A Travellerspoint blog

Yoga and Abandoned Children

Solo travel

sunny 25 °C
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Having slept like a log, I eagerly waited for Cari, by the gate, 6.15 am sharp, as planned. The break of dawn brought cool air and a hazy mist to the eerily silent neighbourhood. Not much sign of life, except those few farmers, treading the long, well-kent road from village to market. Carts piled high with freshly plucked red chilli peppers, pungent spices, including cinnamon and curry leaves, and a vast assortment of fruit and veg. It seemed Mysore was not quite ready to wake up and seize the day, but I was!

Cari was my host and had arranged for me to join a yoga class, run by his own highly recommended teacher, and kindly offered to walk me to the location. The walk ended at the guarded gates of an expansive local government compound. He explained the purpose of my visit to the men on sentry duty and in I signed.

Walking through the shade dipping from a tunnel of coconut palm trees, yellow wagtails flitted tree to tree, bringing a cacophony of birdsong. Welcomed into the community centre, I realised exactly how versatile the sari could be, as women twisted and bent in all directions, warming up for the session. A couple of men soon joined, albeit on the other side of the badminton net.

When Parsha, the guru arrived, everyone stopped. After a friendly namaste, they gazed at him, eyes smiling with admiration. Getting into position, kneeling on our mats, he let out an earth-shattering chant, his voice soft, almost musical. The class knew the script, on cue, they repeated each line back to him.

Stopping briefly, he glanced over, instructing me in his best English, ‘copy’. Thinking I heard ‘shanti’, I shouted it quite loudly, every time it came up. At least he would know I was trying! Having had early practice listing to the Cocteau Twins, a great band, notorious for the inability to decipher their lyrics, I managed to wing it. This magical mantra continued for around 10 minutes, making the hairs on my arm stand up.

He even came to my little flat on Sundays, to ensure I received 7 days practice, conducted on the sun trap of a roof above the main house.

The cost of the 3-week yoga course was minuscule, compared to the inflated prices for classes in Gokalum, geared towards foreign tourists.

Walking back, the misty haze had lifted, and the neighbourhood was getting into full swing.
The smell of coffee tempted me in the direction Ravi’s place, to become my post-yoga routine, prior to the 8.30am breakfast slot. Joining those hastily throwing back coffee on their way to work and rickshaw drivers kick starting the day with a shot of caffeine.

The wonderfully delicious masala dosa, famous in Karnataka, Mysore’s state, was on the menu for today’s breakfast. Freshly prepared crisp and savoury dosa’s, resembling crepes, generously filled with a traditional spicy potato mix, served with coriander mint chutney. Cari had spoken to his friend Mumtaz, who ran the Bapuji Children’s Home and invited me to visit that day.

During our post breakfast chat, his wife, Ganga, explained exactly how Mumtaz identified the need for a safe place for abandoned children back in the 1970’s. Being a nurse, who previously worked in a maternity home, she found that many times mothers abandoned their babies and left the nursing home, without giving the correct address. Not knowing what else to do with them, she kept the abandoned babies in the maternity home itself. Pretty soon a fairly large nursery emerged, whereby the maternity home shifted location..

I packed some gifts for the children, coloured pens, books, sweets and headed up to the rickshaw hub. My ex-policemen pals were nattering over coffee, but soon organised a rickshaw to take me to Gokalum. It was a good half hour through the heavy late morning traffic when we arrived in Gokalum. Finding the actual address was tricky for the driver, then we spotted a disturbing sign, urging people not to kill their babies, but to leave it there at the gates. We knew we had arrived.

Mumtaz warned me on the way inside, that most of the children were at school. I was surprised to find she was actually American. Having lived and been married to an Indian for over 40 years however, she almost was a native.

On stepping into the home, immediately hit by the distinctive smell of baking, along with the presence of three teenagers, two boys, one girl, all with disabilities. Lying in single beds, the doors to the outside world left open, letting the sun creep in, ensuring they felt the breeze on their clammy skin.

Introducing me to each child individually, she explained their disabilities. All the children had cerebral palsy and one boy was deaf blind. I will never forget their huge smiles, exposing strong, snow white teeth, on hearing Mumtaz’s voice, they clearly loved her. The children had all been abandoned in dreadful circumstances and were the lucky ones, having arrived at the home by various routes.

We passed a room where a bunch of cute pre-school kids sat, lotus positioned on the floor, excitably listening to the story being read by a volunteer. They peeked up at the window, their baby faces full of surprise, at the big, white, mug, looking down at them, face pressed against the perspex. Although keen, I was discouraged from going in.

