THE REAL INDIA
DISCOVERING THE “REAL” INDIA
So we are now into our second month in India (!) and while we absolutely love it here in Patnem, the truth is that it’s not very Indian! It’s kind of like being in a lovely bubble but it’s very Westernised. Sure, several times a week we have no running water, the internet connection is unpredictable, sometimes the post office runs out of stamps and you can hear stray dogs barking at night: so far, so Indian.
But this is primarily a tourist destination, and by tourist I mean of the Western kind. This is reflected in the menus at all the beach front restaurant, and the prices. Everyone speaks pretty good English and that’s the language you are most likely to overhear (even though it’s becoming increasingly popular with Russians). Handy if you only speak English like me! So it was great to have the opportunity to see somewhere a bit different, a bit, well more Indian this weekend.
So we went further south to Gokarna, a wonderful place recommended by my friend and inspiration, Shiva Shankar.
I met Shiva when he taught a Yoga workshop at my studio North London Yoga Studio last year. He lives in Rishikesh and is a real, bone fide, actual Yogi. I love Yoga and it’s an essential part of my life, but clearly I’m no guru. Shiva on the other hand was probably doing Yoga in his mother’s womb! He showed us around the holy village of Gokarna which is home to an amazing Shiva temple and also a Ganesh temple, which has a statue of Ganesh which is thought to be 10,000 years old!
Shiva (seen on the right), is currently teaching a 2-week Ayurvedic detox retreat in Gokarna and has timed it deliberately to coincide with the Indian festival of Mahashivaratri. So the village is very busy right now and full of pilgrims, priests and sadhus. Unfortunately we had to leave before the main celebration when they pull the ancient chariot through Gokarna. But we still got to observe the rich tapestry of Indian spiritual life as all the devotees bathed in the sea and came to make offerings. A processions passed right under our noses one evening but I didn’t feel right taking pictures. Also I feel that while I’m here I want to enjoy the moment rather than be constantly taking photos.
The beach front huts and restaurants cater for tourists, more hard core than the ones here: backpackers on a budget who are here for several months and have consciously chosen a lifestyle that would be considered non conformist by most Western standards. In the village, it is predominantly Indian and so the menus are vegetarian and you can’t get beer – bad news for my Mark!
One of my enduring memories of our time in Gokarna was when Shiva took myself and one of his students to a magical place right on the rocks, overlooking the ocean at Kudle beach for sunset meditation. I was kind of too scared of falling off the rocks to really meditate! But it was beautiful, peaceful and something I will never forget.
We were sorry to say goodbye to Shiva at the end of our stay and much as we enjoyed Gokarna, we were happy to return to Patnem. Especially Mark who celebrated with a Kingfisher beer and chicken tikka!
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