A Travellerspoint blog

Holi Weekending

tres insupportable...

This Saturday was Holi. Although I'm no authority, from the little I've read about it Holi seems to be the Indian version of Beltane- welcoming in the spring and the sun again. And the vibe is very similar, very raucous, very male and fiery. I woke up at around 9am and went downstairs to find tablefuls of local men and boys who had enjoyed a liquid breakfast and were singing anthem style songs in Hindi. It was classic! They were covered head to toe in paint and broken eggs, were slurring their words and hugging each other a lot ("You're me best mate you are....") and all that kind of thing. There was some very loud music playing on a sound system out in the yard- the same song, over and over again, ALL DAY, and they went for it!! It was a fusion of classical Indian dance, some very gay Manchester-club style butt thrusting and moshing circa 1996...
A good time was had by all, the drinks were beer and whisky. When they were sitting round tables it was like watching a bunch of Vikings with horns of mead- one song after another, trying to pull anything female into their laps... Some seasoned people told me not to go into town as it gets quite rough on the women. Normally that wouldn't have stopped me but I was feeling tired from the Panchakarma so I took it easy and finished reading my William Dalrymple book which is amazing. I also got talking to my neighbours a bit. They're really nice but they've completely adopted some of the local stray dogs which is a pain. I'm not the greatest dog lover on the planet and I think they see me as a bit of a cow because if one of the dogs wanders into my room I'll shout "F*** off!" and chuck a paper at it. I actually don't think its very nice though, to adopt dogs and then pack up and abandon them. Put your money where your mouth is and take them home if you're that caring.
Sandra had a good time, she went down to the other hotel and had beers there. She wasn't very happy previously to that. She came to see me one evening, crying her eyes out. I asked her what was wrong and she said it was Rishikesh, she didn't like it, she wanted to go, she didn't like the people, she could not support any of it, and then, my favourite reason ever for leaving town; "And I can no longer support zis LACK OF BEER!!!". Really upset. Anyway, after we had food in the evening she disappeared for 24 hours. I had some inkling of the events when I went down to the other hotel to go swimming the next day and one of the waiters couldn't wipe the smile off his face, gave me money off my drinks and his colleague who must be all of 16, asked me if I fancied a dip in the Ganges with him...! I declined politely. Its very hot at the moment here. When you go into a shop in the afternoon, more often than not the propriators having a little snooze. And its easy to burn too. The evenings are beautiful though, with a cool breeze and the river is lit up under the moon. From my balcony its like looking down on to Arcadia, wide turquoise river, palaces, graceful bridges and temples in the dark forests.
I've been reading a lot more Iyengar too. The principles of Yama and Niyama in much greater depth and also the spiritual qualities that we are all supposed to be blessed with though it's hard work to retrieve them. Tapas means practice, practice, practice amongst other things. People have said to me to have a week off etc, but I think its important to maintain practice for change's sake. If it hurts you can modify it or just do breathing. Though with Panchakarma its best to be very gentle. When I went to practice this morning it was agony, even after a weekend off, and I didn't try anything ambitious. Interestingly Garbha Pindasana which has always been beyond me was possible today, my arms hooked through and I was comfortable. But as for a standing forward bend, it was so so stiff. I talked to Dr Arora about it and he said that over the 3 weeks I have to expect all the aches and pains to surface, to be very gentle and just do easy asanas until the pain stops. Its just so weird because this time 8 days ago I was having strong pain free practices doing pretty much everything. I know the pain hasn't come from harsh practice because I'm quite injury paranoid. So lots of hot baths and sleep... One thing I have learned though, is that Hatha Yoga is far stronger than a lot of people think. And its actually very easy to overdo it. In the ashram, being used to a very dynamic practice it felt as if we were doing nothing a lot of the time but then I could feel the change in my body, I felt stronger, 'harder' almost, but thats not the ideal word. Its interesting. And what is also very interesting is something Gandhar said- that if you practice Pranayama daily your body will maintain its flexibility/strength, even without any asana practice whatsoever. Very interesting. I'm starting a Pranayama diary today for my UK course. It'll be good to see how that goes. Earlier on I had a Shirodhara treatment which I love because afterwards you are totally present. Its as if the citta vrtti get poured away with the oil. I hope it'll be like that. You continually get told that if you can control the breath you can control the mind. I think that is so exciting- imagine what you could do if you could control your mind and your thoughts- to not be affected by anything that happens around you, but to be calm, to be guided...............

