Saturday, April 4, 2015

What the Yoga Retreat Looked Like!

Am back in Singapore - it is good to get back home to the little one and the hubby! But I definitely have left a piece of my heart back in Rishikesh and I do plan to go back to it some time soon. 

Meanwhile there have been quite a few of you who wanted to know more about the retreat accommodation details etc., so here you go. 

I stayed at Dewa Retreat in Tapovan near Lakshman Jhula and took their package which included accommodation, 2 yoga classes daily, one trip to Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Ashram and all meals (room service excluded). Their website is 

Here are a few pictures and videos too that I couldn't post from there due to slow wi-fi. Slow or inconsistent wifi was probably the only downside, but then again, you don't go to Rishikesh to be plugged on to the internet always! Also, I hadn't taken any of my good cameras because I wanted to travel light and spend less time looking through a viewfinder, so these are just the few pictures taken on my phone. 

So here you go... 

 My room 

 Welcome gift of prayer beads made of Tulsi (basil) seeds. Also got an amazing welcome drink - Tulsi Tea!

 View from the room when the sun's out

 View from the room when it is cloudy

 View from the room when it rains 

 View from the poolside 

 Lakshman Jhula, 400m away from the hotel 

 Entrance to Vasishtha Cave, 19kms away 

View from outside Vasishtha Cave

View from outside Vasishtha Cave

Vasishtha Cave (and my cabbie)

 View from Kunjapuri Temple, 25kms away 

  View from Kunjapuri Temple

  View from Kunjapuri Temple

  View from Kunjapuri Temple

  View from Kunjapuri Temple

  View from Kunjapuri Temple

 Sunrise at Kunjapuri Temple

  Sunrise at Kunjapuri Temple

  Sunrise at Kunjapuri Temple

 Kunjapuri Temple

 Rishikesh as seen from Kunjapuri Temple 

The little fellow who kept following me around (and also half of the looooong flight of stairs to Kunjapuri Temple) 

Halfway point of the climb to Kunjapuri Temple (I highly recommend the Masala Chai here)

 The auto-rickshaw that's more popularly known as the Tuk Tuk there (too much Thai influence)

Ram Jhula 

 View from Ram Jhula 

  View from Ram Jhula 

 Shopping alley near Ram Jhula 

 Ganga Aarti at Paramartha Ashram

 Ganga Aarti at Paramartha Ashram

 The original Shiva statue on the Ganga at Parmartha Ashram was washed away in last year's floods, so they directed me to this other Shiva statue in a garden within the Ashram. It was magnificent, and I loved the half crescent moon on his head, and the almost full moon above in the night sky. 

A lot less touristy Ganga Aarti near the Shatrughana Ghat at Ram Jhula

A lot less touristy Ganga Aarti near the Shatrughana Ghat at Ram Jhula

A lot less touristy Ganga Aarti near the Shatrughana Ghat at Ram Jhula

A lot less touristy Ganga Aarti near the Shatrughana Ghat at Ram Jhula

View from the 13th storey of the Trayambakeshwar temple at Lakshman Jhula

View from the 13th storey of the Trayambakeshwar temple at Lakshman Jhula

View from the 13th storey of the Trayambakeshwar temple at Lakshman Jhula

View from the 13th storey of the Trayambakeshwar temple at Lakshman Jhula

Dear Dolma from the Tibetan Peace shop singing a Nepali song for me :)

The good folks at Dewa Retreat who took the best care of me!

The good folks at Dewa Retreat who took the best care of me!

The good folks at Dewa Retreat who took the best care of me!

With my fellow yoginis as we bid goodbye at Dehradun airport!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Farewell, Rishikesh!

So here we are.... the last day in Rishikesh! And it was a beautiful cool, cloudy, breezy one. 

The day started with one last awesome yoga class. Today he made us do Sarvangaasana and Halasana, which I thought were just the perfect highlight to wrap the retreat with. When it did end, my fellow yoginis and I felt pretty sad, and all we could do was thank our good teacher profusely. 

