Lakshmi Schmakshmi

Lakshmi Schmakshmi

Saturday, December 20, 2003 Travelogue:  Excerpts from past impressions and experiences in India (see the first travelogue segment we posted)

Hello everyone!

Joni, Michelle, and I have finally reached the peace and solitude of the Cardamon Hills in the state of Kerala.  We have settled for two days in the town of Munnar, with rows and rows of tea plantations nestled on huge mountains.  Munnar is a hot spot for honeymooners from Bombay and a welcome respite because it is about 30 degrees cooler than our last several destinations.  Even in the center of the town, horn blowing is kept to bearable minimum and auto exhaust only sometimes gets in your line of smell.  It is relaxing, and I am enjoying it.

So let’s talk the path of enlightenment…it’s happening all around me and in many different forms.  First there are the pilgrims… thousands of men of all ages, barefoot, wearing short black sarongs, no shirts, strings of wooden beads, and special markings on their foreheads to show which god they worship.  To my eyes, it looks like these guys are on some sort of a vacation, although apparently it’s a serious and somber event.  They walk languidly through temples and historic sites, arms casually wrapped around each others shoulders, perhaps singing a merry tune in unison or laughing at a joke.  One day, as we were visiting one of the largest and most revered temples in south India, I asked a friend that we had met whether going on a pilgrimage was like going on vacation.  His answer was a resounding no.

“But aren’t they all friends?” I asked.  “Isn’t it fun for friends in a big group to go on a trip together?”

“No, no,” he replies, “These men are not necessarily friends, they just happen to be from the same district.  Each day they wake up at 4am, bathe in cold water, and then walk or take the bus to get to their holy destination.  This could take days or weeks.”

Hmmph, I am still not convinced it might not be a little like boy scouts or something, but then nothing in India is what I really think it is anyways.

A second type of enlightenment path I have witnessed here is that of the westerner.  This is an entirely different gig, but equally as fascinating.  These are French men with shaved heads and no shoes, German girls in full saris, or my favorite, Russian Hare Krishnas singing in the streets for money to the delight of Indian tourists.  My first brush with this sort of thing was at Auroville, a spiritual commune and THE nucleus of new age enlightenment.  Auroville was started in 1968 by the “mother,” a french woman who wanted to create a society of spiritual discipline towards inner consciousness, rather than by dogma or ritual behavior.  Two thirds of the 1500 or so inhabitants are non-Indians.  Sixty-nine are Americans, to be exact.

We decided to visit Auroville one day, and this is what happened.  Basically, tourists only get to enter the compound from 4 to 4:30 pm.  A rule of complete silence must be obeyed, and your shoes have to be taken off.  You walk in a long line with other tourists (mostly Indian) through lush gardens and green peaceful lawns.  You CANNOT talk, and don’t forget like Michelle did when she turned back to me and said in a daytime voice “Can you see through these pants?”  Occasionally you spy a white woman reading serenely on a bench, or an Indian gardener tending to the plants.  Finally, you get to the main attraction, which, and I’m not joking, is a huge golden ball that looks identical to Epcot Center.  You go into the ball, which is oddly under construction, and go to the top of it, where you wait in line to look in a room.  In the room is a round crystal ball and complete whiteness.  Oh, and the room is round too.  Then you have to leave the room, exit the golf ball, and walk silently back to get your shoes………um, definitely bizarre, and not altogether un-funny either.

So are you wondering by now if I am on any path of enlightenment?  I’m afraid to tell you, no, not yet, for I am too busy inserting earplugs to block out the piercing din of obsessive horn blowing by the bus drivers, or sifting through my meal to make sure every morsel has been cooked.  I might get there though, you never know….

In the meantime, have a merry Christmas and happy holiday everyone!  I can’t even think too much about home and Christmas trees and cookies and stuff, or I get too reminiscent.  Joni, and Michelle, and I are going to make the best of it, though, and I’m sure will concoct something Christmasy to do.

Love and much cheer,