Visiting Nepal during the monsoon season is ill advised. Unless you like rain. The Himalayas are hidden behind the clouds & when it’s not pouring rain, it’s gray & overcast & humid.
After my trek I decided to spend some time in the town of Pokhara, which is right smack dab in the middle of Nepal. My friend Wes at Johnny Vagabond, told me, “Pokhara is a stern mistress” you got that right, Wes. Pokhara is about 2,900 feet above sea level and a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, but it does have a lake. Lakes are good. It has a bustling main drag where, for years, trekkers and backpackers have come, many to pick up supplies before heading out on the Annapurna Range. I am told, (she says a little bitterly) that on a clear day you can see the beautiful Annapurna Range & Machapuchare, or fishtail peak above the lake.
So what’s girl to do in the pouring rain? Why visit an ashram, of course. I found Sadhana yoga in the Lonely Planet & it sounded perfect. So after 2 days of rafting I decided to check it out. It didn’t start out so great, however. I had just come from a 2 day rafting trip & was wet, sandy, dirty & tired after a 5 hour bus ride. Sadhana asks that you arrive the evening prior because your first day begins promptly at 5:45 am. I hailed a taxi from the Lakeside district in Pokhara & was really looking forward to a hot shower & a clean bed. The taxi driver stopped at the small road & said “ok” & I said, uh, where’s Sadhana? To which he replied, pointing up he steep hill at the brightly colored building, up there, about 30 minute walk. Oh, for crying out loud, seriously? ANOTHER climb up a steep hill, and when a Nepali tells you 30 minute walk, count on an hour. So, up I trudged. I arrived more hot, sweaty, dirty and irritated than you can imagine.
My irritation evaporated as soon as I met the staff. The people at Sadhana are the nicest folks you will ever meet. Bippan, checked me in, showed me to my room and while it was simple and had a squat toilet, it was clean & the water was hot.
I was awakened at 5:45 by a gong. At 6 am we began morning meditation. Ok, for those of you who don’t meditate, let me just say, it’s hard. Both mind & body must be completely still. Sitting cross legged for an hour is, well, uncomfortable. My feet fell asleep, my knees ached & I constantly felt the need to fidget. Our mediation teacher, Rosen, put a bottle cap in his palm shook it, making the cap jiggle & eventually fall out of his hand & said, “imagine the cap is your is your mind & my hand is your body, you cannot still your mind until you can still your body”. That put it into perspective. I had one jiggly palm. and a wandering mind. Rosen said it took him 4 months of twice daily mediation to be able to sit still. It’s a worthwhile endeavor & I hope to one day be able to achieve stillness of mind & body. And while Rosen is a calm & quiet yogi during mediation sessions, he has a wicked sense of humor, absolutely LOVES American movies, especially Kung Fu Panda (WTH?) and delighted in playing practical jokes.
The group of us at Sadhana are a diverse group: a mexican man on a spiritual path who has been practicing yoga in India for 6 months, a french couple who are lifelong vagabonds, an Irish girl looking to improve her yoga practice, a middle-aged british expat in search of herself & her lost health, a young danish man who has never done yoga & is here because his trek got rained out, a group of australian brothers on a family holiday & me.
Morning meditation is followed by “Yogic cleansing”, or irrigating your nose with a nettle pot. For those of you who don’t know what a nettle pot is, picture a small teapot, filled with salt water. You take the spout, put it in one nostril, tip your head & pour. halfway through, you switch nostrils. If you do it incorrectly you feel like you are going to drown. But when done correctly it’s a pretty good sensation; getting your nose all cleaned out. So, there we stood, in a circle on the lawn & flushing out our noses & blowing snot on the ground. This was followed by pretty strange dance moves. All in all, I liked it.
Morning yoga. Asanga is a kind but exacting teacher, and if you are an experienced yogi, you might find this particular Hatha yoga pretty easy. me? not so much. I left each morning session covered in sweat. But i felt good.
Morning walk. Sheesh, when is breakfast already? I have been up for 3 hours already & I am HUNGRY. So off we go for an hour long walk. Up the damn mountain. More sweating. But the views are so incredible that I forget my hunger, my aching legs & my sweat covered head, chest, back & face.
BREAKFAST! and what a fabulous breakfast it was. The most delicious muesli & curds & a lassi with cinnamon & cardamom, and to top it off, fresh, ripe, sweet mangoes. Simply delicious.
After breakfast you can partake in a steam bath (no thanks, I have sweated enough already) or a mud bath (since there was no sun we couldn’t do the mud baths) apparently you smear yourself with 2 coats of mud, bake in the sun & then wash it all off. sounds…… messy. We had free time for a few hours where you could chat, or read, or do whatever you like.
Noon: Afternoon meditation. more sitting & trying not fidget & think about anything except breathing. while I was unsuccessful at stilling my mind & my body i looked forward to the sessions.
1 pm: Lunch! Hooray, more food. Lunch was always dal baht. And not just any dal baht, the BEST dal baht. with seconds. Dal baht is the nepali version of an Indian thali meal. you get some rice, dal, usually some sort of veg (at sadhana we got THREE vegetables!) and some sort of pickle, which is usually more like salsa or salad. Absolutely delicious.
After lunch we had more down time to relax or visit.
1530: Karmic yoga. Karmic yoga is “the discipline of action” or work. We did various chores around the ashram; sweeping, cleaning the solar panels, etc. It was nice to feel useful.
1600: popcorn & chai!
1630: chanting. ok, I know I’m gonna lose some of you here, but it’s really no different from singing hallelujah in church,(which is so not my thing): It’s a way to connect to your spirit with music. Chanting was lead by the lovely Durga, a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. We sat in a circle, drums & tambourines & other musical instruments were at your disposal, if you were so inclined. Durga drummed & we chanted 3 different mantras. Mantras are energy based sounds & derived from sanskrit. My favorite was Jaya Mata Kali, a mantra in praise of the Divine Mother. I don’t know if i connected to the Divine Mother or not, but it sure was fun.
1730: evening yoga. more asanas. more sweating. I ripped open the crotch of my shorts during sun salutations.
1845: Dinner. Hooray. more delicious food. Dinner was usually some sort of soup with chapati. It was a lighter meal & felt good to go to bed not all stuffed. After dinner we chatted until lights out….. 8 pm. and it all started again at 5:45
While I have no plans to find a guru or become an ascetic, I enjoyed my time in the ashram & it is something I hope to experience more of and I would recommend it to anyone seeking to get more from their travel experience than the usual sights.
Here’s a few misc photos from nepal……. next stop Bhutan!