Posted by victoria8 01:09 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

Panchakarma stroke 2

Saffron enriched beautiful tea...

Today is a full moon and the evening is stunning. Its been a great day, I slept in until 9am and then went for breakfast. I forgot that when I do panchakarma its around now I turn into the antichrist and actually managed to take a deep breath and not start shouting and spinning my head round when my porridge with honey was the wrong consistency. And maintained good relations with the people who work here who are really nice laid back Nepalis. Like last time I got the bleurgh thoughts but not so bad this time and not for as long. And a couple of weird patches of dry skin (dry skin is symptomatic of too much vata) despite both imbibing and applying oils. Dr Arora said its the vata fighting back. Theres a feeling of exorcism in Ayurvedic cleansing. I think once you do it though, the only way you can maintain the good feelings is to change your lifestyle as I've noticed that refined sugar makes me very moody. Anyway, I felt quiet and relaxed today, with a still mind.
I went to the only local hotel with a pool, the Narayana Palace, and spent all day reading about Indian history and the Partition events of 1947 which I was never really aware of. What an eye opener. Then, and since then, theres been some truly horrific events. People forced to flee their homes and lives forever on unimaginable scales. The story of Lucknow. The massacres in Bihar in the 1990's. A lot of darkness. According to the Puranas India is now in the age of Kali- the age of corruption. I was talking to Louise yesterday and she was saying that what strikes her, as an American, is the total lack of civil rights- like when she travels around by car here with an Indian man they often get stopped and searched, with no rights read out to them, the police don't even go through the motions (incidentally, she said the searches are a joke- they'll write her name down as 'Louise', no surname, and then not even bother to go all through her bags!) and its scary. I have seen more police in Rishikesh than elsewhere in India and apparently there is sometimes violent crime here. Theres been a lot of tourists who get themselves into trouble by smoking with 'saddhus'- as I said a few days ago, the saddhu lifestyles a popular choice for wanted criminals, grow a beard, wear an orange robe, grab a begging bowl and Bobs your uncle... Sometimes when I see rows of them now I just visualize them breaking into petrol stations and burning stuff....! Though some of them have the sweetest eyes and radiate good humanity. I wonder too if maybe some criminal types come here to lie low for a few years, undergo huge transformation and then end up staying for the right reasons? Hard to say. I have not encountered any aggressive begging whatsoever though. Oh, and the STD clinics here do a roaring trade... Nice....
Its been very hot the past day or so and it occurred to me I should make the most of it so I've been doing a bit of sunbathing to get a bit of glow (with high factor block). Sandra and I got talking to some really nice American men from Boston, actually intelligent and interesting too (not that I tend to have a low opinion of Americans, oh no), this afternoon. They were a Persian family who had been here a week and recommended we try the white water rafting which I'm quite tempted by. It would be good to get out into the elements a bit more. So I'll look into it after the madness of Holi tomorrow is over. Theres a full moon tonight so I'm having a quiet one, lying low, and I may venture out tomorrow, into Haridwar possibly, to watch people chucking eggs and drinking... Sandras managed to find sources of beer around here though I can't indulge because of Panchakarma, I'm only drinking saffron tea with honey and water. Whisky seems to be the most popular tipple. The guys in one of the local cafes often are toasted on it. One of them said to me the other day "What else is there to do here?". I suggested he try a Yoga class.. He wasn't amused. But I guess when I was 20 I would have thought that spending months doing Yoga was totally gay too...
Thats pretty much been it today. I was excited to discover you can buy the saffron energy Gokul tea I've been drinking in the cafes so I got a load of it. Its a strong spicy tea, which with a bit of honey is the nectar of the Gods, 20 times nicer than chai. And its a powder so its much more intense than a teabag. Going to go and have a cup now. Well it is Friday night after all...

