Disclaimer in advance: During the yoga retreat, the instructors asked us to keep our phones in our rooms (for the most part), so I don’t really have many pictures from this segment that I took myself. Sorry for some of the pictures being potatoes!
Read the previous post here.
Our first real activity in Nepal was attending an overnight yoga retreat. This was actually one of the activities I was most excited about, as I practice yoga regularly, and I’ve always wanted to learn more about its cultural and religious underpinnings. There are many different companies all offering yoga retreats of various lengths, and arbitrarily, we decided on Sadhana Yoga Retreat in Pokhara. We booked the 2-night 1-day package, with a massage for each of us from the on-site masseuse.
Day 2: Arrival at Sadhana Yoga
Sadhana Yoga Retreat Center is nestled in the mountains above Fewa Lake in Pokhara, and to reach it from Lakeside, we drove over miles of unpaved road, following hand-painted signs. After leaving the endless stretch of trekking shops that defined the main corridor in Lakeside, we pressed into the local village, which was comprised of dilapidated concrete houses, many with storefronts of snacks and sodas. The occasional cow stared back at us with gaunt eyes.
After nearly 20 minutes of bouncing along the road, the taxis stopped at an unassuming house, and our packs were unloaded. We would have to continue the rest of the way on foot. The trek was short but steep, and yielded a dazzling sunset view of Fewa Lake.
We were promptly shown our rooms when we arrived at the Center. They were small, dorm-like rooms with a few simple cots, and an attached bathroom. That was my first experience with a Nepalese toilet: a ceramic(?) hole set into the ground, with a tap and bucket nearby ostensibly used to either wash your butt, or “flush”. To be honest, I still haven’t quite figured out how to use the toilet optimally.
We then spent some time with Big D, going over the schedule for our trek, which would begin 2 days later. We settled on hiring 3 porters, for $22 per porter per day.
The yoga center has a schedule for its daily program, which starts at 5:30am and ends at 9. One of the teachers tolls a bell at the commencement of each activity. By the time we finished up the tour of the facilities and signed the papers that acknowledged the rules of the center, it was almost time for dinner.
Dinner was held in the top level of the retreat, in a communal room. Mats meant for kneeling lined the floor around a low-set table. The center’s employees brought out metal plates of vegetarian local fare, as we sat with the other attendees of the retreat. Before setting into our meal, a teacher led us in a Sanskrit prayer. We followed along with as best we could, by reading off the phonetic spelling on the plastic placards placed before each of us.
The only other attendees were couple who had also lived in San Francisco. Earlier this year, they sold all their belongings, and embarked on a year-long journey around the world. I envied them a bit, to be honest.
After dinner, M followed the masseuse for his massage and steam bath, and the rest of us were ushered to the yoga room. Manoj, the meditation teacher, introduced us to proper meditation techniques before the next and last event of the day: Candlelight Meditation.
Candelight Meditation basically involves sitting in a ring around a lit candle, staring at its flickering flame, and trying to keep your eyes and mind open for as long as possible. My eyes started watering immediately, and I couldn’t stop myself from blinking furiously. The teacher claimed that it was an effective exercise to prepare your body for bed, and as advertised, I felt 100% ready to knock out after 10 minutes of intense eye strain.
Day 3: Yoga and Lakeside Shopping Trip
The bell was tolled at 5:30am sharp, but in my excitement (and my 2 alarms), I was already awake. It felt surprisingly invigorating to be up before the sun.
Pre-Meditation consisted of a series of stretches, exercises, and breathing techniques that would warm our bodies up for meditation. It’s a bit counterintuitive to me that you’d need to warm up before sitting still for an hour, but if we had gone straight into meditating, I probably would have fallen right back asleep. I know this for a fact, actually; since I’ve returned, I’ve tried to pick up my meditation practice at home, from the comfort of my bed when I wake up at 7:30am every morning… but most of the time, I drift back into half-sleep. ^_^; I’m working on it…
Tea Break, which took place on the highest floor of the retreat, offered a breathtaking view of the sunrise. The morning light bathed the sky in peach and strawberry hues. Breathing in the peppery scent of the herbal tea, we passed the thermos around and traded stories of past lives, lived somewhere unimaginably far away.
