Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Part II: Lured by Rajasthan and Taj Mahal

August 20, 2017

Part II brings you dreamy images of Rajasthan, India.  This tour with daily yoga includes visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.  Please enjoy the photos.  The photos below were all taken by me except for the first two (the tiger photos).

Journey to Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra takes place from January 17 — February 3, 2018

This tour is led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and offers daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s second post, I am sharing a few of my favorite photos from travels in Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

Registration is open through the end of August 2017.  There is plenty of space for you.  View Full itinerary

One of the most exciting places we visit is Ranthambore National Park.  The park is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.  If we are lucky, we will see a tiger.  The photos below are from a few years back.  These two photos were taken by a tour participant on one of our trips with her lovely Olympus camera (so I call these two photos “Rebecca’s Tiger”).

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Ranthambore National Park and Keoladeo National Park are two of my favorite nature visits on this tour. As of the last count, Ranthambore is home to 34 adult tigers and 14 cubs.  Both Ranthambore and Keoladeo are World Heritage Sites.  Keoladeo is considered to be the richest bird sanctuary in the world.  It is located in Bharatpur and is home to 366 species of birds.  Below are a blend of photos from both national parks:

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And a bundled up Arvind-with-bird-upon-head on an early morning chilly tiger safari outing to Ranthambore:

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Another highlight of the trip is the visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Agra, the Taj Mahal.  It is massive and one of the most beautiful buildings on earth.  Arvind tells the love story behind the Taj Mahal and explains the vision behind the construction of this mausoleum so perfectly.  The first time I saw it, I was so moved by the sheer force of the site before me that I thought my legs would buckle to the ground.  I believe one must see and experience the grandeur of the Taj Mahal at least once in a lifetime!

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When I think of Rajasthan, I see colorful saris, turbans, and the warm faces of the desert people.  It is an otherworldly and welcoming part of India. L1280618

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Where else do you find a “Blue City”, vast palaces that stand out like glistening jewels in a desert landscape, and immense astrological palace observatories?

Jodhpur the Blue City

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Imagine doing early morning sun salutations on the terrace of your hotel as a pink sun rises, awakening and lifting your spirit:

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I love the photo below with cow, auto rickshaw, and outdoor pots and pans.  India is, at times, wonderfully mind boggling.

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I had to do a little climbing to be in this photo.  India is all at once complex and simple, ancient and new.

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While in the desert, the camels await you.  They make a most humorous sound.  The first time I heard a camel, I asked aloud, “What’s that sound?”  A nearby woman answered me in a matter-of-fact tone, “That is camel, madam.”  Look at how the camel is watching me do Ustrasana, Camel Pose.

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India is 1,344,664,943 beating human hearts! 

There is an India population site where the numbers keep augmenting before your very eyes.

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Part I: Lured by Images of South India

August 19, 2017

I have two back-to-back tours in India taking place January 2018.  Both of the tours are led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and both tours offer daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s post, I am sharing my favorite photos from my last trip to South India.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

I can’t capture the entire trip with these few photos, but hope to give you an idea of the beauty that is INDIA (in this case, South India).  I hope the photos will be of interest and lure you into considering joining me in January.  Or perhaps the photos will offer you an opportunity to do some armchair travel!

South India Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga takes place January 2-January 18, 2018. I am happy to announce that this trip is definitely happening.  Registered participants are already purchasing their flights.  Registration is open through the end of August 2017 View Full itinerary

Periyar Park is a reserve for the Asian elephant.  How I love this park and the elephants living there!  In the evening, the elephants in the park gather at the edge of the lake to get their fill of fresh water.  We watched them from our boat, from the middle of the lake.  In this photo, a baby is coddled and protected by two females.  The next day, we visited the park again in the early morning.  Three naturalists from the park guided us on a walking tour.  I never imagined I would walk in elephant territory, but my group and I did just that.  We got pretty close (at least I think we were close!) to these massive and lovely wild creatures.  Seeing them was thrilling!

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The photos in this blog are not in chronological order of the tour.  The photo below was taken in Mumbai, at the start of the trip.  Mumbai is not considered South India, but it is where we fly into and is a short flight to two of our destinations: the UNESCO World Heritage historical caves of Ajanta and Ellora.

Mumbai is vast.  It felt like a cultural center to me, lively and thriving. I loved visiting the Taj Hotel and the house where Gandhi lived for a while.  I was fascinated by his personal library, which still sits intact in his home.

IMG_0428The people of India are bighearted, friendly, beautiful inside-and-out, welcoming, and the children, in particular, are adorable.  Seeing the children and their proud, loving families is a great joy to experience in India:  L1340459

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L1340599Below: School kids enjoying Shiva’s Butterball (as this boulder is called).  You can see a path worn on the stone surface where the kids are playing.  The worn path is most likely created from thousands of years of kids sliding down, as two of the school girls are about to do.

L1340576When I think of South India, I think of the numerous ancient stone carvings of the temples.  Mahaballipuram has impressive stone carvings, as do the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.  It is a singular and unforgettable experience to walk among such massive carvings!

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L1340313During the journey, we stayed in some wonderful places.  The most unique overnight stay is on the houseboat in Kerala.  We relaxed and enjoyed being rocked by the waters.  The rooms are deliciously cool thanks to the air-conditioning (I don’t really like AC, but so appreciated the comfortably cool boats!).  In the afternoon, we got into smaller canoe-like boats and floated along smaller river ways to see the many houses and people living along the banks of the river.