Mumtaz was careful not to encourage attachments between visitors and the children, since they had been let down in the past. Volunteers had been tourists who came a couple of times, forged bonds, then decided not to return or went back home. She could not risk the children getting traumatised any further. I understood. Volunteers were now local women and men.

The children were nutritiously fed, clothed, schooled and most importantly loved. Whilst other facilities used corporal punishment with kids in their care, Mumtaz was quick to point out that was not the policy there. The living quarters were basic, but well-kept and clean.

She spoke about some circumstances that led to 15 babies being abandoned outside the walls of the home each year. Young people from rural Mysore, deprived of sex education, along with ignorance about pregnancy and biology, could not keep their babies. Boy meets girl, hormones raging, they have sex, realising the pregnancy quite late on. The resulting problem is children born out of wedlock, a big taboo,

Although the attitude towards female children is changing for the better, Mumtaz explained femicide still occurs and female babies are abandoned more readily. The imbalance in gender ratio in the home, was living proof that males remain societies most valued prize, in the childbirth lottery.

I walked down the steep hill to the centre of Gokalum, grateful I did not have to walk up it. Immediately struck by the sheer numbers of yoga shala’s and young hippy types roaming around, dreadlocked, yoga mat under arm.

I sauntered into a cafe, a real cafe, not a stall with plastic stools scattered around the pavement, at the side of the road.. British, American, Spanish, French rang from the surrounding tables, interjected with the odd burst of laughter. My coffee, albeit the real thing, a large frothy cappuccino, was 200 rupees (£2) my usual cafe, 10 rupees (10p). Do not get me wrong, I was not complaining, just highlighting the inflated prices in Gokalum, for everything!

I could see myself fitting in here, when I was younger, apart from the yoga of course. However, in my more, hmmm, mature years, I much prefer the authenticity of a city and its people. Mumtaz had mentioned local people are not keen on the way Gokalum has developed, since it had pushed up prices for them too.

Funny, I really missed the buzz of my usual coffee haunt and all the madness that went along with it. Out the corner of my eye, a bus swung round the corner, headed for the centre, I decided to take the next one.

Back in town, my stomach dictated that it was time to eat. I came across Hotel RRR by chance, although recommended by Cari, being warned however, that depending on the chef, it could be a ‘bit too spicy’.

People seemed to eat for the sole purpose of satiating hunger, it was rare to see friends sitting around eating and chatting. It was serious stuff, head down, finish, go. With such a great reputation, and also being one of the few 'non-veg' restaurants, it was choc a block. Being lucky, I was shown to the one remaining seat, at a table for 6.

The not too spicy chicken curry was served on a deep lime coloured banana leaf, streaked with yellow, accompanied with rice, roti's and some lip-smacking south Indian mango pickle. Always fascinated watching people eat with their hands, not only do they love to smell and taste the food, they need to feel it too. Having developed the knack of rolling rice into small balls with their fingers, before popping them into their mouth.

Horrendously failing each time, I tried to copy the tactic, I shamefully asked for a good old-fashioned fork. The guy facing me asked where I was from, oh no here we go! As I rose up to leave, he asked if he could join me. No.

Having picked up some fresh fruit from the street vendors by the station, I took the bus back to base camp. I shared the day with Cari and Ganga and thanked them for putting me in touch with both Parsha and Mumtaz. Being a Private Investigator, I also encouraged him to share his day!

Staying with local families has always allowed me to enter worlds, only previously imagined. And today, the yoga was a little bit of self-care, in what turned out to be a very thought-provoking day.

Posted by katieshevlin62 12:20 Archived in India Comments (9)

Flavours of Indian society

A palace, trafficked girls and the 'Untouchables'.

26 °C

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens
can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Margaret Mead

In the first few days in Mysore, southern India, I had not spotted a single postcard. Suppose not being a tourist hotspot, it was understandable. I send postcards religiously to my auntie, who eagerly awaits their arrival from foreign lands. Not being one to disappoint, Ganga, my host, came to the rescue, the only place to find the rare species of the postcard was at Mysore Palace.

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I had passed the splendid palace many a time, listed as the number one ‘must see’ sight in Mysore. The palace is an example of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, mostly used by British architects in India in the late 19th century. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and his mother Maharani Kempananjammanni Devi, commissioned Henry Irwin to build the palace in 1897.

Not being particularly interested in the ‘royal residence’ side of tourism; I was not overly exited to visit. Today, however, I was not meeting Stanly at Odanadi Girls Home until 1 o'clock, so decided to pop down to buy some postcards. Odanadi means 'soulmate', and are an NGO that addresses all forms of sexual violence against women and children, with a special focus on human trafficking.

