It’s like heaven, but better

There are few things in this life better than India.  And at the moment I can’t remember a single one.

Sunset over Whitefield

Sunset

You may remember a couple posts back that I traveled to India for my first time.  The trip was 48 hours in duration – long enough to get a good taste, but short enough to leave me yearning to return.  So, last week, I did just that.  I returned.

Here is the train of thought:
I love India.
India is only three hours away.
My Dubai friends will be in Venice for the week.
I might as well go back to India.
Have I mentioned I love India?

I booked my flight.

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Koi pond at Aurveda Gram

Koi pond at the Ayurveda center

There is something to be said about hopping on a plane when no really knows you are leaving and flying off to a foreign country in which no one really is expecting you.  It’s a freeing experience.  No husband to keep track of, no friends to entertain and no kids to sedate.  No one to check-in with because no one knows you are somewhere that warrants a checking-in.

Just little ol’ me in big ol’ India.

After retrieving my luggage from baggage claim and exchanging email addresses with my new friend from the 3-hour flight, I pushed through the doors at the Bangalore airport and walked out into the cool evening.  In front of me, below the warm glow of the overhead lights and the moon just beginning to rise, stood a 40-foot throng of Indian men holding placards with names emblazoned across them.  As I walked towards the line I glanced around me and counted on one hand the number of white faces among the crowds departing the airport sidewalk.  Ask my parents, being different is basically one of my favorite pastimes.  A sigh of relief escaped my lips and I began the search for my driver.

IMG_1819Anyone who has done this before knows what an awkward experience it can be.  You have to start at one end of the line and walk to the other, staring at every placard to see if it contains either the name of your destination (in this case the Ayurveda center at which I was residing for the week) or some variation of your name.  I’m not delusional.  With a name like Synnestvedt I don’t often expect a proper spelling.  Hell, I can barely spell it.

What is really awkward about the experience is that in a country like India, at an airport where 99 percent of the people are Indian, the names on the placards are so very obviously not mine.

“Veenu Rangan”
“Faizal Malhotra”
“Venkatesh Balasubramanium”

Yeah, not me.

The eyes stare at me as I pass by reading each card.  I know what they are thinking.  Or, I should say I know what I would be thinking if I were them.  “Your name is definitely not the name on my placard little foreign girl.”  I get to the end of the line and my shoulders fall in defeat.  No one is here to pick me up.  Okay, maybe he’s running late I conclude.  I’ll go sit down on an open bench and see if he spots me.  He should be able to spot me.

Sunset over Nandi Hills

Sunset over Nandi Hills

There was a purpose to my trip however unresearched it remained.  One of my friends put it most eloquently when I spoke to him the night before my departure.

“So, let me get this straight,” he said.  “You are checking yourself into a hospital in India and I’m not supposed to tell your family?  Okay, I can do that.”

Upon arrival I quickly found that the Ayurveda center I checked myself into was more like a resort and less like a hospital, but being under the care of a doctor and receiving two “therapy” treatments a day for a week will make anyone feel like they are getting psychiatric help.

ayurveda

Raw cotton

Raw cotton

A very informative little sign

A very informative little sign

The tree that goes with the informative little sign

The tree that goes with the informative little sign

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After some time of no one spotting me and considerable attention given to ensuring that my Dubai mobile definitely did not work in India I got up to walk the line again.  Maybe the driver arrived, I thought.  Maybe he walked right by me and now he is standing there holding a sign with my name on it.

Three minutes later I find I am at the end of the line again with no sign of my name anywhere.  Hmmm…now what?

I decide I need to search out a phone and call the Ayurveda doctor with whom I was emailing in the few days prior to my departure.  Re-entering the airport proves difficult due to the armed soldier outside who is pretty convinced that I am not allowed back in unless I have a boarding pass for a flight departing today.  I make my way over to a rental car counter and inquire about the location of a pay phone.

Following the simple directions of, “You just walked by the phone.  It is being behind you against the wall,” I find the phone.  To be fair to my fragile ego though, there is really no way for me to have known that this was a pay phone.  Before me is a green desk phone sitting on a 3-foot tall shiny metal counter.  Perched behind a small desk next to the phone is a boy of about 14 with what looks to be a piece of computer equipment in front of him.  I look at the phone and up at the boy.

“Can I make a phone call here?” I ask wrinkling my forehead.

“No call,” he responds with a tilt of the head.

“Is this a pay phone?” I try again.

“No make call,” he repeats.

“So, are you saying that I can’t make a call here?” I attempt one last time, this time raising my hand to my ear in the universal phone receiver sign.

“No phone,” he says.

My eyes drift back to the phone sitting in front of me and then up to the boy.  Defeated again.

A Kerala villa at Ayurveda Gram

A Kerala villa

I decide to go through the humbling experience of checking the names on the placards yet again.  Three minutes later, at the end of the row – nothing.  I walk over to a bench and take a seat to wait it out again.  Maybe he’ll find me here.  This might be in a better spot.  Ten minutes later I am still sitting – alone.

Now what?  I decide to try to use my charm and personality to woo a stranger into helping me out.  I turn to look at the hundreds of people milling about the sidewalk and set my sights on an attractive boy of about 18 who looks like he might be a helpful individual.

“Hello.  I’m wondering if you can help me,” I begin.  “I need to make a phone call or get an Indian SIM card for my phone.”

“If you would like to make the phone call you can just use my mobile,” he replies with a broad smile and in perfect English.  “If you want the SIM card you need to walk…”

“I would love to use your phone,” I cut him off with a gleaming grin.  “Thank you.”

After some assistance dialing the country code and number, the phone rings.

“Hello,” a voice on the other end responds.

