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15 Jun 2009 Yoga Retreat – Pokhara, Nepal
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High atop a hill overlooking Lake Pokhara, exists a magical place…the Sadhana Yoga Retreat. My brother David had found it online a few months ago. While in Kathmandu, Nepal, we met a lovely lady, Linda, who had just come from Sadhana and she raved about it, so we were super excited to get there. We took a 20 minute flight on a small 30 passenger plane from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The views of the mountains from the plane were amazing. Before the plane took off a flight attendant handed out candy and cotton (to put in your ears since the plane was so loud). As the taxi drove us through the quaint little lakeside town of Pokhara, we instantly fell in love with it. The lake and mountain views reminded us of Switzerland.

Linda had warned us that we would have to walk up a long steep hill with all of our luggage to get to the retreat. The hike took us over an hour since we took the long way because we missed a sign. Luckily, towards the end, a nice neighbor offered to have his children guide us the rest of the way and help us with our bags. Since they were quite small we gave each of them our smaller backpacks, which was about twice the size of the little boy, but he said he was fine and happily lead the way. We were so exhausted, sweaty and unsure which way to go, that we were thrilled to have their help and gave them each some rupees at the end. When we arrived at the guest house we were blown away by the the amazing view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The grounds of the retreat were lush with lots of vibrant plants and flowers. We were greeted by Durga, who runs the retreat with her husband Asanga. Asanga leads the yoga and meditation while Durga leads the chanting (she’s also going to beauty school and gave me a free haircut). There’s also a younger guy who took us on the morning walks, lead us in the nose cleaning, prepared our mud or steam bath and lead us through afternoon meditation. Our daily schedule went as follows:

06:00 Pre-Meditation practice
06:15 Meditation
07:00 Morning Walk
07:45 Tea Break
08:00 Yogic Cleansing
08:30 Morning Yoga
09:45 Breakfast
10:30 Mud or Steam bath

12:00 Pre-Meditation practice
12:15 Meditation
1:00 Lunch
3:00 Talk
3:30 Karma Yoga
4:00 Tea Break
4:30 Chanting
5:30 Evening Yoga
7:00 Dinner
8:00 Retiring

I’ve done lots of yoga before, but I’ve never done any meditation, but I loved it! Since I’m not a morning person it was definitely a nice gentle way to wake up. The yoga meditation room was very peaceful with windows on all of the walls that look over the lake or out into the trees. The morning walk was also a nice way to wake up. We’d go down the hill on one side, walk along the lake, and then back up the hill on the other side. The scenery was beautiful and it was interesting to see the villagers fishing, gardening and doing their other morning activities. As we passed by many of them they would yell out “Namaste” to us.  After the walk we had some lemon grass tea, then it was time for nose cleaning, which is pouring warm salty water in one side of your nose while letting it pour out of the other.  I was a little apprehensive about it, but it actually wasn’t to bad once I got the hang of it.  And after all of the dusty roads I’d been on my nose needed to be cleaned out.  Next we got to choose between a steam bath or a mud bath.  We chose the mud bath the first day and it was so much fun!  It was like being a kid again.  They gave us a bucket full of orange mud which we rubbed all over our bodies and then laid in the sun.  Once the mud was dry we rubbed it off and then showered in the outdoor shower.  My skin was so soft after wards!  Next we had some free time, then afternoon meditation followed by lunch.  After lunch we did Karma Yoga, which was doing yard work or helping out with something around the retreat. Then we would have afternoon tea and popcorn followed by talk time with Asanga, where we could ask him any questions we had.  Then we had chanting with Durga, who has a beautiful voice.  I liked the chanting way more than I thought.  It was very relaxing.  Next we had our last and most strenuous yoga class of the day, which lasted for an hour and a half.  Shavanasa was my favorite part…the ten minutes at the end where you lye still on your back and relax after you have stretched and worked all of your muscles.  I loved the song he played during Shavanasa and the guitar fusion music that he played earlier in the day, so we had Asanga write the names down of the two CD’s and then we went into town on our last night and bought them along with a few other Nepalise CD’s.