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Have a wash before you pray!

The bus dropped me outside the palace, an area scattered with small Hindu shrines, colourfully decorated with marigolds, lotus and red hibiscus to gratify the gods. Edging closer, a pleasant, familiar scent drifted through the air. An abundance of incense burned in unison, releasing a cloud of sandalwood vapour, rising above the heads of those praying with zeal. The burning of incense is incredibly important in Hinduism, amongst other things, it symbolises the presence of a god or goddess.

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Temples dedicated to the elephant headed Ganesh, the most identifiable deity to those out with the religion, were said to be particularly busy during exam time, being the god of intelligence and wisdom. However, since he also heralds as the remover of obstacles and new beginnings, in a district with a 82% Hindi majority, I am sure he is busy all year round.

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The equivalent of about £20 - so quite easy to work out!

After paying the bank breaking 74 pence entrance fee, it was time to pass through the golden gates and followed the crowd down the long narrow path. The grounds of the palace boasted lush manicured lawns, bordered with an explosion of vibrant colour, hailing from roses, lilies, marigolds and other seasonal blooms, filling the atmosphere with a pleasant floral scent. We soon arrived at an area displaying an amusing sign, where we swapped our shoes for plastic flip flops.

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On stepping inside the palace, we were herded like a flock of sheep round a congested one-way system, weaving in and out of glorious rooms of a time gone by. Deciding to skip the history, I headed back outside, at the first opportunity, joining those in their Sunday best, to mark their royal visit; mainly from other parts of the sub-continent. Male visitors wore eye-catching hats and colourful turbans, wrapped around their head, to varying degrees of width, women looked elegant, swathed in striking silk saris, bodies adorned with gold jewelry.

The forehead markings and bindis, placed slightly above the centre of the eyes, is believed to be 'the third eye', the centre of wisdom and knowledge. They reflect cultural and social values in Hinduism, sending silent messages; a favoured deity, caste, if married, with a black dot identifying a widow. However, they are also commonly worn by children and single women. Parents may also mark their babies’ faces with bindis to ward off the evil eye.

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The Kerala posse

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Proud women of Rajasthan

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Day trippers from Bangalore

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India meets Scotland!

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The Pink Ladies from Chennai

Having brief chats with some younger guys, continuously asking if I would pose for selfies. I joked "I feel like a celebrity!", the answer, "You are to us!". However, I quickly realised this was an excellent photo opportunity, to capture some of the faces and diversity of this immense nation.

Folk from the likes of Kerala, Rajasthan, Bangalore and Chennai, all captured through the lens of my camera, to be eternally remembered. Oh, I nearly forgot the postcards with all that snapping! A sombre looking security guard directed me back to the shoe swap counter to buy the cards. So, on the way out I got a pack of 10 ancient looking cards, with faded pictures of a blurred palace, better than nothing.

Children at the palace

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I decided to grab a quick lunch before heading to Odanadi. I found a hole in the wall following my nose in the direction of that unmistakable, mouth-watering, smell of fresh curry. They sold thalis for an unbelievable 40 pence, I had my fill seated on a plastic stool in the sun, strategically trying to balance the aluminium tray on my knee.

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Thaili of the day![/center

‘Thali’ refers to the many different dishes served in small bowls arranged on a metal thali; translating as 'plate'.. It makes for a colourful spread, bursting with flavour. Along with a selection of curries, you quite often receive soup, chapati, extra spices, pickle. salad, dessert and fresh coconut milk. One time, when the thali was served on a banana leaf, waiters walked around, carrying buckets and ladles, topping up curries and handing out fresh chapati.

Following a few failed attempts, I eventually found an auto-rickshaw driver whose meter was working! Drivers quite often tell foreigners their meters are broken, to score a much higher fare. For those drivers, whose meters were working, I always gave a handsome tip. Hopefully, they will catch on! I was soon heading to Hootagalli on the outskirts of Mysore, where Odanadi is based. On arrival, the heavy, metal gate slowly creaked open and a beautiful face peeked out, “hello sister", what a lovely welcome.

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Stanly & Gordon

Sabia walked me up the stairs and down the long corridor to Stanly’s office, where I also met Gordon from Odanadi UK. Gordon was retired and having previously lived in India, decided to get involved as a trustee, raising funds for in the UK . Both men were lovely, and on saying I was surprised Odanadi was set up by men, Stanly just shrugged, ‘we are human beings'. Being humane, compassionate and committed to equal rights; was more important than gender. He was quite right.