Posted by victoria8 05:58 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

Rishikesh routine

and people

My days are pretty busy here .I've got into a routine for the last 3 weeks of being in India. I'm doing the proper 3 week long Panchakarma detox- its really good and not too restrictive. I suddenly thought I'd throw myself into study and being very clean. So.... I tend to get up around 7am eat some fruit and nuts and walk down to Yoga with Louise. It's a beautiful walk and takes about 20 minutes. Then I do the Ashtanga primary series (self practice) for a couple of hours. Louise has a great approach to teaching the series and it feels much better than it did in Mysore. She's very nurturing of peoples practice and kind, but stretches you at the same time. And she has this great energy- in fact she's like the kind of woman Jim Morrison would have hung around with. She has long dark hair and striking jewellery and theres something of the sorceress about her.. The door kept banging the other day and she looked up from her incredible forward bend to murmur "Ohhh- that door is such a trip....."! And having the most amazing views to gaze at whilst you're doing Surya Namaskar really adds something to the practise. It makes it a lot easier to be full of peace and gratitude. My hamstrings are pretty stiff at the moment which worries me as it makes the knees less mobile and knees you must be so careful with. I talked to Louise about it and she says its common when practising Ashtanga as there are so many forward bends/Vinyasas etc. The trick is to keep going but work around the stiffness. So this week I'm skipping standing half lotus and utkatasana. However I can feel that in some ways I'm a lot more mobile now. When you practice a lot you find that stiffness or blockages in your body mind and energy tend to move around and change which is interesting. As long as they don't linger in the same place you're safe. My backbends are feeling good too. Also to maintain mental focus throughout the practice if I find my mind wandering I stop and take a deep breath to visualize whatever thought I'm having whether its pleasant or painful as being outside of myself and leaving. I try not to think beyond what I'm doing and the breath. And I can feel its improving though I've got a long long way to go my mind isn't quite as jumpy. And I feel less edgy generally.
Afterwards I go to the Arora Clinic for an oil massage followed by a dose of ghee and some khichri with a lot of spinach for iron. Every other day theres shirodhara too which is bliss and steam baths which are great for the joints. Afterwards I chill out and read for a while. Some evenings I go to the Sivananda Yoga class with Sandra. Its a beautiful class and challenging- straight from Sun Salutations into headstand for starters. The pranayama parts amazing though and today when I closed my eyes there was a big purple eye gazing into mine. Then we go into town for dinner- as Rihikesh is such a Yoga centre its easy to get detox food so I have a load of veg and lentils with chapatis or idli or something.
This evening we went to Laxmanjhula for food and got talking to a really nice bunch of Germans. Which was good because the one issue I have with Rishikesh is that theres no 'centre' in a way. People on the whole are quite insular and you see a lot of people eating alone. Maybe they're on deliberate solitary pilgrimages but still...Its a bit like that at Swiss Cottage too. And I would like to meet more people before I go so I may take a room closer to the river where its a bit more lively. Maybe its partly to do with the fact that its a holy city and alcohol is banned and -like in Mysore all the good little Yoga students are tucked up in bed by 9... Anyway I'm a mite bored and need some entertainment apart from Yoga and reading about Yoga and detoxing. Its Holi on Saturday so I'm going to head to Haridwar with Sandra and witness drunken debauchery!!! I want to dance a bit.
Still haven't been to Soma's ashram but hope to manage it soon. Its funny to have so much to do as I thought I'd be more lazy here.
I got a rickshaw down into Rishikesh the other day. Apart from Ramjhula and Laxmanjhula its a pretty grim town and very dirty. Although I love it here so much I'm actually looking forward to returning to the UK as it takes a lot of energy being here on your own and having to negotiate everything. And I was in a bad mood the other day and made a list of things I don't like in India;

1) The toilets. What is the problem with using disinfectant? People are so fastidious about personal hygiene here I don't understand why toilets get neglected. And sometimes you have to pay for a trip to a vile hole in the ground. Urgh.
2) The way hardly any restaurants have toilets
3) The way every rickshaw driver tries to overcharge insultingly. And they repeat where you want to go to you a couple of times so you think they know the way, then drive off in the wrong direction, ignoring you, until they can flag down a passer by who speaks good English to act as interpreter. Then more often than not will try and double the price for THEIR inconvenience. Once in Trimbak I had to resort to pointing to the big white Om carved in the hillside and shouting "OM!!! Just head for the Om! The Om!"
4) The bureaucracy- it seems like you have to give your age, occupation, educational qualifications, passport number, inside leg measurement and fine details of your astrology chart etc etc just to use an internet cafe
5) No one ever has change. I swear people eat 10 rupee notes. So much time is spent waiting for change.
6) The flies. They can be relentless.
7) The rubbish. You go out to a temple, a waterfall or beautiful hillside and theres crap, plastic bottles etc, dumped everywhere.

