Parvati Hill

October 23rd, 2017

“Hill stairs” was a new term for me. It means just what you might think: a hill (or slope) with an occasional stair. To get to the top of Parvati Hill there are 103 of these stairs each separated by a slope of about five or six paces. So, the entire time you are going up (or down as the case may be). It is 283 feet from the base to climb to 2,100 feet above sea level.

The long climb affords a view of Pune. This is the second highest spot in the city of 3.12 million people. Atop the hill is the oldest heritage site in Pune. Built during the Peshwar dynasty (I am guessing in the mid 1700’s) there are five temples, a museum, and a display of the leaders of the dynasty along with a map of the area under their rule.

When people come into a temple they ring the bell, go up to the railing or door and usually press their palms together in the classic namaste position. Of the very few I have witnessed they don’t stay very long. Each temple is usually devoted to a different god, Ganesh, Shiva, Parvati, etc, and there is usually an idol of that god in the temple.

We got there and back in an auto rickshaw driven by Amin, a friendly, affable guy with an easy smile and one of those deli like hats I see many men when he dropped us off I asked him about the hat and he said “It is a Gandhi hat”, as if that explained everything. After Parvati Hill he took us to a big grocery store that had three levels and to get from one level to the next there was a “travelator” another new (made up?) word. It is a combination of those moving walkways that are in airports and an escalator (minus stairs) so your grocery cart can go with you. The wheels the travelator must be magnetic because the cart sticks right to the sloped moving walkway.

And, without asking he gave us a ride down the back roads (no traffic) of an old part of Pune to Trishunda Maayureshwar Ganpati Temple (which I had to do a Google search to find post visit). It was very beautiful with carvings not unlike Ellora, albeit much smaller and built much later. Building started in 1754 and ended in 1770 it is just a part of the current fabric of the neighborhood, as all these temples often are all around town. It started to rain so we hopped in the rickshaw and took another wet ride back to Hare Krishna Mandir Rd, home base. The cold rain soaked my left shirt sleeve and pant leg. The reprieve from the heat felt so great.

White Faces Among Brown Faces

October 23rd, 2017

We are an anomaly here and get looked at, especially when we are in public places where there are mostly local people. Yesterday Lorene and I visited Parvati Hill (next blog post) and were approached by two groups asking to have our photos taken with them.

One group consisted of seven or eight 18 year old girls who were shy about asking us. Once we had our photo taken we asked them their names and how old they were. They recited their names and, even though they sound so beautiful they are complicated and impossible for me to remember. The other group we had no conversation with except to agree to be photographed with them. There were maybe six or so of them, likely family members.

When the auto rickshaw driver stopped at the bottom of the hill he warned us that we might get asked to be photographed. He suggested it was okay to agree to have our photos taken with the young boys but not necessarily the older “crazy” ones.

These three girls were hanging out with who I assumed was their father who was reading the newspaper. They giggled and whole heartedly agreed to have their photo taken with me.

Class Fifteen

October 23rd, 2017

One of Prashant’s raps today was “the breath for the body, the breath for the mind, the breath for the breath, the body for the breath.” It felt more like a riddle today, an infinity loop doubling back on itself.

His message has been consistent in encouraging us to not do the perfect pose but to learn from the poses we have worked so hard to perfect. We have practiced long enough and should reap the benefits of our labor. Beginners “Learn to Do” and advanced practitioners “Do to Learn”. So, once the pose is learned, do the pose and use it as a facility to learn about the body, mind, breath, and self.

Frequently he will say “Come out. Sit. Listen.” And we sit wherever we are to the message. One of his analogies today was a party analogy. Say I invite you over for a party. I have worked to make delicious and beautiful food. Once you arrive I uncover it and show it to you, then ask you to leave without tasting it. That’s what it is like once a practioner knows the poses yet does not take advantage of the knowledge they can share. Eat the food. Take advantage of your work. Get the spoils. Do to learn.

