chitta chatter

more dharma gypsys

Posted in film, India, LA, meditation, music, yoga by Nancy on April 11, 2010

Some vids for you:

We shot the footage for Krishna Govinda in Mysore (and by “we” I mean mostly D), then Tommy Stewart (percussion) stitched it all together:

Check out the guy that wanders into my frame and sits down next to D around 2:22… dude didn’t even ask for “currency!” He was probably just curious as to what this white boy was doing playing guitar on the street in his pajamas.

Tommy shot this one himself during recording sessions at the Karma Kitchen in Hollywood:

Dharma Gypsys are:
Katrina Chester (TSO, Luxx, Janis Joplin in “Love, Janis”) – vocals
Tommy Stewart (Godsmack, Fuel, LoPro, Everclear) – percussion
Robert Gamboa (The Deep Eynde) – bass: tracks 1, 3, 4, 9 & 10
Scotland Stephenson (ALSO) – percussion: tracks 8 & 11
Danielle Mays (VAST, Watts Ensemble, Trulio Disgracias) – flute, bassoon: tracks 1 & 5
DJ Soul Junkie – turntables: tracks 6 & 8
Daniel Overberger (The Deep Eynde) – guitar, vocals, bass, shruti box, Rhodes

Dharma Gypsys’ Volume One: Music for Yoga, Meditation and General House Cleaning is available on iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon and pretty much anywhere you download music.

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Well, two of them are anyway. Read Nancy Alder’s review on Elephant Journal here and Brian’s review on Daily Cup of Yoga here.


dharma gypsys

Posted in apple, India, LA, meditation, music, simple pleasures, yoga by Nancy on March 12, 2010

Shameless plug alert:

Daniel’s new album just went up on CDBaby and iTunes* today!  It’s like Zeppelin and Floyd had a baby whose nanny was Krishna Das. Bit of a departure from the death rock of days of yore. Check it:

* Oh, and P.S. — WTF is with the Apple overlords forcing Safari down our throats by making it the only way to access the iTunes store? Well, guess who just lost a sale to CDBaby. Even if I didn’t mind using Safari (which I do), I’d have to upgrade my system software for another $50 or more.

Don’t even act like it’s the first time you’ve pulled this shit, Apple. I’m getting a little tired of all the extortion. I’ve been happily loyal to you for over 12 years, but you’re losing me. Fast.

silver lake, sweet silver lake

Posted in food, LA, photos, yoga by Nancy on February 4, 2010

Ah, it’s good to be home.

We arrived at LAX yesterday afternoon and Mayra was there to greet us, giant bouquet of flowers in hand. After a stop to pick up my car at her house, we were soon cruising the old familiar 101 again, windows cracked to let the recently rain-washed wind blow through our hair.

Within the first 24 hours back I:

– Took a long, hot, glorious shower.

– Slept. Late. On a real mattress, with springs and everything.

– Watched It Might Get Loud for the hundredth time. Jimmy Page still outrocks them all… even Jack White.

– Walked to Trader Joe’s to restock my fridge. Looking forward to fresh broccoli sautéed in soy sauce, honey and ginger.

– Did primary series. On my Manduka (which, of course, I did not haul to Mysore, though the shala’s tile floor made me wish I had). The 9 rolls of garba pindasana never felt so good. Actually, after 22 hours on a plane, a 3-hour ride to the Bangalore airport, the drive from LAX/picking up the car in Long Beach, and god-knows-how-many hours in bed, the whole series felt good.

– Saw that the dosa truck is still parked on the corner every Wednesday. Don’t imagine I’ll have a hankerin’ for a while, though.

– Tried on my favorite jeans (which I also did not take to India, being my favorites and all) and discovered that, contrary to my usual travel MO, I actually put on a pound or two this trip. Damn you, India, with your ghee and sweets… and sweets made with ghee!!!  [ shakes fist at sky ]

– Noticed a new mural splashed across Circus of Books… Anthony Bourdain was here???

Still on the to-do list for this week:

– Start a flickr account and post the rest of my photos from India. Will post a notice here once it’s up.

– Laundry. Courtesy of Maytag. My clothes will finally be clean. Really clean. And my poor, dry, wrung-out hands will be conspicuously—and gratefully—absent from the process.

