I am now in the authentic religious area of india, Rishikesh. The city which recognises and proudly honours the beatles and flows with authentic spices and tradition. Rishikesh is not only one of the most traditional and holy places of India it is also the home city of Yoga.
Surrounded by the famous Ganges river an mountains with clay mud beaches, it is definitely an authentic experience. Cows roam freely around the streets and stop the traffic to a stand still on the already overpacked streets. The area is bursting with colour from traditional dress and anyone with white skin is stopped by locals wanting pictures of our clear white skin, the locals are better paparazzi than those from my usual world of media, they just snap away without permission, it is actually hard to walk to a destination without feeling overwhelmed by cameras pointed at you, this is the same for male and females.
My initial experience of India was Delhi for three days which blew my mind in many ways, the amount of people, tuk tuks, cows and the sight of mountains of litter piled everywhere. I can safely say Delhi is one of the worst Cities I have visited and I have travelled to many countries. Is it safe for a single women? definitely not in my opinion, there is around 100 men to every women and it is intimidating and hard work to get around. I was fortunate only to suffer three nights in Delhi which was made easier by two German female backpackers taking me under their wing until I left.
My next destination is Rishikesh where I am right now, as mentioned before it is the home of Yoga and the main reason I came here. You see I wanted a change, a challenge, a rest of my mind and to add complimentary therapies to my counselling and media work, I signed up not really knowing what I had let myself in for..
My home for 28 days is called AlakhYog and set in the countryside of Rishikesh away from the beeping of horns and freely roaming cows which are everywhere. My initial arrival was one of shock as I was expecting a luxury retreat with swimming pool, air conditioning, cleaners and all the added extras I thought I would get for the $1200 that I paid, unfortunately I was in for a shock…The entrance has barbed wire on top the walls accompanied by solid iron black gates as the entrance, I seriously thought I had been dropped off in the wrong place.
I entered the accommodation, which actually looked Ok except for the wooden roof which had gaps letting in bugs from all angles (I am terrified of bugs). I am taken to the office and handed bed sheets, given some books and shown my room like enrolling in a prison wing. The bedroom is fine and I have been paired up with a young South African Girl named Jade who is very welcoming. I am informed the chef is preparing me some food, I never had the heart to tell them I had managed a large portion of chicken curry at New Delhi airport knowing it was going to be my last meat meal for a month.
After dinner I am to take my first class, mediation. A group of 20 women gather in the temple dome to await the master yogi. The class was something I had not expected, I seriously still think the Yogi was stoned… the only words I heard were Yoga-(long pause) is not a sport… literally he was just looking at us smiling and laughing, I thought I have signed up to the funny farm. The evening food was delicious, authentic vegetarian yogic food-this surprised me as one thing I was dreading was giving up my normal food for the month. Bedtime came around and entering my room put me into shock as there are bugs everywhere and I mean creepy beetle looking things-I ran out thinking no way am I sleeping in there, fortunately I came armed bug spray and attack them like world war three. I had a great nights sleep and woke to my alarm at 5.30 am.
Early morning nasal cleaning (see pictures) and sun worshipping along with making bird noises, yes I thought I was being held in a cult, a funny farm cult. I manged the poring of water through my nostrils much to my surprise, however I was not yet prepared to make noises to sound like a bird.. It just all seemed so sureal. The day consists of meditation (I feel asleep in class), Pranyama, Mantra, Chanting, three Astana yoga sessions and meditation. (see time-table attached), trust me the day is exhausting even for me as a regular women of exercise. The day went so fast and bedtime quickly came around and I so needed my bed. Starting a day with no morning coffee is bloody hard work. I also realised I had been bitten to death during the day and even taking three cold showers in the 40 degree humid heat did not ease the itchiness, In fact it only made it worse. I decided to spray the room and start world war four on the bugs which led to a bit of a fall out with my room-mate. You see she is a spiritual person and believes it’s a bugs right to sleep in my room and most likely my bed..I dont.