Here is the sequence as I remember it:

Full Arm Balance or Adho Mukha Svanasana

In groups either rope Adho Mukha Svanasana, rope bhujangasana, or leg lifts. Switch, repeat until everyone had a chance at the rope wall.

Bharadvajasana

Sirsasana

Rotate between standing back arch, ustrasana, rope around waist facing the wall (sort of rope purvottasana),and Dwi pada virpariti on a chair. There was also an urdhva danurasana in the mix too.

Salamba Sarvangasana (chair or floor)

Janusirsasana and Paschimottanasana or

Vipariti karani or block setubandha

Savasana

School of Agriculture

October 21st, 2017

Across “the busy street” is the School of Agriculture. Once through the gates it is almost immediately quiet. The tree lined road is cool and shady and just after the entrance there is a sweet smell of something blooming I cannot place. The song of the birds can be heard. The air seems fresher.

It is common to see people walking for fitness here along with others who are taking a short cut across campus. Four roads lead to the center where there is a statue of someone. Three of those roads are tree lined and have buildings; dorms, alumni association, library, and other housing and academic buildings. The fourth road leads out to fields and green houses filled with crops and flowers.

It’s a nice reprieve from the traffic noise, pollution and chaos. I have walked here several days and though it takes me just under an hour to walk three (sometimes four) of the roads, I get hot, sweaty and tired, mostly from the humidity.

Almost everything in India seems like it needs a good scrubbing with water and bleach as well as a strong campaign for picking up garbage (or just an “end littering” policy). The School of Agriculture isn’t much different and it struck me today how different it is from the other college campuses I am familiar with.

Laxmi Road

October 21st, 2017

Four of us, Maggie, Lally, Lorene and I, went to Laxmi Road today, a renowned shopping area in the center of Pune. A short 50 rupee auto rickshaw ride delivered us into a mass of humanity and shops.

It was crowded, not a Western face in the mix, in the street and in the shops. We ducked into one of the pedestrian only streets, which at least eliminated the rickshaw, bus and motorcycle traffic. There are tiny shops, their goods spilling out the door onto carts and displays. There are kitchen goods, flowers, saris, bindis, shoes, scarves, purses, jewelry, clothes, underwear, make-up and more for sale.

One website reports that Laxmi Road is four kilometers long. Although it felt like we walked that far, I’m sure we saw only a fraction of the area. It is an easy place to get lost in. Luckily once out to a busy street there are plenty of rickshaws to whisk us back over to our home base.

Happy Diwali

October 20th, 2017

Since about Tuesday people have been wishing each other Happy Diwali. For a week or more the shops have been selling lights and candles. There has been a festive mood in the air. And every night fireworks have been going off in the neighborhood.

Diwali is India’s Festival of Lights, a time when people come together to celebrate good conquering evil and light conquering dark. It is a celebration of new beginnings which coincides with the beginning of the Hindu new year. It’s the biggest event on the Hindu calendar and has been described as “their Christmas”.

The exact dates of Diwali change each year and takes place over five days. It’s usually sometime between mid-October and mid-November, the exact dates based on the Hindu lunar calendar.

In addition to fireworks, candles and lights, there are Rangoon artworks on floors. We saw these on the floor of the hotel in Aurangabad, on the ground in front of the restaurant, Indiana, where we ate twice in Aurangabad, and when we returned to the apartment there were two Oms on the threshold. They are made with colored rice, sand, flour and petals. And everywhere there are marigolds. They adorn cars, motorcycles, doorways and are for sale in big heaps on the side of the road.

As our tour manager said many time during the first part of our trip, India is a country of myths and legends. Different parts of India celebrate different legends during Diwali. In the north the festival celebrates the return of Rama and his wife Sita from their 14 year exile. Elsewhere many link Parvati, the goddess of love and devotion to Diwali. For others, the Festival honors the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, allowing the lamps to help her find her way to homes and businesses so she can bring them wealth on this holiday that coincides with the start of the business year. And everywhere it includes lighting fireworks!

