Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hampi holidays

En route to Hampi we made a stop over in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru), which is just another Indian city as far as I’m concerned – and perhaps I haven’t paid the city its correct dues and for that I am sorry. However I had THE most incredible 25 course Thali at MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room, an establishment that started in 1924). The restaurant is still going as strong today as back when it first started with most of the clientele being local (always a good sign). The place was totally packed, so much so that there was a queue outside before the lunch sitting opened at 12:30.

Thali:
An Indian dish made up of multiple tasting bowls of local cuisine (see pic below)

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We arrived in Hampi and decided to cross the river to go and stay on the Hampi island. I am convinced that I was born a blond – crossing a river in the middle of monsoon season is asking for trouble, and well trouble was what we got. The evening we arrived it rained, no pored, for a solid 12 hours. The next morning when I woke up and wanted to go see all the amazing temples, I woke with the sick feeling of being trapped. Over night the river had come up in flood and due to the pace that it was rushing, no boats were permitted to cross. Although I remained chilled and relaxed for a further 3 days (my view was that of green rice paddies and beautiful boulders so I really had little to complain about), the first sunny day where the river had subsided a little, I moved back across to the main land.

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Hampi, like my life, was under construction. When I finally made it to the other side, I found that many of the LonelyPlanet recommended guest houses were no longer available as those building had been bulldozed in the mass ‘heritage saving’ project whose main effort is to preserve the ancient ruins. Up and till recently many of the ruins were occupied by local villagers.

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Finally I was able to see all that is Hampi. I hired a bike, and decided to get my cycle on. Its a good 30km cycle and then about another 10km of walking due to the location of the ruins, but a well worthy trip to do.

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The ruins are basically split into ‘The Sacred Centre’ and ‘The Royal Centre’. The Sacred Centre includes the likes of Matanga Hill (which has a huge statue of a monolithic bull – I’m not totally sure what the significance of that is – but thought I would throw it in here), Vittala Temple (famous for the large ornate stone chariot whose wheels once turned) and the Sule Bazaar (aka Courtasan’s Street). Legend has it that in the 16th century, the bazaar sold precious stones, much the same the local bazaars now sell cheap chinese toys. Can you imagine just putting your hands into a bowl full of diamonds or flawless sapphires?

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I was having romantic daydreams of being a lady in waiting during times of old, and got totally lost in the beauty of the Sacred Centre.

The Royal Centre includes the likes of The Queens Bath, The Elephant stables, The Lotus House, The Underground Shiva Temple. Being set fairly far from the river, it is a marvel that the ancients had fresh running water. I was totally blown away by the architecture – especially The Lotus House.

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20120930-160551.jpgThe Queens Bath

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20120930-160904.jpgThe Lotus House

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20120930-161506.jpgThe Elephant Stables

I often feel that as beings, we really have gone backwards in evolution and are currently in the dark ages. In the 1300s this ancient city had sewerage, fresh water to homes and structures which went on to last for over 700 years. We really have sold out – most of our products now days have a shelf life of a few years (if that), many rivers are not safe for human consumption and don’t get me started on sewerage systems here, which has regressed from what those wise ones had built hundreds of years ago. However having said that, Hampi has an incredibly rich history; a romantic feel of how life used to be like, an old city which had been so remarkably and powerfully built, but so crushingly destroyed.

My all time favourite though, was spending time people watching in the Virupaksha Temple. Locals come from far and wide to pay their respect to their deities, and I really admire their dedication to their gods.

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Categories: India | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Forting it up in Kochi

I have very little to say about Fort Kochi, other than it has been my favourite stop in India so far and YOU MUST GO. I have loved seeing a very different side to India. Kerala was green and tropical and then all of a sudden you reach this quaint chinese style island with its own very distinct architecture, amazing coffee shops and very rich history.

What I liked about Kochi is that the government has limited the taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers ability to rip off tourists. When leaving the train station upon arrival we saw a pre-paid taxi/ auto counter (which I suppose had always been at the stations – I guess I had just been oblivious to them). Now I said the government try limit the drivers ability – the drivers do still try, so keep your wits about you. We caught an auto down to the main jetty and then from there caught a Rs2 ferry to the island (its so little I’m not even going to try convert it).