– Friday morning yoga at Runyon Canyon. Can. Not. Wait! Fingers, toes and eyes crossed that it doesn’t rain.

– The veggie taco and potato/cheese flautas at Pinche’s Tacos. It ain’t just the name that’s fresh!

– Meeting with my agency for a web gig for one of my favorite clients. I had a check waiting for me when I got back and work still coming in. Life is good.

– Pizza at the Rainbow. To be chased with a $5 shake that tastes like a $5 shake.

– Farmer’s market. Either Silver Lake’s on Saturday or Hollywood’s on Sunday. Probably the latter as I’m in need of more o’ that tasty, cold-packed honey they sell there.

India Sweets & Spices. And not for the spices.

Huh… even in LA, it’s all about the food for me. I guess it’s true that “wherever you go, there you are.” In any event, I’m glad to be back.

firsts and lasts

Posted in food, India, photos, yoga by Nancy on February 1, 2010

Last night was our last dinner at Aunty’s. Her uncle is sick so she has to go to Bangalore today and we won’t get to see her again before we leave. I was really glad we brought the sweets we got her last night instead of waiting until our last night here.

Turned out everyone else we had invited to “the last supper” decided to show up last night instead, as well. Almost everyone in our yoga class was there. Aunty was running around like the proverbial headless chicken trying to get us all served, but was clearly delighted to have all these new customers. We’ll both sorely miss Aunty and her fine south Indian food.

Earlier in the day, we had one last lunch with Elisa who’s just back from leading a photo tour through south India. The driver she hired for the tour started off by taking them to shiny, sanitized, touristy spots until she explained to him that, since this was a photo tour, they were after something with a bit more character. “Oh, you want old and broken!” he said. It was a request he had no problem accommodating.

We also batted around ideas with her for the upcoming ‘round-the-world Odanadi event (called “Yoga Stops Traffick”… wish I’d thought of the name) as D will be heading up the LA contingent. Then we were off to Devaraja Market for some last-minute shopping and to pick up the sweets for Aunty from Bombay Indra Bhavan… a shop she turned us onto. “They use ghee in everything!” she gushed. “Sold,” said I.

This morning’s was our last class with Iyengar.  We’re now sitting down to our last breakfast at the Mandala. We’ll also probably take our last rickshaw ride today. One last bucket bath. Have our last regularly scheduled power outage for a while. And hopefully it’s the last time for a very long time that I’ll have to get up at 4:30 in the morning. So many lasts.

But it was also my very first trip to India. And I have a brand spankin’ new appreciation for LA because of it. Looking forward to getting back to real life. In the Land of Make Believe.

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Scenes from our last morning in Mysore:


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the foreign legion

Posted in being human, India, yoga by Nancy on January 26, 2010

It’s taken about a week and a half (since my back injury), but Monday morning I got my chakrasana back! The first one I did in slow motion, but by the third, it was clean and relatively strong. I was also able to do the 9 rolls in Garba Pindasana without pain. Now if I could just get my jump-throughs back…

After practice, I pretty much slept the day away, apart from eating and hanging out at the Mandala café. There’s usually an interesting crowd over there, though… people from all over the world converging on little ol’ Mysore just to be yoga bums for a while. Aside from me and D, there are a few other Americans here right now (from Berkeley, Wisconsin and Seattle). Also several Aussies. A few Brits. An Italian. A couple of Swiss folks (who are not a couple). An Iranian girl who came to India to study yoga at university but dropped out and has been creating her own “curriculum” ever since. There’s an Israeli guy who’s been part of our morning coffee klatch, along with the hysterically funny Spaniard who desperately needs his own sitcom. Then there are 2 Icelandic guys who just showed up a few days ago (they’ve been traveling around India for 6 weeks and have covered a lot of ground in that short time) and are studying with Iyengar in the 7am time slot.

When we were planning this trip and trying to decide where we wanted to look for housing, D really wanted to be near the Mandala. I can see why. I mean, it’s great to live amongst the locals and all, but in India—or at least in Mysore—you’ll never really be an insider. Certainly not in a matter of months. So sometimes you just need to be with people you understand, who understand you. Who know what it’s like being a stranger in an even stranger land. And those are the people you’ll meet at the Mandala. The few, the proud, the fehringes.