L1350299L1350279We attended Kerala’s signature performance and classical form of dance, drama, and music called Kathakali.  It is an art form that is more than 400 years old.  Below you can see one of the Kathakali performers.  We had our own intimate and private performance. On this day, we all wore our new colorful Indian clothing.  In the second photo below, you can see our festively dressed group gathered around one of the actors from the Kathakali performance.

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12933011_1348191141863221_6997846868358269616_n-1And lastly is a photo of Maria.  We did a South Indian cooking course with Maria in her home kitchen.  I discovered Maria on line and asked Arvind to please include a cooking course with her.  After a little hesitation (Arvind had never met Maria and didn’t have much of an idea of what the experience would be like until he further researched), Arvind agreed to include Maria’s cooking course in the itinerary.  The food was some of the best we had ever eaten in South India!  She appeared to be a magician, an alchemist of sorts, as she blended her spices and demonstrated how to put the various dishes together. To top off the experience, her husband sang Hindi love songs from various movies for us as we ate our delicious dinner.  As we ate, serenaded by Maria’s husband George, Arvind’s head swayed to the live music.  Between bites of food, Arvind sported the satisfied smile of a Cheshire cat.

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  • Click here for a link to see incredible on line images of the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
  • It is so difficult to fathom how the stone sculptures and caves were carved, that some people have theories of an advanced civilization being involved in making them. Though I do not subscribe to this theory, it is fascinating to watch the following video clip to see how intricate the temples are at Ajanta and Ellora. View video
  • View one of my most popular blog posts on India: 10 Reasons Why I Love India
  • This trip is organized by Spiritual India Journeys.

PART II is coming your way next: Rajasthan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

May 23, 2016

While in South India a little over a month ago, we really did take a walk on the wild side.  India is a land of extremes.  Summer temperatures can exceed 38 degrees Celsius.  Just two days ago, during one of the longest heat waves in India, India hit a record temperature of 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit) in the north-western town of Phalodi.

In this land of extremes, I learned about and saw a fascinating variety of animals.  We visited Periyar National Park, a dense tropical forest, a refuge for the native wild Asian elephants.  From a boat on Lake Periyar, we saw elephants come to the lake to drink one evening.  It was an exhilarating experience.  The anticipation of and then actually seeing the elephants in the wild, made us (those sitting near me and myself) giddy and silly, so much that the uptight French tourists on the other side of the boat were giving us dirty looks because they wanted “Du Silence”!  Of course, their disapproving looks only made things worse and we became uncontrollably giddier.  (Yikes, the French tourists ended up at our hotel that very same evening and I am sure they had very strong opinions about us when, at the dinner table, a cicada dropped onto one of my group participant’s clothing  and caused great alarm!  She had never seen a cicada before and had no idea what sort of insect was clinging tightly to her!)

On the following day, in the wee hours of the morning, we were led by three guides/naturalists through the dense forest on foot, where again we saw the elephants and a rich variety of wildlife.  The guides really knew their birds and animals, but they struggled with their English.  Still, they managed to teach us about the wildlife around us.  Later, I did some research on the wildlife of Periyar Park in South India. With the guides’ information and what I found on line, below are some fascinating facts about South Indian wildlife (wildlife habitat of the animals below ranges beyond Periyar National Park):

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

A wild Asian elephant:

  • They eat 130 kg-169 kg of vegetation per day!
  • In Periyar National Park, water hyacinth becomes an important food source for elephants when grass dies in the dry season.
  • The tip of the trunk is prehensile for easy grasping of grass and other leafy vegetation.
  • An elephant drinks 100 liters of water every day just to survive.  Tourists who come to Periyar Lake by boat can always expect to see the elephants come to the water’s edge in the evening to quench their thirst.
  • As you can imagine, elephants produce prodigious amounts of dung.  Butterflies feast on the dung, benefiting from the minerals found on it!  There were many colorful butterflies throughout Periyar National Park.
A clump of dry elephant dung

One of our guides proudly displays a clump of dry elephant dung

  • The adult females create a mobile fortress for the baby elephants.  This way, the calf stays safe from the Royal Bengal Tigers.  Mother elephants are fiercely protective of their young.
Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

  • Female elephants gather to witness births and to witness the first steps of the baby calf!  The calf does not walk immediately, but within hours it will be walking underneath its mother in its early infancy, never losing contact with her body.
  • The elephants stay in herds because an extended family increases chances of survival.
  • A bull can weigh as much as 6 tons (the largest Asian bull ever recorded weighed just over 7 tons).
  • When compared to African elephants, the Asian elephant is slightly smaller and has smaller ears. Elephants are excellent swimmers, using their trunks as snorkels.

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Smooth-Coated Otter:

  • These Asian otters are larger than other otters and have shorter coats and fur-less noses.  We saw them swimming in Lake Periyar.
  • They are used for commercial fishing in Bangladesh.  They are bred in captivity and trained to chase fish into fishing nets.
  • Otters can stay underwater for 8 minutes.
Please Note: Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Please Note: Asian Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Cobras:

  • Happy to report I did not see a cobra in the wild.  I did not even see the occasional snake charmer working to collect some money.   Snake charmers are being outlawed these days.  A ban has been in effect since 1991, but only recently is being enforced by the government.  Apparently the government views snake charming as offensive to the culture, a bit backwards.  There was a news article that talked about how upset the snake charmers are.  Some 800,000 snake charmers are up in arms over the now enforced ban and recently took to the streets to protest the loss of their livelihood: article
  • Cobras are snake eaters!
  • The venom from one cobra bite can kill 10 humans.  I read one account that the venom from one bite can kill 26 people. Look on line and you will see a variety of numbers.  Even if the number were just one, it would be a terribly frightening statistic.  Cobra venom is neurotoxic and spreads extremely quickly throughout the bitee (I just made up that word..Cobra is the biter and the victim is the bitee!).

