Secret and Sacred

Secret and Sacred

This will be the final chapter in the story of my wonderful trip to Southern India….
 
Sheer distances in India plays a part in how much you can cram into a little over 3 weeks. A journey that might take 4 hours in the UK or US  can easily take twice that in India. Time is elastic and no one seems to worry too much. Taxi drivers readily agree to 6  or 12 hour drives and they just drive, crazily and patiently and seemingly without a need for food or pit stops. Then  of course they have a 6 or 12 hour return journey and yet it is ridiculously cheap. But enough of practical matters and onto an amazing, wonderful  experience we had, another result of my little ” scenery and spirituality ” chat with the manager of Hotel Deshedan.
 
I doubt very much that we would have found this next ashram by ourselves. We packed everything  up  yet again, and set off for our last destination, Periyar which is a huge National Park and nature reserve, the ashram being a detour on the way. The  hotel manager accompanied us on his motorbike  to make the introduction, another example of people going out of their way for us, so kind and generous to two strangers at this,  the end of our trip,  just like Bijou at the beginning. A lovely circle of caring.
 
This time there were no deities in bright colours, no gleaming white marble, no “samedhi”  which has two meanings one being enlightenment or it can  mean a  shrine containing the ashes of a saint. There were  no yellow rickshaws and  no temples of any kind, just an amazing miracle of nature……
 
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We were the only visitors, there have not been many visitors there for a longish time it would seem. First we were shown into the office of a man who seemed to be in charge of not much really since the place was deserted. There was a portrait of Maharshi Ramana in the room and it is true that he seems, even in a portrait to have a most compelling and magnetic presence. I am looking forward to finding out more about him as he seems to have been the Real Deal Guru!  Next time I am determined to go to Arunchala, the sacred mountain and Ramana’s ashram which is in Tamil Nadu the next state along from Kerala.
 
After refreshments and a chat we were taken into the grounds  of the ashram where there was an herbal garden. There are herbs for each of the astrological signs, although I still don’t know what my herb is,  as well as medicinal herbs and also a pond,  a small natural  pool of water.  Except that ponds are not at all natural in Southern India where apart from the monsoon months the temperature is between 30 and 35 degrees every day. The miracle is that this pond has never dried up, allegedly in 4000 years. So it is a phenomenon of nature and  literally sacred water.
 
We were told to be very quiet and just  wait and then we would see something extraordinary and  we did!  We stood, not moving or talking and  suddenly about 15 or more beautiful red Eagles flew to the water’s edge, some circling lazily overhead and then they settled  and  began drinking. I could hardly breathe from the wonder of it!  They were so beautiful,  such magnificent birds,  and as we took pictures as quietly as possible, they took flight and circled  and then came  back again soaring and swooping around us and overhead. To see one or two Eagles reasonably close up is thrilling but this was more than that, this felt like being part of a dance of nature.
 
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Many of the holiest sites in the world are built on ley lines or vortices, places that  have a very high energy field where lines cross  and apparently this is one of the places in the world where so many lines cross that there is a  super high resonance. The highly spiritual can feel such places are special, and  so of course can the Eagles and other creatures, making this a natural holy place  where Saints and Sages lived  and meditated and sought enlightenment in  caves in the hillside on this very site 4000 years ago.
 
There was a very ancient, huge Banyan tree (the same kind where Buddha Shakyamuni sat in another part of India) with branches trailing over the still  water and this is  where  the   Saints  and  their  devotees  sat and meditated through the many centuries  and we were invited to do the same.  There we sat, eyes closed, cross-legged on the ground, I feeling the warm sun on my face and listening to the sounds of nature and marvelling at this incredible and rare experience  we were enjoying so much. I feel so fortunate and  so blessed that we were guided to this place to experience something as wonderful as this, to feel this energy and peace. I think that it is in places like this that one can feel the Divine all around and within, no need for temples when God and nature has provided.
 
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After meditating for a while, we  went into one of the small dark caves on the hillside  which has now had walls built around it to preserve it as it was thousands of years ago  and I imagined how it must have been to live a  life of devotion here in search of wisdom and enlightenment. We saw the knee prints of a Saint enshrined in a glass case and which has been authenticated as being thousands of years old. It was  all amazing, deeply spiritual and an experience  I shall not easily forget.
 
After that we resumed our journey into the hills of Periyar which covers  a huge area and provides an outstandingly beautiful and  natural wildlife sanctuary in the foothills of the Western Ghats.
 
On our way, spiritually replete but very hungry for food we asked our taxi driver to find somewhere to lunch and  found ourselves in a slightly bizarre, vast and almost empty dining hall of a business hotel.  The taxi driver who seemed  nonplussed at our invitation to dine. He and Charles feasted on Thali which is lots of tiny bowls of all kinds of vegetable curries set on a big plate with either rice or chapatis to mop up the food  and I had two fried eggs and chips which came eggs on one plate, chips on another and tomato ketchup artfully hidden in half a flower cut tomato! Pleasure comes in many different  forms:-)
 
We arrived at our “hotel”,  very high in the hills,  cloudy and dreamlike, in  mid afternoon. I say hotel but it was really just six huts in a most idyllic spot, a small oasis of gorgeousness cut into the cliff side which soared above us vertical and black.  The huts looked like sweet  Swiss bungalows from the outside. Each had its own little terrace with table and chairs set  to watch the sunset. There were one or two hammocks  in the pretty garden with its phenomenal views of the Neyyar Dam in the valley far below  and the mist shrouded mountains beyond  and I wasted no time in arranging myself in one of them with my book and a pillow.  Oh  I have learned to love a hammock!
 
