Adventures of Travelling India Solo
Travelling India solo, one could perhaps argue that I've gone a little 'Eat Pray Love', and have decided to flee to India to run away from my problems. However it's quite the opposite in fact. This past year has probably been one of the best times of my life (so far), with many more to come (I hope). I have been experiencing everything that I used to only dream of doing (travelling the world and living in Australia), and have even met someone and who I've fallen very deeply in love with along the way (win-win).
So having practiced yoga on-and-off since I was about 16, over the past few years I have developed a deeper appreciation for the practice. Not only is yoga (meaning union) beneficial in terms of learning how to control, and bring awareness to the mind and body, it is also linked to positive body image and self-love. For example, when I was at uni (studying psychology), we learnt (in my appearance and embodiment module) about how yoga is a stepping stone to reversing the negative effects of body dysmorphic disorder (which we all have by the way); which is caused predominately, by the main stream media through the use of advertising in-achievable and false ideals of the female body type (such as through photo-shop and editing/distorting images).
Unfortunately we're also socially conditioned from a young age to believe in these non-realistic body ideals. For example, a study has suggested that if the iconic barbie doll was to be created as a real human size (Norton, (1996), then the doll's body (when human size) would be severely anorexic (with her body fat so low that she would not be able to menstruate). Not exactly something we should be striving for as a collective society.
Yoga on the other hand, teaches you acceptance of self within the present moment. Not striving to be any better or any worse than you are right now, rather just being. Yoga allows you to be present in your body, feeling acutely aware of every sensation and every breath. Unlike many other physical activities (note: that the asana's/yoga postures are only one aspect of what yoga actually is), yoga doesn't require you to push your body to physical exhaustion (to the point where you can't continue anymore). The purpose of a practice of yoga is to prepare the body (and mainly the mind) for meditation. Therefore it is very important that you are mindful and attentive to your body's needs, including respecting your body in the sense that you don't over-step it's capabilities. Which basically means you rest into a child-pose (relaxation pose) whenever you need to (without shame or guilt attached).
Yoga is practiced without ego, without comparison of others (another key factor in negative body image) and without the need to compete with your fellow classmates (unlike body building-which I have experienced in the past-which is all about comparison and competition). Therefore overall, yoga teaches you how to be mindful (an important contributor for self-appreciation and satisfaction) not only on the mat, but off the mat too by carrying these values throughout everyday life. This means not rushing around life 100mph, or complaining to the waiter that your food hasn't arrived yet, or being mad if the bus is late, the traffic lights are red etc. It's all about just acceptance of the now, of the present state and being okay with it. Even if its not an ideal situation that you actually want to be in. And for sure I'm not perfect at this, and I can certainly tell when I haven't meditated or practiced yoga for a while, because I start stressing and worrying about things that don't need to be stressed or worried about. But it's all definitely a learning process and a journey, in which I hope to develop when taking this yoga instructor training course in Rishikesh, India (yoga capital of the world) at the Rishikesh Nath Yogshala.
So initially I had booked to do my yoga instructor course in Ubud (Bali), where I had previously been in March this year to attend the Bali Spirit Yoga festival (which was incredible to say the least). Despite having put my deposit down on the course, throughout the later months I started to develop this feeling in my gut that this course in Bali wasn't the right one for me. The only way I can describe this feeling is an inner-knowing (without need for logical explanation), otherwise known as intuition. So anyway, I decided to act on this and began looking at more recent reviews of the course, only to find that this gut feeling had been right. The recent reviews had all absolutely slated the course, which led me to think "why not actually learn in the country (and city) where yoga originated".
And that's when the idea of Rishikesh came into fruition. So I booked a course at the Rishikesh Nath Yogshala, whereby I greatly look forward to learning from an array of yoga masters and swamis, each specialised within a certain area of Yoga and Pranayama (the breath work of yoga). So my course is four weeks long, with an intense schedule of 5am start and a 9:30pm finish (with half day's on Saturday and Sunday's off). And apparently despite waking up at 5am, we don't get breakfast until 9am, so I'm not sure how I'm going to survive 4 hours in the morning without eating, considering the copious amount of (healthy) food that I manage to consume on a daily basis-What an intense yet exciting four weeks I have ahead of me!
The Journey to India-
After being awake for a total of 27 hours, I was more than happy when I had arrived safely at my hostel. The plane journey was a little surreal, and it's fair to say that I felt more than out of place, being on the plane as a young, white, solo female traveler (with 95% of the passengers being middle aged male Indian men). I definitely received a few stares here and there, however I interpreted them as curiosity rather than being anything malicious or flirtatious.
