Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ashram Living

I believe i left you at the end of our lovely stay at the Haveli Hari Ganga, which still leaves me with a blissful memory. The day before we left as i said we finally got the directions to Sri Santosh Puri Ashram which my friend Adrian told me about (thanks Adrian) and we went to find it. It turned out to pure peace, a small place away from the madness and right on the Ganga. So we packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the Haveli and set off to experience Ashram life.

Santosh Puri Ashram is run by a beautiful family with an interesting tale. Mataji was born in Germany some 65 yrs ago and at the age of 23 she set off to see India. She fell in love and wondered the country finally finding babaji, a saddhu who had spent the last twelve yrs wondering covered in holy ash. She decided to stay with him and left all her possessions behind receiving only one piece of cloth and became his disciple, Narvada. For 10 yrs they sat under a tree on a small island near Haridwar and there they meditated, did cow service and lived a basic life. On the tenth year she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Ganga and they moved and got some land on the side of the ganga and began their ashram. Over the years she had two girls, Gangotri and Mandakini and there they lived peacefully for many years. What a fascinating life these kids have lived, now fully grown teaching at the ashram, they constantly tell us stories of their childhood. Haveing a holy man as a father who never was a father but always a teacher. Never being told what to do, but being shown what to do by example. When Babaji died the children built a beautiful temple for him and they opened up the ashram to people in 2001.

As luck would have it we entered the ashram 12 days into a month long course on Clinical yoga and Ayurveda, so we have thrown out our plans until the end of the month and are staying to complete the course. It is a really interesting course covering so much information. Our days typically run from 4am to 9 or 10pm and look something like this.

4am- wake up, drink 1 ltr of water to clean out our digestive tracts
5am- aarti/puja, devotional chants and rituals at the temple
6am- Kriya/cleansing class, this is lead by Ganga and every second day we learn a new cleansing technique, cleaning the bowels, stomach, ears, eyes, nose, gums, teeth, tongue and third eye.
8am- Asanas class, which what most people in the west consider yoga. This is taught by Mandakini who has her master in yoga and stress management
10:30am- morning meal, we sit in silence and eat amazing food served to us in unlimited quantities
11:30am- Karma yoga, selfless service, cleaning, gardening,...
1pm- Clinical yoga theory and ayurveda class, lead by Gangotri who has here masters in Ayurveda and is preparing to go to Kerala to become a complete doctor on the 27th
4:30pm- Pranayama class/breathing, this is by far the hardest class, perhaps it is the afternoon heat or perhaps sitting cross legged for so long. THis class is lead by Ganga who has his masters in Human Consciousness and sort of looks like he is from south america.
6:30pm- evening meal
7pm- aarti/puja
8pm- meditation or chanting

I know these are long and full days and it feels amazing. At first it was really hard, trying to fit into this small community, having recurring feelings from high school; will they like me? Also just spending time with oneself, being quiet, connecting with our bodies. I will tell more when the time is right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A royal escape from the rain

We arrived in Haridwar on a very auspitious day, 9/9/9 after traveling through the rain our train arrived to a dry city. With no couchsurfing planned I was really our first experience of getting out the train with no idea. Let me tell you it is much nicer with a plan. The streets were packed with thousands of people many here for the yearly journey to offer puja to their ancestors. It was a bit of an intense experience to say the least and so we wondered about with our heavy bags trying to decide where to go. The ashram hadn’t gotten back to us and so we turned to the our trusty old LP, but alas it’s advice was not good. The supposedly clean hotel Om deluxe was not clean and was run by a rather creepy man and many young boys he bossed aroud. After putting our stuff in our room we caught the cable car up to the Mansa Devi Temple, there we were sold flowers by boys to give to the goddess and were called over by every other saddhu to make an offering and receive the quintessential painted dot on our forehead. It is an interesting experience watching the Hindus and Sikhs all worship they are so devoted and put all their faith into these ideas. Alas as we left the temple and returned down the mountain the streets seemed more hectic and all-consuming, so we tucked into our hotel early hoping tomorrow would bring more light.

After a rather dismal sleep involving a continual up and down to turn on and off the fan, we awoke to rain and this was not just any rain this was insane, streets turned to rivers Indian monsoon rain. Oh what were we to do? Should we try and find the ashram on our own or should we stay another night? Fortunately our upper class tastes led us back to the LP and to the most expensive hotel in town, The Haveli Hari Ganga. Of course an expensive hotel in India was really only $50 a piece per night. The Haveli was built in 1918 and was originally a guest house for the rich and royal who came to visit the holy city of Haridwar and it definitely felt royal. We arrived and ate a sumptuous breakfast and then relaxed in our nice clean room until it was time for a massage. WE were treated to a steam bath and Indian head and foot massages which lifted our spirits to a whole new level. We spent the whole day relaxing in the hotel watching the rain and playing chess and eating delicious food. The next day we finally got the address of the ashram and after a relaxing morning we went to check it out. It was just what we hoped and so we walked most of the way home and entered the Haveli one last time with smiles on our faces knowing we had one more night to relax and then had a place to call home at least for a little while.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Beautiful India