A word of advice – upon arriving in Fort Kochi – rickshaw drivers will basically ask to pay you to drive with them. They get commission from many of the stores on the island, so a trip that should take 10 minutes could end up taking hours because they WILL stop at 10 different shops. So remember to be clear about where you’re going, walk with purpose and you state your price.

Things to do:

Jew town – the old synagogue and great shopping:

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Spice and scent shopping:

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Coffee shops:

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Idiom book shop:

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Chinese fish nets:

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Other than that, there are great places along the shore front to have drinks at.

A complete side note:
While in Fort Kochi, sipping the umpteenth cup of coffee, my friends and I spoke about cultures and the vast difference in communication. Even though in India we were all grouped as Westerners, we worked out that the simple hand signal for 3 was so different between South Africa, USA and Germany.

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Leaving to the country side

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At some point I lost track of how long we had been in Varkala… Every morning I had woken up and thought “today we should leave” only to not. Oman was approaching which meant that we HAD to leave as we had been invited to visit my yoga instructor’s, Sujith, village to celebrate with his family.

Sujith really made a big impact on my ashram experience. Not only did he help further my yoga practice, he was always so happy and carefree. During yoga practice he would pat me on my head like I was a well behaved puppy when I would get the yoga poses right. Under normal circumstances this would have annoyed me to no end, however with his child-like charm and caring teaching skills, I became very fond of him within my first few days of being at the ashram.

20120922-224030.jpg Did I mention that he is also the most supple person I have ever met

In typical Raine fashion, I left my packing to the last minute and literally jumped onto a moving train sans tickets. This caused a penalty of Rs500 for boarding a train with no ticket. We were finally on our way to go meet up with more friends – with a valuable lesson learnt on what not to do when it comes to Indian Rail.

Onam is a big festival celebrated predominantly in the south of India. It is the harvesting festival and reminded me a lot of Christmas where families get together and basically spend the day eating, drinking and being jolly. In true Indian flavour and with their love of colour – many beautiful pookalams are created outside homes and on shop entrances, which I suppose would be the equivalent to their christmas tree then. Some of these pieces take hours to create and are really very special.

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Sujith comes from a small rural village near Thrissur called Guruvayur. Being the first person in his household to leave the village was seen as a massive accomplishment. Having met his family, it is easy to see their pride for son who has up and till now been their pride and joy and seen as very successful.

Going to his village I experienced a truly wonderful Indian experience (one of many that was going to occur). Arriving at his home, he parents ushered us into the front room of their home to a feast of fresh coconuts, dates, pineapple and other locally grown fresh veggies. Upon a little investigation it turned out that this room was a very multipurpose room – being the dinning room, TV room and bedroom for the whole household. The humility I experienced is difficult to explain and I was blown away by how little the family had yet how much they offered us. I was also struck by how excited the village got to see foreigners, which meant that we attracted quite a gathering of people, with the same questions about ‘good name’, marriage and job. The only question I seem to answer correctly is the first one – but I’m working on a my explanation as to why my family have not married me off yet at 27 and on why I would voluntarily choose to be unemployed (funemployed wasn’t really understood).

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En route to visit his parents we visited the local Elephant farm. I use the farm very loosely. The ground houses 64 elephants which are used by the local temple as temple animals. I am continually surprised by the Indian taming methods of these great creatures and am dumbfounded that Africa hasn’t learnt to do the same with our mass of elephants. However I will say that I am not a fan of the idea of enslaving these enormous creatures purely for recreational use. Hopefully I will see A wild animal one day this trip, I am starting to think that this is a rare occurance here.

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[If anyone knows what musth means – please let me know]

I also got to experience the coverted Kerala house boating experience and on a raining day, my friends and I headed out on the famous Kerala backwaters for some relaxing time. The backwaters have an eery, yet comforting and very quiet feel and if you have ever read ‘God of small things’ you would know what I mean. If you find yourself in Kerala – you should definitely try it out.

