Wednesday, 9 January 2008

**India {Part Two) not a lentil in sight /'\ January 9th 2008

Dear All

I expect you are all really disappointed at my lack of travelogue and the continuation of such exciting subjects such as my mystery boils and the heady rush of my yoga retreat but it has been very difficult to access my email account due to power cuts, cyclonic weather systems and lack of keyboards that work or Internet connections that retain their identity. India has one of the fastest growing IT industries but not in the backwaters and sleepy mountain ranges I have been visiting, so apologies for lack of thrilling instalments and settle down for a read.

So much has happened, I'll try to keep it down to bullet points. But I doubt whether I can stick to my word. It is only through writing that I become at one with the chatterbox that lurks within me.

The girls left in a whirl of last dinners,last swims, last sunbathings, last minute shoppings and sadness at going. They had bought me a pretty thank you charm necklace which I wear every day. I love it. And in on the wind blew my friend Lynn to accompany me to our Ayurvedic Yoga retreat. We travelled by train to Coimbatore very comfortably by courtesy of Indian Railways which put our trains in the UK to utter shame. The efficiency and comfortableness. Not everyone would agree with me but my experiences on train journeys have been so interesting and varied and where else can you travel all night first class for a fiver? The journeys are a mixture of snacky feasts and hot chai (masala tea )and the best coffee ever. The vendors walk up and down the train chanting their selling points



and my personal favourite


which are deep fried bananas that screech with indigestion and heartburn almost instantly but had to be eaten on account of us going into supposed starvation at the retreat.

A taxi was hired from the station and we started our two and a half hour journey up the mountain to Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. And up and up and up we went. And the higher we went the colder it got and I was thinking about my six bikinis and wondering if I wore them all at once whether it would keep me warm enough? In the end with our teeth chattering we got the taxi to stop so we could buy jumpers, socks, scarves and hats and a nice set of thermals each. It was freezing and we were appalled that we hadn't even considered the cold. But the views! And the twisting dangerous road was keeping our minds on other things like staying alive. At one point we had eagles flying BELOW us in the dropsteep valley. It was green and fresh and I burst into 'thehillsraealivewiththesoundofmusic'. It was just as though Julie Andrews was going to dance over the horizon.. The driver stopped for 'urine' as he called it and our first monkey came and sat by the open car window and tried to get in. I shooed him away as I thought he looked a bit of a rogue, a hairlipped, sharp toothed highway man with no sex appeal. No way was he getting in the car with us. 

Arrival at the retreat was daunting. We both had no idea what to expect and wondered whether we would measure up on the yoga and the discipline needed. I was convincing myself that it was a cult and that our bank accounts would be emptied and my cynicism began to build. The owners greeted us with fake pearl garlands and dabbed turmeric powder between our eyebrows and made us tea and Marsala dosa (a bubbly dry pancake filled with spicy delicious sauce) and showed us to our accommodation that was to be our sanctuary for the next two weeks. YES! We hit the jackpot. 

The best cottage on the 'estate', a round house with 180 degrees of large windows perched on the edge of the mountain looking out over the thundery mountains in the far distance. A huge drop below our windows made it feel as though we were floating on the edge of the universe. Two comfy beds with thick warm quilts, a fireplace, a supply of logs and antique furniture galore. A veritable hobbit heaven. 

Our first meal with the other 'guests' was strange. As new arrivals, all eyes were on us and we were greeted by a manic chattering Australian girl (who turned out to be from Billericay, Essex). Everyone was washing down their meals with strange potions and medicines and I became paranoid wondering what they would be drugging us with. As it was our first night we didn't get medicated and I probably would have tipped it into the pot plant. I was tired and suspicious. Everyone looked a bit erm ..strange, weird. But on later thoughts, they were probably all just healthy!

Then the cyclone began. A cloud drifted in and then we couldn't see outside at all, the rain started and the darkness came and the next 5 days saw some of the heaviest rain fall I have ever seen. Apparently over 130 people died in the Tamil Nadu region and all the schools were closed. Trees blocked roads and the power was off more than it was on. Our retreat had begun quite literally. We were almost confined to our cottage the whole time, not getting an opportunity to go for a walk or liaise with our fellow retreatees. But then just as cabin fever was really kicking in and I had remembered all the songs from 'The Sound of Music' the sun began to watery shine and within hours we were back in the sun blinking like new borns and dancing and sunbathing in the tea plantations. 