Namaste beautiful people

We have arrived in India safely and boy has it been three days packed full of adventure. We arrived in Delhi under a stormy sky at 9:30pm (2am Korea time) and quickly found ourselves a prepaid taxi to the take us to our hosts house in the suburb of Gurgaon. Our hosts name was Shailja and she was a 29 yr old stay at home mom with a four yr old and a husband who works for google. It was an interesting perspective on India. There apt was in a beautiful condo building with four bedrooms each with an attached bath. They had a three servants, a live in maid who had her own apt just outside the main apt, a cook and a cleaner. It was a strange reality but they were nice to the help, though they did not quite feel like family. We however were treated like family. Perhaps it was a way to curb the mundane reality of a house wife, but Shailja stayed up late chatting with us and fed us all sorts of amazing food.

Delhi itself was crazy. A city of around 13 million filled with so much contradictions. Everywhere there are beautiful new glass buildings surrounded by crumbling walls and pot-holed streets. The extremely rich in their mercedes and silk suits roam the streets with the extremely poor, children with kwaskior swollen bellies and old women with clothing so thread- bare their breasts hang out. It is a hard thing to see, esp witnessing and hearing the perspectives of the rich who just claim there is nothing to be done. Of course, the main thing that one notices, esp after being on little Jeju is the smells, noise and colours. Everywhere the scent of urine, spices, dirty, sweat, cows and cheap cologne mingle in the air. Mixed with the noise created by people yelling and horns honking it is a complete and total sensory overload. We spent our first day in town shopping in Khan market and Connaught Place and wow was it heaven to me. The goods are amazing, so colourful, so cheap. I am amazed i didn't spend all my money. I did get pulled in by some beautiful Gujarati women who were sitting down a side street in their beautiful sarees selling the most exquisite clothing. I bought an unreal dress with matching pants and scarf which i can not even express the beauty of with words, but as Caitriona said i should be married in it. I also bought to pant suits that are both wonderful. I have decided to get rid of all my clothes i brought with me and just wear Indian clothing, not that i didn't already know that ;)

Yesterday, we spent the morning with our hosts playing with their little girl Anhiti and eating spanish omelettes and dosas. Finally it came time to catch our cab to the train station. I must admit an feeling of dread and adventure filled me with this prospect after reading all the horrible stories written by travellers visiting this place. But it was really easy as pie. Of course it was busy but we did not feel in danger and we never got harrassed or groped by anyone. I think this definitely had to do with the fact that we wore traditional clothing. It is amazing how different it feels being stared at in western clothes and in Indian clothes. The train ride was spent trying to find a place to stay (thank god for my cell). The woman who was supposed to take us in bailed last minute and fortunately we were rescued by Amit one of the primary members of CS Chandigarh. Despite the fact that he was also in Delhi he spent a few hours calling around to other CSers and found us a place to stay.

Now getting of the train and waiting for some complete stranger is possibly insane. It turned out to be quite an adventure. As we waited for Gurmehar a family seated near us started eyeing and smiling at us and before we knew it the whole family was surrounding us chattering in Punjabi and a few words of english. It was so sweet as they asked us to sit and join them. But out of the back of the crowd walks to to young Punjabi men in western clothes, one with long hair and another with a sikh tattoo. They introduced themselves and we followed them out of the station to a brand new white SUV. We have truly had quite the royal treatment so far in India. The guys sped through the streets as only wealthy young men in fancy cars can do and took us to a hookah bar that one of them own. There they fed us and gave us tea and we smoked amazing shisha and chatted about life in India for the elite. Their perspectives about the poor and the state of India. It was an interesting experience. They were very spoiled and lived a rather traditional life. They would both be in arranged marriages and life with their families for ever. Our host had gone to the top boys boarding school in India and studied commerce while the other was a lawyer. In the end we did not have to pay for a thing and they took us to a hotel that their parents owned and we got to stay in for free. Of course they were disappointed that we would not go out drinking with them and perhaps take them to bed at the end of the night, but it was an interesting experience.

Today we awoke and left straight away and found ourselves our own hotel and ate an amazing breakfast of chai, samosas and dal and gulab jaman. Now we are headed of to the Nek Chand fantasy rock garden and shuksa lake. Tommorow we will be off to Amritsar to stay with a Punjabi family and visit the golden temple and see the guard change at the pakistan border. Then off to Haridwar and rishikesh for some yoga and meditation at an ashram.