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Vaidyagrāma & India 2015 - A Healing Journey

For all the photos of Vaidyagrama, please click here.

India January 19, 2015

I am pre-writing this info and posting it as I am able to go online. I am only using the internet 15 minutes, every other day per day to give myself a break.

Travel was smooth but very long. First flight went by fast. I had an entire row to myself in the back of the plane. The second flight from Qatar to Chennai India. The layover in Chennai was 5 hours, but it went by fast, as we had to go through customs, immigration and a health screening. They take your temperature by infrared camera to make sure you don't have a fever. They are screening for Influenza and Ebola. If you are sick, you don't get to enter the country.

By the time we collected our luggage, re-checked it, etc...we waited 2 hrs and got on the last flight. The airport in the Middle East was just like ours, but when you arrive in India, you immediately know it, from the moment the plane door opens. The jetway is already telling.

We finally arrived in Coimbatore to a very quiet and small airport and we had 2 taxis waiting for us. The guys threw our luggage on the roof and away we went. WOW. What a ride! We drove as fast as possible through the city to get to the outskirts in the jungle. The sights, sounds, traffic, colors, beeping, people, animals, smells of food, etc are almost a visual overload. What I saw on the ride here I will never forget. The rules of the road are - there are no rules and the one with the loudest horn wins. I was sure we were in for a head-on collision several times. There are even girls in saris riding side-saddle on motorcycles without even hanging on. In this chaos and threat of death every moment, these ladies are really tough. There are people everywhere and it just doesn't stop. They are walking in the rode and most are barefoot. The level of poverty is puts all things into perspective. It makes my hometown of South Chicago look like a paradise.

Arriving at the compound was wonderful. We all hugged each other upon exiting the 2 taxis and laughed at what an experience that was! I wonder what we are in for when we drive to Munnar, Alleppey and Kochi!

We have been greeted by the main doctor. Dr. Ramadas is a big-eyed sweetheart of a man. We have been treated like like queens from the very start.

We unpacked in our room and immediately had consultations with the doctor.

The hospital is comprised of 15-20 patient block buildings that each have treatments rooms contained in the building. They are all inter-connected by lovely stone walkways that are all covered for protection from the sun. The roof of the walkways is terra cotta and keeps everything quite cool. Everything else surrounding in jungle trees, farming of medicinal herbs or flowers.

There are also 2 main gathering rooms that are round and full of windows. One is for yoga, meditation, pranayama and prayers. The other is a small school where we meet for daily presentations and daily satsang with the doctors.Yesterday, we learned about why we pray in morning and evening, why there are so many hindu dieties and why Ganesha looks like an elephant.

There are peacocks and cows in a field next to us and there are butterflies flying everywhere among the flowers. There are terra cotta wind chimes. The smell of incense fills the air. There are herbal water stations every so often. There is also a main office where you may go to stay online for a only a few minutes a day. You may also purchase any supplies you need there and you may drop off your laundry if you need it washed. To wash 8 items, it costs 35 cents.

The doctor gave me an initial consult. He asks numerous questions about diet lifestyle and heath history. Then he checks eyes, nails, hair and pulse. He told me I have eyes that are like gems of blue sapphire. He was able to tell me a bunch of things that shocked me, just from reading my pulse. He said I am full of Pitta. This is what causes my physical ailments, my back problems and arthritis. He also said that is why I couldn't have children. He also told me I am a very calm person now, but I was much more aggressive in my youth. He said some of issues stem from me always wanting to know too much information and that I don't always have to have an answer to the question "Why". He told me several more personal things that blew me away and I have noted in my journal. We had a long conversation and he will treat me to cool off my body from the inside out.

We meet with the doctor every morning and we must keep a record of everything - when and how much we eat, drink, sleep, urinate, etc. - We also have to record our emotional feelings everyday and anything we dream about. All of these daily activities and thoughts contribute to your health. During this cleanse, many emotional things can come up. All of this down time gives some people a chance to just sit and think for the first time in their lives. It can be quite overwhelming for some and the doctors want to make sure everyone is not only receiving physical treatment, but that we feel emotionally comfortable as well.

I did not start treatments yesterday, but today they are starting to give me herbal meds. They are called Kashayam. They taste quite horrible. One is very bitter and the other tastes like sour red wine. They bring them everyday at the same times. The doctor explained that these are to treat inflammation in the body and mind. We all have different meds we are taking for different reasons. Mine are to treat the inflammation. My classmates have warned that it kills your appetite and makes you run to the bathroom. Good! I will loose a few pounds!

They bring water and herbal meds every morning at 5:30 am, then we gather for morning prayers, chanting and pranayama. You hear the sound of flip flops in the dark as we all make our way to the main hall. The Hindu "Mass" is called "Puja". We all gather in a round main room that is full of windows and the sound of birds. It is quite beautiful. Dr. Ramadas burns fire and incense and belts out hypnotizing verses from the Gita and we join in at the end reading from our handouts. The sound of Om Shanti resonates through your brain. When it is over, we take a small drink of water and chew a piece of neem. He then dots your head with red sandalwood paste on your 3rd eye (with a big smile). You exit and the sun has risen and the birds are singing.

We arrive back to our room for ginger tea and breakfast. Then you rest and the doctor comes to your room to see you. Then you rest some more or go for a small walk around the compound. Then you arrive back for lunch at 12:30 with more water and tea.At 2 pm, I have my abyanga today and then I will go to Satsang at 5 pm (everyday). Also once a week, they show how to make herbal medicines. There is something different everyday, but prayers, yoga and satsang are daily. Yoga Nidra is everyday at 2 pm.

At 6 pm, there is more meds, then prayers at 6:15. We chat for a few minutes after that and then come back to room and dinner is waiting for you. Due to jetlag, I slept from 8 pm to 5 am last night. It was perfect! I was falling asleep during prayers!

The food is really good and a bunch of variety of soups, beans, vegetables and rice. I cant wait to repeat some of it at home. It is all seasoned very well and is a lot. Last night, Barbara and I were so full and so tired, that we completely skipped our dinner. They come with something every 2 hours to our room- water, breakfast, tea, grain soup, lunch, more tea, coconut water, papaya fruit, more tea, dinner, pineapple dessert, more water. It eve great the way it is served in small stackable canisters and everything is in steel. All of the girls are lovely and smiling all the time.

The room is very nice with 2 beds, a lovely terrace surrounded by trees (with a bed) a sitting area for eating, a large armour for our clothes, etc. there is a safe and key within the closet. The bathroom is big with a bunch of space for boudae and shower.

My roommate is Barbara, who just a lovely woman. She was one of my classmates and is ray of light with a loving heart. I love her. I think its wonderful that she and I have been on the same sleeping schedule! We were both up at 2 am today. The jetlag is doing us in. We smile at each other since we are both falling asleep during evening prayers and can barely eat our dinner! I am writing this for the benefit of her family as well. She would like you all to know how shes doing. She says hello and she loves you and she is so happy to be here!

There are currently 40 people being treated here, from Australia, Switzerland, Germany and London. There is another guy across the hall in our block from New York. He has been here for almost 2 months.

There is also a woman that comes to turn down the bed and drop the mosquito netting for the night. She burns a very strong incense (frankincense), like church. She literally sets it on fire on our room. The smell is amazing. You can see the smoke drifting out the windows. I believe it is to keep away the insects. Now I am concerned about what it is she may be trying to keep away.

At first, I was afraid to get into bed and did not want to leave my slippers on the floor. I put them in my bed with me. I did not want to turn the lights off, etc....but I took my courage. The bed is very firm with a low pillow. I thought I was going to wake up completely in pain, but I did not. I slept like a stone. But I was afraid to step out of bed without the lights on. I was expecting to find some kind of large bugs. I took my courage and I was pleasantly surprised that there were absolutely none! Not even in the bathroom or anywhere. The nets truly are for just small mosquitos only!!! Yay! There is nothing to fear in here! Just in case, I now have a small flashlight, but I have never seen a thing. All is well!

I had an easy time to take a nice, hot shower and I washed my clothes that I wore on the 3 planes it took to get here. I hung them on the terrace to dry in the sun. The temperature is absolutely perfect. It is warm and sunny, but with the way the buildings and walkways are constructed, it keeps us all cool and happy. A little spritz of rosewater on my face and it is divine. Even at night, we keep all of the windows open and the doors to the patio. With the overhead fan going, the temperature us perfect. Even when laying in bed at night, the temperature seems to be the same as your body. You cannot perceive it. All you hear is the turning of the overhead fan, the ticking of the clock and a little rustle of the trees an occasional breeze. All is right in the world.

You are to wear loose and comfortable clothes and cover your shoulders. All woman wear shawls. Your hair is covered in oil, so their is no need to iron it or use any products. In fact, neem paste is used instead of shampoo. There is no need for makeup or jewelry. You are not to cut your nails or hair. This means no shaving the legs.

Everything is extremely clean and you must remove your shoes anytime you step inside, weather it be the yoga hall, your own room and even the office. This is a teaching about keeping dirt outside of your sanctuary environment. We are living in sundresses, shawls and flip flops. No make up, no hair spray. Revealing our true selves.

Now I have had my first abhyanga treatment. I can see why this was retained for royalty. Unamaya is the name of the girl who came to get me for my treatment. The treatment room is 50 feet from my front door within the same building as my room. She directs me where to change and seems pleasantly surprised that I don't bother using the small, cotton loincloth. It only gets in the way. She has me sit on the edge of the large wooden table and prays over the oil. She proceeds to coat me from head to toe and may hair, it whats seems to be a gallon of medicated oil. She is always asking me if the pressure is ok and if my back hurts at all. The doctor has made her aware of my condition. She is giving me a vigorous massage, not of my muscles, but of the lymphatic system. She has me sit, lay, twist, etc to get every part of the body. I am basically sliding all over the table. We laughed together at it. After she is done, she leads me to a huge beautiful bathroom and proceeds to give me a shower. She scrubs me down with neem powder paste and washes my hair. She is continuously dumping large amounts of fresh, hot water and it feels amazing. She then steps up on a ledge to tie my hair up in a thin, pure cotton towel. I am amazed at how these towels work. Then I get dressed again and she dots my Anja Chakra and Throat Chakra with the red sandalwood powder. I raise my hands in prayer formation to tell her thank you and she sends me on my way with a smile. I will do this everyday while I am here. Then, there will also be additional treatments for my back.

It is amazing.

Time seems to stand still.

You are in a completely chemical free, but very clean environment.

You are brought food and tea every 2 hours with a smile.

The birds are singing.

You start and end everyday with incredible vedic chanting.

It is quite wonderful.

There are some people who have been here for 6 weeks.

It has changed their life forever.

I can see how being here for awhile will make it strange to enter back into a world full of chemicals. We will see how it goes.

I have written in this over the course of 2 days and I am finishing it at 3 am. Jetlag still has me off schedule.

I feel so grateful to be here and I am I so grateful for the technology that allows me to share this experience with you.

I will share some pictures on a couple days.

Namaskar and hugs from the Motherland.

