Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Tomorrow, we leave South India for Mumbai, where we will spend our last few days in India, before we fly to London. We are in Mammalapuram, aka Mahabalipuram (this renaming business makes for great confusion). It is most famous for its beach resorts, impressive examples of Dravidian architecture, and the Shore Temple, which was in fact part of a complex, but the rest is now under water. I am told this discovery was made by the common man in the wake of the Tsunami, when the waters receded dramatically.

It seems to be a poorer town than Pondy or Chennai, with many, many people using the beach for all their ablutions (yes, everything.) It is sad, because on the whole South Indians look quite prosperous, and most seem to have their basic needs for sanitation and clean water met to some extent. I think perhaps the government is concentrating its infrastructure efforts in the larger towns and cities.

Seeing the poverty and filth in this little town, like so much else about travelling, especially in India, shows up all the habits I have in thinking, seeing, judging (see the Auroville post!). I notice again and again how I dislike change, and fight against it, even if I instigated it - case in point: the way I was disappointed that our current hotel is not as nice or homely as the wonderful Le Dupleix in Pondy. I also notice that if I feel my needs, for example in terms of cleanliness, are not met, I get uptight. Then there is the spending. India's beautiful goodies erode my self-control and I always buy more than I need to or should! Watching my husband do the same, but on a larger scale, with art pieces, has been educational too. I am not as flexible as I should be, but again, travelling forces the issue, because sometimes, if you are not flexible, you will be without transport or accommodation! How lucky I am to have such a mirror: the yoga of travel.


So I mentioned how much I liked Pondicherry. Well, our visit to Auroville made an interesting interlude. The visitors' centre is clean and well organised, the community seems to work, the big golden globe at the heart of it all, the Matramandir, is suitably impressive. But. I find the philosophy behind the community a little odd. The basic premise on which Auroville was founded was that it be a spiritual community, but rejecting all religion. So far so good. But then why name the four supports of the Matramandir after the four great Hindu goddesses? And why have images of the Guru and the Mother everywhere, literally enshrined?

This is just my opinion, but I think it is very difficult to lead a spiritual life without it somehow crossing over into the realm of religion. Faith and ritual, practiced in a community, led by a guru, can be only two things: religion or cult. So if it isn't a religion...

However, if the mind that conceived all this was used to Hinduism with its many internal contradictions, including atheist doctrines, none of these inconsistencies would be a problem. And I probably need to learn from that, instead of muttering under my breath about people not reasoning things out.

Another interesting aspect to our Auroville visit was my insta-celebrity among the Indian tourists, mostly groups of young men from places like Calcutta. They literally followed me around, asking to have a photo taken with me! One chap was waiting for me on the side of the walking path, another group ambushed me at the Matramandir viewpoint, and still another guy had to be physically dragged away by his friends because he was staring so hard. My husband may as well have been chopped liver. Now. That day I was sweating so profusely that my mascara (yes, even on holiday!) was streaming down my cheeks, I was wearing loose trousers and top, and I am really just an ordinary looking woman, especially in Auroville, where there are lots of Westerners and indeed even people of mixed heritage. So why all the attention? I am still puzzled.

The only two things I can think of are these: my extreme pallour (unusual among Europeans in India who go for the darkly tanned look) and the umbrella. I mean, surely only someone special would be such a princess as to carry an umbrella against the sun! Little do they know it's just because I lost my hat! Picture to follow, it is priceless!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pondy Pilgrimage

We are currently in Pondicherry (recently renamed Puducherry, but there is no way I am calling it that silly name.) We made the journey from Chennai in the quetionable comfort of a frigidly air-conditioned Ambassador taxi. I mention the aircon because it had only two settings: FREEZING, and off. We favoured the latter, but our driver, in the way of minor bureaucrats everywhere, kept switching it back on. The basic rationale seemed to be: you paid for aircon, this car has aircon, so now you will have it, whether you want it or not. It took the rest of the day for us to defrost, even in the humid heat of coastal Tamil Nadu.

Our journey was, however, enlivend by the streams of orange-clad Christian pilgrims walking past on their way to Pondicherry. Their clothes ranged from lurid day-glo orange to faded sherbert tones. Some wore shoes, many more didn't. Some carried flags, and some even pushed carts blaring music and containg icons of Jesus or Mary - of course! I wasn't able to get full details from our driver, but he did tell me that the walk takes ten days, and is undertaken by South India's Christians. Now here is an interesting pseudo-fact: depending who you ask, between one and two percent of India's population is Christian. Seems like a number to overlook, no? But it represents somewhere between 10 and 20 million people. South Africa's entire population is only 45 million. And this is maybe a metaphor for all of India. It is BIG. So many people, so much faith, so much heat, so many insects. And lots of poop!

