Exploring Ayurveda, wedding crashing, palace hopping, Hindu temples, Chamundi hills and our family in Mysore

Exploring Ayurveda, wedding crashing, palace hopping, Hindu temples, Chamundi hills and our family in Mysore

After shuffling in the dry heat of Hampi, taking buses, river boats, and tuk tuks, I was happy to put my bags down in my home for the next two weeks in Mysore, Karnataka.

You might remember from your last travels, when you are on the road, things are sideways and downside up, with everything moving and influx. Like many places on my travels, Mysore was not exactly planned but you know the feeling when «things» conspire to happen, and in no particular order, might I add.

My motivation, for being here, was to learn about the Ancient Indian Life Science of «Ayurveda» (ayur= life, veda=knowledge) and to deepen my personal yog practice, in the famous Ashtanga Vinyasa capital of the world. I had previously heard a little here and there about Ayurveda from friends and contacts but had received no formal introduction. Yet, as a yoga practitioner, this name is not new to me, and, over this time, I have come to understand a bit more about the symbiosis that exists between the two.

I took the overnight train from Hospet to Mysore. I was traveling with English Abbey, pictured in yellow in the Hampi blog. We actually met on the bus from Goa to Hampi and took a tuk tuk from the train station into Mysore. There, I met up with another friend from Guatemala who is currently traveling India as well! (more on Julie shortly). On our first day in Mysore, we managed to get a few important things settled rather quickly and efficiently, for instance, where we were going to live, how we would move around, and a general idea of our goals for the next two weeks.

Since some of you asked, here are some approximate expenses so you have a better idea of how to plan your travel budget.

2 Bedroom Apartment in Gokullam: ₹9100 / US$135 / €113 (2 weeks)

Our apartment is located in front of a park in Gokullam, the Ashtanga yoga capital in Mysore. It is a very nice neighborhood with beautiful homes and gardens, not like any neighborhood I have seen so far in India.

The apartment is very clean, well maintained, minimally decorated, with a little kitchen, ceiling fans, 1 bathroom with shower and even a washing machine. The building also has a rooftop which has been a great place for morning sadhana. The park and the apartment are centrally located to the Mysore yoga scene, with many prominent shalas receiving Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioners from all over the world during season to deepen their practice & hopefully have the opportunity to practice in the main shala of K. Pattabhi Jois.

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This is one of many nandis. Every morning, cows walk around the park and the residents lay out their organic waste on the side of the road. Everyone is happy, even the neighborhood dogs, birds and cats.

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Scooter Rental : ₹1200/ $18/ €15 (2 weeks)

To get around, we rented a scooter and explored far ends of the city, passing through several parks, neighborhoods, old town Mysore, Devaraja market, and Chamundi Hills for panoramic views of Mysore city. Especially during the heat at this time of year, you really want to be most comfortable (and mobile!), so renting the scooter was one of the best decisions, at a very affordable price.

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Indian SIM Card (Airtel): ₹600 / US$8.60 / €7.50

I bought an Indian SIM card, also very affordable. The plan includes 1GB of data daily, but you can also find wifi at most Western cafes, and easily connect in order to not use up all your data.

The data is especially beneficial when you are on the road and need to access google maps to see your route when traveling by bus or train or even for purchasing your bus, plane or train tickets online. YES, you can do this all from your phone. Train tickets are a bit more tricky to purchase online, but there are always agencies available to help you book directly. You can also download maps.me to have offline access and track your travels.

For the Indian SIM, you will need to present your passport, and give them a passport size photo. It should take between 1-2 days to become activated after they check your information. I actually had to go back to the office and they made a phone call to their HQ, from there it finally got activated. You will also need to fill out a form. The SIM is active for 3 months and you can top off your data from any kiosk, in this case I used Airtel, so far it seems to work quite well.

Train Ticket Hampi to Mysore: ₹1800 / US$26.45 / €22.45

Since travel time is long (12 hours), I booked the sleeper seat to lie down and sleep during the night. I also chose an air-conditioned cabin which is a bit more expensive. The non-air-conditioned cabins are less expensive, starting somewhere around R700 / US$10.30 / €8.70, but it will also depend on the route. In the air-conditioned sleeper you also receive clean sheets, a blanket and a liter of bottled water. During the trip, porters board the train selling “chai” (milk tea), coffee, “dosas” (a South Indian breakfast item) and “samosas” all for less than a dollar each. There are restrooms onboard, but just remember to bring your toilet paper and some hand soap!