India January 20, 2015 I have only been here 3 days and I really had to think about what day it is. Time seems to stand still. Today I am adding a bunch of pictures of our room, the way our food and meds are delivered, various pics on the grounds, morning prayers. Puja, cooking classes and satsang. Enjoy! I am sleeping like a stone and can never stay awake past 8 pm. I wake anywhere from 2-5, but feel completely rested with bursts of energy in the morning. Seems I wake with the urge to wash clothes (just like the weekends at home)....but waking up, cleaning up and journaling your thoughts of the day feels quite rewarding. The first set of bitter meds comes at 5:30 am. Then Its off to morning puja (which I am growing to adore). Yesterday, after breakfast, Dr Ramadas came to my room for our daily consult. I happen to be coloring a mandala and he stopped, sat with me, and looked at each and every mandala in my book. He is so much in the present moment and is not in a hurry to rush off to see other patients. The doctors here are so much more than physicians. They want to discuss your emotions as well, and always have a profound answer for the way you may be feeling. It is a combination of physical treatment and psychotherapy every single day. He sat quietly and listened to my pulse. With his eyes closed, he determined all of the remaining course of my treatment, day by day, until I leave. He did this all on the spot, with eyes closed, strictly from what he was feeling in my wrist at that moment. He then turned to his notepad to write all of my prescriptions and body treatments. He explained each one to me as he wrote them down. He knows I am an ayurvedic student and is open to any questions I have for him. Of course, I want to know what he feels in my pulse, the reason the particular herbs etc. He kindly shares it all with me with big smiles. He then hands off his notes to the technicians who will prepare your kashayam (meds) and perform your body treatments everyday. The Panchakarma treatment I am undergoing is a process to detoxify the body (to remove ama). It is uniquely tailored to each and every person, based on their health conditions, doshas, overall vitality and the level of strength in the mind. We have only started this process in the first 3 days of being here. The first stage of detoxification is called Purvakarma. This is just the preparation stage. In the preparation stage, we have started with a traditional Abhyanga, which is the oil massage that lubricates the cells and joints of the body to loosen up stored toxins. It stimulates arterial and lymphatic circulation. This is the way every treatment begins. The other forms of treatment (added to the abhyanga) in this in this stage are Swedana, a system if making the body sweat, where a person sits in a herbalized steam box. This is unique to Arurveda, as the head and heart are kept cool, while the rest of the body is heated to remove mental, emotional and physical toxins lodged within the tissues. An additional part of preparation stage, based on the person, may also be Shirodhara. "Shiro" means head and "Dhara" means dripping of oil. In this treatment, warm herbal oil is poured continuously back and forth across the forehead. It pacifies Vata Dosha, promotes relaxation of the central nervous system and improves mental clarity. This may done at the prep stage and after panchakarma has been completed. During the prep stage, your diet is also tailored to your physical condition to put the least amount of stress on your digestive system. This includes the daily herbs being taken morning and night (kashayam). I have to say, I feel like I have been fed more than I eat at home and the food has been very tasty! I cant wait to reproduce these recipes. The kashayam, on the other hand, takes some getting used to, but is absolutely do-able. Once the Purvakarma stage is completed, which usually takes about 5 days, then the true Panchakarma may commence. By this time, ama (toxins) have moved down the gastrointestinal tract and may be removed through a different series of treatments. I will write more about thise next week. For the next 3 days, I am undergoing a process by which after abhyanga, small boluses of herbalized powder are heated and pounded all over the body. It is called Pinda. Two woman perform each treatment on you. First the oil massage, then the the Pinda. I think it feels wonderful. You can see how this process breaks down fatty tissue and adipose within the skin to release toxins and open up the channels. Then I get a bath and my hair washed in the neem powder paste by both woman. I now understand what a princess feels like. I joke with them about sliding off the table. I tell them how beautiful they are. I tell them I am writing about them, which gets them very giddy with big smiles. I also thank them for taking such good care of me. "Aninndi" means thank you in their language. At the end, I am prayed for and my Ajna and Visuddhi Chakras are dotted in red sandalwood powder. In addition to the physical and mental treatment, the doctors hold satsang everyday at 5 pm to discuss the world at large, how to find happiness, how to build good Karma, why we ask the animals for forgiveness and a myriad of other topics. They welcome questions in all others and offer profound answers. I have learned to carry my journal with me wherever I go. There is so much wonderful information to record and study. I am already wondering how I will bring all of this knowledge back home. I have only been here 3 days. I am also learning that I don't know how to rest. It is becoming a challenge not to have to do anything. In our culture, we are conditioned and taught that we should be moving, working and accomplishing every moment. I have become a poster child for this. Working 9 hour days at the office in the financial industry, sitting in traffic, chores around the house, seeing ayurvedic clients in my second office, networking, advertising, learning, studying, etc, etc. ....and I don't even have small children at home. I suppose my biggest quest is to understand and implement how to turn the Pitta down. How to work at a slower pace and still feel satisfied with what I am accomplishing. To understand that I am helping others without needing a level of perfectionism. Does this work in corporate America? I realize this works in every other area in my life. I know I can make it happen. But is it allowed in the mainstream workplace? No = dilemma. That being said, it is time to step away from the ipad and prepare for morning kashayam and puja. The morning chants are now getting stuck in my head. The one that is repeated by the group is: Om Trayambakam yajamahe sugandhim pustivardhanam urvarukamiva bandhanat mrtyormuksiya ma mrtat I am pleased with how well I am getting down the pronunciation. The meaning is in the attached photos. Each day, at the end of puja and pramayama, we rub our hands together to create heat and then place them on our eyes for a moment, then like a book in front of us. We slowly open our eye to look at hands. When is the last time you stopped to look at your hands? When you were in infant, perhaps? Think of all that you do with you hands. Doing your daily work, taking a shower, cooking a meal, cleaning your home, communication expressed, love given, embracing your child. I urge you to stop for just a moment after reading this to look at the palms of your hands. We take them for granted. I feel so fortunate to have the use of my hands to contribute to my life and the world.

India January 21, 2015 Day 4 and I arise at 2:30 am again. I was able to stay awake to 9 pm, since their were big celebrations occurring! There was talk for 2 days prior, in preparation of last night's "Snake Puja". It is a special ceremony by which priests from a neighboring village arrive to hold a ceremony to ask all of the small creatures of the world forgiveness for taking over their space and most of time killing them. It only occurs twice per year. It is called a "Snake Puja" since the snake is considered the king of all of the small creatures that are so vital to our existence - the snakes, rodents and insects. Without them, the entire ecosystem would break down and the complete food supply to the human race would be cut off. Thus, the belief is, that we receive curses from the part of our living realm and ceremonies must be held in their honor to ask forgiveness. The doctors seemed quite humble in the presence of the priests. We were not to speak to the priests nor touch them in any way. It was quite a spectacle of fire and song and I feel so fortunate to have witnessed it. I have posted a video as well. Everyone in Vaidyagram attended - doctors, patients, therapists and staff. The anticipation and buzz surrounding the event rivaled that of getting ready to go out to the "club" on a Saturday night! The therapists, who normally wear scrubs, were dressed beautifully, etc. I joked with Thersa Laferty and asked if we should put some make up on! Yesterday, we had a wonderful satsang with Dr. Ramkumar, one of the founders and trustees of the Punarnava Trust. Each day he speaks at 2:30 pm and it is always insightful. Yesterdays topic was the use of milk in the human diet and how we loose the beneficial qualities of milk by pasteurizing and homogenizing it. He also confirmed that drinking milk cold, as opposed to room temp or warmed, is detrimental to your system and makes it difficult to digest. Some people have become lactose intolerant based on the ways we have changed it as a food. The Australians were surprised to find out that raw milk is illegal in the US. That sparked an entirely different discussion. Very stimulating. Our second discussion was held with another founder, Das Pullat, who you will see pictured with me in the attached photos. He expressed the future plans of Vaidyagram, including buying and additional 100 acres of land to convert it into its own retirement village, fit with 1/2/3 bedroom homes, a small emergency hospital, a school, main halls for yoga, etc. Each acre costs $40,000 USD. There is already a temple on site that will be inaugurated this coming May. The intent is to provide daily food and clean living conditions to the those you are retired and unable to care for themselves any longer. Food, medical care, volunteerism, waste management, etc is all in the project plans. I had many questions for him on the the cost of investing in the plans. The group of founders within Vaidyagram are truly making a difference in this community. They also currently fully support 6 neighboring villages with daily food and medical care. As a patient, I may choose a day of the year and for $35, you may feed the entire village for a day. Of course, I am taking part in this. This entire community beams with goodheartedness. The structures are made from the soil of the local ground, completely eco-friendly, with solar power and recycled water. They use natural farming techniques and are sensitive sustaining the surrounding ecosystem. They are doing all they can do preserve the heath of the human race, as well as live in harmony with nature. I told both Dr. Ramkumar and Mr. Pullat, I would love to help with promoting this community. Barbara and I both feel they are bringing us too much food and will request 1/2 of the portion today going forward. The guilt of sending food back at every meal is more than I can handle. I am still surprised how little we are eating, but we are just not hungry. It may have something to do with the herbs we are taking twice everyday. There are morning herbs and evening herbs. There is a bitter one before food and a sweet one after food. Barbara and I just laugh, since we have to hold our nose to take the cup and then chase it with herbal water before letting our nose go. She threatens to get a picture of me doing this before we leave. All kidding aside, there is something serious about committing to herbal medicine. We could easily take the same herbs in capsule form, but then we would loose truly committing to the essence of the herb. There is also a psychological effect of honoring that plant and what it is doing for your body. Of course, Barbara has made me laugh at just how committed we are when we are trying to drink the meds! Barbara and I went on a small morning walk and came back to the main hall of last nights ceremony. As we were approaching the hall, Barbara noticed the candles were still burning inside. Just as she was going to step inside, we heard someone running in our direction. It was Dr. Omprakash who said we could not stay, as only one designated person is allowed to see the remaining candles in the morning. In the pitch darkness, I am not even sure how he knew we were walking there. We were completely unaware. We did not see it, but I feel terrible and I want to further explain that it was not our goal to go to witness it. Time for meds and morning chants Namaskar and hugs

India January 22, 2015 We got a special treat early this afternoon (Jan 21) when we were next door visiting with Thresa and Marcia....Dr. Ramadas came by to visit and see if there was anything we needed or had questions on. He ended up sitting with us for an hour answering all of our questions and told us a little bit about his personal life. He seemed very content just spending time with us. He was is no rush to check in with us and leave. What a kind soul. We felt so honored that he took all that time to share a fraction of his knowledge with us. We asked about why and how certain treatments are done and how they treat Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas. We discovered that we tend to overthink things in the United States. Sometimes our treatments should just be intuitive. If we trust ourselves as practitioners, the treatment will be correct. What a difference from the doctors in the Western world. This teaches us to have confidence in our practice and give our full attention to our patients. We also had afternoon satsang with Daniela Wolff. She is from Austria and has spent 5 years in Sri Lanka teaching ayurvedic nutrition, the energetics of food and how it is used as medicine. She has even learned to read the sanskrit texts on the preparation of food. A beautiful woman, thin and tall, with medium length white-grey hair and a wonderful Austrian accent. She sat in lotus in front of a large crowd today. Dr. Omprakash was taking pictures. I learned so much from her and I cannot wait to share it all with my clients. It will change the way you look at food and how it nourishes the body and mind. The 2 main points she wants everyone to know (which most of us here understand) is that 1. Anything made in a factory is not food and 2. Seasonal food from your local environment will serve you the best. I learned a myriad of information about foods for certain climates, what is light vs. heavy and what time of day each Dosha should eat. Wonderful. This is where my eyes light up. My journal is full of information to share! Barbara and I spent the rest of our afternoon in our room and missed the 5:30 satsang and even skipped evening puja. We had a lighter dinner (since we requested 1/2 of the portions of food being brought to us) and we struggled to stay awake until 8 pm. I decided to start making bracelets to keep myself occupied. On to the next the stages of detoxification, Dr. Ramdas appeared at my door at 8:30 pm to tell me he will see me at 5:30 am. He will be administering my meds personally tomorrow am. Seems he works 24 hours a day. He does so with a huge smile and the most caring eyes I have ever seen. He has an infectious laugh and wobbles his head when he speaks, like many indians do. Tomorrow, I begin 3 days of medicated ghee every morning, called Snehana, which is internal oleation. Dr. told me it may make my herbal meds look like a piece of cake. I have been waiting for this with some apprehension. Ghee is clarified butter and used for internal oleation of the digestive tract. The process I am currently going through is an internal and external saturation of the body with the medicated oils. Through the diet, abhyanga and pinda, toxins have started to release from my joints, tendons, ligaments, muscle and fat tissue and move into the gastrointestinal tract. For the next 3 days, I will be drinking medicated ghee every morning and will only be able to intake small amounts of herbal water, rice water (gongi) and light vegetables. After 3 days, I may go back to more solid foods and herbal tea again. The ghee will also make my hair, skin and and nails lustrous, hydrated and strong. My hair and scalp have already been in full oil for the last 4 days straight. It is washed with green gram flour, but the oil remains. I am excited to see what it looks like after 2 weeks! My daily treatment will also change. Back to Abhyanga only for now. Morning. Slept until 4:30! I feel wonderful!!! An ayurvedic lifestyle also contains a morning ritual of cleaning and stimulating of the senses. First you go to the bathroom, then you clean mouth/teeth/tongue, then eyes, then ears, then throat. You also use oil in the nose and ears. In going through these motions, you protect yourself from viruses and stimulate the senses to feel refreshed. Between the detox, the herbal medicine, the rest and the ritual, I feel like a million dollars right now. There is some small pain in my back, but honestly, I don't think I have ever felt this good. Its only day 5! I am bursting with energy and feel like I want to go for a run (and I don't run) but I am not allowed to do that. The body must stay at complete rest during this process. We should not even walk in the sun. Dr. Ramadas should be here any moment. I just received my ghee. I was curious and apprehensive as to why he needed to administer this medication himself, rather than the therapists. Now I know and I am in bliss. Dr. took my blood pressure and went through my daily consult. He led me back to the treatment room. We stood together as he said a low tone Sanskrit prayer over the medicine. Then I had to turn to face East. He took the cup to his heart and said anther vedic chant and then gave it to me to drink. The ritual of it was beautiful. I drank it quite easily. The anxiety leading up to it was unfounded. He gave me all of the rules to follow regarding food and water and told me if I come to morning prayers, I must cover my head. My body is now in a sacred state and must be protected from the elements. Being part Native American Blackfoot Sioux, this whole process connected to something innate in my blood. I was almost in tears as I told the doctor how honored I am to be in his presence and under his care. He told me to cover my head with the scarf whenever I leave my room for the next 3 days. This also made me realize how many times we make things bigger and scarier in our head than they truly are. We always gravitate toward negativity. I should know better by now. Seems we should also bring some of the ritual and sacredness into our practice in the US. We are not taught these ancient parts of the practice in American schools. Covering my head with my favorite shawl (given to me by beloved cousin Karamia Victoria) and off to morning puja. This mornings discussion between Barbara and I was based on life in the US. Whenever I travel outside our country, I always come back to it with a new set of eyes. I am so fortunate and proud to be born in the US of America. I would not trade this fact for the world. I am consistently appreciative of our freedoms, our cleanliness, our organization and the endless supply of food and fresh hot water. That was instilled in me as a child. Then on the other hand, I also see what huge strides we need to make in our existence as human beings. So many people are ruled by vanity, greed, excess and chemicals. Most Americans, if not almost all, have a huge disregard for the elderly. I am not placing judgements, but I wish there was a way we could live our lives without being ruled by these things. Here, everyone is beautiful. Yes, thats right. Even carrying extra weight with no make up on. No one cares. You are a beautiful human being. Think of what would happen to the diet, cosmetics and plastic surgery industry if we were all happy with ourselves. There are billion dollar corporations that study the 'bliss-point" so they know what chemicals to put int he food to get you addicted to them. What if we stopped eating that? What if we stopped patronizing companies that torture animals to test chemicals and cosmetics? What if we revered our elderly and tried to learn from them, instead of rushing past them in irritation in the grocery line? What if we were just kind to each other? Awww...the thoughts and hopes of living in a place of peace and tranquility never end. You can imagine that its difficult not to ponder these things in this environment. Namaskar