He had been a renowned journalist, covering a story on HIV, when he came into contact with an ailing teenager, involved in prostitution. Having previously considered prostitution a 'choice'; his mind promptly changed on learning she had been 12 years old, when trafficked from a village in northern India and forced to work the streets. This was the catalyst for his pioneering work; first identifying girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, rescuing them and providing safe refuge, along with the variety of support necessary for them to heal and thrive.

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One of their posters

At that point, a girl of maybe 14 or 15 sauntered into the office. She was giggling and covering her mouth, as Stanly laughed and joked with her. This was Sava, who appeared to have a learning disability. When she left the room, Stanly told me her story. She was actually 21, but looked more like a child.

She had been found 8 years ago, at the age of 13, in an open sewer in a village far from Mysore. She had been left for dead after being gang raped. Having unknown her, Stanly was unsure whether she previously had developmental issues or if her behaviour was down to the effects of complex trauma. Odanadi had now been operating for 20 years, was well known and had recruited vigilantes in Mysore and villages further afield.

These brave volunteers would monitor newcomers into their community, if they believed there was a risk of trafficking and/or sexual violence, would contact Odanadi. Fortunate for Sava, vigilantes had alerted Stanly of her tragic situation and following a hospital admission, was now safe and happy.

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The accommodation block

Sabia appeared back at the office, offering me a tour around the centre. So off we went, with Sava sheepishly following, then after plucking up the courage, she grabbed the hand she was offered. It turned out Odanadi had created two incredible social enterprise projects, to enable the young women to develop employability skills and provide an income.

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The study room

First, we visited the beauty salon, greeted with a chorus of "hello sister". The young women rhymed off all the services on offer including massage, hairdressing, nails; in fact, all you would expect, set in professional surroundings. (Later when Stanly and Gordon had a meeting, I rushed back and had a massage and nail job – amazing)

That slightly sweet, distinctive smell, led us those training as bakers, whose customers were queuing up eagerly awaiting their orders. Sabia selected some freshly baked cakes and pastries, took me back to the office and went off to brew some coffee. Stanley then told me her story.

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This was from the Republic Day celebrations

At that time, there was a high-profile court case implicating two well-known Indian actors for the sexual assault of Sabia. She had been trafficked from Kerala and sexually exploited in a brothel just outside Mysore. Whilst many perpetrators visited, Sabia could not help but recognise the faces of these famous men.

Stanly explained members of the team get counter allegations for sexual assault when raiding brothels. He pointed out that 40% of politicians in India have criminal records, many for involvement in trafficking and/or sexual exploitation. Having so many powerful men desperate to protect their reputation, underpinned the allegations.

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The wee girl of one of the young women - some of whom arrive pregnant

In India, the legal system ensures every complaint received goes to court. There is no procurator fiscal department, in existence, to determine if enough evidence exists, before deciding whether a case should be heard. He was due at court the following week.

The coffee arrived at the same time as Kumudini, Stanly's wife, and their two adorable daughters. She was a Professor in Social Work and also ran a ground-breaking charitable organisation. A project that really grabbed my interest, was their work with the unfortunate Balmiki (manual scavenger) sub-caste. As an avid reader, although aware of the caste system and the devastating social effects faced by Dalits (untouchables), I was not familiar with the term 'manual scavenging' nor sub-castes.

Kumudini called attention to the discrimination and oppression inherent in the hierarchical, officially sanctioned Hindi caste system. The Balmiki community really are on the scrapheap; at the bottom of a very tall pile. They are considered inferior even within their own caste. The Dalits have their own pecking order, with the existence of 900 sub-divisions. Whilst all Dalits are considered ‘impure’ from birth, only the Balmiki carry out the degrading task of cleaning open sewers.
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In stark contrast, a Brahmin is a member of the highest caste in Hinduism. This is where Hindi priests are drawn, responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge. At the extreme end, ‘manual scavenging' is used to describe the manual removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines with hands, buckets or shovel. More common in rural India, due to the continued and strong resistance to using more hygienic toilet facilities. There are said to be over 1 million people in India carrying out this task, people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human.

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The harsh reality of the 'work'

It continues to this day, although officially prohibited by law in 1993, due to it being a caste-based, dehumanising practice. Kumudini set up the school in the area of a village, solely inhabited by Dalits. This social distance serves to ensure they cannot ‘pollute’ those from the 'purer’ castes.

