Blog & News


A Little Self Care Goes a Long Way

How to nourish ourselves during Winter

Ever wonder why your skin, eyes, scalp, or ears get dry in the Winter? Why there is so much static in the air, or why your nasal passages feel almost crispy? For those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere, especially in cooler climates, we are shoulder deep in Vata season, that stretch between mid fall and late winter, and here in the North country that means dry, brisk air, cold winds, and shifty temperatures: one day it’s 25 degrees and snowing, and the next it’s -7 in the sunshine under a gorgeous blue sky. One day I’m looking out at a blizzard, swirls of snow traveling like mini tornadoes over the field, my windows rimmed with ice crystals; the next day the sky is robin’s egg blue, and it’s blustery! Every once in awhile the house shakes with a tremendous gust of wind, and then a minute later the air seems to be silent. Bottom line: Vata season is changeable, and that makes it challenging for us to stay balanced in body, mind, and spirit!

A quick Ayurveda primer that will help here:

What are the 3 doshas? This is actually a bigger conversation than I want to get into today, so let’s keep it simple: Ayurveda, which is the traditional medical system of India, has delineated three categories of fundamental regulatory principles of the body, mind, and behavior. These categories are called doshas; they are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The word dosha, at its roots, means imbalance or “that which can cause problems.” Today we will look at the first of these.

Vata dosha is comprised of ether (space) and air (wind), and its qualities are: cold, mobile, dry, flowing, spacious, and light. It governs movement in the body, including the flow of our breath and blood, it is responsible for our creativity, and it plays a large roll in nervous system function. So for anyone who has been experiencing insomnia, a burst of creativity, dryness in the colon, anxiety or worry, or rough, flaky skin, this post is for you!

Even though balancing Vata can be challenging, adopting a self-care routine can help us feel grounded, nurtured, more hydrated, and calmer. Who couldn’t use at least one or two of those benefits?

Here are my top 5 self care practices for Vata season:

1. Hot Lemon Water: Drinking hot water with lemon first thing in the morning is warming, detoxifying, and helps to move the bowels early in the day. Lemons are well known for their high levels of Vitamin C which boosts our immune system; they aid in digestion, and they are high in potassium, which supports brain and nervous system health, and so much more!

HOW TO: Boil a cup of water and add the juice of 1/4 to 1/2 organic lemon. Sip slowly first thing in the morning before taking any food.

Enjoy the many benefits! I suggest brushing teeth after lemon water, which is acidic and can affect tooth enamel.

2. Oral Care: Brushing and flossing go without saying for most of us, but if you can add tongue scraping and oil swishing, then you have an amazing routine that can help eliminate bad breath, clear the tongue of that gunky junk, support dental hygiene, and even whiten teeth!

HOW TO: Brush and floss as normal, first thing in the morning. Gently scrape your tongue with a stainless steel tongue scraper (or you can use the edge of a spoon), and notice what kind of gunk (if any) is on your tongue. The more gunk, the more junk there is in your digestive and elimination systems, and perhaps even in other tissues of your body, which often shows up as inflammation. After running the scraper gently over your tongue several times to remove the icky coating, rinse under water. Repeat if needed. Clean scraper and store with your toothbrush to remind you to use it every day!

Now for the oil swish: Measure out a tablespoon of sesame oil and swish it in the mouth for about 10 minutes. If this is challenging at first, do 5 minutes, then increase the time. Spit the spent oil in the trash can. If you don’t have sesame oil, olive or coconut will do, but you might need to warm the coconut oil, as it begins to solidify below 70 degrees F.

NOTE: I sometimes scrape my tongue before I drink my hot water, then I go back and do the rest of my oral care, post lemons. You do not need to brush after oil swishing–it’s actually supportive to tooth enamel.

3. Self oil massage: Called Abhyanga in Ayurveda, self oil massage is a wonderful way to hydrate and nourish the skin from the outside in, to take peaceful time for ourselves away from the stress of the day, to calm our nerves and just be, and to enjoy the overall grounding effect the oil has on our body and mind.

HOW TO: Place 1/4 cup oil in a glass container, and warm the container in a bowl of hot water. Always use organic oils; sesame is great for balancing Vata as the most warming oil, peaceful olive oil is good for all types, and coconut is the most cooling of all the oils (not the best in the dead of winter); or use a blended oil from my favorite Ayurveda company, Banyan Botanicals

While your oil is warming, take a hot shower to clean your body and open up your pores. Dry off, and while you are still warm, massage the oil on your body in long, strong strokes for long bones and circular motions for joints. Here is a video to help you practice self massage at home.

Leave the oil on for at least 5-20 minutes, and then hop back in the shower for 2 minutes. No soap needed! Pat dry and enjoy your velvety-soft skin!

TIP: If you don’t have the time to do a full body oiling, do just your feet before bed. Leave the oil on and layer with a warm pair of socks, and enjoy how soft your feet in the morning! Oiling the feet is also grounding for the mind.

4. Meditation: Sitting for 20 minutes twice a day has so many benefits, I need to do another post just for this single practice. But for now, know that a regular meditation practice can really help us during Vata season because it is grounding, creates a sense of ritual and routine (great for those of us who feel scattered or anxious), and it helps us to be in the present moment, regardless of what comes up during our meditation (which is usually lots of thoughts and sensations–totally normal).

AMAZING BENEFITS: An increase in self awareness; a reduction in negative emotions and anxiety, and an increase in positivity and balance; increased focus and better memory; increase in patience; more compassion for self and others; a greater sense of connection to a higher power or energy, and deeper connection to oneself and one’s heart.

HOW TO: If you have never meditated before, it can seem like a daunting project. But if you can create a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for about 20 minutes, you are already on your way. Set a timer for your practice–maybe you start with 10 minutes if that seems reasonable. Begin by getting comfortable and noticing the breath. If you find you have a busy mind, know this is normal and a positive part of the process. Simply sit and observe as you breathe. In honor of the recent passing of Vietnamese Buddist Monk Thich Naht Hahn, his contemplative practice: “In, I am breathing in; out, I am breathing out,” is a lovely preparation for a meditation practice.

COMMIT TO YOUR PRACTICE: Seeking out a meditation teacher is a wonderful way to explore the benefits of meditation and get familiar with a specific practice that feels good for you. I practice and teach Heart Based Meditation, which is a mantra-based practice, focused in the heart. You can learn more about it here and either take a class with me or the founder of Heart Based Meditation, Dr. Paul Dugliss. Whatever the practice, committing to something every day is what makes it sustainable. I promise, if you stick with it, you will reap the rewards very soon!

For those who also enjoy adding contemplative guided mindfulness practices in addition to a meditation practice, check out Insight Timer

5. Get to bed by 10 pm. Sound impossible? Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until 10 o’clock is actually within reach! I actually set a timer for 9:15 pm to remind me I’m overdue to get off my computer, silence and put away my phone, and get ready for bed!

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? In Ayurveda 10 am to 2 pm is Pitta time–when the sun is at its zenith, and when we are most energized in our bodies and minds. Even though it is dark, 10 pm to 2 am has the same effect on our physiology as the 10-2 in the daylight; so guess what: if you go to bed after 10 pm (and if you are anything like me, you catch that “second wind” or boost of energy and feel like you could stay awake for hours), you’ve missed your greatest opportunity for deep and nourishing sleep. Some people say they get more work done after 10 pm, but at what cost? Your rest and rejuvenation? We also sleep less soundly and sometimes intermittently when we stay up late. Bottom line, try to follow Nature’s rhythms: tone it down when the sun is going down; get moving just as the sun is rising and the birds are waking up!

