The ashram was an incredible experience. The yoga was physically (and mentally) challenging, the schedule was rigorous and my body found a flexibility and comfort in poses I've never known it to have before. I shared my room with a witty, deliciously sarcastic British girl who knew how to make the long days seem shorter. I learned how to get myself into (and safely out of) a headstand and now have the base to keep practicing for the scorpion. I made a friend who gave me the incredible gift of seeing an Indian wedding. I taught my first yoga class. I got life lessons from Luis and Anand always made me smile. I learned how to use yoga to enrich my life.
It wasn't a cake walk. I struggled through the early morning wake ups, the routine, the pranayama (breathing exercises), the stress of so much yoga in so little time. But, besides that it gave me a Sivananda Teacher Training Certificate, it also gave me a basic understanding for India as a country. I learned about the culture, the people, the religion and the food. I got to interact with Westerners and Indians alike and feel out the differences for myself. I gained a handle on what was appropriate and what wasn't. In short, I got to interact with lots of cool people, all day, every day, while learning about yoga, India and Hinduism.
And then I flew to Delhi. Vibrant, intoxicating, intense, particular, beautiful, overpowering, stunning, affectionate, apathetic, bewitching, parlayzing, severe, humbling Delhi.
I realize that all of these words are powerful and sharp, but nothing about India is dull. I also realize that many of these are contradictory, which also somehow describes India perfectly.
India has been, and will most likely remain, the most difficult part of my trip. That's not saying I didn't have lots of good times and memories (Dharamsala, dance nights at the ashram, chai and street food, paragliding, the incredible sights and the even more incredible people). But, India was different and hard. Not in a bad way, in the very best way. It was exactly what I needed and craved on this year of self discovery. It pushed and I did my best to push back with at least equal and opposite force. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I didn't. But that's when you learn how far you can go; how pliable the body and mind are; how much they can withstand and adapt to.
I cried more in those two months than I have since or yet. There were days I wanted to spend completely alone, doing nothing; oblivious to the amazing culture and sights around me. I felt home sickness like a physical ailment a Dr. could diagnose; like I had eaten something rotten and it was literally knotting up my insides. It was always there, even on the best of days, a shadow in the background. My senses were constantly being pulled in one direction or another - the smell of spices, the taste of dust in my mouth, the feel of the mid day sun on my neck or someone pulling at my sleeve to try and get me to ride in their tuk tuk rather than the hundred others pulled up to the sidewalk. You can't escape the fact that you're traveling, that you're somewhere different, that you've been away from home for months.
But, that's a part of traveling. Or, at least, what I want a part of it to be for me. Not always, but enough to remind me why I'm here in the first place. It's reminding yourself how lucky you are for everything you take for granted on a daily basis. It's feeling all those things you read about but never truly experienced until you are actually in the middle of it.
This all sounds very dramatic. That isn't my intention. I had countless great experiences in India between the things I saw and the people I met. I think it's a magical and different and enchanting country. When people ask me about my favorite places, India always makes it high on the list. Its sights alone are incredible, but when you combine that with the history, culture, religion and people, you can't help but fall under its spell. It was surprising also; different than I expected in many ways. Parts of India were very modern. New Delhi, for example. When I packed my bag for the last time in Kathmandu, I put all of my shorts and tank tops into their own compartment, thinking they would hide in the recesses of my Osprey the whole time I was there. They did, but I noticed more freedom, in Delhi specifically, than I would have thought. At the ashram, we went swimming in a t-shirt and shorts so we didn't offend the locals. In New Delhi, I saw young Indian women wearing short shorts and tank tops. That wasn't the norm, but I was surprised to see the new and old, the modest and not so modest fusion. I had expected saris everywhere and only seeing the skin of hands and faces. Many women were still wearing traditional kurtans, or a mix of the top with a pair of jeans, but it was much more Western than I thought.
India is also a land of contrast. There are people bathing in litter filled streams across from beautiful high rise apartments. There are five star restaurants and tap water you can't drink. You can spend hundreds of dollars a night in a hotel, have a chauffeur drive you to the sites, and only glimpse the poverty surrounding you, or, you can live on $30/day, including hostels, street food, some sights and several cups of chai. It's totally up to you, your budget and the experience you're looking to have. There are tuk tuk drivers and shop owners trying to overcharge you. There are dirt roads, people peeing and sleeping in the streets, dust and pollution in the air, people littering without a second thought, no personal space and bodies everywhere. I learned, while in India, that personal space is something you create in your mind. It's a figment of your comfortable imagination. There really is no such thing. There's poverty. But, there's also a sense of community that's sometimes lost with our white picket fences and locked front doors. These people know each other. They help each other. They sit and drink chai with their neighbors. I'm not saying we don't have that at home, but when you've got the luxury of running water and clean streets, you've also (often) got the burden of social norms and wondering what your neighbors think. I guess you see that here too (you probably see it everywhere), but I think the issues are different, more basic. I think that also leaves time for the more simple pleasures.
I feel like, because I have so many people ask me about it, I should address how I felt safety wise. I never felt unsafe. I'm sure there were people in India who didn't have my best interests at heart, but you can find that anywhere. Being a single, solo female traveller, you learn to be cautious. In Kathmandu, there was a beautiful, freckle kissed, naturally wavy blond haired British girl who told me about the Indian man on the train behind her rubbing the front of himself all over the back of her. It makes your skin crawl to think that people assume it's ok to touch you without your permission. The thought of being in a foreign country and having a man touch me inappropriately gives me instant sweaty palms. I'd be terrified. But, the truth is, that that can happen anywhere. On a side note, I did notice that blonds got so much more attention than dark haired people. The more pale skinned and light haired you were, the more blatant the stares and gawking. I barely drank, and when I did, it was a glass of beer or wine with friends I'd gotten to know. I was usually sight seeing with other people and when I wasn't, I definitely wasn't out after the sun went down. I'm not saying that in parts of the country, women aren't viewed much differently than what I'm used to. They are and I don't agree with it. But, that's a whole 'nother issue. I write this because I know people who've turned India down on the basis of safety, and I think that's a shame. Be smart, like anywhere else, and you'll probably be fine (like anywhere else).
I feel like this is more stream of consciousness (scattered and disorganized) than a regular blog post, but I have so many thoughts and memories from India and the next one keeps surfacing while I'm in the middle of plucking up the last and putting it down on paper. I just want to do my best to get it all down. India really is amazing and I want to do it justice.
If you ever get the chance to visit, take it with a running leap and arms wide open. Know that's it going to be different and uncomfortable, but beautiful and wonderful at the same time. Realize that discomfort is part of the experience. Embrace it and you'll come out a better person in every way possible.