A Travellerspoint blog

April 2019

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)

At the airport - solo travel.

Meeting people on the way to India.

sunny 22 °C
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They say every journey starts with one step. I stepped out of my flat in Glasgow on 16/1/19 at 10am and arrived at my destination, in Mysore, on 17/1/19 at 4pm. Give or take some local time changes, that would have made it around 10pm UK time. This was quite a long journey across Europe and into the Middle East, that ended in Dubai. Having changed over previously in Dubai, I recognised it to be a busy hub with passengers criss crossing the globe in a range of directions, often over great distances. I have a habit of lookng at the departure boards and I'm often in awe of the destinations listed. I wouldn't be surprised if there were citizens from most parts of the world passing through. Malaysian nuns in white habits and unique veils; Arab women in full burqa and metal face masks, that looked like the beaks of a hawk and monks clad in orange and yellow. Then there were those whom I had no idea of the land they belonged, being in national dress I didn't recognise. Although a range of nationalities crossed my path on this first leg of the journey. (Unfortunately, I didn't want to invade people's privacy so didn't take photo's).

Mary and her daughter Mirin had lived just outside Glasgow for 10 years. She was a nurse and worked in a nursing home. She was going back to Mumbai for a family wedding. She was proud to be a Christian. Next was Maryam, who I met in the deeply oppressive but much awaited smoking room. She lived in Dubai and was on her way to Fiji via Hong Kong. She was a very assertive Senior Sales Executive for a hotel chain. Maryam described herself as Egyptian/Turkish but had lived all over with her family. Her work takes her to foreign lands inspecting hotels. On asking for her favorite destination she replied Beirut, without hesitation. She went into detail about the city, food, people and dispelled the myth that it was in any way dangerous. She compared it to the the troubles in Northern Ireland in the latter parts of the 20th century. So in the same way that risks of terrorism have been greatly lessened in the likes of Belfast, it's a similar situation in Beirut. Yes you can never be sure, but you can't be sure even in your own hometown. Maryam's insight and passion for the city led me to book a flight to Beirut in October.

I don't know why, but I was taken aback when Maryam disclosed she had a child. Her daugher is 9 and she described herself as not 'the typical mother'. She has an African nanny; who she described as "kind". Being fed up with Filipino nannies, she asked the agency for an African one, when she had a vacancy. I hope she treats her good. Then there was the Malaysian guy Tony, puffing away frantically. He has worked in a hotel in Country Clare, Ireland for 26 years. This was his first time home in 5 years.

All that smoking made me thirsty! On handing the overpriced bottle of water to the cashier, he soon told me my card was declined. Although I had informed the bank about Mysore, somehow I had forgotten to mention Dubai. Thirsty and starving. Although I did manage to buy cigarettes as I had a Scottish twenty pound note. So not all bad. Anyway it was time for my flight to Bangalore. From there, I would then take a coach to Mysore.

I slept sporadically during the fight. They woke me with a hearty breakfast. I couldn't help notice that those Emirates hostesses are so beautiful and graceful. Their designer uniforms really make you feel you are going to an exotic land. I learned from Katya, that the airline recruit from all over the world. Katya was from the territory of Siberia, spoke perfect English and lived in Dubai. Having always wanted to travel she applied to be an air hostess and was obviously successful. I asked if her parents were proud of her, she smiled and said no.

When the plane landed in Bangalore, I soon set about finding the coach station to get to Mysore. However, before that I bought some currency since Indian rupee is not avialable in the UK. The journey would take between 4-6 hours, traffic dependant and cost 800 rupee's - around £8. A few hours into the journey and we stopped for lunch. This was my first taste of authentic Indian food of the trip and I had a spicy thaili. On arriving in Mysore I looked around for the pre-paid auto stand, which I had been told to keep my eye out for. A guy from Sussex approached me, showed me the ropes and I was soon on my way. When I arrived at my host's house, she greeted me with a lovely coffee and we soon got chatting.

For those of us who travel, we quite often overlook the actual journey to our destination - well I do anyway. One of the reasons I travel is that I love meeting new people. This got me thinking of all those I have met on the way. So many people, travelling for a range of reasons and getting a little glimpse into their lives. For me this is all part of the learning and inspiration process!

Posted by katieshevlin62 04:01 Comments (6)

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