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During my first three weeks in India I travelled through some bustling cities and I nearly became fed up with India and Indian people. Now almost two weeks have passed since I dropped all my bulky luggage in Kovalam.

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With a surfable beach (mediocre waves), some nice restaurants, laid-back locals, and no stupid drivers honking around in this little sleepy fishermen's town, it feels like I've found an oasis of serenity in the most chaotic country.

Generally speaking, Indian people are still very alienating to me, but I've found these fishermen in Kovalam somewhat very cute. Every morning unless the sea is very rough I go out and catch a few waves while they catch tons of fish with their mile-long nets.

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It's not only the charm of Kovalam that's pleased me, but it's also the presence of Rod and Priscila during my whole stay here.
They are the only people who I've caught up with 4 times on this planet: 1st in El Salvador, 2nd in Mexico, 3rd in Sri Lanka and now here. They are not my best friends anymore. They've become my special best friends.

They will be staying in Kovalam for a few more days, depending on Rod's back-pain, and then they'll start travelling north up to Mumbai, from which they'll fly back home in Sao Paulo.

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Just before I started dragging my bulky luggage back into the chaos of India, Priscila gave me a little note with a Pomegranate - the fruit that she, Rod and I all love and is a great reminder of our relaxing time in Kovalam. It was very sad to leave them. Yet, I didn't say good-bye because I was 200% certain that we'd see each other again for the 5th time somewhere on this planet!

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At 17:10pm departing from Trivandrum Central, the Chennai Mail Exp is taking me to Vellore - my final destination in India. And this will be my last overnight-train in India.

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I think my seat/bed on the train from Trivandrum Central to Katpadi Junction (Vellore) was AGAIN infested with bed-bugs. No joking!
I was completely fine while staying for two weeks in Kovalam, but just yesterday in the middle of the night on the train I woke up and found myself unconsciously scratching my feet and legs....
It was definitely not a mosquito and I had to engage in a merciless fight AGAIN against those brownish bastards.

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I stomped out of the train at Katpadi Junction around 8am: I was sleepy, tired and angry then. But I quickly regained control of myself once I had a cup of very sweet Kopi (coffee) at a little canteen on the platform.

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Vellore is a middle-size town in Tamil Nadu, about two and a half hours by train from filthy Chennai. It's a town that very few international travellers have even heard of the name before and no backpackers would ever think of visiting.
In fact, Vellore wasn't the town that I wanted to visit, but a place called Sripuram (aka the Golden Temple), about 14km outside Vellore, was my destination for today. I left my surfboard in a cloak room at Katpadi Jn. and took two local buses to get there. It was sunny and hot in Vellore with dust, noise and tons of people around.

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On my way to Sripuram what really cracked me up was when I was riding the second local bus: we were stuck in a heavy traffic jam and then the driver suddenly pulled the bus into the opposite lane and resumed driving by honking tirelessly and dodging all the oncoming vehicles. Miraculously, nothing happened to us and no police were chasing. Such is India!

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Lucy with whom I caught up in Bali about two years ago was in Sripuram this September. She told me by email about this "magical place" in the middle of nowhere in India where a spiritual leader called Sri Sakthi Amma established an ashram for all Hindu devotees and cosmopolitan followers.

Once again, I came to India simply out of curiosity and I had no intention to find my own "self" or to become spiritual. Nevertheless, something in Lucy's recent email intrigued me. So I'm now here to find out what it's all about!

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!!!!! Note !!!!!
My accommodation while in Sripuram is called Sripuram Guest House. It's INR500 for a non AC room (a bit pricey) and INR750 for an AC room. Both include very basic Indian breakfast.
I'm staying in a non AC room, but apparently, there is also a dormitory for free of charge! (Bedding = INR25) I saw it in the flier of this guesthouse, but I never asked the staff about it. I don't know why..... I'm quite certain that they have a dorm, but not really sure if it's for tourists or for only local Hindus.




Today was the most "interesting and eventful" day ever since I came to India.
All of the events written below took place in one day and are associated with a Hindu religious sect and its leader Sri Narayani Amma (hereafter Amma) who is said to be the avatar of a Hindu goddess called Narayani.
(Note: All Amma's devotees usually call Amma "she" not "he" because of Amma's avatar-status of "goddess". However, I call Amma "he" in this article to avoid confusion and also because he appears male to me.)



