January 15, 2008

More of Sophie's Travels and Photos From India

Sophie, my niece, is still traveling in India. Right now, she is volunteering her services in an ashram, teaching yoga. This is where she was a couple of weeks ago, and she was kind enough to share this text and these photos with her aunt.

Vanacome (the phonetic spelling for "hello" in Tamil) from the beach town of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu! My brother Chris, Sundar, and I arrived in this beautiful and relaxing place this afternoon. We stopped at a large crocodile reservation en route; it was truly fascinating! There were more than 1,000 crocodiles of at least 10 different varieties.

It is a pleasure to show Chris some of India! He arrived in Mumbai after a three-flight trip from New York. I took a 30-hour train journey from Bangalore to meet him, so we're relieved to rest outside of big cities for a few days. We are eager to attend the annual Mamallapuram Dance Festival, which is showcased in front of the enormous seventh-century Pallava base-relief sculpture of "Arjuna's penance." The festival includes traditional Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, and Kathakali dance.

Chris and I by the incredible temple in Mamallapuram:


Sundar and I spent a wonderful week and a half in the state of Karnataka. We first visited Madikeri, which is the capital of the Kodagu Hill region. The local people, the Kodavus, are believed to be descendents of the Kurds or Persians. Their rolling hills are covered with tropical forest, bamboo groves, and coffee and cardamom plantations. Though exploring the city and hiking to the nearby Abbi falls was wonderful, the highlight of our stay was visiting the Kodagu Vidyaiya School for Special Children. The small but very well-managed institution provides free education and vocational training to about 50 children with various physical and mental handicaps. They are also involved in the international Special Olympics program. Their students have been awarded medals in Shanghai, Alaska, and Japan. We were incredibly impressed by the school's facilities and the beautiful dance some of the students shared with us (which was prepared for an upcoming festival). Sundar and I hope to visit the school again soon. If you would like to find out more information, please send an email to coovidy@sancharnet.in.

Trees in Madikeri:


Abbi Falls, Madikeri:


We left Madikeri for Mysore, where my adopted Aunt Gayathri lives. We were blessed with her delicious cooking all week! Her pure-vegetarian creations are made from the freshest and mostly organic ingredients and cooked with very little oil. I love her dosas, vegetable curries, and kormas. One of my favorite dishes is her ragi roti—a pancake made from rice flour and ragi (this earthy, delicious, and nutritious grain).

Sundar and I brought our new Canadian friend Michelle (a kind young woman who is doing a three-month yoga therapy course) to the Deenabandhu Trust orphanage and school, which I have visited on a few occasions. The institution is located two hours by bus from Mysore in the rural area of Chamrajanagar. This unique and charitable organization has been improving the lives of orphaned, destitute, and impoverished children since 1992. They also run a number of social-welfare programs that benefit rural communities and destitute women. There is so much I could write about the orphanage and school, which was establish by Mr. G.S. Jayadeva, who is the son of a great poet from Karnataka. I will just briefly describe, however, the inspirational work of Mr. Jayadeva and his other selfless co-workers.

Two of the younger boys at Deenabandhu. This photo is from my stay in August:


The morning assembly at Deenabandhu:


Chanting at Deenabandhu:


Michelle and some of the schoolchildren:


Sundar and one of the adorable baby goats at Deenabandhu:




The Deenabandhu orphanage is a warm home to about 45 orphans. The school, which is partially inspired by the Montessori Method, provides a free and impressive education to about 260 students (1st to 10th standard) from impoverished or broken families. The staff at the ashram (as the "orphanage" is more appropriately labeled) makes an outstanding effort to create a calm and homely feeling to help the children recover from sorrowful and traumatic past events. I do not wish to go into detail about some of the heart-wrenching stories the faculty has shared with me. What I would like to say, however, is how kind, energetic, generous, and bright the children are. They have taught me so much during the few days I have spent with them, from cricket and Bharata Natyam dancing to origami and basic Kannada. I hope to stay for a longer period in late February and March to share my knowledge in yoga and help with conversational English. To read more about the Deenabandhu Trust organization and their sponsorship programs, I encourage you to visit the Deenabandhu Trust website.

Sundar and I were also fortunate to visit their sister organization—Shaktidham, in Mysore—which is a rehabilitation home for destitute women. Shaktidham helps give educational and vocational training to more than 50 women, many of whom are victims of domestic violence. The women may stay there until they are confident being self-sufficient in the outside world, which may take a few weeks or years. It was incredibly special to meet some of the women currently living there (from age 18 to 45) and learn about their stories. At Shaktidham, there is an overall feeling of communal hope and determination for a brighter future. If you'd like to know more about this organization, please contact the Deenabandhu Trust. I have included a few photographs from these places and elsewhere.

More to come!

A woman at Shaktidham and her two children. The older lives at Deenabandhu (he's also in the first photograph):


Silk embroidery cards made at Shaktidham:


The director at Shaktidham (she works with her husband):



Children performing a dance at the Kodagu Vidyalaya School:


It is difficult to capture the beauty of a crocodile—these are some examples of what we saw: