Katie's Travel Blog!

Going to the Chapel

Attending an Indian wedding is no small affair; in fact, there are days of ceremonies that can become quite complicated… Now add the reality of 800 people attending the wedding (which is a conservative number when many weddings can include entire towns to the tune of thousands of guests!!)

Our retreat group has been invited to the wedding–any and all of it, or as much as we can handle mentally and digest, literally, as the food at such an affair is a tremendous part of the celebration. We decide to attend three important events: the groom’s parade, the meeting of the bride and groom, and the feast!

So let me back up a bit.  None of us knows the bride or groom (pictured above amidst the glittering fanfare), but apparently it is auspicious for foreigners to attend, so the word gets out that dignitaries will be among the guests. Dignitaries! Most of us have come to India with little more than yoga pants and t- shirts, so a transformation is essential. In the days before the wedding we have some of our own preparing to do which includes a garden henna party, organizing attire, and each of us having a sincere hair wash– not an easy feat considering that many of us have had five days straight of shirodara, the pouring of sesame oil over the head and brow for a solid hour… an immensely soothing and mind calming treatment, maybe even more blissful than savasana, if that’s possible…I digress just thinking about it.

imageFirst stop: henna. It is the Wednesday prior to the wedding, and the retreat hires a lovely lady to draw on our hands or arms; in the afternoon sunlight we enjoy one another’s company, take pictures and movies as each hand or arm becomes a unique work of art, skin transformed to canvas. For those of us who have never had tattoos, a seed is planted, and for those who do sport a fair bit of ink, the wheels are churning about next designs. By nightfall all of us wear our beautiful spontaneously-created mehndi and playfully shoot pictures of each other:

Next up, sarees and things to wear to the wedding.  A number of the ladies have had a traditional salwar chemise created out of splendid fabrics they selected in the market the week we arrived (followed by numerous trips to the tailor to alter this or that), and the men have also shopped well, a couple having visited one of the many talented tailors who have turned linen and cotton into fine shirts and trousers. The morning of the wedding, they have it easy and show up to depart on time looking sharp.


Women, though… Well, we all know there’s more hoopla, and that’s all in the fun as we literally run around, trying on piles of bejeweled flip flops offered stored here at the retreat for such occasions, and  Rheka, the lady of the house here at the retreat, kindly pulls a dozen sarees in various colors, weights, and fanciness out of a wooden armoir, and lets each of us who want to wear one have at it.  The morning of the wedding we find ourselves all over campus, skittering between each other’s rooms, some of us assisted by the Indian cleaning ladies as we rush down with our garb, others dressing each other, and I head in to see Vandana, Rheka’s daughter, who donns a gorgeous royal blue and silver saree encrusted with stones at every seam.

imageShe helps me tuck the 6 yards of fabric into the petticoat and alter the oversized top with safety pins until I emerge from her villa all dressed up in turquoise, excited as a little girl. I barely have time to put on mascara before John calls to tell me the taxi is leaving, and we cram our sarees and linen into two vans and speed off into the sunshine.

Now let me just say, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) in India goes the way you think it’s going to go.  All the rushing lands us in an incredible traffic jam in the center of Coonoor, and we are already late, so the driver is working hard to weave us through impossible slivers of street between busses, rickshaws, mopeds, and pedestrians; everyone wants to get somewhere quickly, but no one intends to yield; so we sit amongst the horns and heat, and every minute or so move an inch or two. There are no photos that can adequately describe this chaos, so instead I’ll share this one of a cool Hindustan motor car:

imageWhen we finally arrive, we pour out of the vans into the midday heat among hundreds of waiting guests: waves of beautiful women in sarees as many colored as a fruit salad are lined up like slices of watermelon, kiwi, orange, papaya, and lemon; it is the most gorgeous array of smiles and bling I have seen in a very long time. Bindis abound!

imageThere is a fleet of photographers. There are children who cling to the skirts of their mothers, and there are men with baskets full of bottled water to pass out to the gathering crowd. We find a patch of shade under the roofline of the reception hall and wait for our hosts to arrive.image In a matter of minutes, though, our cluster is told that the groom’s parade is marching from about a half mile down the road, and we must go, so we are quickly tucked back into cars and taken to this spectacle. But the groom and his entourage are nowhere to be seen!  The backside of the road they are suspected to have walked up is now being paved with hot tar and cannot be passed. Our two vans each perform at least a three-point turn on the skinny street in front of “Variety Hall” (where there is a fabulous jewelry store, not that any of us ladies went in there or anything), and head back down the hill toward Coonoor, winding through wild cows, families on mopeds, and Saturday shoppers, back up to the wedding site where we had been fifteen minutes before. Again a piling out of dresses and tunics, just in time to hear the drumbeats and masculine chanting of the groom’s parade coming along the top of the same road receiving the blacktop below.

About a hundred male friends and family walk en masse, stopping every twenty feet or so to dance, slowly at first then faster and faster, with much thrusting of hips and hooting. A bit of a hold up happens when a trio of cross dressers shows up (sometimes referred to as eunuchs) demanding money or else a curse on the wedding!!  This too is tradition, as I am told these men dressed as women come to just about every big gathering and create a distasteful stir until they are barricaded from attending whatever the event is (baby shower, funeral, etc.) and sufficiently paid off. There are rupee bills coming out of pockets everywhere to protect the groom from a curse, and after much haggling between the groomsmen and eunuchs, the procession is on the move again. It is all quite entertaining for us to witness, especially when after watching the troupe perform another few rounds of their dancing sequence, the band of men invites all of us ladies to join them… We do a quick “is this appropriate” check in with our retreat hosts, who say “absolutely!” So we oblige and enjoy, aware that our participation is being recorded by dozens of people, including the official photographers. We find ourselves in the proverbial thick of it beside the groom for the final ascent to the wedding, sincerely joyful and amazed at how these people have folded us into their celebration as foreigners who can barely speak the words “na’an dri,”or thank you!

Even as we arrive (again!), a priest is already reading scripture, and the men of each family stand up and exchange handshakes and bows; all the while savory samosas, salty cashews, and milk chocolates are passed around to the melting crowd. It takes another half hour for the bride and groom to even approach each other, and when it happens there is a specific way it is done: all the ladies of both families are allowed to make a tiny red bindi dot on the groom’s face (which an attendant wipes off after each dozen or so), and some of the girls manage to catch a hold of his nose and pull; which doesn’t go over well, even though it seems this is a regular practice.  And mind you, our groom is still up high on his white horse!  The mother of the bride places a small white  wrapped box on the ground, and everyone has to stand back a bit, but it is still an ultimate mob scene with people taking movies, offering candies, and really just rushing the groom and the impending meeting of the couple at the very spot where the tiny box sits among the skirts.

imageAt the same time, the bride floats in a sea of attendees all of whom obstruct the gaze of the groom ( we can’t see her face in this photo), and he waits eagerly, surrounded by his mates who now help him off the horse but hoist him up onto a human chair to prepare for the next moment: the bride arrives, her face finally revealed from behind bridesmaids, all walking together under a red carpet of silk, and someone–I’m not quite sure who–steps on the tiny box which makes a loud pop, immediately after which the beautiful girl in red and gold attempts to garland the groom, and all while his friends try to throw him up and out of her reach! Handfuls of glitter explode into the air, and the whole place cheers!

There is so much more to this wedding than we will ever see–several more steps to make the marriage official, but we are coached to head downstairs before the crowd, through the labyrinth of this building with its central wedding hall surrounded by subsidiary waiting rooms where people sit eating and chatting, and a roundabout descent to the basement where hundreds more people are already feasting! Thirty men in chef hats serve the buffet. Sorry I do not have photos of the ridiculous amounts of food. How do you feed hundreds upon hundreds of guests? With golden sambar and white mountains of rice, of course!  There are chapatis, dosas, steamed vegetables, paneer masala, and yummy fried things that are completely off limits in this Ayurvedic cleanse, but we all break the rules and sample the smorgasbord!  With both hands on deck, I only get one food shot of an appetizer made from a leaf:


More snaps of the celebration, sacred cow included!

imageAlas, it is time to go, so we begin to extract ourselves. Some of us are tempted by the slabs of almond and mango ice cream, while others stop on the way out to watch yet another ceremony in which the bride and groom sit opposite each other on the floor under a tent in the sun with who seem to be their parents.

