Spirit infuses every breath, every step, and every life in this magical land. Most of our journey will take us through Kerala, India’s southernmost state. Although it will offer a culture shock from the Western world, in my experience, Kerala has been the friendliest, cleanest region of India, with epicurean offerings that will blow your taste buds away! Indians refer to Kerala as “God’s Own Country” for its rich, natural beauty and fertile, lush landscapes.
I will meet you at the airport in Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala, which literally translates to “coconut.” The city is vibrant and typically Indian, with women clad in traditional sarees or salwar kameez. The streets bustle with buses, cars, three-wheeled rickshaws, and even cows; this is a brief introduction to the Real India!
Kanyakumari is a popular Indian pilgrimage site, and receives its namesake from the goddess Devi Kanya Kumari Temple. Situated at the southern tip of India, it is said to mark the spot where three bodies of water converge. This is a special corner of the globe, as you can watch the sunrise and sunset from the same beach. The town also proffers a 95-foot statue of the Thiruvalluvar jutting out of the sea, which hearkens to a story of virtue giving rise to wealth and pleasure.
Kanyakumari is a popular Indian pilgrimage site as well, and receives its namesake from the goddess Devi Kanya Kumari Temple. This day trip, and all our jaunts through the Motherland, will be a mélange of public and private transportation. Public transport, while not the most luxurious of options, is perhaps the best opportunity to “rub elbows” with the locals (literally)!
The Sivananda Yoga Ashram is nestled in the hills surrounding Trivandrum. This is where the true immersion into traditional yoga lifestyle becomes manifest, with two yoga classes, two guided meditation sits, and chanting daily. Beginner and intermediate levels of yoga asana classes are offered.
These classes, while two hours in duration, also incorporate approximately six savasana resting poses throughout class, and plenty of pranayama (breathwork) so the physical practice is accessible to varioius levels of experience.
Each person is given a “karma yoga job” to assist in the functioning of the ashram, which can range from cleaning to serving tea. The ashram also has a juice/snack shack as well as a little gift shop with trinkets such as mala beads, incense, neti pots, and other Eastern knickknacks imbued with the ashram’s pure yogic vibration.
Though it’s called a “Yoga Vacation,” and you will certainly have ample opportunity to rest your mind and soothe your spirit, most activities are mandatory. There is a pristine lake across the road, although alligators do most of the swimming there!
Please note: Attendance at all yoga classes and satsangs is mandatory.
Varkala is a beautiful beach just north of the ashram, with handicraft shops and restaurants perched on a scenic cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea. You can find statues of Hindu deities, incense, clothing, and trinkets galore, as people come from all over India and Nepal to sell their goods.
While the water might look inviting, the currents can be quite powerful; furthermore, Indian men are not accustomed to seeing flesh in front of their eyes, and exposing more than knees and elbows here is an acute reminder to the freedoms that women enjoy in the West.
The backwaters have been dubbed the “Venice of India,” and for good reason. With 500 miles of meandering canals, lagoons, and rivers, the island-like neighborhoods of Kerala’s backwaters have preserved age-old customs amidst an idyllic backdrop of coconut trees, kingfisher birds, and cinnamon trees.
We’ll stay for a night on a traditionally-inspired houseboat, and allow the tranquility and friendliness of the backwaters and its people to seep into our cells.
Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, is host to many lively celebrations throughout the year. The largest festival, Pooram, takes place each spring, and features fireworks, artists, and elephants galore!
While our trip won’t coincide with this festival, temple elephants can be spotted around town, sometimes adorned with gold-plated headpieces and colorful lotus flowers chalked onto their trunks. Many sacred temples dot the landscape of this traditionally Indian, road-less-traveled city.
An authentic trip to India would not be complete without an overnight train ride, where we hop on the opportunity to traverse the terrain of South India, through smaller towns, fields, and rivers… taking it all in as the subconinent passes us by. The trains have different “tiers” or “classes.” We travel in 3-Tier Air Conditioned class, with seats that fold down into sleeper beds. Servers come through the train serving food and chai (milk/sugar/tea – listed in order). We typically arrive in Mumbai late at night and take a taxi to our place of rest.
Mumbai, India’s largest and most vibrant city, sits at the junction of South and North India, making it a cultural melting pot of sights, sounds, and tastes from every corner of the country. With over 21 million “Mumbaikers,” this city has a distinctly urban atmosphere and an unwavering buzz of pandemonium. Mumbai’s antiquated atmosphere and city bustle offer a small glimpse of the expanse of India beyond Kerala. The sights and shopping are endless, with the Gateway of India port, coast-walk, Ghandi museum, and UNESCO World Heritage Site CST Railway Station.
This concludes our trip!
Some adventurers choose to extend their stay to visit other parts of India on their own, having two weeks of acclimation under their belts, while most people head back to the comforts of home and take several days, weeks, or even months to wrap their heads and hearts around the trip (though this is a journey that will live in your soul forever).
“My India trip was truly amazing, from start to finish. This was 110% worth it, and I’d recommend Heather’s trip to anybody wanting to experience the true heart and soul of India.”