Not only focusing on academic study, the charity strives to ensure children adopt an understanding of their self-worth and value, since they internalise and have come to accept how others treat and refer to them. Dalit means ‘oppressed’ or ‘broken to pieces’ and is the name caste members gave themselves in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, Kumudini was due to attend a conference in Delhi, so no opportunity to visit the school before I left India.

It was coming to the end of the day for Stanly and Gordon. Gordon invited us all back for a drink at his hotel. So off we went in the cars to a luxurious mansion of a place, the 'Green Hotel'.

Luckily, Stanly liked a cigarette, so asked the waiter for a 'smoking' table. Yes, even in the vast open air, in a country where an eyelash is not batted if a man pees in the street, they separated us lepers!

The others had a beer and I was soooo tempted! However, I decided on a real diet coke, along with the kids! Before we left Stanly invited me back to Odanadi on the Saturday for the 50th Republic Day celebrations. He did not need to ask twice.................

Posted by katieshevlin62 11:16 Archived in India Comments (8)

The Ayurveda Massage Experience!

Solo Travel

sunny 26 °C

The day had come to attend the hospital for the Ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic medicine ('Ayurveda' for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. It's based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit. Looking forward to this spiritual experience, I grabbed a rickshaw and was soon on my way to the JSS hospital. We headed out through a more rural side of Mysore, animals were grazing and the Chamundi Hills surrounded us in the background.

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So in I went and told the receptionist I had an appointment. Chaos ensued, no one was sure why I was there or who I had to see. After making a few frantic calls and repeatedly checking the diary, I offered Ganga's number since she made the appointment. Lots of young students were sitting around playing on their phones, looking relaxed, which didn't really fit with this very medical setting. In the meantime, the receptionist asked me to come behind the desk. There in full view, a doctor took my blood pressure and weight, whilst all the students looked up from their phones. I was then provided with a registration form that asked for details of either my father or husband. I was met with a confused look when I said I had neither. So they settled for my dead dad's details. A vague question that makes sense in the context of a patriarchal culture.

Two of the students then approached me and I followed them. I was taken to a room where a doctor in a white coat was sitting behind a desk. On asking me about my health, I tried to explain I was only here for a massage. He informed me in that case, I needed to visit the phlebotomist to take a blood test. The interns appeared back like magic and took me off to get tested for hepatitis. I was told this was necessary since there would be skin to skin contact. I felt a little relieved at this point since I had previously though hepatitis could only be contacted through blood. After a nail biting 30 minutes, I got the all clear.

I was then taken into a darkened room, with a huge pot bubbling away on a stove in the corner. Next to this was a large wooden box, with a hole on the top, that resembled an instrument of torture. Two therapists appeared and one handed me a pair of huge paper pants and said 'put these on only'. So I changed into the paper pants and emerged from the changing room quite embarrased. I had to quickly remind myself that they will be used to such sights. Albeit, probably not white ones.

Next I was led over to, what I can only compare to a snooker table, without the felt, but with the deep indents around the edges. Having been told to sit on the edge of the table, one of the therapists started to work on my head. I realised the bubbling pot contained the Ayurvedic oils, when I smelled the liquid being lavishly poured over my hair. She worked away on this area for a while before asking me to lie on my stomach. With a therapist at each side they worked in unison, splashing on oil whenever the notion took them. They also manouvered me into cross legged positions whilst lying on my side, which I presume is to work on the internal organs of the body. I began to feel a bit more relaxed, when they flipped me onto my back.

Then it started - the full body massage! Having had the 'full body' experience before, I never quite expected what happened next. Lets just say they didn't miss anything out. And there are two of them; so the therapists had one each. If that gives you any clue! At one point I opened my eyes, stunned. I was told 'close eye'. I had to try really hard not to let out a nervous laugh; so I thought of my dead dad. When they started pummeling away on my stomach, I reassured myself by thinking this was all for the benefit of my mind, body and spirit. I didn't tell them to stop. I didn't want to be that 'stroppy Westerner' who couldn't handle the full Ayurvedic experience. Surely, I would get the benefit. One of the therapists moved onto massage my face, this was divine. Then it was over, or so I thought. I was helped out of the snooker table, which was half filled with slippy oils.

She led me over to the insturment of torture and opened a door. This was the steam room. So in I went, my head was the only part of my body on display. I felt like I was in one of those magic shows, where they saw off your head or some sort of antiquated restraining devise like the 'stocks'. Meanwhile, the steam was belching out around my ears. After around 10 minutes she opened the door. Whilst getting back into my clothes, I considered keeping my paper pants as some sort of perverse souvenir. However, on dropping them in the bin, I reckoned no souvenir would be necessary to remember this experience. I left the room, rather dazed and soon met the young interns. They advised there was a canteen and since I had been there for around 3 hours, I decided to check out the lunch. However, since I was in a state of nirvana at this point, I ate but can't remember what. On leaving, I went over to the reception desk to pay 900 rupees (£9) for the experience. She assured that now I had my own appointment card, the next visit would be smooth.

