Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 21-23, 2017

Saraswati Gardens

I’ve stopped by Saraswati Garden twice since I’ve been in Amritapuri. The plants have grown so much since I left the ashram in January. Some of the marigolds are now six feet tall!

(You can click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Fruit bat

As dusk approached on Tuesday, Kumuda and I were walking down the back stairs of the building where we both live. As we looked below us, we saw a group of people gazing up into a tree. There was also a lot of movement in the tree.

We suspected that they were watching fruit bats. Moments later, bats began flying in and out of the tres. The bats coming towards the tree were carrying round objects that were bright yellow or orange. We wondered if those objects were small oranges. Whenever the ashram elephant is brought to the courtyard on darshan days, devotees buy fruit from the juice stall to feed it. Maybe the devotees were buying oranges for the bats. That explanation seemed far fetched but we had no other.

This was our first view of a bat from the stairs. (It is towards the left side in both pictures. It started opening its wings in the second photo.)

Once we reached the ground, we joined the group who had gathered at the bottom of the tree. I watched one of the fruit bats moving through the tree in a way that reminded me of a monkey. It even looked like it had hands. The video below gives some idea of what I saw.

Crows and Pappadams

At one point during the Tuesday prasad lunch (the day when Amma gives everyone lunch), I looked up and saw six crows perched in a line towards the top of the auditorium. The crows were intently watching the activity below. If one saw an opportune moment, it would swoop down and take a pappadam off of someone’s plate. I saw several crows with partial pappadams in their mouths so maybe they were stealing pappadams from each other as well. When I looked up five or ten minutes later, all of the crows were gone. Perhaps they were feasting on their plunder. (The photo of pappadams came from Wikimedia.)


Thursday is opening day for the new café. They closed the cafe about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday and started moving all the equipment to the new building. I imagine the kitchen staff stayed up most or all of the night putting the new place together. I wanted to help but knew my help would be limited by the splint on my injured wrist.

A story about an Indian squirrel that helped build the Rama Setu bridge kept coming to my mind. I blogged about that story last year:

Many years ago, at the the end of the programs in each city on Amma‘s North American tour, there was an announcement that contained a story about a squirrel who contributed to the building of the Rama Setu bridge. The squirrel participated by rolling in the sand and then going to the end of the bridge and shaking the sand off, chanting the name of Lord Rama throughout the process. It completed this process over and over.

Lord Rama rewarded the squirrel by picking him up and stroking his back. From then on, this type of squirrel had three stripes on its back, stripes that went from head to tail. The stripes are seen as Lord Rama’s fingers. At Amma’s programs, this story was used to teach that everything we do to contribute makes a difference.

I remember thinking that what was called a squirrel in the story must be what we call a chipmunk. Since then, I have learned that the squirrel is a palm squirrel and it the same size as a large chipmunk.

I was determined to find a way to support the effort. I saw that the counters and shelves in the new building were covered with a heavy layer of construction dust. I found a small bucket of water and a rag and started washing down the counters with my good hand. Often there were hoses, boards and other construction materials on the counters. I had to wipe around those, but I was helping! I washed the surfaces for a couple of hours and then had dinner. After dinner I came back and did some more.

When I returned, I discovered a lot of the construction materials had been moved so it was now possible to wash many of the surfaces completely. Also, enough of the dust and other debris had been removed by the first cleaning that we were able to use soapy water with the next round. Soon the beautiful counter tops were in full view. I was so happy to have found a way to help.

On Thursday morning there will be a puja to mark the opening of the new cafe. I will share about that in my next “Living and Learning in Amritapuri” post.

Ganesh sculpture

Ganesh’s birthday celebrations begin this Friday. (Ganesh is the aspect of God who removes obstacles.) The Ganesh statue is being sculpted at the ashram this year. I don’t know where that work is occuring, but I found this photo on the Amritapuri Facebook page. There will be 11 days of celebration and then the statue will be carried to the Arabian Sea, immersed, and the sea will take it.


There have been many days since I have been in Amritapuri where it has stayed clear all day. In the days surrounding the eclipse, however, it poured many times. I don’t know if there was any relation between the two events, especially since the eclipse was on the other side of the world, but I wondered if that was a possibility. It is so much cooler on days it has rained. I wish it rained every day!


Last night, as I was walking towards the building I live in, I noticed that the sky was a brilliant red. I rushed to the elevator and took it to the 14th floor to see if I could see the sunset in its full glory. By the time I got there, however, the sky was no longer red. It was still a beautiful sight though.

