Friday, 12 October 2012


I've been thinking about India:

Maybe it's because I'm in the midst of a 30 day Bikram Yoga challenge (30 classes in 30 days). The low ceilinged, fluorescently lit, mirrored room is artificially heated to 40 degrees, because that's how hot it is if you happen to be doing yoga in India.....and not in a warehouse in the Hobart suburbs. Beyond transcending continents the heat is also meant to make you more flexible and rid your body of toxins by sweating......lots.

Bikram's particular brand of yoga focuses on fusing the the best of east and west by using yoga to 'provide for all human needs: health, happiness, friendship, mental peace and a true satisfaction of living'. Sounds good to me.  It's preventative medicine for the mind and body. I actually did yoga twice in India. Once on the rooftop at the Taj Lake Palace and once, as the sun came up, on a hilltop in the Aravali ranges. I believe in yoga. It's my insurance policy for a long, healthy and happy life. My husband believes in his road bike.

Or maybe this whole India thing is because I'm half way through The Far Pavilions, which I last read when I borrowed it off my grandmother's bookshelf back when I was about twelve. Somehow, I vaguely remembered the dust storm and the scene in the cave (I was an impressionable almost teenager after all) and seem to dimly recall that maybe Ash is going to rescue Juli from committing suttee on the funeral pyre of her husband. I'm quite impressed that all this has come back to me across the vast chasm of almost thirty years.....not bad for a couple of cups of memory tea and considering that most days, by late afternoon I can barely remember what I had for breakfast.

Or most likely it's because this time last year we were getting ready to embark on our first passage to India. For years I was intrigued by the concept, yet too scared to actually go. Turning forty seemed like the perfect opportunity, let's face it there's not much of that 'one day, when I grow up' after you turn 4...0. I'm presuming that I really am grow up now. So how could we say no when my mum offered to move in to our house and look after all of our children.

So we went and I still wasn't sure as the plane came in to land at Mumbai airport, where the slums push up against the airport barriers and look like a collapsed house of cards from the air. But then the prickle of heat on skin, the evocative smell, the heart in your mouth drive from the airport and then the welcome at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel convinced me. I was instantly enraptured.

Don't get me wrong, it may have been a cosseted ten day trip of palace hotels.....The Taj Lake Palace and the Devi Garh yet I still saw, with my own eyes, people defecating in the street and a cow killed in a road accident still lying on the middle of the highway being eaten by a pig.....but then I can still vividly remember the leper's head being held up to the taxi window in Jakarta, when I was nine. These sights tend to remain with you.

That's the thing though about tourism, it's a construct....and to an extent a fabrication. The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai was the same serenely luxurious hotel where over 167 people were killed by terrorists in 2008. And, let's face it even in Hobart, or dare I say Paris, there are places where I would feel uncomfortable and confronted.

In conversation with a friend during the week, while drinking champagne, she admitted that she hasn't eaten Indian food since her and her husband backpacked through India fourteen years ago. It affected her so negatively and so deeply. She likened it to watching the most confronting story on Four Corners and not being able to turn the TV off. Our reaction to India was the polar opposite. It got under our skin and were left wanting to experience more. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone and exposes you to a whole different world.....beyond the shores of Tasmania. Looking down at the slum across the road from the Air Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai, we could see a child standing on the roof flying a kite. I saw that as hope.



  1. It sounds like such a fascinating trip - I've always wanted to go to India (my husband not so much). But I find all of Asia (bar Singapore and Hong Kong) a bit like you've described - confronting, but also compelling and exciting. Rawness of human life maybe? I also think you need to stay somewhere good when in countries that are slightly confronting to have a bit of a mental break from it at times. Backpacking would definitely not do that for you...I can see why your friend has been scarred for life!

  2. I had similar thoughts after a recent holiday in Vietnam - the contrast between our luxury hotel and expectations compared to the heaving hot life on the streets. India must be such an experience. 100 times anything I've seen. Have you read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo? Intense but very well written -- I found the book made me gasp in horror a lot - and it us utterly horrible and so corrupt.

  3. I do love that kite image you describe... Not a lot of that in Boo's book...

  4. An interesting post. In all my travels, the poverty of the Bombay slums is what upset me the most--and that is saying something. I remember a field of people sleeping, out in the open in the most terrible conditions and yet the simple gesture of a man putting his friends shoes on top of a bus shelter while the other slept so that they wouldn't get stolen or gnawed on by rats...there is a huge range of experience in India. I am glad that you faced your fears and went!

  5. Dear Romy
    A very interesting post. Hope you'll write another on your feelings and impressions at the end of your 30 day Yoga challenge.

    Have you read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry? A magnificent though very bleak book about India, especially Bombay. He writes with such humanity about the lives and struggles and courage of ordinary people trying to survive in appalling poverty where they are totally subject to the whims and malice, development and poverty curtailment objectives of the well-to-do and the state - and their horrific enforcers.
    I haven't been to India, but I lived in Colombo for two years long ago and there are some similarities. Best wishes, Pamela

  6. I havent been to India but it does evoke strong reactions in Westerners. It's so big and every area is different I understand.

    I was in Myanmar earlier this year, and have been to China, and Thailand. Also Singapore and Hong Kong ,,Asia Lite as my well travelled best friend calls them. She started going to India in the very early 1980s and is an absolute India fanatic. She always says duck into a western hotel even for a cup of tea.or whatever... as Heidi says, to have a mental break. We had to do that in Shanghai, v. hot. lots of people and seemingly miles of concrete. We werent staying in a swish hotel so it was doubly needed.

    On to a fabulous adventure you lucky thing

  7. Hi Romy,
    Like you, India definitely got under my skin when I visited for the first time earlier this year. Confronting yes, but so incredibly beautiful and humbling at the same time. I can't wait to go back, and wonder now why I left it so long, yet wasn't ready to go before. Like Ann, I was going to ask if you have read 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers'? It's a true story based on the slum beside Mumbai airport that you talk about. Eye-opening! Amanda x


I LOVE hearing your thoughts! Rx