our bus fare, but by the time we arrived to our destination, he invited us to be his guests at his hotel in KodaiKanal.

Our original plan took us to Karuna Farm where we spent a glorious 3 days of Nature hikes, mountain climbing and quiet time meeting new friends. It was a joy to be surrounded by young people, all seeking the same quiet, peaceful time. Many of the guests are Israelis and we made some very wonderful new friendships. On our way out of KodaiKanal we decide to include a visit to Alfie and an opportunity to absorb the culture of the town.

Arriving at his hotel he has a pot of masala chai waiting for us. He welcomes us with so much gratitude and joy! As if we were doing him an honour. We knew from his brochure that the fees for a room in his 3 star hotel is 1100 rupees. From us he wanted nothing! “You are my guest.” He says often.  “You pay nothing to me.” We insist on some payment. “Okay, okay.” He says, “Whatever you want to pay.” He agrees to accept 500 rupees for the night.

Bonfire, food and friends!
The night we spend at Alfie’s is incredible. Inviting several of his friends to dinner and bonfire, we have a wonderful party together with music blasting and laughter and dancing and fun. We offer to buy the whiskey! Everyone was happy!. The homemade food (made by Alfie),  spicy and delicious, enhances the multi sensory experience.

Just stopping to talk

Alfie made arrangements for a friend to take us all around the city of Kodai Kanal. Its name in Tamil means "The Gift of the Forest".  Referred to as the "Princess of Hill stations", KodaiKanal has a long history as a retreat location and a popular tourist destination for travelers of all origin, including Native Indians. Parks, markets, temples, and the hustle of every day life make our day full and exciting. The people here are, like Kerala, so warm and gracious and sincere in their welcome.

Along the route I see a sign for an International School. Interested to investigate, we drive through the main gates to check out the administrative offices. After some introductory conversations, I speak briefly to the Vice Principal in charge of Academic curriculum who expresses interest in getting together for possible professional development for his teachers. I love the idea of working next year for some time in Tamil Nadu. And it seems like they might be eager too! The universe just keeps opening up!

On our way to Madurai, now, where the largest Hindu temple in all of India stands. Instead of travelling by bus we are offered a ride in a car with Anbu, who is in KodaiKanal for his Law practise. He’ll be driving back to his home tonight in Madurai. That’s exactly where we’re going! So instead of bussing it, this evening, we’ll be travelling with him…. yet another friendship developing and another example of the universe providing for us in her entirety!

Our saga just keeps getting deeper and deeper.

Beautiful women making the gardens beautiful


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Off The Grid on Karuna Farm

I am in the heavens and I feel like I’m in heaven! Perched on the tip of “The Rock”, a huge bolder nestled in the lush green mountains of Karuna Farm, I am surrounded by the world. Around me, the hills of KodaiKanal embrace. I feel completely at ease, despite the high elevation and the intrinsic fear of falling.

We have chosen to spend a few days in an eco village here in Tamil Nadu. Acres of land spanning miles of mountain comprise the farm area. From the rock I can see lush growth of trees, various fruits, nuts, coffee, and hundreds of varieties of flowers and small buds. An effort to grow vegetables is evident in several sections of the hills, and the brown patches peaking through the green growth, shows healthy signs of fertile soil. The farm strives to be self-sufficient and relies exclusively on organic farming methods.

Little villas, each sitting alone on various spots behind me, offer home to travellers, many of whom find their way here, as we did, through word of mouth from others.

Rubber Made House
Inspired by a young Israeli, Alex Lior, the small community of consistent residents here work together to provide a place with absolute self-sufficiency. The ‘Earthship’, the house that Alex built for himself, is an incredibly innovative creation of  Nature’s ultimate co-operation with humankind. Supported and insulated by rubber, and covered with mud plaster, the circular structure (almost yurtlike) is powered strictly by solar energy. Inside is anything a modern westerner could ask for. And it sits in the hills, surrounded by the trees and the active wild life that live here.

Monkeys are KodaiKanal’s racoons, pesky creatures that boldly enter homes in search of food. During the day, I hear the constant cry from the older Indian woman who lives nearby, shooing away the monkeys and encouraging them to find their sustenance somewhere else. It doesn’t help! And I have come to anticipate and enjoy her cries.

The birds encircle me. There are all kinds, evidenced by the many sounds. I can easily tune in to the diversity of sound and appreciate the combination of rhythmic melodies. Some times I can even discriminate specific calls. They have become familiar to me during my time in India. I have become an observer.

sunrise over the valley
Below me (and that’s pretty far down) sporadically dispersed across the valley and along the mountainsides, are small villages. They can be seen even more clearly at night, when the lights from their homes can be seen shining through the darkness of the night. Music from the villages plays almost constantly and I hear it clearly because there is no interference.

We are definitely living off the grid here. There is no Internet, no cell phone coverage, and, other than an emergency land line, no access to the outside world. I think that’s my biggest challenge because I like having regular access to my wonderful, amazing children. For 4 days, however, I can do this. So can they! Our trip in here from the local town took 25 minutes down rocky, winding dirt roads. Only a 4-wheel drive jeep can make it through. It could be anywhere in the world. But it is right here in Tamil Nadu.

I find myself struggling a little bit with the calm and lack of distraction. I welcome the opportunity to be self…my self! I am trying to not think so much and to allow myself more fully to experience the moment. That means just to ‘be’ and to avoid judging or forming opinions as I live. I am finding when I do that there is so much more in the universe to experience, because things and people and places just become. They become just anything…not good or bad, not difficult or loud, not beautiful or expansive, not beautiful or smart. It just becomes, and that’s it! Recently a friend said to me “I don’t want to be a human being. I want to be a human becoming.” Me too! Sitting on this rock helps me become and gives me practise for making that happen more often in my life.