The idea was a simple one. We would explore all the secret, remote and magical locations in Southern India in order to put together our own unique itinerary for our yoga retreats. This is a story, told in hindsight, of two-yogis, on our own quest to bring joy, steadiness and ease into our lives and those around us, drawing on yogic philosophy for guidance. Sthidhi is the name we have chosen for these transformative yoga experiences, meaning position, seat or balance in Sanskrit.
Home is where the heart is…
There is something about Kodaikanal. Nestled between Coimbatore and Munnar, on the eastern side of the Western Ghats speckled with churches and temples, it is home to all kinds of spiritual seekers: from Sri Guru Aurobindo devotees, to bohemian pan-spiritual European families; from hallucinogen infused teenagers sampling the local fungi to adrenaline junky tourists, wild-eyed for some hardcore trekking and mountain biking. With its mystical misty mountains and awesome eucalyptus forests, pretty coffee plantations and lush meadows Kodiakanal, known to its friends as Kodi, is not only an ideal site for the numerous eco-spiritual communities, eco-minded hoteliers and resorts, which have set up home here. If we set aside Western materialist thinking for a moment: Kodi can be understood as an energy centre. It is a place where magic mushrooms grow wild (the flora and fauna is generally surreal- take the Bengal Monitor as an example), the air is so pure, the waterfalls tells stories - but only at sunrise. It is truly a magical place, an energetically charged wonder of the world.
The ascent up the mountains from the hot plains of Palani, brought with it, fresh pine air. By the time we had reached the tea shops at Perumamalai, a bustling functioning town with vegetable stalls and local produce, my sides hurt from hanging on to my seat as we twisted and turned up and up and up, past more than 20 shear hairpin bends. My body was possibly more than two thirds out of the window in an attempt to get closer to the incomprehensibly stunning views. I was searching for a reference point, a meaning, just one defining moment that would pinpoint this incredible beauty, which is of course ungraspable, unbelievable… relentless.
We were headed to Karuna Farm, the most established eco-community cum eco-resort in the area, running for over 30 years where families lived together, independently from each other. We had been invited to teach Yoga for two weeks to the guests here, but due to unforeseen circumstances the classes had been cancelled. Nevertheless, the owners of the home, where we had arranged to live for two weeks, had said we were still welcome to stay at their house. We could see a village in the distant valley and decided we could walk there.
Addukum village is remote, only accessible by sturdy 4x4 vans, by foot, or bum depending on your ability. Surrounded by coffee, avocado and orange plantations and formidable mountains, the only road in and out is currently a narrow rocky dirt path. We had gathered assurances that we would be able to get a lift back to the main road if we reached the village by lunchtime, so we set off on what turned out to be more of a tumble than a hike.
This is how I found myself climbing, stumbling and mostly sliding on my backside down the steep, rough and rocky grasslands of the Addukum mountains. Akhil, and our mountain goat-like friend Yamuna, it seemed to me were skipping daintily ahead of me in the distance while I, despite years of martial arts, gymnastics and triathlon training, was trying to hold my own up at the rear, so to speak. They may have mocked but I logged a number of stumbles despite their rather more gainly descent (about 6 for Akhil and 8 for Yamuna - but who’s counting). “We can do this!” cheered Akhil enthusiastically for perhaps the 12th time that morning, as we each hung to our respective local rock face, sweating and smeared in mud and scrapes.
He was right! We did do it. But not before leaping uphill over a ditch, climbing a vertical forrest and landing face to face with a stern looking coffee plantation farmer, holding a stick and not afraid to use it! All was well, he directed us to the path and we were on the victory road to Addukum. The adventure was not yet over. In the colourfully painted mud-house town, a gaggle of children accompanied us for about an hour before we managed to find a ride in a pick-up van to the main road. By now our glutes and quads had pretty much seized up, palms raw, from hanging on the to rail and standing in a quasi-surfing position without pause, for an hour. I say without pause, but actually our driver made many stops to say hello to local villagers. Since there was no telling when he may take off without warning, my hands remained gripped to the rail.
