"I wonder what would happen if I treated everyone like I was in love with them, whether I like them or not and whether they respond or not and no matter what they say or do to me and even if I see things in them which are ugly twisted petty cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept all that and turn my attention to some small weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on that until it shines like a beam of light like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust it to burn away all the waste which is not never was my business to meddle with."
~ Ivor Smith-Cameron, "An Exploration Into God"
I'm sitting in the Chennai airport, waiting for a flight to Delhi and then on to Varanasi. I've left Tiruvannamalai, known as Tiru, after six fine weeks of spiritual teachings, fruit-muesli-curd-honeys and holy nonsense. Stories, incomplete and confusing, accompany the photos below.
This lovely looking gentleman with the kind eyes was at the Chennai train station.
Some of the best eats in Tiru: Paratha Corner. They can whip up some good grub and it's always under a $1.
At the annual Pongol Festival women decorate doorsteps with chalk designs. This is an unusual one.
A bizarre photo of a sunset.
One particular day of the Pongol festival the cows are decorated.
Bike race! I was all set, ready for blast-off, and when the whistle blew everyone came out at a snail's pace. Turns out the contest was to see who could take the longest to finish without falling off their bike.
The very groovy and relatively expensive Dreaming Tree. Such a nice place to hang out. Much money was dropped here - relatively speaking. ($4.50 for breakfast? Outrageous!)
This was my view for the last six weeks. We were studying Vedanta, or non-dual teachings. Don't know? Don't ask! (But here's a hint: You think you're separate. You're not.)
An early morning walk to one of the two caves that Ramana Maharshi meditated in for a total of 17 years. The massive temple complex in the distance is in the center of Tiruvannamalai, and dedicated to Shiva.
That's Ivet, who I traveled with in France this summer, sitting in Ramana's cave.
A combination motorcycle/pickup truck.
These oxen get a fresh coat of paint on Pongol.
This is in the center of Ramana Ashram, a temple dedicated to Ramana Maharshi, one of the modern saints of India. He died in 1950.
I heard that jester's hats were designed after someone saw these painted horns. And by "heard," I mean, "made up."
I rented a 1960's 50-pound bicycle the whole six weeks I was here, and rode past these kids most days. Adorable.
This little kitchen-shop-on-wheels is best appreciated in motion. All the pots are hanging off the back of the motorbike.
A stereotypical south Indian meal, served on a banana leaf. You eat with your hands - but only your right hand. You use your left hand for other things, like going to the toilet. This meal costs 75 US cents.
The entrance to the ashram where the banana leaf lunch is served daily.
This giant was inside the huge temple complex that we saw from a distance above. He's trained to take a coin or a bill then "bless" you by bopping you on the head with his trunk. I got bopped.
Lighting candles as an offering.
Zohar from Israel and Ivet from Holland get their turn as celebrities. Many photos and smiles were shared!
Spiritual sacrifice or lice - you can't be sure!
OK, people! On the count of three, raise your hands! (Hey - it worked!)
This photo looks posed by I actually took it from my hip as he was spinning around. I don't know what his story is, but you see people like this so often you kind of give up wondering.
The celebrities basking in their celebrity-ness!
This sweet kid took our shoes while we were in the temple.
On full moon (seen in the distance) there's around 400,000 people who walk the 14 km (8.5 miles) around the sacred mountain of Arunachala. It's been a holy mountain for thousands of years, but apparently this tradition started only in the 1990's when it was made famous in an Indian movie.
Snicky-snacks for the peripatetic road warriors.
Do I love this kid? Guess.
Just next to this little building I watched them making bricks out of earth and mud. I couldn't tell what this was, and a local told me they'll wait until the bricks have thoroughly dried and then they'll light the whole thing on fire to harden the bricks. That's why there are pieces of wood stacked inside the structure. Then it will be dismantled and the bricks sold off.
I wonder if this is this guy's "mirror face." Maybe he always looks like this? He befriended me when I was hanging out before a funeral procession started.
An older man, being prepared for burial here, and his sister bought some medicine from a street vendor a day or two before this. They took the medicine at the same time, and within 20 minutes they were unconscious with blood coming out of their mouths, and died.
They had matching funeral cars decorated with flowers to take them to the burial ground. I was told they were buried and not cremated - but I don't know why. Hindus are usually cremated.
The women were really crying and wailing and showing their grief in the most dramatic way. It seemed almost like a ritual; maybe this is what you do when you grieve in this culture.
The procession moves away, with some people walking behind.
Most of the women came back, and some of them were just beside themselves. I felt like a schmuck taking these photos, so I pretended like I was a journalist or something. A schmucky journalist.
The flowers are pulled from the car and scattered on the ground as it goes. In front of the procession giant firecracks are exploded.
A beautiful sunset one night as some local people tend to their goats and chat.
An amazing moth landed on a screened window.
I visited an orphanage just near where the teachings were held, which I only found out about at the end of my time here. It's for children with HIV. Apparently 30 of the 35 kids are HIV positive. I only visited them once and didn't get many details.
The facilities looked quite clean and well maintained. The kids were obviously well into yoga, and others were taking karate classes.
HIV positive or not, they're just kids - beautiful kids!
It was a full-on scrum visiting them. Everyone wanted to show off their particular skill. "Uncle, watch this! Uncle, watch what I can do!"
You can't see the reason for the squirming. It's not cold water - it's the fish pedicure that you get, like it or not. This little lake/pond is spring fed and really refreshing on a hot day. That's Lawrence on the left, and Andy and Janine on the right, who were also at Anandwan this year.
Hippies? In India! Who knew! But I'm kidding, partially. This beautiful young woman was really talented with these fire doo-dad thingy's.