Thanks to Joerg at CIBT and I guess Cox & King the Indian visa grantors, I received my visa at 11:30am on Saturday, for my 4pm flight to New Delhi on Sunday! I had already let go of going so I guess that is why it all worked out!
On December 11th I flew from Stuttgart to Munich to New Delhi, then to Kolkata where I was received by a driver to be transferred to the Kolkata train station. The ride from the airport to the train station was pretty much the most interesting thing I had done in a long time. Wow. So much to see that I certainly haven’t seen before.
All in all I didn’t really see much of the typical tourist spots like the Taj Mahal because of the 11 full days spent in India, only one was spent outside of an ashram. This actually suited me just fine because as my friends and family know, I am not the typical traveler.
After a 5 hour train ride and a very sketchy arrival at the train station near Rikhia where I wasn’t received as planned (quick thinking and a well timed taxi got me out of there), my first night was spent in Rikhia, at the Rikhipeeth ashram. Here I joined the others from my group who had just finished attending a huge celebration, Yoga Poornima, at the ashram. In the morning we left for the next ashram in Munger by car- a 5 hour car ride that would have taken less than two on a German highway. For someone who flew over 70 thousands miles this past year riding in cars and taxi’s in over 15 countries in Europe and Asia, I can say unequivocally that when it comes to driving, nothing compares to India.
The next 9 days were spent at the ashram, “Gange Darshan”, in Munger where we didn’t leave the premises except for a short walk to an affiliated ashram. I signed up for the ashram experience, and that is what I would be getting!
The program that I attended was “Ashram Life, Yoga & Satsang Week.” The programming was wonderful from beautifully lead early morning yoga classes that included pranayama and meditation to two daily satangs with Swami Niranjanananda! Also, our Cleveland group was asked if we would like to transcribe Swamiji’s lectures and a few of us jumped on the chance! It was such a blessing to be able to listen to his words over and over, and in my case over, and over, and over (not so good of a transcriber!) to really let the meaning and the message sink in!
Living the typical ashram life, our accommodations were bare bones, no hot water or central heating in the dorms and daily “seva” or selfless service which consisted of cleaning the dorms, bathroom facilities, etc. Food was authentic Indian fare that was simple but delicious. Other than a close call with “Delhi Belly,” my stomach made it through unscathed thanks to some anti-diarrhea meds and Siprol that my friends had on hand.
It is suggested that yoga aspirants spend at minimum of 15 days ever other year at an ashram. I completely understand why. Being there is a reminder of how little one needs to survive and how much we have and take for granted.
Next stop Varanasi! After waiting for a train that was over 6 hours late (this is to be expected in India) we road off sharing our train compartment with a few nice Indian men as well as a few cockroaches and mice, (also to be expected in India) into the night passing rural India as depicted in a Discovery channel documentary to Varanasi where our last night was spent in a hotel. A real hotel with hot water, a bed with a mattress and an all you can eat breakfast buffet. As a group we gave thanks for the abundance before us!
According to Wikipedia, Varanasi “is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest in India. The fog was the thickest I have ever experience fog to be but we managed to still take a boat trip on the Ganga. Cows, funeral pyres, Ganga bathers, and hawkers abound, this was authentic India!
The sights, sounds, and smells of India and certainly the ashram experience are probably not for everyone. While there I tried to picture some of my nearest and dearest along side of me and all I could do was smile. It is a place that would certainly challenge even the most broad of comfort zones!
That said, for over 10 years I had hoped to make this trip and it finally came to fruition. God willing I will be going back again, and probably again and again. Low maintenance family and friends who have open minds and hearts may come along!