India January 23, 2015 So, even in this tranquil and spiritual place, everyone has a cell phone and everyone is on Facebook. I love it. Dr. Just wrote down his full name for me so we can be FB friends. I will ask the same of Daniela. I am so excited. It intrigues me that with the mindset of India and Hindus regarding spirituality and enlightenment, they are still leading the world in implementation and maintenance of our integrate software systems. There are no shortage of computers. Dr. Ramadas mentioned that 92% of Indians have cell phones. They have no food, but they have cell phones. I am trying to accept what a huge sign of the times this is. India and Hindus take spirituality very seriously. In the States, the first question is "What do you do for a living? We are concerned with what kind of cars we drive, the size of the house we live in, the name on the tag of our clothes. In India, the fist priority is enlightenment. All of the materialistic things we accumulate are only temporary, so what is most important is your caring for your soul throughout eternity. I am not saying that they are not human beings that long for nice things and comfort, but that it is not the first priority. In the US, everything else comes first and our spiritual heath is on the back burner. Here, its just the reverse. There are beautiful cloths and silk scarves and jewelry and shiny objects. They love beautiful things too, but they are first and foremost taking care of the spirit. Something to learn from. Yesterday our afternoon satsang included discussion on how to forgive others, which included our parents. Many of us carry a long-ingrained negativity based on things that may have happened to us throughout the course of our lives. If we look at our parents and other people just as human beings, and lower the huge expectations that WE have created for them, we will be a lot happier. We must learn to deal with our own mind ourselves. Learning and getting a good perspective from a friend or counselor is wonderful. It is also temporary, as you cannot become dependent on it. Ask questions, learn and take the knowledge with you into your own mind. Develop the ability to apply what you have learned and draw on your own reserves. Learn to accept and dispel the years of anger, jealousy, sadness or depression you are carrying. We absolutely have the power to do so. Bkakti is the practice of unconditional love. This should be applied to all people, plants, animals, insects and every cell in your own body. We constantly criticize even ourselves. "My hair is not nice / I need to loose weight / I wish my skin were better". The practice of forgiveness and love should develop in all areas of your life, even with yourself. Its morning now of our 7th day here. I cant believe it. We had our first group dinner last night, which was lovely. I met an absolutely gorgeous woman named Elizabeth. We all share our stories of how we got here. In addition to the previous countries mentioned, there are also people here from Argentina, England, Slovenia and France. We had a bit of singing and laughs after being served by all of the therapists, who were dressed in beautiful flowing tunics and scarves al off colors. My therapist, Sindu, kept smiling at me since I may not eat dinner with the rest. My ghee treatments prevent me from engaging in goodies right now. I slept like a stone again from 10 pm to 5 am. I woke with the usual burst of energy and did my morning dinacharya and washed some clothes. I can smell the fires burning and the scent of incense in the cool air as therapists start preparing for the day. The Dr. arrives at5:45 am to administer my next dose of ghee. There is a much longer chant prior to taking it this morning. There is also a larger quantity. It takes some meditation and deep breathes on my part between each gulp. It doesn't taste bad at all, but I am gulping down oil. Tomorrow morning with be an even larger and last dose. This internal oleation of the system wipes out your appetite. The Dr. and Sindu said to inform when I am hungry and they will bring me hot water, rice soup and veggies, but I had to force myself to eat and drink at 6 pm yesterday. I decided that I would like to take the very Sattvic and Yogic route and not eat or drink anything for 3 days. I asked that Dr. If this would be permissible. He said no, he wants me to eat at least a little something each day. "That is very noble, but I don't want you to bring your mind into this, Karla". Off to the sound of flip-flops in the dark. Its time for morning Puja. I recorded Dr. Ramadas belting out is morning prayers today, as well as the rest of us repeating our chants, and going through Pranayama. I am excited to bring this back home. There is also amazing drumming occurring in the neighboring village and I can hear them using a microphone to pray and chant. It is too distant to record, but sounds amazing! Returning to my room, I have been coloring mandalas and making jewelry in the quiet morning hours. Sindu comes in and sees my working with the sharpie markers and asks if she may look at one. She and Dr. Ramadas like the books and my leather journal. She analyzes the marker and I can see she is interested in the book, but is too shy to ask to hold it. I offer it to her and she smiles. "Beautiful" she says. She, just as Dr. Ramadas did, goes through each and every page and names each animal in English. She seems very proud. I give her big smiles all of the time. As she is giving me a bath, she always asks "Is the hot OK?" Of course, the temperature is perfect. I joke with her and we use sign language and the universal smile. She is a ray of sunshine. I continuously thank her for taking care of me and tell her that she is so important. I wish I could bring her home. Although, somehow, I think she would be very unhappy in the United States. I have used the internet for 1 hour total in the 7 days I have been here. It is refreshing to stay away from. I would probably not use it at all if I wasn't do excited to share my experience. Today is a big day, since I get to wash my hair. Sending love and hugs from the other side of the planet.

And Sindu says Hi.

India January 24, 2015 Day 8 and I wake at 3 am. I have slept 6 hours like a rock and I am ready to roll! I feel like my daily writing should start out as "Captain's Log: ....." My hair is clean and dry and has never looked better! All with no irons or hairspray! Things are starting to slow way down for me. At the same time, the days are going by fast. Between all of the routine pujas, afternoon satsangs, treatments, etc....the day is filled with things do, but there is also plenty of time to write, read and relax. Aparna, one of the mangers at Vaidyagrama, gave us a behind the scenes tour yesterday afternoon. In retrospect, we probably should not have done it at 2 pm and the heat of the day, as it caused us to be out in the heat and sun. Now I realize the temperature difference inside this campus, even without air conditioning. I was quite heated for the rest of the day. She guided us through the entire campus, explaining how all of the bricks used to build Vaidyagrama are made from mud and concrete from the local land and hand dried in the sun to make them stronger. The precision of the construction has this pitta impressed. The temperature is regulated my the stone placement, internal courtyards of each patient block and the covering of the walk ways. It keeps everything cool naturally. There are rainwater collection tanks that feed into the ground, which are used to raise the water table in the entire area and sustains farming. All food is grown onsite and she took us for a short walk through the gardens. Everything is grown organic; the only fertilizer is cow manure and ash. The gardens are harvested every morning for the day's food to feed everyone on site. We also got to see the kitchen, the staff lunchroom, the therapists dorms (most therapists live here) and we went on the roof to see where they do the laundry. All of the girls were having and afternoon rest on the ground and immediately jumped up upon our arrival. There was fabric everywhere - some on the ground, some hanging to dry, some being pressed. They were all pulling there colorful saris halfway across there face with big, shy and beautiful smiles. Aparna asked we could have their photo and they agreed. They are all so beautiful with long, black, oiled and braided hair and wearing mesmerizing and colorful saris. They take soap nuts, crush them, bag them and place them in the washing tub of clothes and water. That huge tub is then boiled, cooled and the clothes are ran through a machine ringer, then hung to dry. Afterward, the clothes/linens/rugs are all pressed and returned to your room. Its the cleanest laundry I have every seen, without the use of chemicals. Aparna mentioned that we may also find soap nuts in the US and they can be used repeatedly. Guess who is getting rid of her laundry detergent?! We continued to walk outside in the sun and heat for just a few minutes. Even though we are at a slow pace, the heat, and simply walking up the stairs to the roof, was quite exhausting. Its 90 degrees and we are very close to the Equator. Not to mention, I have only eating 2 small bowls of rice soup (congee) and sipped a little warm water in the last 2 days. You will see a photo of an older woman on a dirt road talking on the cell phone. Like I previously said, it is a sign of the times.

I have added all of the photos in the album for all I reference today. Aparna also explained that the entire structured campus is only 4 acres and that Vaidyagrama sits on 25. Its impressive to think about the planned retirement community they intend to build here. It will be an additional 100 acres. I have also shared the link for the Vaidyagrama donations site, for anyone who may be interested in donating to this loving, healing and green community. It also sounds much more appealing to me in my old age, as opposed to a nursing home in the US. We will see what the future holds. There is a weekly puja to celebrate the cow. It is a lovely little ceremony, where prayers are said and fire is walked in a circled around the cow. We also take food for her and walk around three times and then get to feed her. There are 5 cows on site and this little lady was ready to make it 6. I adore the community's respect and love for all living things. Animals are treated with love. Barbara finally let me take a picture of her! I have added more pics and have taken one with Dr. Ramadas and the cow! The gentleman holding the cow is very happy, I promise. He looks vey stoic because he has a job to do. When you smile, you always get a huge smile back. It is now 5:18 am. I must mentally prepare myself for the largest and last dose of ghee. I think a little meditation is in order. Until later. Om shanti. Today my ghee was given to me along with my neighbor. It is her first dose. She is a Western Physician from Dallas TX, trying to learn more about Ayurveda. Prayers are said, we face the East and she takes her small quantity with no issue, as I did the first day. I, on the other hand, need to take six full gulps to consume this quantity today. After 4 gulps and meditating and breathing in between, Dr. Ramadas starts to tell me all of the benefits of the medicine and all the ways it is treating my imbalances and my back issues and my pain. I smile at him for his encouragement and support. He knows this is not easy. I finish my last drink, he smiles, and immediately leaves to prepare for morning prayers. During my morning consult with Dr. Ramadas, I finally asked some questions based on emotions. I explained my busy lifestyle, my job, my study, my Ayurvedic clients and the fact that I sit in front of two computer screens for 8 or more hours a day. I also explained my insatiable desire for knowledge and that I can never stop trying to learn or experience something new. With that, my home is peaceful, filled with organic food, tea, fire, books and incense. We do not watch television. This is my sanctuary on a daily basis. His response was the following: You, as a woman, carry stress innately and instinctively. All woman do this because you are the brilliant ones of the earth. You sustain life. You can do anything. You are infinite. You are born with multitasking abilities....and you tend to use them. This, in turn, it means that you carry the weight of the world. Whenever you come across stressful feelings, ask yourself what you can truly put aside. What may you stop doing that does not serve you or the ones you love? What are you doing that you don't love? Are you doing something you don't love, but perhaps it does serve you? The work you are doing allows you to be here, in India, right now. It is your butter. This work has allowed you to travel across the oceans to experience this. In addition, the stress, the work, etc. is all part of the human experience of life. Most westerners think they must do it all now, since they will run out of time. They don't realize they will have several chances to do it all. When the stress comes, slow down. Take care of yourself.....then you may care for others. Feel free to continue to learn and study, so long as it brings you happiness. Dr. Ramadas' words ring sweetly in my ears. Not only on how to live my life, but it brings me pleasure to hear that woman are sacred in this community. I smile and tell him "This is my butter" may just become my new mantra. I had a lovely walk this morning, amongst the soft sun, breeze through the trees and sound of birds in the air. I have taken many pictures on the flowers and grounds. I sat in meditation in the main hall and did a little light yoga. I shared some mandalas to color with Thresa, Marcia and Barbara. I sat down to make a necklace in the kitchen. I actually remember how to tie friendship bracelets from 1988. Ha! I will finish this post with the thoughts of satsang yesterday. Learn tolerance. Do not discriminate against anything opposite from you. All of your experiences in life are taking your mind higher and higher. You may use many experiences or stories from others for your own transformation. If and when you pray, it should not be for yourself, but for all of humanity. Because you eat from nature, you should respect nature - work hard to preserve it. Stay away from bad people. It is not up to you to change them. You do not have that capacity. If you remain among bad people, you will take on their energy and bad things can start to happen to you. Remove your ignorance and darkness (tamas). Cultivate light and clarity. Namaskar and hugs.

