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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Roberts

South India

November, 2006

I arrived in India yesterday, and this morning woke up to see ravens instead of egrets outside my window, and for some reason this struck me as symbolic of the difference between India and Bali, 2 Hindu countries that are so, so different from one another. Bali is so light, gentle and easy in comparison to the intensity and (wonderful, nonetheless) heaviness of India.

Doing 2 workshops back to back (kind of), was very intensive... (perhaps fortunately) I had no idea it would be this overwhelming, but at the same time they were both fantastic. Anyway it seems I had no time to do anything except keep up with all the organisational stuff I was doing. A perhaps sobering truth is hitting me, that I can only do so much. On second thoughts, nonsense, I'm already starting to forget, and isn't that how we repeat anything, from childbirth, to writing... to workshops... to anything worth doing?

I am near a small town called Mamallapuram, just south of Chennai (Madras), and I am taking a couple of days to recuperate, catch up with emails and hopefully do a couple of readings by phone that I need to do asap. Leaving Bali is always a wrench, especially now that it is really home, I have rented my house for 3 years, and this time I was the one who left John there in he rice fields. This next 6 weeks is pretty much a solo sojourn, which I truly look forward to, but anything and everything of value involves some kind of sacrifice. (I'm in mystical India.. I'm supposed to wax slightly philosophical aren't I?) And on a rather 'soul-less' note; I spent a night in Singapore on the way to India, and I didn't even leave the airport, and talk about a change of scene. I went from the idyllic rice fields to sleeping in an airless, (air con is NOT real air in my opinion), concrete cubicle with a teensy window overlooking the runway... yikes.

Then India Air was the perfect way to prepare for arrival in India, the food, the people the smells. Those who know the country well will relate to the love/hate emotions it never ceases to evoke (the love being far stronger for those of us addicted to it and forever returning). On arrival I promptly left my biggest suitcase in left luggage, to be picked up on my way to Egypt on December 23rd. My intention is to do a giant loop down to the very tip of India, and then to come up the west coast (Kerala) and then to cross over the mountains (with some trekking thrown in) and back to the east coast.

Believe it or not (those of you who know him), but John (Indiana Jones incarnate) has actually taught me to travel a little more 'upmarket'. This fact struck me as I stood on the road outside the airport waiting for the local bus (he would have immediately hailed a taxi I know). But old habits die hard, and it was fine, the temperature is very comfortable here, and far less hot and sticky than Bali since I just switched seasons and hemispheres. So I actually had a very comfortable 2 hour ride on the rickety old bus (no windows or doors), that promptly took me straight out of the city and to this rather sleepy (by Indian standards) place where I am staying.

I started feeling a little disappointed because the beaches all looked so desolate and treeless, where were all the tall swaying coconut trees? They were all teensy, then I remembered. Two years ago the tsunami devastated this coastline. I felt like a real super spoiled, oblivious idiot (but only for about 10 seconds, I'm in India practicing self-compassion). It was not hit as fiercely here as further south, but the waves did come in half a kilometre and devastated many, many lives. But at the same time, just 2 years later, what you see is a testament to the human spirit, people are rebuilding and moving ahead in the way that those in the third world do, without sentimentality and because they have no choice.

In 2 days I head for Pondicherry (no I shall be visiting NO ashrams, or coming home dressed in orange, or with a new exotic name), but it is supposedly quite charming and colonial. So more on that later.

After not writing many of these updates lately, I am likely to start sending a deluge. Partly because I am alone, and therefore I may as well talk to all of you as to myself. And mainly because it is turning out to be such a rich and wonderful time, way beyond anything I could have imagined. And of course it could also be because I am such an 'all or nothing' person.

A friend recently told me the difference between a tourist and traveller is that 'a tourist knows where he's going but not where he's been, whereas a traveller know where he's been but not where he's going.' If this is the case then I can legitimately (although it might be by default) claim to be a traveller. I hadn't a clue where I was actually going until I got on the plane in Bali (when I actually had time to read my book on it). I had of course my initial destination, plus a 'Lonely Planet' guide book and a few pieces of paper with scribbled recommendations from people who had already been here, plus I knew I wanted to loop down south through Tamil Nadu and then up north through Kerala. But I didn't know distances, towns, hotels or any of those rather important details. I simply hadn't had the time to research it all.