Giant Squirrel:

  • Ok, so when the guide pointed out the Giant Squirrel up in a tree overhead, we didn’t understand him at first.  I truly believe the word “squirrel” is one of the most difficult English words to pronounce for non-native English speakers.  And besides, even if we did understand, the animal we saw up in the tree could not possibly be a squirrel.  We were in disbelief.  The giant squirrel is a beautiful creature.  It mostly stays up in trees, where it is safe from predators.
  • One single leap from tree to tree measures a span of 6 meters or more.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel is only found in tropical forests.
  • And Indian Giant Squirrel has the cutest round ears and a “hand” with an inner paw for gripping.
  • They weigh over four times more than our common Western squirrel.  The Indian Giant Squirrel weighs up to four and a half pounds and the average squirrel we see in America and Canada weighs about one pound.
  • They are omnivorous, eating flowers, fruit, eggs, and insects.
  • An Indian Giant Squirrel group is called a “dray or scurry”.  We did not see a scurry of squirrels and I am relieved that our guides did not have to use the expression “a scurry of squirrels”
Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line)

Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line, but I wanted you to see its adorable ears and human-like hands.)

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

Macaques:

  • Found in Wikipedia: “Macaques have a very intricate social structure and hierarchy. If a macaque of a lower level in the social chain has eaten berries and none are left for a higher-level macaque, then the one higher in status can, within this social organization, remove the berries from the other monkey’s mouth.”
  • Their diets consist mostly of fruits.
  • The number one fruit for the macaque are the figs from the Ficus tree
  • Macaques can live in social groups of 30 members.  The leader is generally a female.
  • Males tend to the young.
  • Macaques can swim (and occasionally can be seen soaking in hot springs in Japan).
Yawning

I caught this one yawning!

Golden Langur:

  • They use all four legs and tail for balance.
  • The langur and the forest deer have a friendly relationship:  The langurs hang out in trees and disturb the red silk cotton flowers, which then fall to the ground for the deer to feed on.
  • The langur feasts mainly on leaves, but also eats fruits, grass, and flowers.
  • They live in groups of up to 40 individuals.
  • They are capable of jumping over rivers.  They can jump about 10 meters.  They have to jump rivers because they cannot swim!

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There are countless frogs in Periyar Park.  There were so many that we had to dodge them so as not to crush them under our boots.  There is also a seemingly infinite variety of birds in the park.  Here is a list I found on line (Some in our group got photos of the blue flycatcher.  It is other-worldly!):

Dee birding!

Dee birding!

About 265 species of birds can be seen in the park, including migrants. Endemic birds include the Malabar grey hornbill, Nilgiri wood pigeon, blue-winged parakeet, Nilgiri flycatcher, crimson-backed sunbird, and white-bellied blue flycatcher.   Other birds include the black baza, spot-bellied eagle-owl, Nilgiri thrush, little spiderhunter, rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, brahminy kite, great hornbill, Sri Lanka frogmouth, Oriental darter, and black-necked stork.

View link to see the variety of wildlife in the park (not all birds and mammals are listed in this blog, for example, we saw kingfishers, wild pigs, sambar, and spotted deer)

Frog Dodging!

Frog Dodging!  All those blurred black lines are frogs jumping (hard to see, but seriously, there were thousands and I am afraid to say that we stepped on more than a few).

We saw a fair number of cormorants and egrets.  The egrets eat fish and the many frogs we were trying so hard not to step on. The egrets appear to be the ambush specialists as they can stand still for hours and wait for a fish to appear.

Cormorants:

  • Cormorants are aquatic birds whose feathers are not waterproofed!  That is why they often perch with their wings outspread (in order to dry their feathers in the sun).
  • Cormorants have no external nostrils so they breathe through their mouths.
  • They cool off by fluffing their throats.

Termites:

  • Last but not least, the termites!  Some 100,000 termites can live in one colony.  They clear up dead wood and turn it into compost for the soil!

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SAVE THE DATE (JUST IN CASE YOU ARE WONDERING, BELOW IS THE NEXT TIME WE WILL OFFER THE SOUTH INDIA TOUR.  IT’S A WAYS OFF, BUT GOOD TO PUT THIS TRIP ON YOUR RADAR):

SOUTH INDIA TOUR WITH DAILY YOGA FEBRUARY 2018

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Slide Show of South India

April 11, 2016

The photos in the slideshow below say it all.  I love South India!

Putting this show together made me yearn for the lovely lively group of women (just happened to be that only women signed up for this tour with daily yoga this time around).  When I think of South India, I think of the lush vegetation, the beautiful fun-loving children, the kindness and warm-welcoming smiles from everyone we encountered, the temples, history, architecture, art, food, the yoga outdoors, the sweet stray dogs, the wildlife (especially the elephants), the heat, the tropical birdsong greeting me every morning, and the color…everywhere splashes of COLOR to delight the eye and warm my heart!