We could have chosen to live in Gokulam, but it’s a very different scene up there (Gokulam is a Mysore suburb that grew up around Pattabhi Jois’ shala). It doesn’t appear to be flooded with white people, but it’s definitely set up for us. You can get a real latte there, French toast and sushi (not together), live in a clean flat with all the western conveniences, including A/C… and the locals—knowing full well which side their bread is buttered on—seem a bit more accepting of the white interlopers. I can see why so many western yogis enjoy it so much. It’s quite the little holiday up there. But then, that’s not really India, is it?

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the weekend that was

Posted in India, simple pleasures, yoga by Nancy on January 25, 2010

Friday 4:30am: Still sleeping. For a change. Iyengar added another time slot (7am) a few days ago to accommodate the influx of students, so we decided to try the later class thinking it wouldn’t be as crowded since most people didn’t seem to know about it yet. (It was only a slightly smaller group, but D and I were the most advanced practitioners in the room. I prefer to practice with people more experienced than I am… then I feel like I can slack if I want to.)

Friday 5:30pm: Aunty had mentioned today was a holiday (but a minor one, apparently, since no one was closing up shop). So when we arrived for dinner, the first thing she brought out was not piping hot chapatis, but a jasmine garland which she pinned in my hair (the customary holiday hair accessory).

Saturday 10am: Off to Gokulam and a going-away brunch at Anohki Gardens for our neighbors, Viola and Anna. Viola has been a constant source of entertainment and a veritable font of information—Shanthala calls her the BBC—during our stay. Good people.

Saturday noonish – Headed over to the Devaraja Market to pick up D’s pants at the tailor, shoot some more video and do some more shopping. D wanted to pick up some incense at a shop he’d been to back in 2006 that was run by a bunch of kids/teens. The same “kids” are still running the joint today:

left: April 2006 / right: January 2010

I bought some essential oils from them and we had a leisurely afternoon sipping chai and sniff-testing all the different scents they sell. Imran (the oldest) said their oils last all day because they’re not diluted with alcohol. He was being modest. Even after Sunday morning’s class, I still smelled like a perfume counter.

Sunday – Lazy. Like this (but with Gandhis instead of Hamiltons… and Laddu standing in for cupcakes).

best, worst and definitions

Posted in India, simple pleasures, yoga by Nancy on January 24, 2010

Well, our movie career has been postponed until further notice. Seems some dignitary decided to roll up to the Lalitha Mahal the morning of the shoot, so the film crew was forced to cancel. If they can reschedule during the week before we leave, we may yet get our big Bollywood break. Otherwise, it’s back to toiling in obscurity.

In the meantime, I’m compiling a list of the best and worst of Mysore, as well as an Iyengar-to-English dictionary. Here’s what I have so far:

Best Sweets — Varalakshmi Sweets & Tiffanys. Mom-n-pop (with son, Sunil) joint near JSS Hospital in swingin’, downtown Lakshmipuram. They always offer me samples, even of the things I’m already buying. Sugar pushers. Love ’em.

Best Meal — Dinner at Aunty’s. You get 2 or 3 vegetable dishes plus 3 chapatis for 50 rupees. And she keeps piling the veggies on your plate until you tell her to stop. Aunty rules.

Best Wildlife — Monkeys roaming—and thieving—freely through the city

Worst Wildlife — Mosquitos; there’s even a new mosquito-borne disease that resembles Dengue fever but isn’t… takes months to get over it.

Worst Inconveniences — Power outages all day long (though they’re at fairly regular intervals); parasites in the tap water; no washing machines (‘twould interfere with the dhobi wallahs’ gig)

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Iyengar dictionary:

“see the top” = look at the ceiling

“surround it” = bind the pose

“tie it back” = bind marichyasana A or B

“introduce the hands” = put your hands under your feet in padahastasana

“come to the position” = samasthiti

“roll on” = do chakrasana

“reverse the leg” = fold your leg out to the side for triyang mukha eka pada paschimottanasana

“get up!” = into utkatasana; or from garba pindasana into kukkutasana

“fold the knee” = bend your leg for utthita parshvakonasana

“arrange your head” = tilt your head back and put the crown on the ground for setu bandhasana, matsyasana, uttana padasana, etc.

