25 August to 01 September 2010
Having finished a ‘kora’ (holy circuit or trek to you and me) around Mt. Kailash, the most sacred mountain in the world (at least for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains) it seemed fitting to keep up the good work and so we headed up to the foothills of the Indian Himalayas to a place called Rishikesh. Located on the River Ganges, about 300km north of Delhi, the town is a very relaxed place and not only is it very holy for Hindus, it is also the self-styled yoga capital of the world.
There are many places to stay but to really experience Rishikesh it is best to stay on an ashram. Created initially by Gandhi, an ashram in its purest form entails living as part of a spiritual community, practicing meditation (and often yoga) and sharing the household chores (known as karma yoga but basically cleaning, cooking and the like). Not Markie boys cup of tea I hear you cry? Well, you are right on that score, it isn’t but thankfully ashrams in Rishikesh are a bit more geared for westerners and are more like retreats and after checking out a few we decided to give it a shot. Well, I say we but Kirsty had stayed in one before and knew what to expect but for me it was a first as were most things to follow.
We signed up for a package. For RS3500 per person (£50) we got a one week course that included the following daily activities;
- One hour of body purification
- Two hours of yoga in the morning
- One hour of lectures
- Two hours of yoga in the afternoon
- One hour of meditation
Accommodation is extra. We opted for one of their best rooms that was right on the Ganga for Rs500 (£7) a night. So all in it worked out about £75 per person for a week which isn’t too bad.
I should mention at this stage that there is no meat or booze available in Rishikesh.
The yoga has been tough but I feel that I am making some progress given I have never done it before (Kirsty is a veteran with at least eight years of experience under her belt). Some moves come very naturally such laying flat on my back with my legs spread wide, my eyes closed and my palms in the air. OK, I admit this is a relaxation pose but I can also stand on my head with no bother and can now touch my toes (at the beginning of the week I could only just get my hands down to my shins) but there are some moves that I know I will never be able to achieve. For example there is no way on earth I am every going to be able to perform the lotus position or sit down with my legs and back straight and put my chin on knees. I ache like hell every day and have been stretching things that I didn’t even know could be stretched but I am enjoying the yoga and take back any comments I may have made in the past (mainly to Kirsty) that yoga is an ‘easy way out’ and not real exercise like jogging or swimming. A 20km mountain biking session is a piece of cake compared to two hours of full on yoga.
Each season also has a couple of Om and Hari Krishna chants thrown in for good measure. I sing up nice and loud and get right into it. The same cannot be said for the GLW I am afraid!
The lectures are OK. Even if you don’t learn anything and your yogi is prattling on, at the very least you are grateful for the respite and safe in the knowledge that all you have to do is sit there, listen and nod in approval every now and then.
Meditation is not my bag and I don’t think it is Kirsty’s either? For me it is a simple matter of not being able to sit in one position for long enough and also not being able to cross my legs. I also start questioning some of the things the yogi asks us to concentrate on in order to get into a trance like state. Sometimes it’s a white flame, on others it’s the lapping of the ocean. Fair enough I hear you say but when he asks me to imagine (and I quote) ‘a black and silver Cobra at two and a half coils between your genitals and your anus’ it’s time to call it a day on the meditation front.
So the yoga is good, the lectures so so and the meditation impossible but the strangest part of the day is the body purification. We do this from 7-8 am and so far we have stuck a rubber tube up our nose and pulled it out of our throat (*), poured salt water into one nostril in order for it to flow out of the other one (**) and made ourselves sick with the aid of 15+ cups of delicious salt water (***). Luckily, according to our yogi, the climatic conditions haven’t been right for us to practice the last thing on our agenda, the old ‘shoving 7 metres of cloth down the throat to the stomach and then pulling it out again’ trick. Today was the last day of the course so it looks like we have avoided that one! In a way I was kind of wanting to try it to see what it does but equally I am bloody relieved that the conditions aren’t right. If we do it at a later date we will be sure to let you know.
(*) this is a right bugger. First there is the weird sensation of stuffing a thin, long rubber tube up your nose but the hard part is grabbing hold of it when it hits the back of your throat. You have to kind of cough it out and put your hand right at the back of your throat in order to grab it. We have managed it a couple of times (with the help of the yogi who helpfully pushes the tube up the nose) but for the best part I just ended up gagging and pulling out again. The good news is we get to keep the rubber tube so we have plenty of time to practice and can also pass on the technique to any family members or friends that wish to give it a go. Apply in writing please…..
(**) this one is pretty good. You bend over, cock your head to one side and insert what can best be described as a small watering can up one nostril and pour the salt water in. It then flows through your nasal passage and comes out the other one, bringing with it all the mucus and other horrible stuff that lives up there.
(***) making yourself vomit is not a natural state of affairs. I have more of a knack for it than Kirsty due to years on practicing with pints of lager.
As mentioned earlier, today was our last day of the course and we are thinking of either spending a few more days here or heading off to the mountains for a rest for a few days of walking but we will have more time in Rishikesh after this and will certainly pick up where we left off on the yoga front.