Fact: My first ever visit to the Kochi Biennale was on March 23, 2016 – just a week before it winds down. I am ashamed that I have not visited one of Kochi’s most potent attractions (not just in India, but around the world). Not once, but missed it twice, and the third time around when I visited it? I barely made it a week before it closes. But now that I have, here goes why you should too.
Yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyardam, Kerala – all you need to know!
Yoga vacation. The phrase conjures up visions of serene settings, enlightened devotees, and peaceful yoga practitioners. You get all these and more during a yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram at Neyyar Dam, near Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum – the state capital of Kerala).
I have been to the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam three times over the last 2 years for a yoga vacation. I have usually stayed at an average of 4-5 nights during each of my visits. While I have joked about my experience there in a previous blog, these vacations have been an immense grounding experience in our life. During our first visit, Mukund and I had no clue what to expect. But by the third visit, we quickly and easily slipped into the ashram schedule, even though it was a year since our previous visit.
Here are a list of things you need to know about visiting the Sivananda Ashram at Neyyar Dam for a yoga vacation.
If you are reading this blog, then you already know what the Srimad Bhagavatham is. Maybe you have read it already, or planning to read based on what you have heard about it. If Srimad Bhagavatham (SB) is on your bucket list of books to read, then this blog is for you.
Five years ago, all I knew about SB was that it contained a treasure trove of stories about Krishna. I purchased ISKCON’s SB, with A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s commentaries – 18 volumes in all. It stayed on my book shelf in my bedroom, and gathered dust as days went by. On January 15, 2016, I removed the clingwrap on the first Canto, sat down with a book and pen, and my life has not been the same since.
12 months later, I finished the last shloka in Canto 10 (saved the best for the last, as Canto 10 relates exclusively the stories of Lord Krishna!) It is simply impossible for me to explain in words the subtle transformation that happened as I read SB. But before I try and explain why you should read it, here is a quick summary based on my research notes.
If people are not laughing at your goals, then your goals are too small – Azim Premji
Ask Mahavir Singh Phogat what his dream is and he will reply – ensure that his daughter wins a gold medal for India in wrestling. And assuredly, everybody considers this the joke of the day. As villages roll over themselves with laughter, Mahavir Singh scolds and disciplines, taunts and derides, as his two daughters prepare to be wrestlers in a tiny hamlet in Haryana.
And just as the villagers wipe their tears and catch their sides, Mahavir’s two daughters go to the next village to compete in a wrestling fight. With boys. And predictably, his daughter loses. But not before everyone has been shocked out of their stupor.
As they say, the rest is history.
It all started 3 weeks ago, when we were in the thick of exams. Anaga was preparing for her 10th and Ananya for her 6th. In between answering questions on Ashoka and Buddhism, Ananya was busy scribbling down a menu card. “What are you doing?”, I asked. “Mummy, this is for the charity sale for Easter. Shika and I are getting it ready.”
During the last 3 weeks I visited three unique tourist spots in Kerala, my home state. Family and friends accompanied me as our road trip took us across the length and breadth of Kerala. For those of you who think I have way too much time on my hand (my boss for example!), these trips happened over 3 different week-ends.
And for those of you who have never visited this state shelved between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in the southern tip of India, this blog will not make any sense whatsoever! Kerala’s Tourism Department touts it as God’s Own Country and has successfully marketed it to the world. And to give the devil it’s due, they have been endorsed even by National Geographic. The National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named it “one of the top ten paradises of world” and “one of the fifty must see destinations of lifetime”.
Now for the places I visited – Kumarakom (backwaters), Kuttikanam (hill range), and Guruvayur (temple town). Kumarakom is verdant land surrounded by the backwaters near Kottayam. Famous for its bird sanctuary, Kumarakom is touted as the Venice of the East. Row boats, motor boats and house boats – I let life slide by as I watched the coconut trees and the paddy fields disappear from view.
An hour to the south of Kottayam is Kuttikanam. We stayed in a resort at the top of one of the hillocks and the view was absolutely divine. The mist that surrounded us muted the tribal drums that came from the temple at the base of the hill and gave it an eerie and other-worldly feel. As the power outages were frequent, we were as close to nature we could wish for.