I landed at the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi (apparently voted best airport in the world-somehow), around 22:30 and waited in a copious line for bio-metric finger print scanning (security seems pretty tight here). I had pre-arranged a driver to pick me up (which turned out to be not the driver I had actually arranged-welcome to India) who patientally waited the two hours it took for me to get through airport security. I admit I was initially anxious about travelling somewhere so late at night (as in some areas it’s considered to be dangerous for women to be alone at night-but that’s like anywhere in the world unfortunately). Nevertheless, I arrived safely and was extremely glad to be greeted with a glass of filtered water in a clean, modern hostel (Soul Stay).
The next day I met an Indian girl staying in my room, Anna, who quickly became a great friend and a somewhat personal tour guide. Although she previously lived in Mumbai for many years, she used to live in Delhi and happily took me and a few other friends (that I made on the day), to a local cafe to try all of the local food. She ordered dishes upon dishes, but luckily for me she’s vegan too (which was an absolute bonus). I’ve fallen in love with a snack type dish called Golgappa, which tastes absolutely incredible. What I love about the dish also, is that you have to eat it in the most bizarre way (breaking a hole in the top of this crispy ball, filling it with chickpeas, potato and sweet and sour sauce before dunking it in this green chilli water-which you then have to eat in one go). Genius.
A small group of us also went to Delhi's Annual Vegan Festival, which was divinely planned to be on whilst I was there (thank you vegan gods). So despite being called a festival, it was more like a small gathering with about 12 stalls offering delicious and nutritious vegan food and regular talks about nutrition and health. Anna and I were in our element and I managed to eat so much delicious food that I could barely walk by the end (what's a vegan girl to do).
I have to say that meeting Anna (and physically being in India), completely broke the stereotype of Indian women (not being allowed out, dressed extremely moderately and having little respect in society), which I had so strongly anticipated. Perhaps it’s just the area that I’m in, but in New Dehli, the women seemed to be like every other woman. Some wearing shorts, jeans and westernised clothing. Many walking around alone (even in the late evenings). There were women working in normal and well respected jobs (such as Anna who is head of marketing at an important company) and they also seem to enjoy going out regularly (listening to mainly English music), drinking and being on the dating scene. I really couldn’t believe how wrong I had been about the modern culture. And definitely there are still many Indian women who are still very traditional, in terms of their dress code and in their values, however this seemed to be much less prominent in the main city areas.
So I don't really have any words for Delhi other than crazy and chaotic. I think it's fair to say that I've never experienced anything quite like Delhi. Especially Old Delhi with the narrow yet over-crowded streets, cows roaming the sidewalks, stray dogs lazing around, men carrying huge sacks of spices through small crowded ally ways, every other person trying to sell you something, motor bikes, rickshaws and cars coming from all directions beeping their horns like there's no tomorrow. What a place. However in the midst of the chaos, there are also numerous beautiful sites to see such as Lotus Temple, India Gate, Lodi Gardens, Hymayong's tomb, Akshudam temple, Jama Masjid and many, many more.
Out of all of the sights that I was able to fit in during my five days in Delhi, I think that I found Lotus temple to be the most mesmerizing (especially at sunset). Made entirely out of marble, it's lotus petal architecture glowed under the rays of the setting sun, with milky blue pools surrounding the temple (giving the effect of a lotus floating on water). Once you reach the inside of the temple (after copious amounts of queues: never go on a Sunday like we made the mistake of doing), you step inside a spectacular room where people from all over the world come to sit, contemplate and meditate (unfortunately no photos or video footage was allowed inside this sacred space). I did actually end up visiting this temple a second time (when it was less busy) and we arrived at the perfect time where a mantra chanting ceremony was taking place (gotta love India).
During my time staying at Soul Stay, I became friend's with many other solo travelers from all over the world, each with their own story and reason for travelling to India. One morning I woke up and there was a new Russian girl, Nasta, in our room, who I quickly discovered had been given the same sight seeing itinerary as me (the guy's running the hostel were super helpful in suggesting places to visit). Within about 30 seconds of meeting each other, we had agreed to go to these places together and then left 10 minutes later. We had such a great day visiting numerous sites whilst travelling on a rickshaw throughout Old Delhi. And that is the absolute beauty of solo travel. I guess in our home town we would never think to talk to a stranger and ask them to go visit somewhere or go out for lunch with us. But traveling solo allows you do that, it allows you to break those barriers and forces you to engage with others with an open mind and heart.
The next day a small group of us (whilst also currently strangers to one and other) decided to take a day tour (organised by the hostel) to Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal (one of the seven wonders of the world). We all had such a great time together and bonded so well, it was like we had known each other all along. The Taj Mahal itself was absolutely breath taking and almost didn't look real (especially with the heavily pouted grey sky making the Taj look even more majestic). I spent my final day in Delhi visiting the rest of the sites which I hadn't gotten round to visiting yet (because there's just SO many) and then took a bus up to Rishikesh at night with Nasta (luckily we just happened to be heading to Rishikesh the same date for yoga courses).
After a six hour night bus to Rishikesh, I was grateful to be greeted and picked up by the guys running my yoga school. After being brought back to the school, I was offered a chai (oh so Indian) and shown to my large room of luxury, which had a double bed, a spacious ensuite bathroom and a balcony (which felt super luxurious after having lived in a van and road tripping the East Coast of Australia for the past several weeks). The school is based just off a bustling street of cafes and markets which meant (after a short nap) I definitely had some exploring to do!
I think one way to describe Rishikesh, is a vegan yogi's heaven on earth. I hadn't even been there for 12 hours and I had already fallen deeply in love with the place. Not to mention on the first day, I had been invited to an ecstatic dance and cacao healing ceremony, which was taking place on the weekend (I always knew that chocolate was good for my soul). So yeah let's just say that Rishikesh is definitely 'out there' in terms of spirituality and self-expression, and people definitely aren't afraid to show it (rightly so). After all, it is where the Beetles rocked up to in the 60's to find spiritual enlightenment (through transcendental meditation) at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram.
I spent my first day exploring and being absolutely amazed by the sheer natural beauty of the place (with Rishikesh being surrounded by mountains at the foothills of the Himalaya's and the Holy Ganges River). Rishikesh as a city itself, is completely vegetarian, and I was more than thrilled to have discovered SO MANY VEGAN OPTIONS (most things in New Delhi weren't actually vegan due to ghee being added to practically everything). So yeah, heaps of vegan friendly options at the most beautiful cafe's overlooking The Ganges. My favourite cafe so far, is Shambala Cafe, which I accidentally discovered on my first day. At first it just looks like a jewelry shop, however if you pay enough attention then you'll notice a small door way leading out onto the most beautiful, relaxing and vibrant cafe. The tables are all on the ground (which is covered in boho style cushions and blankets), meaning you can lay back, relax, enjoy the meditation music and gaze upon the majestic flow of The Ganges River.
After having a wander around, I decided to research the “must do’s” in the area and came across the ceremony of Ganga Aarti (otherwise known as Spiritual Happy Hour). So every evening, many people gather (including from all over the world) to witness this evening ceremony. So the Ganga Aarti is a ceremony (including fire lanterns, singing and flowers) which takes place in celebration of Goddess Ganga (Goddess of the Ganges/Ganga aka the holiest river in India). Despite going by myself (solo travel life), I still had such a great time and was lucky enough to be passed one of the fire lanterns (which I got to wave around enthusiastically until my arm got sore). I'm super excited to take my mum down to spiritual happy hour when she arrives in India in just a few weeks time (after having not seen her for a year and a half)!
One of the things that I love most about spending time in Rishikesh, is just the open-mindedness of the people (and how I share many interests with about 90% of them). For example, Rishikesh is a completely vegetarian and alcohol free city, which boasts yoga schools and studios on practically every corner. You'll also find Ayurvedic doctors, reiki and sound healers, tarot readers, astrologists and many, many more types of interesting people. So as you may imagine, it's fair to say that I feel quite at home here, being among those who favour a less traditional approach to life.
I was also super happy also when I met my fellow course mates Rachel and Lauren, (there's actually only three of us on the course plus Loraine who has already graduated) who I connected with so well and had so much in common with. We've bonded together over kombucha's, full moons, yogi yum-yums (these amazing raw vegan treats at the local organic store), sunrises and chai tea's. It’s definitely so nice to be surrounded by positive feminine energy, with all of us going through the same journey together of healing, growth and self-love. We definitely have a lot to look forward together, over these next upcoming weeks of yoga teacher training.
To help support this blog and get yourself a FREE trial with audible then click the link below to receive your FREE audio-book. If you're interested in yoga or India then I would definitely recommend downloading 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yogananda.
To keep up with my yoga journey in India, check out my instagram: @theveganyogitraveller
Below are some of my favourite moments of road tripping the East Coast of Australia, if you enjoy it then why not check out some of my other blogs.