TIPS: Turn off all screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime. Get away from blue light, social media, scary movies, and anything that is going to engage your brain with lots of thoughts or worry before bedtime. Instead, make a cup of tea, read a book, or enjoy a bath in the hours before bedtime.

Adding even two of the above practices will go a long way to support your body, mind, and spirit, not just during Vata time, but the whole year round. Stay hydrated, take care of your tongue, lube up your skin with luscious oils, take time to meditate daily, and get a good night’s rest. Enjoy taking care of yourself!

Many blessings,


To learn more about Ayurveda, the doshas, seasonal imbalances, Ayurvedic cleansing, and more, check out the Ayurveda page of my website:


The Ego & Respectful Leadership

Good morning, All. It’s been a long time since I posted here. I generally blog when I am traveling in far away places, but since, like all of you, I have been grounded for nearly a year, I have no travel posts to offer. But I do have something to share today after a week of reading, watching, listening to others talk about last week’s attack on the Capitol. Here goes. Disclaimer: I am not a political analyst or journalist. Just a human responding with my heart to what I see and feel.

I have long been a fan of Madisyn Taylor’s “Daily OM” readings, which I use both as a way to frame my own day and often share at the beginning of a Yoga class. The readings are for the general public (you don’t have to be into yoga); they speak to us as humans and as spiritual beings, not as Democrats or Republicans. I am a registered Democrat, by the way, but that does not mean I dismiss Republicans, so read on if you are willing. And if you want to skip my commentary, by all means scroll below to the links.

Today the Daily Om readings that came into my box are on “The Ego” and on “Respectful Leadership,” topics that are certainly on my mind after witnessing the misuse of power we have seen in the past week (and long before) by the current President, several of his attending lawmaking cronies, and family members who were clearly involved in inciting and perpetuating violence and destruction on the Capital and those within to exact their “stop the steal” directive. In my mind, regardless of party affiliation, the events of the past week–and leading up to it– should alarm and disgust us all as human beings. If the sitting POTUS who incited / supported / perpetuated these events were a Democrat, I would be equally appalled, and most certainly and definitively separate myself from the ideology and outrageous actions of that person (and said cronies) to defend what is humane and true versus stand by and watch our Republic crash and burn in the hands of those who would organize, direct, and support such an attack, just because I’d voted for him or her four years ago.

We all saw videos and reports of the President prior to the attack, inciting his crowds to use force; or perhaps the video of the Trump family celebrating behind closed doors as the crowds mobilized towards the Capitol; or maybe the one where the President said “we love you” to those who attacked the Capitol and its occupants and defiled the interior of this glorious building that is the symbol of our Democracy. Sure, janitors and aides can clean the FECES off the walls (yes, there were people who literally smeared their poop on the walls and used their boots to smudge it on the floors as they paraded down the hallways; some even urinated in lawmakers’ offices). Workers can replace windows that were broken and maybe fix some of the antique furniture or artwork. But the white supremacist symbol of a gallows flanked by Confederate flags (the image I tried to share is copyrighted and will not let me post), along with redesigned American flags with the Trump name on them–all carried to the Capitol and intended to reclaim a 150 year old cry for what was the Old South? This is not a quick clean up or fix it.

Just a reminder that the Confederate flag was designed to represent a divided nation–a division some in our country want to recreate.

This flag represents a time when eleven US states broke from the Nation to defend the practice of slavery. Why is it that 150 years down the road we continue to see this symbol? That gallows was not just for Pelosi or for Pence, as some in the angry crowd chanted; it was constructed to highlight a central belief of those who marched on the Capitol. You can say it ain’t so, but if you sat watching your TV and agreed with this behavior, you should begin to investigate whether you are complicit in white supremacy. This is too important to overlook when we talk about what kind of leadership we want for our clearly divided Nation. It is bigger than just reaching across the aisle and shaking hands and saying, “Okay, let’s just forget about the past and move forward.” We have a history to deal with here, and it will take each one of us to determine what our future as Americans looks like and what we stand up for as human beings.

Be ye Democrat or be ye Republican, we are all Americans, and I, for one, want a human being who represents ALL Americans. I could write a list of who ALL Americans are, but I’ll start with black Americans. Only when the most disenfranchised among us can glimpse the safety, security, and ideals we stand for as a Nation will our country actually represent us all. If you don’t think white supremacy is an issue here, I urge you to watch some of the more disturbing videos of what happened last Wednesday. Here is an op-ed piece from CNN that integrates multiple media source videos and provides an commentary on the day’s events:

The most horrific video I have seen personally, which I will not post here, is the one of Police Officer Brian Sicknick being hit with crutches, a fire extinguisher, multiple American flags (the sickening irony), and stamped on repeatedly. Please read about this officer and how he died. It is frightening. It shows how easily a crowd of people can be incited to violence and actually kill someone–in this case a white person who looked just like them, only he was protecting our Capitol and therefore ALL of us, and for that he was beaten to a pulp and stepped over as onlookers yelled “Get that mother-f**ker out of there! Drag him out!” All to the tune of a larger audience chanting “USA! USA!” or “FREEDOM!” My heart is still beating furiously, and I am crying out loud as I listen again to the audio of this moment to make sure I am quoting it accurately. (I cannot watch the tape again).

Some might say the people who attacked the Capitol represent only a small number of Republicans, but they are the ones that showed up to take the Capital and exact their ideology. Don’t talk to me about Antifa being on site and doing the damage, because that has already been disproven and is simply a verbal scapegoat for those who chose to engage in last Wednesday’s attack or stand in the shadows quietly cheering on the perpetrators. I can guarantee many Republicans, including many of you who might be here reading this, would say these people do not represent you. You might even say they are not true Republicans. But they are organized. They have an agenda. And this will happen again if we don’t snuff out the opportunity for our current President to persist in his menacing message once he leaves the office next week.

There is such a thing as healthy ego. There is such a thing as respectful leadership. I will say as a human being, Trump lacks both of these. I’d like to be assured our elected officials know what these things are; but we the People also need to understand what they are and how to use them for the betterment of all Americans and ultimately the entire Human race.

Madisyn Taylor’s readings are short, clear, bipartisan, and sensical. Maybe something as straightforward as these encouragements will remind us to take a look at ourselves in the light these passages shed, as well as helping us to see where the exiting POTUS lies in light of these two topics, and in hopes that the incoming POTUS will operate with an awareness that brings the balance we all want to see in our Presidency and which, I believe, will begin to restore decency to the office and help us to actually reach across aisle to figure out what it is to be an American, since I’m feeling a little disillusioned with all the labels lately. So let’s just start with Human Being.

Here are the two very short readings:
The Ego: Serving the Higher Self
Respectful Leadership

Katie O’


Faces of Coonoor

Sometimes there are no words to describe what I see and feel when I am here in India. I do my best in these little posts, but the beauty here escapes my ability to show you. It’s more of a feeling, I guess, when I look into faces in the market, watch the hands that lovingly massage my body or offer me food, or share a greeting of “Namaskar” with the little man I pass nearly every day on my morning walk. The people are what bring this country to life for me—make me want to come back here year after year. These women below are our Panchakarma therapists: Neela, Parvati, Vijaya, Lali, and Delma (missing from the pic is Sorenya, the youngest of this veteran staff). I have fallen in love with each one of these precious ladies ❤️ I feel like I’m home once I see their sweet smiles again this year.