This is my favourite way to travel, but a few days ago I realised that I couldn't see everything, or I would fall into the self created trap of spending more time on a bus or a train than actually seeing anything. But there is no way I would trade the 'surprise factor' for predictability, not in my travels, or my life.But how come there is never, ever enough time? I think I could spend a year in India and not see everything I already know I want to see, and here I am finding out there are amazing places I'd never even heard of. And alone I might be, but I have been anything but lonely. I have had many educational and enlightening conversations with Indians on buses and trains, and even with some fellow travellers, (there seem to be relatively few Americans here though).

Last time I wrote was in Mamallapuram (I just had to read my own letter so I wouldn't start repeating myself). That was a really good place to start. India on a smaller village scale (once I had taken the rattling bus haul out of the city). After 2 days I got over the initial sense of being overwhelmed that comes with arriving in this land of sensory overload, and it had the impact of bright daylight after coming out of a dark cave. The Indians can literally bowl you over with the radiance of their warmth and their smiles, and they have they have those residual colonialist attitudes and expressions (being called 'Madam' forever makes me smile, it is so 'old English'!).

The breakthrough this trip was as I was walking along a completely deserted part of the beach (scene of the tsunami not even 2 years previously), the ocean is incredibly fierce and wild (so I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to see those waves coming). I was lost in thought and feeling the heaviness of what had happened there, and the poverty and darkness of it all, when all of a sudden I see a horse galloping straight for me, with an Indian riding bareback. The horse was small but unbelievably spirited, and very fast. A couple of heart palpitations later, and the lungi-clad Indian rider pulls the brakes on this beast (or so it seemed) just a few feet from me, flashed me the most amazing smile and said, 'would you like ride Madam?'. In that moment I completely lightened up and have been at ease ever since. I laughed at my own paranoia and consequently arrived body, heart and soul in this impoverished (yet so rich), complicated, overwhelming but magnificent country.

These people have no need for my pity, and a prerequisite for being (happy) in India is without a doubt letting go entirely of all western expectations of comfort, 'normalcy' or any of the civilised orderliness', cleanliness etc. that we in the west tend to expect as our due. Once you can do that your vision can open up to the indescribable magic that India has to offer, that always comes at you in contradictory, paradoxical and surprising forms. And travelling in India being fearful or overly emotionally sensitive just doesn't work. Sometimes you see tourists walking around looking completely shell-shocked and freaked... and India simply isn't a place for the feint of heart (or stomach).

And no I did not take a ride on that wild creature (I'll leave such bravery to my equestrian sisters, of whom I have many). Interesting aside, I was talking to some young Indians on a bus who said despite the undeniable tragedy of the tsunami, on that particular part of the coast, not many lives were lost (being so much further north than the worst hit area) and ironically it has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened for the local economy. The fishermen were given an entire new fleet of boats, and for the first time ever the government gave the people assistance on all levels.

One constant challenge in India is the pollution (and dust etc. etc) and the onslaught on one's respiratory system because of this. Every single time I (and many others I talk to) arrive in India, it is like immediately starting to smoke 40 cigarettes a day. It is something you need to prepare for (and I had a reminder on the flight here, as the man across the aisle from me loudly hacked and spat into a bag every 2 minutes for several hours), and I came armed with echinacea throat spray. I have a really scratchy throat, and it is constantly trying to become something full-blown, but I'm fighting back relentlessly.

From Mamallapuram I took a bus to Pondicherry, famous for Sri Aurobindo (now deceased guru/mystic), and because it was colonised by the French. It was quite fascinating, a fusion of Indian/French, with a decidedly British type promenade along the beach. French bakeries everywhere, and Rue this and Rue that. Anyone who knows me well, also knows I have an allergy to 'guruship' in most, (I was trying to be subtle but in truth I mean all), forms, so I had no intention of visiting the ashram.

But as chance would have it on my wanderings I ended up right in front of said famous ashram, so of course I went in. Sorry Folks, it only added to my cynicism (watch, as punishment I will become a devotee of something or someone next year and have to eat my words). This ashram is now basically a shrine, there is a tomb in the center court, where supposedly he and 'Mother' are, and everyone prays and bows, and meditates. It is all very serious and somber, and there is much shushing and scowling by the 'guards'.

I just for the life of me can't believe that if these people were truly 'enlightened' they would want this bowing and scraping going on? It turns their message into just another cult, and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother both authored truly spectacular writings. The topper was as leaving, I asked the guy who watched our shoes whether Pondicherry was hit by the tsunami, and he proudly told me no... because of the ashram the tsunami stayed away. So basically screw everybody else, god's chosen little devotees alone were spared! I rest my case.

