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Welcome to FoodMood blog space. Reflections on my travels, musings, favorite recipes, and the  Bunny Chronicles. Storytelling with joy, sass, self-reflection, and hope.

Community - the Indian Difference

Our happy family at Mysore Palace.

Two months in India? What did you do? This is the reaction most people have when we speak about our most recent adventure.

Indeed what did we do? We be’d is the short answer.

We took the precious chance to disconnect in order to reconnect. In the summer of 2019 when I went to India, I went alone, basically for the same reason. This year we were two, a couple, and for me this trip was a matter of great importance for our coupleship. A unique opportunity to have two months together, invaluable time totally outside of the norms, pressures, convictions, and habits of every-day life in a privileged European culture. We were spontaneous, open for adventure, awed to celebrate 10 years of marriage, and ready to have fun.

What we experienced was pure magic.

In a word, we lived the Indian difference, (being present in) community.

While India is not alone in this powerful way of being, Southern Italy, parts of Spain, Turkey, and surely other countries I am not familiar with have this in common, and it is to me the foundation of the magic people speak about when they discuss India. In our experience this same feeling extends itself south to Sri Lanka too. The electricity of community, of being seen, of being present. And for me, carrying this sense of community home with me in my heart is a powerful motivator to live the same magic wherever I am.

As I write the world is experiencing a global pandemic, one component of healing in his situation for me, is the conscious creation of a sense of community, virtually. Another component is the possibility to see this situation also as a chance to disconnect to reconnect. I dedicate this post to this idea, may all who read it feel themselves a part of something magical and loving. Share this post with someone you love to give them a lift in their day, call a friend who you have not spoken to in a while, turn to the person next to you and give them a hug. Connect to what is important for you.

A sense of community and magic may take many forms. If you wish to go right to the photo highlights of the trip, click here for a video journey. This link is as well at the bottom if you wish to read on and view the video later. The post itself contains few photos instead we share our video journey

Just outside of Hubli we encountered a local festival where saree clad women were beating drums in parade like fashion and the beat went right to my core. We were the only non-Indian people there and while most ignored us and continued on with their celebrations, the age of the smart phone was hyper-present. Ten year old children and 80 year old grandparents alike snapped selfies with us. Later that evening we went to enter a temple and found ourselves invited to a wedding. We were force fed and instructed to pose for photos – and it was fun. On both occasions the people were jolly, casual, and aligned. We were like a party favor and it suited all parties.

Our next stop was Hampi, the reason we were in Hubli in the first place as its airport is one of the stops on the way to Hampi. Four hours by road from Hubli, both are in the state of Karnataka. Frequently asked why we chose Hampi, each time we answered we were reconnected with our version of India’s magic. In 2007-8 when we went together for the first time to India, we planned the first bit and then for two months we flitted about according to advice and experience from locals and fellow travelers. We went as far north as Rajasthan and south all the way to the southern tip of India. Along the way over and over we heard from people how we had to go to Hampi. We did not make it to Hampi on our first trip. Naturally we started this special trip in Hampi, and the rest we followed the wind just like the first time. As it turned out we were the entire time in India, apart from Delhi, in the state of Karnataka.

In Hampi after a narrow escape from a bad hotel pick, we found ourselves immersed in an interesting mix of community. At Shanti house Krishna and Tirtha effortlessly created an atmosphere of home like ease. When the authorities shut down the entire village for the new year, they arranged for us (all of their guests) to have a bonfire in the endless rice fields adjacent to the property complete with music and cake. The evening we left, Tirtha waited outside with us for more than an hour until our transport came, sending us off with my favorite cake in my pocket, free of charge, for our journey.

Krishna far right and Tirtha second from left bidding us farewell as we set off from Shanti house in Hampi.

Pradeep and Aru sealed the deal in making Hampi, already an incredible natural and cultural phenomena, feel like a full on community. Pradeep had us with tears of laughter streaming down our faces almost every time we met, and Aru was always ready for action, once zooming Claudio to the local ‘wine shop’ on his motorbike. ZING ZING Amazing, full power they live life. We met them in what was then Pradeep and his family’s restaurant Thali House – since our visit the government has torn it and every other café, restaurant, and guest house on “Hippie Island” (really a street not an island) down. Undaunted these young men are recreating their lives as you read. While the unique landscape of Hampi was dazzling, what is unforgettable about this place for us is the people we met there.

Top left Pradeep always smiling, middle Aru totally cool, bottom us with Pradeep. Featured Pradeep and Aru chilling out with us in a friend of theirs place on our last evening in Hampi.

Super bumpy overnight bus ride later, 5am we arrived in Gokarna. The main town of the region, Gokarna is a sacred place, one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centers where Indians come to worship Lord Shiva by the sea.

Sunset on Kudle beach, every evening an event.