The party is said to go on for hours, but our senses are full, and we stuff ourselves into the steaming van one more time. Of course we are greeted with gridlock at the gates of the church, and our departure is delayed by ten minutes as the drivers refuse to yield to horns and waving of arms and even an onlooker who tries to squeeze us through an opening that would have shaved the doors off the vehicle; but this is India, and while we perspire like colored cream puffs melting in the sun, the goats come and go, a cow grazes on dusty grass, and a moped slips through the crack between cars. We learn the art of patience and of humility, and at least I, with Dr Mouli’s six year old ice cream eating daughter on my lap, am content to laugh at the fullness of this ridiculously wonderful scene.







Katie's Travel Blog!

This Little Yogi Went to Market

The markets in India are brilliant blend of texture, sounds, smells, and people as colorful and various as the vegetables. Some are open to the sunlight, but most are arranged under a quilt-like expanse of tarps to protect goods from the heat of the midday sun. We enter the maze from the main intersection in town where the streets bustle with throngs of pedestrians, rickshaws, and lorries full of produce. As soon as we step inside and under the patchwork awnings, the sounds of the street vanish; in their stead, the clucking of chickens tightly caged and the smell of the fish monger immediately arrest our senses.

imageWe move quickly through the small square where carcasses hang from a shower rod, and butchers wait for customers to choose their next meal.  It brings me back to the English Market in Cork City, Ireland where I became a dedicated vegetarian for the first time. Siobhan’s vegetable stand was a staple for us college students, and she always huddled me in and made sure I went back to our flat with plenty of greens.

There is so much to see, and it is clear that in the time we have, our eyes will pass over  just a fraction of it; my gaze moves from place to place until it finds the moments that hold my attention. Perhaps the most interesting part of being in this place is watching the people as they come and go, pointing at this or that, and the vendors as they restack daikon radishes, purple cabbages and root vegetables into neat piles and rows.


There are beggars who sit in the dirty corners where market lanes intersect under the lattice of blue and yellow, and they hold out their precious palms and ask from under wrinkled brows and sad eyes, “please?” And there are little ladies who can’t afford a stall with shelves, so they spread their goods over a blanket on the ground or in baskets like this woman selling garlic.


One of the loveliest things of all in the market is the square full of flower stalls, each with its strands of jasmine piled as high as white wedding cakes, and blossoms of every imagineable color hanging in long necklaces from the rooflines.


People buy garlands for the temple deities and to hang over doorways; even the rear view mirror in a “tuk-tuk,” or rickshaw taxi, becomes a place to hang a bough of rosebuds. The jasmine, though, is everyone’s favorite, and all of us bury our noses in blossoms and inhale deeply. Just look at these beauties!!

We wander through the passageways, no sense of direction, one shop almost folding itself into the next, each one chockablock full of spices, veggies, clothing, or kitchen utensils. Every once in a while, we emerge from the blue underground of tarps and shade sheets to an edge of the market where the city buildings stand filthy in the afternoon sun. A small river filled with trash separates us from this section of the town, and a pair of dingy white goats knock heads across the mire as one skinny, presumably female, goat looks on with interest.

imageI duck back into the mystical blue and disappear into the thicket of stalls, tins of colorful spices, rows of grain bags, and the perfume of sweet jasmine.


Some of the sellers love to have their photos taken and approach us with an outstretched hand to hold: “Where you from?” they ask with a curious smile and even some pride that we have come to visit their little city high up in the mountains of Coonoor. Some shopkeepers grimace as we hold up our iPhones and snap. Occasionally, I ask if I can make a picture of them, and more often than not, they nod humbly and stand silently while I frame them behind their vegetables and then say “thank you” with a gesture of namaste. Here passers by seem too tired to use both hands in prayer pose to acknowledge each other; instead, they put up half a namaste the shape of an “L” over their forehead, and we joke that perhaps they see us as a nosy nuisance. A couple more snaps down rows of hot peppers yields me this image of red chiles in a mint green bag:

imageThe group of eight that parted somewhere near the housewares section of the market nearly two hours ago eventually seeps back together, and we flow out into the shuddering traffic, which watches our white river cross the street and climb into a single van, and we are whisked away from this hub of humanity and delivered to the gates of the retreat high up overlooking the tea plantations.