From Pondicherry I wanted to go to Maidapur (central Tamil Nadu heading south), place of many famous temples. But 'sorry Madam, no train until December 17th.' Next choice the long haul (11 hours and rattling) bus, so my next question was: 'when is the next train going south, anywhere?'. So 2 days later I was on a train to Kanyakumari, the absolute tip of the Indian continent.

It was a great journey, 16 hours, but mostly during daylight so there was a fantastic view of the countryside and towns we passed through. Including I might add, Maidapur. So I enquire exactly why I couldn't have taken this train and just got off there? Apparently they only sell so many tickets to certain places, and then they are no longer available. So in truth I could have jumped off the train then, but decided to just go with the way I was (obviously) being directed instead.

Kanyakumari was fascinating, it is where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet, and it is one of the Hindu holy places (where every Hindu aspires to visit at least once in a lifetime), and it is dedicated to the goddess Parvati. The actual tip of the continent is very dramatic, large black rocks sit there, and there is a definite sense of some convergence. I had a comfortable (but extremely garish) hotel room with a great view of the ocean. The place is full of black-clad pilgrims, and the celebrations started way pre-dawn, (one advantage being you never miss a sunrise), with unbelievably loud chanting and music coming through some of what must be the lowest quality speakers available to mankind. They even set off fireworks at mid-day. I then headed for Kerala.

Sometimes the whole language thing can throw you for a loop, but I was more than happy to believe the place I was headed was a mere 2 hours away on a bus. Right. 6+ hours later, with 2 spent in a bustling bus station where every single person told me a different time and place to find the bus I needed, perhaps it was amusing seeing me run around jumping up at the windows and accosting every bus driver who arrived? Anyway, I finally wound up at my destination in the middle of the night, got into a hotel and woke up to absolute 3rd world bliss.

I was in Varkala, an idyllic place, mainly set up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. From there you can watch fantastic sunsets, sea eagles from practically eye level (amazing), eat great food, swim in warm beautiful water, have Ayurvedic massages and various treatments, and to add to it all the people are warm, friendly and easygoing. The fishing boats look like miniature viking ships, and are quite dramatic as they are being launched. There are many Christians in Kerala (apparently 2% of Indians are Christian, and most of them here), and their churches are intriguingly Hindu-like, in that they tend to look like enormous iced wedding cakes, with an overly heavy handed use of cheap artificial food colouring. It might be naive of me, but it truly feels that the Christians, Hindus and Muslims are living very harmoniously together.

I was right back in familiar 'bali mode'. I had daily massages, and they were like nothing I have ever experienced (and really, really good). You lie on a simple wooden table, two people work on you, and they pour what feels like gallons of (strongly) herbal oil all over your body (and head), and give deep intensive work. The 'doctor' I had was great, and he even had an early morning yoga class on a rooftop in the coconut grove. The only thing I didn't like was the boiling hot rice in a bag that they applied all over your body after the massage, it was like being pounded with rice pudding in a gauze bag. Yuck - way too hot and sticky for the tropics.

I had my hair hennaed by a woman who grew and ground up her own henna. She also 'threaded' my eyebrows; they hold plain strands of cotton between their teeth and create a t- construct with it that somehow plucks the eyebrows perfectly in less than 30 seconds - astonishing.

And the egrets came back in Varkala. I was walking along the beach at sunset and lo and behold one flew right over me. And that was just the beginning, now they are countless. For my astrology friends; the triple conjunction of Mars/Mercury/Jupiter was exactly on my Ascendant while in Varkala, and that day I did my normal thing, yoga, had a massage, spoke to the man I'm in love with, sent thoughts to all the others I love (especially children - but there isn't a day when they aren't in my thoughts), swam in the Arabian Sea, and was even more than usually aware of the magical life I am living (it really did feel like a technicolor day), and the fact that all my travels only confirm to me the beauty of this world.

Being in places like this makes it impossible for me to be pessimistic. On this day I also experienced something really moving on the beach. I was walking long and I could see a young Indian, (probably early '20s), laughing, jumping up and down and bringing his hands together into prayer position. Something was obviously delighting the heck out of this guy. So, ever nosy, I have to go and see what it is. And he was holding a 100 rupee note, with a portrait of Gandhi on it, and in the sand he was crafting a perfect, easily recognisable 3 dimensional image of (t)his great hero. Below the tide-line, so obviously all the work he was doing would be swept away, (which I believe was part of the exercise). It was an act of pure love, and I then walked up to the cliff top and watched him from there. It kept him fully absorbed for hours, he would work on it a while, then jump back and do his little joyful prostration, then get back to work on it. He was spending an afternoon of dedication to someone he obviously loved and revered, in the way that he could.

