No Sleep Til Mysore 2007, Pt. I
An account of Cara's fourth trip to study at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in India
From Yoga Chicago magazine
By Cara Jepsen
The sun was rising when I came out of the Bangalore airport this morning, and after a four-hour drive I was back in my old room at the Kaveri Lodge. The dollar is weak and the rupee is strong, so paying Guruji’s grandson, Sharath, Rs 27,530 ($680) today was very painful indeed. In 2002, registration was only. $555. My start time tomorrow is 7:15 a.m. I wonder how bad my backbends will be.
I did not see Guruji. He fell ill last March and cancelled the grand opening of his new shala in Florida. He’s still recovering, although I heard that he recently led a few classes. He’ll turn 92 in two weeks.
I didn’t see Guruji’s daughter, Saraswati (who teaches with Sharath), either.
My alarm clock is not working, and my mobile phone is still on Chicago time. If my jetlagged mind can calculate the 10.5-hour time difference, I can use its alarm.
The mobile alarm worked and so did my backup plan. A few minutes later, the door buzzer rang and the night manager appeared with a steaming cup of chai.
I found my way to the shala on the scooter, and on the way I waved to Manju-the-tailor and Bick-the-coconut-wallah, who said there were about 120 students here. Inside, I waited less than 30 seconds before Sharath looked at me and said, "Cara you come!"
For the first week here, everyone does primary series regardless of their regular practice, and today I was surprisingly strong and flexible.
Later I went over to 3 Sisters, who had the trunk I left there last year. Inside were q-tips, cockroach chalk, clothes, towels, sheets, raincoat, travel guides and other essentials.
One of the sisters saw my mala (prayer beads) and told me that in India only men wear Rudraksha beads, which are sacred and denote workshop of Lord Shiva. I can’t help but wonder how many other rules I’m breaking--and what sort of punishment is coming.
Over the weekend, my local friend Ammu and I took a bus to Ooty, a resort high in the Nilgiri mountains in Tamil Nadu, some 170 km from Mysore. It’s known for being cold, so we brought sweaters, covered shoes and knit monkey caps.
We left at 7 to make the 8 a.m. bus that required a transfer 50 km from Ooty.
During the ride I had to urinate. A woman vomited out the window, and at one stop a Brahmin priest got on, blessed some people (who handed him rupees) and left.
At 10:30 the bus stopped and the conductor said, “Five minutes break.” Ammu watched our things, and I ran out, not knowing if we were in the state of Karnataka (where they speak Kannada), Kerala (Malayalam) or Tamil Nadu (Tamil). I did know that sticking out the little finger means one has to urinate, so I wagged my finger at a few people and they pointed me in the right direction. Then my phone rang; it was my gentleman friend, calling from the U.S. “I can't talk,” I sputtered. “Please call back.” I threw the attendant Rs 5, did my business and sprinted back to the bus, which was still there. It left about ten minutes later.
When my friend, who grew up in India, called back, he said, “The bus would not have left without you.”
We got off at a junction in Tamil Nadu. Ammu speaks Tamil but does not read it, so he asked where we could find the Ooty bus. Immediately one pulled up, and we and 20 others swarmed towards it. It was already packed; a few people got out and a few more got on. The same thing happened when another bus arrived a few minutes later. Finally a Karnataka state bus came, and it too was packed. We swarmed towards the door. Everyone was shouting at the conductor, who pointed to a couple of people and let them on. Ammu said something to him in Kannada, and we got on, too.
“What did you say to him?” I asked.
“I told him we were from Mysore.”
(Apparently there is some antipathy between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and Karnatakans stick together. Apparently Ooty once belonged to Karnataka and is now in Tamil Nadu; the neighboring states are also always fighting over water from the Kavery River.)
The roads were awful and we went through 36 hairpin turns before reaching Ooty, which is high in the moutains. I was in awe of the driver, since the roads are no wider than a single lane and the bus is massive.
During our stay in Ooty we saw the lake, the botanical garden, the rose garden, and the wax museum, where the statues included Gandhi, Osho, Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Shankaracharya, Jesus and the local bandit Veerappan. We also saw Shivaji, the most expensive (and overrated) Tamil film ever made.
I accidentally slept through class yesterday and did self-practice in my room. It went well until backbends, when I locked my bathroom door so I could walk up it with my hands to go from backbend to standing.
My hands were halfway up the door when it flew open and I landed on the middle of my back, hard, on the concrete floor.
After the initial shock, it felt fine--until today, when I noticed a sharp sting when I was rolling around in garba pindasana (embryo-in-the-womb pose). So after class I went to the ayurvedic pharmacy for some pinda taila (oil).
It seems to have worked.
Yesterday Sharath told me to come at 7 a.m. There were a lot of students in the waiting room when I arrived today. Things had thinned out when Sharath poked his head in and said, “7:15 next.”