Katie's Travel Blog!

Trekking, Treatments, Tinctures, Tablets, & Toilets

Reposting from 2016:

As the title suggests, this is not a typical yoga retreat. Ayurveda is medicine for the body and mind, and most of us have been turned upside down (and inside out) in both of those respects. “It’s all good,” the saying goes, but clearing your body tissues and your monkey mind is deep work.  Let me give you the day in a big nutshell.

We begin at 6 am with herbal formulas made specifically for each of us by Dr. Mouli and Sunny, his pharmacist.  Sunny delivers the goods to our doors in the dark; he smiles kindly, his name the perfect fit for his sweet disposition, especially at this hour of the day as the first bluish-pink light signals the coming day. I say thank you and bless the herbs before I down them with cumin-infused water and dress for the optional silent meditation walk we offer each morning. Walking sticks in hand, we step over tar, red dirt, broken ground and patches of grass, alongside the tea plantations and through clusters of homes or small villages, oftentimes uphill to a lookout over the magnificent valleys below.

Various dogs bark at us or stare quietly, while others follow alongside us for awhile.image I may have to do an entire post on dogs, as they are literally everywhere, in the streets, in doorways, on the paths… Some are known to bite, so we carry sticks for safety as much as for steadiness. This little guy just watched as we went by, as silent as the four of us who ventured out on this chilly morning.

The road continues up an up, and soon the views give us both the sunrise and moon set in the same vista. On most of the hilltops sit the whitewashed weekend country homes of the wealthy, while down below and lining the roads are the pastel painted cottages and the huts of the villagers.


turquoise makes me happy

This morning, however, we pass all the homes; even the road ends, and we enter a rocky field that looks over the multicolored villages below. Morning fires send up a river of smoke between the rooftops and low-lying hills.  We sit and drink in the air, the sun, the moon, the colors..

Sunshine and Smoke

When we return, the group gathers at 7:30 for yoga. Encased in glass and wood, the studio is beautiful–its wooden floors lit with the buttery-yellow of morning.  I offer a moderate practice to get us all going, a hearty handful of sun salutations, standing poses to ground down and grow some roots here, and a group tree to add threads to the first strings we’ve woven together here in this beautiful place.imageAfter yoga, Chagan, Vijay, and Mohan, the resident chefs, are there waiting for us with fresh pineapple and guava juice, papaya, hot chai, and a dosa (rice & lentil crepe) filled with coconut potatoes.  There is always a chutney, which is quickly devoured. There are dates and pomegranates and guavas, and oranges fresh from the trees on the grounds.  image

For those who don’t have abhyanga (hot oil massage with two therapists) this morning, time is spent lingering over chai under the clearest blue sky. Others change into the robes supplied in our rooms (some have polar bears, others are flowered, some are typical white spa robes, and still others are fleece) and get ready for the first massage of the day. The garden is full of adults in silly robes,  but this is just part of the fun, and I wouldn’t change it even if they offered us ritzy ones instead. We have become a family in these past few days, so it is easy now to sit in the garden together awaiting our treatments in just these robes.

“Miss Katie,” Lali calls my name, and I enter the treatment room where a solid wood table, pots of herbalized sesame oil, and the four most wonderful hands await me.  It’s worth a note to explain the treatment room: gallons of oil specifically herbalized for each guest at the retreat line the front wall. The massage table is a stern-looking and massive piece of wood with strong side rails to keep the copious bath of oil in what becomes somewhat of a boat where the patient reclines. No padding, no sheets or cozy coverings. I admit, it’s a little intimidating the first time, but I take a deep breath and surrender.