151FCBCA-FF49-4DB7-B0DA-EC298B00C076There are other faces I am happy to see too. I don’t always know their names, but the sparkle of recognition that happens when we see each other again makes me excited to walk all the same streets, visit all the same little shops, and roam the central market where I have taken thousands of pictures over the past five years.

There are several small villages within walking distance to the retreat, but my favorite to walk through is Bharat Nagar, built on a steep slope that backs up to tea fields at the top and the main road that winds to Coonoor at the bottom. The people here are kind and gracious, often asking us in for tea or coffee. I wonder if they grow tired of my asking to take their portrait, but the always stand and smile, and the kids always want to see their images on my iPhone. Here are a few of my favorites:




Another morning at 6:15 we walk a different road to a village up the hill, and I lead the way through a short cut between houses. On our way back down, I see a familiar man crouched with his cat in the same position in the same spot by his fire as last year. His beanie hat and maroon shawl are also the same. The second of the two photos was taken last year with his grandson at the same time of day.


Later in the week a few of us hop in a tuk tuk for the 1O-minute ride to the market where a throng of bodies flows through vegetable stalls piled high with prickly bitter gourd, foot-long string beans, and striped squashes. Pyramids of oranges and pomegranates and a gauntlet of cucumbers, cabbages, and coconuts line our way through what feels more like a thicket, as bodies stream in both directions. I unintentionally block traffic as I zero in on a stack of eggplants. (Yes, this is still a post about the people, but I just can’t resist these little beauties!)

89D3F641-D028-4451-8163-5C9469212E44People watch me in wonder as I zoom in close, their stares clearly indicating curiosity over my apparent love of vegetables. Some shopkeepers, like this lady in her pretty painted stall, love the attention, and smile as I praise their beautiful produce. It is her box of eggplants showcased in the above photo.

7A3EA3E5-E02D-4553-A7CE-D2197463FA76Multicolored tarps strung from wires and tin roofs keep out the midday sun and cast a blue-yellow glow over Karin, Leslie, and I as we meander. We stop to watch a man in a crisp white shirt lift a coconut to his lips and smile at us after a long sip. Karin immediately orders up a coconut while Leslie and I snap pictures.

757B4AAC-7352-4440-B2D0-C8D8B3647C65Around a few more corners, a tailor sits quietly, head bent over his machine, his fingers feeding fabric neatly along a line. At his right shoulder a wall of remnants hems him into a cubicle smaller than an elevator.  He looks up and immediately smiles to  know I have taken an interest in him. But it’s not his sewing I see so much; it’s his hint of a smile and his eyes that hold my gaze—the way they glisten in the light with such sweetness. They are an invitation to stop and really see the person here, not just the work he does. I decide he has one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen.

87FE6184-C230-46A1-AF67-540ADF1459AEWe smile at each other for a bit, and then I bow before I move on. It’s not until later when I look at this photo that I see his white mustache nearly trimmed to the upper lip and the patches of hair behind his temples that leave plenty of room for his broad brown forehead. His hands, on pause for the moment of my photo, sit on the swatch of cloth, ready to continue feeding it to the needle of his diminutive sewing machine. His button up shirt wears a tape measure for a collar that disappears below his hips, and his chest pocket holds a hundred rupee bill stuffed in like a handkerchief. His watch reads 12:30, and I’m sure he is doing a job for one of the street shops that employ the many market tailors.

And just check out this beautiful shop! Not only are the veggies arranged to perfection, but the deities over the shopkeeper’s shoulder are adorned with strands of flowers. We ladies admit, there’s a lot that’s easy on the eyes here 😉

1A09FAF4-C824-4309-8E1D-E27B82D1E463A few minutes later, we pop out from under the tarps into the bright of day and head South toward the center of town. A man sits low on the sidewalk surrounded by neatly folded used clothes and shoes. He looks so tired. His cloudy eyes stare at me—through me—as I quickly steal a picture. I start to pass by, but decide to turn back, lean down and reach out my hand. He takes it in his own rough palm. His face is the definition of metamorphosis, as a smile blooms in his eyes. We don’t say a word—just look at each other for a long moment. I ask if I can take his photo again. The difference between the portraits is astounding: Photos #1 and #2, respectively.



On the same side of the street, a mother on a motorbike idles while talking on her phone. Her little boy balances in front of her and grips the handlebars as if to take over.

3A7DFF0D-6065-4AA0-985F-7735166B6843A few days later, I capture the wonderful optometrist Kanikkaraj and his wife Latha:


This man who was watching Leslie and I take pictures of a lady fixing up her vegetable stand with such curiosity, eventually asks if I can put him in a picture:


Look at this little piece of cake in her golden yellow dress! Come on, how could I not?



Later on back in the nest of the retreat, and as the evening brings us all to meditation, I peek my head into the kitchen and find Kalu-ji preparing vegetables for a white pumpkin soup. I just love this sweetheart of a guy. He humbly works behind the scenes, filling hot water bottles, chopping veggies, making endless pots of chai, and he is quick to help with anything we need, always with his precious smile.


A few mornings ago, I caught Vijay doing sun salutations all by himself on the warm tiles of the entryway:


I could post pictures of people forever—my camera is full of images. Here’s a last little handful from my favorite walk:


There is a tenderness in each face, eyes soft and curious, a humility that engages me to connect even though we can’t speak the same language. Whenever I bow, they bow; when I smile, they smile; I extend my hand, and the warm brown fingers of another hand reach out to meet me.

~ Katie F10A09F1-F5FF-4726-8C56-1F96826FAC0A


The Day Begins



It’s been just over a week since I left my snowy NH home, trading it for the green tea plantations and eucalyptus forests of South India’s Nilgiri Mountains for the next month or so. From my cozy retreat bedroom, I look out the open door to tree tops blowing in the wind, bulbuls singing to me from the fence, and the bright blue sky sitting on top of the ridge across the way. I have already been steeped in herbalized oil for the past five days and created a community with the most wonderful people. Together we are on an Ayurvedic journey—each traveling our own unique path but also alongside each other. It will be a rich three weeks, and I am so grateful to share it with our retreat guests, the beautiful therapists, chefs, and the Ayurvedic doctor that make this piece of Heaven a home for me. I settle in to write my first post of the retreat and figure I’ll start with sunrise.

Our days begin in the violet-pink of pre-dawn with Sunny’s knock on the door. It’s time to take our morning herbs. Some of us meet at 6:15 to walk up to the top of the hill that puts us at over 6,000 feet elevation and a near 360 degree view of the mountain ranges that fan out in waves across the state of Tamil Nadu. East are the mountain ghats that eventually fall into the rice paddies and rivers of Kerala, and to the West are row after row after row of mountains and the deep valleys carved in between the iron-red ranges. It is so familiar to me now after coming to this place for five years, but it is magnificently new each time I crest the hill at sunrise to see the villages below.

The massive concrete steps that drop into the village of Bharatnagar are cracked, steep, and formidable whether walking down or hiking up, but the people who live here do it every day, often carrying heavy loads on their backs. It’s always a joy to turn the corner and see familiar faces who reach out to hold my hands in theirs. The people are so humble and sweet, often asking us in for tea or posing for a photo.

