Stepping out of the airport in Bengaluru (Bengalore), I braced myself. From what people had told me, it was not going to smell very good. I found myself pleasantly surprised. My nose took in the smells of spices and flowers. There was definitely some smog, but the smell of the area was entirely appealing.
The bus ride from the airport to the ashram was a different story. I sat on the bus with knuckles white from gripping the seat in front of me. Lanes appear to be more of a suggestion than a rule, and the suggestion is often not taken. There could be two cars in neighbouring lanes and another car, scooter, or motorcycle would drive right in between as if it was a complete normal thing to do. I guess it is. I stopped breathing a few times and then stopped looking out the window all together. Despite the driving chaos, I did not see one episode of road rage or one accident.
Arriving at the ashram, we soon found our rooms and made our way to the dining hall. The accommodations were basic with a hard bed and hot water available only between 4 and 6 am. The food was basic as well with the same meals being offered everyday. The yoga was less alignment focused than I am used to, however the meditation sublime, as was the silence.
When I signed up for the silent retreat months before leaving for India, I was nervous about it. I had been wanting to try a silent retreat for a few years, but I had some reservations about whether or not I’d manage. Turns out, I’m quite good at keeping my mouth shut. I actually really enjoyed not talking. Ever since I learned to talk, I haven’t stopped, at least not for any significant amount of time. There is always small talk to make or things we say just for the sake of saying something. During this time, there was none of that. It was extremely refreshing. I did “cheat” a few times with some notes and gestures, but it didn’t happen often. I really noticed a difference in the quality of my meditation and in my state of mind. I understand why monks spend so much time meditating. It really does make a difference if you want to keep a calm mind.
After the ashram experience, we explored more of southern India. We went to Mysore and Kerala. The food was really tasty. Seeing the tea plantations high up in the mountains was fascinating and the cardamom tea with milk was delicious. I’ve been trying to recreate it at home, but I can’t seem to get it exactly right. The houseboat tour we took of the backwaters of Kerala was my favourite part of the entire trip. The scenery was beautiful and staying on the boat was really fun. As we were listening to music and dancing to ‘Despacito’, an ice cream boat came right up to our boat. That is really the stuff dreams are made of. I will miss all of the fabulous colours, the head movements, and the feeling of being in a completely different world.