Arrivederci, Varanasi! Saturday December 8, 2018

The retreat has finished; at least for me. The two other lovely human beings who were also there will be there until the end of December.

Student-Teacher Bonding

I’m now at an airport restaurant with plenty of time before my flight. After a wonderful cappuccino, pizza and chocolate shake (I was hungry damnit! I was being starved at the retreat with a vegan menu), I can finally begin the task of retrospection.

Driving from Lucknow to Varanasi, I drove passed this same airport. Now that I’m actually sitting here, it makes this adventure feel like it’s come full circle; poetic closure.

Likewise, my impression of Varanasi.

So much happened that I’ll bullet SOME of the highlights:

  • Got super sick from the hotel food and water @ the retreat. Started things off on the wrong foot!
    • Quick recovery, antibiotics rock.
  • Yes: the touristy part of Varanasi by the river Ganges and along all the famous Ghat’s and temples is jam-packed with pedestrians, beggars, pilgrims, vendors of all sorts of things, tourists, cows, dogs, bicyclists, rickshaws, honking cars, honking motorbikes…have I forgotten someone… or something?
    Pretty cow in Varanasi
    • It’s very loud for what seemed all day and night. Don’t be surprised.
    • Yes: the streets are dirty, thrash is everywhere and watch out for the poopoo. Don’t be surprised
    • Yes: the Ganges River is gross and polluted. They put human ashes in there and some people bath there. Oh, some also do their laundry and drink the water! Don’t come to judge, come to observe, reflect and enjoy your life all the more if you like it so much.
    • If this is too much for you, consider visiting a different city ?
  • For those willing to endure some unpleasantness, the rewards are even greater than what your nose will have to endure.
  • The architecture along the Ghats is India pure; magical. Knowing that the city is thousands of years old, your mind is blown.
    Boat ride on the Ganges gives you a perspective on the essence of time itself

    Boat ride to the other side of the river

    • In ancient times it was believed to be world’s end. As a result, nothing was constructed there. The quiet is almost unearthly.
    • Until someone comes up and offers you a horse ride; very persistent those guys.

      Yoga in Davy Jones’ Locker. Any Pirates of the Caribbean fans?
    • And then some people might want selfies. Why not? We are at the outermost limit of the world, might as well capture the moment.

The yoga retreat was awesome

  • I made some good gains in such a short time and learned about what it means to be a true yogi (not saying that I’m there). Actually, the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t have the slightest iota about yoga at all.
  • What do you mean there are superhuman guru-yoga-monks who live in the Himalayas? How can they hold postures for hours, days and weeks? When do they go potty?
    • I can barely sit cross-legged for 2 minutes without thinking my legs need to be amputated.
    • Last day of class, the yoga teacher sat on my back during a certain pose. It forced me to bring my forehead to rest upon my knees, “slowly slowly” as she would say. Contrary to what she said, this “quickly quickly” approach demonstrated the improvements I made and also left me very sore.
  • Yoga has enough lore in its universe to constitute a religion; some yogis dedicate their entire life to its beliefs and practices.
  • Paid $15 for a one-hour private Sitar & Tabla performance. For me, totally worth it and I’ll do it again.
    • The same guy let me borrow a guitar for $5 for 2 days. We now have a strange friendship of sorts. I got to meet his wife and child and we had tea a couple of times. Foolishly, I promised to visit when I return to Varanasi, not IF I return.

OM and Mantra Chanting

  • Surprisingly not that bad. It felt appropriate in the setting and powerful. The sound reverberated in the colors I saw when I shut my eyes for meditation. Maybe there is something to this meditation stuff?

I need a second trip to Varanasi! There’s still way too much on my list of things to see. Looking forward to it 🙂

Day 1 of Yoga and Meditation retreat in Varanasi

Just roll with it, roll with the punches

For a successful time in India, every visitor needs to relax and just roll with it. You can make a plan as best as you can but there’s always some sort of change, delay, mishap or something is just a bit off the mark. Some say to take your expectations and lower them by 20%.

Dragging my bright blue carry on, I walked through a very crowded market area today. How many tuk-tuk and rickshaw drivers offered me a ride to the airport? Can’t count that high but it’s just as many as the number of feet I rolled over. And no one seemed to care; at least, nobody complained to me. I also knocked over two bikes as well; that was certainly a my-bad moment.

I went from one hotel to the next. The Yoga retreat takes place at a hotel that I’d rather call a motel so you can imagine it better. Check-in was at 11 am, according to my confirmation. Turns out that now it’s at 12. No worries; roll with it.

Give me the wifi password and I’ll wait as long as you want!

12 comes and goes and since I booked a shared accommodation, they can’t let me in the room because my roommate is out buying medicine for his severe stomach illness. Great. That guy’s gonna be my roommate; Mister Butt-Rocketman. He’s going to bomb the toilet!

The staff either read the look of displeasure on my face or knew that Rocketman definitely needed his own room because in the end, we both got private rooms. The room is basic, not sure clean but in no way gross. Huge bed just for me and a tiny tv on the wall that used to be a computer monitor in another life before reincarnating as a tv.

Wifi in the room didn’t work, the phone wasn’t working, no one had seen or heard from the ill Rocketman, the Australian girl turned out to be from Italy, and no one knew when the yoga program would start. So many unanswered questions in the beginning and the hotel staff seemed indifferent.

Usually I’m the one known for my glorious lack of communication but this was beginning to test me; I was imagining the evil Google review I was going to write and giving the company an earful over the phone.