I had a couple of hours to kill before leaving for the airport, so I spent it at the poolside, reading my book and enjoying the wonderful weather. When it was time to leave, I went around to say goodbye to everyone at the hotel who made my stay so wonderful - the owner, the managers, the receptionists, the waiters, the restaurant manager, the security guard - all of them who took such good care of me for the last one week. My fellow yogini mentioned, "I wonder whether the owner realizes how good his staff are" and I couldn't agree more!

The rest of the day passed by eventlessly - it was travelling all the way, and I had the "Palace of Illusions" by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni for company. I absolutely LOVED the book which narrates the epic Mahabharatha from Draupadi's perspective. It is a terrific read. 

So yes, that's the end of my much awaited yoga retreat. I am so happy I did this and very thankful for the support system (namely the hubby and the helper) that I have that made it possible. 

Now it's time to get back to Singapore and then to a whirlwind shooting schedule in Abu Dhabi starting next week. It's going to be so different from the relaxed, quiet time I have had the past week but thanks to it, I feel prepared for what's coming up. 

Until next time, Rishikesh! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Backbends, 13 Storey Temples And Tibetan Chants!

Today's the sixth day of the retreat, officially the finally one. I say "officially" because as per the original schedule, tomorrow is travel day with no yoga classes. And sure enough, tomorrow I will be making my way back to Singapore, but given that I would be leaving the hotel only at 1pm, the teacher kindly offered to continue with morning lessons as per normal routine. I was so thrilled! One extra class! That really made me feel a little less blue about the looming end of the retreat. 

Both yoga classes today, once again, proved to be challenging but incredibly fulfilling. My favourite part was when, to improve our backward bends during Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose, the teacher asked us to inch closer to a wall and to press our chests and stomachs against it as much as we can - this ensured that we were bent backwards beyond 90 degrees! It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! I had no idea my spine could so quickly get to that stage! 

I took the whole morning slow - just lounged about in the hotel, packed and read one more book, this time another of R. K. Narayan's work "Sampath, the printer of Malgudi". 

After the second yoga class, I set out for my last outing around Rishikesh, not without a heavy heart at the prospect of it being the last one. I went back to Lakshman Jhula and visited a 13 story temple right next to it. This one adorns pretty much all photos of Lakshman Jhula, thanks to its height, beautiful architecture and strategic location right next to the bridge. It had several dieties on each floor, with many of them lined up in a row of shrines from one end to the other. Interestingly enough, in the lower 5-6 floors, it also had a lot of shops interspersed with the shrines that sometimes I would go and pray to one by mistake. Weird. But the top floors were really nice - with single shrines featuring one Shivalinga each and offering some spectacular views of the Ganges below, the lovely bridge across it, the mountains beyond, and several ashrams, temples and shops around. My most favourite part was watching many yogis and yoginis practicing with dedication on the roof tops of the yoga training centres around. I loved it! Again, except for the priest, I was the only one around. I guess few people want to venture up 12 flights of stairs, when there are plenty of other temples at ground level all around. I took the opportunity to sit and meditate in that perfect atmosphere. 

Afterwards, I went back to the row of Tibetan shops we had come across yesterday. I wanted to explore them a bit further because I was so fascinated by all the unique stuff they had to offer. I walked into one shop run by a darling little lady called Dolma. She explained to me what the designs on some of the things meant, and I picked up a pendant that was designed in one of the eight holy Tibetan signs and conveyed "Never Ending / Infinite Love" and one that looked like a prayer wheel with a Tibetan chant on it wishing "Never Ending Happiness". I loved them both! I also caught her humming a beautiful melody as I was looking through her wares, and later when I asked her to sing it again for me, she was so shy and insisted to do so only with the accompaniment of the original song on her phone. The song she was singing was Nepalese, but she had no idea what it meant. She told me that they spend 8 months in Rishikesh every year but when it gets too hot, she goes to Bhutan.  There was something so sweet and charming about here... I really had a great time talking to her! 

By the time I was done shopping, it was already dark, so I made my way back to the hotel. But not before I picked up a few more books from that lovely little book shop. I bought more of R. K. Narayan and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and felt really good about it. 

Even though it was dark, I made my way back to the hotel very, very slowly because I didn't want the walk to end. But all good things have to come to an end, so I just got myself to enjoy every bit of that last walk around. 

One more yoga class tomorrow and then it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful, wonderful place! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Asanas to Jala Neti!

