One of the great things about India and especially Kerala is the vigour that goes into both religious and other types of celebrations. A few weeks ago I witnessed my first Hindu wedding at the local temple, and the best part was definitely the feast of food that was served at the nearby Ootturpura. They set it out like a factory line, serving everyone with each dish. Once the whole crowd has finished (and you better finish fast) the paper tablecloths are rolled up and cleared out. Then the room is set for the next load of guests who are clawing at the windows and stampede into the food hall as soon as the doors are opened. Whilst at the temple I also observed a 'Thulabaram', a traditional Keralan ritual where the weight of a person in bananas is given as an offering to the temple.
My 15 minute walk to work (or 20 minutes when it's hot) is scattered with friendly neighbours, the resident elephant, occasional monkeys and chai makers. Wildlife fills the air... brightly coloured birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Dogs lie in the roads and men gather around the rickshaws. My favourite part is passing the temple and buying a piece of peanut brittle from one of the shops nearby. It's fairly easy to fall into the rhythm of life here... and Varkala pace is a slow saunter of a walk, allowing time to feel the beauty of the abundant nature that fills this area.
For a few months I have had the pleasure of working at Soul and Surf in Varkala, teaching yoga full time to guests at the hotel. This place is absolutely beautiful and attracts a really interesting mix of people from around the world. All the guests that stay here have a story to tell and it's been great being able to work with people both new to yoga and also some more experienced students. If anyone is thinking of a relaxing beach holiday that also offers plenty of activities (and most importantly set in the stunning location of Kerala, India) then I definitely recommend checking out www.soulandsurf.com. You will be well looked after!
I spent 5 days at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Neyyar Dam, set in the foothills of Kerala's Western Ghats. The area was beautiful, and wild lions lived in the forested surroundings that made up a National Park. It was definitely unusual to be practicing yoga to the (rather loud and consistent) sound of lions mating. A schedule of meditation, lectures, yoga asana, sattvic meals and karma yoga made for an interesting experience, and I especially enjoyed the 4 hours of yoga practice every day. Part of the terms of staying at the ashram included an hour or so of 'karma yoga' every day -some kind of work to help support the centre. Instead of cleaning the bathrooms or serving the food, I was lucky enough to be assigned the task of creating some new merchandise designs for the centre, and will continue to work with the volunteers there to see them go into production.
So last week I arrived in India and spent my first day in Mumbai. With just 24 hours in the city, I decided to stay in the Colaba area and take things kinda slowly. I had no real plan in mind but as soon as I stepped out of the hotel things just started to happen, in the way that they always do in India. I soon found myself being taken by a local to eat Thali amongst workers and Indian families, drinking Chai from what was apparently the best chai stand in the area, hanging out in the art district and chatting over a coconut with some people by the sea. As I finished my coconut I was accosted by a group of college girls who asked me to share their lunch with them, and we spent some hours together. They told me about their lives whilst practicing their English, and taught me Hindi in exchange for me sketching their pictures. A long afternoon and the perfect welcome to India, rounded off afterwards by the obligatory visit to Leopalds.
A look back at the sketches from the last time I visited India, 5 years ago in September 2009. Travelling from Delhi-Kashmir-Amritsar-Manali-Pushkar-Udaipur-Goa-Hampi, my sketch book became a good friend during long days on the road.
Today I fly to India again, and will be living in Kerala for the next half a year or so. Yoga will be playing a big part in my trip, but of course, a clean sketch book is prominently placed in my bag ready for whatever India has to offer. Keep a lookout for some regular sketches from life in 'God's Own Country'.