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The trip would not have been complete if we didn’t visit a temple and so we headed to Shri Krishna Temple, where we saw a play performed by the village’s local children. I totally love the colour and makeup, even though I was not too clued up as to what was happening in the play.

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Unfortunately our time was limited and very early the next day we made our way to train station in Thrissur to head back to the coast to continue our trek up north.

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I am very happy that I got to get off the tourist route and travel the road less travelled. With 1.3 billion people in India and with this ‘countryside’ under my belt, I am now convinced that there is no open land in India. Towns and villages are so entangled that I am never sure where the one starts and where the other ends. It certainly takes a getting used to.

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That crazy little thing called love.

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For years I have thrown my all behind relationships where I have felt a slight real connection. Recently I met a man who looked into me and knew me immediately. I had never experienced such an intense instant connection with anyone before, and it made me realise how at times I allow people (rightfully or wrongfully) into my space and into my heart, and then end up spending years trying to work them out of my system. I didn’t know him, nor him I, but in the 3 days in which we got to know each other on a purely platonic level – I opened up to him more than I have opened up to any other male in my whole life. It was both incredibly scary and incredibly liberating all at once.

The funny thing about humans is that after an experience, we unpack what had happened, start getting advice from other friends as we start questioning what our gut had told us was real.

What I felt for him in that short period of connectedness – was I being emotionally played? Was it real? Was he just saying thing he thought I wanted to hear in order to get into my undies even though we never even kissed?

I find that when you ask certain friends about a connection – they give you a negative message – “he was just trying to get xxx out of you” (with the underlying message – “how could he like you?”). Other better friends are more supportive, telling you to trust yourself, but at what point do we look inwards and trust ourselves? At what point do we just take a moment for what it was – an incredible connection with another human being! A connection that doesn’t need a name or a box to fit it into. I’m not saying I fell in love with someone after 3 days, I’m saying that it took 3 days for me to realise that if we’re open and truthful with ourselves then anything is possible. I’m saying trust your heart and go with it – no matter where it will lead you.

This got me thinking about attraction, connection, love and how we perceive our world and the people we choose to allow into that world. We meet hundreds of people every day and over our life time come into contact with millions even, then why do only a few ever make it into the inner sanctums of your heart?

I have read of soul trees, where certain souls that we connect with travel across life times together. Some are members of your family, some are people you meet and feel you know them from somewhere but cannot put your finger on it, some are lovers (past or present), some are your nearest friends whom you trust, some are friends who have hurt you.

Then what of soul mates?

To take a quote from ‘Eat, Pray, Love’:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

If I don’t have another experience in India, I wouldn’t mind. I met someone who challenged my ideas on religion, on family, on love, on myself and for that I will always be grateful.

So my friends, just keep following the heart-lines on your hand. May my heart lead me home, wherever that may be.

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Untitled – out of words to describe India

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Thus far India has been very different to anything I was expecting. The other travelers I’m meeting are hippy, fun and possibly have not been part of a judging society in years, and it’s very contagious. I’m already wearing hippy pants, sporting a chime anklet and wild hair – and I haven’t felt this liberated in ages.

But having said that, India is also strangely conservative, whereby knees and shoulders are to be covered up at all times. This is simply a suggestion – but as my friend, Olivia, was telling me about her bikini beach experience and having strange men walk up to me and take my photo, I’m starting to try blend in as much as possible. As I’m typing this I am aware that this seems an oxymoron given that the travelers wear hippy trousers and the locals wear regular jeans or saris.

