Reaching equilibrium

Three days into the yoga, and after three 90 minute classes, the tendons have eased and the core has strengthened and the movements are more fluid, the pauses less collapsed, more pensive, and the practice has become a routine so sorts.  In the shade of Kranti Yoga’s Massive stage, with its multi-coloured curtains and striped canopy, along with 30 other drop-ins, most of whom come every day, I have found a place where my body is finally listening to my mind, if not my heart, and vice versa.

That’s also three mornings of banana pancakes on the veranda of our hut, followed by an hour of digestion and the guilt-ridden process of catching up on emails and the news from RTE, then the yoga session, which would be so much better at 7.30 or 8am before the breakfast and the consciousness, then a swim in the luke-warm surf and an hour to dry off in the baking mid-day heat, before a snack lunch or a pot of coffee. We choose one of two cafes because of the staff and their sympatico approach to us. One serves an exceptional lemon and mint blended drink full of ice, and the other a cafetiere of good strong coffee, and both have good wifi. Then we consider an hour walking in the sun, either the length of the two beaches or around a block of back roads, away from the sun and the people, and then perhaps another swim, followed by showers and two hours’ siesta. That brings us to twilight and quickly darkness in the room, and time to spray the deet and step into the dark street, with its small booths of local clothing and trinkets, the money exchange shops offering sub-standard rates, and the ice cream stand that lacks all the appeal of ice-cream in the west, then onto the beach again to sit in candlelight and admire Sirius, dominating the sky, and to listen to the rhythm of the water slapping and lapping, in an infinite repetition. The kites are circling, and there are fruit bats as big as them, stretching their wings and settting off to feed. A beer or two, and we’re ready for a plate of fish or tandoori chicken or curried vegetables, before our final stroll back to the huts, then to bed in the dark box with its tiled floor, rush matting walls, ineffective ceiling fan and double bed covered in an effective mosquito net, for an hour of reading on the computer, a novel of no consequence but well written. There’s another frog in the toilet, as still as a turd but ready to jump at the first sign of urine. At this moment I can be glad I’m not a sitter…

Another day passes without plans or decisions or conflict or clock-watching tension or creative endevour. Another day of  complete relaxation which brings us to an equilibrium rarely experienced in our lives at home.  It is a re-charging process which reaches down into the core, refills cells which may lie dessiccated for months or years, and yet it cannot last, because once we feel replete, we need to begin to move forward, to create, to want again.  I love the equilibrium, but I love the see-saw of normal life more.

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Goa Del Sol

Lying in the sun on the Caribbean beach it’s hard to imagine the streets of Udaipur, with their bustle and relative poverty, though this too was a tourist’s paradise. Goa is peopled by British sun-seekers and yoga aficionados choosing between Kundalini and Ashtanga based on their suppleness and ability to perform their practice in the  35 degree heat.  The beach at Patnem, to the far south of the province is chosen by older people and yoga-seekers as the most peaceful and laid-back of about twenty resorts.  Talking to a builder from Billericay, who pays his brickies £180 a day in the post-Brexit building bubble, it seems that in one resort he stayed, there were a load of Russian tourists and in another, a continuous moon party for the Club 18-30 crowd. This must be where most of the 250 Tourist Police are based. He and his two mates had made a last minute decision to come to India and as a consequence, he bemoaned the NHS queue for injections and his £550 bill for private services. He’d booked them all into a hotel, run by a Brit in North Goa for new year’s eve, at great expense, paid in full and found when they got there that it had been closed for three years and that they would have to take the last three beds in an eight bedded dormitory in the only hostel in the town which had space. They were also fined £15 each on the spot for riding hired scooters without helmets.  The policeman had apparently been wearing copious amounts of gold jewelry, and had not proffered a receipt.

Beside our sunbeds, outside the Solida Del Sol cafe, which is sandwiched between Namaste Homestay and Nirvana Lodge, two French Canadian tourists lounged for their last few days before taking the two flights to Delhi and then the 14 hour connection to Toronto.  He was heavy-set and tattooed, with nipple rings in both nipples.  She was not, as far as I could see either tattooed or pierced.  They had booked to see India, expecting to travel the length and breadth of the this massive continent of a land, but had been so phased by their arrival into Delhi – nothing changes there then – they had promptly stepped into a travel agent and hired a driver for a 12 day to tour Rajasthan.  They’d had a great trip, much like our own, but in more comfort.

