Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world and the hardest place to find a yoga class

The 4 meter Hanuman in front of our Ashram

You may or may not know that I became a certified yoga teacher in San Francisco last year.  It was 6 months of 13hours of yoga a week, plus a full time job at a start up, which is of course, more than a 40 hour work week.  I don't know how many times I said, "thank god it's yoga and I'm relaxed when I'm done with the class", because I wouldn't have made it through.  What does this have to do with travelling you ask?  Well we decided to visit India, and it happens to be the birthplace of yoga and where yoga is mainly taught 1:1.  How fortuitous.  I knew immediately that I wanted to study for at least a week while there.  I was so excited and began researching it months before we even bought our first plane ticket.  I quickly found the self proclaimed yoga capital of the world was Rishikesh and it was to become the longest stop on the trip.  A whole week in one town, something we haven't done yet.

We went from hot dry desert of Jaisalmer to a more lush green area at the foot of the himilayan mountains. The cooler weather and change of scenery were welcome as was the relative quietness.  After the initial tuk tuk haggling and travel hassles, it's a quiet town where the store owners aren't pushy and imposing. Such a relief after busy annoying and loud Delhi.
I chose to stay at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, they're on the 'holy' Ganges river, have an elaborate nightly Aarti, and it's one of the few ashrams where Vince could join me without partaking in the activities since he's not much of a yogi.

The nightly Aarti, on the Ganges

We arrived at the ashram and were given the daily schedule.  Morning prayers at 5:00 am, yoga at 6:00 am, yoga at 4:00 pm, Aarti at 6:30 pm.  My first question was where can I sign up for personal yoga and meditation classes.  The answer, "you can't, there are none."  Wow, it's a place that boasts over 1000 rooms, they have 2 yoga classes a day and no private lessons.

Every meal at the ashram was simple and yellow

We were placed in a large expensive (for an ashram) non-ac room with a 'river view', blocked by the apartment complex across the street.  The street also happens to be inhabited by dogs, honking scooters, and a group of beggars who hack and gag well after sunset and well before sunrise.  The bed consists of a wood platform and a 2 inch thick piece of foam covered by a single blanket and no proper sheets.
Night 1 = not much sleep.

Comfy mattress

 I add anything I can find underneath so that I can sleep

We woke up our first day at 5am to attend the morning prayers to find that they were un-intelligible and no script or translation was available. Once we were awake enough, we also realized that we were the only Westerners there.  That was our first and last attendance. The following yoga class was equally un-intellegible as the instructions consisted of "inhale" "exhale" then progressed to "in" and "out" while the teacher showed us how to touch our toes while exhaling and put our arms up while inhaling, and other equally uncomplicated things.  Ok.  I didn't sleep last night, it's hot, and I'm pretty miserable, but this is different than anything I've ever done, and it's a learning experience, go with it.  I then attempt to attend the evening class to be told that I'm not allowed since I'm not in their special 2 week beginner course.  Strike #1.
We switch to a smaller,cheaper, quieter, but equally hot, crappy mattress room, that I quickly disinfect, and affectionatelly label the shithole.

Vince and I venture out of the ashram into the streets teeming with cow shit and the millions of flies it attracts in search of yoga classes outside and find promising candidates. I arrive the next morning at an 8:30am class after a 30 min walk across town to be  told that there is 'no class today' and there is no reason for 'no class today'.  Strike #2.

Free range cows!

The universe is trying to tell me something?  So I inquire about a place which I can use to do my own practice, perhaps a meditation room, or a private yoga room at our very large ashram, and am told to use my bedroom and there is no other place. Strike #3.  I'm out!  I then decide that Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world and the hardest place in the world to find a yoga class.  After searching and failing to find a cheap, easy, interesting way out of Rishekish, I am downtrodden.  I drag myself out for dinner and meet two lovely ladies who save the trip.  Tedi, a yoga teacher from Canada, and Jenny, a Sweede on an Indian adventure.

We quickly become the three yogi-teers, searching for and attending yoga classes, having long breakfasts, and window shopping together.  The most interesting and informative of the classes we find happen to be taught by westerners, and despite my efforts, every class I attempt to attend alone is somehow cancelled, even the day after I verified hours and availability.

Window shopping included henna

Vince and I spend a lot of time reading, and the hot midday hours drinking coffee in a very Western overpriced cafe with AC we call 'the haven'.  It makes our stay tolerable.

India was as beautiful, romantic, magical, and interesting as we imagined, and maybe a bit more challenging, annoying and disgusting. It's funny, after one week in the country we were surprised at how easy it had been. After 2 weeks we were worn out and happy to find the slower vibe of Rishikesh. After 3 weeks I'm all but done and looking forward to getting out of here. Come to think of it I have never been so happy to leave any country.

You can find the rest of the pictures here.

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