We are really enjoying Pondicherry - it is a small town, clean and quiet compared to Chennai. The old French town - the Ville Blanche - is riddled with gorgeous old buildings and seems to be undergoing a period of gentrification. We are staying in one such renovated building - our hotel must be the best in the town - it is named for the ill-fated French governor of South India, Le Dupleix. We ended up in this upscale establishment through a combination of two factors: leaving our travel arrangements to the last minute, and exhaustion with the profound grubbiness of our Chennai apartment. Cleanliness in India runs to different standards than I am comfortable with. But now, according to the Le Dupleix catchphrase, we are sleeping like governors and eating like nawabs. See the pictures (courtesy of the Le Dupleix site) and weep!

Yup, that is our room. Perfect for naps, sloth, and, of course, yoga.

Stay tuned for tales of our trip to Auroville and the Matramandir, including my sweaty brush with celebrity.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


20070812 chennai amethyst, originally uploaded by Nadine Fawell.

Want to see more from the las two weeks? I have put a Flickr badge in my sidebar, but if you get this by email, just follow this link.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another borrowed post

I saw this clip on Linda's Yoga Journey just now, and thought you might enjoy it if you haven't seen it yet!

School's Out! (Almost)

Two more days of yoga school, how time flies. I am learning loads, simple yet sophisticated techniques that I will need time to absorb and digest so I won't be blogging about them just yet.

Instead, here is a guest post from my husband. I thought this story was hilarious when he told me.
i was at a tourist destination called marina beach,
apparently the second largest beach in the world.
and home to chennai university that has amazing architecture on the campus.
so being who i am and enjoying architectural pics i wondered onto the campus
to capture some of said wonderment.
in order to get on to the campus there were a number of ancient security guards
with batons and large whistles that i just walked past.
so i get to the first building and i am just getting my composition desirable
when i start hearing whistles blow behind me, like an invasion army.
but not realizing the cause of the blaring i continue with my crafting.
and before i get to take the first picture i am grabbed from behind by
a red faced, eyes bulging, midget whistle blower
having a seizure with a d*mn whistle.
he scared the cr*p out of me!!!
so now after having jumped in fright it dawned on me that i was the creator of the
whistle symphony and that i was being escorted off the campus for trespassing.
white touristy guy taking pictures a threat to campus security.
so after the indignity subsided i nearly wet my pants from laughing...
it happens all over the world.
give a guy a whistle and a baton and he is important.
he will blow it at every opportunity.
it is crazy out there...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bad Tourist

We spent the day today doing the tourist thing around Chennai. A little bit, anyway. There is only so much you can do in the stewing heat before you need to repair to a nice air conditioned restaurant.

We began our morning by oversleeping, thereby ruling out the possibility of visiting the Kapaleshwarar Temple before it got too hot and they padlocked the gates. We consoled ourselves with brunch and light shopping at Amethyst, and then we went off to the Theosophical Society headquarters. It was closed. We were told to come back at two pm. We then went to the Ashta Lakshmi Temple on Elliot Beach (temple to the goddess Lakshmi). It was closed. We were harassed for money by pretty much everyone around the temple gate and ended up paying four times the going rate for some kitsch stickers of Indian deities.

It was almost two, so we went back to the Theosophical Society, and there, we were underwhelmed. It droops with an air of disuse and general neglect. We weren't allowed into the library to see the fabled book collection. The Big Banyan tree under whose shade J Krishnamurti disavowed his association with the Society is dead, leaving behind only its many skinny offspring - still technically the same tree, but not quite as impressive. But the sign still announces the Banyan as the largest living tree of its sort. Hmmm.

It was nearing four, and we decided to repair to a nice air conditioned restaurant. Did I mention that this is how my touristing invariably ends? There we ate a belated lunch and drank frozen beverages. Yes, ice, just like we are not supposed to do in India. I eat raw food here too. I am a bad tourist this way, because I don't follow all those rules we are given ' for our own safety'. I figure that the quality of the establishment is a better indicator of whether you will get ill than the type of food. Hope I don't have to, ahem, eat my words.

Another reason that I am a bad tourist is that I have almost no interest in little-visited museums, closed temples and the like. I prefer nice restaurants, pretty shops, and the homes of real people when forming an impression of a city. I suspect there won't be much more wandering around looking at monuments in my relationship with Chennai. If I am lucky, though, a Chennaivasi or two will invite me into their home, and I will see how they live...

PS: For more of J Krishnamurti's thoughts, check out his recorded talks, Direct Perception and Transformation, on emusic.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Saluting the Sun

Dang, it is hot here in Chennai. You know I was saying it was hot the other day? Well, it got hotter. Yes it did.

Today at school, we saw a case study of a lady who has suffered from terrible fear and anxiety, to the point where she couldn't leave her house on her own. She has been practicing yoga since March, doing mainly breathing and meditation as prescribed by a KYM teacher, and now she travels the city alone, and has completed several computer courses, which she didn't think she had the concentration to do. The secret ingredients?