“Right leg! Right leg!!” = could be any number of things he wants you to do with your right leg (or left) but isn’t telling you.

moon over Mysore

Posted in food, India, photos, things that make you say "whaaa?", yoga by Nancy on January 16, 2010

All the lunar shenanigans of late have made for one crazy week.

Starting with the yoga. Now, ashtanga ain’t for sissies. And when you practice every day for weeks at a time (and are no longer in your 20s), injuries are bound to happen. At Wednesday’s class (my 12th in a row), I pulled something in my lower back during supta kurmasana.  So I’ve been out of commission the past 3 days and probably will be again tomorrow. But Friday’s class was canceled anyway because of the new moon*, solar eclipse and the Makara Shankranthi holiday.

Makara Shankranthi is a harvest festival that starts January 14th and continues through the afternoon of the 15th. Rice and cows are the featured attractions, but the cows definitely get top billing. The locals wash the cows (mercifully) and paint them yellow (with the same powdered pigments they use to paint each other during other festivals), their horns and hooves painted red. Then they adorn them with flowers and bells, have them blessed in a “cow puja” and, for the grand finale, make them run through streets that have been lined with hay and  set ablaze. And these are the animals they like.

how bob became bessie:

looks like there should be a floating craps game going on in this alley… nope, just painting farm animals:

watch out fer them horns, cuz’:

Shankranthi Yellu

Aunty had invited us for a special festival lunch and served up my new favorite rice dish, pongal, made with jaggery (a natural sweetener) and raisins and/or cashews. Daniel hates the stuff so I ended up eating all of his, too. Aunty must’ve noticed he wasn’t shoveling it in as per usual and asked if he didn’t like the food. Fortunately, he had an alibi that satisfied her: he had been invited to a fire ceremony by his meditation teacher that morning and after the ceremony there was food (including pongal) so he had already eaten before we got to Aunty’s. When we left, she gave us a bag of seeds and nuts and sugar that was molded into little figurines. She said it’s prasad (blessed food) and it’s traditional to share it with friends and family.**

Later that evening, we went to Nagarathna’s Yogic Supplies for dinner. We had gone by her place earlier to check on an order Daniel had placed with her… part of the order had come in, but she had forgotten to place the other part. So when we returned for dinner, she told us that, because it was a holiday, she could not charge us for dinner (which was dee-lish, btw). I think it was more that she felt badly about having forgotten part of D’s order. But whatever… free meal!

Afterwards, her husband told us we should go to the Mysore Palace to see the festival spectacle… he said they would light the palace (which they usually only do on Sundays) and there would be music and a lot of people would be bringing their painted cows. “Good for snaps” (snapshots), he said. So we hired a rickshaw and headed over.

When we arrived, two little boys dressed like scouts (school uniforms?) greeted us and seemed to be trying to strike up a conversation to practice their English. Daniel offered them a few “country coins” (coins from one’s home country) and they went berserk over them. Later, one of the boys found us and thanked D for the coins. D thought it was odd that he would go to the trouble, but I told him the kid’s mom probably made him. Sure enough, we ran into them again at the Ganesh temple and his mom was with them. The kid went on to explain how “very, very old” the temple is and how “people from all over the world are coming to see it”. He’ll make a hell of a tour guide someday. (Like tomorrow.)

Anyway, as promised, the palace lights came on not long after we arrived and it is, indeed, quite the spectacle. Walt Disney would be proud:

But the unlit Palace is truly impressive, especially for dingy little Mysore (eat your heart out, Marie Antoinette):

It’s one of the few Mysore attractions that consistently make it into the India guidebooks. Daniel’s friend Sean is actually helping to organize a yoga event on the Palace grounds to benefit the Odanadi Project.*** The location alone should help them generate plenty of press.

Sean invited us to his house in Gokulam yesterday morning for his birthday breakfast bash. Great timing, since everything was closed for the holiday. And quite a spread—croissant, fruit salad, eggs, French toast, muesli, yogurt, chai, coffee—not to mention a gorgeous house. Seems accupuncturists can do a brisk business among the well heeled ashtangis who converge on Gokulam like lemmings to study with Sharath (Pattabhi Jois’ grandson and heir to the cult/throne).

