I had been practicing ashtanga yoga on my own for about three month, doing many of the postures not exactly in the right way, when a friend told me he was planning to go to Mysore in winter. Why don’t I join? And I did.
I applied online to K.Pattabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute three months before going, and was so excited to be accepted to practice inside Saraswati’s shala. This gave me more motivation to prepare and continue practicing on my own, and this is when, so motivated by my trip to India, I got Marichyasana B for the first time.
I was accepted to the school, I bought the tickets to Bangalore, struggled for two hours over a visa application form written by Indian programmers, and when everything was ready, I was even more excited. So my friend shaved my head. Just to make this trip even more memorable. In the coldest day I have ever experienced in Bangkok I put on a hat and went to the airport.
After a three hour flight, I landed in India, the scary land of my dreams, for the first time in my life. I was afraid I would be rejected my visa, since on the picture of my application form I had hair, and now i didn’t, so I kept my woolen hat on in the heat of Bangalore. I bet they had seen much bigger cuckoos arrive here, because the visa on arrival officer did not even look at me, and stamped me into the country. As I ran for the bus that was supposed to leave in 20 minutes, I forgot about the fact I needed money, and thankfully, the fancy 800 rupee bus ticket bought online provided a free bottle of water. The last bus of the day was leaving Bangalore airport to Mysore Karnataka regional bus station at midnight.
So you know how they say once you step into India you shall get raped? This is when it started getting creepy in my head – I am on a bus surrounded by men only, and I shall arrive in Mysore at 3 am – not a good idea. Thankfully, I slept a bit, and when we arrived, I was supposed to be picked up by a friend at the bus station. But that did not happen. I came out of the bus into the darkness, and my mind kept drawing crazy pictures of all these mean dirty people taking my money and my clothes, and my yoga mat, making me cry, run, and fly back to Thailand. Did not happen either.
I was just sitting in front of the bus station, waiting for my friend for an hour or so. One of the rickshaw drivers even gave me his phone, so I could call my friend, but in vain. I saw a lot of men coming back from parties, not so many women though. A creep was standing five meters away from me and looking in my direction for an hour. As I learnt later, it is ok to stare in India, they do not feel ashamed, they just come up to you and stare. I wish I had their curiosity.
At some point I started to realize my friend was not coming to save me from this hell of an adventure (most of which happened in my mind and never even it), and I decided to go get some money from the ATM. There were many people sleeping inside the bus station on newspapers, but it did not scare me much, as I had seen this a lot in China. But entering the ATM was something new – when I came in, I saw a man sleeping on the floor inside the ATM. Should I be scared and run away? Is he only pretending to be sleeping and when I get my rupees out, will he jump up and rob me? All of these questions were stupid and distracting, so I just concentrated on getting my money out and leaving the ATM as soon as possible, not to disturb anyone’s sleep.
My next mission was to find a student – students normally speak good English, are educated and open minded, and I could ask them to help me bargain for a rickshaw as I had no idea how much it cost. So I set next to this one guy who looked like a student. And he was! He was a bit sketchy though, and told me to sit next to him for one more hour and wait until the sunrise. At some point I got bored, and told him if he did not bargain for me, I would go on my own. So he went down to the rickshaw drivers and kept avoiding them, as he said ‘waiting for the right one’, and then when we finally got one, the student guy asked me to be his girlfriend and come visit him in Bangalore (remember, I’m still wearing my woolen hat, so he has no idea I am bald?). I promised I would think about it, got on the rickshaw and went off. He was trying to miss his bus to Bangalore, and take me to Gokulam (the area of Mysore where the KPJAYI is), but I squeezed him out of the rickshaw, and moved on. This is how I broke a man’s heart 5 hours after having arrived in India.
Once in Gokulam, the rickshaw driver kept getting lost and looking for the right address (the one my friend had given me) and when he found it, he asked for more money which I eagerly gave him. My friend was not responding on the phone, and I decided to sit down by the gate waiting the sunrise, and look at my papers about where and when I had to go register.
Just as I sat down on the ground, a lady was passing by on her early morning walk, and she was really concerned I was alone. She suggested to go use the phone at her house and have some tea. I was lucky to find out she also had a free room and she lived on the street of the main shala of ashtanga yoga in Gokulam! Her name was Mrs. Geetha, and she was the kindest woman in Mysore. Her husband, now retired dentist, used to be the doctor of Pattabi Jois, and always talked of him as a humble and hard working man. I ended up staying in their house for a month renting a very cosy room upstairs, which gave me a feel of living with my grandparents, very safe and loved.
They showed me a solar cooker, which used only sun energy to boil rice, they let me taste every Indian meal they cooked, they shared a lot of love and stories, and we even went to a yoga demonstration by their daughter’s friend together. I dearly loved them and we are still in touch, and my Indian grandpa still inspires me with cool quotes and photos on Whatsapp in the mornings.
This is how getting a little lost and scared helped me find the best family ever in the streets of Gokulam, its all about the right timing. So when you look back and connect the dots, you find out challenges are really worth it.