India January 25, 2015 I had wonderful night's sleep! 10 pm to 5:40 am. I did not wake until Sindu came in the front door with morning Kashayam. A deep sleep with no dreams. Barbara and I are ecstatic. I do not have any herbal medicine nor herbal water (just plain) for the next 2 days, due to my Swedana (steam) treatment. I'm certainly not missing the kashayam or the ghee right now! Barbara and I laugh as she gets heres delivered. I do get to wean back into a little more food, but I am not that hungry yet. I have eaten 3 bowls of rice soup in the last 3 days, with only sips of warm water. I am not able to eat, as the doctor does not want me to dilute all of the ghee I have drank for the past 3 days. Amazingly, all of this oil has completely absorbed into my system and never left my body. It goes to show just how dehydrated we are internally as well. This comes from a girl that drinks water all day, but my coffee does me no justice. The doctor mentioned this treatment was actually to DRY out my tissues, which I was confused about. I also didn't think you would treat Pitta with oil, as oil is one of it's qualities. I asked him at my morning consult. He gave me an unexpected, on-the-spot quiz!! He explained in order to treat Pitta, he must treat and purify the blood. This will allow it to have proper temperature and flow correctly into the areas of my body that are so inflamed. He has been specifically treating my blood. Because I also have Vata qualities of dehydration, he needs to the oil to be the carrier and get the drying herbs into my bloodstream. Time for flip-flops in the dark. I want to get there a little early and stretch out my back. More to come. The beauty of the morning never ceases to amaze me. It is dark and quiet as morning prayers begin. We speak very softly to say good morning. As we sit there in lotus, with eyes closed, hypnotized by the sound of Dr Ramadas' voice, the sun rises and the birds begin to sing. They sing loud and clear and there are 30 different kinds. They are the ones that we watch on documentaries like 'Planet Earth'. The flowers all close up at night, but re-open as the sun touches them. The lotus flowers are especially beautiful. As we finish our chants and receive our red sandalwood dot, we emerge into life and sun and beauty. Then we congregate at the front of the hall for hugs and smiles, comments on treatments and how we slept. Then, we all part ways for breakfast and tea. I will miss this. The Swedana treatment is a sweating therapy to pull more toxins out of the skin. I have had a 8 days of Abhyanga oil massage. This has loosened up the toxins from environmental exhaust and dust, shampoos, hair spray, perfume, etc. Even though I no longer use body lotion or deodorant, and my shampoo is biodegradable, I still have plenty of stuff to rid from my body. Now that it has been loosened and the doctor wants to expel toxins and further dry my tissues, sweating therapy is prescribed. The process is so simple and works REALLY well. It is a box that contains a stool. A person steps in and sits down and then 4 little doors are closed all around with only you head remaining outside. This is so your head keeps cool. She had me sit to check the stool height, etc before having a short Abhyanga. The steam is created by a turn-of-the-century process. Sindu boils a large pot of water on a gas flame. Just before boiling, she crushes up leaves and adds them to the water. She takes the pot over to the steam box and places it on a propane flame. The pot is actually a pressure cooker. The steam vent on the pressure cooker pot is then attached by a hose to the spout on the steam box. There are 3 spouts on the inside of the box where the steam is disbursed and viola! So simple......and so HOT. After my oil massage, I step inside the box and sit down. I love steam rooms, so I am prepared to stay here for at least 30 minutes. Not so much. Within 15 minutes time, Sindu has checked on me 3 times and given me water. The steam gets very hot and due to being covered in oil, your body has to work extremely hard to release any water. It had my heart pounding so hard, that it was shaking my body. I loved it, but I was also glad when it was over. I was shaking and exhausted (only eating very little), so Sindu walked me over to the shower. During my bath, with eyes closed, I could see an extremely bright light, like that of the sun. It was so impressive, I had to write it down. After getting cleaned up and dressed again, Sindu walked we all the way to my room. I get to drink a lot of water this morning, and eat breakfast, so I am excited to do so! This same process will occur tomorrow as well. Today was my most relaxing day. After my treatment and breakfast, I was pretty weary, but went for a little walk and met some people on the pathway. I spoke for a moment, then had to excuse myself because I needed to het back to my room to lay down. Barbara and I had a conversation and she brought up the thought: When a doctor receives the degree, they must take Hypocrates words to heart. They must take the Hypocratic Oath 'Do No Harm' - To cure others without harm. At what point did that change and why? I spend the morning watching the hummingbirds hover around and feed out of the pink and white trumpet flowers. There are older ladies watering all of the gardens and everything is lush and green and humid. There is a cat hanging out with 2 little kittens and they are so cute to watch tackle each other. After lunch, I sat on the terrace to make malas and jewelry. The girl that cleans our room came out to say hello and was very impressed by my Swiss Army Knife. I opened up all of the components for her and she was full of smiles. I also have a small portable speaker, so I play music that resonates around my room and balcony. I seem to be a tad bit of a rebel with my music. Instead of devotional chants, I am playing Sting and Ray LaMontagne. The sound of of both mens' voices will now always bring me back here. Dr Ramadas came by to visit and also liked the sound. He pulled out his cell phone and with lightening speed, zipped through all different areas of his apps until he found the one that allows for touchscreen writing. He asked me to write down Ray LaMontagne's name. I love the thought that doctor will enjoy his music. It is pure serenity sitting out there watching the birds and animals and listening to music. I so needed this in my life right now. I feel so fortunate to be here. Jamie mentioned that there will be a Jyotish Astrologer coming here tomorrow for anyone who would like there chart read. YES PLEASE. I have also asked the doctor if there are any Marma therapists available. He said there are no Marmas onsite, but he may request one come in from the tribe. A Jyotish reading and getting energy work done by a true Marma tribal member has got me giddy as a schoolgirl. While sitting at the internet station for 15 minutes, I was bitten a couple of times by a mosquito. I simply scratched my skin, as any other time, and created a large 'Freddy Kruger'-like mark of 4 scratch marks on my skin. Seems the blood is definitely being treated and easily moving around. Now I understand why the doctor keeps telling me my body is in a sensitive state right now and I should take care to cover my head and neck, etc. Now I get it. Just like a Pitta, I need to have proof. Ha! 2 members of our group have taken a vow of silence for the next 2 days. I give them a lot of credit. This could be in my future, but I openly say that is too much of a challenge for me at this point. Jamie also mentioned a retreat that mediates for 10 hours a day for 10 days. Not yet. I will end this post with the thoughts of yesterdays Yoga Nidra: Who am I? Am I my mind? Am I my memories? Am I my experiences? I am not a mother I am not a sister I am not an aunt I am no longer a niece I am no longer a daughter Who am I? Yes, I am a mother. I care for and have cared for everyone in my environment for 30 years. Yes, I am a sister to my beloved Karamia Victoria Yes, I am an aunt to 100 children bore to the world by my friends and family Yes, I am a daughter of Mother Earth Namaskar and hugs from the Motherland

India January 26, 2015 Not sure why I start each post with how much I slept, but it seems to be the focus of the morning. 9 am - 4 am today. Like a stone. So happy to rest so well, but I woke up in the middle of a nightmare about garbage being dumped into the ocean. Imagine that. I am also starting to feel emotional about leaving here in 5 days. Our neighbor from New York leaves today for 1 week in Jordan, 3 weeks in France, then home to Manhattan. I wished him a good journey and low culture shock. He has been here for almost 2 months. He said he has no anxiety and appreciates my words. I cant believe how much has happened in such a short time. We will leave early Saturday morning. I am also concerned about culture shock and being thrown back into sensory overload when we step out this door. It will be invigorating and exciting, but shocking as well. I have a feeling that Vaidyagrama has a place in my future. Whether it be communication, promotion and/or future visits. This place has captured my heart. Sindu takes excellent care of us. She brings us 3 meals a day, kashayam, teas, fruit, herbal water, etc. She takes our blood pressure everyday, performs our treatments, gives us bathes, cleans the treatment rooms, and washes all of our dishes from each meal. She lives here in the dorm and starts a 5:30 am and finishes after dinner at 8:30 pm. After being here for 9 days, I realized that she has not had a day off. I asked her yesterday if she has a free day and she said "No, work everyday" with a smile. I told her its because she is so important. I wish I could give her at least $200 USD as a tip, which could change her life, but its not allowed. I will have Dr Ramadas translate some things I want to say to her before I leave. Dr. Ramadas' family lives 3 hours away. He takes the bus to see them on his one day off per week. Dr. Omprakash had to leave suddenly, as his wife went into labor. He made it to her after 6 hours of driving through Kerala and 4 hours after the baby was born. I NEVER HAVE ANYTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT AGAIN. Today my Swedana treatment was much easier to handle. I feel fabulous. I also got a bath in chickpea flour today. Sindu said it is wonderful for the skin and they use it on their face daily. I cant tell how old she is - anywhere between 17 and 25. Her skin and hair are flawless, but she seems quite knowledgeable. She, as most women in this community, are very shy. When I came around the corner this morning, she and another girl were laughing and about to give each other a hug. As soon as they saw me, their faces became stoic and they jumped away from each other. I started laughing and told them to go ahead and hug. I love hugs too! The other girl ran away and Sindu smiled. After treatment was finished, Sindu was dotting my head and I noticed she had a crucifix around her neck. She, at the same time, told me my Om necklace was beautiful. I pointed to her cross and said "Jesus Christ, yes? Are you Christian?" She smiled and jumped to shyly put the cross inside her shirt, looked down to the ground and said that no, she was Hindu. I pulled that cross back out of her shirt, gave her a big smile and told her it was OK. That it was beautiful. She asked if I was Hindu. I said "No, I am all of them and I am none of them." She replied in a very strong accent, "It doesn't matter if you are Hindu, Christian, or Muslim. We all come from the same place". I agreed. Seems President Obama was here in Delhi yesterday. Everyone is abuzz about the alliance that the US has with India. Today happens to be Republic Day in India and they asked the Indian woman who are patients to raise the flag in front of the campus. I did not attend, as I was in treatment, but Barbara said it was very sweet. The flag is raised up to the top in a ball, then it is released and flower petals sway softly to the ground. Everyone is offered a piece of candy to celebrate. So sweet. The french woman Elizabeth asked me why there is such an obesity issue in the US. She did not say it with judgement, but was just curious. I told her, that in defense of many Americans, the rest of the world is unaware of our marketing machine and how we are conditioned from the moment we are born to live in excess. Because we live in a Capitalist country, we are free to make money in any way we can. That means the TV tells us how to live. It tells us we need bigger TVs. It tells us we need absolute convenience in every form. It tells us we need to eat as much as possible, drive the biggest car and live in the fastest way we can obtain. Faster, faster, more convenient, saves you time, saves you money, tastes really good, its what you crave, etc, etc. You're not pretty enough, you're not thin enough, you have too many wrinkles for being 50 years old, and on and on. They tell us how to live every moment of our life. All to make money. Its mind blowing. She said she understood. Dr Ramadas lent Barbara a book from his from his BAMS medical school studying days. BAMS stands for Bachelors in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery. It is called 'Ashtanga Hrdaya: Sutrastana'. It is classical Indian medical literature. It is published by Harisee Hospital in Kerala. Mind blown. I have only scratched the surface of this knowledge. I have been able to completely research my own treatment within this book and it is quite astonishing. I will also be coming home with fresh/dried herbs, medicine, ghee and oils. He told me it will be about 16 pounds worth. This will be on addition to the other 16 pounds of spices I intend to buy in Munnar. In addition to the rest, treatments, relaxation and coloring mandalas, I have also been studying mental and moral discipline, nutritional imbalances, doshic cycles, stress-related diseases and the herbal medicines that combat stress. I hope to come home with newfound vitality and ways to help those around me cope with our stressful lifestyle. I am starting to see changes take shape from this treatment. In addition, I have never had so much energy. I look forward to the Marma therapist grabbing hold of it. Thanks to Thresa Laferty, I never realized how much love could be shared through smiles and hugs. No words are needed. Peaceout brothers and sisters

India January 27, 2015 Slept 9 1/2 hours and even missed Pierpaolo's phonecall. A bit weary from small food and heat therapies, bit feeling very rested and very calm. In fact, my blood pressure reading this morning is 90/70. The doctor explained that Snehana treatment (ghee) tends to lower blood pressure. I feel like a feather.

Today the biggest part of my treatment. I will undergo the actual purification process of an internal purge called Virechan. All of the Purvakarma treatments have led up to the true Panchakarma of today. I will drink a cup full of strong herbs that will keep me confined to my room, so this may be a very long post! Don't worry, I will spare the details. Treatment from tomorrow forward with me the rejuvenation phase. I smell the fires burning as the day begins. In the low light, I drink hot water from my daily thermos. Anytime its empty, we place it outside the door and Sindu fills it again.