Later, I found a photo of the sunset on the Amritapuri Facebook Page. It wasn’t red then either, but the colors were more vivid than when I last saw a few minutes later.

Sunrises and sunsets are so beautiful here. I should make a point of looking at them more often.


When I visit Amritapuri, so many synchronous things happen. A really good example of that occurred two days ago. This is the first time I’ve come to India in August in more than a decade. I usually arrive towards the end of  November and stay until January. My main reason for picking that time is the Christmas musical that is performed each year on Christmas Eve.

My daughter writes the scripts and co-directs the plays and my son and his friends compose many of the tunes, provide the instrumentation and work with the singers. I feel so proud of them and wouldn’t want to miss the event. Besides it is such an exciting time to be at the ashram. There is only three weeks time for the actors and dancers to learn their roles and for the costumes, backdrops and many other aspects of the play to be created. The energy at the ashram during that time is electric.

My desire to surprise Sreejit and Chaitanya by showing up at the ashram at a time when they would never suspect I was coming and my desire to participate in the three festivals (Krishna and Ganesh’s birthdays and Onam) won over my  desire to see the play this December. I considered the possibility of coming to India twice but that solution seemed unlikely.

A few days ago, Chaitanya said she hoped I decided to come again for the play. I gave reasons why that wasn’t likely to happen, money being one of them. When I woke up the next morning, there was an email from a neighbor in Seattle saying that she  needed to move out of the house she has lived in for the last ten years and someone had told her that I might rent her a room in my house. She needs a place to stay from October until the second week in January.

I haven’t rented a room to anyone for about five years but it wasn’t lost on me that if I did that, I would have the money I needed to go back to India in December. Also, the person that usually stays in my house when I am traveling may be in India himself this December, so having her living there would be helpful. If those two things weren’t synchronistic enough, this all occurred within a week of me writing a post saying that I needed to work on being more interdependent as opposed to overly-independent. Having a roommate would certainly facilitate that process. What could do but laugh?

I don’t know whether or not she will decide to rent from me, but if she does I will consider coming back to India to see this year’s play.

To view the previous posts in this series click here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny

When I think of Ooh, Shiny, I think of:

… flowers in India

… flowers in Seattle

… microscopic photos of flowers

… fruit from my garden

… and Kavita and Meera’s beautiful Navaratri altar

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

My Echinacea Plant is Thriving

Last summer, I purchased my first echinacea plants. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching this one grow. It gets more sun than the other two and the difference is remarkable. One attribute that I find fascinating is that it has blossoms in so many stages of development at the same time. I am also enjoying the fact that the plant has at least four times the number of flowers-in-the-making than it did last year.

None of these flowers are fully developed yet. I look forward to showing you what it becomes. I also am anticipating looking at the flowers under the microscope. The shots I took last year were spectacular.

Daily Prompt: Snack

Last week, I went to Amma’s programs in Chicago and Atlanta. I had been enjoying eating the strawberries from my garden for about two weeks beforehand. When I returned home, I was surprised to see there were still strawberries available, and ripe blueberries as well. In fact, there were more blueberries than there has ever been on that little bush. Together they made a perfect snack.


Mother Nature’s Creation

I’ve been so involved in the Greenbelt restoration work that I’ve given my front yard garden very little attention. I’m loving how Mother Nature filled in the gap and made it beautiful in her own way.

For the last few years I have planted five or six pansies in the garden. Occasionally one has come back after the winter. This year, though, pansies of all colors have sprung up throughout the garden. There are so many of them! It seems so strange since that has never happened before.

Many of the blooms are withering but the combination of  colors are still beautiful.

I had an early bloom on one of the squash plants……..

…. but so far there isn’t any squash. The plants seem healthy but I haven’t seen both male and female blooms on any variety and I haven’t seen any bees. I will hand fertilize when that becomes possible.

The Lazy Susan plant and the Echinacea plants have buds. I look forward to seeing their flowers.

There is a seemingly endless supply of lemon balm and peppermint.

Thank you Mother Nature for all that you do for me, and for the world. You are a paragon of compassion and an artist that has no equal.






Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match

Every time I thought about “A Good Match,” my mind went back to a 2013 photo. I felt a sense of fascination when I first saw this tromboncino squash…. and I am still fascinated by it. To me it is the epitome of a good match.