Of course, the hospital doesn't only operate for massage, this would only be part of a treatment plan. I noticed there were wards and out-patient departments for rheumatism, cancer, dermatology and digestive complaints. By avoiding conventional medicine they believe harmonises more closely with the rhythms of nature and rebalancing our constitution through appropriate nutrition, herbs, exercise, relaxation and lifestyle choices. Together with Ayurvedic therapies, can help to restores health and counteract disease while improving vitality and happiness. Very interesting and I wondered how successful they were in curing diseases like cancer.

I headed out into the fresh air and took a seat whilst taking in the stunning scenery. Having never taken heroin, I could only imagine this could be the feeling taking the substance would leave you with. I felt high and so, so relaxed. I was told that I would be tired after the massage due to the release of toxins and not to plan anything for the rest of the day. I was urged to drink a lot of water to flush the toxins out. Eventually, I staggered down the hill and caught a rickshaw. I got dropped at the local shop and walked home armed with a huge bottle of water and some fresh fruit. The rest of the day was a wipeout!

Posted by katieshevlin62 01:54 Archived in India Comments (19)

Mysore palace and trafficked children.

Solo travel

26 °C

In the few days I had been in Mysore, I had been unable to find any postcards. Suppose not being a tourist hotspot this was understandable. I always send postcards to my aunt, who eagerly awaits the cards to arrive. However, Ganga informed me the only place to buy postcards was at Mysore Palace. I had passed the great palace each time I went into town; it was listed as the number one sight to visit in Mysore. However, not being one particularly interested in this side of tourism, I had previously decided not to visit. I was meeting Stanley from Odanadi at 1 o'clock and decided to pop into the palace to buy some postcards.

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The bus dropped me outside the palace, an area that also hosted several small temples. The smell of incense was in the air and people were praying to a range of Hindi gods. I was told that at exam time, temples to Ganesh are particularly busy since he is the deva of intelligence and wisdom. After buying my ticket I entered the grounds and followed the crowd. We were soon to arrive at a counter, with an amusing sign, where we changed our shoes for plastic flip flops.

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I entered into the palace and we were herded around like sheep into the different glorious rooms, of a time gone past. I was soon to learn that the other visitors were tourists from other parts of India. I had short conversations with some younger tourists, who continously asked for selfies. I joked to one guy "I feel like a celebrity!", he replied "You are to us". However, I also quickly realised this was an excellent photo opportunity where I could capture some of the faces and diversity of this immense nation.

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Folk who had travelled from the likes of Kerala, Rajastan, Bangalore and Mangalore all captured with my camera. Oh, I nearly forgot the postcards with all that snapping. I asked a guard where I could buy the cards and it turned out to be beside the shoe swap counter. So got a pack of 10 ancient looking cards of the palace and its inhabitants and was on my way.

I decided to grab a quick lunch before heading to Odanadi. I soon found a little cafe serving thali's for four rupees and had my fill.

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Following a few failed attempts, I eventually got a rickshaw driver whose meter was working! Drivers quite often tell foreigners their meters are broken, to get a higher fare. For drivers whose meter's were working, I always gave a good tip. Hopefully they will catch on! Soon I was on my way to Hootagalli on the outskirts of Mysore, where Odanadi is based. On arrival, the gate was opened by a lovely young woman called Sabhi, who addressed me as "sister". She accompanied me to Stanleys office where I also met Gordon from the UK. Gordon explained he was retired and having previously lived in India, decided to get involved as a trustee, raising funds in the UK for the organisation. Both men were lovely and on commenting that I was surprised Odanadi was set up by men, Stanley commented they are 'human beings'. Being humane, compassionate and commited to equal rights; is more important than gender. He is quite right. He explained he was previously a journalist and was covering a story that brought him into contact with a young woman involved in prostitution. Having previously considered 'prostitution' to be a 'choice'; he changed his mind when he learned she was 14 years old when trafficked from a village in north India and forced to work the streets. This was to be the start of his work, first identifying trafficked children, rescuing them and offering the range of support necessary for them to heal.