Enjoy the slideshow below!  It requires about 7 minutes of your time.   Turn up the volume, grab a cup of chai, and experience or relive South India now:

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Recap on our South India Experience

April 8, 2016

This blog is an overview recap of the recent Tour of South India with Daily Yoga.  Mostly, I have the group of tour participants in mind, as well as myself, as I write down all the significant places we saw and activities we took part in.  We got back on Monday and I taught all week, so this is the first time I have had to really reminisce and savor various experiences.  This weekend is a good time for me to process the enormity, depth, and importance of the trip.  We did and saw so much as you can see from the list and photos below.  I am sure I will have so  much more to write about as the days go by.  Slide show coming your way before the weekend is up.

Mumbai 

  • Two nights at Vivanta by Taj
  • Yoga on the hotel rooftop with the honking of Mumbai vehicles in the distance below
Mumbai rooftop yoga

Mumbai rooftop yoga

  • Hanging Gardens  The gardens are also known as Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens. Terraced gardens provide sunset views of the Arabian Sea and feature hedges carved into shapes of animals.  The park dates back to 1881 and lies over Bombay’s main reservoir. Nearby are the Towers of Silence, the place where the Parsi people dispose of their dead.  Whereas Muslims, Christians, and Jews bury their dead in India and Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains cremate their dead, the Parsi people place their dead at the tower’s top platform and allow the vultures to devour the corpse.  Today, vultures are not doing their jobs as they did in the past because they are dying due to various diseases, so solar panels have been placed at the top of the tower to hasten the process of decomposition. Much to everyone’s relief, no one is allowed up on the tower (except when disposing of the corpse)!  A note on the Parsi people and religion:  The Parsi are also knows as the Zoroastrians, originating from Iran (where coincidentally -and not meant to confuse you-the language of Farsi is spoken).  The Parsi/Zoroastrians began being persecuted by the Muslims invading Iran 1,400 years ago, so in 1672, India granted the Parsi people asylum in the state of Gujurat. Today, the largest community of Parsi live in Mumbai.  They revere fire and earth and that is the reason why they do no cremate (fire) or bury (earth) their dead.  At the time of asylum, the Parsi made a promise to the Indian government not to intermarry with others living in India.  To this day, they have kept their promise.  They live and marry among themselves.  Needless to say, their population is dwindling quickly and very few Parsi still exist.  Surprise yourself and click here to see some famous Parsis in India.
  • Visited Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Station, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Train Station.  photo below

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  • Mani Bhavan: The house where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visits to Mumbai.  (see my previous blog post)
  • Dhobi Ghat: This is a vast area where Mumbai’s “dirties” are scrubbed, bashed, dyed, and hung out to dry.  (view blog post on this subject)
  • Crawford Market: Colorful, lovely time with the vendors there! (some photos on a previous blog post)
  • Visited the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel  (see photo below on the grand staircase of the hotel)

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Aurangabad

  • Three nights at Vivanta by Taj
  • Yoga by the poolside
Yoga in Aurangabad

Yoga in Aurangabad

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ajanta Caves, caves cut into the crescent-shaped gorge date back to the 2nd century BC, Buddhist monastery caves that have magnificent murals, which narrate the story of Buddha.  The caves have beautifully preserved mineral dye paintings which serve as a record of life in ancient India.
Cave painting at Ajanta

Cave painting at Ajanta

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  • UNESCO World Heritage Site:  Ellora Caves.  These monolithic caves include the impressive Kailasa Temple, carved out from the 5th-8th Century AD
Ellora grandness

Ellora grandness

  • Celebration of Holi
putting colors on each other! Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil

Putting colors on each other! Celebrated since ancient times, Holi celebrates the destruction of evil, the triumph of good.  Holi welcomes spring and celebrates love.

Mamallapuram/Mahabalipuram

  • Two nights at the Radisson Resort Temple Bay
  • Yoga in the pool and yoga on the beach with strolling cows and friendly stray beach dogs
  • It was so hot that we did water yoga! So fun. I think Kelley took a video of us doing water yoga, but have not seen the video!

    It was so hot that we did water yoga! So fun. I think Kelley took a video of us doing water yoga, but have not seen the video!

    Another view of the pool and hotel grounds (Jodi's photo)

    Another view of the pool and hotel grounds (Jodi’s photo)

    Yoga at Sunrise on the beach at Mahaballipuram

    Yoga at Sunrise on the beach at Mahaballipuram

    Complete with friendly dogs and strolling cows

    Complete with friendly dogs and strolling cows  (can see the cows in the background)

  • The 7th Century AD Shore Temple. It is one of the oldest stone structural temples in India (cut/quarried stone)

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  • Shiva’s Butterball (giant stone) and surrounding stone temples
Shiva loved butter...here you have the world's largest butterball

Shiva loved butter…here you have the world’s largest butterball

  • Bas-Relief of Arjuna’s Penance:  This is the largest monolithic bas-relief in the world!
Bas-relief

Bas-relief

Pondicherry

  • one night at Le Pondy
  • Yoga in a second level covered pavilion overlooking the gardens of the hotel
Nancy journals before the start of our morning yoga session

Nancy journals before the start of our morning yoga session in Pondicherry

  • Visited the Salt Mines en route to this destination  (see previous blog post)
  • Auroville  (mentioned in a previous blog post)
  • Walked the esplanade (waterfront), visited the main church, viewed colonial architecture, shopped in French quarter, temple elephant blessing

Thanjavur

  • one night at Thanjore Hi (This is a small heritage hotel that used to board the dancing temple girls.)
  • Yoga was upstairs at the enclosed rooftop, near the dining area, overlooking the authentic temple town below.
Window art in the yoga space upstairs

Window art in the yoga space upstairs

  • Monumental Bull Temple with our lively guide, Mr. Raja (see below).  The Bull Temple is also knows as Brihadeeshwara and it is capped with an 80-ton monolithic cupola.  Hundreds of elephants and man power traveled up a very long-planked inclined road built expressly for bringing in the heavy cupola. Built in 1010 AD by the Chola dynasty, who ruled between the 9th and 13th centuries AD.