Lali and Parvathi smile into my eyes and ask me to disrobe. One of the girls makes a simple loin cloth out of linen and ties it up around my waist. Can you remember being bathed as an infant by your own sweet mother? This treatment brings me back to a time beyond my first remembered memories–but the experience is in my heart somewhere, and Parvathi brings me back my memory: my mother’s warm hands, her soothing voice, her gentle fingertips over my baby chest and belly.  Nothing is more loving than this giving touch with nothing expected in return. Lali and Parvathi have become this mother, working in tandem with loving strokes, circles, and infinity spirals from head to feet to undo the knots in my body, mind, and heart. Tears come easily, and soft fingers wipe them and tell me crying is good, so I let it flow for a very long time.

When I emerge from the womb of this first Abhyanga experience, it is as if I have opened new eyes.  Lali and Parvathi both kiss my cheeks and smile deeply into my face; I hug them both and thank them for their loving touch.

imageLunch is a feast of spiced kitchari, chapatis, steamed veggies, black eyed peas, and another savory chutney.  We laugh over our new permanently sesame or ghee oiled hairdos, and sink even deeper into this shared experience, knowing the healing has only just begun.

Speaking of healing, the herbal capsules are as colorful as the villages, and every meal is an opportunity to investigate what everyone is taking. “I think the red ones are laxatives,” Alexis says.  “And the green ones are sleeping pills,” someone else pipes up.  “Anyone know what these are?”  Blue, yellow, pink, every shade of brown, even silver and gold pills.  On top of that comes the tinctures–the syrupy herbal tonics that come on the heels of our lovely lunch; and I can tell you, my concoction is a lip-curling, nose-wrinkling experience, but we are supposed to offer love and thanks to our herbs. One of our pamphlets even says: “Herb has consciousness in it, so please try to connect with it… take any medications with trust and affection; it will help you achieve the best results. Try to respect the medicine/plant so try to avoid these words: disgusting, smells like shit, bad taste, etc.  Of course it’s no pizza or khebab–these are medicines!”  So we raise our cups and I teach my mates the Irish word Slainte, “To your health!”



The rest of the afternoon is filled with treatments, naps, and hanging out on the lawn sharing our stories.  Lots of sunburns on these first few days, but there are balms and salves, and Chagan comes round with his homemade ghee to rub on our pink noses and cheeks.

Some of the crew have already spent time overnight or in the wee hours of morning becoming great pals with their toilets, whether from exhaustion or the request for laxatives after traveling for days with no elimination.  Triphala, the herbal threesome of Amalaki, Haritaki, and Bibhitaki is given to just about everyone in the beginning, and the effect is pretty quick. Other guests at the retreat who are not in our group are already at the point in their cleanse where they are doing oil enemas or full purgation, but they say they kindly will not share the details with us newbies, so we are left to discover that some other week.  I hope you will join me for my next installment “The Purgation Blues,” coming soon to a loo near you!!  Just kidding–what happens at the retreat stays at the retreat.   For now, we are feeling pretty happy, and we are just going to sprinkle that shit everywhere.

Nothing like a little fireside dancing and singing to celebrate elimination!





Katie's Travel Blog!

Temple Feet

Once our Air India flight gets us from Mumbai to Coimbatore, we head to our hotel. Although we entertain the idea of going for a walk, in a matter of minutes, all three of us are sound asleep.  It takes all of our energy to get up less than two hours later to shower and dress for dinner. We slip our feet into sandals for the first time, oblivious to the snowstorm back home that has canceled my co-leader’s flight, and head to the hotel bar, where we drink Perrier and sample some local fare: tikki paneer, roasted cauliflower, sesame fried veggies, tikki chicken, and spicy fried fish. It is important to note that the retreat is strictly vegetarian, no eggs, and the only dairy is for chai, and the milk comes from the pet cow on site. Over the spread of savory treats, we plan tomorrow’s excursion to visit some nearby temples and decide to head to the retreat a day early.  A short stroll around the hotel grounds in the warm night, the air full of honking horns, barking dogs, and the peachy glow of the city several miles away completes our evening, and the three amigos quickly retire.