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At this point a girl of maybe 14 or 15 came into the office. She was giggling and covering her mouth. Stanley laughed and joked with her. She was called Seva and appeared to have a learning disability. When Seva left, Stanley told me her story. She was actually 21 years old but looked much, much younger. Seva had been found 9 years ago in an open sewer in a village outside Mysore. She had been left for dead after being gang raped. Having unknown Seva, Stanley was unsure whether she previously had developmental issues or if her presentation was the effects of complex trauma. Odanadi had been operating for 20 years, was well known and had recruited vigilanties in villages surrounding Mysore and further afield. These brave people would monitor newcomers to their villages and if they beleived there was a risk of trafficking, they could contact Stanley.

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Sabhi appeared at the office asking if I would like a tour around the centre. So off we went, with Seva soon following, then after plucking up the courage, she took my hand. It turned out Stanley had developed two social enterprises, to enable the girls to learn skills and to provide them with an income. First, we visited the beauty parlour where I was greeted by a chorus of "hello sister". A wide range of services were on offer including massage, hairdressing, nails; in fact, all the services you would expect, all in professional surroundings. A sweet unmistakable smell led us to the young women who were training as bakers and whose customers were queuing up waiting for their orders. Sabhi selected some freshly baked cakes and pastries, took me back to the office and went off to brew some coffee. On asking, Stanley then told me Sabhi's story. There was currently a high profile court case implicating two famous Indian actors in the sexual exploitation of Sabhi. She had been trafficked to Mysore and was sexually exploited in a brothel in the city. Whilst many perpetrators visited the brothel, Sabhi recognised these famous men. Stanley explained members of his team often receive counter allegations when raiding brothels. Surprisingly, he pointed out that 40% of politicians in India have criminal records; some of these are for involvement in trafficking or sexual exploitation. Therefore, having so many powerful people involved underlies the counter allegations. Stanley and his team are often accused of sexually assaulting women in brothels. He explained in India the system means that every allegation goes through the court. No Procurator Fiscal there determining whether there is enough evidence for cases to be heard or not. He was due at court the following week.

The coffee arrived at the same time as Kumudini, Stanley's wife. She is a Professor in Social Work but also does charity work. One project I was really interested in, was her work with the unfortunate manual scavenger people. She explained a little about the Hindu varna (caste) system where the 'scavengers' are a part of the lowliest group of untouchables. Whilst there a hundreds of sub-division and communities within the system, the 'scavengers' really are at the very bottom of the tall heap. They live outside cities, far away from others, as it is beleived they will 'pollute' others. The work you do in India depends of your varna. A Brahmin is a member of the highest varna in Hinduism. They are from the varna from which Hindu priests are drawn, and are responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge. Manual scavenging is the term used for the manual removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines with hands, buckets or shovels. It continues to this day although officially prohibited by law in 1993 due to it being varna-based, dehumanising practice. Kumudini set up a small school in one of the areas. Not only is this academic, she also ensures children get an understanding of their self-worth and value, since they internalise how others treat/refer to them. Hopefully before I leave I can accompany her to the school and meet some of the people who live there.

It was coming to the end of the day for Stanley and Gordon. Gordon invited everyone back for a drink at his hotel. So off we went in the car to the beautiful 'Green Hotel'. Luckily Stanley liked a cigarette, so we asked the waiter for a 'smoking' table. Yes, even in the open air, with huge spaces they separated us lepers! The others had a beer and I was soooo tempted! However, I decided on a real diet coke! Before we left Stanley invited me back to Odanadi on Saturday for the Independance day celebrations. He didn't need to ask twice.................

Posted by katieshevlin62 01:37 Archived in India Comments (10)

First day impressions!

Solo travel

sunny 25 °C
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Mysore is a city tucked away in India's southwestern state of Karnataka. Quite often skipped by tourists, it is overshadowed by Bangalore, the capital of the state and Mangalore, well known for it's pristine beaches. Having only three weeks, I decided against visiting the next state south, Kerala, to concentrate my time exploring Mysore, a city of just under a million inhabitants.

I awoke that first morning in Mysore with my host Ganga gently rattling the door.

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Breakfast was ready and waiting to be served downstairs. I stumbled down to their house and met her husband Cari. I soon learned he was a Private Investigator. Being quite the question asker, I soon got an insight into his work over a mouthwatering masala dosa, fruit and plentiful fresh coffee. It was a long, slow breakfast that continued out on the patio with Cari, whilst Ganga began to cook lunch for her family. No microwaves or ready meals here, everything is cooked from scratch with locally sourced fresh vegetables bought daily from local markets. The family are vegetarian in line with the Hindu tradition which spreads into the cities restaurants. Cari practised yoga daily and on learning my interest, arranged to call his yoga teacher friend for details. Many Westerners arriving in Mysore, stay in Gokalum an area famous for yoga courses and teacher training. Quite often with tourst prices! I consiously decided not to base there since I enjoy meeting local people and learning about their cities and lives. Siddarhati Layout was to be my home for three weeks and as I was soon to learn, not many Westerners passed through.