Ellora

October 19th, 2017

Carved out of the vertical face of the Charanandri Hills between the sixth and tenth centuries these “caves” are awe inspiring and magnificent. Some are in complete and others are filled with carving, benches, and temples.

There are thirty-four caves in all; 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu, and five Jain. Each is numbered, some have a short explanation, and all of them carved out of rock, most, as I understand it, from the top down. The oldest caves are the Buddhist ones, carved from 500 to 750. The Hindu caves were carved from 600 to 870 and the Jain from 800 to 1,000.

The most impressive was number 16. It is a magnificent temple carved from solid rock. The sacred destinations website reports that 250,000 tons of rock was removed and it took 100 years to carve. It is twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens.

We hired Ali, an entrepreneur in the area, to drive us from our hotel in Aurangabad to the caves. He handed us over to Onis, a lovely gentle helpful man who helped guide us. We made it through ten or twelve and started to tire. We relied on our guide to help skip some and to focus on the most important. We skipped about ten of the Hindu caves and walked a kilometer or so to the Jain caves. It was warm, but not as humid today, but the heat and climbing up and down the stairs wore me out.

The Five Senses – Sight

October 17th, 2017

I thought I would write some of my general impressions of India through the lens of the senses. There are so many differences between this country and mine. I think what I see shows me some of the major differences.

There are people everywhere. India is the seventh largest country by area, second most populous county and the most populous democracy in the world. The population is over 1.3 billion. People walking, biking, riding what they call two wheelers (scooters or motorcycles), pushing carts, or just sitting around.

The women in particular are beautifully dressed. The dresses and saris they wear are bold and loud with all sorts of color combinations that burst right off the fabric. Most men are dressed in Western clothes, but some, like some of the rickshaw drivers, wear all white. Some wear a white hat that looks like something the deli counter workers at home might wear.

The rickshaws in the north were green, but here in Pune they are black and yellow, like little bumble bees buzzing from one part of the city to the next.

There is garbage everywhere. Squalor down every tiny street. Posh homes behind nice walls. And temples, large and small, on every street, corner, and, in fact, in every Hindu home. When we stop to look in we find them spotless, usually unoccupied, save for the statue of whichever god the temple is dedicated to. Many of the statutes are almost cartoonish in nature, brightly painted, plump and well lit.

As we walk to the store we often go single file, since there are trees growing in the middle of the sidewalk (there is some law about not cutting down trees) or the sidewalk is narrow, uneven, or non-existent. Lots of times we walk with eyes to the ground because of these obstacles. We pass fruit and veggie carts along the street and buy bananas, papaya, carrots, potatos, and eggplant, to name a few. There are strange and unknown veggies and fruits I have never seen elsewhere.

Sometimes the vendors will meet my gaze. Other times not. I don’t know if it is their way of being polite, if it is a language barrier, the fact I am a foreigner or that I am white. Other times, while walking, we are stared at. We are in the minority and they are perhaps curious and look. I have never felt unsafe here. I ignore the guidebook’s advice to avoid eye contact with the men (wear sunglasses!) and meet their gaze, keep walking and go about my business. The women look also and I smile. They almost always smile back.

The Five Senses – Touch

October 17th, 2017

I thought I would write some of my general impressions of India through the lens of the senses. There are so many differences between this country and mine. Here are some of the things I have felt.

First, the heat. I know I am not very heat tolerant so I knew being in India where the low might get to 70 degrees F would be a challenge. There have been times I have been just dripping in sweat (which I am not a fan of) and other times so warm I just have had to sit. I’ve taken good care of myself during those times; listening to my body, hydrating like crazy, resting when necessary. It’s been good practice for many things besides self care. The whole trip has. But, I will save that for later.

