In my mind I've divided this trip into three two-week phases, and I'm well into the last phase now. The first two weeks were great fun and very exciting... just the fact of being here, plus loads of lunch dates, being shown things, discovering all the local places etc. In the second phase I needed to be left alone a bit, developed a fascination with the darker side of things, became slightly morose and worried that 'nothing was happening to me here'. And now with just over a week left I am once again loving being with friends all the time, trying to make the best use of the time I have left, finding the place unspeakably beautiful, in a satisfying place in my practice, and feeling a constant pang at the thought of leaving, as the tentacles of cold weather and a full-time job exert their inexorable magnetic pull.
I had a nice day out yesterday - went with my friend Ben to Lalitha Mahal, the second-largest palace in Mysore, which is now a five-star hotel, then up Chamundi Hill, which is apparently the eighth most sacred hill in India (not sure how they measure that!). We were going to use the pool at Lalitha Mahal but never quite got around to it, however we had a VERY nice lunch and a good look round. Being in a beautiful hotel always makes me want to be in love; luckily I'm not in love with Ben, who has a wife and daughter, but he's a good friend and very good company. Fine food and buying some lovely Indian art in one of the shops (for myself and as gifts) helped ease my longing for 'love holidays' in posh hotels or exotic locales....
We then took a rickshaw to the giant black statue of Nandi, the bull who is the vehicle of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology. There's also a tiny cave there carved into the rock face where a monk lives, and apparently it was a different monk minding it yesterday, but we went in and sat with him for a while (I would never have dared to do this without Ben!). A small donation caused the silent monk to give us some sugar crystals, and we sat for awhile with the sweetness melting in our mouths listening to the hypnotic strains of Om Namah Shivaya piped in from somewhere (I have to admit here that the sugar crystals made me think of Kevin and his penchant for sugar cubes... perhaps we've found the form of meditation for you, Kev!). I could have stayed in there just sitting on the little rock shelf for a long time, but eventually it was time to go.
We then climbed to the top where there are market stalls selling the usual um, tat, and the temple of the goddess Chamundeshwari.
Now, apparently it was some kind of special day, part of a three or four day festival. The temple was just about to shut and not reopen till 8pm. A young chap hustled us in with a frantic urgency, promising to mind our shoes and extracting 50 rupees, for which we each got a flower and some powder to be placed inside as an offering.... somewhere... It was all a bit of a blur to be honest, as we were seemingly carried in by a whirlwind along with a few other last-minute temple desperadoes. The wet red powder was daubed on our foreheads, and a small statue of Chamundeshwari was pressed upon Ben, which he tried to refuse, assuming it would make for another bargaining session at the end. I took the statue just to make things easier, and our guide went back out to look after our shoes, haha (if you have a fear of your flip-flops being stolen in India, you won't go very far!). We were inside for about all of 15 seconds, put some rupees in a collection tray proferred by the monks, and tried to follow others who were being swept out into a sort of courtyard, when with an equal sense of urgency we were held back and shouted at to wait! That lasted all of about another ten seconds (I think we were making way for an important temple official, maybe)... we were then spewed out the side gate. We walked back around to the front and met another monk, to whom we gave some more rupees and were smeared with yellow powdery paint to go with the red. Back outside, our new friend attempted to explain the goings-on, but all I really took from it was that we were very lucky indeed to have made it inside on this auspicious day. However his earnestness was utterly beguiling. I was once again exhorted to take the small statue home for good luck, the young man told us God bless you, and didn't ask for any more money.... so Ben's cynicism did not pay off, as I was now the holder of the lucky statuette :-). And despite this rather flippant account of the proceedings, and the fact that it had to be THE most hectic temple visit EVER, I am perfectly willing to believe that we were indeed very lucky to be there and that the tiny yellow statue, still stained with red powder, is something special. It is on my bedside table.
We were then amused by throngs of monkeys - scampering up the sides of the temple, eating bananas, chasing each other around and letting us come up really close. I failed to capture a gorgeous sunset on film, looking out over Mysore spread below us in the mist. We took the bus back to the main bus depot in the city, wandered around the night streets a bit, peeked in the Market, and had sweets at Bombay Tiffanys accompanied by madam milk (madam means almond.... it was cold milk with turmeric and almonds, quite delicious) before catching a bus back to quiet, gentle Gokulam.
Tomorrow some of us will go to Regaalis pool again, then to the Metropole for a bite to eat.
As far as practice goes, after getting pincha, karandavasana and mayurasana at Sunday led, I got nakrasana and vatayanasana straight away on Monday and have been practicing up to there all week. Vatayanasana is tricky, because if you keep trying to improve on your foot position then you are constantly on the verge of falling out... whereas not to do so is just lazy. He hasn't said anything to me about it and I've just been getting on with it, realising I'm not the centre of the universe and he is not going to scrutinise my last posture every day. Likewise he hasn't commented again on my dwi pada, whether because he can see I'm working in the right direction or because I'm just going under the radar I don't know.... but I know how I have to work on it now at home. Yesterday I had time for extra backbends (no one waiting to assist me) so I did five drop backs and grabbed my calves from the air on the last one. Who knows if anyone saw it, I was neither applauded nor told off, which is just about right. I'm guess I'm getting more comfortable in the shala. Today he was waiting for me and I was scolded for letting my legs be bent while he tried to walk my hands to my knees.... I like to straighten my legs afterwards, but he wants them straight for the walk up. He told me 'take properly!', but in the end I managed it and then curled my hands a little farther round my kneecaps than usual. When I came up we nodded at each other..... got it.
The shala's much emptier; everyone's times are getting moved up, there's plenty of room between mats and sometimes empty spaces. People are leaving, and next week I'll be one of them. More people are still arriving too, but the January crush seems to be over.
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