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Sundar Narayanan's Travelog

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A bucket list item to check - Belize

This is the first of a series of posts on our trip to Belize to round up 2018. . . 

It all started with me getting a mail from some guided tours and such, addressed to the previous owners of our house "or current resident". Most of the time San throws those out in the garbage on her way into the house. This time by some miracle it made it to the table. There were many places on that list and one of those was Belize. I did not know much about Belize. There were two places that were touted as must see. 

1. The Sacred cave or Cave of the Stone Sepulcher also called ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal)

2. The Great blue hole which is a UNESCO world heritage site

Belize has been a bucket list item for at least three years now. This year we had a shutdown between Christmas and New Years and San made the plans. The Great Blue hole was a helicopter ride off Belize City and it was ~1000$ per person. So the original plan was for me to see the hole while the family relaxed. That would have still been too hectic, so I cancelled that. Would rather go with the family. 

ATM was on the plan for sure. I did not give the family details and they did not go to the Wiki pages or read other peoples account of their trips or they would have never agreed to come. Good thing they just took my word for it that it is "just a short hike to see a crystallized skeleton". 

There were other things to see in Belize as well and we had to balance out the fact that the kids wanted a "relaxing vacation". Their idea of a vacation is to sit in bed and read books, or sleep, and they definitely don't want to wake up "early". Early is relative... so we stuck some kind of compromise.

We got to stay in the Belize Boutique resort and Spa. How San found this place I have no idea, but it was worth what we paid for it. It was amazing! In the middle of forest land, a small group of accomodations, maybe 30-40 people at any time staying there, food that is freshly made for every meal from stuff grown right there, a guy who puts ladders up coconut trees and cuts up cocunuts for you to drink, it was pampering.. 

My friend has a Wellness place close to Chennai that we visited last year. This was very similar.

It was close to most of the sites or activities we wanted to do. They had guides for everything except ATM (those guides are locals at the ATM site but the Resort made the arrangements for us ahead of time). 

We had a great experience where we did things for four days, then had a day "off" to make the kids happy and flew back. There were massages on the day "off" at the Spa, which was an interesting exprience in itself.

Just watching the reefs and the shallow green waters as we landed, set the expectation high for Belize!

One thing that hit us after we got to the resort was that everything had a hibiscus on it..

The welcome drinks had it, the table in the room, the pillows, the slippers, even the restoom and toilet were decorated with a single hibiscus leaf and a flower. It was the Spa's theme or something.. 

We were all encouraged to eat hibiscus and were told that it improves memory. Given we have lots of hibiscus in our house but we never ate one, San was the only one brave enough to eat the flower petals. She declared them tasty and started eating one a day. Not sure if her memory has improved yet.. The kids and me were content to admire the flowers and watching her like young experimenters in a biology lab looking at a petri dish.

The place was amazing. An air conditioned stucco hut with a tatched roof (covered by a corrugated tin sheets). We did not use the air conditioning, except as air circulation. It was pleasant outside. There was non stop noise from animals, birds, frogs and lizards, but we slept peacefully. 

Every little thing was well decorated, with things you would not think of as decorations.. door latches, thumb tacks etc.. 

The dining area was also very nicely set!

Then there was the stone and wood artwork that were all around the place..

did I mention coconut trees already? 

There was this spiritual meditation chalet made of colored bottles and it did make some amazing light effects during sunrise and sunset, but I did not use that room. Just sitting outside our little Villa was calming enough with the gentle breeze!

We stayed at the Opium Villa.. there was no Opium involved.. They have interesting names for the various huts. Fertility suite, Honeymoon hotel, Viper, Mayan Loft etc.. Most of them were isolated single storied structures with the exception of two double level buildings.. It was mostly couples staying there.. there were three families at most times and we met some fun folks over the week which was an added plus! It was like an extended family!

It was just beautiful. Have stayed in lots of places over the years, but the Opium Villa is one to remember! There was a giant Chess set in a cute setting right outside our hut. The kids did not offer to play chess with me.. I sat there for a few seconds to admire the setting.. 

There were pretty birds outside our hut working on their own honeymoons.