“Hello!” I say as a smile opens up on my face.  “Doctor, this is Darla.  I am checking in today.  We emailed this week.  Do you remember me?  How are you?”

“Of course Darla.  I am well.  How are you?” He responds calmly.

“I am great,” I reply as chipper as ever, “however I can’t seem to locate my driver.  Did you send someone to pick me up as we discussed?”

“Of course we sent someone.  Is he not there?” He asks concerned.

“Well, I haven’t been able to locate him yet,” I respond, “but maybe he’s running late…or I missed him.  I don’t know really.  What would he be wearing?”

“I have spoken to him,” he answers.  “He is there and he has a placard with your name on it.  He is probably wearing white on white.”

I turn to peer at the line of men holding the signs.  From the back I can see that 90 percent of them are wearing the normal Indian driver uniform of white on white.

“Oh, right,” I say slightly amused.  “Well, I will look through the signs again and give you a call back if I can’t find him.”

“Okay, I’m sure you will find him,” he concludes.

I put the phone down.  Thank the young man and turn to make my way back over to the dreaded line.  Three minutes later…still nothing.

A farmland view from Nandi Hills

A farmland view from Nandi Hills

I head back over to my friend with the mobile only to find that he is nowhere to be found.  Scanning the crowds hurrying by, I see no sign of the familiar face.  I ask someone passing if they know the location of a pay phone.  Understandably, they point me to the boy next to the desk phone.  I let out a small laugh and decide to attempt this one again.  Nothing like a little humiliation to humble oneself.

This time a man in his thirties is standing next to the boy and apparently understands English much better than his young counterpart.  He ensures me that I can make a local call and explains in Hindi to the boy what I want to do.  I show the boy the number and he picks up the phone and dials for me.

After one ring the doctor answers, “Hello?”

“Doctor.  This is Darla again,” I say with a humored smile spread wide across my face.  “I still cannot find the driver.”

“Darla,” he says calmly.  “How long have you been waiting there?”

“Oh, over an hour now,” I respond with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

We decide that I should wait near the pay phone and that he will call the driver and tell him where to locate me.  I hang up the phone and turn to the boy.  After a quick glance at the meter on the table in front of him he looks up at me.

“Six rupee,” he exclaims.

“Six rupee?” I ask.

“Six rupee,” he confirms.

Six rupee is equivalent to about $0.12.  I reach for my wallet knowing full well that the smallest rupee note that I am carrying is a 500.  That’s about $10.  I pull it out.

“Do you have change?” I ask, already knowing the answer to this question.

“No,” he responds with a broad smile displaying a full mouth of glistening white teeth.  Change is not a common occurrence in India, at least not in my experience.

“Of course not,” I say with a smile in return as I realize that there are worse things than paying $10 for a $0.12 phone call.  Before I have a chance to hand the note to him, I feel a touch to my hand.  I turn to see a man standing behind me waiting to use the phone.

“I’ve got this,” he says.

“Oh, no,” I reply.  “You don’t have to.”

“It’s six rupee,” he says emphasizing the minuscule cost.  “I’ll get it.”

“Okay,” I say flashing a pretty smile his way.  “Thank you so much.”

Please come in

Please come in

Several minutes later I catch a glimpse of a sign with my name (spelled correctly) across the front.  I look up and smile excitedly at the man holding the placard.

“That’s me!  That’s me!  I’m Darla.” I exclaim jumping towards him.

Within 15 minutes I am in the car on my way to the Ayurveda center.  My driver, wearing a blue striped shirt and green corduroy pants (not white on white), sits in the driver seat and fights his way through Bangalore traffic on our way out of the city.  The paved highways turn to dirt roads as we bump along to the outskirts of town.  The small food carts and shops housed in tiny huts are a glowing blur as we speed by.

My porch for one wonderful week

My porch for one wonderful week

An hour later, under the warmth of a moon a couple days shy of full, we pull into a grass and stone driveway and a large metal gate closes behind us.   I have arrived.

More quaint beauty at Ayurveda Gram

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For the next week I will have daily full body massages, warm oil baths, and medicinal facials.  I will consume massive quantities of herbal medicines, drink more liquid than a fish, perform yoga, meditation and breathing exercises for hours each day and try, as hard as humanly possible, I will try to turn my mind off from all the stimulants in the world that I know.

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3 Comments

  1. gwen rhodes said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    dear dear Darla,
    I read with much interest your experience at the Bangalore Airport…having had a similar one at the Delhi airport two yrs ago.
    Edmund and I are headed back to Kerala to the aryavedic clinic in Kottakal …it is where the herbal medicines are grown and developed and where the Dr who started this whole practice of medicine came from…it is amazing the whole concept and it works for us…who suffer alot from the rigors of Arthritis…and it keeps it at bay for at least 1 1/2 yrs and then we return as we are the end of September 09. Our place was not a luxury experience how ever…the clinic is an old 1950’s hospital clinic…and we walk up 75 steps 4 to 6 times a day depending on what we do…because the elevator is so small and I am claustrophobic…so we get strong legs during our stay!! 🙂
    The food, yoga and the herbal massages and herbal meds are most likely the same…the environment is what is different…and I would assume that our cost is much less than what you had to pay for your luxuriant experience…the biggest part of our expense was actually the flight from JFK to Mumbai and then Mumbai on Jet Lite to Kottakaal. What an experience would love to talk to you more.

  2. rima synnestvedt said,

    June 29, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    fantastic! like all your other blog posts, i feel like i’m there watching the whole scene

  3. March 19, 2010 at 12:57 am

    […] distracted by…well, by everything.  So, my commitment to Ayurveda has suffered since leaving India in June.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I was pretty committed to it while in Hawaii in July […]


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