Later, I went over to the Mandala for (another) fruit salad, but the café was closed (power outage). As I walked through the gate I found Kumar (the cook, whose wife makes some righteous chocolate candy), Shanthala and the rest of the staff out front, looking up at the sky through a piece of glass that had been painted black. They asked if I’d like to see. It was my very first solar eclipse. A phenomenon at once enchanting and hazardous to your health. Not unlike India herself.

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* No class on moon days is traditional in ashtanga yoga. The belief is that your body is more affected by the tides or gravitational pull or some such natural phenomenon during the new moon and full moon, so it’s best not to practice on those days. But Iyengar—because he is a workaholic or because he’s 83 and reckons he’d better make hay while the sun (or moon) shines—still teaches on full moon days, though not on new moon days. Personally, I don’t mind that a bit… my practice usually sucks during the new moon anyway, but during the full moon it positively rocks.

** Daniel was given some of the same stuff by his meditation teacher. D is his only western student.

*** In March, a few of the Odanadi girls will lead hundreds of hardcore ashtanga yogis through sun salutations on the Palace grounds, kicking off what they hope will be an internationally coordinated effort to benefit the Odanadi Project. (Last time Daniel was in Mysore, he produced the soundtrack for a documentary about the women and girls being helped by Odanadi.)

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day 8

Posted in being human, India, photos, simple pleasures, things that make you say "whaaa?", yoga by Nancy on January 9, 2010

We’ve just started our second week in Mysore yet it seems like we’ve been here much longer. I’m starting to feel like I have some sort of handle on this town and our yoga asana classes with BNS Iyengar add an element of routine to our time here. We’ve done full primary series* every day for the last 7. The class goes by fast, so we’re back home by 7am, but it’s pretty exhausting. Not unlike dealing with the locals.

There’s some ridiculous number of languages spoken in India but I’d bet not one of them has a word for “subtle”. With all the yoga pilgrimages made by westerners to Mysore, you’d think they’d be used to us. But they literally stop what they’re doing and stare, mouths agape (no matter how modestly we’re dressed, behaving, etc.), and little kids will follow us down the street just saying “hi” over and over until they get a response.  Of course, to them, all westerners are Donald Trump (which, relatively speaking, isn’t entirely off-base), so we’re forever having to haggle for a fair deal… which I kind of enjoy, but only up to a point. Sure, we could probably afford to pay 100 rupees for what should be a 20 rupee rickshaw ride. But it adds up. And D and I are among the few here who have rent to pay back home.

But just like anywhere else, there are gems among the locals, too. Like Aunty, who serves the best food in town at the most ridiculously low prices ($1 for dinner with chai) with genuine, aunty-like hospitality. And Shanthala, who found us our apartment and wrote me a letter of reference for the cell phone company  that I’ll never put to use (more on that later). Even random strangers, like the guy who stopped us on our way home from class to ask where we were from and, when we told him, said, “Welcome to Mysore.” And meant it.

There’s a lot of filth and grime, but there’s a lot of almost otherworldly beauty here, too. The colors and patterns of the saris the women wear (even to herd sheep in). The Muslim call to prayer that we hear 4 or 5 times a day, every day, even during our walk to the yoga shala in the pre-dawn hours. The choir and organ music that accompany the mass at a nearby Catholic church, which I can hear as I type this. The vibrance of the Devaraja Market, where flowers, fruits, veggies, ceremonial paints, incense and essential oils bombard the senses. The graphics and package design of the beedies (hand-rolled cigarettes) you can buy on the streets.

Fine College, Ghaffar, and Ganesh brand beedis:

And then there are the flowers.

They have a thing for flowers here. Mainly a religious thing, I think, but a definite “thing” nonetheless. Every morning, the landlord of the bungalows where we’re staying sets a fresh flower on each windowsill. And flower wallahs with their giant, saucer-like baskets of blossoms already strung into garlands roam the neighborhoods at daybreak like some kind of trippy-hippy door-to-door salesmen. One of them greeted us as we came home from class the other morning and handed me a rose… which I set on the windowsill next to the narcissus(?) that was already there. Even BNS Iyengar hopped on his scooter after class that same morning cradling a rose (or was it a peony?) in his hand.

windowsill flowers:

crazy heart-shaped flower blooming from the banana tree that grows between our apartment and the Mandala:

