BY TARYN VANDER HOOP
I walk out of the airport into the sweet and sticky Indian air to see a tall gentleman with a sign that reads “Taryn Van”. This is the first time, and probably the last, that anyone has ever picked me up at the airport with a sign, so I’m feeling pretty top notch, even if only half my name made it onto the paper. In the words of my father as we set out of the driveway on every family vacation, I think to myself: This is gonna be great!
One by one we arrive from all different corners of the world. We arrive as strangers, all seeking different things from India and our experience, but will leave as lifelong friends. My favorite aspect of leading or participating in trainings and retreats is the relationships formed and the memories and transformative experiences that bond us together.
Our first destination is Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital city nestled in between Varkala and Kovalam, two beautiful beach towns. We start our days together practicing yoga and eating delicious Indian breakfasts and chattering excitedly about the days adventures ahead. Amidst visiting beaches, temples, shopping, surfing, and lots of shared meals, we begin to peel back our layers and open up to the wonders of India and one another.
A highlight in Trivandrum was certainly visiting a Durga Temple on the Lunar New Year. Durga, the fierce warrior yet compassionate mother, sits in a Sanctum and men and women wait in line to receive puja. The devotion of Hindus is so beautiful, as they all lean in and crane their necks to get a better view of the powerful goddess. I’m surrounded by an atmosphere of pure devotion and as I await my turn and am filled with this Bhakti energy. I bow my head down to honor the deity in front of me and instantly sense her energy within me and around me.
One of the last nights in Trivandrum, we had a very special experience - a live Kathakali performance at our Hotel. Fara Marz arranged a professional group to perform especially for us so it was private and authentic. Kathakali is an ancient dance form that originated in India as a way to tell stories from Hinduism’s greatest texts, notably the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. I’ve been learning about Kathakali for over a decade in every dance history class I’ve ever taken and now teach about it myself in a dance appreciation course. I’ve seen so many videos, but seeing it live brought tears to my eyes as I watched the commitment of the artists to their craft and the sweat form beads on their faces, and miraculously their elaborate and perfectly-done make-up remains undisturbed. (The whole process of the performers getting ready was triple the time of the performance!) I’ll never forget this experience and hope you will all jump at the chance to see this art form should you have the opportunity someday.
From Trivandrum, we headed north to Kochi on the Bangalore Express, India’s train system, which is the largest in the world. Fara wanted all of us to have the experience of traveling by Indian train and it certainly was an experience, although not quite as dramatic as I had imagined. On the exterior and interior, the train looked like it was one of the first steamers ever made from the 1800s, but it somehow had modern conveniences, like electrical outlets, haphazardly installed. We sat booth style, passing snacks, while Nina our Danish representative on the trip slept peacefully above us in the bunk. Every so often, a few men would walk through the train yelling “VADA, VADA, VADA, VADA, VADA” selling their fried deliciousness. We ended up buying a few items toward the end of our journey. Fried vada is better served warm and fresh!
We arrived in Kochi for the last part of our journey together, a beautiful port city that was occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, and English. The influence is still felt in the architecture and the cuisine and Fort Cochin was charming to say the least. We meandered around the fort town, spent ample time at the beach, and navigated our way around the backwaters of Alleppey where quaint houseboats abound. Near the end of our trip, we started to slow down as we realized our time was coming to an end and stocked up on some heavy relaxation, Ayurvedic treatments, and lots of good food.
All these experiences made for an unforgettable 2-weeks, but what is the one thing that I took away above all? To be grateful for each and everyday. We are blessed with so much in America and oftentimes this breeds a culture of wanting more or thinking you need more. These beautiful people are so happy and get by with very little. What do we really need? Food, shelter, water. We are so lucky to be able to turn on the tap and have (mostly) clean but definitely drinkable running water. This is a luxury. As our wise guide Sheila told me after I paid her a compliment that she looks so young: “It is because I am happy. Every night I thank God for the day I lived. I am so happy everyday to live another day. And I never worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will come, but today is here now, so enjoy.”
My mantra after returning: You are enough. You have enough. Be happy for the gift of each day.
Namaste and until next year, Kerala.
Written with love by Taryn Vander Hoop