C649D839-8D82-4C5A-B884-A1CF2EC7B9C5We wander the skinny dirt path back through the tea, and some days I pick lantana, straw flowers, ageratum, and daisies for my room.


The group slips into twos and threes as conversations arise.  New friendships are nourished out here under the pink sky and among the lush rows of tea.

44336114-63D0-4429-BD4E-4C40BC0A9314The path empties onto the main road for a hundred yards or so before it turns uphill and guides us back to where our walk began less than an hour ago. With just a few minutes to spare, I run to my room, swap sneakers for flip flops, grab some essential oil and my journal, and head straight up to the yoga hall where I unravel my mat and welcome students to practice. As the last echo of our chant is absorbed by the vaulted ceiling, a stream of yellow light pours into the windows and onto the floors (Photo courtesy of Lauren Spiro).

Savasana ends as the breakfast bell rings. We rise slowly and chant Om to close our practice. In the garden, a pile of papayas adorns every table, and bananas, pomegranates, and apples are free for the taking. And oh, the fresh juices! Pineapple, carrot, grape, and watermelon are just some in the weekly rotation. Fingers of light reach through the pines and arbor that surround the dining patio. We sip masala chai and  ginger tea, peel clementines in the sunshine, and laugh as if we’ve known each other for years.


~Katie O’Connell 💕




All That Glitters

I admit, before you read, this is a longer post. So grab your Yogi tea or a cup of chai, and have a little sit down. I am 25 miles from the Pakistan border, and the area is worth more than a single post, but I’m going to do my best to give you a taste of it all in one entry.

Amritsar is a bustling city of criss-crossing roads stuffed to the corners with textile markets, fruit vendors with carts stacked in neat papaya pyramids and pomegranate piles. Bunches of green grapes, rows of guavas, and bright oranges catch the sunshine, and a mountain of brilliant green peas wait cushioned on a hot pink piece of burlap (no filters) for someone to come along and buy them for their evening korma.

ABBF055A-A6A1-471E-8269-96FD6BD23B62Every street is a bazaar glittering with bangles and bindies, and as far as the eye can see are pashmina stalls and shops crammed with Punjabi shoes studded with rhinestones or adorned with tiny pom poms and shiny rick rack. I try on a few pairs along the way, but save my purchase for some beaded gold flats I find later on in the day near the Golden Temple (more on that in a bit); I literally click my heels, and plan my night out as an Indian Cinderella! Sold for $500 rupees!!

63381C2D-0704-4973-A61F-F66A84AD52EBMotorbikes swerve around cows, dogs, and throngs of colorful saris. I weave in and out of traffic with ease now on my fourth trip to India; I feel as though no matter where I go, things flow around me, or perhaps I flow around them… there is some kind of strange precision in the chaos of this human anthill, as if the Universe has already decided how this is all going to work. A moped speeds by within an inch of my elbow; a cow horn brushes my pants; I tip out of the way of a tuk tuk fender with a millisecond to spare; I slide sideways along a street to face a woman who makes the exact same move as me to avoid a crowd of men walking in a hard line towards us. My hips sway far left just missing the front tire of a peddle rickshaw who keeps his course despite my gasp; I balance easily on my tiptoes like a cat as I creep along a thin row of cobbles to dodge a pile of garbage. No one seems to care about how easily any one of us could get hit by the stream of motorbikes that rarely slows down; we all move before we think to move… consciousness precedes our thinking.

Hours of joyful zig zagging through crowded lanes yields me a cheap new suitcase and a beautiful array of hand-stitched shawls called dupattas, often worn with sarees. Here they are done in Phulkari style, an art form of Northern India referring to the intricate art painted on the fabric, which is then overlayed with silk embroidery thread called Kantha. The quality of the shawl is determined by the underlying fabric, which is generally faux georgette or chanderi. Both are soft and pretty, but the georgette you find in the markets today tends to be synthetic and less expensive, whereas chanderi is a silk/cotton blend, can withstand needlepoint better than georgette, and because it is natural fiber is lighter to the touch. I opt for chanderi. Some are covered in embroidered flowers; others have bright blue peacock tails or swirled mango leaf borders. There are swirls and trees and butterflies woven into elaborate scenes, all trimmed with yards of bold blue, orange, and pink silk edging. I love them all so much, I can’t decide which one will be mine and which will be up for sale in the yoga studio. Each is exquisite and has every color of the rainbow in its silken threads. They are so gorgeous, they literally take my breath away!

9A736EAB-8CBF-47B5-B531-9FE68729969EI find a small stash of beautiful double-sided silk Kantha shawls handmade from recycled saree fabric hidden in a tall stack of dupattas and my jaw drops; I have been looking for these down South for three years! They are perfectly imperfect, made by women from Bengal to Rajasthan. I could launch into another whole description of this artwork, but this link below will give you more info if you are interested in the history of kantha stitching:

kantha shawlAfter a little bargaining, I take my packages with a grin as the shopkeeper bows to me. Both of us satisfied with the exchange, I duck back into the whirlwind of the street.

There is a man on the corner selling dried fruits and nuts, and I can’t help but steal a snap of these kiwis. We spend two days walking up and down these streets just to take in all the color!

921336B7-76F2-4746-A400-86323E2EE23A A ten minute walk from the Katra market via a dirty labyrinth of back streets full of trash and dusty cobblestones brings us to an opening resembling a traffic circle. A few food vendors sell sizzling fried vegetables called pakora from massive shallow wok-like pans, various fried flat breads are stacked and ready to roll around falafel, and a gauntlet of masala chai stands are lined up near the rather undecorated entrance of the landmark of Amritsar: The Golden Temple. We walk by this man during the day, but it is later that night we stop to try his golden potato cakes! Here he is putting on a fresh batch:

3E1EADFD-5A9A-4564-9718-1879B223E0DEWe step onto a red carpet just inside the gates, take off our shoes, and hand them to a man who swaps us for a key. After a hundred feet, we float down a set of marble steps, and then enter a tremendous sea of colored turbans in a wide crowd which eventually funnels into a slim line.

F9A0D300-A41B-4C96-B774-36BD3CEB9999The pace is slow, but I don’t mind. I take a few pictures; then my phone dies, and all I can do is be present. Everyone is smiling, chatting, praying. The sun is hot, but it feels good, and I know it is snowing at home once again, so I’ll take the heat. This is the pic Declan sends me from our backyard (gasp as I realize there WILL still be snow when I get back home):0595ECC6-00AA-4403-968B-DB228B916AA1It is a half hour before we pass under the golden arch which leads onto a long promontory where we will “walk on water” to the Sri Hamandir Sahib, The Golden Temple. A man at the end of the bridge lifts an iron bar, and a wave of bodies lunges forward before the bar returns to hold the crowd. Eventually, we make it in, and once inside, I understand the draw. There are two men playing twin gold harmoniums, another playing tabla, all dressed in white, and devotees sit on the floor in rows facing the musicians. One of the men chants into a microphone. The center of the temple is open from floor to ceiling where a giant chandelier hangs, shimmering. Ornate flowers are painted on the walls, and the ceiling is pure gold and lit up from the reflection of the water outside. Many people hold tiny prayer books and follow along with the chants; others sit with eyes closed and sway.  I find a spot on the second floor in a sunny alcove, and let the sun wash over me while the chant goes on and on.

gt-posts-3.jpgA little bit about the architecture: the giant pool of water surrounding the temple is called Amrit Sarovar (lake of nectar), and it is the prettiest shade of blue-green meant to mirror of the sky. The tank was first constructed in 1577, but it wasn’t until about 25 years later that the Golden Temple was commissioned and officials appointed its first head priest. Everywhere are engravings recognizing the lineage of Sikh gurus, and I learn later the temple itself is erected on the site where it is said the very first Guru, Nanak, used to sit and meditate. Built at a level lower than the surrounding land, the temple, or Gurudwara, teaches the lesson of egalitarianism and humility; it is not only a central religious place of the Sikhs of Amritsar and Sikh pilgrims from all over the world, but it is also known as a symbol of human brotherhood and equality. The pure gold on the roof represents the richness we all enjoy in sharing a sacred space, and it is said that everybody, regardless of race, religion, or any other limiting factor, is offered spiritual solace and religious fulfillment here. All are welcome, as symbolized by four separate entrances calling in all of humanity; about a third of all visitors are non-Sikh, so this message is truly an invitation.