While at the retreat we met some nice people from England and the States.  The first day there were only 7 people at the retreat and on the second day there was just David and I and a very cool couple from New Orleans.  Asanga said it was the most Americans he has had in his class in 10 years and the first time he’s had a class of only Americans.  We really enjoyed talking to the other students and hearing about their travel adventures. The couple from England showed us some amazing pictures of their travels and told us how they had traveled in Thailand for two months on one motorbike with two cats (who had been given to them as a gift).  I’ve seen a family of 5 on a motorbike, but two westerners with two cats on a motorbike was quite the visual.  The couple from the states also had some great stories to tell.  They told us about their home stay experience with a Buddhist family who had a bee hive inside their house and a ton of pigeons on their tin roof that the father would feed very early every morning, making a huge racket on the roof. (Buddhist’s don’t believe in killing anything).  I thought I was adventurous, but not after hearing some of their wild stories.

The weather was perfect and every afternoon during tea time we would get a huge thunderstorm, which just added to the magical atmosphere.  The first day we even got one inch hail.  Russel ran out on the lawn and struck a few yoga poses while the hail beat down on him, which looked kind of painful to me.

One night we decided to go down to the lakeside to check out the town and get our feet wet in the lake.  We ended up finding a great restaurant (Elegant View Restaurant) on the lake where we had a few cold beers and a yummy tandori chicken pizza while we watched the sunset over the lake.  It was a stunning sight as the sun was shining down through the clouds making perfect rays of light with the magnificent mountains behind them.  I couldn’t stop snapping pictures.  It was pitch black by the time we got back and had to make the steep hike up to the retreat.  Luckily we had brought our head lamps and there were luminous fire flies dancing around us through the trees.  Unfortunately, about half way up one of my flip flops snapped, so David gave me a piggy back ride until I remembered that I had a safety pin on my bag because it was falling apart.  I was able to fix my flip flop and walked about 20 steps until my other flip flop broke…then I was back on David’s back again…it’s a good thing he’s so strong because it was the steepest part of the hike.  When we finally made it to the top of the hill I went next door to the Hidden Paradise Guesthouse and got a one hour massage, which I definitely needed at that point.

The yoga retreat was an awesome experience and we would highly recommend it!  We even plan on coming back again someday.  Durga said that they are planning on having spa treatments, massages, a cooking school and a swimming pool in the future…so it’s just going to get even better!

13 Jun 2009 Kathmandu, Nepal
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We hired a driver to take us from Darjeeling to the border of Nepal.  It was supposed to be a 5 ½ hour drive, but this guy had a lead foot so he got us there in under 4 hours.  We crossed the border in a rickshaw (like a horse buggy but with a bike instead of a horse) and got our visas on the Nepal side.  After much confusion from people all around us trying to lead us in different directions and sell us flight or bus tickets, we were finally able to get on a night bus to Kathmandu just at it was about to leave.  I climbed onto the roof and locked all of our bags to the bars on the roof with the long chain and lock I carry with me for train and bus rides.  

This bus was seriously the 15 hour bus ride from hell!  The seats were all broken and reclined back into our laps, so there was no leg space and the driver was flying down the bumpy road so fast that we had to hold on and brace ourselves and actually caught some air a few times.  We were so happy when we finally arrived in Kathmandu the next morning.  I had downloaded a travel guide application about Nepal on my iphone (it’s a lot easier to carry around than a heavy travel guide book) and one of the hotels it recommended was the Kathmandu Guest House.  Before it was turned into a hotel it was the Rana Palace.  The hotel is pretty famous and has won lots of awards…the Beatles have even stayed there.  It is located in the touristy area of Thamal.  We loved it!  We got a deluxe room overlooking the garden (which I negotiated for a lower price).  David still wasn’t feeling that well from getting food poisoning in Darjeeling and then the horrendous night bus, so we were glad to be staying in a nice hotel.  

During our short stay in Kathmandu, we visited Swayambhu, also known as the Monkey Temple.  The temple is perched high on top of a hill that overlooks all of Kathmandu and the surrounding mountains.  The long stairway leading to the top is lined with vendors, artists, beggars, Buddha statues, prayer flags and lots of monkeys scampering about.  It was a fun place to explore with lots of great picture opportunities.

Kathmandu is a beautiful city full of lots of culture with plenty of things to do and see.  It is the largest metropolitan city in Nepal and is inhabited by about 2 million people.  Since the 1960′s it has been popular with Western tourist as it was a key stop along the “hippie trail”.  The city stands at an elevation of approximately 1400m and is the jumping off location for trekking in the Himalayan region.