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Lost Cities Part 2

Lost Cities, Part 2

Here's the much delayed contiinuation of the previous post about our trip to Thalakadu and Somnathpur.

Our second stop was Somnathpur, a small but beautiful and well preserved 12th century temple. The ruins at Thalakadu were impressive for their antiquity and the fact the entire city was buried under sand for centuires. On the other hand, Somnathpur impresses for its artistic quality: it's graceful proportions and the amazingly detailed sculpture covering the temple inside and out.

This time, we were lucky to hire Mr. Ramakrishna, a very knowledgeable guide who also spoke excellent Englsh.

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He explained that the temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu, but it is no longer an active temple since it was attacked by islamic armies from the north of India.

This huge stone inscription near the entrance, written in the old Kannada script, records details of the construction of the temple.

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The first thing one notices when entering the temple compound are the building's graceful shape and proportions.

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Only as we near the temple do the small and amazingly detailed decorations become visible:

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Mr. Ramakrishna explained that there are over 5,000 statues decorating the temple, which took many artisans about 60 years (if I remember correctly) to make. The statues are made of soapstone, which is soft and easy to carve when it is freshly cut, but after drying becomes very hard. Most of the stonework at Thalakadu was granite, which is a very hard stone, this is probably one of the reasons that the sculpture at Somnathpur is much more detailed and sophisticated.

Many of these statues are of Vishnu, but there are also statues of the other two princiipal gods, Shiva and Brahma, and their spouses Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati. After giving us a brief course on how to identify these 6 gods, Mr. Ramakrishna took us around the temple, pointed out many interesting details, and also quizzed us by asking us to identify the gods shown in many of the statues. I'm pleased to say that by a group effort, we correctly identified them all!

Here are some close ups of the statues:

The first is a lion, one of the symbols of Vishnu:

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Here is an incarnation of Vishnu with a lion's head and a man's body; he has killed a demon and is pulling out the demon's intestines and wearing them as a necklace:

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Our guide explained that the temple also served as a school for the community, and had to teach people about all ascpects of life. Here are some scenes from the Kama Sutra:


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A happy, dancing Ganesha:

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And finally, Budda, considered by Hindus to be another incarnation of Vishnu:

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The inside of the temple is just as impressive. First, there is the main hall, with very detialed carvings on the ceiling, showing banana flowers, etc., and several large columns, all hand made and each having a unique design.

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There are three chambers or sanctums, which house statues of the three different incarnations of Vishnu. Although they are made of stone, these statues shlne like metal; Mr. Ramakrishna explained that the priests washed them with coconut oil every day, and because of this, over the ages, the stone becomes shiny.

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Unfortunately, the statue of the main god was taken by the British when they controlled India, and is now in the British Museum, so we were unable to see it; in its place, the Archaeological Survey of Inida has placed a statue excavated from the temple grounds.

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by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 18:50 | Lost Cities 2

Rock Concert

Rock Concert

Last Friday, there was a concert. The performers were all yogis; it was inspiring to see so much talent among the people around us in practice every morning.

The concert was at the Kev-in; a hotel and restaurant run by Kevin, a very dedicated yogi who has been in Mysore for a long time. Kevin organized the concert to raise funds for Project P, a charity he started to help one needy family in Mysore. The concert was free, but donations were collected; I don't know the exact numbers, but I heard that the fundraising went very well.

The first performer was Kevin himself; he played 3 songs written during his university days. In addition to being a dedicated yogi and good hotel manager, he turned out to be a very talented musician!

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Next up was Mark; sorry but I didn't get a photo. Mark was followed by Luke, who played a very funny original song about about yoga.

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Afsheen was next; he played songs written by himself and others.

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Then, Trina performed; her second song was an original which she performed in Chinese. Of course, most of us didn't understand the words, but her silvery voice left us all enchanted.

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For the final number, Mark, Luke, Afsheen and Trina performed together; Afsheen switched from guitar to percussion; playing a large plastic water drum. There was another percussionist playing tabla, but I'm sorry to say that I didn't get his name.