I wake, go outside my room and discover my roommate sleeping in the corridor after the previous nights fallout over bugs and spray, her choice not mine. Not only this a storm had passed through the night creating a wind-swept forest in the building main building, I was the only one who had slept through it which was a relief, obviously we all had to clean it up before classes began! You see we have been told that all cleaning was our responsibility and this included the communal areas…yes I am in prison. It suddenly dawned on me the storm had blown all my cloths off the washing line after I had washed them all by hand the night before as we don’t have the luxury of washing machines. So no morning coffee, no cigarettes, no breakfast, ruined cloths and I still have to attend the group to make bird noises, this makes a bad start to my day. I manged to stay awake during meditation this time even though my muscles are aching and my brain is fried after such intense classes and believe me when I say its harsh.
The end of the day my roommate started moving into another room with some younger girls, trust me I never told her she had to, she herself had chosen to leave because of the insect repellent, to be honest who was I to argue about getting my own room.
I am having a nervous breakdown, detox is hurting me and I desperately need a coffee and a cigarette. My body is sore and they have chucked in a class called Karma Yoga which is based on us picking crap up from the grounds which quite frankly I feel is their responsibility. I am loosing my rag, I’m tired, pissed off and feeling out of my depth. The group is starting to separate into groups which is great as 20 women stuck in a prison together is like a jail sentence. Thankfully there is a fellow 40 something British female called Sue who I have made friends with, I now feel I can relate to someone.
The same timetable again today as usual and to be honest I am wondering if I can stick this out, I really feel overwhelmed being locked up and unable to escape well training so hard. I think the people having bets on how long I will last could be the winners. I refuse to do meditation tonight as last time I did I was bitten by horny mosquitos wanting to ravish on my body. To top it all after a hard days timetable and being told to complete my Karma Yoga of cleaning yoga mats I am nearly ready to quit, right now is not good for me or anyone around me, fortunately for me and everyone else I am saved by a wild monkey coming through the grounds which took the attention from mat cleaning to viewing. I really needed to sleep, and soon.
Same timetable as usual and if I am tired then the beginners in the class must be wrecked, literally everyone is so exhausted. The girls asked my opinion on what to do and suddenly I find myself the spokeswomen of the group and take on the responsibility of talking to the managers of the retreat. I tell them the girls are exhausted and after six days continuous working out incuding theory consisting of human anatomy, nutrition, mantra, chanting, prayers and karma yoga the girls need a day off. I explained the science of too much exercise on the body, I ask them to take on board the situation before anyone becomes injured, to my surprised they took it on board.
The morning consisted as usual of the asana yoga, anatomy, mantra etc, only half the class fell asleep to exhausted to push themselves, I felt sorry for them and sorry for myself as I am hurting bad. Lunchtime came and everyone is drained emotionaly and physically when a group chat is held with the teacher who informs us we can have a day off mid next week… I thought they were crazy. One girl had already quit after three days in camp and if they were not careful they were about to lose more. Afternoon classes started as normal when to our surprise the main Yogi comes in to inform us the day was to end after this class and we were to have the afternoon and the following day as our time off! I could see such relief in people’s eyes, some even shed a tear. The weight of more intense training had been lifted off them for 36 hours. Have no doubt how hard it is physically and mostly mentally to go through this kind of detox and training, its overwhelming, exhausting and challenging.
The afternoon I slept for three solid hours before getting up and feeling alive, I dyed my roots (a must) gave myself a facial and for the first time in three weeks felt normal. I had been trekking in Japan for 10 days before India and had not even blow dried my hair in all the time I have been away. I am also not used to living this lifestyle, no washing machine, no television, no radio, hardly any wi-fi and having to live with so many people in a cult like centre. It is overwhelming and exhausting. This afternoon was a blessing.
I feel like a new women, still no lie in as my body is now set to waking up at 5.30 am but who gives a shit as today is mine and everyone’s day off, our day out the prison and out into the heart of Rishikesh to see local people, local food, tradition, colour, internet and freedom. The whole group is so happy and excited it’s as if we are all young children going on a school trip. One thing I for sure can say is we deserve it as we have another 3 weeks to go yet.
Have I settled into the place, absolutely not, although I have now accepted Karma Yoga and singing like a bird! I finally realise I can just be myself and feel like a kid at certain times and be exhausted at others. Could I get used to this life? No way, but I can tell you now I will see it through to the end and appreciate every luxury I have in my life with a bit more respect.
To my wonderful friends who have placed bets on me you will not win I can assure you so get ready to pay up on my return.
My follow up will be in a weeks time….if i survive.
Love from India