Olivia’s beach story
On a very warm day in the beautiful seaside village of Varkala, Olivia decided to head down to the beach to catch some rays and a swim or four. While lying on the beach in her bikini a young Indian gentleman came and sat close to where she was sunbathing. Noticing a change in environment she looked up from her beach towel to find the so called gentleman with his penis in hand, masturbating to the sight of shoulders. When I heard the story I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Unfortunately though this incident is not unheard of and while walking along the beach the other day I was watching the Indians walking past bikini’ed tourist and the look on their faces was a mixture of shock and disgust (the actual emotion going on: woman feeling this is shocking behaviour and utterly appalled, men waiting to get ride of the horrified woman with them so that they can come try get action from unsuspecting tourist). It truly is a different culture out here, where woman are seen as property and men seem to be sex deprived. Now I’m not excusing this sort of behaviour, I just find it amusing that the relatively free western world has crept into the Indian society, making some men think that just because a western female bares some skin that it is an invitation to having their personal space invaded.

The really odd thing is that since I’ve started wearing more cloth than Madonna in Evita, my outlook has changed, I’m meeting more Indian females and actually feeling free. I do still miss the freedom of the day on the beach and am very excited for Thailand where I plan on bikini’ing it up for weeks.

Another thing that struck me out here is that I am as foreign to them as what they are to me. Often I’ll be walking around sightseeing and a local will walk up to me and ask if he could take a photo of me. Here I thought I was coming to look at the attractions, only to become the attraction. Not a day goes by where I’ll be walking and someone will walk up to me to shake my hand and ask “What is your good name, madam?”. Please don’t think I’m being big headed here – it happens to all the travelers. And just incase you were wondering – a good name is basically your first name. This question is then immediately followed by “Where are you from?”, “Are you married?” and “Student or worker?” – in exactly that order. Upon finding out I’m a CA, I often get my hand shook (pretty vigorously) followed by “oh very good, excellent!”

You will either love or hate India. I am yet to come across someone who sits on the fence about it. Luckily for me, I am falling madly and deeply in love with this country. I get she’s dirty, she’s poor, she’s pot-holed and weathered… But she’s colourful, entertaining, friendly, foreign and mind blowingly exciting.

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The chilled seaside village of Varkala

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Leaving the Ashram was a little harder than what I had expected. But I was very ready to head out and experience the real India, with our first stop being the relaxed and very calm seadside village of Varkala.

An ashram friend had suggested Shiva garden guest house to us, and for the incredible price of Rs500 for 2 people sharing – this was an incredible steal (approximately R90/ $10 for the room). Not to mention the amazing breakfasts served and great hosts. The guest house also included free WIFI (or ‘wee-fee’ as a french guest called it – this completely cracked me up, small things I tell you).

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The dish above is a dosa masala – which is basically a rice flour pancake filled with curry – an awesome breakies option!!

Varkala is a strange place though. The Lonely Planet was very correct when they said travelers plan on coming for a day but end up staying a week. This was exactly what happened to us. The town has a lingering energy about it and some great coffee shops which helped in keeping us there. I also met up with some ashram friends – so there really never was a dull moment.

The cliff was made up of a mixture of coffee shops, restaurants, shops (both travelers clothing and jewellery) and ‘wellness clinics’ offering ayurvedic treatments. It seems every man and his dog are able to perform Ayurveda in Kerala.

After a good post-ashram chill we signed up for a cooking course at the Bamboo House with Daniela and Jamie (2 ashram friends) and I’ve definitely decided to throw a few Indian dinner parties when I return. But for sake of not forgetting my favourite 2 – I thought I would jot them down here (and I highly recommend you trying to make them at home).

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1. Paneer Mutter Masala (yes I fully intended on spelling it mutter – don’t ask me, ask India)

Heat the following in a wok:
2 Tbsp coconut oil, 8 Tbsp finely chopped onion, 4 Tbsp chopped tomato, 1 tsp salt, 1 pinch fenugreek leaves (I’m not totally sure what this is – but google says its similar to aniseed – as India would say ‘same, same – but different’).

Put the heated spices into a blender with 1/4 glass water.

Add the following to the wok:
1 Tbsp coconut oil,1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp crushed garlic, 2 tsp crushed ginger, blended mixture above.
After a few minutes add:
3 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp curcuma spice, 1.5 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp garam masala spice, 1 tsp chaat masala, 1 glass milk, 1 Tbsp cashew paste (made fresh by liquidising 10 cashews with a little water).