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You can barely see the 80-ton monolithic stone cupola at the top of Brihadeeshwara (Bull Temple). The inclined road built to manually place it atop the temple via men and elephants must have been enormous, sturdy, and long to have a safe incline.

You can barely see the 80-ton monolithic stone cupola at the top of this Brihadeeshwara Temple (also knows as Bull Temple). The inclined road built to manually place it atop the temple via men and elephants must have been enormous, sturdy, and long to have a safe incline.

  • Bronze collection of sculptures at the temple museum (see below)
Dancing Shiva bronze sculpture in the museum. Mr. Raja had us imitate Shiva's dance.

Dancing Shiva bronze sculpture in the museum. Mr. Raja had us imitate Shiva’s dance.

Trichy

  • temple town visited en route to Madurai
  • Rock Fort and Temple called Ganapati and Shiva Temple at the very top of a rock mountain.  We climbed 434 very hot carved-in-the-stone-mountain-steps to get to the top of this temple.  (see below)

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Madurai

  • two nights at the Taj Gateway Hotel (heritage hotel)
  • “Peacock” Yoga at the poolside
Setting up for the early morning yoga session

Setting up for the early morning yoga session

The hotel sits up high overlooking the colorful city below and the mountains.

The hotel sits up high overlooking the colorful city below and the mountains.

Warriors we are!

Warriors we are!

India's national bird, wild peacocks were everywhere!

India’s national bird, wild peacocks were plentiful on the hotel grounds at Madurai, which sits up on a forested hill.

  • Visited the 1000 year old Meenakshi Temple, one of India’s largest pilgrimage sites with 12 towering gopuram (monumental towers at the entrance of South India temples).  During the day we attended a ritual where the women were praying for their husbands’ health.  We joined them in prayer. We entered a carved-out enormous monolithic cave temple with 1000 columns/pillars elaborately carved from existing granite.  We admired the ceiling art/paintings.
Praying for husband's health

Praying for husband’s health

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Gopuram at the Meenakshi Temple

  • Tirumala Nayak Palace, built in the 14th century by the Nayak family.  Complete with a dancing hall and built with Italian, Chinese, and Moghul architectural styles all blended together (because the family liked to travel and admired these three styles of buildings seen on their travels).
Roman, Chinese, and Mogul blend together in this palace

Roman, Chinese, and Mogul architectural styles blend together in this palace

  • Evening Aarti (Hindu ritual ceremony) at the Meenakshi Temple to celebrate the nightly ritual in which the god Shiva goes to his wife Parvati for the night.

Periyar National Park, India’s earliest sanctuary

  • one night at The Elephant Court
  • Afternoon Boat Ride on Periyar Lake where we saw a herd of wild Asian elephants come to the lake to drink and feed

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  • Spice Plantation visit
  • Early morning three-hour Forest Trek where once again we saw tribal fishermen and women, more elephants, a family wild boar, bison, deer and antelope, beautiful birds, a giant squirrel, birds, otters, and many monkeys!  In the company of three guides/naturalists.
Periyar Trekking grounds

Periyar Trekking grounds (surrounded by and in the guarded company of three naturalist guides).

Kumarakom, Houseboat in Kerala

  • one night on a houseboat
  • yoga on the houseboat
  • Houseboat yoga in Kerala!

    Houseboat yoga in Kerala!

  • cruise and canoe along the backwater of Kerala, watching Kerala’s rural lifestyle. Coconuts, cashew nuts, pepper, delicious fish.
Canoe along the backwaters

Canoe along the backwaters

Cochin

  • two nights at the Gateway Hotel
  • yoga
  • Attended a cooking school with Maria.  Later her husband George sang for us as we ate dinner together.  Wonderful experience!  Did some shopping in this area of Cochin known as Fort Cochin
Cooking school with Maria in Kochi

Cooking school with Maria in Kochi (photo by Jodi)

  • Went to the harbor and watched the local fishermen bring in the Chinese fishing nets.  Some people in our group got to haul the nets in, too!
Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

  • Visited India’s oldest Jewish synagogue in the Jewish settlement called Jew Town. Very interesting.

Jewish settlement in Kochi, South India

  • Attended the 400 year-old classical dance performance called Kathakali.  Absolutely fascinating!

,,

I love this travel group so much and already miss them and our travel and yoga experiences together!

Bliss of Certainty

April 5, 2016

I am back home now, terribly jet lagged, my head swirling with images of India.  I still have so much to write about and many photos to post.  And yet, my confused mind wonders if it is 7 pm or is it 7am?

I came across this poem by Mary Oliver from her book, A Thousand Mornings, written when she was in India.  I read this poem to my group on the bus, as we were heading to the airport on departure day. Though we did not go to Varanasi on this tour, we saw many such images of people living their lives along the river, especially on the day we rode canoes along the backwaters in Kerala.

Mostly I love the last line of the poem below, “Pray God I remember this.”  It is also my prayer.  I hope to always remember the precious memories of all that I lived and experienced in India:

Varanasi

Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,

where fires were still smoldering,

and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.

A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;

she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it

over her body, slowly and many times,

as if until there came some moment

of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.

Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her

and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,

no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,

for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker

of the world, and this is his river.

I can’t say much more, except that it all happened

in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt

like that bliss of a certainty and a life lived

in accordance with that certainty.

I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back

to America.

Pray God I remember this.

Window art

Window art

Salt of the Earth

March 29, 2016

I have fallen behind on blogging (mostly because the internet is so darned slow and I can’t load photos quickly)!  So a little explanation with some photos will have to do!

We loved Mahaballipuram!  The previous post had plenty of photos to show you how remarkable that city is.  The morning of departure, we did a yoga session on the beach, a short walk from our hotel.  The yoga session was graced with a stray dog who came up to several of us.  She simply wanted to cuddle and show love.  She felt safe with our group and seemed to know that we are all dog lovers.   We named her Shanti and fell in love with her sweet character.  Dogs in India just seem to coexist with the crowds.  Who owns them?  Surely someone does.  They are gentle and, for the most part, seem to be fed.  They are not fixed and nap in shady spots along the roadside.  Shanti was joined by a male friend and together they played while we did our yoga.

Jodi has found a new friend.

Jodi has found a new friend.

Shanti and Fran...there were also two cows walking along the grassy part of the beach.

Shanti and Fran…there were also two cows walking along the grassy part of the beach.

Our group at sunrise! The sun rising and the moon setting at the same time.

Our group at sunrise! The sun rising and the moon setting at the same time.

En route to Pondicherry, we stopped by the salt mines.  The heat was almost unbearable, hot enough to evaporate sea water quickly and produce mounds of salt.  We got out of the bus and walked around the fields.  Mostly it was women who were working the mines.  They were dark from hours of toil in the sun.  They shoveled the salt into bins and balanced the bins on their heads for transport.  The women were extremely thin and worn.   I stood there, sweat trickling down my back, arms, and face.  The women smiled and one woman placed an empty bucket on my head for a photo.  I felt bewildered at how hard they were working. Laboring under such harsh conditions, they still managed to smile and be kind and welcoming towards us.  I was deeply moved by these women. They were truly the “salt of the earth”.

Salt Mines I

Salt Mines I

Salt Mines II

Salt Mines II

Salt Mines III

Salt Mines III

Just before arriving in Pondicherry, we stopped by the Auroville, an eco-topia founded by Aurobindo and his spiritual partner, Mother Mira.  Together they created this international community “dedicated to the ideal of Human Unity”.

Following is the idea behind Auroville:

Auroville is a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.  The purpose of Auroville is to realise  human unity.

43 nationalities live there and the population of the community is 1,680.  There are schools, medical facilities, farms, and schools.  It is like a universal country without a nationality.  Once sign in the interpretive center read:  “Auroville is a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of good will who have a sincere aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth, a place of peace, concord and harmony”.

When I was here in 2001, I was able to meet some of the people living here. It was a quiet spot, with signs all over that asked us to honor silence as we strolled the grounds.  Back in 2001, I entered the dome structure, the MatriMandir, and experienced total calm while looking at a crystal in the center of this gigantic structure.  This time, however, there were no signs asking for silence.  There were throngs of boisterous people everywhere.  The day was infernally hot and we walked slowing in a long line to see the MatriMandir, a circular building that houses a giant crystal, a spiritual center.  We were not allowed in the MatriMandir.  It was a bit of a disappointment because I expected to share a great experience with my group as I had back in 2001, but things had changed.

The giant domes structure we could not enter, the MatriMandir at Auroville

The giant domes structure we could not enter, the MatriMandir at Auroville

Onward to Pondicherry, where we went into a beautiful Cathedral.  Pondicherry was a French colony and the French influence is in the buildings, in the churches, street names, people’s names and in the food.  Lovely time.  We wish we had more time to explore.  We did get to do some shopping in this very nice town with a quai along the waterfront.

Catholic Church in Pondicherry

Catholic Church in Pondicherry

Friendly cops in Pondicherry

Friendly cops in Pondicherry

Like the cops, even the cows in Pondicherry have a French flair to them

Like the cops, even the cows in Pondicherry have a French flair to them

Colorful chalk drawings on sidewalks in front of a home bring auspicious tidings

Colorful chalk drawings on sidewalks in front of a home bring auspicious tidings

Lots of colorful houses and many people ride their bikes to and from work

Lots of colorful houses and many people ride their bikes to and from work in Pondicherry

Pondicherry gate

Pondicherry gate

Blessed by an Elephant! This temple elephant took money and food offerings from temple visitors. She knew how to sort out the food for herself and the money (bills and coins) for her mahout (trainer/caretaker of elephants). We were told that she works from 4pm-7pm daily at the temple. She blessed me with her trunk several times!

Blessed by an Elephant! This temple elephant took money and food offerings from temple visitors. She knew how to sort out the food for herself and the money (bills and coins) for her mahout (trainer/caretaker of elephants). We were told that she works from 4pm-7pm daily at the temple. She blessed me with her trunk several times!

Beautiful Mahaballipuram

March 26, 2016

OK..so much to blog about.  And I want to post photos so today you will mostly get photos.  The photos were taken yesterday at Mahaballipuram at the great Shore Temple and other monolithic temples and temples built of quarried stone.

Just finished a spectacular, energizing, exciting yoga session on the beach.  The yoga session was to the back drop to the Bay of Bengal which goes into the Indian Ocean.  Also in our company was a female dog, whom we named Shakti along with her male companion (unnamed) and two cows grazing and many people.  All this at 6:30-7:30am!  Those photos will come soon in another post.

