Can you believe I am already halfway through my first year in India? On one hand I feel like I have lived and died a hundred times, on the other hand, the time has passed in a flash.
June brought 104-114 degree temperatures. What to do? All the other students left India. They said it would be a living hell to stay. Tonight, Ustad Ji commented that I am very strong with the high heat. I told him I made up my mind to be in sympathetic resonance with the heat and so far it has worked. I do move slowly and rest frequently, but that seems reasonable. I have a lot of gratitude for this unexpected one-on-one time studying with Ustad Ji. However, I was recently required to make a short departure of my own.
As per my Visa requirement, I have to leave India every 180 days. For the past couple of months, I had been feeling homesick for Japan. I missed the sights, sounds and smells of Japanese villages. I would have loved to have gone there, but it would break the bank. I decided on an 8 day trip to Nepal instead.
I had to laugh as I passed this sign in the Delhi airport.
My destination was the Vedic Arogya Ashram. Bhakta and his family run the Ashram in the small village of Godavari located in the hilly outskirts of Kathmandu.
In all my months in India, I have not been a tourist. I have been studying intensely. My scenery is made up of the hustle, bustle and pollution of a big city. I held a hope that this Ashram stay would provide me with a healthy dose of Soul sustaining Nature.
Waiting for me at the Kathmandu airport was an Uncle of the Ashram family who works as a cab driver. He held up a paper reading “Amanjot Kaur, Arogya Ashram”. Whew, I didn’t have to worry about how to get there.
The ride was long and hot through the late afternoon traffic. So far, nothing unique to see, although the surrounding hills were promising. The cab slowly wound its way through the arteries of the city and began climbing a narrow curving road. City life slowly transformed into village life.
We passed interesting shrines, school children in various uniforms, women at work in traditional clothing. Gazing over the passing faces, I noticed 1/3 of them carried strong Indian features, another 1/3 strong Asian features and the final 1/3 consisted of a beautiful blending of the two.
On and on we went. The surroundings continued to unfold. My heart begin to lighten as I looked around. Trees, hills, pastures, blue skies with puffy clouds. Nature!
After an hour or more of stop and go driving, the cab halted at the top of a dirt road where a huge pile of rubble blocked the way; no car was getting over that. Uncle got out and said we had a 5 minute walk. I had one of those scary moments of thinking, sure we have a five minute walk – to nowhere! 😂
Winding our way past a few scattered homes, trees and some goats, we came round a sharp bend to arrive at the arched gateway sporting the Ashram logo. Relief. I had begun my day with a 4:00 am cab ride to the Amritsar airport and it was now about 5:30 pm. The end of my long journey was in sight. A cool breeze whispered through leaves of the surrounding forest as we descended the steps to the Ashram building.
I received a warm welcome from Bhakta. Soon after, I met his wife, son, parents and a younger brother who all live at or near the Ashram. Two other employees, Sobin (Yoga, Mediation and Reiki instructor) and Didi (the cook) round out the staff.
After check-in, I went down more stairs to reach my assigned room. A thick grove of bamboo bordering the path rustled in the breeze as I passed. Hmm, I thought, bamboo just like in Japan….
I met several European guests who were finishing the last day of their stay. As we sat together over the delicious Ayurvedic dinner, a familiar sound begin like an orchestra starting up and quickly became deafening. Cicadas! I hadn’t heard them since I was… in Japan. The Ashram has the loudest cicadas I have ever heard.
Many times during my stay, I thought about the giant insects in Nausica of the Valley of the Wind.
I marveled at the blessing and the answered prayer, somehow Waheguru had given me a trip to Japan, in Nepal!
The next day I was the only guest. I thought I would have time to keep up with my Punjabi studies and review my Shabads, but soon realized the Ashram keeps you on a full time schedule. I surrendered to this, realizing that a break from our studies can give us deeper insight and quicker learning when we resume them.
My days began around 3:15 am. It was the only way I could fit in my own Sadhana before the Ashram day began at 5:30 with group meditation. Self practice at 8:30 was silent meditation with the class after the morning yoga session. The walk usually went longer and barely left time for a washroom break before the evening yoga session. The first few days felt impossible. I was a bit concerned when one morning I felt like I could barely lift my feet to ascend the steps after breakfast. The day was just starting! After a few days I fell into the rhythm and found myself having more energy and stamina.