I am mentally preparing for a large cup of bitter herbs. Dr. Harikumar is doing my consult and administering medicine this morning. Dr. Ramadas has left to see his family and will be gone all day today. He stopped by yesterday to say goodbye and see if Barbara and I needed anything before he left. He smiled at me sideways when speaking of my treatment today. "Haa Haa", I said. Dr. Harikumar comes to fetch me at 5:45 am. My neighbor and I await the prayer and both face East as we are given our cups. I may have mentioned it, but she is of Indian decent and a western physician in Internal Medicine at a hospital in Dallas. She is taking a larger dose of ghee this morning and begins to choke a bit while trying to gulp it down. I know what it is, sister. And its worth every minute of it. The changes I'm seeing occur are next to miraculous. It also takes me a few minutes to get through my concoction that tastes like a cup of water mixed with extremely peppery beach sand. Time to lie down. The doctor explains that whenever I finally get hungry, I will now get just rice water, not the congee rice soup. My lunch and dinner today will be just the water that the rice is boiled in. Period. This is for good reason. Today I am undergoing a complete flush of the liver and gall bladder, after which, I will have no digestive capacity. It will take up to two days for my body to recover. That being said, I am seeing the results of this treatment take shape before my very eyes. The arthritic psoriasis that developed on the soles of my feet is disappearing at a miraculous rate, as in the last 2 days. The drying herbs of the ghee and the cooling of my pitta blood is already showing externally. I am so excited to know how its working internally. If its pulling the inflammation out of my spine in the same manner, I may have just found a cure for my pain. I cant wait to see how I feel tomorrow! I cant wait for Dr Ramadas to see the change! I realize that this treatment will not fix 4 herniated discs, but if it pulls the inflammation out and I can live without pain, I claim victory. We saw a lovely little slideshow that Dr. Ramadas shared with us about being grateful for all we have. He also showed us his pictures of all of the different birds that we are hearing everyday. He is quite the photographer and must have a long range lens. He had wonderful shots of peacocks, owls, humming birds, cranes, doves, babblers, ravens and wagtails and more. They are all on the property. I think we get caught up in the emotions and dramas of life and we forget how fortunate we are to have a job, to own a home, to drive a car. Even if we struggle financially, it is on a small scale compared to what I see when I'm on the road. There are millions upon millions of people in this world who do not have that opportunity. We are so fortunate in the US. I finally met Geeta, who is in charge of organizing the working ladies that come in from the village, the food drive and ongoing fundraising. She is quite a busy and lovely lady. I was able to pay her for the 2 days Pierpaolo and I will support feeding the local village. She explained how and why they've adopted the village and other area villages, to help feed and educate them. The village is traditional, as it lives under the old caste system. This causes a severe division among the people and they do not act as a community. None of the men work here, only the women. They come in everyday from the village to work to help their family. Their husbands drink, gamble, take the money and beat them up. My heart breaks. There are numerous school-aged children that come in for education. The members of Vaidyagram aim to teach the new genration about being a community and how to respect women. Geeta mentioned there is no way to change the mentality of the elders, but they hope to educate and turn the next generation around. Everytime I see one the woman who come into work, I just want to hug them. Instead, I give them big smiles and tell them they are beautiful. Shenhagam is woman that comes to clean our room and turn it down everyday with the burning frankincense. We had a lovely little chat yesterday. Again, we need to understand how fortunate we are. I feel so fortunate to have the technology to share this information from the other side of the world. I told Geeta that I want to set up an ongoing support to feed the villages once a month, every month. You are feeding 400 different people for $35. There is no excuse not to. She offered to take me to the village to see the people I will be helping. This was not part of our program, but it will be permissible on the last evening we are here. So, this Friday at 5 pm, Geeta will take me there in a jeep. More to come. Satsang with Dr Ramkumar is always inspiring and mind bending. Yesterdays topic was the stages of the mind that bring about control over our emotions. (May be misspellings) 1 Viveka - Discerning Intellect 2 Virandha - Detachment 3 Shama - Calmness 4 Dama - Withdrawal of the senses 5 Uparahdi - Withdrawal of mind from senses 6 Titiksha - Comfortable Patience 7 Shedha - Completely Focused 8 Samadana - Tranquil and Balanced 9 Moksha - Liberation and Enlightenment He gives a detailed breakdown of each one. He said its not wrong to show emotions and feel pain, etc for a short period of time, but we should not dwell in those emotions for years. We need to pull urself back. We are human, so we feel emotions, but the gift is learning how to control them. He is quite amusing, as he tosses in jokes here and there about our human tendencies. He also said we shouldn't eat bad things like chocolate, so we should give all of it to him :) Its a little cooler today. Thank goodness. I have spent the day laying on my bed. I have been listening to the orchestra of birds singing outside in the trees and the meows coming from the cat and her kittens outside my window. They keep tackling mom so they can have some lunch. There is a cow mooing in the distance and I hear the staff laughing and talking as they continuously walk back and forth on the path below my room. I can smell the scent of a million flowers in the air. The staff has been picking baskets of them for tomorrows celebration. There is a group of women coming to chant from 8 am to 5 pm. They chant continuously to bring healing energy and vibration to the patients here. There is an alter of flowers erected, etc. More to come. I have enough energy to wash a set of clothes and hang them on the balcony to dry in the warm sun and soft breeze. I will now try to venture out and see how the evening unfolds. I toast you with my rice water. Ching Ching.

India January 28/29 2015

Its extremely quiet this morning. I woke at 3:45 am. There is stillness. All of our windows and doors are open. Even the front door. It never closes. There is no reason to lock anything here. In the dark stillness you can hear the nighttime animals - crickets, toads, and who knows what else. There are happily calling out to each other. All of the birds are still asleep. Its pitch black in the jungle. By 4:30 am, I hear a bit more stirring and I smell the fires burning as staff is ready to cook breakfast and boil gallons of herbal water for the day. Barbara and I went to witness the process yesterday. With their permission, we stood outside, along side the open air kitchen where everything is made. The kitchen is outside, but incased in a kind of steel cage to protect anyone from injury. There are huge pots simmering, sizzling and boiling everywhere on open fire. They make patient food on one side and staff food on the other. The food is coming in from the garden, being washed and immediately cooked. Think of all that Prana! One man is ladling out scoops of batter and making a pancake-type bread on an extremely hot grill. Each time he cleans the grill, he uses a red onion. The staff food is seasoned with heaping spoons of curry and red chile. The patient side is a bit more mild. The smell of the fire is powerful and everything is extremely hot. These ladies are working this way with scarves around their necks. I watch in awe as 2 woman pick up a huge pot of boiling soup only with the use of towels to keep from being burned. The towels are draped on the pot, over the fire. Barbara and I are sure one of them is going to catch on fire. They pick it up and move it to a platform so it can be packed up by the therapists in the patients tiffins. I am amazed at their strength. Having been severely burned on 25% of my body, I cringe watching this occur. Another woman is throwing in leeks and salt and water into a sizzling wok and stirring the super hot mixture with a long, metal spatula. There are 7-8 people working in the kitchen at the same time, all with a specific purpose. They shout and dance around each other like a fine-oiled machine. At the same time, the therapists keep arriving to fill tiffins and water bottles. Now I know why the water is so hot when it arrives! What a lovely sight! Memories of the busy kitchen make me smile as I envision it from the quiet in this room. I am back on congee rice soup today. I will get to have regular cous cous, veggies, etc tomorrow. I have been doing quite fine with all of it. I feel like I have lost 10 pounds and thats fine by me. I have had congee or rice water once or twice a day for the last 9 days. Who knew you could live with so little. Dr. Ramkumar has been eating congee and dahl for breakfast and congee with milk for dinner for 10 years. He said he switches it up with herbs, spices or jaggery. It is the most sattvic diet. I can see why it keeps you pure. I am also thinking about the women that came to chant yesterday. They come here once a month to chant from 8 am to 5 pm. They are the elder ladies from the temple. The choir, so to speak. The chants they recite are 1000 verses from a story about a monk that took on his gurus disease of paralysis. He went to a famous temple in Kerala, called Guru Vayu, and wrote/recited these verses. Upon completion, he was cured and freed from the paralysis. The elder ladies put me to shame with the amount of energy they chant with for hours and hours. They are given cough drops and water by Geeta and Aparna and have small bathroom breaks, but otherwise, they are chanting with full vigor from 8am-5pm. There is a small alter erected and flowers and food are given as an offering to the Gods for healing. It really is so lovely and the fact that they come here to bring this healing energy to the hospital is so sweet. I will post pictures and a video when I can. Dr. Ramkumar never fails to have an insightful and yet-again, mind bending satsang. All topics are derived from patient/student questions and he just sits patiently until one comes up. One of the topics yesterday was one I asked about, Vendanta Philosophy. I wanted to understand the background, as I have only had a glimpse of it during my yoga conferences. The philosophy is that from one dot, all emanated (big bang). All of life was created and evolved and with that also came the vedic period. "The Age of Absolute Truth" was when the Rishis could see 100% truth. They did not have to search for it. They documented it in the Vedas. The Vedas describe all of the existence of life, creation, mental capacity, how to respect the energy that created you, all the levels of the mind and ego and how it was all all created from the singularity. They are the oldest texts on the planet and contain the first alphabet of the human race, Sanskrit. They were written 6000 years ago. Then came the "The Age of Symbolism", when we could see 75% truth. This is the period of documentation of the Upanishads. Then came the time when we could only see 50% truth as our ego began getting in the way. This is when the Puryanas were written. Dr. Explains the next period is "The Age of Darkness", better known as the dogmatic period. We see no truth and we are ruled by dogmas, logic and ego. There is no writing taking place. That is where we are now. He said the good news is, nothing is linear, as the cycles move in circles. So the Age of Truth will return. The next piece of the conversation turned to utilizing sexual energy. A younger man from the group asked what is considered healthy. Afterall, this is the place where the Kama Sutra was written. Doctor replied that our health is dependent on the balance of the 3 pillars pf life: food, sleep and sex. To summarize: Young - Utilize much of sleep/food, no sex (Good) MiddleAge - Utilize lots of food/sex, no sleep (Looses Balance) Old - Utilizes little of all three (Knows better) He said in order to preserve Ojas (vitality/immune function), we should only expel sexual energy 2-3/month in summertime and it can be as much as we want in the winter. He also explained that if you only engage in sex when it becomes a physical need, rather than a mental need, it will further preserve your Ojas and energy levels. Wow. This is just a brief overview of the conversation with Dr. Ramkumar (I realize I may not have the details of Vendanta perfect). Now I know why Timothy Leary was so attracted to this country. Its right up my alley and opens all those doors inside my brain. Off to morning prayers and stretching out this body. After morning prayers, Dr. Ramadas took us out the front gate across the dirt road to a huge tree to show us some of the birds he referenced in his slideshow the other day. The whole area is sand road, wide open, with a large dog run/shed to the right. There is a little puppy running as fast as he can in circles around us. I think Tresa has made a new friend :) There is a Shepard, Labrador and Rotweiller in a fenced in area. They run back and forth, barking and wagging tails. There were about 6 of us and we kept commenting how strange it felt to be out in the wide open. We spend most of our time outside, but we are under covered balconies and covered walkways surrounded by vegetation. About a block away from us, the Temple is now under construction. It will be opened in May. The whole area is full of sandy road as far as you can see, with small pathways up a hill and a large, lone tree. There is construction debris in a large area to our left. It is cloudy and a cool 80 degrees at 7:30 am, otherwise, we would be roasting in the sun out there and doctor never would have taken us on this little walk. As we all head back to our rooms for breakfast, Dr. Shares his phone recordings of the birds with Tresa and I. He even has a the sound of hummingbird recorded. This man is so sweet. Dr. Ramkumar explained that after a full scale physical cleanse like this, we are extremely vulnerable to the elements and viruses. He even said the treatment that I have undergone is quite rare for someone who is doing their first Panchakarma. It usually is done after 3 treatments in 3 years. In fact, I am the only one from my group who underwent snehana and virechan. He said you must have a very strong mind, as mental and emotional outbreaks can occur. We are very vulnerable. That is why they tell us to cover our head when we go outside. If we happen to be in the sun, anyone on the staff will come and remind you that you should be in the shade. They know what they are talking about. I watch the older ladies bent over out in the gardens, watering and harvesting our food for the day. They all have their heads covered with white scarves to keep them cool. The therapists all wear a peachy-beige color, the cleaning ladies wear saris and the gardeners and groundskeepers wear grayish-blue, with the white scarves that tie up their hair. Geeta mentioned that the gardeners know the land and seeds intuitively. They continuously plant in rotation and inform her what seeds they need. If a GMO seed happens to get through the system, they can spot that hybrid seed on sight and will return them to her. No GMOs allowed here, folks. I cant imagine that kind if instinctual knowledge. Each time I pass these ladies, I have learned from them that you hold your hand to your heart and say 'Namaskar'. I say hello to everyone. They are so sweet and always give you and huge smile and greeting in return, with a hand on their hearts. Now that I know a little more about their background and homelife, I wish to just leap to embrace every one of them and tell them everything is going to be OK. Two things that have been clarified for me while being here: 1. Woman cover their heads with shawls, not because of repression, but to protect themselves from the extreme heat, wind and dust. 2. When speaking about sitting "Indian-style", it has nothing to do with Native American Indians. Its actually from here. Our group is also now switching gears. Now that we are in the final 2 days and under rejuvenation therapy, our thoughts are turning to the green tea plantations of Munnar. Have a peek on Google Images. Quite brilliant. We have been reading about it in the guide book. All of us will have to mentally prepare for the visual and sound overload will get on Saturday morning. We have heard nothing but birds, night animals, chanting and crackling fire since we have been here. We have not heard so much as a vehicle. We are still looking forward to our next part of this journey. And I am looking forward to meeting the Vedic Jyotish Astrologer today. Namaskar