Bus Ticket Mysore to Bangalore: ₹500 / US$7.35 / €6.23

This bus trip was approximately 5 hours. I chose a sleeper seat with air conditioning. The bus stopped for food and restrooms breaks at specific locations. Other prices for this same trip are as low as R250 / US$3.00 / €2.50 but you will have a non reclining seat.

1 kilo of mangos : ₹100 / US$1.50 / €1.30

This will depend on where you are but above is an average price. I have paid as low as R60 / US$0.80 / €0.74 per kilo in more rural areas.

1 kilo of papaya: ₹30 / US$0.44 / €0.37
1 liter of bottled water: ₹20 / US$0.30 / €0.24

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Local eateries for breakfast: ₹15-R45 / US$0.22-US$0.66 / €0.18- €0.56

Depending on the local joint, for this price, enjoy a South Indian dish called “Idli Sambar”, a breakfast dish made of fermented rice patty (idli). “Sambar” is a type of masala (curry) and curd (yogurt) or coconut chutney is usually added to counterbalance the spice. For Indian curry dishes you will pay approximately ₹200-₹250/ US$3-$3.65 / €2.50-€3.12 for a deliciously filling meal with rice. I like to add naan or roti (Indian wheat bread). Check out Julie and her idlis below!

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You get the point, India is very affordable, especially if you are coming from the West. If your stomach is more sensitive to the masalas and spices, there is still a large variety of Western or Continental food available, at slightly higher prices. I budgeted approximately ₹10,000 / US$150 / €128 per week to cover all expenses except for transportation (to other major destinations over long distances– AC trains, AC buses or airfare). On the other hand, local transportation on government buses is very cheap if you need to move within a certain area, I have paid as little as ₹15 / US$.21 / €0.18.

Originally Quebecker, Julie worked for CONSTRUCasa, an organization dedicated to building homes for underprivileged communities in Guatemala. Julie and I met over two years ago when I was interviewing social and development organizations in Antigua Guatemala. Antigua Guatemala is the old colonial capital during the Spanish conquest, today it is a protected UNESCO Heritage Site and the country hub for non profit organizations. Read more about Antigua Guatemala and traveling here.

Since its inception in 2004, CONSTRUCasa has built over 1000 homes, community buildings, schools and delivered social programs in partnership with other local NGOs. Read more about CONSTRUCasa’s work, volunteering, and building homes in Guatemala here. Meanwhile Julie has been working in Africa on new assignments between Nigeria and Cameroon dedicated to NGO safety.

Speaking with her, I learned about her contract work in war-torn Afganistan where she was setting up a development and reconstruction program. It is inspiring to hear her stories and to be reminded of the value of having a purpose, and a mission in life, that is greater and beyond oneself.

We realized quickly on that we were both in India, and happily stranded on the beach in Goa. We met up soon enough in Arambol and got reacquainted in new territory. Since Goa, our travels have merged in interesting ways and we decided to study Ayurveda in Mysore together. It has been a comforting experience throughout the travel time to have someone familiar from home, to share the reference point. Additionally, I have been able to practice mon français, et ça me plait, mais, …assez, …quoi! Of several languages that I have had to learn due to moving frequently with my family, French was an elective class I actually chose to take at Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had an amazing teacher for three years in a row- merci Madame Bousquet ! It is because of her, that I can speak the language and feel comfortable when speaking to native speakers.

Over this time around, Julie and I have gotten to know each other much more and realized we were both interested in learning more about Eastern holistic health approaches and taking courses along the way. In fact, Julie is preparing and planning on using her home in the northern jungle of Peten in El Remate, Guatemala, as a wellness and retreat space. Guatemala is approximately a 2 hour flight from Miami International Airport and can connect you directly to Flores Airport in Peten. This area of the country is also known as the epicenter of the Mayan Civilization where you can visit important ruins such as the City of Tikal, 5 day jungle trekking expedition to El Mirador, Yaxha, Nakun. Other beautiful sites include Flores Island, Lake Peten Itza, subacquatic garden lagoon of Sayaxche, Ixpanpajul Family Adventure, Cerro Cahui, among others. Read more about Guatemala here.

