“It’s a place for people to come and stay, and feel like they belong… On the outside its an ashram, on the inside its a hotel.” – Shannon Wolf
As I sit here on the couch of my westernised but “culturally Indian” Ashram I think about what my expectations were before I walked into the front doors of this hotel building 2 days ago. Possibly a yoga experience that, whilst being welcoming to those new to yoga, would also test my abilities, sharpen my senses. Maybe, I expected delicious meals made by local Indians who would know how to balance the food groups for their students who would be practicing yoga twice a day, for 2 hours each time. A community of people, that are open and welcoming, willing to chat to you about the “Ashram life” and what it has given them.
Instead I found a completely impersonal yoga hall, the size of my grand parents old farm, filled chock-a-block with yoga mats and students, meals that, whilst may have (sometimes) been yummy, increasingly cause you to fall sleep as opposed to give you energy, and a group of individuals who keep to themselves.
I would like to stress that this is my own personal 3-day experience with an ashram. Each person has their own opinion and this is mine. It ain’t a good one, so if you are into the “Ashram life” and believe that living in a strict diet of rice, bread and potatoes whilst doing yoga poses that don’t really cater to your body and lining up every time the bell rings for classes or food like you’re in boarding school, then stop reading. I don’t want to cloud your judgement on your own ashram experience. And whilst I respect those who have enjoyed ashram living, this post has also been created out of humour… So sit back and have a giggle (or maybe you’re over being forced to laugh in your “laughter yoga” sessions in your ashram).
I really can’t complain, though I will. I thought I did my research, or maybe I let others do it for me. Either way, I found myself in Rishikesh, at a beautiful guest house, attending yoga classes I loved, eating healthy meals and all for under 650 rupees a day. Why did I think it should all change?
Because I wanted to try the ashram life. So I conjured up enough evidence from people I had met that one of the most expensive ashrams in Rishikesh was the one I had to drag my boyfriend, and another traveler along too.
Anand Prakash Ashram…. If you guys are reading this. I’m sorry. No, actually I’m not.
“An ashram on the outside, a hotel on the inside.” The backpacker I dragged along with me and my boyfriend said this to me yesterday as we bitched about the shit food and bitchy girls who have their very own version of “The Saddle Club” going on.
Anand Prakash seemed like a dream on their website. A modern facility with the aspects of an old ashram. Though, first of all… Aren’t ashrams meant to be free? Isn’t that a thing? … Not anymore I guess, as India sucks out as much money from foreigners as they can, charging for absolutely anything they can. It’s surprising your allowed to breathe in certain places without paying a fee.
The silence they rule in from 9:30PM till after breakfast each morning is suppose to make you feel all “Shanti”… The equisite wifi they provide (the best I’ve had in India in fact) is suppose to enhance your social skills. Ah, what a fine balance.
Still, the 800 rupees per person per day (trust me, it’s a lot) didn’t differ me, and as I met travelers who had visited the ashram and enjoyed their time here, I thought, well why not? For 800 rupees a day it MUST be good!
So off we go the three musksateers across the bridge of Laxman Jula to the other side. The “non-touristy” side. The side for those that want to think they are living in a small Indian village when really, all they did was cross a bridge from a much better side of the river.
On the afternoon of our first day I walked down to the hall for the 4pm yoga class. I glanced into the enlarged hall and saw bumper to bumper mats and limbs, no space was left, and I was not the only one who was left out of the equation. I was surrounded by 3 others looking in at the meditating students, wondering where it was that they fit into it all. A metaphor you say? Well yes I think so. Because aren’t ashrams supposed to be a place where you all sit down, sing songs and be merry together? How can an organisation book so many people into their shitty ashram that the yoga hall can’t even hold all the people that are there? If that’s the case shouldn’t there be two classes going on at the same time in the two seperate yoga halls? If not only for the students who can’t squeeze in between 30 plus people, then for the teacher who, should really be looking at each individual making sure their postures are correct and they arent in a place where they could hurt themselves… I mean, how can a teacher teach that many students who are obviously new to yoga, and correct them at the same time?