GT and me

GT daytime 1Sitting among families and foreigners, Sikhs and Hindis, I feel completely at home. Giant koi swim along the edges of the 17 foot- deep reflection pool that makes the temple look like a golden island. Since the water is said to be Amrit, the nectar of the gods, it is customary to wash your face, sip the water, or even take a ritual dunk in certain designated areas. As the sun disappears, the temperatures drop and the breeze picks up, and yet more and more people join the line to get into the temple, which is open from 2:30 am to 10 pm each day. From every direction, the evening chant from inside the temple echos gently outward from the loud speakers placed at the four corners of the complex. Many sing along. Others feed the fish. Some, like these two kids, ask if they can take a selfie with us, and their parents snap photos and then ask for my What’s App # so they can send them to me.


More pics just because.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about this temple is the open air kitchen where volunteers feed tens of thousands each DAY.  The idea originated nearly 500 years ago, when a Sikh guru introduced the idea that a place should exist where everyone, regardless of religion or social status, could sit on the ground together as equals and eat the same food. Langar, as it is called, is served in every Gurudwara in the world, but the one in the Golden Temple has the world’s largest free kitchen which feeds a record 50,000 people on an average day and up to 100,000 during special occasions and festivals! It seems impossible, given the size of the kitchen, but when I ask a volunteer, he confirms what the internet claims. The kitchen consumes an astonishing amount of raw materials to create its daily meal: 12,000 kg of flour, 1,500 kg of rice, 13,000 kg of lentils, and up to 2,000 kg of vegetables every single day! While much of the work is done by hand, there is an industrial oven and conveyor belt nearby producing 200,000 chapatis (flat breads) on a daily basis. Brendan and I are fortunate to eat here twice, and each time the sweetest eyes and hands offer us plates of soup and bread, and there are big bowls of chai which are refilled even before we finish sipping the first. The samosas are the tastiest I eat in all of India, but the best part is sitting on the ground with so many people who simply come to eat. Beggars sit beside well-dressed ladies, and children help the team of volunteers, mostly men, as they shuffle around and make sure everyone has enough. It is a humbling scene, and I am so grateful to be a part of it here on the ground in my bare feet, shawl over my head, looking across at a the chefs who observe me with a smile.

I have so loved my time in this city of Sihks, Muslims, and Hindis all living together. Probably the most colorful markets I have seen in a India are here where the silk and wool overlap in great piles and sway in the breeze outside shop doorways. Always the smell of fried potatoes, samosas, cinnamon, and exhaust…always dust and grime and bells, and horns (both the animal and vehicle kind).

But when I settle in to my room later on, it is chilly and dark. I long for my bed high up in the mountains at my sweet retreat where Chagan and Mohan are already sleeping after a long day of cooking for guests. It is quiet there now, and there is a tiny crescent moon over Jowel’s cottage. Here, a train rumbles nearby, and lorries crank their gears as they climb the highway bridge not far from the hotel gate. Amritsar doesn’t sleep like the villages in the mountains, and I am awake late trying to get used to the sounds of the city.

In the morning, we begin again with a walk through the markets, to the temple, to the chai wallahs and the copper dealers. Later in the day we visit the border of India and Pakistan, and I admit it’s a little strange to me that thousands of people want to go here everyday at sunset to watch the armies salute each other, while during the day tensions escalate. Two days ago a plane was shot down over Kashmir, and the week before that a bus load of Indian soldiers was ambushed, leaving forty dead. Nonetheless, here we are, and there is singing, dancing, pomp and circumstance, popcorn and ice cream vendors walking through the stadium like we are at a baseball game.

At night we pack for the final leg of our India travels: Haridwar & Rishikesh. When we make it to the airport in the morning, it’s not long before boarding and take off on the small twin prop Bombardier Spice Jet airplane.  We taxi, hit the runway, and are off!

9E7B94D8-816D-47D3-BF8F-2ACB0C1AEE4CAnd then…15 minutes into the half hour flight, we take a sharp U-turn and are told that there we are experiencing engine “difficulties,” and must return to Amritsar. The ride was turbulent before the announcement, so you can imagine how engine trouble might make the passengers feel. We land quickly and told to deplane on the tarmac. Two hours later, the flight is officially cancelled, and our luggage is finally returned to us.

An American couple in their young sixties is sitting nearby and ask if we’d like to join them on a train to Haridwar rather than take the next scheduled flight in 24 hours. Without hesitation, I say “yes!” and the wheels are in motion. Laura and Eric call their travel agent, and we wait for a reply.  Fast forward to the train: For 1,000 rupees each, we are on a 9-hour ride in a 3rd-class sold-out sleeper car. A man hands out pillows and blankets. Bunks are three deep on each side (six in a pod) with a set of double bunks running alongside the aisle. I spot a cockroach five minutes into our bed-making; Laura and I take a collective deep breath and embrace the adventure. In just a few minutes, the blue and gray train rolls out of Amritsar into the black Indian night.

Our new friends are great company, and we laugh at the situation as Laura hands out earplugs. We are the only non-Indians in the car (and maybe on the entire train), and when Brendan pulls out his guitar and we start to sing, the place goes quiet. After a few lullabys, I take out my contact lenses, hop into the middle bunk, pop in my earplugs, and pull my own travel fleece up around my shoulders. It is not long before the whole car is snoring in time with the rumble of the train. I smile and wonder how I’m going to describe this experience so people will feel like they are here. Impossible. You just have to go to India one day. And take the 3rd class sleeper car overnight. I promise, you will never ever forget it.



Treatments, Take Two!

I have just finished my first massage treatment of the day—herbalized warm oil bath, my very favorite Ayurvedic treatment of them all.  It is 11:30 am, and already today I have been on a sunrise walk, taught a yoga class for my retreat guests, and had the most amazing breakfast of dosa, coconut chutney, and the juiciest papaya of my life! It is indeed a glorious day!

B95952E1-C682-449E-A5A0-1587609E475CI have an hour to rest in my fuzzy aqua bathrobe and allow my oil to soak in before a bunch of us assemble on the lawn for our daily “round-robin,” abs class. Our half hour is playful, hilariously competitive, and actually quite challenging!  