After much activity yesterday, I took the day easy and didn't venture out in the morning. Instead, I spent it in the room and completed all the the storyboarding and scheduling work. I can now say that I personally am 100% ready for the shoot next week! 

Both the yoga classes today were challenging and I got to try a few new things.

First was the Chakrasana or Wheel Pose - I used to be able to do this on my own a long time ago, but recently I had hardly attempted it nor do I think I would have been able to do it, even if I tried. But thanks to the wonderful teacher here, not only was I able to hoist myself up (he pulled me up with a belt at first), but also could strongly remain in that position for a while. It felt awesome! 

Second was the Padmasana or Lotus Pose - Even before coming here, I could get myself into a Padmasana but it had never been a comfortable posture for me, and I would be able to hold it only for 30 seconds to a minute before my ankles and feet scream in pain and I get out of the posture in relief. But today, in the class, I held it for a good 15 minutes and also could get myself to bend forward and touch the forehead on the ground even as I was seated in Padmasana! Great progress! 

Third was the Hanumanasana or the Splits Pose - I had always wanted to be able to do the split but never really learnt how to. Today, with a lot of warm up as guided by the teacher, I managed to get into the widest split I could ever get into till date. I was still not able to get into it a 100% but the teacher said that I am very, very close to it and just a little bit more practice and I can do it! Exciting!!

Last but not the least, we practiced Jala Neti - the nose cleansing or sinus irrigation technique wherein you take warm salt water through one nostril, and drain it through the other nostril. It is supposed to cleanse your nasal passage, clear nasal allergies, sinuses, even help with tired eyes! I was so thrilled and was surprised to see how much of junk was actually released from the nose, post the routine. It felt SO GOOD! Good news is that we also got our own individual Neti pots each, so now I can try it out in Singapore too! 

After the second terrific yoga class for the day, I decided to walk until the Ram Jhula, which was about 2 kms away. I was accompanied by the two girls who are also part of the same retreat as me, and we walked to the Lakshman Jhula first, crossed over and took the footpath all the way to Ram Jhula. On the way we came across a lovely Tibetan shop that had a gorgeous, very unique range of accessories and curios. We picked up a couple of things and walked on to the Ram Jhula. 

At Ram Jhula, it was once again back to the alley of shops, hordes of cows, dogs, monkeys, sadhus, pilgrims, tourists, yogis and what not. To our amusement, one of the girls was approached by a professional "ear cleaner" who offered to clean her ears (no, it wasn't a joke, he actually does that for a living) . She said, "That is the weirdest thing I have ever been asked"! 

I wanted to attend the Ganga Aarti on the opposite shore today. Yesterday  I had noticed that it is much less crowded here and wanted to check it out. So we crossed over the Ram Jhula and joined a small group of people for the Aarti on the opposite shore. And it was a beautiful, beautiful experience! For starters, there were hardly any people. The Aarti was done by three boys who performed a synchronized routine to some lovely chants and music, with huge, spectacular lamps - my favourite being one that was shaped like a hooded cobra! They were so elegant, I could watch them all day long but I took some time to meditate and chant as the routine progressed. 

As I watched the Aarti, one of the volunteers handed me a big lamp to do few rounds of the Aarti myself and at that point in time, with the Ganga flowing slowly, majestically, in front, with the mountains beyond darkening from the setting sun, the chants ringing in my ears and the flame of the lamp ensuing a brilliant light around me, I felt so contented, so happy, that I think my eyes actually welled up. 

After the Aarti, we got the flower and camphor flame offerings, which we left adrift in the Ganga and watched it float away carrying a little bit of light each in the dark waters. 

We took an autorickshaw back and after a meal of "vegetable seekh kebabs" and some hot Bournvita, I tucked myself into bed with my book of the day - R. K Narayan's "The World of Nagaraj". It is such a wonderfully simple and funny tale - I actually caught myself laughing out loud at many poins! If R. K. Narayan were alive, I definitely would have visited him and given him a huge hug! 

Any day in Rishikesh comes to an end, and I am getting increasingly sad about the though of leaving soon. But I know I will come back, so for now, I will make the most of the remaining time in this wonderful place.