I really enjoyed doing karma seva at the Ashram. I spent hours sweeping the grounds, watering potted plants, tidying the kitchen area, cleaning the yoga room and even took a spare moment to decorate the white board used during philosophy class with lotus blossoms and the eyes of Buddha. The outdoor physical work left me feeling mentally and physically improved.
The first day, I was experiencing melancholy, but kept my focus through a challenging morning yoga session under Sobin’s skilled instruction. After an hour or so of asanas, including many unfamiliar balancing postures, my body was surrendering into shavasana when a familiar and unexpected voice came softly to my ears. I listened intently. It was Snatam Kaur.
Sobin had began playing a recording of her Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo at very low volume. Hearing her familiar voice reaching out to me, the beautiful tone and the powerful words sung pierced my heart. I began to sob gently, silently… It was the first time I had heard her voice in public since leaving America. I listened deeply and the power of the Naad went straight to my heart.
I felt gratitude for all that she and the other musical ladies of 3HO are doing on the western musical front. They have allowed the Naad of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib to be accessed by so many individuals – all over the world.
The Ashram’s challenging days of group yoga, work, meditation and shared meals brought forth deep introspection and processing, it felt remarkably like a mini Solstice. I reflected that my Ashram stay even coincided with the same week as Solstice camp. Guru’s divine alignment for sure. Another answered prayer as I had been wishing I could have attended Solstice this year.
The air became crisp and cold at night. I kept my windows wide open to savor it, especially the nights the rains came. I was surprised to hear cuckoos singing in the Amrit Vela. It brought to mind my Norwegian Dadi (Grandmother). She used to manually set off her Black Forest Cuckoo clock to the delight of my brother and I when we were small.
The lunchtime break found me either crashing for a power nap or catching up with reading banis. After dinners, we gathered in the yoga shala for candle light meditation (tratakum) and sometimes chanting. One night I taught the Door of My Heart chant and Sobin taught us a beautiful one with the words, “I am not this body, this body is not mine, I am not these emotions, these emotions are not mine…” When we finished around 8:30 pm, I would slink off for a restorative shower and head straight to bed.
My first nature walk, led by Bhakta’s father, was to Shanti Ban (Peace Jungle), where a giant golden Buddha perches sentinel on the hillside.
My second full day, Ottile arrived. Originally from the Netherlands, she had been hiking in the famous trekking regions of Nepal before arriving at the Ashram. We quickly hit it off and felt like longtime friends; the kind you know so well, you can just sit in silence enjoying each others presence. That afternoon, Sobin led us on a walk to the village market.
Every meal at the Ashram was so delicious. Lentil pancake, millet chapatis, home made plum jam, daal, chana, rajma, bindi, chutneys. All my favorites and new things I loved as well. I ate more than I should have, but it was honestly the best food I had eaten in 6 months. It was prepared with love, care and health in mind and you could taste it!
The following day Ottile and I decided to use the lunch break to find our way back to the market. We were working hard and found ourselves needing more healthy snacks than anticipated. We wanted to get some dates and munchies while we had a chance. We also savored the idea of an adventure. Would we be able to find our way to the market and back on our own? Memory game!
We set out in good spirits and better yet, great company. We got to market perfectly and procured our delicious goods. On the market street we stopped to admire these mannequins, sporting the latest in Nepali fashion – shared blanket! But check out the dude mannequin’s awesome beard.
At last, we surmounted the top of a hill, rounded a corner and arrived at the Ashram gate. Success! A couple of hours later, we laughed, sighed and almost cried when the cook, Didi, rounded us up and took us on a walk…. to the village market! 😂
One of the best things about the Ashram, is Rufi the dog. Rufi is sweetly tempered and loving. The first night I was eating dinner on a bench covered with cloth when suddenly Rufi’s head emerged under my legs . He jumped up and snuggled between my back and the wall.
Rufi has a withered back leg. He was injured in a fight when he was small. Medicine healed the outside of his body, but the muscles and ligaments were unable to be repaired. Rufi doesn’t seem to mind. He gets around exceptionally well on three legs. Rufi reminded me that we can be faced with challenges in our lives and still find a way to thrive and be happy.
The following day at walking time (this time led by Bhakta’s brother), Ottile and I inquired where we were going. He replied, “To the market”. We gently said that we had been three times already and could we please go a different route? We ended up going on the route called the long circular walk where we saw some lovely countryside.