Shiva's Butterball  (Shiva loved butter!!)  We were flocked by school students.  They were so well behaved, extremely energetic, and very friendly and loving!!

Shiva’s Butterball (Shiva loved butter!!) We were flocked by school students. They were so well behaved, extremely energetic, and very friendly and loving!!

Another view of Shiva's Butterball!

Another view of Shiva’s Butterball!

One of my favorite shots of the day...precious bejeweled feet of an 8 month-old girl

One of my favorite shots of the day…precious bejeweled feet of an 8 month-old girl

Granite Stone Carvings

Granite Stone Carvings

Carving at temple..Goddess Parvati is shown here (she is Shiva's consort).  She  sits on a lotus and is bathing!  An elephant trunk is above her showering her with water!!!  Utterly beautiful!

Carving at temple..Goddess Parvati is shown here (she is Shiva’s consort). She sits on a lotus and is bathing! Can you see the elephant head and trunk above her showering her with water???  Utterly beautiful!

Dee Hammer and the monkeys.  The monkeys are grooming each other.  Beautiful photo of Dee!

Dee Hammer and the monkeys. The monkeys are grooming each other. Beautiful photo of Dee!

Another one of my favorite photos of the day!!!  This little girl was playing hide and seek with her brother amid the giant granite elephants at the Shore Temple.

Another one of my favorite photos of the day!!! This little girl was playing hide and seek with her brother amid the giant granite elephants at the Shore Temple.

Elephants and their babies!  Depicted here with the massive carved temple wall of Arjuna's Penance.

Elephants and their babies! Depicted here with the massive carved temple wall of Arjuna’s Penance.

Another depiction of Arjuna's Penance.  Thousands of years old, sculpted 1400 years ago, we see Arjuna in tree pose.

Another depiction of Arjuna’s Penance. Thousands of years old, sculpted 1400 years ago, we see Arjuna in tree pose.

Cobras!

Cobras!

With Arvind Singh and Kelley McHenry, founders and organizers of our tour, Spiritual India Tours.

With Arvind Singh and Kelley McHenry, founders and organizers of our tour, Spiritual India Tours.

Tenderly milking a cow and hopefully saving some milk for the calf!

Tenderly milking a cow and hopefully saving some milk for the calf!

And a yoga pose for you. Fran and Karin.

And a yoga pose for you. Fran and Karin.

The temples are truly beautiful, even more beautiful with the lovely ladies in their colorful sari.

The temples are truly beautiful, even more beautiful with the lovely ladies in their colorful sari.

Everyone wants to take photos with us and us with them.

Everyone wants to take photos with us and us with them.

I am in love with this boy!

I am in love with this boy!

More photos with Karin!

More photos with Karin!

More....

More….I love India!  Need I say, we are so loving this experience.  And mostly, it is the people of India who make this place so precious!

Thoughts on Yoga in India

March 23, 2016

As Arvind said, “Your time here in India is not a vacation.”  And how right he is!  Time spent in India is a journey of the spirit, a journey into the vast heart of India.  We see, experience, and learn things here that stir us deeply and, slowly, we are transformed into a better version of ourselves.

You cannot come to India and return home the same person you once were.

To deepen the transforming experience, we start each day with yoga.  We practice yoga outside in the early morning. The days here have been hot, but the early mornings are pleasant.  Here in Aurangabad, we do our yoga in a big grassy area near the pool. The yoga practice is grounding and peaceful. This morning was our third class together as a group.  Diverse as our group is, we all have the common thread of loving the yoga practice and seeing yoga as a vehicle to deepen our awareness of breath, of each and every moment, of the preciousness of life.  We all experience Yoga as Union.

Together we discover how yoga helps support us through the rigors of travel and helps keep us grounded and more alert throughout our travels in South India.  As usual, I have not taken many photos of our yoga sessions because I am too busy leading the classes.  Others, however, have taken photos and later I hope I can pull together a few yoga photos for the blog.  For now, I’d like to share with you the two readings I have read to the group and some photos I took of children today.

The first reading below is from today and makes me emotional. Sometimes I am impossibly hard on myself!  And I am not alone.  I am 100% certain of this. The reading below is a reminder to embrace ourselves.  It is a reminder to wake up to what is really important in life!

Walk Slowly by Danna Faulds

It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection.  The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that waking up to life is what we were born for.  As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, to be, and to walk slowly into the mystery.

And the second reading is a reminder to be content, to feel and express gratitude, and embrace simplicity:

Excerpt from Meditations on Intention and Being, by Rolf Gates

I have a prayer that I use to access santosha (the art of being content).  It is the simple statement, “Thank you for bringing me here.”  I began using it each time I took my seat at a 12-step meeting.  The prayer felt like sanity.  Then it started showing up everywhere. I would say it stopping on a hike through a forest. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

I would say it at the beginning of a yoga class.

I say it now at bedtime lying quietly next to my children, being the calm presence that helps them go to sleep.

These days I am saying it everywhere I go and it is more than enough.  There is nothing to be added or subtracted; I am content to say thank you.  Thank you for bringing me here.

The group photo in this blog is our lovely lively yoga and travel group at the Ellora Monolithic Caves today.

L1340376

And the children below are pure Jyoti (light) and Love.  Here is to bringing more light, love, and simplicity into your life:

m

d

s

s

Mumbai’s Shadow City

March 21, 2016

We visited Mumbai’s Shadow City, the notorious undercity Dharavi.  Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum.  Though there are no accurate numbers for the current population, it is estimated that one million people live in the Dharavi slum.