1. Local Indian School

Natalie from Australia was doing charitable work in India for many years. I met her yesterday and she then asked me if I was interested in visiting a local school the next morning. I said to her "Why not?!"
The school was located just outside the Sripuram Spiritual Park (hereafter Sripuram) and was being funded and managed by Amma. The ages of students ranged from 4 to 18, and both boys and girls. We first met the principal and then a couple of teachers followed by a lot of students, about 70% of whom were from very low income families (according to Natalie).

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All students dressed in clean white uniforms. Most of them were very shy, especially girls, but a few became very curious about me when I told them that I was from Japan. They showed me some Karate poses and repeatedly asked me to take photos of them with my camera. Apparently, one of the options for their extra school curriculum was Karate.

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I wish I'd practiced Karate before.



2. The Golden Temple
(Note: No photos were taken as cameras were prohibited inside the Sripuram)

David and Sara from Lyon, France were frequent visitors to the Sripuram and they kindly showed me around the Golden Temple - the core building of this whole Sripuram site.
David let me use one of his male-sarees in order to cover my legs. I put it on and made myself look slightly Hindu with some help from David, although I still had my casual T-shirt on then.
We walked into the outer compound of the Golden Temple from a back-door and we didn't have to pay the entrance fee then as we were staying at one of the guesthouses run by Amma. The temple is built at the center of an enormous garden and this garden can be seen as a big 6-point star from the above. Needless to say, the temple itself was very golden and also stunningly beautiful. I even thought that it was slightly bigger and brighter than our golden temple in Kyoto, Japan (aka Kinkakuji). However, by observing this shinning temple, two things made me seriously wonder: 1) Why did they choose a 6-point star as the outline of the Sripuram garden? Check it out on Google Map! Many people including myself would instantly think of it as Star of David for the symbol of Judaism. 2) Where did all the money come from to build such an extravagant building while millions of people in India are suffering in great poverty?

Ummm... I don't get it!



3. Puja by Amma
(Note: No photos were taken as cameras were prohibited inside the Sripuram)

I was going to have a little late lunch as I was very busy running around for the two events mentioned above, but I completely missed it today due to a call made for an afternoon puja - puja is a Hindu ritual for prayer.
Mind you, I am an atheist and I feel quite awkward when I'm in a place where serious religious ceremonies are taking place. Therefore, I wasn't very keen on joining it and I didn't wanna miss my lunch either. However, my curiosity of "Who the hell is Amma?" somehow threw me into a mini-bus in which Amma's international followers were all eagerly waiting for the bus to take them to where their guru was.
The mini-bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere but still within the Sripuram. One of Amma's servants showed up and guided us to a small ceremonial hall where Amma was already carrying out a puja The place was surrounded by lots of tropical trees and flowers. Moreover, as some kind of soothing music was played by Amma's servants, it felt like it was the most peaceful place I had ever been to in India.
The whole puja took about two hours and lots of chanting was made throughout it. Halfway through the ceremony, however, my legs and hips started aching a lot as we were sitting on a very hard floor. I had to move or change my sitting position quite often and I probably disturbed other participants who were so into meditation then. Sorry, I couldn't help it!
What intrigued me the most during this puja was when a cow was brought in front of Amma (a live cow, of course.) Amma carried out a little ritual called "Gho puja". It was done in such a calm manner and the cow seemed incredibly relaxed then. Amma even drew some marks on the cow's body with no interference by the cow. I was just amazed then.
At the end of the puja all of us were told to line up for Amma to give holy water to each one of us. Despite the fact that I initially hesitated over the idea of "holy water" as being an atheist, I could not refuse it and found myself jumping into the queue. I was a little nervous but very excited to get close to so-called "the avatar of Narayani".
When my turn came, I slowly stepped forward to Amma and I looked at him. Amma gazed at me as if he was reading my mind; his eyes were wide-open without any blinks and captivating. He then suddenly asked me a question with such soft voice: "Where from ?", "I'm from Japan." I replied. He said nothing else afterwards and tossed holy water with a spoon onto my right hand. I sucked it all at once and I felt the water running through my throat nicely. It actually tasted very familiar, though I couldn't tell what it was.

