By Nandini Sarkar
Nandini Sarkar enjoys nature’s beauty, idyllic vistas and moments of deep reflection as she traverses through bounty laden lands of Tamilnadu and Kerala in South India
|Nandini Sarkar spends some fun and reflective time with her family in various scenic locales of South India|
It had been more than a year that our family of four had got together. The children had moved away to Mumbai and Bhopal for graduation. Their college vacations too had been spent in corporate internships, away from home. “So, it’s time for a break! And retreat we shall, will and must!” said my husband, Sushobhan; firmly overriding my usual protest that there was too much work in the office. Sushobhan is a great salesman. His plan of going to God’s own country for a week, coupled with inviting pictures of amazing retreat places, melted my resistance. The children, who are now free-thinking adults, thankfully gave their nod as well. Courtesy Sushobhan’s meticulous planning and quick bookings, we were all set for an adventure through Coimbatore-Alappuzha-Thekkady-Munnar-Athirapally.
An initiation in Aum chanting
Our first stop was Coimbatore, fondly called Kovai by the residents. As we entered the portals of the gorgeous Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) Centre, we were warmly welcomed by an elderly lady volunteer. The delightfully cool wind, blowing at more than 32 kmph, refreshed us and marvelously lifted up our spirits. It was a first for us - this continuous whistling, cool wind! We were immediately offered piping hot coffee and cookies, and a generous invitation to stay for the dinner. The YSS Centre, Coimbatore, is an architectural and aesthetic delight while being completely eco-friendly. The centre-in-charge, Subbu, insisted we stay in the beautiful and clean rooms at the centre but unfortunately, we were already booked in a hotel. As we sat by the lush garden with varieties of trees and flowers, and watched multiple sprinklers spray water over the lush greenery, we were transported to a world of peaceful silence and deep contentment. As we joined the evening energisation exercises and meditation, it felt great to be alive and connected with prakriti in its serene form.
Our next stop was Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga centre in Coimbatore. Sadhguru calls the Velliangiri Mountains, the Kailash of the South. And truly so. As we stood in front of the gigantic 112 foot Adiyogi, with the great purple mountains surrounding us from all sides and the same incredible wind whistling through thousands of betel-nut trees, it seemed that we were in heaven. Isha offers free daily classes in Aum Chanting and Isha Kriya, so we decided to stay back and benefit by the teachings. We chanted with hundreds of people in the sacred Dhyanalinga sanctuary; paid reverent homage to the fabulous sculpture of the half-man half-snake form of Maharishi Patanjali, and to the unique and compelling Linga Bhairavi. We then proceeded for the Aum class. Isha centre is so huge that it is easy to lose your way. A kind volunteer led us to the mud hut where the Aum initiation was to happen.
In the introductory video, Sadhguru explained that proper chanting of A-U-M can cure all the illnesses, and bring joy and vibrancy to life. The Isha Acharya then taught the technique live and made us all practice it for half-an-hour. I was deeply struck by their generosity in offering this liberating Aum teaching for free, that too with so much love and care. Sadhguru states that he has cured thousands of people, including patients of depression, through this Aum initiation. We simply loved it, felt energised and enthusiastic, and promptly downloaded the Isha Aum chanting from YouTube on our return to the hotel.
From Coimbatore, we travelled through the incredibly green Kerala to our next destination, Kondai Lip! This is a charming backwater resort at the outskirts of Alappuzha, far, far away from the madding crowd. As we honked from one side of the backwater, an elderly boatman in an orange dhoti peeped out from the resort. Within minutes, he was at our side in his boat. Seven pieces of luggage were deftly loaded on it and we were skilfully steered across the backwater. Our gorgeous wood cottage, with hanging ivy, was right there in the backwater, amidst tall coconut trees and hibiscus plants, with an incredible play of nature forming the background. We continuously feasted our eyes on this sight and yet couldn’t get enough of it. The houseboat ride the next day, through the backwaters, proved to be another scintillating experience. We bought fresh prawns on the go from a riverside shop and enjoyed the golden fried delicacy, cooked right there on the houseboat.