We are all determined to keep off the pounds lost here on PK (panchakarma, the full name of the 21-day Ayurvedic cleanse we are participating in on this retreat). Some who are on a weight loss program have lost between 5 and 13 kilos (10-26 lbs)! Most of us have dropped 5-10 pounds without trying and have gotten leaner by walking every day, practicing yoga, hydrating more, adding ghee to the diet, and mostly—I presume—by relaxing the mind and surrendering our stress in this unique mind-body-spirit process of letting go and receiving all the goodness of massage, food made with such love, and this beautiful environment we have called home for the past two and a half weeks. With less than a week to go, many of us are already anticipating the return to “the world.”  It is important to remind ourselves to remain present for every moment, as each is a blessing. In the friendships we have grown, we have witnessed our becomings and the goings of things that no longer serve us. I am so grateful for our original group of 13, but also for the handful of others from around the world who have nestled in to our family ❤️

Days are somewhat timeless here. There is structure to each day, but a lot of what we offer in addition to the PK is optional, so each of us can really dive deep and take more personal time if that is what’s needed, or we can allow the offerings to fill our individual well with meditation and yoga, with storytelling, singing, laughter, a tuk tuk ride to town, or a trip to the dentist where you can have your teeth cleaned for all of $20. Oh, this is Velu and his fabulous rickshaw nicknamed the “Lemon.” He always greets me with a humongous smile, and he has a fishbowl in his tuk tuk!

Morning blossoms on the laundry, then pours into the yoga studio in time for savasana; it smiles through the drapes in the treatment rooms where our therapists glide oil over our bodies. By lunch, the sun is high in the sky and hot like our digestive fire, ready to devour a delicious lunch served up by Chagan and Mohan. Sambar soup, freshly-made chapatis, veggies from the garden, and always fresh fruits, like this jackfruit.As the sun passes its zenith, we put our robes back on and begin to take our staggered afternoon treatments: abhyanga massage with herbal infusions, rice bath, steam and bastis; herbal pounding, powder massage, deep tissue and muscle treatments, therapies for the eyes, and so much more! This is me with my eyes full of ghee in a treatment called Netra Tarpana, where a garam dough is made by hand just as I arrive, and while it is still soft, the therapists mold it to my face. It looks a little scary, and it’s a bit uncomfortable to blink for ten minutes into the ghee, but I can assure you, after it’s all over everything looks sharper, and colors are so much more brilliant! I receive six days of this treatment.

And treatments are just part of our daily regimen. Each of us is given a repertoire of daily herbal concoctions, decoctions, pastes, tablets, and tinctures. Guests are here to work with Dr. Mouli on an array of imbalances that give rise to issues such as migraines, Lymes disease, constipation, leaky gut, insomnia, anxiety, psoriasis, and so much more. I am always so mystified and tickled that just the right group of people shows up to share in this 21-day experience. It is nothing short of marvelous!

Afternoon tea time is a favorite, since there is always steaming chai and ginger tea. We gather ’round the table in the garden for check ins and chats, for silliness in a mixture of robes, oil rags on our heads, and clothes purchased here. Jowel and Amaz’jhi are two of my loves here on this retreat ❤️

My afternoon treatment is a butter massage with essential oils, and I smell so yummy after, I want to lick my own skin! Sorry, no butter massage pics.

You might think I’d get tired of 21 days in a row of this… but I don’t! This is my fourth year here with a John de Kadt offering this retreat, and each year I love it even more.

On that note, it’s time for bed. Ayurveda stresses good sleep habits, so… over and out!

~Katie 💕


Morning is My Favorite

It’s still dark outside, but the birds are already singing at 6 am. I hear the familiar clink of the metal cup on my doorstep and know Vijay has just left my morning herbs for me, so I crawl out from under two layers of blankets and crack open the door to retrieve the cup. The air is chilly, and I quickly close the bolt and turn on my heater.

For a few minutes I text with Declan, who is home in NH buried under snow drifts and 50 mph winds. Yesterday they recorded the strongest winds on Mt Washington in February history: a crazy 171 miles per hour. He tells me about how he tried to scrape the ice off the solar panels but lasted only three minutes with the wind chill and his Irish cheeks freezing off.

Here in the mountains of south India the weather is what I would call perfection. Nights are chilly at about 50 degrees F, and days can get into the mid 80’s if it’s a bluebird day. Mornings are just right for walking, so I pull on my yoga pants, two shirts and a fleece jacket, my hat, and out into the pink dawn I go to meet the walkers in our group.

Some days there are six or seven of us, but usually it’s a handful who are faithful about this daily practice. My favorite route is up the hill through Pemberly and across the tea field to where Bharatnagar sits like a box of colored chalk: houses of every pastel blue, pink, and green you can imagine sit in tiers all the way to the road far below. The concrete steps leading down to the old primary school are an awesome workout for the quads, and every 30 feet or so there is a side lane where the cottages sit side by side, laundry strung up to catch the sunrise.

I have been walking this way for four years now, so I have returned again and again to the same homes, to little families with children I have watched transform from one year to the next. I am always received with such warm eyes and sweet smiles. I know they are both curious and delighted that I always ask to take their photo; and the kids ask every year to be in a selfie. Sometimes I scroll back two or three years in my phone for pictures years so they can see how they have grown up or changed. Always smiles or giggles. Always the gesture of a bow or the salutation “namaskar,” good morning, good sunshine.

Each morning is it’s own, but there is ritual here too. The same dogs sit on the same steps, children dress for school, roosters crow, and women line up to fill their water jugs.

Here the sun climbs up and over walls and into little gardens laced with poinsettia, ivy, and lantana. Chickens are released from their pens and scuttle out to eat bugs on the pathways. A man balances a basket of jasmine flowers on his head and travels house to house collecting 50 rupees per strand. I follow him for awhile just to smell the blossoms.

Some mornings we hike up to a small mountaintop that overlooks a handful of villages below. People greet us as we go, and as we begin to ascend the last quarter mile, the pavement ends, there are no more houses, and the path becomes uneven. Rust-colored earth crumbles under our feet, and we really have to watch each step. Eventually, I duck through a grassy opening that leads out to a ledge. The five of us stop to catch our breath as we take in the sun rising to our left and the moon setting to our right, in the West. We set a timer and take a group shot as the sun begins to stream over us.

Amaz’jhi takes a picture of me in headstand that catches the rays.

From the heart of India, I wish you all a blessed morning. May it be full of beautiful surprises and so much joy.

~Katie 💕


Coming Home to Serenity

We all know it’s not an easy thing to carve out time for oneself; getting a massage, taking a personal day from work to rest or play, even going on a long walk in the woods can seem more like a luxury than a necessity. In Ayurveda, we call the go-go-go mentality a sign of Vata derangement, of too much air and ether–not enough grounding–not enough mental and physical nourishment, and not enough time out of the rat race for spiritual tuning in and switching on the internal light.

Being here on retreat in the Nilgiris in the heart of India is one way I can help to create that time and space for people to rest, rejuvenate, and come home–to move closer to one’s true nature. Here we work on correcting imbalances in the mind-body-spirit, and both individually and with the support of the group, we take a journey toward homeostasis. In our first complete week here, I have felt and witnessed such a profound shift in each one of us. We are each on our own path, but so very much a family. I wonder how I ever lived without these people in my world. It is an incredible gift to facilitate this opportunity with my dear friend, John, and it is a powerful and humbling time with myself–to allow myself to enjoy all of the work that goes into uploading this event and to just be here in the hands of these miraculous therapists, being fed by our jovial and gifted chefs, receiving the sweetest smiles from the beautiful women who turn down our comforters, and to bow to the gardeners who clear the fallen leaves from our pathways. I am overwhelmed again and again and again.