In a separate pan fry 4 Tbsp paneer (an Indian cheese similar to hulumi (again “same same, but different” and its less chewy and squeaky) [alternatively use tofu].

Roughly chop up a green pepper, tomato and onion. Add these and the paneer to the wok and cook for 5 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then add fresh coriander to season.

2. Kerala Paratha (one of my absolute FAVS)

400g wheat flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp sugar,1 glass water (or as ‘kneaded’)
Knead ingredients into a dough, roll into a ball and coat with coconut oil. Set dough aside for about an hour.

Divid balls into smaller balls (roughly the size of a golf balls). On an oily surface, roll each ball out until it looks like a flat pita. This is where it gets tricky so I hope I can justify the process with my explanation. With both hands flip the flat pita like you would imagine an Italian would flip a pizza base. At this point it doesn’t matter whether the dough tears – in fact it is better if it does. Place dough back in the counter in a long rectangular shape and roll it up to look like a chelsea bun. Now flatten the chelsea looking roll out into a flat pita shape again and cook by frying in a pan.

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Other greats in Varkala were the Coffee Temple, serving great carot cake and cappuccinos (which are surprisingly rare in India) and Maria’s Spa (a woman can never be pampered enough and her mani’s, pedi’s, waxes and massages were a treat). Both can be found in the Cliff.

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(in India I’m a bit of a giant)

Early one morning Daniela and I decided to take a walk to the black beach (called that due to the black sea sand on only this little beach). Our walk took us a little further and we ended up at the starting point of the Kerala backwaters. En route we meet a fair amount of locals, just going about their daily chores of fixing their fishing nets and cleaning their boats. One old man was standing next to 3 large trunks of wood that he had intended to turn into a boat – his only problem was that he needed to get the trunks closer to his home. Not being able to speak english, the man stopped us and with a few animated hand signals, asked us to help carry his trunks. With not very much else to do, we all picked up the trunks (moving one at a time) and moved them about 300 meters closer to the destination that he needed them. The strange thing was that once the final trunk had been moved, the old man stuck out his hand and said “now you give money”. Only in India… The ashram really has done me wonders – I simply laughed the old man off as a little crazy – I have never heard of the worker paying the boss to work. The hike was absolutely beautiful and Kerala is a paradise with the hundreds of palm trees and beautiful white sand beaches.

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My all time favourite post ashram time however was spent lounging around the crystal blue pool at Ickhill Hotel (in my bikini getting some sun) with Liz and Daisy.

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Namaste from beautiful India
Xxxxxxx

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Getting rid of all my crap (literally)

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The last time I had an enema was due to a ‘severe blockage’ in Italy when I was 18 years old. At the time, my parents were frantically trying to think of a contingency plan should I have appendicitis (ironic how they didn’t trust the hospitals in Europe and were trying to get an airline to fly me home to South Africa).

Lucky for me though it was a case of serious constipation, which was easily solved by self administering an enema. Unlucky for me was the fact that all the nurses in the hospital were hot Italian males AND the enema process was explained in half Italian, half hand gestures with a super hot nurse.

When I signed up for the detox, the thought of putting myself through the final days of the program were not fun. Thus I’m not sure where to begin and how much detail I should unfold – but rather out than in say I.

The end of the detox was a rather intense one, as I’m sure you can understand. One of my fellow ashram-goers asked me how I felt and the honest truth was that… I wasn’t totally sure! The final part of the detox was 3 days of small oil enema’s and then a final big enema day where a liter and a half of a certain herbal concoction was administered.

The enemas seemed to bring up suppressed emotions that I hadn’t realised I had suppressed. According to the Ayurvedic Doc, we hold a lot of what we feel in our fat cells and within our intestines – and I for one definitely agree with this. Or it simply could have been some pretty uncomfortable days waiting for my intestines to empty. I am sorry to bring this up, but I must remind you that I am in India, and the toilets here are eastern (AKA every westerners nightmare) – I wont explain anymore but I’ll leave you with a happy note that my thighs have had their fair share of workout.

