Ever thought about going to India on a yoga retreat?

Hi if you’re reading this! I’m Sarah Forsyth, the owner/manager/laundry lady/van driver for Belle Hotel Luxury Camping

I’m so pleased to be working with The Big Retreat Wales, particularly because their call came in just days before I departed for India on my own yoga adventure… So I thought I would let you know a little about what I did, where, why, when and how it all panned out…

 As I was in the middle of a very busy 2016 season, I caught a documentary about the Ganges and was prompted to get real about my long-held plan to spend a decent amount of time in India. Having set up Belle Hotel in 2014, I had created a summer season business where the winters were largely going to be free. I had made a fairly flimsy vow to myself to travel each winter and this particular evening, flopped on the sofa after a hot, sticky, busy week of lugging tents around made me think ‘I have to book it or I won’t get there – and it’s not like I’m unaccustomed to being hot, outdoors, asked a hundred questions a day..!’

 I took the plunge and picked a date in October which gave me 7 weeks’ travel prior to returning on 12th December – sufficient time to finish Christmas shopping and put up a tree… Still very entrenched in my ‘must plan, must organise, must execute according to schedule’ brain space! 

 I began ‘going to yoga’ after a fabulous introduction to meditation whilst away in Cork at Dzogchen Beara ( pronounced ‘dodge-en bearer’) in 2011, and my practice quite quickly deepened to become a more mindful practice within all aspects of my life, particularly my approach to a work-life balance and I began exploring more with workshops and my own practice. It fascinated me that this relatively simple, straightforward practice could have such a profound effect on my attitude, concentration level and ultimately, my life, and I wished to dedicate more time and learning capacity to it.

 Landing in Delhi on a Tuesday evening in October was surreal. I arrived in Pahar Ganj, near the main railway station by taxi from the airport and instantly felt unsafe, terrified, alone and as though I had just made the most ridiculous decision of my life – how was I going to do this ON MY OWN?!! Keeping the door locked, eating my dinner from a metal tray on my grubby mattress and realising the weird thing about my room was that there wasn’t a window, I felt utterly deflated and silly about my naïve belief that this was possible. When I woke up to a rat running over my face, I decided to stop being such a scaredy cat and get out because surely anything must be better than this!!

 And it was true…

 A wonderful French girl was almost waiting for my arrival as much I as was hers in the next guesthouse and together we conquered the roads, the train station and a few monuments in Delhi. By the end of the day I had already begun to feel a little more at home, a lot less vulnerable and definitely not quite as silly as I had the day before. Perhaps this WOULD be possible after all!

 My goal for the trip was the following;

To come out of GB  head, feel confident about travelling as I had on all the other trips I’d taken, to realise how much my life at home had changed since last backpacking, to spend time in an Ashram somewhere awesome, to find and practice different sorts of yoga as I went with different teachers.’

 The journey to the ashram went through Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar for the camel fair which was AMAZING!!) and then to Agra for the obligatory Taj Mahal visit which was breathtaking and then to Varanasi where life changed beyond recognition for me.

 It was in Varanasi that I met a meditation guide holy man who made me think seriously about the future (and inadvertently revealed that they wear nothing much under their orange robes..), met my soulmate, ran out of money completely (google Modi demonetisation from November 9th 2016…!),  got invited to an Indian wedding and missed 2 trains out of town due to not having any cash and then getting my actual day of travel wrong..! D’oh! 

 The Ashram I chose was recommended to me by a lovely Irish girl who I sat next to on a boat trip for the Super Moon in November in Varanasi. She was one of the loveliest people I’d chatted to and spoke very highly of the process and the surroundings. 

 Phool Chatti, just outside Rishikesh, was not only the focus of the next phase of my physical and spiritual trip but also by this point a very welcome break from the daily battle to find a cash machine which actually had money in it and the major restrictions that came with the demonetisation. Respite and time to take stock. I was looking forward to every element of it that I knew about in advance and was slightly intrigued/scared of all the things I didn’t know about that had yet to be revealed. 

 A former Ayurvedic hospital, this Ashram had a wonderful healing vibe to it and the lovely Shira, a yoga teacher from London who spends time here annually, was incredibly welcoming. The rooms were basic, the bathrooms even more basic and this made the song of mother Ganga, hurtling by just a hundred yards or so away, even more delightful. Her sound was all the decoration needed and the cold air that rushed through the mountain gorge was cooling through the middle of the day and a great reminder of the power of our surroundings as it became very cold at night. 

 Our programme began daily at 5.30am with a rising gong, followed by meditation at 6am and then nasal cleansing by the river. The very thought of this (pouring salt water in one nostril and allowing it to run through my sinuses and trickle out of the other nostril) had me feeling rather anxious, which is possibly why the very vigorous demonstration of how to ensure the water is all out made me laugh so very much..  Our teacher, Lalita-ji, had such a wonderful understanding of Westerners from the point of view of a dedicated yogi living a very simple Ashram existence who sees a constant parade of people with over-complicated lives. She guided us through physical, spiritual and cleansing practices that made the ‘suggested’ silence from 9pm to 1pm the following day come completely naturally. 

With a mixture of hatha and ashtanga yoga, pranayama, meditation, puja, chanting, satsang and free time to enjoy the surrounding forests and riverbanks, I came to absolutely adore the simplicity and the pace of life. It made me reflect on my enjoyment of doing things more slowly at home, but the feeling that other people might think I am slow or boring or (heaven forbid) lazy. And the fact that I returned to often was that the happiness and contentedness that was on offer here came quite communally – we had all, through walking through the gate of that Ashram, virtually said that we are not going to judge and we are there for our own certain purposes. It felt warm, supportive and incredibly free. And the comfort from our mutual position of non-judgement and acceptance was incredibly great. 

 So this is the greatest thing I hope I have brought home with me and something that continues to be a daily practice – non-judgement and acceptance. Because above all, I have learnt that if I don’t practice giving these things, I will certainly be less able to perceive and receive them as and when they come to me.

Now I am looking forward to meeting you all at The Big Retreat Wales ... if you would like to book a Bell Tent for the weekend please call, message or visit my website.  Bell Hotel.co.uk

  By Sarah Forsyth, owner and concierge of www.bellehotel.co.uk

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