I decided to go into the city that mornng and took the bus. I was surprised to find the fare was only 5 rupees, so about 5p. So off I went, staring excitedly out the bus window waiting for my first glimpses of Mysore. There had been a recent festival in the city and all the cows roaming the streets were decorated and their white patches were transformed into yellow. Red horns, yellow patches! It struck me that Mysore wasn't as chaotic as the other Indian cities I visited many moons ago. Well they do say the south is more laid back. The bus zoomed past temples, people, statues, Mysore palace, everything encapsulated in a myriad of colour. I was soon at the bus station and decided to wander and familiarise myself with the city.

The first interaction I had were with two nuns. I met them at the traffic lights and they both smiled sweetly at me.

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Exchanging some small talk, I asked where I could find a cafe. Whilst they led me to a my caffeine fix, Mary told me she was from Delhi but had moved to Mysore to join the convent. On reaching a cafe we said out goodbyes. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I quite fancied sitting outside with my coffee. Although it seemed that perhaps cafe culture didn't exist in Mysore. So I decided to grab a take away coffee and find a seat somewhere. I crossed the road and discovered I was outside the centuries old Devaraji market. I took a pew and smiled as I gazed at the amazing sights all around. People selling their wares in the blazing sun, some protected by umbrellas. I reluctantly went into my bag to take out a cigarette. This reluctance was mirrored by seeing no-one else smoking; anywhere! I was later to learn it was illegal to smoke in public. Yes, in India, where 'Keep Smiling' recognised you can piss, but not kiss in public! So here you can piss, but not kiss or smoke!

My previous travel experience of local markets are that they are hustling bustling places. So I braced myself prior to entering Devaraji market, only to find it almost absent of customers. I considered it was probably busy during mornings, by afternoon people had most likely bought ingredients for meals and were already cooking. The stall holders were selling their wares - fruit, sandalwood, silk, vegetables, flowers, coloured powder for tikkas, garlic etc. All an explosion of colour and aromas. They have so many varieties of banana's they have their own section in the market. Surprisingly, the stall holders were quite conservative in their approach since nobody tried to entice you to buy their goods. After all this was more of an everday market as opposed to a tourist trap.

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This having distinct districts for different services or consumer items could be unique to India. During my time in Mysore, I remember walking through what can only be described as the 'recycled cardboard' district, then the 'engineering' district, followed by the pungent but eye-opening 'fish' market and an area that sold only electrical household items. It means that consumers can save time by shopping for an item in a concentrated area. Near the bus station, I passed through an area that I found amusing. A row of men sat behind typewriters, waiting for customers.

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Basically anything can be bought in Mysore!

After spending a good few hours roaming round the city, I decided to go back to base camp and check it out. So armed with my 5 rupees, I headed to the bus station. Going back, the bus was very busy with school children heading home and I was quite the star attraction! On reaching my stop, I spotted a little roadside cafe with men scattered around on plastic stools, bent over chatting and smoking. Yes smoking! I approached what was to become my regular 'coffee spot' and met Ravi, the owner. On perching on a stool, I was again the main attraction, being white but mainly, since women never frequented such places. They are in the kitchen cooking. I soon got chatting with Krishna and Raj, two friendly ex-policemen who were to become my coffee buddies.

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On asking if I had anything from Scotland, I pulled out some work pens and lollipops! They were greatly received! They recommended the 'Dosa Place' for dinner and off I went for spinach dosa's and pineapple juice.

Back at base camp, I met Cari and he informed I was off to yoga at 6.30am the next morning. He would take me round to a local class. I had also mentioned this morning that I was keen to visit an NGO, especially one who supported women; being in line with my work and interests. He had arranged for me to visit an orphange and his friend Mumta would put me in touch with other organisations. Ganga also knew I was interested in getting a massage and recommended the 'Ayurveda Hospital' who I would contact tomorrow. Some of the benefits of staying with local people, is dipping into their knowledge and contacts. As I was heading up to my quarters, Ganga handed me the 'Mysore Star' newspaper and pointed out the section that lists local events today and tomorrow. This was going to be a very busy three weeks................................

Posted by katieshevlin62 23:05 Archived in India Comments (7)

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