One of the hottest topics of conversation on any Ashtangi’s lips is Mysore. Have you been to Mysore yet? When are you next going to Mysore? What’s it like in Mysore?
Mysore is the equivalent of Mecca for Ashtangis. It’s the global hub of the Ashtanga community because it’s the home of our Guru, R Sharath Jois, grandson of the late great Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore in 1948. Each year thousands of people come from all over the world to practice with Sharath and his mother Saraswathi.
I’d been practicing over four and a half years before I finally made the trip to Mysore. The minimum you can practice for is 1 month, with 3 months being the maximum. So if you work full-time it can be a difficult thing to organise, particularly if you’re keen to follow the almost obligatory one-trip-a-year suggestion. I was in the middle of a life-changing process at the time so I decided to go the whole hog. I quit my job, left my rented flat and left the UK for 6 months, planning to spend the first 3 in Mysore.
So once I’d planned my itinerary, registered at the shala, booked my flights, applied for my visas and got my vaccinations (amazing how simple it all sounds now!), I said my goodbyes and stepped on a plane to India. My journey was fairly uneventful – until I arrived on Indian soil of course!
My Mum had told me about the brand new airport at Delhi and that you no longer had to travel to the domestic terminal, which was a relief after remembering my very first challenging experience of arriving in India with a friend 19 years ago. Still, as I emerged into the bustling departure area I wasn’t sure exactly what had changed! There was the same confusing signage everywhere, the same groups of men idly hanging around and the same general chaos and disorder. I headed towards the Thomas Cook money exchange, as I knew I’d need some cash and was taken in by the sign warning “Last point to change money”. An American woman with her son in the queue in front of me seemed more than a little harassed. After sending him off to do something and shouting after him, she turned to me and said something conspiratorially about the typical frustrations of Indian bureaucracy: they were slow, disorganised and making us fill out some stupid form. I smiled and nodded, thinking it had actually been remarkably quick and smooth, and feeling proud of my patience and calmness. I wonder how much of that is down to my yoga practice…?
I changed £50 and only got Rs4500 at a rate of 95, which of course I later found out was daylight robbery. If I’d waited until I got into the domestic terminal I’d find an exchange rate of 109 rupees to the pound!
But first I had to find the domestic terminal. Aha! My first challenge. I asked the money exchange man and he told me to exit the building, turn left and go up one level. Seemed simple enough. I exited, turned left and found myself in a bus station. Hmm, that didn’t seem quite right. I asked someone else and he pointed the other way. Aah so he had meant the other left! After following some very confusing signs, I eventually found the domestic terminal, which basically consists of 8 arrival gates. Err, what about departures? There are signs to 2 ‘Airport Ticket Desks’ at either end of the concourse so maybe that’s them. I check the display screens, find my flight and head towards Airport Ticket Desks B at the other end.
Through the foyer area I head towards the only doorway, which I assume is the entrance to the airport, even though the sign reads ‘Visitors Lounge’. A female official asks to see my ticket and passport so I show her my STA e-ticket clearly stating the Sahara Airlines flight number, time and destination: Bangalore. She looks confused and asks “What is this?”, pointing to the airline name, “There is no Sahara Airlines”. I explain that I’ve seen the flight details on the screen outside. She says something to a colleague in an Indian language (there are so many I don’t like to assume it was Hindi) and then repeats “There is no Sahara Airlines from this airport, you cannot use this ticket”. I explain again that I’ve seen the flight on the screen and suggest maybe it’s Sahara in conjunction with another airline or something. I start getting mildly anxious and ask “Well what am I supposed to do?” She replies “I’m sorry Madam” and dismisses me.
Right. Fine. I feel a lump appearing in my throat and mild panic rising in my chest. But miraculously I manage to find my calm. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation. I go back out to the display screens and double check the details. Now I see the airline is listed as ‘JetKonnect’. Aha! Something to do with Jet Airlines I cunningly deduce. Turning on my heel with a renewed sense of purpose, I head back to the female official and smugly inform her of this news. See? I wasn’t making it up! She offhandedly tells me to speak to the JetKonnect staff and waves me away. I turn back to the ticket desks in the small entrance foyer but none of them say JetKonnect so I ask at the Air India desk as it’s the only one that’s manned. The lady there tells me to go to Airport Ticket Desks A, right at the other end of the concourse.
