From Cheers to Chennai

On Indian soil. Our first day begins at the Chennai airport. As we wait in line to exchange dollars for rupees we’re chatted up by an Indian man behind us. He wants to know if we’re here to do yoga. Indeed we are and so is he. Different tour. We ask if he’s from here – Chennai. He’s from Austin, Texas. First rule of India: assume nothing.

After locating our personal driver we are shuttled to our hotel/compound. As we enter there are a collection of guards, some sleeping in chairs some awake whistling us through.

By the time we are in our rooms it’s just past 2:30 am. We won’t attempt sleep until close to 4 am. Outside our window there is a cacophony of sound from mixed origins. A squawky call and response from either a whole flock of peacocks or maybe a few monkeys, a scream from a female – may have been human, loud Bollywood music from passing cars and some sort of motorcycle gang. As the sun began to brighten our surroundings the noise began to fade and we finally found sleep.

Waking periodically for the next several hours, I sprang awake at 2:30 in the afternoon. Just an hour before our scheduled massages which were about 15 minutes away. We still had to pay for our room and arrange a rickshaw.

On the street we encountered several sleeping rickshaw drivers. Picking one depends on the price. We were told it should be around 100 rupees. Our first choice offered us the ride for 500. Pass. We would walk to the larger boulevard just up the street. An eager driver sped up beside us equipped with a meter. We chose him. 135 rupees later we were in front of our Ayurvedic center. No one was there. A single non-English speaking man informed us (through hand gestures, a wiggle of his head, a smile and a finger held up for us to wait while he called someone) we were at the wrong location. We had gone way out of our way. Fortunately we had asked our driver, Sriram, to wait the hour and a half for us so he was still there to take us to our new location.

400 rupees later we were at the correct location but too late for our scheduled massages, we would have to reschedule for later in the day. India rule #2: Have no expectations.

A gracious Indian man with impeccable English greeted us. It was clear it was his job to make us comfortable. While we waited in the lobby he brewed some fresh chai for us. The first sip was nothing but hot sugar, after another sip the familiar blend of spices began to emerge. He looked at us expectantly, we nodded and smiled in response.

Our chai cups collected, Karin and I are shown a room upstairs where we can rest. Unable to sit still I head back downstairs and out front to explore. I’m followed by a man I later learn is named Vijay. He’s a rickshaw driver and a flirt. He wants a picture of us together and one of me in his rickshaw. He wants to take me to the BEST shopping areas and take me on a one hour tour of Chennai. He is not the first or the only one. This is standard. They all want to do this for every westerner. They believe (sadly falsely in my case) that we all have money. We have a pleasant conversation nonetheless until I am whisked away to a tiny corner of heaven by the gracious gentleman.

Abhyanga massage. After a blessing is chanted over me, two diminutive, but powerful Indian women work in synchronicity with a gallon of oil to balance my lymphatic system as I am laid out and gloriously manipulated on a wooden table that collects the excess oil. After that hour of bliss I am directed to sit in a box with just my head exposed. They are steaming the toxins they have just redistributed out of my body. Just when it didn’t seem like it could get any better, I am escorted to a shower room where one of the girls washes the oil off me with a sugar scrub.

Massages are an interesting thing. We’re so vulnerable in the hands of strangers, trusting them to take care of us. During my massage I began to give some thought to the body. It’s a little like a car or a house. Something we own for a time and however we care for it determines its length of service to us.

Blissed out, shiny and new I return to the lobby. I am seated next to a lovely woman who is a “long time regular” I am told. Her brother and sister live in the US, one in Florida, the other in Philadelphia. She’s never been out of India despite the harassment from her siblings. I tell her I’ve been to her country twice now, it’s time she visited mine.

A horn is honked outside and she responds with a recognition and takes her leave. Not two minutes later Vijay has returned. And when Karin is done he takes us back to our hotel. He promises he’ll pick us up tomorrow and we’ll go to the marina.

We stop in for dinner at the hotel restaurant. Our waiter keeps returning. He seems to want to show us how to eat. We’re doing it all wrong. He smiles and does the Hindi head shake a few times and points to one dish and then another. We spoon a little of the first into the second. Satisfied he walks away.

Back in the room. Yoga at 6 am tomorrow if we want it. Want it or not we NEED it. Lights out.

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