So after that 5 day meditation retreat we had one day in Kandy to get used to the so-called "real" world again. First we took a trip to Helga's Folly on top of a hill overlooking Kandy. It's a very eccentric hotel with tons of arts, paintings and kitsch everywhere. We had a little drink to celebrate our "freedom" and plugged into the online world - not only to search for a nearby hotel but also to check the gazillion of messages one would get after 5 days without telephone. Well, I think I had 5 messages. That was all? Apparently nobody had missed me much.
We booked a nearby hotel (or so we thought). An hour later we were still wandering along the street with our backpacks and asking around: our hotel didn't seem to exist. Desperately we walked the street further down and looked for the house number booking.com provided. At the right number was a hotel, but it had a completely different name. We asked inside and they said yes of course it is the right place. Aha. Just a completely different name as on booking.com! Hmpf. The room was nice though, hot shower, aaaaah heaven, a proper bed, mmmhm :) Of course it was Masala Dosa time for dinner.
The next day we threw ourselves back into the "normal" life. And it was harder than we thought. We walked aroundthe town to buy a few things - and felt absolutely drained by midday- all our senses which had been in shut down to a minimum for 5 days got overly stimulated by the people, the noise, the traffic.... In the aftrnoon we both had a headacher. My eyes hurt and I felt absolutely drained. It's crazy what our senses deal with every day :o To make things worse, my credit card didn't work at the ATM, and in the afternoon when I tried to check in for my flight to India, the website said they couldn't find my flight.
But all that meditation helped - I stayed pretty calm and just tried to figure everything out.
Eventually I got checked in, and the day after we hopped on the local bus to the airport, eating our last vadas. Then it was time to say goodbye - Tamzin on her way to Australia, and me on to India!
When I wanted to drop my luggage I got asked for an onward flight ticket. I confidently said I wanted to travel over land to Nepal. Apparently this had worked for other travellers - well it didn't for me. It's so annoying. They don't even tell you that you need an onward ticket. It's all just a big scam. So I got forced to buy a ticket at the counter as there was not enough time to get me one of my famous fake tickets online. The woman at the counter said I could get a refund but I didn't count on that. Anyway, I stayed calm again (unlike another woman who was in the same situation and very angry), and eventually boarded my flight to Chennai (after a ridiculous amount of security checks, it must have been at least 7! Even when boarding the plane, they opened the hand luggage again to have a look inside. Seriously!?)
We even got food on that 1 hour flight - more vadas !! :D
I arrived at 6:30 in Chennai and was quite excited - my first time in India! And so I was very surprised to see a really empty airport. Chennai is a huge city, India is full of people, I had expected a big chaos and lots of crowds. Nothing. It was deserted.
I filled out my form, went to the visa counter, got sent to the first time visa counter. No queues, nothing. The guy looked at me, took my fingerprints, asked about my plans and where I was going. When I mentioned Tiruvannamalai he asked about my interest in Lord Shiva and which religion I followed. I hoped it wouldn't affect my visa stamp if I said I didn't follow any.
Got my visa, easypeasy, went to get my backpack, which came after 1-2 minutes, easypeasy, and straight to the exit, where my taxi driver was waiting.
I somehow had expected more drama, but India seemed to welcome me gentle and kindly.
During the 3-4 hour taxi ride through the night I felt completely safe, relaxed, and home, and so I dozed off, until we reached Tiru around 11 pm. I got into my room, the wind was howling outside, and I slept my first night in India.
Now it's been a week here in Tiruvannamalai, and so far all is well. India continues to be kind and gentle, so far I had no problems at all. The guesthouse I had booked for the first week, is very nice, in a quiet area, with a dim and smoky little cafe downstairs. In the early morningI get up to the roof terrace and meditate until the sun rises above the holy mountain, the Arunachala - it is very impressive.
The town is full of spirituality. Lots of sadhus, temples,ashrams,and westeners that had been here since the 70s, proper old hippies. One of them is a good friend of a friend, so I meet her on my first afternoon, and she shows me aroundthe main ashram a bit. I know less than nothing about Hinduism, Vedanta and all these things. So I kind of feel a bit at the wrong spot, but I must say I feel a special energy in this place. Sometimes so much that it makes one a bit lightheaded. - but maybe that's just the strong black tea.
Things I have done so far -
-I climbed up the Arunachala (around 800 m) which was special. They say Shiva is the mountain. At the top the stones are black from the burned ghee and the view over Tiru and it's temples is amazing. Further down are also the caves where Sri Ramana Maharsi meditated for years (and there is me complaining about 5 days of meditation!).
-I visited the main temple. The towers are massive and almost look like Maya buildings. It's a shame I know so little about Hinduism so I just wandered around a little
-I walked around the Arunachala which is what the pilgrims do, and a lot of people do it on full moon. It takes about 2-3 hours. Apparently there is also a walk in the forests but I just followed the main road.
-I ate a lot of dosas (and will most likely continue to do so)
-I had the most lovely Christmas dinner with some new friends and a local family who hadprepared n amazing buffet of traditional Indian food - so good
-I meditate every morning on the roof terrace. Really. Ok, it's usually just 20 minutes or so but I do keep it up, and it is somehwat easy with that setting, facing the holy mountain. I go to bed at 9 pm and get up at 5. This feels like the perfect rhythm for me
-I got a fantastic ayurvedic detoxifying massage, followed by a steam bath here you sit in this boy and only your head sticks out - felt so good
-I also ate a lot of papayas. In general I feel I am constantly hungry here. I guess the food is pretty light, and somebody said it is also not very nutritious because the soils are so depleted.
I likeTiru, and I feel quite calm here. There are certainly quite a lot of interestingpeople around here, as well as lots of pseudo-spirituality. But all good, I also feel relatively safe, even walking alone through the narrow market streets downtown - which I loved. There are cows just pissing in front of shops (as well as men btw), a lot of poor people laying on the streets, beggars, and of course men looking, but I usually dress and walk and behave like a dude, which together with my tattoos helps to keep them away I guess, so far I had no problems. But I also would not walk alone after dark on the street.
One downside: I didn't take many photos yet.
For one, my camera is really shitty, and it is a shame but I had to choose between buying a new camera or saving the money for more travel days. And secondly, there is just so much to take photos of. I think India is best experienced in person ;)