A walk in the spice garden
|Gorgeous houseboats in the backwaters of Kerala: Therapy for the senses|
Our driver pointed out various herbs and flowers on our drive through the densely thick Thekkady forests, which were heavily lined with a unique, pink, drooping wild flower. It looked like an upturned buttercup. Sushobhan named it Unnati since the driver did not know its name. I was reminded of Sadhguru’s description of the gorgeous forest flower that blooms and gives fragrance and beauty to the world, even though it remains unseen and unheralded. Similarly, life calls out to each one of us, to play our parts without seeking attention or craving appreciation. This was a big lesson for me because I am among those who always seekS to be appreciated. The humble forest flower taught me the great spiritual lesson of Nishkama Karma and I treasure this beautiful learning.
As we drove through the silent forests, Aum resounded in the atmosphere. For years, I had wrongly assumed that one wouldn’t find a place any greener than the villages of Sonar Bangla (West Bengal), but Kerala proved me completely wrong. I haven’t seen such thick foliage, rich forests and gorgeous blooms anywhere else in India. Truly, Kerala is God’s special dispensation. As we walked through a Thekkady spice plantation and bit into red peppercorns, green cardamom buds and Arabica coffee buds, we felt a new sense of gratitude towards the farmers who toil hard to give us our much loved spices. How we take their efforts for granted and how much we need to think of repaying their debt! My daughter decided to do her bit by buying kilos and kilos of spices for family and friends.
The next attraction lined up for us was an elephant ride as no visit to Thekkady is complete without one. To tell the truth, my gaze was fixed more on the rustic tribal who led our elephant through the forest than the animal itself. As my son and I mounted our elephant, I watched the sunlight dancing on the thick brown locks of our mahant, a local tribal. A sense of pride for our heritage and history enveloped me. I was equally amazed when he asked for my mobile phone and deftly clicked our pictures. We greatly bonded during photo sessions as we all clambered up a tree-house in the forest and took family pictures in various swinging positions, just to prove that we were still fighting fit! The sun shone brightly on this family venture and we all got great shots to go into our various social media profiles!
A unique encounter
|Nandini and her family: Enveloped by the lush greenery of nature|
Our next stop was Munnar where we had a unique encounter with Harish Chawda, owner of the Kaivalyam Retreat. Harish is an IT engineer turned yoga and meditation enthusiast. He took vanaprastha with his wife and re-located to the idyllic hill station of Munnar in their forties. On a trip ten years back, this Gujarati couple, who had spent years working abroad, fell in love with the place and ended up buying 10 acres of land here. Their place is a little off-the-track from the regular hotels but is sheer paradise. Frankly, I did not like the hotel we were booked in and wished we had found Kaivalyam earlier. Since they don’t advertise or tie up with online travel sites, you can find Kaivalyam only through word- of- mouth. We found it by sheer chance and I am definitely going back for another retreat! Anyone who loves tall, whispering trees, varieties of flowers, nature walks by a rippling brook, chirping birds, a meditation hall set amidst dense foliage and delicious organic food, eaten right in the middle of the forest, should head straight to Kaivalyam. Harish informed us that a large group of Amma’s devotees from Dubai had recently spent a week at the retreat and the whole place was still reverberating with their chanting. As we climbed the luxurious tree-houses in Kaivalyam, accompanied by Harish’s young son and nephew, we complimented him profusely for this engineering marvel, erected right in the middle of the forest. Harish and his wife, Anju, have created absolute magic in the forest and are quite welcoming of yoga and spiritual enthusiasts.
Farewell, my friend
Still carrying memories of this exquisite forest retreat in our heads, we drove to our last stop, the Athirapally waterfalls. As we waved goodbye to Unnati, the forest wildflower, we sent out deep gratitude to the Creator for entertaining us with this grand show of nature, beauty and spiritual learning.
Farewell, grand, gorgeous Kerala; farewell, you great, whistling winds of Coimbatore; farewell YSS, Adiyogi and mighty Velliangiri... till we meet again! Lastly, but not in the least, we were all so grateful to Sushobhan for this spontaneous and idyllic trip to South India.
Nandini Sarkar is Co-founder, C-Quel, a management services company. A lover of the spiritual Masters, she is a follower in the Kriya Yoga tradition and can be contacted at email@example.com
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