We rise in the morning, eat a humongous buffet breakfast including guava juice, traditional Indian fare, omelettes, and pastries, oh my!  It takes awhile to work out the details of our itinerary for the day with our driver–there are no two or three-lane highways here in India like 93 North or the Mass Pike, so the three of us have no real understanding of what we are about to experience (picture two lane small town roads often with four “lanes” of traffic, each car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, cows, horses, and pedestrians all trying to pass each other or through each other).  We pay our bill and are swept away from the luxurious steps of La Meridian hotel in our chartered car and into the humanity-filled streets of Coimbatore.

imageOur driver’s name is Krishna, which seems the perfect for a someone taking us on a temple tour. Our first stop is Perur Pateeswarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva (also known as Patteswarar), and his consort Parvati.  The parking lot is full of devotees and beggars, along with vendors selling sweets and flower offerings to the deities.

imageWe are instructed to leave our flip flops in the car so the aren’t stolen while we walk through the temple, so this is really the first time our feet connect with Indian soil.  We walk across the dirty lot and venture inside.  I manage to catch this snap while our feet are still clean:


Alexis and I both manage to take a few pictures inside the temple before we are quietly but sternly told “no picture!”  Our feet take us deeper into the belly of the temple, where various shrines guarded by priests who offer pujas smudge devotees with sandalwood paste, haldi (turmeric), and Vibhuti ( holy ash).  Women chant quietly, and people move about in their daily prayers.

I don’t see another westerner in the place, and before long it is clear we are being watched and followed. It’s interesting being a tourist and yet somewhat of a spectacle with our winter white skin and Annie’s strawberryish hair. One doorway leads to a stone courtyard where we slip out and take a few pictures of the architecture and the natives passing by. In a moment we are surrounded by a group of ladies in silk saris and a few men in white who ask where we are from.  We take a photo of them, they take one of us, and then one lady asks “selfie?” Before long we are having a full-fledged selfie extravaganza in the temple courtyard.  Indians LOVE selfies!  I regret to say that my own pics of this moment don’t do any of us justice, so you won’t be seeing it here, but trust me, there are many selfies to come!


The man who had been shadowing us for fifteen minutes inside the temple finally approached the photo shoot and pressed his way into our group and begged us to meet his family and do selfies with them as well.  This is his family (he is on the right).

imageAmazing how the word “selfie ” and a few phones could bring a dozen strangers into such a sweet moment of curiosity and sharing.  A few more hugs and pictures with these beautiful people we will never see again, and we are heading to the car and onward to the ISHA ashram about a half hour away.

It is very clear when we arrive at ISHA that this is a huge organization with an impressive complex. Some of the highlights include a massive statue of Shiva, a huge brick dome with a shiva lingham made of mercury in the center (if you are interested, take a peek on Google), several smaller temples and two bath houses, each with a lingham in the center which devotees press their foreheads or hearts to while in the pool.


We spend hours here: meditate in two different shrines, have lunch, and take the literal plunge into the women’s pool (men and women have different bathing  pools). There is a protocol for the bath: first pay a donation at the door, then strip and put on a saffron robe, shower, and stow your belongings on a shelf before heading down a long wide stone stairway to the water.  All three of us climb in, and a lady up on the steps gestures to us that we must walk around the lingham four times, put our foreheads to the stone (which means face under water), then our hearts, and finally swim over to an waterfall which cascades down the stone face of the pool– at least 50 feet high–where you have to walk under the falls and stand in the downpour.  After a minute or so, we exit the pool, head back to the dressing room, and turn in our orange tunics before wandering back to the very first temple in the complex before leaving ISHA and heading North to Coonoor.  Annie wants to buy a pink lotus to leave at the shrine, so we walk up the steps and there the flowers are floating in a huge basin.  They might just be the prettiest flowers I have ever seen.















Katie's Travel Blog!

Patience, travelers.

The journey begins at Logan where my fellow travelers and I find each other at the Air France terminal hours before flight AF 8399 is ready for us to board. Each of us has only a single backpack and a small shoulder bag, and from the start we bond over our exceptional packing jobs and the fun of going on adventure to a land none of us has been to before.

