December 14, 2007

My Niece Sophie's Adventures In India

My rather adventurous niece, Sophie Herbert, is a recent graduate of The Cooper Union in New York City, a most wonderful college focusing on art, architecture, and engineering, where she earned high honors in photography and fine arts.  Upon graduating, Sophie returned to India, a country she has been to a few times and loves to explore.  She recently sent this email describing her latest travels and I would love to share her adventures and photos with you.  I’m really amazed at how her yoga practice has progressed.  Check out her Web sites!


Beautiful…I'm sitting in a coconut grove in the rural village of Keelakkadu, located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  The trees belong to my boyfriend Sundar's family.  I am so grateful for their hospitality and kindness.  We arrived two days ago, after a short trip to Chennai and the nearby beach town of Mamallapuram.

Keelakkadu is a beautiful, green, and peaceful place.  It's a tight-knit community where there seems to be no such thing as a closed door.   English is not as widely spoken as elsewhere in India, but despite the language barrier, I feel very much at home.  Their mother tongue, Tamil, is a soothing sounding language that predates Sanskrit!

I have been offered so many delicious meals and wonderful tiny cups of South Indian filter coffee. (The tradition is to serve it with a very generous amount of sugar… Some people can't believe I like to drink it unsweetened.)  Traditional South Indian fare includes dosas (pancakes made from a rice and lentil flour batter), idly (steamed pods made from the same batter), coconut and coriander chutneys, various vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries and kormas, porottha (my favorite pan bread – it's doughy, flakey, and a little crispy), and rice.  Meals are served on freshly cut banana leaves or aluminum plates.  Sundar's mother is a particularly fantastic cook.

To say the least, I am very happy to be here!  There is no shortage of cows, goats, or chickens roaming around.  On Wednesday, we’re going boating through a large lagoon by the Bay of Bengal.  In a few days we'll continue our travels through more of Tamil Nadu and then onto Mysore (The Ashtanga yoga capital – I love this place).  I will then spend January and February volunteering at a yoga ashram near Mumbai where I did a teacher training.

The past few weeks have included an unprecedented amount of travel for me.  I had been teaching yoga in Kazakhstan with Sundar for a few months when I heard about my grandmother's stroke.  I managed to find an affordable way back to New York (Kazakhstan is a difficult country to get out of).  It required 41 hours of travel, but that is irrelevant.  I am so thankful to have spent those final days with my grandmother, whom I lived with since I was born, along with the rest of my immediate family. 

My travels back in India have included two 14-hour bus rides to and from Dharamsala, a town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and the home to His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.  It's also where I met Sundar while teaching English to Tibetan refugees for a few months in 2005. There has also been a 37-hour train journey from Delhi to Chennai, and some other long bus rides in Tamil Nadu.  On each trip there is always so much to see, great books to read, and interesting people to meet.

There is so much more I'd like to write, but Sundar is going to take me to the beach on his friend's motorcycle.

Sundar and I at Prana Yoga in Astana, Kazakhstan

A prawn plantation about 4 km from Sundar's home. They will fill it with water next month.


Near-by rice patties

A roasted corn vendor on the beach in Chennai.

A Photo of me

The lagoon that we have since visited. It is the largest mangrove in India!Lagoon1

A photo of Sundar's uncle at his tree nursery. He cares for over 4,000 rare and common trees (there are about 40 different varieties)! Everything is organically grown.

Offerings at a Hindu Temple after an anual festival that over 300,000 people attended.