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India, Ramblings and Etiquette

INDIA | Tuesday, 9 August 2016 | Views [557]

Fiery evening skies around Mt Shiva

Fiery evening skies around Mt Shiva

One evening not long after we arrived we ventured out for a stroll down the road. We hadn't got very far when we were invited to a nearby house. A light day bed frame was hastily produced and we were invited to sit outside and converse with the women of the house. A mother and her two daughters and grandmother who lives in a room next door produced a bowl of monkey nuts for us. Conversation was limited to the girls' school book English, but with some waving of hands and much smiling and nodding of heads, we spent an enjoyable moment in the warmth of local hospitality. 

Every travel guide advises you to avoid food that has been handled, as far as possible, but none then really suggest how to avoid offending a host who has generously peeled your fruit or shelled nuts for you. I find myself hoping that my hearty mix of probiotics will prove effective. We have sampled various herbal teas, chewed on leaves Govondan picks for us and, best of all, indulged in the Indian sweets I requested.
The warm cloudy days pass by quite quickly while the hotter clear sky days seem to stretch out in a languid, hazy swelter. With no exhausting itinerary to follow, we are free to go out when we want, help in the school, observe and learn about cultural nuances or simply put the hammocks to good use to process everything we are experiencing. Of course an Ayurvedic massage is always a welcome diversion from our 'hectic schedule' of conversations, meals and relaxation. The therapist seems to know exactly which areas need working on, and we gratefully submit to her expertise. Trying to write or re-size and upload photos after this proves futile and instead I allow the cool breeze to softly rock my favourite string hammock. 
Yoga with the children has become a daily occurrence that I'm getting used to and enjoying. Years of dance training mask my complete ineptitude so that while some poses are manageable only in their most basic form, the children have not yet collapsed with laughter.
Wednesday we venture into town again, remarking that the route seems so much shorter as our surroundings become more familiar. We stop at the Shantimalai Women's handicraft centre which provides a fair wage to local women trained in handicrafts which are then sold here and around the world. I have put aside my shopping to collect later as we are about to walk half way up a mountain and any extra weight an unnecessary encumbrance. We stop at the German Bakery for a quick lunch although it is only serving limited food options during its refurbishment. 
The road opposite the temple is quite steep and narrow with steps roughly cut into it. The tuk tuk driver has left us as at the bottom of the road waving his hand vaguely to indicate we go straight up, and keep going. Small stalls soon give way to small dwellings and the customary rubbish pile. We decline the offer of a guide and his promised short cut who has attached himself to us. The Mango Tree cave is closed until late afternoon but we stop to watch some birds greedily devouring the rice offerings that have been left outside. They eye us suspiciously as if we might, at any moment, challenge them for this prize meal. Instead, having caught our breath, we continue to the Virupakshi cave where Sri Ramana Maharshi spent almost seventeen years of his life, in almost complete silence! This concept alone has me baffled, although we respectfully follow the directive to do the same while we are there. The cave is small and dark, if slightly claustrophobic but strangely actually does seem to resonate the sound 'AUM'. A colour photograph shows an older man who radiates wisdom, kindness and compassion. I am drawn to read up more about him when we get back and it's a fascinating story.
Slightly later than planned on Sunday morning we set off in search of an ashram we have seen signposted nearby. We reassure Pankaj and Govondan several times that we will be fine and walk towards and then through the village. The chances of going unnoticed are precisely zero and we are greeted by several children we know, and many more that we don't as we wander along in the heat, trying to look like we know exactly where we're going. Even the dogs seem to know that we don't fit in here and bark at our intrusion. Foolishly I forgot to apply sunscreen and some days later my shoulders are still paying the price! 
Greenland Ashram is thoughtfully located on Enlightenment Road. We have found the road to enlightenment tucked away in a beautiful but extremely remote area of Tamil Nadu! Sadly the gates are locked and the place, lovely as it looks, seems deserted -probably an accurate reflection of our state of readiness! All is not lost however, as soon the man responsible for security appears and welcomes us to his gatehouse. He kindly gives us a tour of the temple where we have our second experience of vibhuti. I wonder idly whether anyone can distribute this sacred ash as he demands we open our mouth so he can throw some in there too. Knowing its composition now, it's hard not to flinch! Photos are taken and a promise to print and send these to him is extracted before we set off back to The Ashok Tree. An interesting, if somewhat surreal, experience. After this exertion we're relieved that another massage is the only thing on the agenda this afternoon.
Perhaps we'll be really lucky and there'll be no 'programme' blaring music, chanting and news through the loud speaker up the road.

Discoveries continue: Tiru'(v)anna'malai - translates to Sir/Lord'Shiva'mountain.  

Tags: ashrams, ayurvedic massage, cave, enlightenment road, hammocks, shiva, vibhuti, womens handicrafts, yoga


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