From the start it is clear this trip to India is about much more than the immersion into Ayurveda that will begin in a few days.  We have lessons to learn together that will reveal themselves as the days go, not the least of which is patience.  I chug down the last sweet bit of NH well water I can drink and pour the remaining drops into a bucket before we go through security. Alexis is the first in this trip to have the contents of her well-packed bag scrutinized.  We watch as the officer unzips compartments, pulls out the neatly packed bundles, and then looks apologetically at Alexis when she realizes there is no way the bag is going back together the way it was before she dismantled it. “It’s okay,” Alexis says earnestly, knowing it will be easier if she repackages it herself.  Once through, we grab a bite to eat, sit and make final phone calls, and just hang out waiting for them to announce our flight. We stand in the long line to board, and are entertained by our collective footwear:  one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of short leather boots, and a pair of sneakers–each as different as we are–and agree we couldn’t be more comfortable with our toes tucked away from the frigid Boston air.

On the plane we share our own little row of three seats and settle in for the night. After a little dinner, Annie begins a book that she will finish before we land in India, and Alexis and I watch Adele live in concert (amazing btw).   I never sleep much on planes, so I fight with my fidgety body while others in the rows around me either snore or watch movies.  The girls sleep quietly through the flight, and I watch the sun come up over the wing as we descend into Charles de Gaulle.


Paris is all of a cup of tea and change of planes. There is a collective wish that our 12-hour layover in Mumbai could be had here so we could take a spin under Le Arc de Triomphe in a Fiat taxi and eat a croissant at the Eiffel Tower.  Air France rules, by the way–perhaps the kindest, most attentive crew I’ve ever seen on a plane; and if you haven’t flown with them lately, you have to check out their new safety video on you tube–had us all cracking up before we even left the gate!

imageThe late morning bleeds into the over-the-clouds sun of evening somewhere over northern Africa, and then the attendants ask us to close the blinds for the night.  Alexis colors, Annie reads, and I manage to get an hour or two of sleep before we begin our descent. Time no longer means what it did to me yesterday.

When we land, the Mumbai air at midnight is warm–a hazy potpourri of smoke and cotton, of tired bodies ready to be out of the plane that sailed us through the skies over countries in turmoil below.  One breath in and I know it is India, though I have never set foot on this ground.  Intriguing, heavy, dirty, and yet oddly sweet, and I take draft after draft just to get it into my lungs and begin to believe that I am really here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the direction of an airport official telling us we needed to go to a different terminal to catch out domestic flight to Coimbatore, which led to a 30-minute bus excursion across town,  where we were promptly told to go back to the international terminal. There is no such thing as prompt bus drivers in the middle of the night. While we waited, several men stood outside and chatted. All of them stepped on and off the bus, and finally we were herded onto yet another bus with a driver that tried to get us to pay him a bribe to bring us back where we came from. I heard a stern “No” come from my mouth and got a bobbled-headed look of disgust before our drivers were switched one last time. Patience at two in the morning after sixteen hours of flying is an interesting thing. If it is possible to be elated, nervous, and frustrated all at the same time, this about describes it.  Our excursion gave us a close look at the slums just outside the airport where the dogs and rats gather at street corners, and men huddle in dusty doorways littered with plastic bottles, bits of paper, and colorful candy wrappers ground into the day’s debris. Some little piles were lit afire and smoldering–that smoky smell I first breathed.  It was an eye-opening introduction, and maybe the only chance we will have to see an Indian city in the middle of the night.

Thank goodness we didn’t have a short window between flights!  When the bus drops us at the gate, we head back through security, where it is my turn for baggage to be prodded. Several customs attendants investigate my packages of herbs and collection of essential oils, and one man demands that I open my bottled water and take a sip (to make sure it’s not some kind of poison?), and finally we are through and off to find a place to hunker down for the night.image


By morning’s light we have slept little, but all three of us turn to face the orange sun.  I capture this pic of my beautiful friends and also a cool shot of a line of men waiting for a plane to dock.  It is the start of our first day in India.