Sometimes a video does justice to things pictures don't.. so here is one!

It did rain on and off the day we landed. So we just relaxed, walked around the place, got adjusted to the time difference a little.. and went to bed early.. They were going to knock on our door at 6:30 in the morning. We pre-ordered breakfast (they make everything fresh starting at 6.. so we had to preorder) and we were going to leave at 8AM sharp for our first activity on Day 2...

We did realize one thing on day 1. There were plenty of things that bit us. The Spa gave a special spray made of natural stuff that was to repel the insects, but the smell of it shut down my nose and lungs instantly. So I did not spray that on.. it was going to prove a costly mistake over the coming days.. The kids used DEET.. which also suprisingly shuts me down.. Maybe I am an insect myself?!  was what I was thinking..

In any case, use the Deet if you go there, or the organic herbal spray. Don't be like me! 

Will continue the blog posts over the next few days...


Jet lag Yoga

We made it back from Belize on New Years eve'ning. One adventure always leads to another .. so came home to four loads of laundry. At the end of the day we are a fiscally conservative family. We take in fresh clothes to a resort and come back with all the clothes in a large garbage bag. 

Started doing laundry right away after coming back. In fact I had quarantined all the clothes and shoes in the entryway and put deet into the suitcases, in the event any Belizian mosquitos or biting flies and assorted insects made it accidentally into the suitcase. I think every insect in that rain forest had some part of the Narayanan family for some meal. 

The washer broke down after the first load! Spent a good hour and a half trying to remove the soaking wet clothes out and drain out the water. Fortunately we have good friends and neighbors. After letting the wet clothes drain overnight, got them done this morning. With help from my neighbor we started troubleshooting the washer. We have now narrowed it down to a faulty drain pump. Given there is no way to go buy one today and most service guys are off today being New Years, the thing is now opened up and waiting for life tomorrow. 

Given this washer lasted almost 15 years, we were thinking of buying a new one. Sometimes old is gold. This one has no fancy electronics. Possibly a simple microcontroller at the most.. it doesn't even have a belt. It is one of those old direct drive motors. No digital displays of any kind.. no fancy algo's to figure out the size of the load etc. etc.. thinking of getting it fixed tomorrow..

In all this hoopla, got no chance to do Yoga this morning. Jet lag is jet lag. It doesn't care if you got it after a week in Asia for a biz trip, or a week in Belize with family. Last night I could not stay up till midnight. Just hit the bed at 10. Especially after being one of few participants in the blood drive to support the insects in Belieze, was feeling a little tired.  

There was one last chance to catch Yoga at 4:30 PM and yet again, New Years is a popular day for folks to try something new. We had a full house at BYSJ and a great class. I got a deja vu because almost the same people were in the front row on New Years class and this is the fourth time for this experience.. 

Finally feeling back to normal. Think we can reasonably conclude that Yoga has had an addictive influence on me...


Happy New Year 2019

The 2000's turned 18. That was a big deal.. When it turns 21, we might subconsciously associate it with another "big year".. Turning 16 was a good thing.. in an American context.. 

19.. seems to be something we skip through! Don't exactly remember going through my 19th year. Hopefully 2019 goes by like that!

2018 was a monotonous year for us with the exception of four things..

1. A visit to India for my nephews Poonal ceremony and being with my parents, brother and sister under one roof even if for two days

2. A two week magical trip to Europe in Summer

3. Jr.'s dance Arangetram

4. A wrap up of the year in Belize for a week

The rest was a routine. Did manage to do yoga 224 times in 2018. As most of you know, the goal is at least 200. So checking that one off. 

The time outside of yoga was mostly spent in picking up and dropping off kids from classes. 

Did 10 trips to Asia this year instead of 12 but had three international personal trips to make up for that.

There was no major sickness this year and that was a big plus. The only negative or scary thing that happened was my father slipping and falling down in October and my mother insisting that I not visit till he is walking again.  He is improving slowly but steadily and that is a good thing.

One regret we did have was not being able to attend my sisters kids Poonal as it crossed with the pre planned Europe trip. We have moved on from that given both the Europe trip and the Poonal went very well. 