Yes, I was in a bit of a bad mood. Theres more things I love about India obviously- the way people dress, the spiritual dimension in the everyday, the food obviously, cheikku fruit which are divine, Ayurveda, the respect for education, the lack of airhead chavvy footballers wives types. Celebrities here seem to have their heads screwed on.
Also, a speciality of Rishikesh is the amount of amazing Ayurvedic pharmacies- you can buy a box of organic spirulina for a quarter of the price of at home. And I've got into this orange face massage cream thats amazing, completely natural ingredients and about 150 rupees. I got talking to one of the men who owns a big shop in Ramjhula and he was saying that vata overbalances are the most common in Westerners. He's visited the UK and reckons its because of 2 main things. He said people treat their relationships like toys, getting bored and walking away if they're not pretty and perfect and thus end up with an 'emptiness'. And the other thing was lack of fresh food, eating things like plastic wrapped sandwiches and not getting real nutrition. Sandra and I spent a happy hour talking with him and getting all these herbs explained to us. I got a supplement for vata overbalances, and maybe its psychosomatic, but I'm feeling pretty good and relaxed, as I said before, more focussed. As I'm quite achey now, I think I'm going to take the next two days off asana practice and give the body a break... Just some reading, meditation and Holi celebrations, should be good for photos...

Posted by victoria8 07:35 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

Yoga Monkeys

and Paneer tikka masala


Slept amazingly well again- must be the mountain air. When I woke up I got really into my Iyengar book and spent the morning in bed reading and decided to give Ashtanga a miss today. Had a long luxurious bucket bath and then a big breakfast downstairs with ayurvedic tea which I've been getting into as much as I crave coffee it just makes me too hyper now. And uber-intense. Oh shit I may be turning into someone who drinks decaff/ No/ I shall resist that above all else... Put my thai fisherman pants and Ganeshe t-shirt on and spent the day with Sandra. She's wonderful- very French she smokes too much and reads Dostoyevsky. And tarot cards. She's got the most amazing old Marseilles deck and did me a good reading this morning. Everything at the moment whether its advice from palmists or Ayurvedic doctors or Mysore energy healers etc etc (and I"ve been talking to a lot of people) boils down to being present and not being even an iota in the past. We met up with Soma for a walk in town but there wasn't time to go to his ashram as we wanted to go to Yoga at the Sivananda Ashram at 4.30.

