In Mysore, I stayed in the residential area of Gokulam where many people from all over the world came to practice Ashtanga yoga. K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga started his school in Gokulam 70 years ago and now his grandson was teaching at it. As a beginner, it wouldn’t be possible to practice at his school but I heard there’re many good classes around the area.
Sonder, the hostel which I stayed in was extremely clean and comfortable. From a good breakfast to a fully equipped kitchen, it had everything a good hostel needs. Such places were very rare in India. The owners Pinky and Deshik were extremely hospitable and I also met many nice travelers here. The day I arrived, they organized a little Christmas party with a secret Santa gift exchange. Another day, they took us out for a little tour to an organic chocolate factory. I was happy to come to the right place.
Few days later, I found a good yoga school where I went to practice in the morning and afternoon. The young teacher there taught me in Mysore style which is giving adjustments while students practice at their own pace. He gave me corrections pointing out exactly when to use a certain muscle and I could feel the improvement each day. Gokulam had a few very posh cafes offering things like vegan curry set or yogi juice so sometimes I went to experience the yogi feel sitting among cool practitioners.
A week later New Years Eve came at the hostel. Since I had nothing to do, I offered to house-sit while Deshik went out to celebrate with his family. Indian sisters from New Delhi whom I shared the dormitory with, suggested we fly paper balloons at midnight so I joined together with other German girls. Delhi sisters wanted footage of every action they made, so they asked me to film everything on my camera. I thought, “Wait, this is my New Years too!” but decided to take their request as they fed me delicious food their mother made from back home. We flew 3 paper balloons over half an hour and humbly celebrated the opening of 2016.
When I woke up next morning, it was another usual day except for the fact that the maid of the hostel dressed her hair with fresh jasmine flowers and the streets were covered with beautiful chalk drawing. I felt a small homesick that day because New Years is the most celebrated day in Japan. It is like Christmas for us, preparations start weeks ago, families gather dressed up and enjoy a big feast. New Year’s Day feels so brand new and fresh; in the bright blue sky and crisp air everything seems possible this year.
India really lacked that, not just because it isn’t celebrated but it’s just another midsummer day. To cover this up, I decided to visit Bangalore, a big city 3 hrs to the east just for the weekend to eat lunch at a fancy Japanese restaurant. I needed to celebrate it somehow.
Even on New Year’s day, yoga classes ran in normal schedule. After afternoon class, when I tried to pay tuition for the second week, the receptionist gave me a bad surprise. In this school, they had a discounted rate if you continued longer. Since they didn’t accept any drop-in classes or observation, I wasn’t sure to pay a full 2 week amount in advance. Therefore I asked if it is ok to pay for the first week and pay the balance if I wanted to continue for the second week. The receptionist had surely said yes, but today he was asking me to pay the same amount as the first week.
I was upset. It is only a $15 difference, but I didn’t like how he dealt with me; his excuses were unreasonable. He said that there are many students so he needed to arrange the class in advance and therefore can’t afford students changing schedules, but there were in fact only 5 people in the entire class. At the end he criticized me for arguing over such a small amount of money, saying it is nothing. “If it is nothing for you” I said, “Why do you even ask me for that?” I was so upset that I walked out of the school in steaming red face.
On the street I spotted my teacher at the chai stall and explained what happened. While explaining, I got so emotional that I started to cry. I thought I finally found the right place for my practice. Why does it need to be ruined like this? He said that he will contact the school’s principal about this matter and told me to come to class as usual next Monday.
Trying to refresh my mind, I packed my small backpack for a weekend in Bangalore from tomorrow. I still didn’t know if I wanted to practice another week at that school. I let time decide. When I was just about to fall asleep that night, the Delhi sisters came back making loud noise in the room. It was a real nightmare to share a dorm with Indian people because they weren’t used to hostel manners. They would turn on the light to search their bag in the middle of the night and talk in normal voice when everyone else was asleep. Although annoyed, I couldn’t get angry at them since they had no bad intention of doing so.
Next morning I woke up at 6am to catch an early train. With the sound of lifting up my backpack, I woke the Delhi sisters up. “Good morning, Satomi!” they said aloud in the silent dorm. “Shh!” I said. I explained to them I was visiting Bangalore for the weekend. “But then, what about the pictures? We are leaving today!” The older sister claimed, as if it was an emergency. “You can give me your e-mail and I’ll send it to you”, I whispered. The younger sister, who didn’t hear what I said, started shouting “but I want my pictures! Where are my pictures!? I need them!” I felt furious. These girls were the last thing I wanted to handle on a busy morning. They managed to write down their email address and as soon as they finished, I snatched the paper and ran out to the street to catch a rickshaw.
It took a long time to find one. It seems they’re never around when you actually need them. Arriving at the station, I dashed to the ticket counter. “One ticket to Bangalore please!” I shouted. The lady answered “Ma’am the Bangalore train has already arrived! You must run to catch it! Give me 30 rupees, now! Run, run, run!” With her emergency-like expression, I ran in full speed pushing my way through local women walking in cow’s pace. The train was to leave from the last platform. As soon as I spotted my platform, I saw the train moving already.