The job continues to be interesting and challenging and we are quietly ploughing through challenges one at a time. The hard part of working in a startup is to get a group of folks who don't waste time questioning the problems but just go tackle it. From that stand point, glad to have a bunch of folks who are all in that mindset. Feel the the time at work is being well spent. 

2018 was good on retrospect. 2019 is being welcomed with hopes of the kids doing well in school and work reaching significant milestones.. but what matters is to keep San smiling next to me and have good health throughout the year and cherish friendships old and new! One has to be really fortunate to have good friends and we are blessed in that department!

and yes.. resolutions.. now that yoga 200 times a year is not a resolution anymore (it is a habit), the wish and hope for 2019 is to learn to swim properly. Went for 10 classes in 2005 when Jr. was 3 years old as part of a parents and tots swim class. Could float and swim the length of the pool with two three stops. We went snorkeling in Belize and I stayed 5 feet from the boat at all times because of fear. The ATM trip was also scary going against the river in darkness. 

2019, overcome fear of deep water and waves.. Let's see if I can get that done..


The perfect aftershave..


Yours truly.. Dudeji Beardybaba, as I was affectionately called by friends and family alike over the last few months have had a setback of sorts in prepping for my next career move. 

To put it simply, the beard is gone. It just got to that point where letting it go, became an appeling option.

The beard survived for 7+ weeks and it was no longer patchy. It was an "official" beard that could enter into a beard competition.. it made it to Asia through multiple airport securities without being the cause for "random" security screening as was expected by the rest of the face.

It made it through multiple meetings.. it made it through rides in the Shanghai metro where it was the only beard on the entire damn train.. well I was the only Indian on the entire damn train, but the beard stuck out to the point where kids were staring at me non stop and their parents were politely teaching the kids "not to stare". The beard become a social education tool for Chinese parents.. it had value!

Having finished work in Asia, gave up on biz upgrade chances and flew back early on "premier economy", just to beat jet lag by sleeping in my own bed. The beard became "itchy and scratchy" during the return trip while attempting to sit and sleep by leaning on the plane window!  

It got completely messed up.Could have taught homeless hobos, how to look like legit homeless hobos after getting out of SFO. My Uber driver was not sure if I was the passenger or some guy trying to get a free ride, and was checking twice. Even that believe it or not, was not the last straw.

My lovely wife of almost 20 years, always greets me with an unreserved hug when I come back from Asia.. she is glad to see me because she knows the next pickups and drop offs from classes for kids,  will all be on me at least for a few days post my return.. Today she gave me a hug that said "yes, I would like to hug you, but without getting anywhere close to your face".. it was a hug that one gives their boxing match opponent or a hug your nurse gives you at the time of discharge when you are the huggy type and she too is the huggy type based on her other patients, but you are being discharged, after being treated for rashes.. 

That was it..a line was drawn and I decided to shave. It turns out that shaving a 7 week old beard is not easy. Having had no such prior experience, it was tricky. First you have to use a trimmer to cut it down and then shave, or you can cut yourself pretty badly. (note, if you need additional tips, will be glad to give you some).. 

After 15-20 minutes, the beard was gone.. but it is not easy to get used to its absence. Did not realize that I got used to the beard.. it kind of grew on me!

After coming home, had a severe migraine and stomach pain and did the only thing I could think of under such circumstances.. Go do Bikram Yoga. 

Went to the first class that was available after coming home and the class was awesome. Somehow my symptoms after shaving off a 7 week beard was similar to what folks describe after getting their limb amputated. It was weird. Standing in front of the mirror and breathing made my nose all hot. It was like running an airconditioner without the filter.. 

Then halfway down the class, while doing leg stretching head to knee pose, a few gallons of sweat just went straight into my nose. The whiskers and beard would not have allowed that.. It took me a few minutes to recover from the stinging in my nose and sinuses before rejoining the class. 

There is one good thing about having a clean face. I can actually see myself smile better in the mirror and it makes for great positive reinforcement. 

Also the yoga class did me a world of wonders. When you sweat like crazy, that skin smoothes itself out and all the itching and scratching is gone! 