India January 30, 2015 Two weeks seems to have been 2 months and/or 2 days at the same time. The Jyotish reading of yesterday was quite fascinating. He had me from the first sentence. "You were born in difficulty from a twin". Um. Hello. The details are all quite personal and were all extremely accurate. He also gave me some tips on how to do things in the future and answered as many questions as I had to ask. I am committing this info to memory. I also recored our session. So wonderful! Over the last few days, I have met some amazing people from around the world. A lovely woman from Hamberg, Germany.....Pip and Roger from Australia and another lovely girl from Germany that reminds me of Pierpaolo's daughter, Martina. We are filled with stimulating conversations on the world at large, critical thinking capabilities and as always- natural foods and herbal medicines. I am shocked at how many Western doctors there are being treated here. They have come from the US and Europe. The discussions have been intriguing from all points of view. They want to understand Ayurveda and add it to their practice. Makes me happy to see. We had a lovely group dinner last night with beautiful candlelight, tasty food and joyous singing. There is a woman here from Australia with an autistic son who is in his teenage years. He sang a song for us and with a little tear in my eye, we all applauded him. Dr. Ramadas insisted that since we are leaving, our group had to get up to sing a song. Tresa Laferty headed up the group and chose 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. It was quite a riot. The beautifully adorned therapists all watched from the doorway of the hall and the rest of the crowd joined in with smiles. Innocent fun. We have forgot that we still have innocence in our hearts. Our ego usually prevents us from letting down our guard. I loved it. There is a bit of melancholy and quietness in my demeanor today. Its hard to leave such a lovely place. Everyone here loves you and is only interested in your well-being. They all live holistic lifestyles and are extremely concerned with being green and preserving mother earth. It will soon be back to reality. Our van picks us up at 8 am tomorrow morning. Even with heading to other areas of India, we will not find this quiet, contemplative space. I realize we should not have attachments, but I will miss this place! I have written a long letter of thanks to Dr. Ramadas and staff. I am so appreciative of the love and care and healing hands that have touched my life over my stay here. I especially want Sindu to know how important she is and how grateful I am for all of her hard work to take care of us. She is little star of light. I wish I could give her a gift, but the community wants equality, so its not suggested. I completely understand. I hope to see her again if I am able to return with the group in 2 years. We have all received a large set of take-home medicines, all carefully packed and taped to prevent breakage by Vaidyagrama. The labels have names like 'Mahamanjista Guggalu Kashayam'. Dr. Ramadas completed our check-out consult this morning and provided us a breakdown of initial details vs today, as well as a complete list of medicines and how to prepare/take them on a daily basis. I have lost 8 pounds and I have not had to take my anti-inflammatory meds for 3 days (although, I will take them today). Normally, if I try to wean myself off the Voltaren (Dicloflenac), within 2 days it becomes difficult to walk, so this is huge! I now feel compelled to get as many pictures as possible. Being a photographer, the emotion is stronger than me. I have so many pics to add and share. It has been a magical experience. I have just added a couple pics of our group and the planting of trees in the new section of the community. I planted a tree just in front of the doctors living quarters. I still have many pics from my phone that I will add when I get home. I am so grateful for the memories I have built here. The reality of the surrounding villages and towns hit home very quickly, as we went into the local village this afternoon. Our group went by a large, grey, safari-looking jeep. The village is only 1 kilometer away (less than a mile) and most woman working at Vaidyagrama walk the dirt road to get here. Geeta explained the dynamics of the town. It is quite small, with a population of 500. They have no real means for work. There is one small school for children of all ages. The town is divided by caste. The lower caste is known as "untouchables" and they aren't even allowed in the temple. They seem to understand this and are content with it. There is no animosity. The men gather in the main square to speak or gamble with each other. The people are extremely run down. You can see the weathering in them. The living conditions are whatever they can make of them. There are shacks, small wooden stick structures with thatch roofs, or concrete houses, each fit with a large stack of huge rocks in front, for doing laundry. They beat the clothes on the rock to rid them of water and hang them to dry. They boil them as well, so they are quite clean. The fabrics here are made for years of boiling and wear. They are not like the ones that we Americans buy from China that fall apart in the washing machine. Another jeep beeps at us to get out of the road. It is filled to the brim with teenage girls that start eagerly waving and saying hello with big smiles. A group of young boys jumps up to say "Hi, good afternoon, how are you?" all in unison. They study English in school, but have little chance to use it. They are very proud and we smile and return the greetings. I al already mentioned many details about the circumstances in this village. In addition to that, Geeta mentioned there are ALL arranged marriages here, and that many men come down from northern India to pick and bride and take her back up there. She also explained that, just like many countries, boys are revered and girls are giving the cold shoulder by both parents. They consider a girl only temporary, as she will make her life with a husband somewhere. Quite an eye opener. Thats all I'm going to say about that for right now. I had my last rejuvenation treatment with Maya. It includes sense therapy, which is oil in the ears/nose/throat, inhalation of herbal smoke, oil-pulling for the teeth/gums and and an herbal treatment to the eyes. The eye treatment is done with a charcoal-looking black paste that completely resembles eye-liner. Needless to say, there a bunch of guys walking around here looking like they are wearing makeup. It took me 3 days to figure it out. I ended up buying 5 small cases of it, as I am sure its much better for me than the liquid black Loreal I use in mass quantity everyday and I'm positive they don't test it on animals! Aparna said it wont smudge at all. As my treatment was ending, I asked Maya if I could give her a hug and she said yes! She just looked at me wide-eyed with a big smile and said "Please come back, Madam". She said it to me 5 times during my treatment. I instantly had tears in my eyes. I think it will be the same when I say goodbye to Sindu and Dr Ramadas tomorrow. Amazing the connections I can develop in just 2 weeks. I keep remonding myself that we are not supposed to have attachments. I know we will meet again. I am all packed, the bill is paid (which is much less than I expected) and the documents have been printed for me to get through US Customs next week with all these herbs that look like they were packaged in Columbia (if ya know what I mean). We will attend morning prayers, have an early breakfast and be on our way at 8 am. Off to Munnar, which sits above the clouds. We will be in a million shades of green and on the highest Tea plantations in the world. Didn't expect this many tears saying goodbye.

Jan 31, 2015 Vaidyagrama Treatment Summary 1) Purvakarma - Preparation Stage This stage pulls toxins and Pitta dosha heat from all areas of the body into the purishavaha srota, or digestive tract. Dinacharya -Daily routine of diet (continuous) Abhyanga -External oleation for arterial/lymphatic cleanse (continuous) Pinda -3 days heated, herbal powders pounded into skin/muscle Snehana -3 days internal oleation of drinking medicated ghee Swedana -2 days of sweat therapy to further dry tissues 2) Panchakarma - Purification Stage Virechan -1 day Herb-induced purge to cleanse blood, intestines, liver and gall bladder. Treats Pitta inflammation in joints, blood and skin. No abhyanga this day. 3) Paschatkarma - Rejuvenation Stage Dinacharya -3 days Rejuvenation of the sense organs Cleansing of nose and nasal passages with medicated oil Cleansing of ears with medicated oil Breathing of herbal smoke Herbal treatment of eyes Oil pulling with medicated oil for gums/teeth 14 days- Rested and rejuvenated Calm mind Deep sleep Reduction of pain in lumbar spine Reduction of inflammation in skin Hair, skin and nails very hydrated and strong Loss of 8.5 pounds, but never felt hungry Thank you Vaidyagrama. I will be back🌸

India January 31, 2015 As we said our goodbyes and boarded the van, Dr. Ramadas hugged us goodbye and took our picture. Ethelyne made up a goodbye song. He recorded it as we sang it to him. So cute. He hugged each and every one of us as we boarded to leave. We now begin the touring portion of our trip provided by Redback Travel.

The first 30 minutes into the trip was in silence. The sights are quite humbling. We see the remnants if what was a highway that was going to be built, but then abandoned. There was once a bigger industry setting in Coimbatore, but the manufacturers had to leave since they could not get a consistent power supply. You have electricity for 4 hours, then it is cut off for 8. Then, you may have it for 10 hours and its cut off for 4, etc. Vaidyagrama has consistent electricity since everything is run on solar panels and back up generators. You don't even know the power supply issue exists. But you do when you leave. There are roadside shacks with barefoot people and it happens to be a cellphone store. Its a lot to take in. The buses are beautifully decorated in flowers and a million colors of mandala designs. These people are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. What is surprising is that some of the concrete, beat up structures have satellite dishes outside of them. Cell phones and technology are definitely a priority here. There is a college of Engineering and Technology in every town and roadside village. Eye-opening. Also, everywhere you turn, you see a woman sweeping the street to try to maintain cleanliness. Then a big truck passes by and puts all the dirt right back. The attempt at cleanliness is larger than I anticipated. I must say, so far we have been in pristine environments with plenty of local, clean, boiled water to drink. None of us have felt threatened or been ill in any way. The experience of being in a vehicle here is like no other. Its chaos. You are on both sides of road. You compete with motorbikes, minitrucks, large trucks, tuk tuks, people and animals. There are no rules of the road. Horns are blaring and you are going as fast as you can, passing anyone in your way. I have a small video that shows a piece if our ride and we are all calming chatting with each other. This makes my 95 mph ride on a dirt road (through the Yukatan Jungle) to the pyramid of Coba look like a piece of cake. Hang on, smile and nod. The people are all going about life with the same daily activities as us. Metal factory, construction sites, clothing stores, car dealerships, etc.....on a different scale. Men wear bright orange turbans to keep head cool in blazing sun. They don't have baseball caps with visors. We watched a large group of people walking on the side of the road dressed in different shades of orange. This went on for miles and miles. There are walking 100 km for pilmagrage to celebrate Durga. They must fast for one week and wear bright orange to show fasting....then walk that 100 km to the temple. There are walk to wall coconut trees. There is abundant coconut water and they use the skin as mulching for planting. It also retains water for flowers, etc Now we start on switchback roads with no guardrails. So bumpy. Wreaking havoc on my back. I am not comforted by the fact that the driver believes in reincarnation. Beautiful scenery, majestic trees and dried up waterfalls. They will return in monsoon season. The drop offs have my heart pounding and I cant bare to look. Not sure how Jamie can stand in the front seat! It is evident that the powers that be are attempting to clean up the country. There is garbage in certain areas, but it is really less than I expected. This may be different in the north, but Kerala is very focused on natural healing and preserving mother earth. I am even amazed at how every man we have spoken to knows the name of every flower and tree in the surrounding area....and he is excited to tell you about it. I have seen roadside signs that say "The only cure for litter is you" and "Plastic free zone- do not litter here". So encouraging! We started the accent to Munnar by passing through a tiger and wildlife sanctuary with elephant crossing signs. The sanctuary went on file a couple of hours drive! We did see a few antelope, but that is all. The elephants stay in the forest during the heat of the day. Did you know that India was the first country on earth to instill animal rights? They treat all animals with love and dignity. Even if they are meat eaters, the cows are well taken care of. Which brings me to a point to clarify. Indians do not worship cows. I think its a misconception that they do so. In the south, they are mostly strictly vegetarian and they believe the cow is sacred, as it beings us the capability to use the milk for sustenance. We also make ghee, cream, butter, yogurt and cheese. It is an important animal and it is celebrated with thanks for its life giving properties. In some countries, the dairy product of a couple of cows may be all that is keeping a small village alive. (Thats why Heifer Intl is one of my favorite charities to donate to) After 2.5 hrs drive, we reached checkpoint to cross into state of Kerala. We stopped for bathroom break and there were monkeys everywhere! We watched as one proceeded to open the satchel on a motorbike and take out all of its contents. The owner came yelling and chasing him away. We had one little guy on out van that kept trying to get in the front door and sat on the outside side mirror. I cant image being surrounded by animals with human taking your stuff. Wild. The ride consisted of many bumpy and winding roads, all through local villages. There is no major highway, so consider driving 200 miles on side streets with a max speed of 30 mph. The sights are quite humbling. Lots of shacks. Lots of bare feet. I do not see many westerners. I have seen about 5 so far on this 6 hour drive. We entered a long stretch of densely-treed road that had an extremely high and impressive fence on both sides. It was made of stone and electrical wire with barbed wire at the top. It seemed like a scene out of 'Jurassic Park'. It was serious. I was concerned at what it was they were trying to keep from coming to the road. It went on for miles and miles. Finally, I had to ask the driver if they were blocking the elephants. He said no, that is was actually US they are keeping from entering there. Turns out we were passing through an immense Sandalwood tree forest! All of the sandalwoods are government owned and highly protected against deforestation. Even those who grow sandalwood on their own property must register and report it. Each tree is tagged and tracked. The trees may not be cut down whatsoever. Each one must die and fall on its own before it may be harvested. Yay!!! Go India!!!! Arriving in the Munnar area is breathtaking. Its cooler here. We have been ascending for a couple of hours. The mist in the rolling hills steams off the tress in the sunshine. The dropoffs are still a big scary to me, but I am distracted by the beauty of the landscape. The rolling hills are a thousand shades of green. The terrain is coated in tea trees...I am estimating a couple hundred thousand acres. It is all owned by the Tata Corporation. The CEO is the great-grandson of the original founder.He also owns the Taj hotel in Mumbai and the Tata car company. The trees were planted by the British during the colonization in the late 1800s and they can live for 400 years. These are all the original planted trees, with additional ones added after a major flood in 1927. Munnar hilltop station is an extremely busy and crowed town. The traffic is equally crazy and wall to wall people. I didn't expect such a small town to be so busy. It is lined with hundreds of shops- cell phone stores, clothing/shoe stores, vegetable stands, coffee/tea stands, etc. There are even numerous shops with men stringing garlands of fresh flowers. There are rows of lined up tuk tuks for hire. There is a river running through it with a bridge crossing over to all of the hotels. There is a temple in the main square and small side streets lined with fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts and grains. Wonderful!! We stopped at a local hotel (sister hotel of where we are staying in the jungle) for lunch. Great surprise to find out we already paid full board and this is included in our stay. We got a table outside on the balcony (covered from the sun) with a cool breeze and no noise. I had a very surreal moment that I am actually in India eating lunch on a balcony in the tea tree plantations. Of course, we had the best lunch ever with vegetable biriyani, coconut rice, breads, currys and fresh squeezed lime juice drink. This was our first meal outside Vaidyagrama and we all ate too much. We agreed that would be the end if that :) First stop is the Tata Tea Museum. We pick up our local guide, Augustine. He is a 30something guy wearing trendy jeans, a soccer jersey and Converse. He jumps in the front seat of the van as we stop for 1/2 minute. I never knew that 7 kinds of green and black tea come from the same plant! Augustine walked us through the picking of the leaves and which parts are used for white, green and black teas. Then we saw the machinery that grinds, drys and separates all the different grades and waste products of the teas. He explained why some of it has caffeine and some doesn't. Even the waste products used by going back into the land. Then I got to have a cup of the best Chai I have ever had for 5 rupees (10 cents)! We are all a bit tired and ready to get to our hotel. Off we go! After just a few minutes, the tea tree landscape disappears and we are enter into a very thick and dense jungle. The hills are just as steep, but the terrain completely changes. The trees are tall and magnificent. There are banyans and eucalyptus and honeybee trees, with vines covering everything. There are exotic flowers of every color. The sun is just starting to descend as we arrive. Our hotel is on the road in the midst of all of it. It is an old English Tea Estate and the owner is an Indian man, Mr. P.J. George. It sits adjacent to an Ayurvedic garden and medicine plantation. Yay! Our lodging is pristine again. The cleanest bedding, huge bathrooms and this place even has toilet paper! The entire entrance and front of the owners home is lined wall to wall with potted flowers. A green moss covers the land like grass. The entire driveway and large walkway to the lodging in the back is made of red brick-pavers in the shape of flowers. It is lined with hanging baskets for more fruits, veggies and flowers. The entire area is a huge garden of tomatoes, cardamon, black peppercorns. Its like paradise..........and we are excited that we have wifi too! The lodging part of the place consists of 2 buildings with 4 units in each one. The upstairs units have small balconies overlooking the beauty of it all. Tresa and Marcia are upstairs from Barbara and I and they have 2 balconies in each direction! The back part of the second building has a common terrace that overlooks the jungle scene of a million tress and vines. It left me speechless. In the other direction is the road and a huge ascending hillside up to a mountain named Lakshmi ❤️. I will tell you more about our trek up that hill later. Dinner is made for us in the kitchen by the owners wife. It is divine and made with love. There is another gentleman who has completely taken care of us. He moved our luggage, made us hot water in the morning for our kashayam, toured the property and gardens and took us on an amazing trek....all with big smiles. Now, we turn in for the night. The jungle is pitch black. You hear the last sounds of the birds for the day and all of those nighttime animals calling out to each other with romance in their voices. A gentle and loving hug with a soft goodnight at the end of an amazing day.