Tromboncino squash are considered summer squash and are used in the same way as zucchini.

What I find most interesting about this form of squash, though, is that if you allow it to continue to grow, it will turn into a winter squash. In that process, it changes color and the skin becomes hard. The inside becomes sweet and reminds me of acorn squash. I really love eating it at that point.

I also love how big the squash grows. This one was five feet long!


(I took the photo above by taking a picture of myself in a mirror. My arms weren’t long enough to take it facing me. Besides, in 2013, I probably didn’t even know what a selfie was!)

This and That

I’ve been wanting to provide updates on subjects I’ve written about in the past, so I decided to publish a This and That post.


Those of you who followed my recent journey to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India may remember that in January I was wondering why these “caterpillars” didn’t eat the Saraswati Garden plants. I’m used to seeing caterpillars demolish plants.

Two readers informed that the creatures weren’t caterpillars; they were centipedes. I had never considered that possibility. As I look closely at the photo above, I can see all of the legs, but I sure didn’t see them at the time.

I saw a centipede in Amritapuri two years ago. I remember it moved so fast that it left me speechless.


That one was more like centipedes I’ve seen in the United States. I had no idea that centipedes could be brightly colored. Those readers also told me that centipedes don’t eat plants; they are carnivorous. Their diet consists primarily of insects and spiders.


While I was in Amritapuri, crosswalks were painted on the street down the beach road. I saw about a mile of them, so I suspect they go the whole length of the peninsula. At the time, I wondered what crosswalks meant in India. I still don’t know what they mean.

I don’t believe that the crosswalks give pedestrians right-of-way, or if they do, that fact is being completely ignored. I didn’t see any change in driving patterns. I suspect a policeman or policewoman would have to stand there before the drivers would stop.


When I wrote my Women’s March on Seattle post, I was not able to get the video I took of a group of drummers turned from vertical to horizontal. I have recently accomplished that feat, thanks to some advice from a friend. You can see a clip of the performance in the video above, and I also added it to the post.

I had edited the post once before so I could include two addendum. One of them contains beautiful Women’s March photos from around the world. I cried as I scrolled down that article. If you would like to see the added content click here.



In January of 2015, I spent the night in the Dubai airport hotel. I was mystified when I walked into the bathroom. What was that on the left? Was it a man’s urinal? That didn’t make sense but neither did anything else.

There wasn’t even a flush on it. It was more like a bath tub. A bath for your dirty butt? I couldn’t get myself to try it that year or even the next. By then, I had been told that it was a bidet, and that you wash yourself some before you use it. The idea still seemed gross to me. It sure wasn’t like any bidet I’d ever seen.

This year I got brave and tried it out. Not bad. It was  a bidet that had better aim than the kind I was familiar with.


I never found my lost iPhone, so have not been able to recover the photos I took on my last days in Amritapuri. I was able to find the Work With Nature YouTube channel that Lokeshwar, the man who organized the Amritapuri seed-saving garden, created. I just looked at that channel for the first time. There is SO much information there.

I also watched some of the videos. Lokeshwar’s Amritapuri garden has three of the plastic hives that you will see in the video below. They are for tiny sting-less bees. My understanding is that 50,000 bees can be housed in each of these bee hives and that the bees will always come back to that hive. (Lokeshwar is the man on the right.)

In this seed-saving garden, they are conducting experiments with biochar and terra preta.

There are so many videos on his site. I look forward to exploring more of them in the future.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I slept 7 hours last night. Hallelujah! I know better than to assume my jet lag is over, but I can still hope! Sleeping only three hours at a time is exhausting.


I think this is the end of my updates, at least for now!

Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field… tulasi and so much more


On January 8th, I visited one of the oldest gardens in Amritapuri. While it is known as Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field, it has become so much more.

In the early years, growing tulasi was the main focus. Then, the volunteers who worked at the farm discovered that Rudraksha trees were scattered around the property. Rudraksha seeds are considered sacred in India so they started harvesting the seeds and planting more of the trees. They also began growing vegetables and other plants.

Farming on that property has been such a struggle over the years. Among the problems they faced were lack of water, poor soil, and bugs. When I visited the farm last year, what I saw took my breath away. It had turned into paradise. (To see photos of last year’s visit, click here.)

When I went there this year, I was amazed by all the new projects that were underway. The first thing I noticed was an irrigation system that was under construction. I thought about all the years they have watered using small hoses. What a difference the irrigation system will make.