San took before and after photos..the little one hasn't seen me yet and will possibly be thrilled that the beard is gone. She was not a fan..

Same smile, but one gets trapped in the beard. Now when the teacher in Yoga class says "with your happy smiling face..." there is a visible happy smiling face!!!

The beard did have the best run this time..who knows when it will come back?!!


The Rava Dosa of Asanas..

This blog always tries to cover multiple interests at one go.. today it will be food and Yoga.. I know those two don't mix well, as it is best to do Yoga on an empty stomach and thinking of food is the last thing you should do while attempting Yoga. 

That said.. please bear with me.

When this blog writing started a long long time ago, we used to go to every Indian restaurant and a week later, would write a review of the place with my own rating scheme. Half those restaurants are now gone. But the memories remain. On second thought, should start writing those reviews again.. Those were pre "Yelp" days. Once Yelp came out, the idea of putting out an elaborate review for like minded readers disappeared.. Once Trip Advisor showed up, the thought of trying to make the Travelog useful for others disappeared.. it started becoming a "writing for memory sake" journal.  

One way to rate restaurants, was to order multiple dishes but have a common denominator item to do a fair comparison. For North Indian restaurants it was Malai Kofta and butter naan and for South Indian places, it was Rava Dosa. One restaurant owner even named me Mr. Rava Dosa! 

If you are not familiar with a Rava Dosa, it is made with batter that is freshly mixed. It takes at least 20 minutes to make from the time you order it, and it is a real test for a south Indian chef. You can guage a lot of things about a south Indian restaurant by the Rava Dosa. If you go order it and don't hear "Sir, it will take some time compared to the other items? is that okay?" .. then you should seriously doubt the dosa quality. The crispiness of the Dosa is another thing.. too short on the stove, it sticks to the plate. Too long and it has a slight burnt taste.. you have a very narrow process window to make this one right!

Where am I going with this?

On Friday and Saturday PST, there was the World Yogasana Championship, held this year in Beijing. If I had a business trip, would have gone a day earlier to catch it on Sunday local time, but there were other plans for me that the higher powers had divined so stayed put at home.  Did manage to watch parts of it, thanks to a live feed on Facebook from the China Yoga Federation (which is real, and I hope they open more Yoga studios in Shanghai and Beijing).

The way the competition works (yes, yes.. yoga competition ? that is an oxymoron.. have heard that before.. have explained it also before.. ) there is 3 minutes per person. You get to do 4 mandatory poses in the final round and two optional poses. 

The Four mandatory poses are not the same asansa but rather picked from a certain category. The first is a forward bend compression, the second is a back bend compression, the third is a forward stretch, the fourth is a twist, then two optional poses. Within each category, you have different difficulty levels for different poses. If you do a Rabbit pose, which is a forward compression sitting down, it has a lower difficulty level than a standing head to knee pose which is a forward compression done standing on one locked knee..

I am not the expert here and you need to fact check the above, but think I got most of that right. If you fall off a pose, you can start again, but you lose points. Everything is marked by 3 judges and they give you points on a 1-10 scale. The poses have to be held for at least 5 seconds at the height of the pose (maximum). There are certain basic elements in each pose like a locked knee, or forehead touching knee or locked elbow etc. etc. which define the pose. So if any of those basic definitions are missed, you lose points. 

Basically, you start with 10 points and before you know it, you have lost it all!!! At least that was  my experience the one time I went to a yoga competition a few years ago. Just kidding. It is a lot more fun..

Now what has Rava Dosa got to do with Asanas? 

Well, there is this one pose that I have written the most about in this Yoga Journey, over the last almost 8 years. It is the Standing Head to Knee pose. Experienced Yogis (especially desis) who can do all kinds of complex poses like:

put their leg over their shoulder and stand up on the other leg,

get into lotus pose standing upside down on their heads in Shirasasana,

do a wheel pose effortlessly,

still falter when it comes to the head to knee. 


This pose is not about strength or flexibility or a tradeoff between the two. There is a third ingredient to it that takes time to develop. . . balance! Incredible physical and mental balance.!! You have to be able to tighten a select set of muscles while simultaneouly relax another set of muscles and breathe right or you cannot pull this off. The intense focus required, takes a lot of practice specific to this pose. 