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As dusk fell, we ordered Kingfishers (beers not birds!) lit candles  and sat contentedly (actually I think blissfully would be a better word!)  and listened to the noises of nature, namely  lions enjoying a very noisy sex session in the valley below! Once you have heard  lions mating, (Kenya some years ago where I had a front row pornographic seat in a safari vehicle)  it is a sound both unforgettable and indescribable! Suffice to say that it is the male who makes all the noise and he  can repeat the act a dozen times or more a day, no problem and the poor lady lion just submits, lies there and probably thinks of Africa just as Victorian brides were told by their mothers to think of England! And that is how I shall remember that place, the cold beer, the candles and the sound of  lusty Lions!
 
Unfortunately the charm of the exterior of our accommodation did not quite carry on into the interior. We simply had twin beds, with just a sheet and flat pillow, the beds  united by a very large mosquito net. No furniture whatsoever and as for the  bathroom I shall be kind and say basic.
But   other  living beings adored  our room, BUGS and they  were….. abundant! OMG ….. as soon as dusk fell we were inundated by creatures, crawlies of  all kinds  and flying creatures,  biting  black ants and cockroaches and I dared not look too close at what else!  I am a Jewish Princess Get Me Out Of Here I wanted to shout!  This aspect of nature I can manage without. So although it was truly lovely to spend two days and nights there with the charmingest of hosts and his  tiny staff of two, the bugs and the shagging lions made it feel quite long enough.
 
We had a day out in a very old Ambassador taxi,  squashed in with a couple who were also staying at the Buggy Palace. We first  made our way up the nearby mountain, traversing the 22 extremely tight and scary hair pin bends the Lonely Planet had promised, up to the place where we were going to take a short hike to the summit. It was misty so  the view was a little disappointing. On the hair-raising journey back down the mountain we saw a car just off the side of the road on its roof,  squashed completely flat and  still bloody and from which no one could have escaped. I was glad to reach the bottom safely and still with the best part of the day to come. We had been doing our research and our last stop was to  visit the Shivanada Ashram which is one of the most famous yoga and spiritual centres in the world.
 
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It really did not disappoint. I loved the yoga halls,  the meditation rooms, the beautiful gardens leading down to a very large and lovely lake and I began to plot and plan to come back for a month and leave, a brown and bendy Yoga Goddess. Until I read the rules that is!  Up at 5am for one and half hours meditation before a cup of tea ( never, it can’t happen!) and then yoga, pujas, chanting,  pranamaya (breathing) and  lectures  and then  more meditation. All this and just two simple vegetarian meals a day, no alcohol, no drugs, no onion or garlic, no hair dryers allowed (why?) and not even visits to the local shop in the nearby village allowed. A few packs of  Lays crisps and  some baby bananas  could perhaps  provide some consolation!
 
I was assured by our handsome  and swoony guide that stiff and inexperienced and mature me was not a challenge. He had taught a woman aged 78 or 87 (does it matter!)  to stand blissfully on her head after just 8 days!
 
That was really our last full day and we returned for a delicious dinner cooked to order for us and a last very buggy night, reading with torches inside our protective tent…… but not before I found a HUGE cockroach perched on the head of my electric toothbrush! The son thought it too large to argue with,  so he called for help who arrived obviously very amused with his weapon to tackle this fersome creature, a leaf!
 
Next morning we left on our last scary road trip,  drinking in the sights for  one last time of shoe menders sitting on the pavement repairing big piles of sandals and flip-flops, of tailors sitting at sewing machines in doorways of tiny premises, 
of school kids in pristine uniforms with glowing shiny bright happy faces, women with jewel coloured saris walking and gossiping, the banana shops and  spice stalls and kiosks strewn with tinsel, the thousands of  rickshaws and entire  families  of four people riding precariously on one motor scooter.  I tried hard to drink it in and to memorize all of it, the vibrant colours, the sounds and smells,  so that I can bring it all out of my mind on the grey cold  Yorkshire days ahead  and remember how amazing and wonderful it all has been.
 
Our last day and night was a treat in a 5 star hotel close to the airport   and it turned out to be perfect. There were fat sun loungers beside a large green pool and a gorgeous view of the backwaters from the terraces. A lazy afternoon  spent dozing and reading and after a bugless shower  we went down to an unexpected  but lovely, sundown Indian classical dance show in a small amphitheatre in the grounds. I loved it! So expressive was  the dancer, dark eyes  soulful  and tragic and then flirtatious,  graceful arms and stamping feet telling a story in a mime like an exotic ballet. Then  we had a lush buffet dinner (a curry fest),  and  played the “best moments”  game again, whilst partaking of all  about six!)  of the deserts on offer, a sugar fest!
 
Next morning  we were upgraded to business class (YAY!)  on our way back to Dubai which slightly sugar-coated the “leaving India” pill!
 
I have been home for some days now and had time to think about why India is no ordinary holiday. So long as one is open to whatever might happen and no attempt is made  to insulate oneself into an air-conditioned 5 star  cocoon,  India  can touch your soul like no other place.  So what is it that is so special?  I think it is its people. 
 
It was the beggar who crawled on his haunches like a crab past our table in Varkala and yet flashed a huge radiant smile in response to mine. The beautiful children who don’t stamp and cry demanding something or other. In 23 days we saw thousands of kids and not a single one crying or misbehaving. It is something that my friend Marc  described beautifully when he said, “ah sweet crazy bizarre India” and then “they are rich in ways we will never be, their children smile from unblemished hearts. And the irony of course is that they don’t know how rich they are”.
 
So this is the end of this journey which was so precious to me because I shared it with my darling children James and Nina and Charles. I feel so lucky that they wanted to come with me!  So thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you.
 
And thank you to YOU, for sharing it all with me and for all your lovely comments and feedback.
Namaste
 
 
 
 
 
 
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