Yesterday I reposted an entry from four years ago–my very first time here–complete with the daily schedule and some of the therapies I was experiencing. Initially, the treatments are all about pacifying Vata, or the elements of air and ether that have made our minds too busy, our skin and bowels too dry (yes, we talk a lot about poop in Ayurveda, so here’s fair warning for any and all of my posts), or that simply leave us feeling ungrounded, overworked, and undernourished. Sound familiar to anyone?

Although I am doing many of the same treatments as in years past, some are also very different this time around. For one, I am going through a two week series of eye treatments, beginning with Akshi sekam, a lubricating eye wash made from a decoction of steeped triphala powder which is strained and the triphala water is then mixed with ghee and honey. In my treatment, a steady stream of warm liquid is poured gently over my eyelids, while I slowly blink to receive the sekam, which is said to calm the mind, relieve tired, overworked eyes, improve one’s vision, strengthen the eye muscles, and soothe the mind. Yes, please! I can honestly say after almost a week of this treatment, all of the above are true. My vision is clearer, my eyes feel softer, and the colors I can see!! I’ll report back on my second set of eye treatments in the next post!

It is such a gift to be cared for in this way every day–therapists become like loving parents who usher us into the treatment room with warm hands and open hearts. Any initial awkwardness I felt four years ago about dropping my robe as soon as I step into the treatment space disappeared long ago, and now I allow these women to anoint my body with oil, beginning with my face and scalp, to every toe and fingertip. I tell you truly, you have not lived until you have this kind of attentive love and care with two therapists twice a day…omg.

And then there is the food… and our daily village walks…and the fireside music and sharing into the evenings. It is all so rich, and I’ll try to write a few shorter posts about each of these things over the next couple of weeks. For now, I’m just enjoying the serenity of being here with our sweet and wonderful retreat group and all the people who have received us so fully. Amen.

Feeling amazing after my third week in India and my first full week of panchakarma treatments. Until the next post, yours dearly,

Katie 💕


Varkala for Sunset

Our bus from Cochin is long, hot, and crowded, but there are kind smiles everywhere, and we feel comfortable even though we cannot understand the language. Most of the road signs are written only in Hindi. The few who know English help us to get off at the right stop in Kollam, where we are immediately approached by a tuk tuk driver who helps us with our bags and whisks us down a street heading West. He does not know our hotel, The Lemon Tree, but he stops to ask many people who point him this way or that. We turn around and go down another street, then another. As we get closer to the sea, the lanes grow smaller, and the homes grow larger. Westerners abound, dressed in yoga clothes and toting mats. No saris here.

We finally make it to what is called the “helipad,” a huge flat parking lot where tuk tuk s line up in a neat row under some shade trees.  We pay the driver, and I hoist on my backpack and head down the path which is lined on the right with cafes and Tibetan stores, vegan restaurants and an occasional grocery store the size of a matchbox. On my left is a few feet of land and a sheer drop off to the beach. It is stunningly beautiful, and for a second I just stand in the beating sun and stare at the surf below.

54ABB3FD-BA1B-43E1-ABA7-EFA37F369E46The cliffs rise 70 feet above Papanasam Beach, where you can look out over the Arabian Sea as far as the eye can see. They say here you can purge the body of all impurities and the soul of all sins because of a holy spring that flows from the cliffs into the sea. I can’t wait to get into that water.

People are already coming out for sunset, rolling out blankets and playing frisbee in the slant of the sun.  It is a cool 94 degrees at 3 pm. We have walked up and down the sidewalk and still not found our lodging, until finally a young man says the Lemon Tree is a new name for what was the Sea View Hotel. We literally turn around and the sign is right there. Rashi’s big smile and sparkling eyes welcome us. He says to call him Rambo, and I laugh because he is entirely unlike the movie character. And he has the cutest puppy named Lucky! Omg!


The room is sparse and perfect in its simplicity, with a little balcony overlooking the backyard of the Tibetan shop next door. Through the palm trees I can see the glistening water over a few red rooftops. I kick off my sneakers, change into a bathing suit, and head down the 110 steps to the beach.

At the bottom of the stairs a woman stocks a tray of  pineapple and papaya, which she then places on her head and walks down the beach to sell her treats.

The Arabian Sea greets my body like a mother’s touch: warm and strong, and with a rhythmic rocking that dissipates the hours of sitting stuffed on the bus.  My arms surf the rolling waves, and the sand massages my feet.  It is a blissful time.

After awhile we walk down the beach past kids playing in the waves, pick-up soccer games, and frisbees soaring in the breeze.  It’s as if all the world is at peace; everyone is smiling, laughing, walking arm in arm.  You can forget politics and war in a place like this. These two friend chatting on their bellies in the sand capture the atmosphere:


We pass a shrine to Vishnu that I hear from a local is 2,000 years old. It sits into the cliff, a bunch of yurts overhead, blending the old and the new in this hybrid place where you can hear five languages at once in all directions.



We pass restaurants waiting for the sunset crowds to come for dinner, but no one is leaving the beach. The most miraculous sunset is happening, and all eyes are watching with reverence. I feel as if I can reach out and touch it, and Brendan catches the moment as I practice a little yoga on the shoreline.


I can’t help myself as I take photo after photo trying to capture what I see. Red rays swim on the surface of the water and paint the waves with fire.


A giant fireball drops into the great gray sea, buoyant, and burning, and beautiful.


Later on the lights from all the shops turn the cliff into a carnival, and I catch the reflection as a wave pulls back the sand:


We are here for four sunsets, and each is brilliant; but I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few other highlights…


This pack of buff colored dogs in formation trotting down the beach with their tails curled over their backs:



Morning croissants with loads of butter and melted dark chocolate. And Americano divine!


Another wonderful moment: walking down the beach and finding a little blowfish that had been tumbled by the incoming tide, his tiny yellow fins flapping the air! Brendan scooped him up on a coconut shell and walked him out four separate times past the breakers and threw him back into the sea before he finally disappeared from our eyes:


Of course, like anywhere on this planet I go, there are the most wonderful people. Abbi is one of those gems, a sweetheart whose Dad owns a restaurant here in Varkala where we had our first dinner and enjoyed our last breakfast before heading to the train station. Goodbye for now, Varkala.  I will see you again one day soon.



In Passing

I am once again en route to India, this time passing from Boston through Amsterdam to Mumbai. It’s a 4-hour layover, and my friend Brendan and I walk mile loops around the terminal to stretch and check out the endless cheese carts and tulip shops. This is my fourth time to India to lead an Ayurveda yoga retreat, and Brendan, who I did not know prior to India, has been on the retreat every year since my co-leader John de Kadt and I began.


Already I miss my Declan, who has slept through a day of my travels at home in NH; it feels like I’ve been gone for days. At 3:45 am I am eating a warmed-up, day-old butter croissant with an Americano.  I know I shouldn’t be drinking coffee right now; but it’s the croissant that requires the java—and lots of extra butter. It was after the last flaky bit that I reviewed my e-ticket and realized that what I thought was the boarding time was actually the scheduled take-off! Maybe it was the Americano, but I would bet you never saw two sleepy travelers snap awake and haul some serious biscuit to the other end of the terminal like we did. You DO NOT want to miss a flight (or any other travel connection in India, for that matter) if you ever want to make it to your destination. Let’s just say, we made it there as the last business class passengers were heading through the gate. Oh, and it is in the middle of all this that one of the shoulder straps on my backpack rips free of its housing, and Brendan has to tie the frayed strap in a knot to keep it attached to the bag   Reminder: do not buy a knock off North Face backpack in Rishikesh for only $8; it will fall apart.