“Oh no!” I screamed inside. If I miss this one I need to wait for another 3 hours! I went down the stairs in full speed and raced with the moving train and grabbed on to the metal bar outside like James Bond. Next moment, I jumped on the train, strongly landing on my ass as I fell inside the train. It was all unconscious, only my craving for Japanese food kept on driving me like this. One could call me the ultimate foodie.
From the impact and scratching of metal, parts of my trousers ripped and I was bleeding a tiny amount. The Indians surrounded me, completely astonished to see this Asian girl coming out from nowhere. “Oh my god…what is she doing?” the confused crowd looked at each other. Out of shame, I didn’t even examine my leg and slipped into the compartments. Deep dark faces kept staring at me from everywhere. I should never do this again, I thought to myself. Even though I always see locals doing this, it is really dangerous; I patted the huge bruise all over my left leg. Then about 30 seconds later, the worst thing happened. The train stopped completely. It turned out that the train was just arriving to Mysore station!
I couldn’t believe this. Suddenly I understood the astonishment of the Indians when I appeared on the train. They must have been like “What the hell?! She boarded the train before it has arrived!” I can feel that my face was burning red and anticipated until the gallery lost interest in me. I really wanted to kill that woman from the ticket booth.
In Bangalore, I headed straight to a Japanese restaurant and had my New Year meal which I risked my life for. It was totally average but tasted so special when living on curry everyday for 2 months. There is pretty much nothing to see in Bangalore but it’s a good place to have a taste of civilization. I visited shopping centers to replace old underwear and bought new items like a good sunscreen and a bamboo face towel.
When I came back to Mysore on Sunday afternoon, I still didn’t feel like going back to the same school. All other schools were either too expensive or long term so I decided to move on with my journey to Kerala, the state in the south. All the friendly travelers who I met at this hostel had left already and the new group arrived which made me feel out of space.
I said goodbye to the kind owners, one of the most genuine and sweetest people I met in India and headed over to the bus station. It was a 10 hour ride to Kerala. This time the bus was a real tourist bus, with only 2 seats on each side which reclined a bit to the back. Something normal like this seemed very luxurious after taking that prison bus from Goa. Luckily no one sat next to me so I got to sleep in extra comfort.
The only problem with this bus was that the driver hardly made any stops for a toilet break. After there was one at midnight, there was none. When I woke up next morning to a full bladder worsened by AC, the bus had already arrived in the outskirts of Kochi, my first destination city in Kerala state. I hesitated for about half an hour because there was no place the bus could stop, but it was turning into an emergency situation so I walked up to the driver and said I needed to go to the toilet. He looked at me in a half understanding look, stopped the bus and opened the door. As I stepped outside, I heard a sound of doors closing behind my back and the next moment the bus took off with my entire luggage.
I was speechless. Though, fortunately and unfortunately this wasn’t the first time the bus left me (last time in Greece) so I didn’t panic. First things first, empty my bladder. There were no shops or cafes open, so I opened the rusted gate into an abandoned, jungle themed restaurant called “Animal Kingdom” or something and peed in open air next to an elephant statue.
Then, I caught a rickshaw on the street and drove 11km to the bus terminal. Luckily my bus was still there with my luggage in the trunk. When I asked the driver in a furious tone, why he had run off when I only wanted to go to the toilet, he put a big smile on his face and said “No problem!” I really hated this country sometimes.
I shared a rickshaw to go to Fort Kochin, the main touristic area with Olga, a Spanish lady studying Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda basing herself at the Amma ashram in the south. I was also planning to visit this ashram later so we exchanged information.
In Fort Kochin, I found the cheapest guesthouse in the back alleys for just 300 rs (5 USD) per night. It looked clean during the day, but at night a gigantic cockroach appeared in the hall way and the owner shocked me by smashing it with his bare feet and kept continuing to walk on the full carpet floor without washing it. I almost cried but told myself I needed to get used to this if I wanted to stay in India. I slept here for 2 nights.
With still a shock from the bus incident in the morning, I walked around by the harbor of Fort Kochin passing the Chinese fishermen nets. Suddenly, I saw one tourist’s face which seemed familiar. After few moments I realized it was Thomas, a German biker who was hosted by the same couchsurfing host as me in Iran in the autumn of 2014. I remembered his face well because despite talking for just 10 minutes, he was the only foreigner I met In Iran. “Hey, do you remember me?” He looked at me very suspiciously as if I was a scammer (indeed it’s a typical scammer phrase) but after 5 minutes he said he remembered me.
That was how Thomas and I became travel buddies for Kerala. When I explained him the train incident to Bangalore, he laughed out loud and then in a serious tone said I was lucky that I didn’t fall in between the platform and train and had died. …I never thought about that! From then on, I feel traumatic whenever I see moving trains.
(Last picture is from a funeral march I saw in Mysore. Following a band of drums and bells, the dead is carried on a carriage decorated with flowers sitting up as if she was still alive. A cloth wrapped around her neck was attached to the back of the chair preventing her from falling down. A very unique custom in South India.)