Man, this bed is comfy….

Knocking on the door wakes me up and it’s the yoga instructor and the instructor of yoga philosophy and anatomy. They introduce themselves and finally provide some answers and overall clarification. The first class would start at 2 and end at 7pm.

The first class was a review of the first day.

Wait, what? I thought today was the first day. No, of course not; they started yesterday. From Sunday to Friday, she said.

Wtf, you serious?

I expressed in a diplomatic manner. I was told it runs Monday to Saturday.

She gave me the Indian head nod that indicates “sure, whatevs” and so, just like that, I’ll be here until Saturday but will I be the only one? Just roll with it.

The lecture was a long and winded review of yoga history, its founders, philosophy and some aspect of anatomy according to yogic tradition. All the terms were in Sanskrit and the lecture seemed more like an advanced language lesson of Sanskrit, rather than anything to do with yoga or meditation. After the teacher made her point, she’d always say “right?”

…Why sure, or course!

Meditation was cool. I think that was the second time ever in my life that I’ve actually given it a serious attempt. We were given a cool necklace with 108 beads that looks like a Rosario. After ever full breath, you advance one little bead. I actually felt my brain throb a little; either I was about to embark on a cosmic journey …. or I was dehydrated. Probably dehydrated.

108 beads in a Meditation Mala

Yoga class was awesome and kicked my ass. Hours later, I’m still sore and this gives me a bit of pause for what to expect for the rest of week. The Italian lady teaches Acro-yoga already and is now dabbling with this old school version of yoga just for kicks. So she’s very advanced, meanwhile I’m lamenting that we didn’t end in my favorite posture of Savasana; because I really needed to lay there for a while and recoup.

Back in my room, I wolfed down a protein bar and some cereal as I waited for dinner. I fell asleep and woke up at 9pm when they knocked on my door with that dinner I had been waiting for. Normally, I’d be worried that it’s going to be a long and sleepless night due to that prolonged Siesta-asana session, but my body,,,my body is telling me I’m gonna sleep like a baby.

I’m looking forward to day two; which will start at 7am with cleansing practices using a cool Netti pot, followed by breathing practices and a morning yoga routine.

Jala Neti Kriya
Let’s do this!

Dec. 1st: The Road to Varanasi

Dec. 1st

Holy cow! It’s already December and it neither feels like it or looks like it!

The Road to Varanasi

It was long and very bumpy.

The road went from highways as we know them quickly on down to rural country roads that passes through neighborhoods that has houses into which you can peer into their kitchens and living rooms as you drive by. I went from buying a coffee at a very regular looking gas station near Lucknow to getting a refill directly from someone’s kitchen as we got stuck in traffic in a random village. Cows…sheep…lots of them.

Once finally in town, the traffic was crazy and the route we needed to take was closed off by police barricades. The driver parked his car in an jam-packed underground parking. There were so many cars and motorbikes in there, I’m not sure how the oxygen we breath had room to circulate!

“Yada, yada, yada…Bas!” Those were the sounds I heard from the staff attempting to guide our driver into his spot.

Having found the hotel, I freshened up and unpack my backpack and packed it again so it’s city-walking ready. In retrospect, bad idea.

For a short walk, it may be better to just take a stroll without a bag, backpack or anything you fear could be pick-pocketed. The crowds were so think that every time my backpack rubbed against something or someone, I hoped that I wasn’t voluntary donating to the community…

Back to the hotel, a quick nap and dinner then off to the ghats to see the ceremonies.

I liked the enthusiasm of several Western tourists during the clapping and singing along. I’d participate but I’d much rather like to know what’s being said first; what does all this mean? Pesky little questions the mind asks…

I did, however, see Jesus.

Truly, I saw him so many times. Always with tattoos and the man-bun; clearly I didn’t get the memo that male tourists have to don their best Jesus Halloween-costume. What’s with not showering either?

Anyways, I did my best to pay attention during the ceremonies but my attention kept being diverted by a million things; all of which deduct from any sense of holiness. After growing fed up with swatting mosquitos and simultaneously firmly shutting down street vendor, I thought I’d go back to my room see if and how dinner had destroyed my insides.

All good, I’m writing down these thoughts here and others and prepping the plan for tomorrow. Then, a stroll thru alley ways at night in search of trouble will be the best way to end the night.

…I’ve researched and have given up on finding a bar near the hotel. Hence, ice cream will do. Don’t you dare deny me this, Benares!

Nov. 28th: The Residency in Lucknow, Varanasi around the corner

Finally feeling better. I’d say 80%.
Good enough for me, let’s hit the road, Jack!
Booked the hotel and transportation to Varanasi. Considering all the factors, turns out that a private cab is the best way to go. And it’s only $50 bucks! I’ll have to sit in a car for 7 hours but no worries: I got some books and work I can always do, but I’ll probably just end up sleeping for half of the trip.
Currently, I’m in an uber ride on the way to “The Residency “which is an important site here in Lucknow. I’ll upload this later when I reconnect on the Internets, as I like to say in remembrance of our dear former president GWB. Miss him yet?
Back to the Varanasi trip coming up, I’m super stoked. What intrigues me is the belief amongst Hindu’s that if you die in this city, your soul will achieve liberation from the constant birth and rebirth cycle. This makes the ancient city of Benares an important religious city for those seeking their life’s end.
We are fast approaching our destination, I’m sure the uber driver would like to get paid. So, I gotta go for now but be back muy pero muy pronto! Beto 😊