Some ways I have gotten cool is to swim in the pools at the hotels on the tour. In the apartment each room has a ceiling fan and I use them regularly, as well as taking comfort from the cool floor. The cool water and air on my skin give some relief.

There have been a couple of times we have been out in the rain. One Friday night walking back from the restaurant it was sprinkling. That was a nice feeling on my skin. The time we got caught in a downpour in the auto rickshaw I ended up cold from being so wet. That was a nice (rare) feeling also.

This country is hard. The floors are hard, the yoga floors are hard, the sidewalks are hard and uneven, the beds in the flat are planklike. At least since we have moved out of hotel stays, it feels like every surface is rock hard. The local people seem to not mind. I don’t know if I could get accustom to that.

Another battle is with the mosquitos. Stories of yoga students who have come before us contracting some mosquito borne illness makes us on guard with repellent that is 50% DEET. It is oily and smelly and not always effective. There are also little electric mosquito repellent things plugged into the outlets in the bedrooms that we turn on at night. The first week in the flat I had at least a dozen bites and took Claritin to help the allergic reaction and put on anti itch cream to help my urge to scratch. I have figured out the window in my bedroom so it is less likely for them to enter at night. Still, I spotted one flying around in the bathroom this morning.

Since being here I have had two massages. The first was in the hotel in Varanasi at the beginning of the trip. It was just what I needed to help work out the kinks, help reduce some of the post flight swelling in my legs, and relax. The second was here in Pune at the apartment. I had never before had an Ayurvedic massage and the pressure was intense. During I thought The result would be a million thumb print bruises all over my body but, alas, I felt just fine. Like yoga, sometimes the best part is when it is over.

The Five Senses – Sound

October 17th, 2017

I thought I would write some of my general impressions of India through the lens of the senses. There are so many differences between this country and mine. Here are some of the things I have heard.

The most prominent sound in India is the traffic. Not just the roar of the engines, but the honking. Loud long beeps from trucks, short toots from two wheelers, and the “hey are you looking to hire a rickshaw” horns as they slow while passing. During the day, a minute does not go by without a honk or more. After dark, it gets a bit quieter. After many days, there is a desensitization to all of it.

Then there are the barking dogs. Barking together, barking at one another and an occasional yip, like maybe one got clipped by the traffic they seem so oblivious to.

There is almost always someone sweeping. As I write this I hear the rhythmic swish, swish, swish of the broom somewhere outside of someone gathering up what has fallen from the tress overnight.

There are a few birds. Occasionally I hear one that sounds more like a monkey (maybe it is, but I haven’t seen any monkeys in Pune) but I don’t hear songbirds like we have in the morning at home. It is more like a flock of loud birds just before dawn that lands in a tree nearby. They cackle for a while and move on. And there are no crickets or frogs chirping at night.

In the predawn hours there is chanting. I don’t know where it is coming from and I can’t hear the words. It is faint but consistent for some time, I would guess for an hour or more ending with the sunrise.

My bathroom has a window and is somehow connected to the building in such a way that I can hear a neighbor either above or below me washing, and, on many mornings coughing and retching. Before I figured out it was a neighbor I thought it was one of my flat mates sick from the food or water. Thankfully, we have all stayed healthy in that respect, knock on wood.

The ceiling fan on high speed makes a nice white noise to block out a good portion of these noises at night.

People coming to our flat ring the doorbell if they have a code to the security door to the building. It’s a mechanical sort of sound, old and tired. Even though I have given Aneeta the security code for the door to the building, she doesn’t use it. Instead she stands in the parking lot and hollers “Mom-gi”! One of us goes down and let’s her in. Other vendors have used this same technique. We bought fruit and veggies from a guy who pushed his cart into the parking lot and started yelling … something. Other residents of the building also went out to make purchases.

And then, there is an occasional BANG, like a gunshot (which I am sure it is not), which I do not investigate. Sometimes it is better to not know everything.