I pointed to myself and said, “7:00?”
And he said, “What are you sitting there waiting for?”
Everyone laughed as I ducked my head and skulked inside.
(This did not stop me from doing decent dropbacks.)
I’ve not seen Guruji since arriving--although they’re still planning to have a party on his birthday.
After practice today the owner of the Kaveri Lodge invited me to have lunch with him and his wife (actually, she served us first and ate later). We had bitter gourd sweetened with jaggery, a tasty veggie dish whose name I did not catch, and tangy sambar and rasam. The owner explained that they are Tamil, and their rasam is different than that of the Kannadigas (in Karnataka). I think they were right, as I really liked it. It’s also good for digestion. The bitter gourd is good for diabetes and the veg dish was full of iron. The meal ended with salty curd rice--also good for digestion.
We made small talk--his father opened the lodge in 1974--until he said something like, “Madame will be taking rest after lunch?” and Madame took off.
Since Wednesday morning I've had eggy loose motions (diarrhea) and gas as well as bloating after eating--which sounds suspiciously like Giardia.
On my first trip to India I waited until I could barely walk before I went for help. On my second trip I learned to go to the hospital if an illness lasted for more than 24 hours. On my third trip I learned that after 24 hours I should skip the formalities and go directly to the pharmacist.
So I went to see him, and he gave me four magic pills (Rs 6, or about 15 cents). After you take the pills, you tell him what happened, and if you’re not better, he gives you something stronger--but only as a last resort. As he told me, “Why use a hammer, when a nail will do?”
Yesterday La Profesora and I walked up the thousand steps to the top of Chamundi Hill, where there is a temple. Before we left, Ammu warned us to watch out for monkeys and creepy guys.
The way up was hotter and sweatier and more taxing than I remember from 2002. The steps were steeper, and more uneven.
Or maybe I’m just older.
Partway up we stopped at the Nandi (Shiva's bull) statue and walked around three times clockwise before going to the cave that is the abode of a Swami with a cell phone.
I've been a little obsessed with the idea of gurus and holy men/women lately--and sat there trying to feel something. I never feel something when I'm supposed to, though.
Afterwards, we went to the top and got in line for the temple, where two monkeys were harassing the crowd.
Inside, we saw the Brahmin priests with the sacred threads and plates with flames in the inner sanctum chanting to a Chamundi statue that was drowning in flower garlands.
Again I wanted to feel something.
It had rained, and walking down the slick, uneven steps afterwards was difficult. But at least we didn’t see any monkeys.
Or creepy guys.
I visited the Coconut Family yesterday. The younger daughter looks the same, but the older one was wearing a sari and thali (necklace) and toe rings--and carrying an infant. Since I left, she’d married and started a family.
One of their dogs was missing. The younger sister’s English is only slightly better than my Kannada, but she made it clear to me that her dog had expired. “Dead,” she said. “Two months.”
I assumed it had been hit by a car.
From time to time, the Mysore City Corporation puts out poison to kill off all the stray dogs that roam the city.
Apparently this time it killed off at least one person’s pet.
After yesterday’s wobbly-but-adequate dropbacks, Sharath came to help with the final backbending sequence. But first he asked me if I’d done pashasana, or noose pose (the first of the few intermediate series poses that I do).
With all of those people in the room, and with his grandfather ill and the weight of running the shala on his (sore) back, he’s still able to keep track.
Today, I was “testing the waters” between backbending and dropbacks--bouncing a few before trying to stand up--when Sharath appeared at the front of my mat.
I did another backbend and stood up with ease and grace.
He’s like a magnet.
Spotted in the shala this week: Lino Miele, Rolf Naujokat, David Swenson, Vance Selover, and Peter Sanson.
For my birthday I wanted to chase down some waterfalls and see what they’re like during monsoon.
The drive was only 80 km, many of which were over potholed dirt roads where we saw evidence of the river at regular intervals: creeks, streams, bridges, cement irrigation ditches and rice paddies.
On the way, we stopped at the dam but could not go in; apparently it’s been closed to visitors since the Tamil Tigers had tried to blow it up in 2002. We passed a crew working on a Kannada film; there were exactly three vehicles: no honey wagon, no craft service table, no grip truck and no fancy camper for the talent.
The falls were massive, and we started walking down the uneven steps (which, thankfully, were dry) to the bottom. As we got closer we could feel the negative ions. At the bottom were some round boats made of bamboo and palm fronds. They did not seem seaworthy, but we saw a family in one and decided to try it, too.
Using a single paddle, the captain pulled us against the current to a spot under the falls. We got out and went closer and were soon drenched with water. Suddenly, the long, hot, painful ride disappeared. The wetter I got and the more mist I inhaled, the more renewed I felt, and I began to understand a bit the idea behind baptism.
Then I noticed a rainbow. It made almost a complete circle--and I was at its center. It was quite a moment.
To read Part II, click here.