a world

Dancing In The Bamboo Forest. {book preview}

I run my fingertips gently across the gray stone body of a temple dancer.

Frozen in her dance.

Engaging me with her steady gaze from the laughing wall where she lives.

Her body full with joy and movement.

Our vibrations resonate and she begins to move, already three dimensional, stepping gracefully from the wall to the earth, into my world.

Vibrant color returning with each flickering eye movement, fingers curling into mudras, invoking energy, the body fluid and powerful.

She dances around me; her anklets softly chime as she pounds the ground with rooted feet.

I breathe her in and she dances in me, through me, as me.

India lived in me as a dance. A dance that resonated with movements from a deep-rooted connection; a dance that swayed my hidden dreams to the surface, reminding me of how I used to see myself; a dance that moved a healing energy through my body. I woke up.

I stayed in India longer than anticipated for reasons that are difficult to explain. I wasn’t on a spiritual journey or experiencing a crisis or seeking eastern wisdom and deep answers like many travelers I encountered along the way.

I couldn’t initially identify with these intentions, but I respected their seeking, focus, and energy. And I wondered, why had I come to India?

It began with Yoga.

Yoga was an integral part of my experience in India.

Attending a teacher training program was the initial impetus, and then as I struck out on my own traveling, learning, meeting new experiences and people with open eyes, it became an unbroken thread that lead me along from an inner place through the turmoil of the outer world.

I tried to encounter life through a yogic lens.

I intended to travel through India for two months but stayed for nearly eleven, unable to release myself from the vivacity, the pulse, the energy that had been missing from my life for far too long. An inner dance I had allowed to lie dormant began to stir.

There was nowhere else I would rather have been; I didn’t miss home. I belonged to the world and I belonged in that moment, wherever that moment was. My time in India didn’t feel like a journey, a vacation, a departure.

I experienced it as a continuation of my everyday life — a life that has led me along a path of travel, discovery, and constant curiosity.

This is my story of that time.

 

*****

 

Excerpt from “Dancing in the Bamboo Forest: A Travel Memoir” by Djahariah Mitra.

 

Chapter 1

The big orange bus, misty vistas, Raj memories

We were too many bodies stuffed inside a small van wading through a tangled sea of loud horns, hot dust, and exhaust. The American contingent of the yoga group I was a part of were wide eyed at the reality of Indian traffic, the masses of people, and thick air. We arrived with relief at a local Shiva temple and were given thick garlands of marigolds to offer to “the Auspicious One.” The happy orange color and sweet smell brightened our energy as we walked barefoot onto the cool stone inside the temple. We crawled into a tiny room and sat cross-legged against the smooth walls. We hardly knew each other as we sat body to body feeling our inner selves vulnerable in this spiritual place.

A group of strangers experiencing each other through the inner without much knowledge of who we were on the outer, in the world. I was a northern California hippy chick yoga teacher whose life had become still. I was searching for movement. I was a traveler who had gotten lost in a stagnant life. I was in a place of emptiness. Empty.

After the dark sanctum of the temple, flickering candles, incense, and burning ghee, we visited the bright, airy, and open early home of Sri Swami Satchidananda. It had been converted into a museum with inspirational quotes, stories, and photographs from his life. Swami Satchidananda founded Integral Yoga and initially was known in the west as the spiritual leader who opened Woodstock with his invocation of peace, making peace within ourselves and sending that peace out into the world.

We sat for awhile in the open courtyard or next to a little pool in the middle of the home talking in hushed tones or just absorbing the energy. I felt Swami Satchidananda there, I felt him laughing. I felt him telling me to smile and laugh and not to take on any responsibilities, but just to go along for the ride and enjoy. Great advice.

We squeezed back into the minivan and practiced patience through more traffic. Gridlock reminded me of the ups and downs of the spiritual path. One moment you feel a flow, an energy, some guidance and peace, and the next you feel blocked. Forward movement seems impossible and you struggle through the present challenge. This is natural. The challenges are where we learn what practice truly is.

Back at the Integral Yoga Institute, my fellow non-Indian yoga teachers, new travelers who had arrived to join the tour, and I packed up our things and chaotically jumbled into a big orange bus to begin our tour of South India. We joked about the color of the bus, which matched the color of the robes swamis wear — “It’s the swamimobile!” Swami Krishnananda, our fearless leader — an American monk who had run the Institute in India for over 10 years — pasted a photograph of Swami Satchidananda to the small television screen at the front of the bus. We prayed for safety with the tryambakam mantra, and set off.

… We settled into a hotel nestled in the trees at the foot of a mountain. I felt ready. Excited. Alive. I laid in bed with eyes wide open listening to the thick quiet, save for bat wings beating the air and the distant calls of monkeys.