Yoga was amazing. It was taught by a Japanese lady who was a nun with a shaved head and orange robes. When I was lying down in savasana I suddenly felt the air around me 'thicken' and a heavy throbbing stillness descended on me. I opened my eyes and she was standing near me. I have never felt anything like that before from a human being. It was a beautiful class. The room is right on the banks of the Ganges so theres a beautiful river view and halfway through the class they started chanting for the puja so that was like a sound backdrop to the practice. She kept emphasizing the breath and I actually released a great deal in sitting forward bends through breathing- all the postures that have been my least favourite since I hurt my hamstring. We went from sarvangasana straight into bridge and then chakrasana. It was a classical Hatha class but very challenging and about two hours long. We felt wonderful afterwards. Sandra decided to ask her when it was best to have a cigarette after a Yoga practice!!!!! What a thing to ask a Yoga teacher!!! And the memorable part of the class was the monkeys. There were two really cute little young monkeys playing outside. There were these verandah windows that were open and one kept trying to see in to look at what we were doing. Monkeys are very nosy and like to be involved. She kept chasing him away and it started to be like a pantomime... She would turn around and he would appear again and vice versa. It was the most perfect comic timing, I wish I'd had a video camera. He hissed at her quite theatrically at one point! And then he tried to pinch her water bottle but it was too big for him. Then they started banging on the windows which were by now shut. In the final relaxation they were playing with everyones shoes outside, chucking them around and putting t shirts on their heads and using flip flops to skid across the patio with... I've decided that the monkeys are the chavs of Rishikesh. They have no respect for anything and are really anarchic.
We went to the Madras Cafe for dinner which is an institution in this town. The manager and owner sat with us and we had a nice chat (I impressed them with my knowledge of South Indian cuisine and ordered off-menu like a celebrity) and we had some great dosas and himalayan health rice. Beautiful. And I had the best paneer tikka masala I've ever eaten, with red onions and coconut chutney. I've also found the best Indian sweet shop locally that sells these pastries soaked in syrup so I'm pretty happy. Having an early night as going to the Gita Ashram tomorrow and for a swim too. Thirsty as well from all the pickles we ate so in seach of soda water first...
We've also got this ongoing rickshaw saga. The rickshaw drivers here have no qualms about charging 3 times the going rate or more to tourists, especially me, as thanks to my liberal use of factor 50, I could feasibly have just got off the plane and so they try to get 50 rupees for a 20 rupee trip. Its not a lot of money but its irritating being taken for an idiot so I say 30 rupees and if they don't want it I'll walk. Anyway, Sandra and I caused a massive fight 2 days ago as all these drivers were trying to undercut each other as we were negotiating a price and there was much swearing and pushing and guys trying to lead us into different vehicles. Anyway, they all remember us now and we only have to pay 30! We asked if there was going to be another fight about it this evening and they all started laughing..
Its very noisy at Swiss Cottage this evening, some of the locals are drinking whisky and listening to what sounds like Hindi techno beats. And the dogs are joining in too..... But I'm so tired I'll sleep through anything though I think the iron drinks starting to perk me up a little...

Posted by victoria8 07:51 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

The Beatles Ashram

and revisiting Kurmasana......

Today was a fantastic day... Got up early after another really out of character long long sleep, 9 hours nearly.... Practise was great this morning- another Mysore veteran has turned up- Eduardo from Mexico- he's a character. When I was first in Mysore and queueing at the door reading all the signs he came up to me and asked me if I'd noticed the 'small sign'. "Which one's that?" I said; "the one that says if you don't get laid you get a full refund heh heh" he said. So it was a nice surprise to see him again and find out if he had any gossip. Apparently Pattabhi Jois is quite ill now and so the shala's shut for a while.
Its been a cloudy day, overcast and cool. The sky was grey over the turquoise river in the morning and the wind was wild around the practice room. The door rattled, the windows rattled, the candle flame flickered and it was very atmospheric. I loved the practice today, I was pretty present throughout and decided to focus on progressing a little, so I did a lot of wide legged forward bends and got into kurmasana which I hadn't done in 6 weeks or so, and its coming. Sometimes its so hard to release though. And I've been thinking a lot and that always seems to affect my body, its like theres not the space to entertain the thoughts I have AND do asana practice. So the obvious solution is to stop thinking about anything non essential. Easier said than done...... However, my body's softening up again, I was very stiff the past couple of days because I've been doing a lot of walking and that seems to have made my legs seize up as I haven't done any exercise for weeks- we only did asana practice in the Ashram.
So I took myself off for a massage today, theres a little place up the road. This amazing woman called Vinita gave me the massage of my life. It was an extreme Yoga type massage, being pulled into all kinds of positions and being pummelled and your back walked over whilst naked. She had her feet on my shoulders and forced my back symmetrical. I could feel loads of clicks but there was no pain. So much tension got reduced! It'll be interesting to see how practice goes tomorrow. Whilst on my physical health trip I went to see the local Ayurvedic guy here to get my doshas checked and get some nutrition advice as I'm only here for another 4 weeks now so I want to make the most of it and be as clean and energetic as possible for when I go home and am thinking about work etc.
Since I've been in India I've met 3 Ayurvedic doctors and I've really liked them all. This one's called Dr Arora and he took my pulse for a long time, checked eyes and tongue etc and diagnosed Pitta-Vata dosha. He said I should make more time to meditate and view situations as they actually are rather than running away with the vata. And he said my low blood pressure was caused by an iron deficiency so I should take an iron tonic and eat lots of green soups. Apparently my pulse is much weaker on my right hand side so my male energy's underactive and this causes a lack of confidence sometimes. So I bought some iron tonic for 54 rupees and decided to make some time for meditation. I keep thinking about Vipassana courses but I think that would be cramming in too much and I can always do one in the UK at some point. I'm just going to do my Yoga practice, go for lovely walks, read and study a lot, socialize a little and eat superfoods for the remainder of my time here.