India February 1, 2015

I awake in the darkness and the silence of the jungle.

I am trying to be very quiet so as not to wake Barbara. I want to take a shower and get outside soon as possible. I want to hear the birds singing see the sunrise!

To my dismay, I discovered there was no hot water and it was too early in the morning to ask anyone about it. The hotel manager won't be here until 7 a.m. He is nice enough to come early to prepare some hot water so we may take our kashayam an hour before breakfast.

For now I was in for a cold bath with my bucket and water cup. I tried to stay as quiet as possible, but Barbara wakes up at the same time I do. She was ready for her cold bath immediately after me. Neither of us liked it.

The sun was rising by the time I stepped outside. The jungle was alive and the sunbeams coming through the trees were magical. The sounds of a thousand birds is something I can't describe. I have attached one pic to this post. Just imagine.

The hotel manager could see how enthralled I was with my environment, so he took me over to a small tree to show me the pink speckled eggs of a local bird that I cannot rename. Again he was naming all the plants, flowers and trees in the environment. He was explaining the medicinal properties of each one. These guys amaze me.

We all got together at 7:30 am to take our kashayam and it seemed much more difficult to prepare ourselves. The black herbal tablets will not dissolve, so we will have to come up with a strategic plan for tomorrow.

Breakfast from the hotel owners kitchen arrived at 8:30 a.m. and was as wonderful as ever - Fresh bananas, a polenta style porridge with mustard seeds and fresh made chapati. This morning I decided I'm having chai. It proved to be a wonderful choice! The chai here is a party for the taste buds!

Prior to walking to the front of the hotel to be picked up by our driver, we decided to take pictures sitting in a 200 year old banyan tree that sits at the front of the property. We giggled as we each sat in lotus in the tree. So fun! Then we boarded the van to drive back to the Plantation for a morning hike.

The morning drive and the view was just as stunning as the day before. I believe it must be about two hundred thousand acres of tea trees. Its already hot and its only 9 a.m. I am not sure of the elevation, but intend to check it when I get a chance. The sun is blaring and the landscape seems unreal.

The women are out picking across the fields now. Augustine describes that they each pick 100 kilos a day, which is over 200 pounds. As we stopped on one of the switchbacks, I grabbed my camera to take a picture of a woman with the huge bag of tea on her head. They stare at me and I think they may be offended, but suddenly they have big smiles and wave frantically for the camera. They are happy to have the photo taken.

We stop the van, exit and start walking up the trail. We find that we are quickly tired as we've been at rest for the past two weeks and this is the first physical exertion we're doing. We smile and laugh with each other as Augustine takes pictures of us in the middle of a sea of tea trees. He further explains the entire history of the area, landowners etc.

We had to take a couple of breaks from the intensity of the incline and the sun....We loved it, but were happy to come back to the coolness of the van and some water. We decided that we'd also like to ride an elephant today, so the next step will be to see the large dam (constructed in 1947 to generate electricity) and then off to the elephants!! My excitement is building. Riding an elephant has been on my bucket list for 30 years!!

We walked along the dam and it was quite impressive. It reminded me of the Hoover Dam ,just on a smaller scale. We went under a fence to cross a small path to get a better view and we're getting yelled at by the locals selling fruit....Augustine assured us it was OK. The venders were NOT OK with it!

Back to the van and off to the elephants!! Again....the traffic, the people, the tuk tuks, the colors, the sounds and the smells are all wonderful on this road! The scent of cooking reminds me that it's about lunch time!

We arrived at the area with the elephants and it was quite crowded with tourists from other places in India. We still have yet to see any other Westerners here. There have been maybe 20 during the entire trip. We make our way in through a large crowd to buy our tickets and wait among the crowd. There are women who are covered in jewelry and henna and even one woman who's going to ride the elephant in a dress and small heels. (By the way, the 'crowd' is everywhere in India. You are never NOT in a crowd!)

Of course after seeing how big they are I become a little bit apprehensive. Jamie, Tresa and I stand on the platform waiting and I start to feel nervous. We've decided that I'll be in the front. We all get on board and I seem to be a little short and cannot reach the side rails to brace my feet on. Our lovely lady is named Camiha. She's walking slowly and there's a photographer to capture the moment for you. All is well and I'm grinning from ear to ear. Jaime keeps asking how I'm doing as I shared how very exciting this was for me. Everything was great until Camiha started to turn left down a small switch back and go down hill. Because I was in the front and could not reach the foot rest, I was having a hard time bracing myself and felt like I was going to fall forward over her head. I was having an extreme moment of anxiety until I finally grasped the bar behind me and Jamie grabbed my shoulder to keep me from falling forward. After 5 minutes, all was well again and we came back to the area where we had a chance to feed her some treats. I fed her pineapples. It was exciting as she reached her trunk back towards me to grab them, arrange them with her trunk and then eat them without eating leaves. All in all, this was about half an hour ride and yes it was in a tourist area, but it was still wonderful!!

We had an amazing lunch at the same hotel in town and then we headed back to our jungle hotel for an afternoon walk through our neighboring Ayurvedic plantation called 'Cinnamon Gardens'. This is where we bought our spices from. It was an eye-opening walk, guided by the owner who walked us through each and every plant in the garden, as well as different trees, shrubs and vines. We were able to eat fresh cocoa beans straight from a fleshly-cracked Coco pod. We saw figs, black peppercorns, cloves, etc. Chewing the leaves of the clove tree taste the same as the clove itself! Quite strange! We chewed the leaves from an Allspice tree, we ate fresh cardamom seeds from picking the cardamom pods. We even picked the bark from the cinnamon tree and ate it on the spot. We tried everything in the garden!

All of the plants, fruits, trees, flowers, etc are all used for medicinal purposes. He was explaining each tree and plant and what it is used for, whether it be to treat diabetes, lower cholesterol or help to re-grow lost hair. They also grow and dry coffee, eucalyptus trees, ginger, turmeric and an array of amazing flowers. At the end of it you are able to purchase ayurvedic medicines and the spices that have been harvested just in the last month or so. The tastes, sights, sounds and smells were a treat for the senses. The learning process of all the medicinal qualities was wonderful.

It's now 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the manager of a hotel wants to take us on a yet another hike across the road and up a mountain named Lakshmi. We comply, as the heat of the day is gone down and of course we want to see you as much as possible. We begin our ascent up a paved road that quickly turns to a trail and becomes more and more intense as we make our way to the top of a small mountain. There are huge rock formations, towering eucalyptus trees and very large, aged banyan trees everywhere. The terrain is covered in ferns, flowers, vines, cardamom bushes, etc. At one point, we suddenly realized we were climbing our way through a dense cardamom forest. There are strange fruits, coconuts and plants all around....Finally we reached a large stone, where our guide shows us that there is a 300 year old banyan tree at the top. The roots are streaming down all sides of the stone trying to reach the earth. It looked quite unreal, almost alien or from a movie. It was astounding and I have added it to my photo album. He then asked us if we would like to climb the vines (which are actually the roots of the banyan tree). Of course, we can barely walk up this hill much less climb the side of a rock. So he decides to show us his capability and climbs right up the roots with no problem! He wants to keep going upward, but we have to decline. It's getting late, the sun is going down and we are exhausted. I am so glad we decided to go on that hike, even being as tired as we are. It was a visual treat. We come back down to the beauty of our lodge, packed ourselves up again, had another lovely dinner and listened to the jungle as it closed for the night. Tomorrow morning we are off for another 5 hour drive to Alleppey for two days on a house boat.

Everywhere we go, we have to ask them to turn down the spice in the food. We explain that we have just come from 2 weeks of Panchakarma. We are not supposed to be eating anything spicy, exerting ourselves or being in the sun and wind. This plan does not seem to be working, as we are eating spicy food, hiking in the sun, driving and moving constantly. Next time we do this, it will be the excursion first, then Panchakarma treatment.

The moments of quiet contemplation are gone for the moment.

Good night from the jungle of Munnar.

India February 2, 2015

Off to the backwaters of Alleppey!

I woke early, as usual, took my cold shower and met my partners at the breakfast table at 7 a.m. for kashayam. The hotel manager arrives, sharp as ever, with our hot water and a smile. He has even packed up travel boxes of food to sustain us for our next five to six hour drive southeast to the coast. Just to reiterate, there is no highway, so all routes are taken via small, bumpy roads through villages....and however long they tell you the drive will be, make sure you double it :)

The roads through small towns are as interesting as ever. I notice that we must be growing accustomed to the chaotic driving since we are now carrying on a very casual conversation as we weave in and out of the tumultuous activities on the road. As we descend from the higher elevation of Munnar, we see the dense forest and landscape change over time and become much more populated. I even begin to feel more at ease since there are no more Mountain drop offs to contend with.

About halfway there, after 3 hours of driving, we decide to stop for a bathroom break.

This is the first chance we have had to use a public restroom. This in itself, is its own adventure and out of courtesy, we much must purchase a beverage to show our appreciation. This is why you travel with your own toilet paper in your pocket. This is also my first opportunity to consume something outside of a controlled environment. I decide to take one of the wonderful hot chais that have become my favorite. It is 97 degrees outside and my chai is steaming. This tells me the water has been boiled an extremely high temperature and gives me the confidence to sip it and smile..... while all of the patrons stand around and find this group of seven Western women quite intriguing.

We board the van once again and realize the temperature is rising the closer we get to the coastline. I've also noticed along the way that the small shack-like homes have slowly changed into larger brick homes that seemed much more like a typical Chicago bungalow. It seems the level of income has also increased and the inhabitants of the community are becoming mixed between Indians and Arabic Muslims. I see quite a bit of Arabic writing on the local shop signage. The community is also becoming much more densely populated with people. There are no longer large fields of land in between residences. We are also nearing the coastline which tells me the settlers could easily come from the Middle East. I suppose the western coastline of the country must be inhabited by more of the Asian or Chinese community.

I can tell that we are very close to the coast since I start to see many rivers and streams appearing. The area is covered in palm trees. Seems this is what I would expect to see in Cambodia. We arrived at the check in and four gentlemen come to take our luggage. We need to board a small water taxi to take us to the larger house boat.

I can't seem to take enough pictures as the scene is very surreal and reminds me of something out of a movie or something I read about. We bored the water taxi and marvel at the scenery. I am sure that our luggage will fall right off the top rack they have placed it on. I wonder what will do when everything falls to the bottom of the river. The rocking of this small boat is intense. I go with the flow.

We arrived at our house boat which is quite impressive and has 4 bedrooms, a full running kitchen (staffed by 5 crew), the captain's deck and a beautiful sitting area up top, partially covered so we can cruise along comfortably in the shade. Each bedroom has its own bathroom with a big shower and all facilities are pristine. The linens and pillows blankets etc are all very comfortable and we are truly looking forward to a night's sleep on a softer surface. It is now only 12 noon and we have boarded our boat. We will stay here until tomorrow at the same time. We break away from the dock and start to cruise down the river as the crew begins to prepare lunch. After being in a bumpy van for 6 hours, we are suddenly on a very soft-cruising houseboat amongst palm trees and acres and acres of rice fields. It is a welcome change. The sky is blue, the temperature is warm, the sounds are soft and the sites are serene. We all spent about an hour in silence to transition into this environment and take a moment to appreciate once again the opportunity we have been given.

Lunch is served and it is amazing as always with different races, vegetables, curries and homemade chapati. I think all of us have taken a photograph of everything we have eaten since we arrived here. I love this food! The rest of this day is spent relaxing on the terrace taking photos, watching birds, and watching the local community go about their day. As we cruise down this river you can see families who are washing their clothes (beating them against the rocks) and tending to their laundry, taking a bath themselves, or having a leisurely walk down the river. We can also see large groups of school children on their water buses from school as they get put for the day. I got some great shots of locals waving to me from their bicycles. I can't remember ever being a place that has been so kind and welcoming.

We make a pit stop to step off the boat and have a small walk to a local catholic church. Even when you enter into Christian buildings, you are still expected to remove your shoes. I have come to love this practice. I have done it at home for many years, if not all of my life, but I love to see it done throughout India in all respective places.

