By Addy Carpenter
Flying to India was like being in a sensory deprivation room. There was no way to tell what hour it was. Your body didn’t understand the concept of time. Knowing when you were hungry was strangely a chore for your already fleeting self-awareness, and soon it was like having a fever. Your mind giving up on everything else besides understanding the compulsions of wakefulness and sleep. Twenty-four hours of propulsion in a metal can will do that to you.
Our first nineteen hours of listlessness discontinued when we landed in Hong Kong, China where we enjoyed an hour of freedom to savor a cup of coffee and let our previously lethargic bodies celebrate their ability to stretch and lengthen through the ancient practice of yoga, secreted between the rows of chairs where we awaited our flight to Singapore. You could tell we were getting closer to India because of how the airports began to smell like India does. And while in Hong Kong, we found the smell of that perfume particular to India.
Getting off the plane in Singapore was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air as they keep the city very clean and have a lot of laws that prevent some types of pollution. What started as the creeping essence of India in the air became more fragrant with the smell of motor oil. It was enjoyable to smell something so similar but, at the same time, very different from India. Since we were so lucky to have a 5-hour layover in Singapore, we took our time to enjoy the beauty of the art that decorated the airport. There were gardens covering the walls, and a tropical garden and sitting area in the middle of the airport. A lot of the art was by local artists but there was also a lot of art from around the world. Singapore the city was just as clean and beautiful as the airport. This cleanliness is the result of the strict rules they have about trash and litter. Most of the buildings were pearly white and there were many that had clothing flapping in the wind as they dried on the terrace. The air was sweet and the sky a clear blue as we rushed along in the posh taxis. The driver was sweet, the seats leather, and the car featured the same high tech equipment police vehicles have (don’t ask me how I know that ;).)
Our first destination was the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It was a temple that hailed Shiva but the most mesmerizing thing about it was the murals. The rainbow of colors and the perfect way they shaded the paintings made you able to see the soul of the god through their eyes. They plastered the walls and decorated the ceilings, trying to remind us that the Divine is all around us. Even more depictions of the Hindu gods surrounded us in the form of statues piled on the top of the square building that housed the main shrine for Shiva. As per usual for Hindu shrines, he was draped with strings of marigolds and various other flowers that pooled at his feet. The entire temple floor was speckled white marble lending a truly sacred feeling to the place. Such love and care that blanketed it clearly showed what a sacred place it was.
Next we took a jaunt in Chinatown, devouring several plates of dumplings before continuing on to the Tooth Relic Museum. It was less a museum and more a temple, and a Buddhist temple at that which displayed the supposed tooth of the late bodhisattva. It was encased in a gold brick and was worshipped thoroughly. This temple was 4 stories tall. The ground floor opened to beautiful embroidered tapestry of dragons, a case of crystals, and a crystal ball used to cleanse your energy before continuing on. The whole temple was decked out in red carved wood and gold embossing. The walls were covered in embroidered hangings with bats for good luck and grades for strength. We gave our thanks to spirit, raising our right hand to the ceiling, then touching the threshold, then our third eye, and crossed over into the main room.
Small statues of Buddhas lined the walls — 10,000 actually because the other name of this temple is the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas. There were 4 main monks chanting so fast and consistently it seemed as if they didn’t take a breath. Local people from Singapore were there chanting along with the monks. The monks were dressed in the traditional yellow and orange with the less experienced wearing black and brown. There was also a full-on beautiful tropical garden on the roof with a Tibetan prayer wheel 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Our plane to Trivandrum, India was a small older plane that still had cigarette ash trays. It was like being rattled around in a coffee can. The trip out of the small airport was fast and efficient, and we quickly learned that Indian people would rather you short them money then have you spend the time to dig it out of your wallet. It’s also a great way to avoid paperwork and hoops they want you to jump through. Just start digging into your bag furiously and they’re bound to give you a free pass.
It was great to step down on solid ground after a combined 23 hours of flying. Finally being able to take in the smell of India: something burning, gasoline, exhaust and a earthy wet concrete-like smell. It was home. We approached the exit and walked through a gauntlet of colorful ecstatic families awaiting their loved ones. It was electric, the excitement for the entry of their family and their curiosity about us. They all seemed a little stunned to see us popping out of the airport. Our driver met us out front and we sped off to where our heads were destined to rest at The Royal Heritage hotel and spa in Trivandrum.