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Monday, 22 March 2010

Beaches, Ashrams, and Backwaters: Exploring Kerala (& Mumbai), India - Page 2

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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When we arrived at Thiruvananthapuram’s (also known as Trivandrum) airport near the southern tip of India our driver, Arun, was magically waiting for us even though we’d given him the wrong arrival time and flight number. Arun works for SITA and was very personable, spoke English well, and was the source of great conversation throughout the trip. I told him we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing in town before heading out to Varkala beach, so we stopped to look at Sree Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple (non-Hindu’s cannot go inside) and then explored the city palace museum which had some beautiful ivory pieces including a basinet made entirely out of ivory, some nice paintings, and a large throne-like chair adorned with huge crystals from Slovakia.

Beaches, Ashrams, and Backwaters: Exploring Kerala (& Mumbai), India, Arabian Soul, guest house in Varkala, Thiruvananthapuram, Trivandrum, Claufouty Café, Harmony Restaurant, travel kerala, Amritapuri, Amma ashram, houseboat cruise through the backwaters, Kumarakom, Cocobay Resort, Kochi, Cochin, Malabar House, Kathakali dance performances, Chinese fishing nets, yoga and Ayurvedic retreat centers, Mumbai travel, Bombay tours, SITA, sita tours, Christina Kay BoltonWe woke to a partially sunny day, so after breakfast in the garden we decided to go to the beach. Eventually the sun came out and it got hot enough for the water to be refreshing. The waves were rough and the currents strong, so if you’re not a good swimmer you may need to think twice about getting into the water. There was a team of lifeguards keeping a close watch and constantly blowing their whistles if anyone went out too far, or the riptides shifted. The beach is beautiful and relaxing and since it’s hundreds of steps down from the shops and restaurants the only sound you hear are the waves crashing.

We went back to Harmony Restaurant for lunch before our mid-afternoon departure. The people at Arabian Soul were real gems and held our luggage while we were at the beach and let us clean up in their bathroom before we left. Arabian Soul was a very good place to spend a couple days; it is simple, relaxing and comfortable despite its drawbacks like a lack of air conditioning or window screens (there was a mosquito net however), frequent power outages, and a loud toilet that shook violently when flushed.



We headed to Amritapuri (after picking up some of the best red bananas I’ve ever had!) where the original Amma ashram is. Amma, ‘mother’, is the hugging guru who is popular all over the world now – she tours the US and Europe every year.

The ashram is really busy when Amma is there; thousands of people from all over the world stand in endless darshan (blessing) lines to get a hug from her. But even when she’s not there it is worth the visit to get a unique look at life in an ashram – which are much more common in India than almost anywhere else. Many of the people present were residents and dress in all-white. They hail from all over the world and sometimes stay at the ashram for years – living, praying, and working. Many follow various ascetic practices like abstaining from food on a certain days of the week, etc.

We were assigned to a 15th floor room overlooking the backwaters and as soon as we arrived it began to downpour. We got there just in time to grab sheets from the supply room, take showers, and make it to the ethereal chanting at 6:30 – hundreds of people chanting for over an hour in the main temple; we left in a blissful state.

Afterwards we went to the Western Café for dinner which serves veggie burgers and pizza as well as kitcheri – an Ayurvedic healing blend of lentils, rice and spices. You can also eat ashram food for free – it is very soupy rice with a small scoop of lentils, but it is pretty bland unless you spice it up with a lot of chilies. The only issue we had was with the cleanliness of the plates and spoons. There is no hot water at the ashram and there is no soap in the regular eating area, so people just rinse their plates off, but it is not very sanitary. Residents carry around their own set of dishes, but that’s not practical for travelers. We ended up eating mainly at the Café solely because they had soap to wash the dishes (still no hot water). There is also an Indian Canteen where you can buy delicious masala dosa’s (large crepes stuffed with curried potatoes) for about 50 cents, but it was not always open.

Ashram life is quite regimented and the mealtimes are quite exact; dining hall and cafés only stay open for forty-five minutes to one hour at each meal, so plan accordingly. Interesting conversations can last for hours, as most people living here or passing through are on some sort of spiritual quest and are seeking deeper answers. Others are traveling around India and just trying to immerse themselves in as much culture as possible.

A siren sounds in the darkness to wake people for chanting at 4:50 in the temple, but it was too early for us, so we fell back asleep. Breakfast is at nine and is the same rice and lentils at the dining hall, or you can get omelets, oatmeal and delicious baked goods at the café. Most of the work done at the ashram is after breakfast and you need to stop by the seva (selfless service) desk to volunteer for some sort of job for an hour or two – such as drying dishes or sweeping the temple floor. I ended up helping with a mass mailing for a couple hours while my fiancé swept and dried dishes.

(Page 2 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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