Guatemala

During our two weeks in Mysore, Julie and I spent our time learning about Ayurveda with two lovely doctors, covering topics such as philosophy, nutrition, ayurvedic massage, and panchakarma.

This is Dr. Kumar, a very animated character. What stood out to me most about him was his passion for teaching but of course the topic had a lot to do with it. Dr. Kumar would frequently quote from the Ayurveda Sutras and chant mantra before performing certain practices.

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Dr. Kumar’s wife, Bhanu, taught us about Ayurvedic nutrition and food preparation. Much attention is placed on cooking natural ingredients in a certain order, allowing natural processes to occur. Most importantly, we must have a lot of patience and mindfulness when preparing these foods. After our daily practical class, lunch was always ready to be enjoyed!

The gist of it :

We are made up of the same elements as our surrounding natural habitat – earth, water, air, fire, and space. These elements are within us at varying degrees depending on our composition (dosha). Ayurveda teaches us that we have the presence of all tri-“doshas” (pitta, kapha, vata), but as day and night changes as well as the seasons, some of these elements become more strongly present within us. Ayurveda teaches us to live in balance with the changes in nature, the seasons, and this is done through many practices a few of which include: cleansing the digestive system, proper nutrition through the presence of all the tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent, …), panchakarma treatments, and the lifestyle. Ayurveda also recommends daily body massage for releasing blockages in muscles and energy channels, daily stress, as well as improving blood circulation. This is excellent news for those of us who like to indulge, now you have a better excuse!

A book I have been reading in parallel is called “Everyday Ayurveda”
by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya. She provides practical information for everyday living, factual knowledge, and does this skillfully, entertaining you with childhood anecdotes of an Indian girl growing up in the West.

Some tips from Everyday Ayurveda by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya :

  • If you can’t put it in your mouth, then it does not belong on your skin.
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  • When you wake up, before getting up, place your hand on your belly, check in, connect with your inner being and body, see how you are feeling on the new day and see what your body needs from you today.
  • After you get up, after washing your hands and face, drink a glass of warm water. This helps to alert the body and digestive system to wake up for appropriate morning digestion.

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This looks funny, I know. I’m sitting in a sweaty coffin. No, that’s not it. It’s actually an Ayurvedic treatment, specifically, a herbal steam bath. I’m sitting in the buff, on a chair, covered in medicinal oil after receiving a full body massage, and hot steam is coming through the bottom and exiting out right under my neck. This therapy is called “Swedana” and it is beneficial for purification, removing toxins from the body through sweating, relieving muscle aches and pains, as well as improving the blood circulation and digestion, while reducing water retention and weight gain.

Hiring a private course with Dr. Kumar and his wife worked out very well for us as we were able to have close contact with them, and this made the experience much more personal, also allowing us to delve deeper into certain topics of interest. A 1010 recommended experience. Feel free to contact me directly for more information.

Thank you Bhanu and Ramesh !

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  • I’ve tried to keep it short, but there is so much to write about. Here are some places to visit when you are in Mysore:Chamundi Hills and Sri Chamundeshwari Temple – on our scooter, Julie and I drove across the city towards Chamundi Hills passing through major monuments and avenues of the city along the way. It takes approximately 20 minutes from Gokullam until you arrive at the base of Chamundi Hills before you begin the drive up the hillside. You’ll enjoy some amazing views of the city as you approach the top and arrive to Sri Chamundeshwari Temple, a famous Hindu pilgrimage site. Hindus from all over the country visit and stand in line for over an hour to enter the structure and leave their offerings.
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  • Lalitha Mahal Palace – we crashed 2 weddings, two weekends in a row, in one of the most beautiful palaces of the city.

The beautiful Lalitha Mahal Palace was built during the time of British rule in the early 20th century under the orders of the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV of the Wodeyar Dynasty. In the first wedding we crashed, an estimated 6000 people came. Apparently the groom invited all of Mysore, while the bride only invited close family and friends. The sisters of the bride, pictured below, had the most stunning dresses, especially made for the occasion.

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The bride and groom were taking pictures in front on the rose walled stage with guests for what seemed to be hours. Meanwhile there was another stage with musical performances, belly dancing and even a small imitation of the Eiffel Tower.