The little stroll we had offered us the opportunity to see some Artisan shops up close and personal for the first time. I am amazed by the craftsmanship of everything in the windows. India contains very few mass production factories. Everything here is done by hand, & I mean everything. Close, textiles, shoes, linens, furniture, all of it done by hand. the hand carved religious Hindu Work are quite amazing. I would love to buy it all but then I remind myself that I am a minimalist and I will find exactly what I need before I leave.

Getting back on the boat has me just a bit nervous as I don't feel I can step wide enough across the water. Two gentlemen laugh and hold my hands. The crew is as warm and inviting as everyone else in this country.

We continue on our evening stroll through the backwaters. The scenes are amazing as the sun starts to set. The trees are beautiful, the birds are soaring and all is right in the world. We have some soft music playing as we laugh and speak about our experiences on this trip and life in general.

We end this day with another amazing meal, wonderful conversation and a full moon. The stars begin to show themselves and we realize we are just miles from the Aabian Sea....and that we were in the high elevation jungle this morning.

Once again thanking the universe for the opportunity to be here. It doesn't seem real quite yet. Namaskar and goodnight from a houseboat under the full moon.

India February 3, 2015

Rising early in the morning on this houseboat has been a completely different experience then any other on this trip so far. The sight of the full moon setting and the rise of today's new sun has left me speechless. The temperature is perfect, the wind is very soft and there are birds quietly calling out to each other. We rock softly on the water as the sun begins to rise. The water, palm trees, and the acres of rice fields come into view.

The water is as clear as glass in the morning sun is reflecting a beautiful orange. You can see the small insects dancing on the glass and just a short way away the morning fisherman I'm pulling in there nets. There is no sound of motor boats, the fisherman do not shout out to one another. The crew is preparing our breakfast in the kitchen but there are no banging plates. The day is starting, but with complete serenity. The reflection of the sun on the water, bouncing back up on the fisherman and their nets, is mesmerizing. I feel that this should be the scene of a book written by Hemingway, using only the words in the way he can to describe the scene.

Being a landscape photographer, this is a complete treat for me. I snap away a million photographs that I will never be able to replace. What a spectacular sight! I also managed to grab a shot of a bird lifting a snake out of the water and flying away with it! I suppose that serves a large lunch to the whole family! As I have done a thousand times on this trip, I appreciate this moment.

The other ladies start to rise and breakfast is served. We chat away about how we slept and then try to understand where on this boat the crew slept. We come to find out that they use the dining room as their bedroom when all passengers are asleep for the evening. I don't suppose it is very comfortable and contemplate how they must do this quite often. We have another pot of the finest chai tea and off we go....

After sailing one leisurely hour back to the doc and water taxi, we are fed, showered, packed and ready for our next segment! We board the water taxi and noticed there is an eagle circling above us. To my excitement, I managed to grasp two incredible photos of this majestic bird. It never dawned on me, as an American,that eagles exist elsewhere too! He was beautiful dive bombing for fish.

We arrived back at the main dock with numerous other travelers and verify all of our pieces of luggage . Seven (7) women tend to have a lot of cargo! And we all packed very light for this trip...

Our Redback Travel driver is waiting for us and helps load our items in the van. Time to head to the city of Cochin (Kochi), our last stop on this amazing journey. This time, its only 45 minutes away!

...... Now the roads are extremely congested! This is a large city with many bridges and many people. What I thought was congested before was just an introduction. There seems to be not less than 1 inch of space between all things in existence, but I'm loving every minute of it! The temperature has gone up to 97 degreses with full sun. Our hotel is located right in Fort Cochin, a small walk from the Arabian Sea. This is a large city with lots of history. Here we will get to do some sightseeing, shopping, engage in a cooking class and see a local stage performance. We will do all of this in the next 48 hours before our departure back to the United States.

We checked into a fine hotel right in the center of a shopping district. They welcomed us with a necklace of fresh flowers and a fresh coconut and straw. It is 'Hotel Arches' and is just a small walk from Fort Chochin. It is a charming hotel, with lovely rooms, cherrywood staircase and fresh flowers everywhere. The flowers were so impressive, we were debating if they were real. The sea is only a few minutes' walk from here. In Fort Chochin, they still fish the same way they have for the past thousand years. There are parks and people and vendors and shops and street food and visitors in every direction. I am actually enjoying being out on foot and getting to view some of the shops and meet people up close and personal. Everything is in very short walking distance from our hotel but yet the seven of us are very diligent in making sure we stay close to one another.

We had a small walk in a local vicinity and a quick look at all of the artists and shops and clothing shops. it is a feast for the senses! All of the colors, fabrics, clothing, and artworks are just so gorgeous. It is so hot, that stepping into an air-conditioned shop is such a repreive! We are soon gathered up and meet our guide who will take us on a walking tour of Fort Cochin. We walk over to the coast line to see the huge fishing nets that are drawn in and out of the water using large stones to counter weight the pull. There is a open market of fresh fish for at least two miles. We continued our walk to visit the first Christian church in India, built by the Portuguese. The tomb of Vasco de Gama is located within this church.

The guide also made special arrangements for us to visit a local Hindu temple. Normally if you are not a practicing Hindu you are not allowed to enter, but he pulled some strings. We humbly admired the impressive paintings and flowers within. We also went into a major market called 'Jew Town' which, by the way, is not considered derogatory here. We visited one of the first Jewish synagogues built in India as well. The sights, sounds, smells and colors are incredible and my camera is clicking away. We notice that there are still not many Westerners as tourists. We are very much the minority. One thing that does stick out - a couple of girls traveling with backpacks through a crowded street - Girls with blonde hair, wearing very short shorts and low cut, spaghetti-strap tops with cleavage showing. Not sure where they are from, but my guess is the States. It becomes very apparent how a person can put themselves in danger if they don't know any better. I realize many say that a woman does not ask to be assaulted by the clothes that she wears. In the same respect, you must - especially as a woman- understand your surroundings and what is and isn't considered a good idea. If you are going to travel to other countries, it is best to understand the culture and adhere to it. It is not being oppressed to do so. It is being a human being with common sense in another country.

Back to my train of thought..... After our guide left us we had free time to spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. We visited many different shops and discovered that the Kashmiran people predominantly own the businesses in this area. Kashmir is quite far away in the north in the country from here. It reminds me how much I love the name-- I always said if I had a son, I would name him Kashmir....and its one of my favorite Led Zeppelin tunes.....ANYWAY, The Kashmirians are light skinned, blue eyed people who are stunning to look at, whether male or female. We went to buy saffron from one specific place and the owner would not discuss negotiating prices until we set and drink saffron tea with him. Even the shopping here has been an amazing experience. One of the shop owners has even made me a customized sapphire ring. he will have it ready for me tomorrow morning. He is making it exactly as the Vedic astrologer has instructed!

Now we gather together again to prepare for our cooking class with Leelu. She is a short walk down the street and we are very excited, notebooks in hand. She conducts cooking classes out of her home which is also a homestay - a place that you can rent a room for very little. Her home is inviting and covered in photos and religious artifacts. The set up is wonderful and makes for a lovely evening sitting around the kitchen island, learning different nutritional facts, spices to be used and the secrets of South Indian cooking. We stayed there for dinner and enjoy what we prepared together. With smiles and goodbyes, we head back to the hotel late in the evening.

Again, we collapse onto our comfy beds and can't believe we were on a serene houseboat this morning. This level of activity is extremely far away from what we should be doing immediately following a Panchakarma. I am so excited that I will get my first super-hot shower in 4 days! No cold water tionight!

Nighty-Night from the world of Kashmirian Tea

India February 4/5, 2014

I slept like a stone. I think we are moving a bit fast. I am not worried, as tonight we will be back to the airport with plenty of hours on a plane to rest once again.

We have breakfast and chai on the rooftop of this hotel. The air is warm, but the rooftop is cool and quiet and seems far away from the hustle and bustle of the street. There are birds singing and flowers everywhere. They are serving an American-style breakfast, which none of us really want. Butternut bread? Yuk! They smile when we request traditional foods instead....and then all is right in the world.

Today we spend walking and comparing prices on what we will actually buy and take home with us. I am very fond of the many brass Buddha staues, but have yet to purchase one, as the prices continue to change. A cruise ship docked in the harbor today and there seems to be a flood of every more people in the street. I joke with the shop owners and ask if all the prces have gone up since the boat docked. They laugh.

My custom made ring should be ready this evening. The jeweler is from Kashmir and has offered to deliver it to my hotel. It is made for my left-hand pnky finger and the stone must be set to be able to touch my skin. I am so impressed with the haste at which he is putting it together.

We fund some tiffins, wooden elephants, many mala beads, pasminas, etc....and I picked out a marvelous hand-carved hookha and finalized the brass Buddha...This adds to my suitcase of spices and medicine from Vaidygrama. That should do it. Now to re-pack it all. The kaysayam definately looks like something illegal, so all documents are kept close at hand.

Our last tourist piece of the trip is the stage performance of the Kathakali.

It is very vibrant! Kathakali is one of the most complex and highly stylized Indian art forms. It is basically a dance drama, noted for its heavy and attractive make up, elaborate costumes, detailed body movements, synchronized eye-hand movements, and thematic presentation of stories. It was quite fun and entertaining! After the show, we finished our last minute shopping and I went back to the Orane shop to retrieve my handmade ring. It is beautiful! We have 2 hours to pack, shower and leave at midnight. It took 1 1/2 hr to get to the airport, but I was quite happy we made that drive in the middle of the night. The roads were completely and eerily desolate. No people, no horns blowing, no motorbikes to compete with. In the quietness, we all shared our stories of the wonderful things we found in the shops and how hard it will be to emerge in the frigid air of Chicago. For the first time, we drove on what seemed to be a highway. I was a glad for the light of the full moon since there are no streetlights anywhere....only at some small side road crossings. Even at night, on the side of the highway, the cows and goats roam or sleep. I did see one lone tuk tuk buzzing along the road somewhere on our way. It reminded me of the song, "Midnight Train to Georgia".....but instead...."Midnight Tuk Tuk to Kochi" came to my mind. I crack myself up. Kochi airport is a huge difference from Chennai. We were expecting to wait for our plane in a dark, dirty, hot place with no our arrival into India. Not the case! Kochi airport looks like O'Hare. Our guide explained it is because it is privately owned. 80% of the airport is owned by private investors that fly back and forth to the Middle East. Can you say 'Money'? Our guide explained that many Indians also go the the Arab countries to work in IT. They make enough money to support their entire family and extended families. We go through the anticipated, yet excruciating process of security. My back is about to give out, since I have decided to trek across the planet for the next 30 hours with that large, 35 pound brass statue of Buddha in my backpack....and then there's my camera equipment, a new hookah, etc. etc. While changing planes in Qatar, we must pass 3-4 different security checkpoints to board a plane to the US. I have to empty the backpack and re-pack it at each stage. Anyone who thinks security is lacking to reach the US is sadly mistaken. The Qatar airport has the most diverse group of travelers I have ever seen. There are also men's prayer rooms next to the bathrooms. There are signs that point in the direction of Mecca. We are just a hundred miles from Saudi Arabia. The cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bagdad are easily drivable from here. I got a couple of shots of the city of Doa from the air. Wow. The airport consists of: Chinese woman dressed like schoolgirls with sterile masks over their faces Men in long cotton gowns from the northern countries of Africa Arab men dressed in the sheik-style of long white fabric with their heads covered Indian Seiks or Jains with large turbans Stylish younger Arab boys with flipped - up collars on soccer polos Woman in full black burkas pushing strollers African woman wearing the most beautifully colored fabrics and amazing jewelry All the woman smell of the most expensive perfume ------ and then theres us, a group of American woman wearing gym shoes and hauling backpacks, carrying brass buddhas. Barbara happens to have a large wooden elephant in her backpack. I told her 'So much for having a monkey on your back'....I think I am getting delirious. 2 hours on the flight and tummy happy with tea and food. Only nly 12 more hours to go. Flight displays continue to show direction of Mecca and a gentleman pulled out a small carpet to pray in the back of the plane. There are more crying children on this flight than I have ever experienced. No one seems annoyed by it, as they are all aware that that is what babies do. Seems only we Americans get irritated by it. Another item to ponder. This trip has been filled with 100s of these moments. I am watching a 20 year old, 6 foot Saudi guy with his huge hands and feet attempt to get comfortable in his trendy jeans and denim jacket. Later, I see him resting his large head on the shoulder of his frail and small mother so he can sleep. No one replaces mom, no matter how big you are. We are now an hour and a half away from the 14 degrees of Chicago. What I have experienced on this trip will take some time to absorb. I have hundreds of pictures of the angelic faces, caring doctors and knowledgeable guides I have met along the way and the mesmerizing places we have been able to witness. There are an equal number of powerful images of a congested humanity in struggle. It confirms just how fortunate we all are. I even have sweet thoughts on the ceremonies of fire and flowers. I have learned a whole new way of healing. I have learned and added form of critical thinking and I return home with a more solidified conviction in the power of herbal medicine. The 6 additional woman on this trip have revealed their inner nature of beauty and friendship. We have learned many things on an individual level, but some things all together. We have sat in morning prayer/meditation everyday, we have been tired, we have laughed and we have been wow'd. I know we will carry home these memories imprinted in our minds. Thank you to Barbara, Jamie, Tresa, Christine, Marcia and Ethylene for an amazing journey. Back to reality. A little toast with my Chai. Ching Ching and Namaskar Friends.

Thank you for reading and sharing this amazing experience with me.

Karla A. Cain

Sattvic Sage Ayurveda

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