Right. Fine. Well at least we seem to be getting somewhere. I get to the other end and see the JetKonnect desk which has a lady behind it and a sign saying “Closed”. Great. I ask a man at the Jet Airways desk next door. He takes my e-ticket and shows it to two colleagues. I hear the word “JetKonnect” a couple of times and something about my ticket seems to amuse them. When I hand him my passport in its pink and white spotty cover with embossed flip flops, he’s even more amused and has a little play with the flowers stitched onto the flip flops. Then, finally, he hands me the piece of paper I need to get through to the next level of this hilarious check-in game.
Oh India how I’ve missed you! I do love you so!
I’m allowed through the visitors lounge and have to show my documents to another official to get out again. I’m 4 hours early but I check in anyway, expecting to pay Rs1250 for my excess baggage, as this internal flight only permits 15kg per person. I was going to take the luggage label off my backpack but I’m glad I left it on, as the check-in man spots it and asks if I’ve come straight from London today. He makes a phone call, taps on his computer and hands me my boarding pass. “It’s ok?” I ask. He explains that international passengers travelling on the same airline get the same allowance for the domestic flight. Result! Thank goodness it was Jet Airways and thank goodness I left the luggage label on.
I knew the Angels were looking out for me – again. But what with leaving my poncho in the loo (more on this below) and dropping my padlock keys in the queue at Heathrow, I think they’re gently reminding me to be more vigilant and aware.
I head through security and into the modern departure lounge full of shops, restaurants and laptop charging stations: a far cry from the domestic terminal I remember. After a quick comfort break I head upstairs to the food court and weigh up my options. Should I get into the spirit of things and order a curry or make the most of the Western food while I can? I spot a Costa Coffee and check it out, more out of intrigue than anything else. Most of the food items seem very familiar but with an Indian twist. Same same but different. I order a ‘Roasted Paneer Hunger Wrap’ and peach iced tea and sit at a table overlooking the lounge below, as far as I can get from the blaring TV screen.
My thoughts turn to the iced tea I’m drinking and I’m suddenly aware that I’m drinking ice. I wonder if it’s made from filtered water? I make a mental note to be more careful in future. Then I remember I haven’t taken my probiotics or vitamins since I left home, which makes me reach for my water bottle. Hang on, where is my water bottle? Oh no! I realise the carrier bag containing my water bottle plus my beautiful (and very expensive) possum fur poncho that my sister had shipped all the way from New Zealand was missing! I must have left it in the ladies. I finish the last mouthful of my wrap, guzzle down the iced tea and head back to the toilets. Thankfully the toilet attendant had found it and put it to one side. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and make another mental note to be more vigilant.
As I head towards the gate I come across an enormous sculpture that appears at first glance to be several male athletes in different sporting positions. But as I get closer I realise they’re doing yoga. It’s the Surya Namaskar, or sun salutation, sequence. I take some photos and remark how things have changed since I was last here 14 years ago, and how everyone seems to be cashing in on the growing global phenomenon of yoga.
On the internal flight to Bengalaru (Bangalore) I realise you have to pay for food and the menu reminds me of an Easyjet flight, but again with an Indian twist. Same same but different. I ask for a spinach & creamed corn sandwich but the flight attendant informs me they’ve run out. “How about this one?” I ask, pointing to something called ‘Bhutte De’, the only other option under Vegetarian Sandwiches. He apologises and offers a chicken sandwich, so I explain that I’m vegetarian. He seems surprised and says “Oh, are you into yoga or something?” I laugh and say well, yes, as a matter of fact. He explains that he saw me taking a photo of the Surya Namaskar sculpture in the airport.
And in that moment I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like a statistic. Just another Western vegetarian yogi coming to India to practice, to become spiritually awakened and to ‘find myself’. But I don’t mind. No matter how cliched it sounds, for the first time in a long time I feel truly content. I already feel like I belong. Ok, I’m currently only sitting in a plane flying over India, but I know I’m heading to a place where I’m meant to be. And that’s a great feeling to have.
However, before I can get to Mysore I have to endure a 4-hour taxi journey, so I know that more fun and games are on their way! In my next post I’ll share the delights of driving on India’s insane roads. Deathtrap doesn’t even cover it!