This afternoon Sandra and I met up with Soma and he walked us to the Beatles Ashram, where the Maharishi guy lived, and had his first ashram and Advaita Vedanta University. What a place. No ones supposed to go in as its owned by the government etc, but we managed to get past security with 20 rupees each- he told us not to tell the Americans who he'd charged 50! Yes, baksheesh is up and running... Its not the safest spot so if you're going to go there do it in the day like us, preferably in a group. Soma knew the place well and we got a good tour. There were old hippies wandering round the place like psychedelic Miss Havershams. It must have been amazing. Ten thousand people lived there and all the little houses and meditation huts are still numbered. We wandered through the mill where they ground their flour, through derelict guest houses with the remains of bidets in the bathroom. There must have been so much colour and life there. There are loads of family homes with shelves still up, the walls still painted in amazing bright colours. Theres a fresh gentle energy round the place, it must have been like Heaven to the people that had good experiences there.


There are loads of tiny little round buildings that are reminiscent of the tiny round Celtic structures the earliest hermit Christians lived in in Britain. They are on two levels, the upstairs being a meditation space and the downstairs being a compact little bathroom and kitchen area with shelves. Theres also a lot of bigger family houses and guest houses. We went and sat in the meditation hall (see top photo) which is still a beautiful blue but covered in graffiti now. Theres monkeys and peacocks everywhere. And tigers apparently but we didn't see any, We climbed on to the roof on the ruined university and looked down on to the whole of Rishikesh and beyond. I asked Soma if it was like the place where he grew up and he said yes, but he didn't get to hang around with celebrity musicians... We're going to go and see his Ashram tomorrow, its one of the popular places for meditation workshops. After an hour or so I was feeling very hungry so we went to a very inexpensive local restaurant for thali and looked at the increasingly grey sky. After that Soma went home to do Ashram stuff and Sandra and I went along the river to watch the puja to Shiva. It was beautiful, hundreds of people chanting the Gayatrim mantra. It was like being back in Trimbak. They lit a big fire too and it was incredible. The Shiva statue is so beautiful you can see how people adopt the path of Bhakti Yoga, viewing him as their spouse. He just sits there emanating tranquillity in a strong and high cheekboned kind of way. Feeling inspired to re read the Bhagavad Gita. The Iyengar books are good though. My word that man had a tough childhood. He spent years and years struggling with his practice, unable to perform prananyama or basic forward bends because his cruel brother in law Krishnamacharya, who was obviously a fan of the 'tough love' theory, forced him to perform such extreme back bends it buggered up his spine. And after being made to perform Hanumasana he ripped up his hamstring and so could barely walk. 'Cider with Rosie' its not. I find it comforting to read though, as I've said before, I like the way he writes. He's almost autistic though sometimes, theres a real candid feeling in his books. He said that he used to see a cobra during his morning practice and it scared him so much that he would go and get his wife out of bed to sit up with him until it went away. After he'd already woken her up at 4am to make his pre-practice coffee while he lay in for a bit. And then he writes that she was the most wonderful wife as she never once complained. Oh, and she was a bit fat so she could weigh him down when he was experimenting with new asanas. Its the sweetest story though. He said they were alike in that they were both oddities to their families and would spend whole days just practising asanas...

Its raining heavily now, for the first time since I've been in India. I like it. Reminds me of being in Derbyshire, the dark clouds behind the hills. And now I have a nice room I can curl up in a clean space and listen to it.... Blisss.... Its been so dry for ages its good to have a change....

Posted by victoria8 06:42 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

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