Oh shit… And now, I know it to be true, what my boyfriend rolled his eyes and said to me last night as I slapped him across his arm and told him he was wrong… I am literally morphing into my mother. Is that what I am becoming? A yoga snob? Oh well… My mother knows her shit and so do I. Probably even more so than the Indian who I assume is a registered yoga teacher purely because he is Indian knows.
Anyway, I tried to stay calm as I walked up the stairs of the ugly hotel building to the most spacious and clean room I’ve had since being in India (because this is a hotel, with the label of an ashram). I hadn’t tried the food and had heard there were other teachers involved.
At 6pm I walked into the dining hall, and after we placed our hands in Namaste and sang a Sanskrit chant that, I bet at least 90 percent of people in that room didn’t know the meaning too, I lay into my plate of shitty Thali. A bowl of plain Dahl, 3 soggy chapathis and some rice. Mmm, tastes like the cheapest food they could possibly feed a big group of people.
I was so frustrated at how bad the dinner was I had to go buy cookies to counter act for it.
I know what you’re thinking, if it was so bad, that you couldn’t stand it, why stay?! Why not leave that very next morning? Oh if only it was that simple. But of course, they have a 3 night minimum rule, were you are forced to pay 3 days upon arrival up front. The damage had already been done… But that’s ok, I was still some what optimistic.
The next morning I am woken by the bell at 5am, at 6am we all roll into the yoga hall, sleep still in our eyes, and roll out our mats.
The class starts… Or does it? I wait 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes…. What’s the hold up? Why are we busy chanting, again words we don’t understand the meaning to and raising our legs in the air one at a time calling it an exercise? Put me in goddess pose, in warrior, something! If I wanted an exercise class I would have taken one.
The class goes on with weird asanas and unusual breathing techniques that make westerners sound like they are trying too hard. I walk out feeling un motivated and annoyed. What did I pay 800 rupees for? To sit around and hum like a bee? (If you have ever attended an Anand Prakash class you will understand this reference.)
I bail from the afternoon yoga class and skip dinner to do acro yoga at the beach, for free, with human beings that aren’t in a self-righteous spiral.
Now, again, I have to remind you this was my own personal experience… Who knew India would make me so skeptical!
Another qualm I have with this ashram are the three volunteer students that make the meals and serve the food (one of them is also the afternoon yoga teacher). These are the girls whom I referred to earlier as the “Saddle Club”. Three western 20-something aged girls who think they are gurus gift because they make the bland Dahl and sing mantras they don’t know the meaning too. Terrible energy is dispersed from them and I couldn’t even tell you where abouts each individual one of them is from as none of them has taken the time to speak to me long enough for me to hear their accents… Though one of them did push past my body today as she rudely approached my friend during breakfast, who was wearing a gorgeous long sleeved baggy blue dress that just happened to fall under the knee sneering the words, “Excuse me, we are at an ashram, do you think you could like…. Respect the culture and cover your knees.”
Yeah whatever mate, you’re just like the rest of us, you are just passing by, an on-looker not an in-sider. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you don’t have anything nice to say then shut your mouth? Oh and also bitch, we’re eating breakfast, which apperantly we need to be silent for, so why are you rambling on about my friends knees.
If you want us to “dress appropriately” maybe you should give us the “appropriate” yoga classes we were promised or the “appropriate” food for people who are taking yoga classes twice a day. If you want to be a western ashram, be a western ashram. If you want to be an Indian ashram, be an Indian ashram. But don’t faulter somewhere in between and tell us to cover our legs whilst your shoulders are showing.
Leonardo DiCaprio once said when starring in ‘The Beach’, “The only downer is; we’ve all got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?”
Leo I wish I knew. But as my western/Indian ashram experience comes to an end and I exit the world of silent mornings and disappointing yoga, I come out of this hotel with optimism for tomorrow, for the grass is always greener on the other side, or in this case, the Ganga is always clearer across the other side of the river.