Her own faith in the effectiveness of yoga, and the sun. Or rather, the meditation she was given on the sun. She was told to imagine she was absorbing the strength of the sun, and to chant several sun-related mantra's. We did a similar practice in our meditation class afterwards, and it was wonderful, and after school one of the women on the course told me she healed a difficult relationship with an extended family member by chanting the Gayatri mantra and then 'talking' to that person mentally.

In such a hot place, just like at home in JHB, the direct connection between the sun and life is all too evident, and the power of the sun is unquestionable. Consider:
  • The sun is always there: it rises every day, at the same time, give or take seasonal differences, and when we can't see it, people on the other side if the world are in its light
  • Although the sun will one day die, by human standards it is immortal
  • Without the sun there would be no life on earth
So if we tap into this immense and awesome power, anything becomes possible for us. Next surya namaskaras, remember this - you can do anything you want to with the help of the sun, and it is always there to help.

In other news, my never shop unless you need it policy is rapidly being eroded by the loveliness of India's textiles. And so cheap! All the teachers on the course wear these gorgeous punjabis or saris, and never ever the same one. One teacher actually told me she has now filled all the cupboards in her three bedroom house! They have as much trouble resisting as I do!

The principal culprit so far has been Anokhi, where my husband also got several kurta's, but tomorrow, since it is Saturday and we failed to get into the Ideal Beach Resort (fully booked) we will be having brunch at my old haunt, Amethyst. I anticipate that we will be parting with a little bit of cash. Or perhaps plastic!

This pic is from last year, a leisurely lunch at Amethyst. Pics from this year to follow when I (er, my hubby) figure out the USB picture loading thing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I am into day three of Yoga for Women at KYM, and I am back to meltdown mode. The actual course work is not as new and overwhelming as it was last year, but I am now with a group of women who are like PHD students with me in my third year of university. In one way, this is great, because I get to learn so much, but it is, of course, intimidating, and I am, as I did last year, wondering what the hell I am doing teaching yoga. I think this is a good sign though: there is nothing worse than a teacher who thinks they know everything!

We are doing quite a lot of practical: one hour of asana to start the day at 7, we are working with shristi krama, which is the ' first stage' of asana practice, usually taught to kids and teenagers, and it is basically vinyasa style. Nice, I am even a bit stiff. We will move on to the other three stages (sikshana, rakshana, adhyatmika) as the course wears on, symbolizing the different practices appropriate through a woman's life. We then have two lecture sessions, and before lunch we chant for an hour.

After lunch, we have half an hour of pranayama, a lecture on yoga cikitsa (therapy) and then a meditative practices class (asana, pranayama, ending off with meditation). It's a lot of exercise- about two and a half hours a day, plus the hour and a half I have been spending walking to and from school and around the suburbs. The heat is getting the best of me, though, and I suspect I shall be using auto rickshaws for transport in the heat of the day!

Chennai is as it is: loud, overwhelming, green, friendly, intimidating, welcoming. All at the same time. Next weekend, my husband and I hope to head to the beach, and after that, to Pondicherry. I will keep you posted!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Persistence equals serendipity

On Wednesday, we left home at 6.30 in the morning, and, after thirteen and a half hours of waiting for airplanes, flying, and waiting in airport queues, we arrived in Abu Dhabi at nine pm their time. We were tiiiired, and we had a 14 hour wait beforethe flight to Mumbai. It promised to be a very, very long night.

One of the Etihad ground staff suggested a hotel, but we have South African passports and no visas for Abu Dhabi, so we couldn't leave the airport. What to do? We began wandering the hallways, looking fora quiet nook to wait in. The idea of a hotel room had, however, lodged itself firmly in my brain, and that is what I was hoping for.

The concept of transit hotels is new to me - maybe because they are a newish idea, but far more likely because I have always traveled on such a tight budget that sitting on an airport bench for 14 hours would have been the only option. Not this time, though, and after a great deal of wandering and being turned away from various airline and first class lounges, we found a hotel.

Except that its signage announced it as a first and gold class transit hotel, leading us to believe that we would, once again, be turned away. By now it was almost eleven and we were ready to give up. But I couldn't, not when we were so close to a hot shower and a bed for the night. So I mustered the last of my courage, climbed the forbidding staircase, and asked the receptionist if we could stay...

"Of course, madam! You are welcome!"

I have never been so grateful for a bed and a shower, and the possibility of place to do some asana practice to relieve my flight-wearied muscles.

Moral of the story? How often do we give up, just as we are on the brink of achieving our goal? Far too often, methinks. And this is also yoga: persist, as Patanjali says in a number of different ways in the Sutra's, and you will make your own serendipity.

PS I will try to post some pics of the awesome Abu Dhabi airport from Chennai, where we are headed this afternoon.

PPS. We flew Etihad, and I have to say they have so far been one of the best airlines I have ever flown. Remember them next time you need to to do make some monster carbon emissions!

PPPS: Thanks for the suggestions about the carbon offests - trees it is!