There is also 4 parts to it (or so I thought, till Joseph Encina showed me there are 5 parts to it) and so far I have never gone past step 2 to successfully finish step 3 in the last 6 years.  Recently though,  I am consistently getting to step 3 which is a good sign. 

To me the six poses and all the rules in a competition are great, but mostly filler. They are like the other half dozen items we order to get an idea of the restaurant. If you have to judge all contestants with the least amount of effort, just look at how they do standing head to knee pose and you can pretty much get to the final ranking. 

It is the Rava Dosa of poses for me.. 

Really enjoyed watching the competition, although only for three or four 30 minute stretches. The best part of this competition was that my teacher and mentor Michelle Vennard won the Adult womens group.  My Yoga guru is a world champion! She smiled through the entire three minutes and was grace personified. I also got to see my friend Lee compete live and he did an amazing job. Have seen him on the mat next to me, have stared into his eyes during Yoga demonstrations, but to see him try his best the way he did gave me goosebumps. When you see folks you know transcend their usual, it is truly inspiring!

Have been very fortunate to be around champs in my life. My ballroom dance teacher was an International champion and I still hear her voice while doing Yoga, especially when the teacher says "breathe" with an accent. There are two things I still remember from my dancing days that she taught me. 

1. Sundar, you don't have to have your partner hang from the Chandeliers to win this one. You need impeccable timing and have a smile on your face the entire time.. even when you screw up

2. the trick to dancing effortlessly for round after round is to breathe right. If you know when to take a breath, you can dance for hours without any huffing and puffing

Same rules apply in Yoga! 

After watching the competition, it was time to do real Yoga..

There was a lot happening in the house over the weeekend and I was glad that there was no Asia trip. Our water main broke (service line) and San Jose Water came and shut our water down till we got a plumber to find and fix the leak. It was an interesting 36 hours. Brought back so many memories of  growing up in India when the Metro Water lorry would not show up.

Having to make some amends to schedules, using the handpump to get water from a borewell and rationing water for everyone in the house etc.. All those experiences came in handy. The inspector from the water company gave me a compliment "Sir, I am really going to do my best to help you because you are calm and not irate like most customers in this situation. Will try to jumper water from your neighbors garden hose back to your house".. He tried, but it didn't work. So we just adjusted till we got water flowing again.

It was a good experience for the kids as well, and a reminder of things we take for granted, especially when we are in a routine. 

All that said, seriously thinking about giving the competition another shot next year. For that to happen, one has to understand Rava Dosa.. I mean.. Standing head to knee..

On a side note, my beard experiment has crossed the one month mark. I am getting used to it, as are people who see me every day. The patches are gone, the gray looks dignified and as an unintended side effect, I am conscious of my breath .. every freaking breath, if I chose to be conscious of it.. because my moustache picks up the breathing. 

Even if I am not making loud noises or breathing loudly by previous standards, the breath going through the moustache literally whispers loudly. Trying to minimize that movement or sound has added a new complexity to breath control during asanas. You can't see it, but the faintest movement of those hair, makes me stop or slow down.

Even while lying down in Shavasana, the whiskers tell you the truth about how you are breathing. It is like an external meter that can give you a feed back loop.  It is interesting the way I am using it as a regulating mechanism. Maybe if I had whiskers around my knees that would do something everytime they came unlocked??? Was thinking along those lines today.

Think it is obvious that I am too eager to do that one pose which keeps evading me, but having waited all this time and seeing that  sometimes progress comes at the least expected times, will keep at it and see what happens.  My goal every year is to do yoga at least 200 times. The spreadsheet says I have done 212 this year and 1648 classes to date.. that is almost 6600 attempts at Standing head to knee (we do two sets on each leg)!

You can say "something is wrong with you", if I attempted something 6600 times and still failed at reaching the end result. While that is one way to think of it, the other way to think of it, is that this pose is not for everyone. That is why it is a mandatory pose in a Yoga Championship final.  

The yoga journey continues to be interesting..

ps. My house photographers are all on strike. So Yoga photos over the weekend..