The idea of having someone else administer the enemas was also something I had to get used to, but like any good colonic irrigation – I learnt that my body had gotten too used to processed foods and that time for a dietary change was in order (thinking along the lines of becoming a full on vegetarian).

I thought I would end off the Pancha Karma detox with some more information about the program and the benefits of it (well the benefits it had for me).

According to the pamphlet these are the procedures and the benefits:

Abhyanga (oil massage) – to mobilize and liquefy toxins from the tissues, release muscular tension, improve circulation and give mental relaxation. [as part of my treatment I spent 15 minutes in a steam bath after my massages]

Kizhi (hot bundle) – process by which the whole body or specific parts are made to sweat by the application of warmed medicinal herb powder, leaf or hot rice tied into a cotton cloth. Kizhi serves to liquefy and help eliminate toxins, to release the pain of strained muscles (sciatica etc.) and give flexibility to the body.

Dhara – process by which medicated oil (thailadhara) is poured in a continuous stream on the forehead for a period 20 to 30 minutes. Enhances the effect of Panchakarma and calms the mind and emotions.

3 oil enemas – part of the elimination stage.

1 decoction enema – part of the elimination stage.

Hot water bath is included after each treatment in the ayurveda clinic.

Benefits:
– Increased energy
– Rejuvenation of mind and body
– Clarity of the mind
– Younger looking skin and eyes
– Restoration of regular sleep patterns
– Increased alertness and awareness
– A peaceful sense of well being
– A strengthened immune system
– A restored balance to the body’s constitutional Doshas

And for the most part I feel every single one of those. In fact my skin has regressed so far back into my teenage years I’ve had a complete breakout which I’m still waiting to clear. Besides that I have never felt more incredible inside.

So here’s my hope to return every year for the next 3 years to complete Panchakarma.

P.S. I lost 5 kgs in the 3 weeks of the program… That was a SUPER awesome benefit

Namaste
Xx

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Ashram news: week 2 cont

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I’m starting to feel a little bi-polar in the ashram. One minute I love it – the next I want to crawl up in a ball and cry. It has been incredibly good for my soul though, and as I said good bye to my room mate for the past 2 weeks, I sat on my bed watching the down pore of the monsoon rain outside and began to reminisce about the past 2 weeks.

Sure the 6AM Satsung call is a push – but I’m getting used to it. So used to it that I’m singing the chants from memory and even have the odd clap when the chant gets going (I know I’m even surprising myself). My Ayurvedic nurse/ angel, Naleni, asked me to come and chant in the formal temple one evening and I was only too happy to miss the happy clappy western Satsung and head down to take part in the local one. It was a little different, and their prayer books are written in Sanskrit so it was a very cool experience where I essentially just sat back and watched them chant songs I hadn’t heard yet. It also gave me some time to try meditate alone in the temple afterwards. This was not as successful and went something a little like this:

Raine: Ok focus and relax your knees

Ego: Wow my knees hurt, is this normal?

Raine: No I don’t think so.

Ego: Speaking of knees, that pose in class was pretty intense also. I was thinking about the class and I was wondering when I’ll be up in a head stand?

Raine: Ooooh a head stand would be so cool… What am I thinking about?? FOCUS… One, two, three, meditate.

Ego: Ok, Ok… But do you remember…

Raine: NO – MEDITATE!

Ego: [sulking now] I’m just trying to help you out… (at this point I pictured my ego sitting, arms crossed in front of her chest, head staring down at arms and pouting).

This process went on for a good 20 minutes until I was too exasperated to keep trying so I headed to bed.

I have 1 week left here and tomorrow the enemas start. Up and till now the detox has been fantastic. I mean who wouldn’t enjoy a 2 hour massage every day? In fact the pace of things happening, following a simple routine and just not having to think of the mundane day to day things has been absolutely wonderful.

Who would have thought that I would have met some incredible souls at the ashram, found a reconnection to living my life passionately and settled into this travel thing so fluidly?

I’ll check in again once I’ve completed the enema week – joy. Enjoy the pics of the Sivananda Ashram.

Namaste

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Categories: India, Sivananda Ashram | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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