I literally came back to terra firma with a bump as we jolted across the real bad roads of Kerala (Detroit was heaven compared to this) to see my Guruvayurappan. For Krishna devotees, Guruvayur is one of the divine shrines that vies only with Tirupathi for its sanctity. In fact I think this is the only temple for Krishna devotees, but i have to admit I am biased and you may beg to differ. This temple town, with its roadside vendors and vegetarian eateries will delight any tourist, devotee or not. The four entrances to the temple is lined with shops that you have to pass through to see the Lord and many a time you end up spending more time (and money!) at these shops than inside the temple itself. I know my kids did!
How in God’s name did Kerala get such a wide and diverse greenery? What did we do to deserve this nature? Now the monsoon is upon us, and if you want to see nature in her overpowering glory, you have to visit the clean and scrubbed Kerala that the monsoon unveils during the next 3 months.
What sheer joy to see the heavens open up, the earth soak up the water, and give off a unique smell (“manvasanai” in Tamil) that evokes memories of childhood when you willingly jumped in puddles of dirty water in your new shoes and uniforms on your way to school. I always loved the first day of school (usually during the first week of June) which coincided almost always with the first rains of the monsoon.
Mountains, hilly terrains, rivers, waterfalls, backwaters, temple towns, beaches – all in one State, all reachable within 6 hours of car travel. Yes, God’s Own Country indeed.
PS: If you have not heard of these places, go ahead and google them. And then visit them. You will thank me, right after you have danced in the monsoon showers, cruised slowly in a houseboat, polished off crispy vadas and cardamom tea, and counted 15 hues and shades of green.
After January 31, 2010, there is no doubt in any one’s mind as to who is the GOAT of Tennis – the Greatest Of All Times. ROGER FEDERER.
Fedex, as most of the banners scream out, is on a roll indeed. After winning Roland Garros in 2009, he completed his Grand Slam in Tennis – only one of the 5 players in the history of Men’s Tennis.
Then he went on to win the Wimbledon in the same year and beat Pete Sampras record of 14 Grand Slams.
Then as a new dad of two beautiful twins (Myla Rose and Charlene Riva) he almost made it as the first dad to win a Grand Slam in the US Open, but Del Potro had other plans.
You know what they say, you can never keep a good man down forever. Australian Open, 2010, became the platform for Federer to add one more to his record – the first dad in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam. He beat 5th seed Andy Murray in straight sets without even breaking a sweat.
Yes, he is the greatest tennis player of all times. Sorry Pete. Sorry Agassi. And Sorry Rod laver.
But what about Nadal? The mischievous imp sitting on my shoulder whispers. There is this niggling doubt in everyone’s mind (including mine sometimes) that the only reason Federer could do this is coz Nadal was out nursing his injuries (and his ego when he faced a shock exit in the fourth round as Defending Champion in Roland Garros 2009 against Soderling).
What about him, I ask? And I hold up Federer’s ultimate Ace up his sleeve. Something no player has or ever will be able to match anytime in my lifetime.
Yes, you know. A record 23 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tennis semifinals or better since 2004. Simply put, no matter what his injuries, he has always reached at least the Semifinal of a Grand Slam in the last 5 years.
Ha. Double Ha. And he is only 28. And you want to know why he is the best?
Coz he is a Leo, with the traits of the Cancer. Watch him in action on the tennis court and you will understand. Like the crab, he moves sideways and forward constantly. He does not rush into anything quickly. He waits, he sidles, he dances, he side steps. And when the prey is assured, he pounces like the Lion. (Birthday -August 8). Like the Leo he has a Royal Confidence he will win. And in the likelihood of the match slipping away from him, he raises his game a notch. Just a notch.
So by the time his rival has matched him, Federer has already uppped his game, step by step like the crab. If he does not have to, he doesn’t. He lazes back like the Lion and lets the victim tires himself. If he has to, then he comes blasting out on all four cylinders (but mind you – like a crab, quietly and forcefully).
How do I know? Well, just Crab instinct. (yup, am a Cancer/Leo cusp). So, celebrate Federer as the Greatest GOAT of all Times. Even if he does not win a single match ever again in his life (Ya, right!) in my books he is absolutely THE BEST. It should be in yours too.