16th Jan: An Indian Train Journey

16th Jan Departures By Train

Our last meal in the hectic town of Kottayam – Typical and totally delicious. Ask for ‘Meals’ and go between 12 and 2pm.

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We’re off for our first experience of Indian trains moving to the south of Kerala we’re currently waiting on a platform with the usual sounds of crows and clearing of chests/ spitting. We waiting at Kottayam station, very unsure which direction our train will arrive, which platform it will arrive at and which coach we will be on and at what end of the platform. The platform goes on for miles and we know the train carriages go on and on and on. We struggled to get a ticket, layers of paperwork and a special trip to Kottayam station a week or so ago. Now we know we can’t miss this one, having just boarded the wrong train and with rather a large load of luggage thanks to my harmonium and our yoga kit we consider the tricky prospect of crossing over to the other side. The train is late and we’re expecting to have to cross the tracks at a moments notice. Thank goodness we found a porter who could balance my harmonium on his head – and our yoga kit on top of that, nothing but a dishcloth rolled into a doughnut and placed on his head to aid him!

However in usual Indian style our attention is drawn away from such fears, as a group of v simple bearded men barefoot in black cloths and yellow dots on their foreheads have been provided with a cooked breakfast on the platform – they eat by hand and sit cross legged on the ground. We are completely captivated by a massive party of pilgrims, here is one carrying food for a big group in this giant pot on his head.

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We’ve boarded the train into our AC second class compartment – complete luxury!
The rest of the train is extremely overcrowded and v unsanitary so we are very privileged. One of the most fascinating things as we start to move is to see the people on the platform; hundreds of people traveling, where are they going? Certainly there is a sense of purpose as people go about their business. There are open sinks and running water on the platforms and people get off the trains to clean their teeth and wash out in the open, even lay out cloths and sleep. There isn’t anything like the same self consciousness that we have, people are always in big groups, one rarely sees the loan traveler unless they are a westerner. Mind you we’ve hardly seen any of those.

We see a group of women carrying very wide heavy bamboo poles, and wood on their heads ready to mount the train. And others carrying giant parcels and those vast cooking pots of food, on their heads – and the men in black and orange seem to have a full catering unit with them, serving the tali meal; hot dahl and rice, chapattis and a veg dish for several hundred of them.

We’ve been trying to work out for some time how we’d carry our luggage, but once here the solution offered itself. Lean, fit agile porters dressed in orangy red shirts with pink or purple cloths are there with you to help in an instance, it was incredibly easy in the end. One thing that is very noticeable is the posture of these porters, women and people, they stand absolutely straight so that the weight descends down evenly and their bodies move softly as they walk spiraling their trunk quite naturally from side to side in a spinal twist. Like one might see a young child move and so little tension. Certainly this movement makes one realise how much chronic tension we carry in the west building up over years in our necks upper back and shoulders. I think so much of our yoga teaching and practice has to address this.

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For 3 weeks I have to give up using my lap top as no internet so reverted to old trusted methods: my journal. Plan to write some of it up here in due course. You might catch in my notes visible in this photo that Prashant’s words keep coming up, he says that the distinction between ‘east’ and ‘west’ is unhelpful and in fact doesn’t exist. Ones perception of east and west depends on where you are in the world not on any actual differences: he says ‘all human beings are the same”

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We arrive at Kovalam station, my Harmonium and our yoga kit carried out into the sunshine. The train station porter moves at speed with both items (25KG) on his head! Geoffrey and I follow up with our rucsacs as fast as we can – but we are so slow by his standards

Harmonium cropped

Our first walk in Kovalam

Geoffrey saw this knot in the banyan tree and only a short walk from us down towards the sea. We bump into a yoga teacher here from the shivananda ashram here amongst the coconut palms, this sort of thing happens all the time in Kovalam. He’s setting off to teach on his motorbike and he says this tree is auspicious. He points out the flying foxes the banyan tree is home too, and sure enough after a while our eyes focus and we see dozens of them hanging up very high upside down from it’s branches. We last saw bats everyday by our balcony in Pune in the smog filled air, it’s wonderful to see them here airing their wings in the fresh slight breeze coming up from the sea.

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