And this was all in the end. But now a few questions arose in my head:
Q1) Was there anything holy in the water?
A1) I really don't know.
Q2) Was the puja extraordinary in any way??
A2) Yes, the cow was.
Q3) What was Amma like???
A3) Well, he definitely had some charisma and I felt some sort of a force-field around him, but he looked completely human to me.
Apparently, many of Amma's devotees attend this kind of puja every single day, but I don't. The way I see it is that the more I try to see Amma, the more meaningless it becomes on every consecutive occasion. Otherwise, I could become very obsessed and I want to see him even more.

The trick is: not wanting it but accepting it, right?



4. Prabha

Marco, a young wanna-be-an-artist from Australia, asked me if I was interested in going back to the Golden Temple this evening. I'd already been there earlier this morning with David and Sara, but I didn't mind going to see it again. So I went there with him just before sunset. This time we were able to enter the inner compound of the Golden Temple where I could clearly see the statue of goddess Narayani placed inside the temple. Oddly enough, everything was golden such as walls, ceilings, columns and roofs except the face of the Narayani statue, which wasn't very visible from where I was, but looked dark-brownish to me.
This statue-face made me ponder once again why they built this temple with gold as gold seemed to me one of the worst possessions in today's materialistic world, and in practice all religions should be teaching people to refrain from it.
While I was being puzzled about the use of gold on the temple, Marco took me to another temple called "Sri Narayani Peedam" - the original temple and it was built long before the golden one. This temple had ordinary looks without any use of gold. Marco and I walked into this temple and took part of another puja. Funnily enough, both of us had to take our shirts off and we only had our sarees on then. Furthermore, during this puja one of the monks kept saying to me "You look like Bruce Lee! You new Bruce Lee!" Well, I actually didn't mind him calling me as one of my personal heroes, much better than calling me "Chinese!". Nevertheless, my attention was disturbed by him and couldn't really observe what was happening at this puja other than the fact that I saw another statue of Narayani inside this temple: this statue was all black. Now I was being mystified by many things such as Amma, pujas, the golden temple, etc.
As Marco and I walked outside the Sri Narayani Peedam, we ran into 69 year old Indian woman Prabha then. Prabha was born in Chennai, lived there for 55 years and moved into this tiny village a few years ago with her late husband. She was outspoken and fluent in English. She was also very knowledgeable in Hinduism, Amma and India. Up until now I never had a chance to engage in any decent conversations with local Indian women. Therefore, to have a chat with somebody like Prabha was very precious and enjoyable. Marco and I sat on the ground beside her and I swallowed every single word she said to me. Unlike Amma who had charisma, Prabha was bespectacled and had some charm that reminded me of my late grandma a little bit.

Prabha was such a bright woman and much brighter than the Golden Temple.


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1) Hopped on a rickshaw outside the Sripuram for Katpadi Jn. (cost: INR130)
2) Caught a regional train at Katpadi Jn. for Chennai Central (cost: INR226)
3) Squeezed in a busy inner-city train from Park Station to Tirusulam Station and walked straight to Chennai's international airport

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Finally! ! !

How long did I wait for this day to come?! No more frustration, no more confusion and no more curry! I'm gonna fly out of this chaos in a couple of hours and I'm just over the moon right now.

The past 5 weeks have gone so quickly as Indian people are so restless and they've made me restless, too. In this article I upload my personal memos for my time in India. It's hilarious to read them now because I wrote down each one of them at the end of every week as honestly as I ever could:



@ The 1st week (~ 2012/10/09)
Places visited: Chennai & Varanasi

Quite disgusted by many things such as noise, smell, pollution, rubbish, stray animals, dung, traffic, and people, billions of people! I'm seriously wondering what makes India so filthy. It just makes no sense to me why they don't use any garbage bins and why they don't seem to care at all about their own environments. It's only my first week here and I'm trying to stay positive, but it's extremely difficult at this stage. Did I go too deep too soon....? Maybe. Sri Lanka was indeed a piece of cake.
So far the only good thing is that I've already eaten at a few local restaurants and my belly's been fine :-)