Andreas (originally from Cypress) and his friend Pipa (from New Zeland) arrived during the next day. Andreas helps teach yoga and meditation when he is at the Ashram. He was also our guide for the next walk.
Ottile and I were wise now and automatically asked where the walk was going. We had a choice of two routes Andreas was familiar with, the market 😂 or the long circular walk. I asked if we could try going to the Shanti Ban as Ottile had not been there yet. Andreas agreed and I used my memory and intuition to guide us. Rufi even came along and the outing was a success!
Bhakta’s son, Ojus is a lively handful. We enjoyed his company and enthusiasm. I loved watching him play and spoke to him in Punjabi. He seemed to understand me quite well for the most part and even obeyed when I told him to eat his dinner. If you knew Ojus, you would realize how amazing that was!
I had the unexpected opportunity to teach a yoga class midway through my stay. I was looking forward to it as I hadn’t taught yoga since leaving America.
I was to teach the evening yoga session and anticipated the attendees would be the 3 other guests present. I was shocked and a bit nervous when seven people arrived. Three international guests and four Nepalese, including our instructor, Sobin. The class went very smoothly. I taught Awakening the 10 Bodies Kriya and Laya Yoga meditation. I didn’t have a gong, so I improvised with playing the Ashram’s singing bowls.
The class had a great reception and one local man requested another class and said he wanted to take video. This reminded me that even though I have felt the transformational power of Kundalini Yoga in my life, I tend to forget just how potent it is and how important it is to teach so that other people can find it.
The second class I taught in the morning a day or so later. This time I taught the Kriya for Adrenals and Kidneys – one of my favorites. Before shavasana, I explained to them the quantum technology of Shabad Guru and as they were laying, I sang them one of the recent Shabads Ustad Ji taught me, Aisee Peeth Karahu Man Maerae. We finished the class with 31 minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation.
The last days at the Ashram had two memorable events. One was learning how to perform Sutra Neti. This sinus cleansing technique was discussed in one of our philosophy classes. A tube is drawn up through the nasal cavity, down through the mouth and slowly pulled back and forth to massage, clean and open the nasal passages. We were told that in olden times, people used live snakes to preform Sutra Neti! 😯🐍 I was fascinated and kept asking questions about this. Finally Sobin said, “Forget the snakes!”
Pipa and I were curious to try it. Sobin procured the modern supplies for us, consisting of thin rubber tubes and after the morning’s Jala Neti, Pipa and I gave it a shot. It was awkward to say the least and more so as we were being watched by two fascinated locals as we proceeded with our experiment. I can honestly say I am breathing better than I ever have after performing the Sutra Neti a few times.
The last adventure was going on one final long walk. This one to a Vishnu Temple located on a ridge some ways off. Bhakta’s father guided Ottile, Pipa, Andreas and I to this amazing spot. On the way, I paused in wonder and joy as I read the following sign posted above the doorway of a village home. Yup, Waheguru had given me a little trip to Japan… in Nepal. Yahoo Waheguru!
The Vishnu temple was fascinating and peaceful. A chained off cave area was fragrant with incense, bright with ochre and crimson color offerings and some food offerings lay deep inside the cave.
The others went off to scale a final incline for a view of the Kathmandu valley. I stayed behind with Bhakta’s father to enjoy the sacred cave. Suddenly the face of a rat (luckily friendly looking) popped up on the edge of the cave about 12 inches away from my face. I couldn’t stiffle an involutary aaagh! Bhakta’s father turned, wondering what had happened. I laughed and said, “Chooha” (Punjabi for rat). He was amused.
To leave the temple site, you have to descend stairs and pass through a tiny, dark slot formed naturally by the rocks. We felt like we were all going through a re-birthing experience. I for one feel like my time in Nepal was the catalyst for some major shifts. Some old part of me died there, so that my Soul can more readily fulfill its life’s purpose. Who is to say what will happen next?
I was a bit sad to leave, but felt my duties in Amritsar sucking me back to India. I was met with this sight while boarding my plane from Delhi to Amritsar. My heart melted.
I arrived back in Amritsar after 10 pm. The cab ride to Chheharta took me through a neon lit Hindu festival. Two large elephants walked down the road in tandem. The non-English speaking cab driver was trying to figure out how to get directions to where I was going. He tried to get me to call someone who would speak Punjabi. I laughed and told him, in my limited Punjabi, that I live in Chheharta and could tell him where to go. He was surprised, relieved and we rode on in joy. I guess I have learned a few things in my first six months…