The Kranti yoga centre consists of two huge ‘stages’ made of stone slabs, protected from the sun by huge canopies, and each surrounded by a series of perhaps 20-30 huts, in which retreating yoga-seekers stay for the three or five or more day retreats.  There is no catering, so each must either fast (which is possible, looking at many of them) or go to Namaste or Nirvana or even brave Round Cube, where ambient music and lemon mint tea is order of the day.  They have hammocks outside their huts, and there is plenty of saffron cloth draped around the place.  My drop-in class is not till 10.15 each morning, which is a shame as the morning muesli with fruit, curd and honey is hard to resist, but also hard to perform three legged dog after. The yogis bring their own clean mats and I choose a very soiled but perfectly serviceable one from the centre.  A sari-clad administrator (and definitely not a yogi) collects our 200 Rupee fees (€3), but as there are about 25 westerners dropping in, that’s a healthy income for the centre for the 90 minutes with Sally, the young black London yoga teacher who strides among us and describes the poses in English rather than using their proper names.  What type of yoga are we performing?  I’m fairly sure it isn’t pure Ashtanga, as I’m still alive to describe the experience, so it is really a mish-mash of Hatha and Kundalini and some Vinyasa thrown in.  While we go through the practice, a stray dog stands in front of us on the raised stage and watches.  Each establishment has its own dogs. They lie on the beach in front, or wander within the compounds, looking for scraps.  I saw the Round Cube stray sit beside a customer as she ate her lunch, refusing dry toast scraps, but happily eating them once buttered.  At night, they become tandoori experts, choosing between tables and selecting them on the basis of the occupants’ generosity, and maybe their menu choices, taking scraps.  They are fiercely territorial and never eat from next door’s customers without a riotous and noisy dog-fight.  Last time we were on the sunbeds outside Solida Del Sol, two cows wandered onto the beach and began to eat our clothing.  They are not so territorial it seems.

Goa is truly European in everything except the menus, and even then, the majority of places offer fries instead of rice or naan, and tandoori chicken tikka is probably the number one dish.  The question which keeps raising its ugly head is whether what is here is really good for anyone.  Is it benefiting anyone but the few wealthy local owners, and should one really only partake of the authentic Indian experience on a trip to India, rather than funding this Eastern version of the Costa Del Sol?  What’s the authentic India now though?  To live it, you just have to buy a Chinese mobile – preferably taking several hundred selfies with it every day, drive a Royal Enfield motorbike and learn enough Hindi to hold conversations with the locals and the tourists simultaneously, to ensure that your cut in someone else’s offering is protected when you sell the tourists a manageable version of the India they fear.

Jodpur Sati

The city is sprawling, vibrant and overwhelming.  No more than Ajmer and less than Jaipur but still blanketed in smog and echoing to the call to prayer from its many minarets, and its bustling streets are even more full of animals than people, who flow like rivers through the excrement and rubbish and dust, on foot, and scooters, and bicycles and in tuktuks, and cars or camel pulled carts, always trying to get somewhere without regard for order. Tethered goats rummage in plastic bags for  fruit skins, and bullocks wander aimlessly searching for greenery which doesn’t exist here. The packs of street dogs are fighting or sleeping or feeding their pups, and thousands of people are crowding and milling and selling and joking and begging, and their children are calling us with ‘hallo’ and ‘namaste’  for rupees,  or ask for selfies, and ‘what country?’ to find out who these aliens are who are crazy enough to wander between them. Rats in families or hords beneath the pathways with their open sewers are trying to make some impression on the river of shit they live in and off.

The King’s Retreat guest house, in the shadow of the towering fort, is a strange combination of backpacker’s dive and Moroccan Riad, and would be no retreat for a king in any state of exile. It has a roof terrace restaurant which sells pizzas delivered from the cafe next door and which seem to have some exotic appeal to the hip Indian boys that come to smoke from the hookah and drink the Kingfisher.  Sold in cans, it is billed separately, as the place is clearly not licensed.  And the Kings Retreat is overseen by the Mehrangarh Fort, an immense hilltop sandstone edifice containing all the comforts the 17th century could offer the Maharajas, and all the privacy their wives and daughters in Purdah required, as they sat behind intricately carved stone latticework windows, observing their men in audience with his highness. The audio tour is narrated by an Indian acadamic with 1950’s Queens English and pride to match.

By the main gate is a plaque of hands sculpted in the stone wall, painted red.  Each hand was carved for a maharani whose husband had died.  As the funeral procession passed the plaque, she would impress her palm to the wall, making a print of henna, and  in prayer, with her procession of bearers and maidservants and elephants, she would be led to the maharaja’s pyre, to sit silently as she was engulfed by the flames to be burned alive in an act of Sati.  There are 30 hands in the plaque, and apparently, the last was added in 1847, though for each maharani this commemorates, how many ordinary Hindu women were burned alive, and for how long after the practice was outlawed in 1827?

Across town is Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Last royal palace for the surviving maharaja, with its 347 rooms full of opulent art deco furniture and pre-Raphaelite style paintings by a Polish emigre who escaped WW2 to serve the Man with a Rolls Royce which had an elephant motif on its bonnet. The palace is now a hotel, not the King’s retreat, and B&B is just 45,000 rupees a night (€630)…

It’s a city of contrasts and inequities.