Note: For those who are not familiar with Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma, she is a very famous Indian spiritual guru. I call her « the hug lady » since her darshan, the way she physically engages with her disciples and enthusiasts or with anyone curious about the all thing, is by giving them hugs.
I left Bangalore in the morning and boarded a train for quite a few hours again. There was a big storm outside in the afternoon that freshened the air and was a pleasant distraction during this long journey.
When I got off the train at the station near the Ashram where my Austrian friends were staying I found that there were no autos that day, India being « closed ». In Kerala, where I had arrived, I could now understand what it really meant. Almost everyone in Kerala was on strike and « closed » seemed indeed to be the right term. Not a single shop open, no auto driver trying to get you in their vehicle, barely a soul around… except for an army of motorcyclists offering you to ride on the back of their two-wheelers – improvised free-lance taxis. Although I knew it was possible to ride in such a way, I was quite new to the whole drive-around-on-a-motorbike-with-two-backpacks-and-a-guitar business and decided to save this solution as a last resort.
An odd looking Italian guy had gotten off the same train as mine and was obviously also aiming for the ashram. He had been to India countless times. We joined forces and decided to share an auto – if we could find one. He was absolutely determined NOT to get a ride on a motorcycle, convinced it would be to awkward with his backpack. It sounded like a rather European judgement. He had only one single piece of luggage -quite awesome one, coming straight from the 80′- and taking it on the back of a bike seemed completely feasible to me. But since I had said I would stick with him, I stayed. We started to walk away from the station and a few scouts from the motorcycle army followed us, confident that we would give up after a few hundreds meters at most. The price of the ride they were offering was dropping by 50 rupees every 100 meters.
I suggested that we tried hitchhiking. He laughed. I took no notice and tried to hitchhike without any success the few hitchable vehicles around – most of the rare vehicles passing us were motorcycles. We reached the town center and had no clue where to go and if the ashram was far away or not. The locals didn’t give us very satisfying directions either. We didn’t know what to do next and that’s exactly when I managed to stop a nice looking-car. I explained to the woman at the wheel that we were trying to go to the ashram but that there were no autos around. I asked if she could drop us off and said we could give her something for the petrol. « I would but I can’t. I’m on my way to work » she said. She paused for a few seconds then added. « Actually, come with me. I’ll try to figure something out for you from my office. » We climbed in and found out a few minute later that her « office » was in fact the high court, since she was the head magistrate.
We were offered breakfast several times, which we always refused. The magistrate called the police to ask if it was ok for someone from the court to drive us to the ashram – the auto drivers were actually legally forbidden to take us, from what I understood, so she wanted to make sure that what she was doing was legal. The police said it was fine and actually… picked us up after a while, after we had a chat with a few men in robes and witnessed he beginning of the day’s session.
They drove us to the police station first and asked us friendly questions. We had no clue why we were told to wait some more. The car was not here yet, they said at some point. But when a man holding a camera came out of a jeep we got a better understanding of the situation. I suppose they were filming us to show how heroic the local police was saving helpless Westerners by giving them a ride. After that, they were finally ready and drove us to the ashram. Police, high court and waiting time included, it tool us a good two hours to get there.
The Italian guy was grinning the whole time. In the court while some of the men in robe were asking us questions (the most enthusiastic of them offered to take us to his place for lunch and to then drive us to the ashram, after he was finished with his job), he said, quite amazed « wow, this is incredible! Look at us, in the high court! ». I smiled and thought to myself « Well, stick with me and your life will turn out this way every other day ».
The policemen left us at the bridge that Amma had constructed a few years ago on the Kerala backwaters. The ashram was not at all what I was expecting – tall pinkish concrete buildings. You do need them to accommodate the numerous people who come to see Amma from all over the world.
The little pink bridge over the backwaters – the building at the back is NOT the ashram!
As soon as I got there I found my friends Julia and Simon. They had been to the ashram before. As for me, I had only heard from Amma once or twice from them, that’s all. Although I was curious about the ahsram and its guru, my first motivation was to spend some more time with my friends. I was to have a very interesting and intense time there, as well as a gorgeous view over the Kerala backwaters from my building. And it all starting in a rather unusual way – the Italian guy and I being delivered to Amma’s ashram by the police.
(taking pictures at the ashram is forbidden, so the few pictures I have from my time there were taken at a nearby beach)