I'm not sure why this impacted me more than any of the ashrams or the likes, but it did. I guess because in truth I believe spirituality is deeply personal, and it is the smallest things that we show who we really are. This young man didn't need or want any acknowledgement from anyone, it was a very private ritual.

Needless to say it was really hard to drag myself away from Varkala, but it has actually only gotten better. Kerala is now right up there in my estimation with Bali (and the people are as warm and lovely as the Burmese). And this is a place I would recommend to friends who I know would have too hard a time with other places in India. It is almost like being in a completely different country (they do have the highest literacy rate, and the best healthcare system of anywhere in India, plus great pride in being Keralan). It is completely laid back, could be all this water? Whatever it is, it has to be one of the most relaxed places I've ever been to.

From Varkala I hit the backwaters area of Kerala, much of the coast has miles of natural waterways and lakes adjacent to it, and it is a tropical paradise of coconut and mango groves where you can take different kinds of boats and explore for days.

I don't know how many days it is since I swore I wouldn't go to another ashram? But it has to be just enough for me to need to completely eat my own words. In 1998 or 99, while studying in England, somehow I ended up seeing a female guru in an obscure hall in North London. Her name is Amma (I'm using her abbreviated name, which means mother), and all she does is simply hug thousands upon thousands of people. Her message is one of love - that's it. And I waited for several hours, chanting and watching, and finally got a lovely cuddle.

I was taking an 8 (in truth 10) hour ferry ride up the canals of Kerala when I discovered that her ashram was halfway, and it was easy to jump off the ferry, spend the night, and then continue on the next day. However she is rarely there, as she travels the whole world, giving her hugs and this simple message of kindness (she is considered to be an incarnation of all the goddesses, and her story is quite lovely). Anyway, I kept getting the typical mixed messages of, 'she's there', 'no, she's not'. So I decided if she was there I'd go, if not I wouldn't. Well I met a devotee' on the boat, who knew for sure she was there, so I hopped off the boat at the 15 storey pink ashram.

I could literally write a small book on my 24 hours there, but to spare you I'll keep it short. Firstly, she does darshan at set times, and there are at least 14,000 or more people there when she is (she travels with an entourage of 500), all waiting for a hug, so you can wait hours and hours. I was there barely an hour when by sheer chance I walked into the hall, and there she was. She was doing a small, completely impromptu darshan and I literally walked right up to her and got enveloped in this amazing woman's arms. No bells, whistles or great revelations, just this completely beautiful human being who for 30 years has never missed a day of spreading her love. Needless to say I felt very lucky. And the rest of it… Evelyn, be nice, be nice.

Amma is doing great things for the community (and the world, no doubt at all), she has built e.g.. an orphanage, university and hospital, her message and deeds are selfless and wonderful. The ashram itself was full of all the complexities of people... and it is a long time since I've seen so many depressed people in one place. It had the slight air of a psych ward. And there were of course lots of delightful ones (all probably far more tolerant than moi).

The highlight was the 3 young women I shared a (very tiny) room with. All in their 20's, one from Australia, one from Mauritius, and the other Russian (who spoke not a single word of English). A delight all of them. But probably the nature of somewhere that houses the ultimate 'mother' figure, is obviously going to attract all kinds. Some people were staggeringly unfriendly and superior, others felt collapsed in and deeply sad, and some were open, warm and lovely (and many of I'm sure in permanent meditative states).

There is also a whole segregation thing going on that I don't understand. Indians and visitors are fed separately (and different food). And there is even a canteen where some tables are marked 'west' and 'Indian'. Doesn't sit well with my Aquarian nature. As I said, I have many thoughts on this experience. In truth it just isn't my thing, for both the devotee business and the crowds. As I get older I want to spend one on one time with people (and here I am organising groups). I'm really glad I went, I got my hug, and I probably won't be going back (and on a completely bitchy note, I wonder if all those pasty, pale oh so serious people know how unflattering that head to toe white garb is, especially coupled with the scowling?).

I just finished reading a very funny, (and astute), book 'Holy Cow!' by an Australian named Sarah MacDonald. It is her account of living in India, and she visits the same ashram, plus many others. I recommend it, it gives a great feel for India, and all its contradictions, joys and irritations.