Then I noticed all of the raised beds. I was told that when there are heavy rains, the farm floods. With raised beds, the plants will be higher than the water. Several swales have been constructed to drain off the flood waters, but the photos I took of those ended up looking like flat ground, so I didn’t use them.

There is a big pond on the property. The plants that are growing in the pond are used for mulching. I saw, and talked to, volunteers who were constructing stairs that will go into the pond to make harvesting those plants easier.

There are rudraksha trees on several parts of the property. They are easy to spot because their trunks have all been painted white. Next year I will ask why they do that!


The numerous tulasi fields are thriving.

Many fruits and vegetables grow on the property.

I was surprised by the many varieties of eggplant. Later, I saw a bright yellow eggplant at Saraswati Garden but it was on the phone I lost on my last day at the ashram so you will have to use your imagination to see that one. I was particularly fascinated by the eggplant that looked like an egg!

The plant below is called Lakshmi Taru, The Paradise Tree, The Tree of Heaven, Simarouba or Simaroubaceae. It is a medicinal tree that has been used to treat dysentery, malaria, cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. It may have a role in cancer treatment.

I was intrigued by this flower.


Later, I learned it is a Sita Ashoka flower. Ashoka means “without sorrow”. Hindus believe that Sita, wife of Lord Rama, sat in a grove of Ashoka trees after she was abducted by the evil Ravana. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha was born under an Ashoka tree.

I found this photo of an Ashoka tree on Wikimedia.


I will leave you with some final images of Amma’s wonderful Vrindavan Tulasi Field.


Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 9, 2017


Monday, January 9 was another full and rewarding day. My main goal was to visit Vrindavan Farm, which is located in a part of Vallikavu that is south of the Amrita Ayurvedic College. I wasn’t sure how to get there so I decided to go by rickshaw and then walk back to the ashram when I was finished.

I will be writing a whole post about that farm later, but will share some photos, including the one above, with you now so that you can get a sense of what it was like.

A sevite (volunteer worker) offered to take photos of me. Normally I would say no, but I decided to let her do it. I enjoyed seeing the shots she took. I had no idea how much my hat protected me from the hot sun!

While I was at the farm, I talked with one of the other sevites. I discovered that he works at the Amrita Serve Garden in addition to Vrindavan Farm. I have been trying to find out the location of that garden so was excited that I had met someone who knew the answer to that question. He was willing to take me there later in the week, but our schedules didn’t line up very well. I asked him for directions so I could go on my own.

He said it might be hard for me to find it, since I had to locate a particular foot path. I decided to try. If nothing else, my Fitbit would record a lot of extra steps!

On the way, I walked by a building that I have thought was a new supermarket. I had seen the supermarket sign, but the store it was on looked so small, I didn’t bother to check it out. When I walked by the sign this time, I noticed it was just an advertisement. The supermarket itself was located off the road behind the small store. I was astounded. I’d guess it is nearly ten times the size of the other “super” market in town. There is no other shop in Vallikavu that is anywhere near that size.

I continued walking, passing by the supermarket and a new temple that was under construction. I saw two foot paths. I started down one path, but in a short time decided it was the wrong one, so I turned around and came back to the main road and took the other path. On that path I saw these:

After some time on the new path, I reached a paved road. I was clearly on the wrong path so I again walked back to where I had started and re-took the original path. After some time, I saw the garden I had been looking for.

No one was present to show me around, so I just wandered. Before I leave Amritapuri, I’m going to meet up with the man that gave me directions so I can learn more about that garden. I will pass on the information he gives me when I write the main post about the Amrita Serve garden. For now, here is a glimpse of some of the plants. [Update: I met with the sevite on 1/12. When he looked at the photos he told me that wasn’t the Amrita Serve garden. I apparently was on a private farm that grows tapioca, coconuts and bananas! There aren’t signs on either property and there are private houses on both so I had never considered that option. I had been told that it was after a purple house. There was a purple house just before this one too. I’m going to see the Amrita Serve garden this morning, 1/13.]

When it was time for me to walk back to the ashram, I decided to take the canoe rather than walk over the bridge. It the first time I had done that since the bridge was built, eight years ago.

I felt so peaceful floating on the water, and the ride to the peninsula only cost 10 rupees (about 15 cents). I may never walk over the bridge again.

In addition to having a wonderful morning exploring the gardens, I had walked more than 13,000 steps!


To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.