CDD18B23-8070-4DE5-9B44-ADFEEDBE2364A quick sunrise hop to Cochin and a bus through morning traffic gets us to the old fort city in a few hours. I’m wrecked by the time we make it to Calvin’s Inn, a homestay with a handful of rooms that open into a common dining area. Krishti, the owner, checks us in, and although all I want is a nap, we agree to go for a walk to stay awake, hoping it will be easier to adjust to being on the other side of the planet.

The western end of the island is full of street vendors set up facing the sea. There are a few little restaurants, and it’s been awhile since that croissant, so we stop for what we think will be a quick late lunch of gobi Manchurian and a red curry with coconut rice, but the meal takes nearly 45 minutes to come out, during which time Brendan is literally falling asleep at the table. I admit it is probably the best gobi I have ever had, but the wait was seriously laughable (which we did once we got past our exhaustion-inspired hunger frustration). When we finally extract ourselves from the restaurant, we head down River Street where the vendors are set up on both sides of the road, banked up to the curb sides. Brendan peeks into cart and a buys two anklets for his girlfriend back home.

In between the stalls on the beach side of the street are little walkways that lead out to piers where the old Chinese fishing nets splay across the sky. The contraption is made of gigantic wooden spider legs about 75 feet high, each attached to sets of ropes that call up the nets from the water. It takes several men to hoist the lines, which are weighted with boulders and huge hunks of old concrete that hang from ropes and act as a series of ballasts.

C2712140-9A76-4717-A288-3C4765FB4B4CAfter watching the process for a few minutes, Brendan and I are invited to try, so we climb up on the pier and each take one of the five ropes. The men chant as they pull in sync, and I squeal when my feet leave the ground for a second during one of the pulls.


A34292D2-52DB-4573-A32D-55032704CEABFarther down the street are ladies selling trinkets spread out over sheets on the ground. I stop to peek and am drawn into the wishful eyes of a girl dressed all in yellow. She shows me dozens of glittering anklets, and while she tries to get me to buy, I can feel the eyes of the sellers in the next shop waiting to see if I will make a purchase.  Each one says they “have a special price” just for me.  Sometimes I wish I had more than my backpack, but it is a good reminder to go slow with my shopping; I have six weeks, after all.

78517940-F5F1-4A4C-973C-23E57D378F0AAt 6 pm (4:30 am at home), the boardwalk is alive with throngs of people who come out to watch the Cochin sunset. Families stroll together, toddlers in tow, young lovers lean into each other, wrists entwined, and fishmongers call out to passers by, hoping to sell off the last catch of the day. The red sun sinks into the waves, a half circle like my eyes which I can barely keep open. By the time we get back to Calvin’s it is dark, and I sit on a couch and text with Declan about the day. It’s only 8 pm by the time we say goodnight, and I fall fast asleep.

In the morning we eat omelets and fresh pineapple, drink coffee, and head toward town.  Before we get a few blocks, a tuk tuk driver approaches asking if we want a “one-hour tour” of Old Cochin for only 75 rupees (a little more than a dollar). He introduces himself as Haris, and I can tell by his broad smile, he is super sweet. Without a thought, we are in his ride and tearing down the street toward our first stop on the tour: Santa Cruz Cathedral, built by Portuguese missionaries who arrived in Fort Cochi on Christmas Eve in 1500. There is a long history of its first stone set in 1505, the cathedral being spared by the Dutch in 1663 (they destroyed every other Catholic building), and then later demolished by the British when they took over the city.  It was eventually rebuilt in 1887 and recommissioned as a cathedral once again.


Next stop is St. Francis of Assisi.  Apparently St. Francis loved Cochi, and it is said he was interned here after his death, but his body was eventually returned to Italy. We are only here for a few minutes, but it is a sweet little shady spot on a plaza, and if it weren’t for the people pushing malas and souvenirs just outside the doorway of the church, I could’ve stayed here longer.

We slip back into the rickshaw for a spin to an arts and crafts shop, where the carpets are gorgeous, and the prices are dear. Haris tells us in advance that if we buy something here, he will receive a small percentage, but that we should not feel pressured in any way. We appreciate his honesty.

Inside there are many rooms arranged by theme (jewelry, furniture, statuary, and carpets).  The salesman rolls out a ridiculously beautiful 9 x 12 foot turquoise sea of silk on silk that takes my breath away. He invites me to take my flip flops off and feel it under my feet. I am ruined after this, for every government craft shop sells hand-knotted carpets (900-1200 knots per square inch!), but none is as pretty as this blue beauty. For $8,500, I can have it shipped directly to my door!  I smile as I heave a sigh, step off my dream rug, and head back to the tuk tuk.

7228b99f-d3ca-4e75-9cef-ba8d7e5c38c2.jpegNext stop, and heading into the second hour of our 1-hour tour, is a visit to Dobi, an old laundry center where large-scale hand washing of linens for hotels still happens on a daily basis. Cloths are submerged in small square rooms, where the washers, each in a traditional cotton sarong, stand knee deep and scrub fabric over a huge stone with a brush. Once scrubbed, families of laundry are wrung out and hung by clipping the corner of the garment or cloth between tightly wound  cords of rope.

After drying, pieces are finished off with a cast iron steam press and folded, every last bit by hand. Haris points to the brand new washing machine, the delivery box still at its feet.  He suggests it will take a long time for anyone to want to use it. I already know this is my favorite stop on the tour.  I love laundry lines, and I snap dozens of pictures.

There is so much more in this day… more craft stores, a beautiful mosque where a man calls in hundreds of pigeons that circle one of the temple towers several times before he throws buckets of corn and rice on the plaza where they encircle his bare feet. He passes out grain for all of us to hand feed the birds, and before long, pigeons are fluttering up to sit in waiting palms.  I hold out my hands for a few minutes before this happens:

After awhile of feeding the birds, we get back in the rickshaw, Haris asks if we want to stop for lunch, and says there is a great place where the locals go.  We say yes and he pulls into a side street where we park, and enter a little place where with a hand washing station. Haris helps us order, and in minutes a huge tray of veggie dishes and rice comes for each of us. There are chutneys and Dahls, a choice of rice, a coconut soup, and a banana tapioca dessert. It is the custom to eat with your right hand, so we do like the natives and dig in!  Not only is it delicious, it is only 290 rupees for all three of to get completely stuffed! Sorry, no pictures—up to my wrist in curry!

Back to the tuk tuk for the final part of the tour.  Haris takes us to a women’s cooperative spice company where you can but packages of every kind of spice powder or raw. Downstairs, the ladies organize piles of ginger and nutmeg:

Upstairs, they bag spices which are shipped around the world. They serve us samples of chai, ginger tea, and herbal coffee. Yum!

After 5 hours of driving through the maze of backstreets, we are dropped off on the doorstep of our homestay, and pay our sweet guide. Haris. We really owe him for showing us so much of Fort Cochin in a single day! Exhaustion has caught up with me, and even though it’s still early, I feel ready for a nap. Nightly night from Old Cochin.  Blessings to you all.