October, 2015….Marilyn R., Elgin, IL
“I returned from my trip approximately 4 weeks ago and it has taken this long to have a clear mind and heart to sit down and attempt to write this commentary about the trip.
First, let me start off by saying that Linda has been not only my yoga instructor but also a mentor. She has talked about her own personal trips to India for several years and at first I was slightly jealous that she was brave enough to make these trips on her own as I had never traveled outside of the US. But she continued to talk about them and the places she had visited and I became more interested and the thought of going to India sometime didn’t seem so impossible or scary. Her postings and photos on Facebook just added to my interest.
Then a few years ago Linda planned a yoga retreat to Varkala, India but the timing was not right for me. After hearing about this trip it just sealed the deal and I was bound and determined that I would find a way to make her next retreat possible for me. And that I did!
When Linda confirmed that she would be setting up a trip for the fall of 2015 I knew this was my time. Once the dates were confirmed I booked and paid for my airfare. I knew this way if I had invested the money for the airfare that I would not be able to back out. As Linda says, “if not now, when?”
Our itinerary was made available early on and gave me time to research the cities and temples we would be visiting. I read a few books to help familiarize myself with the country and its customs. This helped but nothing compares to the actual experience. As the departure date neared our travel group met to discuss the details. What clothes to bring, what luxury items to bring (TP is one of those luxuries), how much spending money, what the weather would be, who would meet us at the airport upon our arrival, every possible question was answered and more. This was in additional to the numerous emails that were provided with updates and reminders. And when I received these emails I got little butterflies in my stomach with excitement.
D-Day: I was packed and ready, so off to work I went as my flight was not leaving until later that night. It was difficult to concentrate knowing what was in my future. Arrived at the airport with enough time to navigate the international terminal at the airport. Even as my trip was just beginning Linda was already sending text messages for safe travels.
Arriving in Chennai: Once I landed and made my way thru customs. It was hard for me to imagine that I was actually in India. My driver was waiting for me just as Linda said he would be. Once I arrived at the hotel, approximately 4:00am, it was hard to sleep. My roommate, Rebecca, had already arrived and all we could do was talk. We were both too excited to sleep but we did manage to sleep for a few hours before meeting Linda for lunch and starting our trip.
The city is busy, always. There are no sidewalks and everyone walks either on the road or on the shoulder. And believe it or not I didn’t see anyone get hit by a vehicle. Vehicles drive on the opposite side of the road as we do with the driver sitting on the right hand side. There are very few traffic lights, I think I saw maybe 3 or 4. Everyone just drives and pulls out into traffic at will. This includes city buses, trucks, cars and lots of motorcycles. And let’s not forget the cows, goats and bullock driven carts.
Everyone shares the same space. We were only on a highway as we know it once and it was a two lane road going in each direction. I think we actually got up to about 45mph. Vehicles pass each other at will and sometimes with very little room to execute the pass. And lots of horns honking.
We didn’t stay in one city for more than 2 days allowing us to see as much as we could in our 2 weeks there. It was a temple tour so we visited at least 1 temple in each town but it was more like 2 or 3. The temples are beautiful, each one different from the next, magnificent grandeur, colorful, and inspiring. It’s hard to believe the time in which these were built and the intricate detailed stone cravings and how did they build these massive temples without modern machinery?
Then there was Pondicherry with its French influences, the bronze museum, the Gandhi museum, Auroville, the rice and sugar fields, and the people. Even as I am writing this my experiences and the sites are popping from my memory and putting a smile on my face.
Our driver, Subramani, was phenomenal. He added a few extra stops along the way which really added spontaneity to the trip. He took very good care of us, walked with us to cross the streets, walked with us to the temple entrance, stopped for bathroom breaks when needed, arranged for side tours (i.e. a family home, glass tile maker, bronze statue maker, weavers and even a jeep ride to the beach at the southernmost tip of India). Subramani has a good sense of humor, after all he tolerated this group of western women. He is kind, polite, and knowledgeable, speaks English fairly well, and is an excellent driver. He dropped us at the airport in Madurai for the flight back to Chennai and he asked that we text him to let him know we were checked-in and that everything was okay. One doesn’t receive this kind of treatment here in the US.
I could write a short novel about this trip; the places we visited, the people we talked to, the food we ate, the conversations we had, the experience, etc. but I want to keep this as brief as I can. This trip was one of the most profound, energizing, emotional, gratifying, exciting, and humbling experiences I have ever had. I am not the same person I was before I left. It was worth more than the financial investment in many ways and I would do it again in a heartbeat and never think twice.
I have a list of bullet points that I keep handy just as a quick reminder of my trip.
- Cows, goats, monkeys, street dogs
- St. Thomas Church
- I.W.C. (Indian water closet)
- Lime soda
- Street traffic
- St. Thomas Church
- The Ocean”