Back to the cell phone… I thought it would be handy to have one here. I already had the unlocked GSM phone so all I needed to get was the Indian SIM card. Easier said than done. We went to the Airtel store last week and they told me I needed to bring them a copy of my passport and a letter of reference (Shanthala told me this was because of terrorism…???). Anyway, we went to see “3 Idiots” the other day and since the theatre was next door to Airtel, I figured I’d stop in and get the cell taken care of. Gave them the photocopy and the letter Shanthala wrote for me and they gave me a stack of SIM cards to choose my number from. Then they asked me for a passport sized photo. The copy wasn’t enough. And eventually, they would ask me to fill out a mile-long form, probably in triplicate. I gave up. We left and Daniel was laughing on the way out, muttering, “Bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West!” Which pretty much sums up trying to get anything productive done here. Lesson learned. I shall remain unproductive for the duration of my stay.

Except for the “movie-making”. As promised, here are a few videos we put together over the past week… enjoy:

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* There are around 60 or 70 poses plus vinyasas—the transitions between the poses—in the ashtanga primary series. Then you can go on to the intermediate and advanced series if you’re a serious masochist. Here are the seated and finishing poses of primary series (sun salutations and standing poses not shown):

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greetings from the subcontinent

Posted in film, food, India, photos, yoga by Nancy on January 3, 2010

Well, we finally made it to Mysore. 22 hours on a plane is sheer hell on the body, but Lufthansa was at least civilized enough to keep us well fed. We didn’t arrive in Bangalore until 2am (Jan. 2nd) and once we made it through passport control and the gauntlet of private guides and “official” cab drivers, it was 3am, so we didn’t have a whole lot of choice in accommodations. We got to Bangalore, the city proper, a little before 4am and ended up staying at a place the cabbie knew of that was about as expensive as a Comfort Inn in the states but really posh by Indian standards, with Beverly Hills-style service and a nice (free) breakfast buffet that was remarkably similar to the buffet at my favorite Indian joint in DC. I do love me some south Indian grub.

The next morning (and by “next” I mean 5 hours later) we had to take the train to Mysore. Getting tickets was a major ordeal, complete with 4 different lines to stand in and forms to fill out. We met some nice fellow travelers (one of whom taught us some Kannada, the language most people speak in Mysore) while waiting for the train, and were even fed on the 2+ hour ride (and given bottled water). We won’t be going hungry this trip, that’s for sure.

Got into Mysore the afternoon of the 2nd and Shanthala (who runs the Mysore Mandala, where Daniel studied last time he was here) had found us a flat next door with everything we asked for (except we never could get the internet to work well, so I’m using the wifi at the Mandala). That night we found out the place had 4 squatters… really fast, well-fed Indian cockroaches. (What do you want for $140 a month? The Ritz Carlton?) Anyway, Daniel dispensed with them quickly and word must’ve spread among the local roach community because we haven’t seen another one since (knock on wood).

We’ve found lots of good (safe) places to eat, most notably Aunty’s. She serves breakfast, lunch and dinner out of her home near where we’re studying yoga. A full meal with chai is only 50 rupees (about a dollar, US) and REALLY tasty. Can’t beat that. Aunty is a character, too, totally wrapped up in TV and Indian popular culture… probably subscribes to whatever their version of the Enquirer is.

After our first dinner at Aunty’s, we went down the street and found the house/shala where BNS Iyengar is teaching now. We registered for classes and started yesterday. Iyengar is crusty but cool. His class is really fast paced and he gives a lot of adjustments, which is pretty impressive considering he’s in his 80s. And he teaches 7 days a week. I’ll probably be skipping once or twice…

We’re going to try to find “the” female tailor in Gokulam who is reputed to be true to her word (apparently a rarity among tailors here) and actually finishes your clothes when she says she will. After clothes shopping, we might take in a movie… some friends from LA have a friend starring in a big Indian blockbuster that’s out right now called “3 Idiots”. We walked by the theatre yesterday and the line was wrapping around the building. Maybe the crowds will be lighter during the week.

That’s all for now… more to come. Happy belated New Year!

Daniel on the balcony of our hotel room in Bangalore:

the train station in Bangalore:

Best. Fruit salad. Ever. (with chai and dosa, a whopping $2)

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