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It was a perfect evening to relax, enjoy and also help a good charity; we all left feeling a little closer to samadi!
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by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 18:47 | Rock Concert

Breakfast in Mysore, Part 2

Breakfast in Mysore, Part 2

While Yasuko and I were working on the Chai, Ayuco worked on the food, which included bread, organic macrobiotic scones brought from Tokyo (thanks Kayo!), fruit, kesaribath and Indian sweets.

First, Ayuco sliced some freshly baked sourdoug bread.

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Oh, and don't forget the assorted Indian sweets, from Bombay Tiffany's.

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After that, the fruit: a papaya, a pineapple, oranges and apples, all bought that morning.

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Ayuco looks happy with her work.

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And in the meantime, I prepared some kesaribath, sweetend semolina with nuts, raisins and spices. I cheated... used a ready made pack. Add water and ghee (refined butter) to a deep frying pan, add the kesaribath mix, and stir until ready.

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Excellent!

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And then we sat down for a great breakfast!

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by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 18:39 | Breakfast at Home 2

Breakfast at Home, Part 1

Breakfast at Home, Part 1

Yesterday, after led class, we had breakfast at my place. A few friends came over and we prepared an excellent breakfast of chai, fruits, bread, scones, kesari-bath (sweet seminola), and indian sweets.

Here is how we did it:

1) The Chai

Chai is spiced indian milk tea-I love it, but since doing
a fast last August, I have not had any caffeine. Luckily, there is a good substitute for black tea. Rooibos tea, also known as bush tea, comes from a tree grown in South Africa, and has a strong flavor, but no caffeine, and is supposed to be good for digestion and to have a relaxing effect. My friend Michiel tells me that "rooibos" means "red bush" in Dutch. This tea has become popular recently thanks to the very charming "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books by Alexander McCall Smith, a series of detective stories set in Botswana. So we used Rooibos tea to make our chai.

First, boil some water and prepare the spices: cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger.

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I usually open the cardamon, crush the cloves, cinnamon and black pepper, and finely chop or grind the ginger, and add them to the boiling water.

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While I was working on the spices, Yasuko was busy preparing the ginger:

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When all the spcies have been added, it smells very good!

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Then add the tea, or rooibos tea, and allow to boil for about 10 minutes.

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Then add milk, I usually try to use equal amounts of milk and water. i usually add some sugar at this point.

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Allow this to boil for about 10 more minutes, and you have some excellent chai! Adding some more sugar helps to bring out the flavor of the spices, especially the ginger. Enjoy!

(Thanks to Mamiko Aida, who first showed me how to make chai, Alice Caldwell, for introducing me to the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Natsuko, for introducing me to rooibos tea, and to Yasuko and Ayuco, who helped to prepare the breakfast!)
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by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 18:38 | Breakfast at Home 1

Christmas in Kovalam

How I Spent Christmas - Kovalam Beach, Kerala, Part 1.

In Mysore, there were rumors that the shala would be closed for a few days around Christmas... unforturnately, there was no clear information about the exact dates... several people asked Guruji and we all got different answers, but it became clear that the shala would close for at least 3 days right after Christmas, so I made plans to head out to Kovalam Beach, Kerala with a few friends.

The first problem was how to get there. Travel in India can be slow and tiring. The planes were all full with people returning home for new year, and we had no luck getting a train reservation either, so we ended up renting a car with a driver for one week to take us there and back. Fortunately, prices in India are quite reasonable, the total cost of the car and driver for one week was about 12,000 rupees (about 30,000 yen, or 280 US dollars); dividing this by the 5 people in our group was not so bad.

On Sunday morning, Christmas Day, after Guruji's led class, we boarded the car. Our driver was Chendru, the same person who took us to Talakadhu and Somnathpur. He arrived a few minutes late, but we were soon underway. Our vehicle was a large 4 wheel drive Tata "Sumo", quite comfortable.

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It was generally in good shape, but some of the rear lights needed work-Mikko doesn't look too worried, so it's probably OK!

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We all fit in quite comfortably.

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Driving in India can be scary... actually quite terrifying at times, but our driver was generally very safe and did an excellent job. We did have a good scare when we were overtaking a large truck labeled "Highly Inflammable"; another truck suddenly appeared around a turn but we just missed it, otherwise "Highly Inflammable" might have been the last thing we ever saw!

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At one point we passed a group of people walking along the road with what looked like pillows tied to their heads. Chendru explained that they were pilgrims on the way to a nearby temple dedicated to the god brother of Ganesh, and the pillows were actually offerings of honey and coconuts wrapped in towels.

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Soon we were driving through the hills in Bandipur National Park, where there are a variety of wild animals including elephants and tigers. The air was very cool and pleasant, and there were large bamboo forests. We stopped for lunch here. Fortunately, no tigers! Just bamboo, tall trees, shade and fresh air...

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After lunch, before leaving the mountains and heading towards the flat costal areas of Kerala state, we had to pass through some scary mountain roads with lots of hairpin turns and some spectacularly steep drops; but everything went smoothly.

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The above two photos were taken from here, see the red arrows:

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The only setback we had came at about 5:00, we decided to stop at Danu's Bakery for an ice cream. As we parked, one of the rear tires suddenly went completely flat. The flat was no match for our ever friendly and efficient driver, Mr. Chenru, who had replaced the flat with our spare before we even finished our break. Luckily, there was a tire repair shop just down the road, so we pulled in.

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This man quickly went to work; removing our wheel, finding the leak, and patching the tube.

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This nail caused our flat tire.

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In the meantime, Antonia kept herself entertained.

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When the work on our tire was nearly done, a local man pulled in to have his scooter tire repaired.

No one knows why, but he suddenly decided to start demonstrating his Uddiyana Banda and Nauli to us.

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His nauli was quite impressive; in Yoga, nauli is usually done side to side, but he was doing it with and up and down motion.

I asked whether he practiced Yoga, but it was very difficult to communicate; as far as I could tell, he said what he practiced was not Yoga or Kalaripayat (a martial art from Kerala); he tried to explain what he practiced, but we could not understand him.

He tried to get Mikko V. to imitate him, but without much success; Mikko S. seemed unimpressed with Mikko V's efforts:

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We set off again at about 5:00 pm with a repaired tire and a new appreciation of Nauli; but we were shocked to discover that after about 6 hours of travel, we had covered less than half the distance from Mysore to Kovalam.

Wait! The travel agent had told us that this would be a 9 or 10 hour trip! How could this be? Apparently, our travel agent calculated the time based only on the distance, but did not consider the relatively slow roads we had to use; our average speed was probably only about 30 km/h. We had no choice but to resign ourselves to many more hours in the car. Fortunately, our driver still seemed OK, so we went on.

By about 10:00 pm, a little past halfway there, we yogis were totally exhausted; we had been up since about 4:00 am for morning practice. Far more troubling was that our driver also seemed to be tiring: he said he was fine to continue all the way to Kovalam but we decided to stop at the first clean looking hotel. A gas station attendant told us about a good hotel about 20 km down the road, which turned out to be the "Prince Hotel". No, not the luxurious Japanese chain, but a local hotel which was quite nice, with A/C, running hot water etc. We were delighted! The mattress was the best I have used in several months, and we all got a good night's rest!

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The next morning, Dec. 26, we left the Prince Hotel at about 7:00 and finally reached Kovalam Beach at about 1:00 pm. The trip was relatively easy, since the roads in Kerala state are definitely better than those in Karnataka.
At Kovalam beach, we checked into our rooms, and went straight to the shala for a light practice. After spening about 16 hours in a car, we were happy to be moving again! I intended to do a light practice, perhaps standing poses only, because I did not know how much my body could handle after that car ride, but before I knew it, I had done the entire primary series, and it felt good!

After practice, eating lunch at a restaurant with a great view of the ocean, it truly felt like we had finally reached our destination!

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To be Continued
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by dcaplan | 2006-01-03 00:18 | Dan in Mysore