After our second attempt a few months later, we finally admitted that whatever route you take, this trek would be a little too exciting for our meditation retreats. The more peaceful walks we have chosen also make your heart race, but more so for the chance to look up and enjoy the stunning views, rather than fearing for one’s life.
Our favourite tea shop in Prakashpuram, where you can one find tremendously smiley dog and the best Iddly (steamed rice cake deliciousness with sambar) and coconut chutney I have ever eaten in my life, was a welcome morning stroll from Karuna Farm. If not by foot, the road to Karuna, is totally inaccessible in a normal car and the wise and kind owner of Karuna Farm, Neville, intends to keep it that way.
Karuna sits on a steep slope in a lush forrest of banana plants and avocado and coffee. Huge bushy tailed Malabar squirrels, hundreds of species of birds and monkeys play up in the branches of the wild trees, while mongoose, the occasional hog or Bisson pass by, and snakes and monitor lizards lurk beneath. This place is wild to say the least! Once again we had to make a tough decision and opt against this exciting paradise as the location for our Kodi retreat. Nevertheless for the more adventurous traveler amongst us we’d highly recommend it. Each cottage at Karuna is unique and our house was no exception.
A combination of European of Indian design, the heavy wooden arched doorway gave way to an open plan kitchen and dining room in deep mahogany and low seating. Little did we know this residence was also home to a rat couple determined to defend their love nest. After a number of nights literally camping in the living room (we erected our tent because there was no way I could sleep with the fear of rats nibbling my toes), waking to the sound of clattering and squeaking as the rats marauded the night, I can reveal with grief and remorse that, we two animal loving vegetarian yogis, killed a rat. We had tried to entice them outside, we had attempted to usher them out the door. Hours went by. Nights passed.
Finally, the violent act was committed on the stairwell with the handle end of a broom. Then the bizarrest incident of all. The larger rat, after mournfully sniffing the corpse of his dead love, slowly raised his head and pausing pointedly for a moment peered up at us from the stairwell, cocking his head to one side with a tone of accusation. We said to him again. “Please leeeeeave”. He gently walked up the stairs, bold and slow, and walked out of the open door, leaving us to deal with our actions. We could not sleep that night.
The next leg of our adventures in Kodaikanal saw us practicing Kung Fu on a mountain range in the undulating soft mossy hills of Mannavanur and meditating amidst the pine cones and shadows of fir trees. On both occasions, as was often the case on our travels, we were moved on by forrest officers. But in Kodi we made friends with the forrest officers!
We came to meet Dhanpal, a solicitor who, for 10 years, had been nurturing an organic farm -a true labour of love. His best friend Sukumar, a welcoming soul who runs Lilly’s Valley, which is one of our accommodation choices for the Kodaikanal retreat, introduced us to him. We spent a day and night roaming around the farm and slept amidst actual coffee beans, which were drying on the floor of the only cottage, which has so far been built there. We have arranged for special night of camping and a fireside Kirtan (devotional singing) at Dhanpal's farm for the retreat coming up in March 2018!!
On our last day in Kodi after we ran around the lake in the centre of town we met Buddy (or Honey or Brown, he had many names). We were on our way to stay with friends near their alternative eco-minded school, Sholai, where they were working as teachers but now we had a lost four legged furry friend who needed saving! He was almost still a puppy and was clearly only recently abandoned. We called him Honey, mainly because that’s what we call each other and all things being one, it seemed like a good name. By the time we had walked the length of Kodi town and tried to find a dog shelter, walked to Sukumar’s place to see if he knew anyone who could to take him in, put him in the car, driven to Sholai school and he’d met our friends there, he was re-named Buddy. And he had found a home.
So had we. During the 8 and a half months that we roamed this corner of India, criss-crossing an inefficient path back and forth across the varied landscapes of South India, there were a select few places we felt utterly compelled to return and there was never any doubt that we would come back here.
To view more about the upcoming our retreat in March 2018 visit our retreats page