Thursday, August 23, 2012

India For the Five Senses

I asked a few of my fellow yoga practitioners/students back home at Land Yoga if they were interested in any specific details about my trip to India. I was delighted when their answers were overwhelmingly about the sensory experience of Mysore.

People want to know what it looks like, what the food tastes like, a musician wanted to know about the sounds of India, and a few actually wanted to know what it smells like here!

So here’s my collection of some of the most personally impactful sensory experiences…

Dana’s Top 50 Feast for the Senses: Mysore Edition!


 Hand rolled Sandalwood incense.

1.     I’m super comforted by the gentle, warm smell of burning almost-incense-but-maybe-trash, fire in the mornings.

2.     Incense from temples around the city, usually its sandalwood, something Mysore is quite known for, an earthy smell with a hint of sweet.

3.     Cow. All things cow. Except cow meat…you don’t smell that here.

4.     Spices are always cooking, the smell wafts through our open windows.

5.     There a dreamy, sticky-sweet, Jasmine-like smell from the white flowers sold on every street for offerings.

6.     The Shala sweat mixed with a clean comfort is actually a lovely smell to me...maybe that’s just me though…!

7.     Tire rubber from rickshaws, busses and scooters permeates the bigger roads.

8.     The perfume and essential oils sold in Devaraja Market: lotus, sandalwood, rosewater, frankincense, all in glass jars. The smell can be overwhelming if you’re shopping for a scent!

9.     In Gokulam, right now, there is a beautiful cool breeze that smells fresh. Almost clean…

10.  Monsoon rain. Though it’s been a scarily dry monsoon season here, when the rain does come, it’s cool and wipes the city clean.


Om's om's everywhere! This is Rangoli...chalk art done outside most homes.

11.  Colors, colors, colors. Bright colors. Everywhere.

12.  Peeling paint and posters on buildings and bus stops…layers over layers and garbage on the streets (not unlike New York!)

13.   Huge signs of (usually unattractive) Indian politicians’ faces before elections, or to celebrate them for some reason or another…these are all over town.

14.  Silk saris in colors from the rainbow and beyond on beautiful women and in store windows.

15.  Dogs running the street. Cows ruling traffic. Goats eating the above mentioned peeling posters and garbage.

16.  The intense sky: Inky blue pre-sunrise. Monsoon clouds. Milky sunshine.

17.   The smile from a fellow international yoga student on the streets of Gokulam. And smiles and shy waves from local kids, curious about us foreigners.

18.  Rangoli (chalk drawings/symbols) on every Indian home’s doorstep, and small evil looking masks hung outside most homes to ward off evil.

19.  Om. On doorsteps, on cars…it’s the bumper sticker du jour!

20.  Scooters. Entire families on scooters. Yesterday I saw a family of five: mother, father, two kids and a baby on a scooter. None wearing or even wanting a helmet. The mother just grabs on to the baby tight and away they go!


It's a symphony of honking horns here.

21.  Horns are constantly honking. There’s a wide range of honks: cute cartoon-ish honks, long low, deep honks, sharp piercing honks, friendly honks, nerve-irritating honks. Plus Car motors, scooter motors, a rickshaw’s putting motor, stalling motors.

22. Sanskrit chanting in our classes at the shala. The polished sounds of a language perfected.

23.  Birds making a huge array of calls, sweet chirps, loud hoots, sing-song melodies…

24.  Crickets in the early morning hours when we wake for practice.

25.  The breeze in the palm tree leaves around our house.

26.  Men selling things on the streets. The walk around calling out their offers in Kanada, the language of Karnataka, in deep, bellowing bursts.

27.  The anticipatory silence outside the shala in the morning.

28.  “One more!” Sharath yells, beckoning the next yoga student to enter the practice room. “One more again!” he says when another space opens up.

29.  Bollywood music playing from an open rickshaw, or from a man’s cell phone.

30.   The hacking sound of a machete chopping open a coconut. Whack, whack whack!


Silk saris. These are raw silk which is thicker and 
feels somehow smooth and rough at the same time!

31.  The shala rugs feel thin with use, but sturdy in the way something feels that you can really count on. Not new, not too old, but used nonetheless.

32.  The indescribable feeling of safety from a drop-back at the Shala: Sharath’s hands holding you and binding your ankles (which are slick with sweat) so securely. It’s the touch of trust.

33.  Metal door handles, not round, but long and curved, cool to the touch.

34.  Smooth green skin of the tender coconuts.

35.  Silks in the shops downtown: I’ve learned to tell the difference between the slippery feeling of pure silk, to the thick crepe of raw silk, to the sturdy feel of cotton, and the soft warm hug of pashmina. 

36.  A sandalwood mala, smooth wooden beads.

37.  Warm glasses of chai.

38.  Food, sticky between your fingers as you learn to eat with hands instead of forks.

39.  Castor oil during an Ayurvedic massage, or a Saturday morning self oil bath. It’s thick and smooth, even when warmed up. Perfect for aching muscles and joints. It’s super thick though…it takes a special soap nut powder to get it all off!

40.  Hand-washed cloths. Sometimes stiff but fresh from drying on the roof in Indian sunshine.


A dosa with dipping sauce...delish!

41.  Spices: mustard, curry, cumin, turmeric, ginger…and how they really just form the most beautiful symphony of flavors when added to foods at the correct time.

42.  Fresh, perfect Coconut water…it’s just the most delicious, pure, refreshing thing I’ve ever tasted.

43.  Rice. Rice with curd. Rice with spices: Briyani. Delicious rice!

44.  Crispy butter dosa: rice flour made into some kind of pancake type shape…some are huge and some are small. Some are thicker, and some thin like a crispy crepe – these are my favorite.

45.  Fluffy white idly with dipping sauces and chutney.

46.  The grainy sweet chick-pea and ghee delight that is Mysore Pak.

47.  Ghee. Clarified butter. Considered a sattvic food, though I spread it on toast for a rich, thick, buttery comfort food.

48.   Curries of every variety that just melt in your mouth. My favorites are palak paneer (spinach and cheese), gboi aloo (cauliflower and potato) and vegetable kofta (a sort of veggie ball within the curry).

49.  Papaya…it’s deep pink-ish orange and tastes strong and sweet.

50.  Chai from Amaruth’s tea stand. I am an official addict. It’s so sweet, rich, earthy and warming…a perfect mix of tea with milk and sugar. (Though I’m glad I can’t see how much sugar is actually in it…I’m sure it’s a LOT!)

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