Yoga in the Himalayas

This is the story of 40 Malaysians, led by their yoga instructors Manoj Kaimal and Sandhya Manoj, who went on a maiden yoga trip to India, the land of mysticism, clashing colours, and that most popular of exports – yoga (or is that curry?).

Ouryatra(Sanskrit for “journey”) took place in December and comprised five days of monastery-style living in anashramin Rishikesh, the gateway to the Himalayas and reputed yoga capital of the world.

To balance this monastic experience, a couple of days were spent sightseeing in Delhi and Agra, taking in the famous Taj Mahal along the way.

Arriving in Delhi late on a Wednesday afternoon was as chaotic as driving in Kuala Lumpur during rush hour. However, instead of weaving through cars, our bus zigzagged between cars, mopeds, bicycles, people and cows, egged on all the way by the endless tooting of horns everywhere.

Our Delhi tour started the next morning, and it was hectic because we crammed in all the famous Delhi spots: Lakshimi Narayan Temple, India Gate, Kutab Minar and Lotus Temple (the Bahai House of Worship for all religions and the most visited tourist spot in 2005, even beating out the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower!).

After a deliciousthalilunch, we fought our way through a seemingly impenetrable crowd at the Delhi train station to catch our express train to Haridwar. From there, we took a bus to our final destination in Rishikesh.

When we alighted at the Haridwar station, we were quickly herded into two old buses for another half-hour’s ride to the ashram. Dinner was a top priority on arrival – a meal of rice and vegetables. A briefing on our ashram schedules for the next four days followed, and then it was time to check into our rooms and hit the sack.

It was a little surreal for us to discover next morning that the holiest river in India, the Ganges, flowed right behind the ashram.

Everyone was moved by the first contact with the Ganges. Feet and hands were first tentatively, then unreservedly plunged in; and many eyes welled with tears of joy.

The daily wake up call was 5am, with tea at 5:30am. Then, it was an hour of meditation (6am-7am), followed by sun salutations at sunrise facing the mighty Himalayas, and a short silent contemplation right by the tip of the Ganges!

After this invigorating start to the day, we were ready for the hearty breakfast at 8am.

From 9am to 10am we studied thePatanjali sutras(ancient Yogic scripture), led by Manoj. The Sanskrit words rolled off our tongues much more smoothly than ever before, and the energy of the chanting could be felt all around the room.

Meditating beside the Ganges.

From 10 am to 12 pm, Manoj would conduct his yoga workshop, probing us to delve deeper and tune in to the subtle energy patterns in each pose. Eyes were taught to see beyond the obvious, ears to hear the unspoken, every cell and every muscle was guided to learn to be more aware.

Besides heightening spiritual awareness, this routine also really helped in working up an appetite in us for lunch, which would be punctually served at 12.30pm.

In the evenings, we practised another hour of posture practice in the outdoors, harvesting the pure energy of the environment. Dinner was served at 7pm, followed by meditation from 8pm to 9pm, either indoors or by the Ganges.

By 10pm, most of us were beat and slept as soon as our heads hit our pillows!

Inspired to do yoga in the train.

Whitewater Ganges

We agreed to go for rafting one day because we thought it was going to be a gentle and scenic cruise down the Ganges. We freaked out, however, when the organisers started to brief us on “rescue and save” routines.

But by the end of the 10th rapid, all of us had become hooked and were ready to repeat the experience!

On our last night at the beautiful Dayananda ashram, we put on a typical Manasa Yoga demonstration, a combination of chanting and advanced yoga presented thematically. Swami Aparokhshanandaji, one of the chief monks, lauded our performance in his appreciation speech.

“How is it that these great ladies from Malaysia could chant the Sanskrit verses of Patanjali so correctly?” he flattered us.

Before we left India, we paid the Taj Mahal in Agra a visit. We found it to be a truly remarkable piece of architecture that defies description, its splendour enhanced by the romantic story of Shah Jehan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

We were so carried away by the wonder of just being there that some students proceeded to executeasanas(yoga poses) in the mighty courtyard, becoming a photo target of enthusiastic tourists!

Exhausted as we were, as we rushed from Agra to the Delhi airport to catch our 3am flight back to Kuala Lumpur, one thought popped up in everyone’s head: “I will definitely come back! It’s been simply incredible.”

And now back at our jobs and continuing to practise yoga at our studio in SS 2, Petaling Jaya, we are already making plans for our next dip in the Ganges.

Originally published in the Star (link)