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In India, roses cost approximately ₹70 per kilo. Take a look at the stage backdrop covered in a few thousand white and red roses.

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Each one of these curry pots holds approximately 800-1000 servings. I counted 6 in total, but maybe there were more. These enormous pots even make my size 10 foot look small.

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Wedding guests would eat their food and literally drop their paper waste below their feet without a second thought about where it would fall. The truth is I saw maybe one or two small trash cans at the wedding. It is shocking to see the amount of trash 6000 people can create in a fraction of an hour! Luckily there was no plastic cutlery, because in general, Indians eat with their hands. But can we please get some more trash cans Prime Minister Modi? You’ll notice trash is a huge problem in India and this undoubtedly makes hygiene a big point of discussion among travelers! However, Mysore made it to the top of the list, and was voted the cleanest city in 2016! Unlike other urban areas in India, Mysore is much cleaner and also a very beautiful city of monuments, parks, and hills.

All the best to the clean up crew!

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  • The Devaraja Market is a very exciting place in Mysore, in comparison to the area of Gokullam, which is very “shanti”, laid back and easy going. The marketplace at night reminds me a little bit of Manhattan, specifically Broadway, so much movement on the streets and in several directions. You’ll find little shops selling traditional sweets, clothing and textile shops. There are also many tailors in case you fancy making your own linen fitted pants. There are small convenience stores and of course, the food market for all your fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. You can even buy flowers here.
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  • The Mysore Palace is one of the most visited destinations in Mysore. It was originally the residence of the Wodeyar Dynasty during 1390-1940. Visiting this palace is better than what you find in Disneyland. Every Sunday evening, the city lights up the palace and hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand Indian families take the evening to visit this monument, walking around and taking pictures.
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  • The Green Hotel located next to Gokullam is a really interesting place and operates as a social enterprise. Originally a palace, in the 50s it was turned into a filming studio, and in the last 20 years it has been operating as a hotel. The Green Hotel Mysore is funded by 4 partners (3 Indian and 1 English), and all the profits go back into maintaining this historic monument and employing local men and women from surrounding communities.

I had a chat with a very nice staff member, Ahmed, originally from Madikeri, approximately 2 hours north of Mysore and recommended that I visit the local coffee plantations. So, now you know, and who doesn’t love coffee?

The women in the hotel restaurant make delicious homemade cakes (the dry fruit cake is especially yummy). There is also a very nice garden in the front of the hotel when you arrive, which is a nice place to have dinner or a drink.

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THE PEOPLE WE MEET

One of the best experiences of our time in Mysore was our little family of friends. All of us from different backgrounds, personalities, and life experiences. Mahdi, originally from Jordan, a strong coffee drinker, a gentleman and kind soul, has been living in Mysore for three years. He is on the verge of opening his own business in Gokullam.

Here we are stopping on the side of the road for a delicious sugarcane juice with lime.

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I didn’t say he was a yogui, but his leg came really far around!

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Neha, the little beauty pictured below in white, trained at Tirupati as an energy healer. She is traveling with her mom who shares the same passion in healing. This nomad pair give therapies, pranic healing courses and welcomed us several times for potluck dinners.

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Chris, an ex-product manager from Germany, as those you find, quit his job and is traveling this region of the world, deepening his yoga practice and experiencing all the corners of India.

Miss. Katie, our English bird, and the only visiting “Ashtangui” practitioner of us all, told me about her experiences in Portugal and Spain, and volunteering in sustainable communities there. She must be in the tea plantations in Munnar by now (stay tuned for the next blog about this amazing place!)

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Sandeep, a fearless Osho disciple, is extremely interesting and entertaining to speak with. Born in Nepal to Indian parents, he is currently living in Mysore. A generous guy, and family man, he is keen on gifting books from his shelf, drinks strong coffee with Mahdi.

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Oksana, originally from Lithuania, a raw foods warrior and smoothie connoisseur, has been traveling but made Mysore her home for the past 3 months. She is currently in Sri Lanka for a visa run and fallen in love with the place:

«When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go. Some places just stick with us.. My place has breathtaking scenery and culture, and most of all beautiful and kind people, where generosity and friendliness of the people move you. Where you sense the good vibes. Where you leave with a warm feeling. In Deep Love with Sri Lanka which became my new home now. «

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