Today, I arrived at Avdhoot Ashram in a busy neighborhood about 10-15 minutes from where I had been staying in Rishikesh… and still was. I had to walk quite a ways with my heavy backpack on the road from my ashram that doesn’t allow vehicles, over the long suspension bridge and to the tuk-tuk station. I could have hired a cart that an Indian man would have pulled for me to bring my bag but there was no way I’d do that. If I packed it, I could carry it. My bag weighed a bit more now than when I left the States after buying amongst a few other things, two shirts and a pair of pants to fit more in with everyone else, not that I would ever not look like a Westerner. Unfortunately, my pasty complexion (even with a tan compared to Indian skin) quickly gives me away.
I had packed less clothes than ever before for any previous backpacking trip, knowing my intention to get and wear clothing from India. In the ashrams, you can never show your knees or shoulders and are also asked to refrain from wearing tight clothing. The typical Lululemon outfit is not going to fly here, not that I brought one with me. But I do fit right in with my love of scarves! Practically every single Indian woman wears one.
I’d also purchased my singing bowl, finger cymbals (can’t believe as a dancer I have lived this long without them), a few tulsi malas I was already constantly wearing just as I do in the States… and what was weighing me a bit more down, a book by Mooji (who does satsang in Rishikesh every winter), plus the relatively heavy glass jar of chywanaprash. If I just ate some of the snacks I had brought with me from home (energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc.), my pack would be smaller and lighter!
After my lengthy walk, I grabbed a tuk tuk that I shared with two other young Indian women, snapping selfies of themselves the entire way before getting dropped off at a large bus station. One of them said, “ten rupees, just ten rupees” in English and smiled as she got out. But she wasn’t there when I asked the driver where to take me, so I didn’t mind paying the 50 rupees we had agreed upon (less than $1).
I had learned about Avdhoot and the yogi/teacher who ran it from a mutual yoga teacher friend in the States who had studied with him a bit when she was here. He had been referred to her by a friend from India/Nepal. Word of mouth recommendations are typically a safe way to go. Traveling anywhere but especially in India, feels sort of like being on a scavenger hunt… following the trail of bread crumbs to whatever it is you are looking for. I didn’t want to leave Rishikesh, the “birthplace of yoga” without at least doing *some* asana with an Indian teacher. And the idea of staying in an ashram that wasn’t the size of a small university also really appealed to me. What did I have to lose?
The other ashram I was considering looked much larger and more beautiful than Avdhoot from the website and had also been recommended by another friend who stayed there. She described it as a nice place that served fresh food from the gardens, but it appeared more established for 7-day yoga programs that were pricey and seemed geared towards Westerners. Staying there and not participating in the program was also an option, but that was also quite pricey and you weren’t allowed to take the yoga classes. I had already done my own practice predominantly thus far and was searching for more of an authentic ashram stay and connection with a teacher. Avdhoot it was.
I knew the ashram would be in a fairly busy area as my friend said it was a “city” place though she had only visited it briefly, never stayed there. As it turned out, she serendipitously met the teacher I’d end up studying with when he subbed a class at the most attended yoga school. Meant to be. His name is Vikar and he was waiting for me when I arrived that afternoon.
At first I was hesitant to let the tuk-tuk leave before I ensured I was at the correct location. Not sure why the words “Avdhoot Ashram” painted directly on the yellow building weren’t enough for me. Before I even had a chance to step out of the tuk-tuk, an older woman dressed in a sari came out and smiled. I asked “Avdhoot Ashram?” and she nodded. Confirmed. Great, paid the driver… walked in through the doorway… home sweet home? We shall see.
Vikar was dressed head to toe in white as most yogis seem to be in Rishikesh, including the Westerners in teacher training programs. He looked a bit different than in his Facebook photo, where we’d recently been connected through my friend. I’d also connected via email to see if I could visit which he promptly confirmed yes to and then called to tell him what date I’d arrive. His spoken English was surprisingly much better than how I assumed he’d speak based on his writing and our brief phone conversation. He spoke quite well actually. And I enjoyed hearing the words he’d pronounce based on tongue placement I had recently learned when studying Sanskrit.
After a nice conversation getting to know one another a bit, he had someone show me to my room which was also a very pleasant surprise. Avdhoot appears to be a rather old ashram but also has a much more modern building only a year old attached where I would be sleeping. It was built by one of the main guru’s affluent devotees who happens to be a builder. It has four floors of rooms and a roof top, soon to be one of my favorite places here as well. The downstairs of the new building will eventually become a modern kitchen and large eating hall. For now, the kitchen is in the much older building and everyone eats sitting cross-legged on a dirty long mat that is outside the kitchen itself.
My room was super clean and very modern with white walls and white marble floors. The bathroom was also modern with a Western toilet, little mirror and sink and the typical Indian shower head with a bucket and small pouring cup for showering. Both ashrams had fixtures you need to turn on to heat the water before you want to bathe. Unlike my previous rooms that all had two single beds in them, this one had one queen-sized bed and two fuzzy blankets just the way I like. Yay! Especially after giving up one of my own fuzzy blankets to the homeless woman… and after feeling how crazy hard the bed was! Hardest I’ve ever slept on anywhere except for the ground during my Vision Quest in Colombia. I am actually so incredibly grateful for that experience because it makes any future semi-uncomfortable sleeping arrangement feel semi-posh. It truly is all about your perspective.
This journal/blog entry is getting a bit long so I will save my evening’s activity for tomorrow’s entry. I’ll end saying after settling into my room a bit and feeling comfortable with my new yogi friend Vikar, I already felt like this was a place I’d certainly be able to hang out for a few days. The noise outside was a lot but I could already tell the inside of the ashram was relatively quiet, and that in and of itself was a very welcome change!