Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The coolest thing that I learned in Mysore

The coolest thing that I learned in Mysore has actually nothing to do with yoga, although perhaps in a way it does. It's something that I had not planned to learn at all. I might have daydreamed about it on some occasions but the possibility seem so remote that I had not made any plans or any efforts in that direction.

There are many yoga teachers all around Mysore and many places where to eat and hang out with friends. During my first three months in Mysore I used to move all around the city by rickshaw (tuc-tuc or three-wheeler), it was annoying but it was fine cause I didn't see any other possibility. It was actually my unconscious fears that were stopping me from even thinking about another means of transportation.

When my friend Joffrey from France left he said to me "Marco, you can take my scooter, it's freedom!" I thought about it just for a little while but I said "No, thanks." I couldn't imagine myself driving a scooter, specially in India where there seem to be no rules and where people drive on the "wrong" side of the road. On top of that I had not even driven a car for about six years.

Finding the inspiration to overcome my fears

But later Melissa invited me for a small motorcycle road trip along with Alexis, Arun, Nico and James. Without any shame I told them that I would be happy to join but that I didn't even know how to drive a scooter. Fortunately they still wanted me to come so I became the official road trip photographer cause I was the only one riding as a passenger.

It was a great fun, one of my best days in Mysore and it was during this trip that I realized how amazing it could be to drive a motorcycle, such a sense of freedom and adventure. By the time that the road trip was over I was already determined that I was going to learn how to drive a motorcycle and hopefully do some more road trips. But first, as Nico suggested, I had to learn how to drive a scooter.

You can read about Melissa's experience getting a motorcycle in India and about the road trip on her blog post Sticking it to the 'men'

I learned how to ride a scooter

With Deepak at the Shtalam8 altar
The next day I asked my friend Ashka to give me a lesson and believe it or not one day after I was already riding my own scooter in Mysore. I got one from Deepak, the super nice cook of Shtalam8. Well, it's actually quite simple to drive a scooter but still I was terrified the first couple of days. [Mom, Dad, please don't panic, I was always wearing a helmet and I drove safely following all the rules, but of course in India there are no rules]

I learned as well that an easy way to overcome your fears is to say "Yes" when somebody challenges you to do something that you don't feel ready to do. During my first day on the scooter I joined Melissa, Alexis and Nico for a drive around Mysore. That was a big challenge, specially when we reached the city center and even more challenging when it got dark and rainy, but since I had to follow them all the time it was easy to forget about my fears, I was more focused on trying not to stay behind. By the end of the day, after a whole day of driving, I was already feeling so much comfortable on the scooter.

On my second day on the scooter Ashka asked me to go to Chamundi Hills and a couple of days later we even did a 100 km trip to Madikeri, Coorg. Deepak got a bit upset and worried when he found out, we had to call him from Coorg because the police stopped us on our way back. We had no license and on top of that we had the wrong scooter papers.

I learned how to ride a motorcycle

But my intention was to go even bigger, I didn't want to stay in a scooter, I wanted a motorcycle. So a few days later I asked Melissa for a lesson and in just 45 min she taught me how to ride a motorcycle using her Pulsar. By the end of the lesson I was at least able to go twice around the block.

I was really excited about getting my own motorcycle right after but unfortunately I couldn't find one to rent, I looked for a whole week until I gave up. Then I had to leave to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks and when I came back to India I had desisted on the idea, I just wanted to get a scooter. But the universe works in mysterious ways and instead of finding a scooter I found a motorcycle for rent at the Chakra House in Gokulam.

Paralyzed by fear

It was actually exactly the same motorcycle that Melissa was driving before and that I used for learning, the 150 cc Black Pulsar, but somehow it looked two times bigger. I was not mentally prepared anymore, the fear was paralyzing me, I could feel my heart rate increase and the nervousness in my whole system. How could I rent a motorcycle after just a 45 min lesson that happened like three weeks before? And I had been driving a scooter for only a week. I hesitated for a while. I had to tell Rajesh, the owner of the Pulsar, that I needed to take some time to think but when I returned to the Chakra House, just half an hour later, I was decided.

With Rajesh at the Chakra House
"Do you know how to drive?" Rajesh asked me. "Of course I do," I answered trying to believe my own words. I left with the Pulsar hoping that Rajesh wouldn't notice that I had no idea of what I was doing. I went straight back to that same place where I drove it for the first time, which was fortunately nearby, and I practiced again for an hour or so before hitting the main roads.

One of the highlights of my life

A few days later Ashka said "let's go to Ooty!" And I was like "Are you crazy? I hardly know how to drive this thing" (we drove before 35km to Brindavan Gardens). Still I asked "How many kilometers is it?" She said "Only 75 km." Much easier compared to the trip to Coorg, I thought so I said "Ok, let's do it! Maybe we can come back the same day."

When we were already on the road we discovered that it was actually 175 km! I'm glad that I didn't know that in advance otherwise I probably wouldn't have dare to do this trip, but for sure I would have say "No way!" if I would have known about the "36 hairpin bends (a U-shaped bend in a road)," the craziest curves that I've ever seen on a road.

Photo courtesy of Nayan Patel

Photo courtesy of Nayan Patel
We had to drive through this 36 hairpin bends going uphill just before reaching Ooty. Each bend is enumarated (36/36, 35/36, 34/36...) and there is a mirror at the edge of each bend to be able to see if there are any cars coming on the other side. This just made the route a lot more intimidating for me. I was super focused and hoping the bike wouldn't stall. I think I hold my breath during each bend, definitely the biggest challenge ever and specially considering that I had a passenger on the back sit.

It took us six hours to get there but we made it to Ooty without any issues, such an amazing experience, for sure one of the highlights of my life. We had a really great time, the landscapes were fantastic, driving through the Tiger Reserve felt like going through a safari and Ooty is just a beautiful place to visit. Of course we didn't drive back the same day but instead decided to stayed there for two nights to have some time to explore Ooty.

A new challenge, a new adventure

While I was still practicing yoga in Mysore I thought that it would be great to end my six months of intense Ashtanga Yoga practice with a long motorcycle road trip around India. I shared my plans with Ashka (now living in Cambodia) and she said, "Why don't you better come to Cambodia and do a motorcycle road trip here? You already know India but you have never seen Cambodia." After hesitating for a while I said "Ok, let's do it!" An so we did: A Motorcycle Road Trip in Cambodia

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