09 March 2009

Elephants, Amma, and Holi, oh my!

I am writing to you from the southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari in the state of Tamil Nadu. We have visited 6 Indian states so far and plan to visit at least 3 more before returning home.
Our time in Kumily, Kerala was brief but nice. We arrived after a 7 hour bus ride. The ride was just like the "horror" stories you here about the driving here, but all we could do was trust. The drive reminded me of driving on Mt. Tam or HWY 1, very windy and mountainous, with lush tropical forests instead of redwoods. And the driver went as fast as he could! Riley and I played Jell-o and I was able to read without getting sick, for some of it.
We arrived in Kumily around sunset and took a rickshaw to the homestay Priya and Mr. Q recommended.
We woke up at 6am the next morning to get to the wildlife preserve by 7am. They offer many tours through the preserve; jeeping, boating, trekking. We opted for the nature hike...unfortunately, it was hardly a hike, but our small group of other tourists had a good sense of humor and we were very lucky to see some animals. Riley didn't see his tiger, but we saw 4 elephants (2 mamas and 2 babies), black monkeys (which apparently, are only in South India), 2 giant squirrel, some white necked storks, 2 elk, bee hives, wasps nests, a termite hill, and the blur of a wild boar running into the brush.
We stayed just two nights in Kumily before taking a bus to Kottayam to catch a train to Amritapuri (Amma's ashram). (If you don't know who Amma is, I'm sure you can google her)
The ashram was nothing like we expected and nothing we have ever experienced.
We took a rickshaw 11km from the train station. The rickshaw driver knew the ashram, and when we arrived he dropped us off in front of this large white bridge spanning over the backwaters. Without knowing how to go about getting accommodations (Riley's brother, Ben, just said, "get a room at the ashram") we headed over the bridge not knowing what we would find.
We followed what looked like a path through high rise dormitories and soon someone pointed us towards a temple and said we "check-in there."
A devotee (dressed in white) gave us a pass for E building on the 14th floor. The elevator had pictures of Amma taped to the inside and a piece of paper that looked like a scroll that said, "Chant you mantra".
When we arrived on our floor and stepped off the elevator we were amazed to see the Arabian Sea (having no idea we were so near the ocean) to the West and the Backwaters to the East...palm trees covering every other inch of land. The ashram sits on a peninsula, probably less than a mile wide, running between the two bodies of water. It was the best view in India we have seen yet. To my dismay, they request no photography at the ashram, so no pictures! =(
We stayed for 4 nights, for a very very inexpensive fee. They ask that you contribute 2 hours a day for Seva (selfless service), so I spent some time in the kitchen washing dishes and cleaning the floors, while Riley cleaned the dorms and scrubbed the sinks. I also was asked to help for a bit on stage with Amma during Darshan (the hugging) to tell ladies to wipe their faces of sweat and make-up and hold hair clips and eye glasses as the not hurt Amma during their hug (Ben said this was quite a blessing).
Amazingly, Amma was at the ashram the whole time we were there. I received Darshan twice, Riley once...a very powerful and healing experience, and she gave a surprise group meditation that Riley and I were able to participate in.
We visited with Riley's step brother, Ben and his wife, Sarviga.
We met some amazing people (the most Americans we have seen yet!) both devotees and visitors alike.
It was inspiring to see how the ashram worked and what communal living is like.
We left the ashram and took a train an hour south to Varkala beach to relax and enjoy the beach again. Unfortunately, the Indian food caught up with me and I got a bug. No beach. I was in bed all day yesterday, but luckily, it only lasted the day.
While I was sick in bed, Riley had an thrilling experience at the Kollam Elephant festival. He watched a parade of 30 adorned elephants marching to hoards of drummers. Riley was one of the many people lining the street watching the display, when one of the elephants got angry and ran through the crowd. The crowd turned into a mob and Riley ran for cover in an alcove (and he got it recorded on his camera!). He said after that, he had had enough excitement and headed back to the house.
We will stay in Kanyakumari for 2 nights and then move on to Madurai.
Tomorrow is Holi, the festival of color. Holi was one of the things I was most looking forward to, but we haven't heard of any happenings, so we will have to see. This is a primarily Hindu town, as the tip is a pilgramage site, so there should be celebration.
We will get up early tomorrow and watch the sunrise where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea meet. (It is a holy site to bathe in...I stuck my toe in!)


  1. Your trip keeps getting better. I can't wait to see that elephant mob...email it to me, Riley!

  2. "One of the biggest regrets of my life", says Riley after accidently deleting said video while editing out bad photos!