An Ashram Experience

I was right there. Trivandrum, only an hour away from Neyyar Dam where a highly recommended ashram is. And I was going to go. Really. But then, the night before, me and Tom got talking about motorbikes and decided to change our plans completely. I still can’t believe we were RIGHT THERE…



Detour to Chennai

Okay, so instead of taking a one-hour bus to Neyyar Dam, I jumped on a 16-hour train to Chennai. Why? Because I got it in my head that THAT’s where me and Tom would get bikes. After all, that is part of the romantic dream in India. Travelling around on oldschool Royal Enfield bikes. Seeing the countryside, the small villages, the real India. Besides, I was e-mailing with a guy in Chennai who had them for rent, so I went to check it out. And then – arriving in Chennai, I found a street full with motorcycle-shops. Surely one of them would do a buybackscheme?? That way I could have a bike, and then just sell it back to the same shop. Probably even cheaper than renting, although maybe a bit more paperwork…

It was very difficult to try any form of business with the shop owners. So to make a long, frustrating three-day-story short, there were no bikes for rent, and no bikes for a buybackscheme. Back to square one, except a 16-hour train ride from where I started… Lets jump on that train again. Back to Trivandrum, because I was going to go to…

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram

As part of experiencing new things while travelling, it seemed appropriate to try yoga. Especially in India, renowned for yoga. This ashram offers four hours of yoga PER DAY. You are invited to immerse yourself, being discouraged to leave the ashram. The day goes something like this: 5:30 am, you’re woken up quite forcefully, so you don’t miss 6:00 am Satsang. That’s half an hour of meditation (when you just woke up) and then chanting for one and a half hour to Hindu Gods. Even when you’re not Hindu, this is mandatory. There’s no explanations about the Hindu beliefs, why or what you are chanting, but you have to repeat what the mighty director on the stage in front of you is chanting. Despite it being called a Yoga Vacation, I was specifically told that This is NOT a holiday camp. So that’s a “no optional” for chanting.

After this you get a cup of tea, before 8:00 am Yoga Class (two hours). As I never tried yoga before, I went for the beginners class. Except for someone showing me quite intensely how I should squeeze my nose shut with particular fingers, I didn’t really get much out it of. Except pain in my back. Now, I’ve had an injury, so my back is weak to begin with, but this really hurt my spine. After asking the staff for help and feedback I was told that I should just do the exercises that don’t hurt. At 10:00am (you’re awake for over four hours now), you get your first meal. The food here is great, and you can fill up as much as you can. Really great cooking!! Okay. Back to the schedule.

11:00 am. It’s time for the biggest scam in this ashram. “Karma Yoga”, although disguised as training yourself to be selfless in the real world, is actually just a way for the ashram not to spend money on cleaners. I got to clean the dorm-bathrooms. Ew. I’m paying money to stay here?! Anyway, after doing your chores, erm I mean “Karma Yoga”, there’s some free time, with optional and highly pushed-to-go-to coaching and lectures. Oh and some tea, sometimes with a piece of banana or a biscuit at 1:30 pm. At 3:30 the next yoga class for another 2 hours of stretches before 6:00 pm dinner. To finish the day, there’s more meditation and chanting-chanting-chanting from 8:00 until 10:00 pm. Lights off at 10:30. After all, it’s another exciting day tomorrow. Please note guests are expected to attend the entire programme.

I found most of the staff unfriendly, miserable and generally on their high horse. Spiritual Snobs, because they already reached such a high level of whatever-it-is that they are now entitled to look down on the rest of us mortals… Hmmm, I can’t help but think that maybe they got the wrong idea on this whole spirituality trip?

Staying in this ashram felt anything but spiritual. But I did make some new friends, saw some lions and had a great stay in Varkala afterwards. I decided to go to Delhi after Varkala, to rent motorbikes there and do a bit of the north on bikes. But for now; Om Shanti Shanti Shanti-iiiii.

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