The slum began developing around 1882 during the colonial era.  Its occupants are largely illegally living in makeshift homes and come from all over India in search of work.  Today this slum occupies India’s hottest real estate area. Strangely, Dharavi lies on prime property right in the middle of India’s financial capital.

Dharavi is where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed.  Many of the children from the film were Dharavi slum dwellers. Dharavi is written about in Katherine Boo’s novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.  Dharavi was also mentioned in the novel Shankaram by Gregory David Roberts.  Roberts was a convicted Australian bank robber and drug addict who escaped prison and ended up hiding out in the slums of Mumbai.  A rough life, a place teaming with people who make a living by collecting garbage, sorting it out, and recycling it.  Today I got a chance to see Dharavi.

This visit was not on our itinerary.  Several people on our tour had heard there are Slum Tours which are well worth doing in Mumbai.  Several people in our tour had friends who highly recommended we experience the Slum Tours.  We talked to Arvind about the possibility of our going on a slum tour.  Arvind was very worried about our safety and strongly hesitated to agree to having this outing happen.  Pickpockets, poverty, desperation,  unsanitary conditions awaited us.  However, upon our continued request, he was able to hire a guide, a man who grew up near the slums, a man who knew the slums well, and who would keep us safe.  That was how we were able to go!  Once again Arvind pulled strings that we did not know existed.

We stopped by the slum this morning on our way to the airport.  We were escorted by Arvind and the hired guide.  There were a few tour participants who felt uncomfortable going into the slum so they opted to stay behind on the bus.  I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t know if we’d be robbed or ousted by the residents, or stared at in an unwelcome manner. Arvind’s number one priority is to keep us SAFE. How would he do that? How would we be perceived with our cameras, our good shoes and clean clothing, our combed hair and well-fed bodies?

I could never have imagined how warmly we would be received.  All of us were very respectful of the slum dwellers and I believe they felt our sincerity.  We did not go to judge.  We came to see, to learn, to take in.  We fell in love with the children.  Mostly we saw men working!  They were kind towards us. There were various heaps of organized garbage like flattened card-boards, motors of every kind, boards and planks, refrigerator parts, typewriters, old air conditioning units, plastic bottles and plastic containers.  Things were being taken apart and reassembled, recycled and pounded, reinvented and reinstalled.  Everyone was busy at work, industrious as ever.  And proud!  I couldn’t believe how proud everyone was to be working, dismantling, and creating. Mountains of garbage and recycled goods were everywhere.  Litter was everywhere, rusted out tin roofs, rubble and broken bits of this and that everywhere.

Our slum guide walked with us, sometimes slightly ahead of us and Arvind always in the rear, keeping a keen eye on all of us. Our slum guide spoke to the residents and explained our presence in Marathi, the language spoken in Mumbai.  He also translated for us and helped us to communicate with the slum residents.  All the while, everyone was busy collecting, sorting, working, creating, making things from recycled materials and tossed-out goods.

We went into the belly of the slum, but not too deeply into the vast interior, and within 30 minutes, we were safely spit out onto the street and whisked away back onto our air conditioned bus.  It was an unbelievable experience.

All of us left feeling much better than we thought possible after such an excursion.  We found the people so lovely!  We interacted, we asked if we could take photos and they all said yes.  Dharavi is a testament to the tenacity and strong spirit of mankind.  I hope the photos below will help you experience our short walk into a place most people dare not tread voluntarily.  We looked poverty in the eye and came away more humbled than ever.  We came away with a new perspective and a renewed appreciation of the human spirit.

This is my favorite photo. This little girl was a little overwhelmed by us. Meanwhile, her grandfather held her on his lap so tenderly and he smiled the whole time. You could see how much he loved her and she felt reassured by his strength.

This is my favorite photo. This little girl was a little overwhelmed by us. Meanwhile, her grandfather held her on his lap so tenderly and he smiled the whole time. You could see how much he loved her and she felt reassured by his strength.

Another adorable child! I sat by him for a little while and showed him that we had the same boots. He was delighted. The children were clean and looked to be well fed. They appeared to be very happy and well loved.

Another adorable child! I sat by him for a little while and showed him that we had the same boots. He was delighted. The children were clean and looked to be well fed. They appeared to be very happy and well loved.

Industrious Residents of Dharavi Undercity

Industrious Residents of Dharavi Undercity

Grandfather's Smile

Grandfather’s Smile

Taking a break from sorting

Taking a break from sorting

Another truckload comes in

Another truckload of cardboard to be sorted out

Another favorite photo. Hard at work

Another favorite photo. Hard at work

Tea Break

Tea Break

Man coming down from makeshift second story, carrying a broken Airconditioned, which will be reconfigured and working again, only to be resold without a warranty

Man coming down from makeshift second story, carrying a broken air conditioner, which will be reconfigured and working again, only to be resold without a warranty.

He was taking this typewriter apart tiny piece by tiny piece. I cannot imagine what he was going make or repair with the hundreds of pieces, but I have a feeling he had something unique in mind.

He was taking this typewriter apart tiny piece by tiny piece. I cannot imagine what he was going make or repair with the hundreds of pieces, but I have a feeling he had something unique in mind.

Cindi saw this first and then I copied her and photographed the same subject! A bike that was most likely re-done from recycled materials

Cindi saw this first and then I copied her and photographed the same subject! A bike that was most likely re-done from recycled materials


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