Quickly, after we slept a bit on the couches of a local restaurant, we found our base on Kudle beach in the small family run place Gundappa. Complete with adorable laughing all the time grandbaby and Goureesh, the local boy who was our go to man, it was our nest by the sea. Kudle beach is a traveler’s paradise. The sea at your feet has a vast sandy apron to walk upon, good food to enjoy, sights to see, and all sorts of interesting people to meet. On our journey from Hampi we met Helia, an Iranian American woman who was traveling more than a year based in an ashram not far from Kudle beach. Joe, the impish Brit Claudio met at a place above ours who delighted us with his easy way and endless kindness. MiniMaster our yoga teacher, Tomas at the spectacular French Boulangerie Chez Christophe on Gokarna beach, the Italians from Venice who set themselves up as if they were in a coffee shop for hours at a time, Kevin our Bernese Oberland neighbor at Gundappa, Basu the Danish guru who lives between India and Greece, the Indian doctor who sees upwards of 150 patients a day in his tiny clinic because he believes healthcare is for everyone, Dana the Israeli woman who inspired me with her grace and ease in yoga, the Swedes making jewelry and clothes, the countless young Indian people we met mostly on weekends when they came to enjoy the sea. I could go on, and the point is clear, the beaches were amazing, the temples fabulous, the food delicious, and what we brought home are memories of the people. We intended to stay a few days and seventeen days later we dragged ourselves away from this beach paradise knowing if we did not, we would never leave.

Graffiti in Gokarna that said it all about the place.

As happens, the question of where to go decides itself in India. From Gokarna we went, by a more comfortable overnight bus, to Mysore for a short city visit. Mysore was our base camp for the planning of our next move, Sri Lanka. Being who we are, we made the best of Mysore as a base camp staying in an old palace The Green Hotel, which beyond being its own sort of bliss, gives a large part of its proceeds to local charities for education and environment.

This place turned out to be a highlight of our trip for many reasons including the rarity of a bathtub in our quaint colonial room complete with wood floors, a super comfortable four poster bed, lovely breakfast in the garden, wonderful staff, and the total peace of the place itself in the face of the chaos of the city. With only four days in Mysore we made the best of it walking our feet off exploring the city, the Mysore Palace, the markets, food food food and the people. Helia was there at the same time as us and we enjoyed an evening together walking in the Ashtanga capital of Gokulam and then over dinner at the Green Hotel. The next day we took a car the four hours to Bangalore airport and at 1 am we were in Negombo, Sri Lanka ready for our next adventure.

Shortly after our arrival, immediately after bumping into a Brit who had done the same, we rented a scooter, reduced our 3 bags to 2 backpacks and a day pack and zoomed south for a 15 day 2 wheeled adventure. For me, this was THE adventure in the adventure. All I could have hoped for, we were stripped down to the bare necessities and we were intimately together for a large part of each day while Claudio drove in every kind of landscape on every kind of road, with me behind him navigating the way. We were free in a way we rarely allow ourselves and we had a great time.

Top left Claudio super happy on his new ride, middle with a local mechanic making the perfect tweak to our headlight to ensure we are prepared for night driving, right Claudio with Amal at Elephant Safari House before take-off (note the two backpacks, one strapped to the back, the other next to the water bottle). Bottom center us on our ride after visiting Christine near Kalutara.

From our first stop in Kalutara where we visited with dear friend Christine and her entourage at a mountain side Ayurveda clinic, to our last stop in Negombo we were living the magic exponentially.

Imagine that we were in Sri Lanka, unplanned, at the same time as one of our closest friends. Of course we had to visit, which gave us two days in Kalutara, a quirky seaside place where the sea is too rough to swim. At the Whispering Shells we enjoyed a wonderful room with a gorgeous sea view, run by Tomas, who had lived two decades between Canada and the US. Cultured, funny, and generous we enjoyed his place and his company.

Next we scootered to Unawatuna where the sea is certainly swimmable, and swim we did. Claudio went scuba diving one day, just him and the guide. One evening at a place called Toddy’s, we listened to live music so terrific that we were mesmerized, the fabulous cocktails helped too. When the singer took his break, we met him and the owner, two young men from Colombo who had lived abroad and were back to enjoy their lives and make their fortunes. This same night we met Leena and Sara, respectively Sudanese and Egyptian, both living in Dubai. To say they were amazing would be an understatement. We shared the entire next day with them in their garden house by the sea, a beach Claudio literally described as what he wanted in exact detail that morning before we got there. Dancing, singing, sipping tea, etc. we were four travellers on life’s journey and our conversation was soulful and intimate in a way that defines community for me. This was one of the best days of my married life, Claudio was 100% himself, open, tender, fun, expressive, connected.

Top Leena, Sara, and I at their beachside haven. Bottom left Claudio contemplating his good fortune on the beach he dreamed into reality, bottom right local fisherman at their trade.