We awoke before dawn, stumbling with flashlights through the hotel gardens, down a dirt road, through a dark lobby, up some stairs, and finally to our yoga class and meditation. We sat together in a room lit with candlelight and the early softness of the sun before it has fully risen. After stretching our bodies and minds we smiled in anticipation for the day.

In the early morning chill of January, bundled in multiple layers, we staggered out, high from meditation, to our orange bus that would take us to the little blue train that would take us all the way up the Nilgiri Hills to the famous hill station of Ooty in the state of Tamil Nadu. Hill stations were vacation destinations developed by the British to provide a respite from the sweltering summer heat. The train station was small and hectic, a little platform attached to a small building for ticketing. We were surrounded by smiling vacationers. The Nilgiri Blue Mountain Train is an old-fashioned steam train built at the turn of the last century. Swiss engineers designed the rail line to accommodate the steep climb and high altitude.

The narrow blue metal train sat awaiting us at the station. Our little yoga group of about 15, led by two women swamis, sat 4 across with a little aisle in between, each row with a large glassless window, just a gaping hole, to take in the crisp air and verdant lushness of the mountain. We soon met our neighbors, many of whom were honeymooning couples, and ate breakfast together–the South Indian staple of idly and sambar, a steamed fermented rice spongy bread and lentil, potato, and onion stew out of metal tiffins. We chatted excitedly as we passed through rich green forests in the just waking day.

In the distance giant rocks formed spirit shapes, and slowly, very slowly, we climbed the mountain. A tunnel of variegated stone cliffs flanked our little train. Stubborn, delicate flowers growing from the rocky crags smiled at us, just inches away.

When we broke free from the narrow walls around us we felt the earth drop away below, as if we were suspended in mid-air. We leaned out the windows, peering down below us to see tumbling waterfalls erupting from tall glittering trees, the cascading water crashing over soft, round stone. We climbed higher, reaching toward the magestic eagles floating above us. Exquisite views of misty mountainsides opened before us. Monkeys looked on with curiosity from their steady boulders.

We rushed back and forth to each side of the train, sticking our heads out the open windows, knowing our photos wouldn’t do justice to the experience of this journey, knowing the beauty was indescribable. At times it was literally breathtaking and I had to remind myself to breathe.

Three times the train unexpectedly seemed to stop working. The first time, as we rounded a bend, I stuck my head out the window and looked back at billows of black smoke wafting behind us. The train eventually came to a halt and then started slipping backwards. This was a bit concerning as we were balanced precariously on a tiny track over a cliff with water violently smashing huge boulders under us. Somehow the train managed to move forward again to the first station, which was nothing more than a single building and a small road leading into the wilderness. Rumor spread that the train crew had put out a fire in the engine and then, without any explanation, the engine detached and chugged back down the hill leaving us stranded.

Delayed for over an hour, more rumors circulated that the engine had run out of water, overheated, and had gone all the way back down to the base to refill. Most of the passengers got off the stalled train, walked around, stretched, and checked out the views.

We cheered as the engine reappeared, reattached, and resumed our journey up the mountain. We arrived at another station where we again halted and disembarked while the crew attempted to refill the engine with water. This took some time, as the water seemed to turn to vapor as soon as it touched the hot metal of the engine.

Some passengers walked around to stretch their legs; our group played around with a few yoga poses. A few of us hiked down a narrow dirt trail to a village, and found a place to have tea. The dark, cool structure was actually someone’s house with a few little tables in the front room and a wood burning stove. There was much gesturing and smiling, as even Raudra our guide, a yoga teacher and writer from Tamil Nadu, could not communicate with the owner in a common language. Everyone in the village wanted to meet us and take photos, including the local policeman. We brought back little plastic cups of tea and coffee to those in the group who had remained on the train.

We set off again passing steep hillsides covered in tea plants where workers dotted the green lushness harvesting the leaves. The sweet air kept us in good spirits. I sat next to Swami Arthyananda, an American woman who had become a yogic monk over thirty years ago. She had gray bangs and smiling blue eyes–a waif of a woman imparting deep lessons learned through a life of simplicity. She shared some personal encounters with Swami Satchidananda and my eyes glistened as she told me her experience around his death. He told her it was his time. He knew and returned to India to move on. I thought how beautiful she looked glowing with his memory. I tried not to cry.

 

Get your copy of the book here.

 

*****

TreeMexico1-87x200Djahariah Mitra began traveling at three years old, lucky to have parents with a connection to the world and the desire to satisfy the need to experience that connection. 20 years later, she continued her study of culture and movement by delving deeper into Yoga and becoming a teacher. She spent a year living in India spreading her wings. Mitra blogs here.

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