Using a Neti Pot in the presence of others, trying not to laugh too hard lest you ingest the snot dribbling down your face, was about as awkward of an experience as I imagined. Even weirder – one of the techniques for clearing all remaining water from your nose was to fake laughter as loudly as possible. Manoj’s laughter was extremely creepy (and contagious), and soon we all found ourselves laughing for real.
As far as the scheduled programming went, I was definitely looking forward to the Morning and Evening yoga classes the most. Morning Yoga took place in the courtyard, where we flowed through each pose of the Sun Salutation. Did you know that they call Downward Dog, Mountain Pose? :O
After a breakfast of porridge ( I had a bowl of fruit with cornflakes, since I’m a bit lactose intolerant), we had the option of either doing a steam or a mud bath. Since the staff recommended that we take a steam bath immediately after our massages, and the day was too cold to do a full body mud bath, most of our party took the time off. I spent a bit of time hanging out on the balcony of the top floor, making use of the travel watercolor set that I had bought for this trip.
Since the staff had gone through the trouble of setting up a washbin of the local, clay-rich mud for us, J and I decided – fuck it, we came all the way to Nepal; why not reach beyond our comfort zones a bit? So we dipped our hands gingerly into the squishy orange sludge, and rubbed them tentatively on our faces.
I do have to admit that my skin felt smoother afterwards, but I think for my long-term skincare plan, I’ll stick with 10-step Korean Skincare ;p
After a lunch of Dal Bhat, those of us who needed to rent equipment headed out into Lakeside with the retreat’s private driver. It took us about half an hour of comparing prices at a few different gear shops before we decided that the prices were all pretty much the same. We ended up renting and buying almost all our gear at the Fewa Trekking Shop (mainly because it was one of the first shops we saw after getting out of the car at Lakeside’s Central Point).
By the time we made it back to the retreat, it was time for the Chanting class. The few of us who made it to the class sat cross-legged in a circle, each of us holding a laminated page printed with numbered sanskrit songs. The class began with three of us picking a random number. The teacher then explained the meaning of each of the corresponding chants to us, and led us in song. Despite my reservations at being faced with so intimate a portion of this alien culture, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the instructors as they pounded their drums passionately and swayed to the beat of the head teacher’s melodic, warbling tune.
Evening Yoga was the Yin to Morning Yoga’s Yang. We were taught the Moon Salutation, which supposedly is more meditative and cools your body down in preparation for slumber. The slower flow was a great way to ease into dinner, and for me, a perfect segue into my post-dinner massage.
To be honest, I was definitely nervous going into the massage, seeing as it would be my first professional full body massage. I’d heard so many horror stories from friends who’d gotten massages abroad, about masseuses digging elbows into knots or touching my friends inappropriately. Turns out my fears were misplaced – I had a perfectly relaxing time, minus the initial awkwardness of having to strip down completely. My favorite part was when the masseuse rubbed his hands together furiously, and then applied his heated palms to my eyes, or my tummy. It was a surprisingly calming touch.
Sidenote: during the entire massage, the masseuse had Hare Krishna playing on repeat. I had this song stuck in my head basically for the rest of the trip @_@
My final experience of the night was the steam bath, wherein my body was enclosed in a wooden box pumped full of hot steam. There was a hole at the top of the box for my head to stick out of, so I could breathe in the cold night air and gaze at the twinkling lights across Lake Fewa while scorching steam assaulted the rest of my body. I was grossed out at first by the peeling paint of the rather dilapidated box, but I ended up enjoying the experience more than I anticipated. Unlike a traditional sauna, which is stuffy and suffocating, the steam bath was incredibly refreshing!
By the time I was finally showered and in bed, it was already past 11pm, and everyone else lay asleep. As I curled up under the heavy blanket, my mind raced with excitement – we would be departing for our Ghorepani trek the next day!
Yoga Retreat + Massage: $121
Misc Gear Shopping in Pokhara: $135
Gear Rental Deposit: $27.68
Part 2 Total: $283.68