People had died just from the sheer wash of water driving down the mountain. We had the luxury of being at the top of it. The shacks and tin roofed villages we passed on the way to our retreat would have almost certainly been washed away. People still wandered barefoot through the rainy town with overflowing rivers and sewage. And they still smiled. The biggest smiles you'll ever see. And the retreat turned out to be full of smiling people too. After the initial weirdness I thought I had spied, I couldn't have been further from the truth. About twenty really interesting people atop a mountain, all wanting to be healthier. From all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds. mainly professionals. I liked almost everybody. It was a bit like taking part in a reality tv show with fresh air. 

The retreat timetable went something like this

6am A knock at the door brings a morning treat of foul tasting Ayurvedic medicine. Having seen the doctor on arrival we were able to list our aches and pains and reasons for coming to the retreat, Mine being Osteoarthritis in my right hip, a tendency to melancholy and wanting a kick start to my creativity. Lynn wanted to lose weight, we both wanted to get optimum health and energy too.


6.30 am Yoga. Running up the side of the mountain to the yoga hall in my shorts was a wake up moment indeed. With the sun rising and a fire alight in the yoga hall fireplace it was always a haven of calm and contemplation. The yoga was exactly at the level we wanted it to be at that time of day and with the magic sounds of our yoga teacher chanting us into our sessions, it was the ONLY way to start our day.

8am Monkey feeding and human feeding. Walking with a bag of scraps to feed the monkeys was a novelty. Personally I was a bit scared of how vicious they were to each other, fighting and screeching and it's only a matter of time before a person gets in their way. It made for good photos though and the baby monkey's looked good enough to eat. (an all vegan diet does strange things to my mind) Then back to base for our breakfast which was always something delicious and hot apart from Lynn and the rest of the weight loss girls who got a piece of fruit. 

The food was always really good and served at regimental times and I felt almost institutionalised upon leaving the retreat. But each day bought different kinds of treatments. Massages that lasted for an hour and oil pouring sessions which were amazing. Warm oil poured at a steady flow across the forehead for an hour. I went into some strange trances and it evoked strange memories that I couldn't retrieve upon leaving the treatment room. Some strange witchypoo craft but very soothing and relaxing. I spent almost two weeks in my dressing gown. Floating from yoga to breakfasts to treatments, back to my bed to rest (at least an hour after every treatment) and I quite quickly became more fluid in my joints and much more relaxed in my thought processes. I wrote lots of stuff and dreamed out lots of memories and I felt new. Fresh as paint.

The staff at the retreat were nearly all locals and the girls that did my treatments treated me like royalty. I became really attached to them and if they tried to send me somewhere else I got possessive about 'my girls' Daisy and Lali. Hands of angels. The cooks and gardeners were from Rajasthan and were very nurturing and caring people. It was an honour to meet them and listen to the stories of their lives. They kept us fed on pure organic homegrown food and taught us lots of cookery hints and background information about Ayurvedic cookery. I am newly fascinated with Ayurveda and will be swotting up better when I get back to the UK. It's as ancient as yoga and just as valid and sensible for optimum good health. People fall into three body types and the dietery needs of them are very different. I've got a whole new interest from this experience and shall no doubt bore you all rigid. If anyone is still reading this, well, thanks. 

Two weeks later we were ejected into the real world. Ouch. Back down the mountain, round and round, back on the train, this time a night train in a first class coupe (small carriage)before we had even taken stock of who or what we were. On leaving the retreat, Lyn weighed one and a half stone lighter. Our eyes were bright, our skin was clear, our bodies were bendy. My hip didn't hurt and we felt completely energised. It was New Year's Eve. We weren't sure if we would last the night without Retoxing. Especially as we were now on a fast train straight to the beach.

With half a bottle of dark rum in our luggage, we hadn't touched a drop, not even on Christmas Day 

Love and Lotus positions