Destressing in Southern India

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Signature Residence Varkala
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I had approximately 10 days before the Yoga Teacher Training Course started on Dec 11. During this time I met Nataliya who happens to share the same birthday as me. She was in Agonda taking a few days break from where she currently resides in Varkala, another beautiful beach destination in the Southern state of Kerala. Varkala reminds me a tad of California as the town sits on a cliff above the beach. It is a great little town for foreigners with loads of good eateries and several yoga and Ayurvedic spas.

Visiting Nataliya in Varkala to celebrate our birthdays was a perfect solution during this period. The journey began with two local bus rides to the train station. As usual I was the only non-local on the bus and as it was I barely got both legs and my backpack in as they piled us on
like sardines. I am not exaggerating when I say we must have been 50 people standing with another 50 sitting; a complete disregard for the maximum capacity of 50 as listed at front of bus.

Luckily the Indian Railway proved to be a more comfortable ride. I booked a second class A/C sleeper for the journey which included sheets, pillow, blanket and a meal. Aside from the horror of a mess on the ground from the previous passengers who originated in Delhi, it was a
pleasant ride. Ironically sharing the cabin with me was a German couple I had met on the top of Gokyo Ri on the Everest trek and a very friendly family of three. The highlight was drinking masala tea from the Chai Wallas walking the aisle.

Nataliya fetched me from the station in Varkala and over the next week introduced me to her local Indian friends, signed me up for a Shirodhara treatment and arranged for us to eat tasty custom cooked meals, when not kicking it on the beach.

After a few days of distressing and unsure if I would make it this far south again I opted to take a side trip to Kanyakumari; the most southern tip of India mainland where the three bodies of water meet: Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. At 5:30AM I joined the thousands of natives who flock here daily to salute the sun as it rises over the statue of Thiruvalluvar; sometimes referred to the Indian Statue of Liberty. The women were draped in saris while the men wore traditional kurta, long white sheets of cloth which in Tamil are called veshti. There were men getting tattoos while others mounted a horse for a short gallop. The amount of visual stimulation proved too much for my SLR camera. Unfortunately the dying
motor chose now to fail so I was limited on what I was able to capture with manual focus. But hands down I would have to say witnessing the crowds eagerly bathing in the water as a ritual to cleanse their karma, has been my most authentic “Indian” experience to date.

I am so glad I had a chance to visit and if I didn’t have to rush back to Agonda for the course I would’ve easily spent more time in the Tamil Nadu region. However; I had to be back for orientation and even after booking a “waitlist” ticket 10 days prior, I was still not guaranteed a seat on the A/C sleeper back to Goa. My only hope was Nataliya's friend who assured me he would come through with a seat.  

After another pair of days in Varkala, socializing with other travelers, I made the ferry journey up the backwaters of Allepey to the colonial fishing port of Fort Cochin. Natasha arrived by train
later that night.

Cochi can be described as another non-typical Indian environment. The port town is exceptionally clean, filled with upscale restaurants and decorated with beautiful dark wood antiques. A few highlights of this destination are the Chinese fishing nets, the Dutch Palace/museum, the Santa Cruz Basilica and the Jewish quarters with a synagogue built in 1568.  

I would’ve liked to stayed on another day or so but it was time to return to Goa for yoga. And luckily Nataliya’s friend pulled through with a train ticket at promised. Unfortunately as I feared, the ticket was valid for a “general sleeper” and not the comfortable A/C like the one I took previously. I quickly learned that “General” seating translates to a minimum of 10 people fighting over six beds. Upon sight of the situation, combined with the presence of a poor young boy with no shoes, I resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight. The lone foreigner in this car, I was grateful to have Naiz’s company. Naiz is a native from Kochi who I befriended on the ferry over to Ernakulam who happens to live in England. We spent the bulk of the 13 hour train ride playing cards and juggling seats as more and more people boarded during the night on their way to Delhi.  

I finally arrived to Margao at 3:00AM and then had to take a 45 minute motorcycle taxi to Agonda for the same price as my train fare. In the end, I arrived to orientation that afternoon to meet the other attendees.  
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