@ The 2nd week (~ 2012/10/16)
Places visited: Agra & Aurangabad (including Ellora & Ajanta)

The Taj, Ellora and Ajanta were all spectacular and I really enjoyed visiting them. Meanwhile, what actually caught my eyes even more than those ruins were people in this country.
Many women in India look cool to me. They all keep their hair long; it's actually quite rare to see women with short hair in this country. A pity that they don't smile much, but their eyes hold sheer strength and I even wonder if those vividly colourful sarees that they always wear are a means for them to silently claim their existence in this very male-dominant society.
On the other hand, I'm not sure about Indian men, especially those tuk-tuk drivers, hotel/guesthouse promoters and hawkers on the streets. They are extremely annoying!



@ The 3rd week (~ 2012/10/23)
Places visited: Mumbai & Kovalam

I've been trying to stay positive and desperately searching for a good thing in this country, but it's just so hard! India is very confusing to me now. For instance; I ran into a guy in his 50s on a back-street in downtown Mumbai one day. I was just taking some random photos with my camera then. He saw what I was doing and asked me a question; "Why are you taking photos now?" I simply replied to him; "Because I found them interesting and different from things in my country." And then he started giving me a lecture by saying "What is different to you? Nothing is different in this world. Everything you see now is the same...." I actually fully understood what he was getting at (in a philosophical way, of course.) But I wasn't into that! Basically, all I was doing then was to take some photos for fun. That was all. And I needed no Zen master then. Please leave me alone!
Meanwhile, those bed-bugs on the overnight train didn't only suck my blood, but also they sucked my enthusiasm in travelling this country. I just booked a flight to get the hell out of here in two weeks time. Can't wait!



@ The 4th week (~ 2012/10/30)
Places visited: Kovalam & Trivandrum

A reputation amongst many backpackers - South India is more easy-going and relaxing than North or Central India - may be true. Despite having only been to Trivandrum and Kovalam of Kerala state I must admit that it's much cleaner and greener down here than all the other places I've been to in India. Furthermore, people in Kerala seem quite laid-back. I've heard that there are a large number of Christian and Muslim people around here. Is this the reason why?
Surfing-wise, there was only one day that I didn't surf in Kovalam due to very strong onshore winds then. Generally speaking, waves were max 2 to 3ft on sets and often closed out. The quality of water was highly doubtful as I often spotted rubbish and some brownish stuff floating. My eyes also became itchy at times. Nevertheless, the best aspect of surfing here was that there was no crowd; the maximum number of guys I saw on the line-up was 4. This would never happen in Japan.



@ The 5th week (~ 2012/11/06)
Places visited: Kovalam & The Sripuram outside Vellore

How lucky and funny is it that I spent the last week of my stay in this country with one of India's most acclaimed gurus along with some of his international followers?!
During my stay at the Sripuram what I found very fascinating was that Amma and I were born in the same year - 1976. While Amma was probably raised with the most utmost care as the avatar of Narayani in South India, I was raised by non-religious parents in a classless residential city called Kasugai, Central Japan. And just depending on our birthplaces and religious beliefs, one's life can be completely different from the other's. Amma could have been me and I could have been him.
To warship somebody who is still alive seems very bizarre to me. Amma is not a guru with supernatural powers. He does not materialise anything for anybody (Be very skeptical if your guru claims so.) However, Amma could help you become god-conscious. Unfortunately, that didn't work for me. But look! I'm a surfer and am obsessed with surfing and am tirelessly looking for a wave of my life which is probably equivalent to enlightenment or salvation that most of Amma's devotees are madly seeking. So we are very similar.... In a way.


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Sheer beauty and enigma along with so much rubbish, so much noise and so many people all coexist in India. This land of spirituality is definitely not in my top-5 favourite destinations but probably one of the most unique countries I've ever been to before. Something in this country always made me confused, grumpy, impatient, frustrated and even angry at times. But when I looked around, nobody seemed impatient or angry. I then often questioned myself; "Umm, there may be nothing wrong in India. Perhaps, something wrong with me....?"
India turned out to be a great eye-opener for me in the end.


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