And there is a 3rd ashram story. There is one in Kerala where they do a yoga teacher training course, called Shivananda. I've looked into it, a month long extremely intensive, 200 hour, certified, very affordable, my kind of yoga experience, that fits in perfectly with my workshop schedule in 2008. Can't think of anywhere better than Kerala to do it, and the people I met who'd just finished all had shining reports, so I do believe I'll be coming back then. I don't want to actually be a yoga teacher, but I do want my practice to be at that level.

So lo and behold, as I thought never say never, ‘cos all intentions get blown to smithereens when you (I) do. In the meantime I am now in another idyllic spot: Alleppey - thanks to the Mauritian girl (who is an Amma devotee, and has been since the age of 10), who recommended this hotel. I am now in a room right on the edge of the waterway, it couldn't be more peaceful (except for the countless birds and temple chanting wafting across from the opposite shore).

I was actually planning to be on my way to Cochin today, but the entire country is on strike. So it is a fantastic place to be stranded, and I am determined to finish this letter. Last night I hired someone to row me around the little waterways at sunset in a canoe, (yes I could have done it myself, but with my sense of direction and 90 kms of waterways god only knows where I'd be by now). It was great, and there are bats the size of hawks. I swear they looked like mini pterodactyls.

I have now decided to skip Cochin, I'm sure I'll be back one day, and I want to wind down on the sightseeing bit. Instead I am heading straight for an old British hill station in the Western Ghats (called Ooty), so I will have a mountain experience and hopefully some hiking. Then I wend my way back to Chennai, and in 9 days from now I will be in Egypt.

Just spent 6 hours on a train, + 5 on a bus. I'm now in Ooty and it is freezing (no heaters in the 3rd world!), so bought a fleece the moment I got here. Plus I have a stinking cold and a very sore throat (boohoo for me). So I may be out of here very quickly, except I can't face another bus just yet. Whatever possessed me to leave the lowland? Except I did notice some signs that said 'homemade chocolate', I might just be able to struggle through for a few days.

Ooty, in the mountains (Western Ghats) of Southern India, was the last place I wrote from; whining sneezing and shivering as I recall. Well as soon as I was attired like an Eskimo (with pockets full of the home-made chocolate, which was beyond divine), things started to look up. I stayed in the oddest hotel, it was quite quaint, overlooking the lake, and full of colonial time antiques, and since we were headed towards Xmas, it was decorated as such. Always rather incongruous in a Hindu country, but all the decorations were definitely very old and dating back to pre-Independence times (40's).

The odd thing was not the decor, which in fact made me nostalgic for my wonderful Scottish Granny, but the women who ran the place. There were 3 of these tiny, tiny (almost midget size), but very round women who were almost scary, if they weren't so comical at the same time. They were little tyrants in jewel-coloured saris. You only got hot water for 2 hours in the morning, and the smallest infraction (e.g. turning a light on before it was pitch black inside or out) resulted in severe reprimanding. And even if they were being friendly they were yelling and scowling at you. At the same time they would thrust their tip jar under your nose, and since they came to about my navel, this was a rather intimidating upward motion. And the funniest thing was the way they yelled at you, and each other, in these hobbit type voices. I would never recommend it or stay there again, because they were really quite mean.

I started wandering around in search of someone to trek with, and the whole area was steeped in Britishness, all of India is, but it was so much more obvious here. A boathouse, a racetrack,(now a giant weed patch..). Addresses like "Gymkhana Way" etc. etc. Also the British brought a lot of their native plants (so they wouldn't feel homesick), and the climate in this area is so much more like the UK that they thrived and so there is gorse, and many other plants that are not indigenous to the country. And how do I know this? I found my guide.

As luck would have it, I was approached by this man, who introduced himself as one of the tribal people of the area; a Toda. And they still have tribal land, their own religion and customs, and I was very fortunate because I was able to go to an area that is the private reserve of these people. It was another amazing experience. And I could write a whole book just on the day I spent with him. It was one of those days with a shaky beginning and a fabulous conclusion. We were a group of 5, the guide, myself, 2 Israeli honeymooners, and a lovely young Scottish lad, (I may not want to live there, but I am always delighted when I get to spend time with my fellow countrymen).

Anyway our guide turned up late reeking of alcohol, whether from excessive indulgence the night before or his breakfast bevy I don't know? He had also apparently just been in an actual physical fight with some local Indians, being tribal and very different in looks and beliefs from the average Indian, the story was that they were jealous of his popularity with the tourists. Anyway our slightly bloodied, alcohol reeking guide piles us in the back of a pick-up and we drive and drive and drive... and drive for what seems like hours as we bounce around on rough mountainous roads. Just as we were beginning to get seriously worried, we did stop, and proceeded to have the most spectacular of days.

We soon understood the jealousy of the other guides, and the reason why 'Joe' (I've completely forgotten his name) was so popular. Here was a man who came from the simplest of tribal roots, very little formal education who had taught himself to be fluent in 2 languages, English and German, and was now teaching himself Japanese. He loved to read great literature and poetry, and I could have listened to him for weeks. His clothes were threadbare, and even although he was in high demand and beyond rich in intelligence and brilliance, he was definitely an economically "poor" man. And because he was of the Toda tribe, we were able to trek through their land (the Indians cannot take you there).

The mainstay of their life is the buffalo, the smoother haired ones with the giant curved racks of horns... and extremely large. What is fascinating is that the people are complete vegetarians; the buffalo are technically wild and wander around at will, but they use the milk, and cheese is a mainstay of their diet. The Toda are animists by faith, and very occasionally sacrifice a buffalo as an offering, but even then they don't eat it. They will give the meat to a neighbouring tribe.

We were welcomed into people's homes with the typical hospitality and graciousness of those who have very little, but what they do have they share open-heartedly. They enveloped us in warmth and plied us with chai strong enough to stand a spoon up in. We also stopped at a village for migrant workers, although apparently the British brought them from other areas of India generations ago, but they are still not considered "local". It was really impressive how much everyone loved and revered our alcoholic (I don't know when he took sips, but his eau d'alcohol scent did not dissipate) guide with the off the scale IQ.

Besides the cultural experience, the landscape was beautiful and we followed a herd of buffalo for a while and had a complete education on the meaning of all the plants, peppered with philosophy, politics, history and any other subject we might want to hear about. Then we ended up taking a local bus back to Ooty, and while we waited for the bus played a game like shuttle board (with bottle caps) in the back room of a funky cafe with the local betel-chewing (and spitting) men.

The next day I headed for Mysore at 6 am. When buying my ticket the night before I asked for a seat in the front with a good view (they are small buses packed to beyond sardine capacity). This little bus shows up at my hotel packed to the gunnels, but they have (completely without resentment) saved me the prize seat next to the driver, with everyone smiling and greeting the foreigner as I get on. No rancour at my self indulgence, just kindness and warmth.The reason I wanted a good seat (besides the 6 hours of winding roads without a hair of space between you and the body next to you) was because we were going through 2 game reserves, and I wanted to see as much as possible. And yes, we saw several elephants in the wild. It was thrilling, and as much for the Indians as myself. We would stop the bus at watch them. There were also beautiful large deer and lots of monkeys.

Everybody wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything, so would very pointedly get my attention if they thought I'd missed seeing something.All in all it was an amazing drive. It was also all down-hill to the lowlands and a warm climate (phew). Mysore is famous for its palace and sandalwood. And I didn't miss either. I also took a tour of some very famous temples and the museums and art galleries. Besides all the colonial stuff, some of the paintings are exquisite, but they were nearly all covered in dust and displayed in windowless rooms with a 25 watt bare bulb as the only source of light. So the only way to see them was through peering and contortion-ism to find the optimum angle for getting some kind of good viewing.

The Palace was beautiful (but quite gaudy) and of course shockingly incongruent with the extreme poverty just outside the walls. India is so intense and I was just starting to hit saturation point while in Mysore, because it is more of a touristy city, so there is a lot of vying for tourist business. I had evidence of my increasingly threadbare patience, when I practically snapped the head off some poor man with a horse and carriage for rent. He hopefully shadowed and pleaded with me for about 2 blocks, when the "devil" took me and I turned on my heels and became that woman in the Exorcist (head spinning and all). But it worked, he retreated rapidly, and everyone else around took a few steps back to avoid the wrath of the "white she devil"!

Suddenly it truly was India wind-down time. I took the 8 hour fast train to Chennai, completing a large, clean loop through Southern India. I had a couple of days to regroup there, so I found the "good" bookstore, and a lovely little beauty shop and had a facial (having turned into a complete lizard in the chilling atmosphere of the mountains) and I had my hair hennaed (I was rapidly sprouting a halo of white, and this was when I surrendered to the fact that my hair had won!). Now if I had just stayed in India, since they are masters of henna application, I could have kept my red hair forever!

With fingers crossed I went to the left luggage 'shed' in the airport and retrieved the suitcase I had left there, (with ultimately rewarded great faith), 3 weeks before. It was covered in about an inch of grim... but otherwise completely intact. Although, unbeknownst to me, there was a whole suitcase saga coming up in my near future.


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