22 February 2016

Expressing your own true self while being floppy and relaxed – Sri Kali tantric ashram

Hey there! I'm back. Greetings from Gokarna. I've moved on from Goa, going a little bit more south. It is wonderful here, but first I need to retrace my steps into this paradise.

So, I have another ashram experience to share with you. I made my way down south from Vagator with a taxi, since I had no interest in taking 4 local buses and dragging my bags around in the dusty and hot Goan day, still feeling a little sickly. A taxi set me back about 2000 rupees (around 26 euros), and the trip took about 3 hours. And I arrived somewhere what I can only describe as rural paradise beach. The tiny village of Galgibag in South Goa was truly a perfect setting for the ashram: peace and quiet abounding, time and space for reflection and going deeper into your own self.

Not a whole lot of hustle and bustle going on
Our pink ashram

The schedule was much more "human" than in Santosh Puri, Haridwar: we started the day with breakfast (fruit, yoghurt, white bread and strawberry jam... not my favourite spread, but fruit with nuts and seeds and yoghurt seemed to work for 2 weeks) around 8.15. After that we did something called a walking massage: you coupled up with someone and spent 30 minutes walking on that person. Doesn't maybe sound that nice, but was really really good. The purpose is to align the bones and the muscles and make the body ready for the morning asanas (which I always skipped in favour of having some me-time...). The technique wasn't difficult to learn and by being "massaged" by lots of different people I also learned more about what kind of pressure feels nice and to communicate my preferences to my partner. So, a really wonderful way to start the day <3

After that we had morning asana practice, which went more and more into the teaching aspect as the time went on. The ashram offers teacher training as their main thing and us retreat people were there basically to get a glimpse into their schedule. So, as I wasn't going to become a teacher, I skipped those classes. I did go into the lectures though, morning and evening, which had to do with lots of interesting topics: ayurveda, anatomy, massage, sanskrit, biology about breath and nervous system and some lectures that had more to do with the actual tantra aspect of the place, like the differences between traditional tantra and neotantra, the history of sexual liberation, how our identity is formed etc.

So, I'll skip the linear thing for a bit and go directly to the burning question: what is this tantra then, anyway? Does it have something to do with sex orgies? Well, to be frank, I still don't really know. Well, I do know that neotantric schools are more concentrated on the sexual aspect of it all and developing and refining the energies that arise in that context. But traditional tantra is a very complex system, being the age-old system that it is. What I understood to be Sri Kali's main teachings were basically quite simple, though: Getting more and more in touch with your unconscious self through meditation and asanas and mindfulness about the processes that are going on in our minds. Kind of reconditioning yourself so that you can be liberated from the fears and restrictive mind patterns that might have been an integral part of your identity. Getting into such a relaxed and peaceful state that your unconscious mind can express without the conscious "monkey mind" dictating the terms of your interactions. Constructing a new identity for yourself, which comes truly from your being and not from cultural conditioning or patterns of inherited fear from the previous generations. And expressing that identity in a loving and compassionate way, celebrating and honoring this life and the body that you have.

Froggie expressing his true self (and making it kinda hard to wash my hands)

Shared bathroom, take 2

Oncoming traffic on the home path

Initially I was kind of annoyed that I wasn't getting taught about tantra. Or so I thought. I had expected to be educated more in an intellectual level, but what I got worked on a much deeper level than that. Instead of more information I got more courage for being who I was, for keeping up the work of trying to get more acquainted with myself and expressing myself from a place of love, sincerity and openness. The asanas were more like a 3 hour meditation, during which I got into some really wonderful states of pure being, when my mind is calm and I seem to be melting together with the universe. Being in a meditative state for such a long time really trains you to drop the conscious mind and get to peek behind, making it gradually easier and easier, and although it of course isn't easy all the time and your mind will go jumping through all the hoops it normally does when you're not paying attention ("pay attention to me, oh a bird, hey I want chocolate, this is difficult, what are we having for dinner, why are we doing this" etc, you know the drill), the deep calmness that follows is something truly blissful and wonderful <3

The mindstates after the tantra asana practices were actually something very close to what I've reached in kundalini yoga, which has become my yoga of choice in the last year. Practicing more "sporty" yoga like vinyasa or some forms of hatha has never really let me get into this deep relaxation and letting go, since my mind was always concerned with how the asanas were supposed to be done correctly, what my body alignment was etc. Which is also very good, since it gets you more in touch with what's going on in your body and about being mindful how you align yourself. But, at the end, the mind was still occupied. In the Sri Kali tantric system they initially don't teach how the asanas are supposed to be done. They go into it later on, when people start practicing to teach, but in the first two weeks it's all about getting into the practice of "dropping your conscious mind and being floppy and relaxed". There is no teacher in the front of the class, showing how it's done. They tell us to trust our own bodies and that when we can truly relax into the postures, the body will align itself in a way that suits that exact body. This lets the mind be at peace. And it did work quite nicely. I do think, though, that it takes a little experience as a yogi for this to work, as people can injure themselves if they still are in the "pushing themselves" mindset or competing against themselves or others and they're not told about how to correctly align yourself. But no system is perfect, I guess, and since I don't have to worry about teaching this stuff to others, I could just concentrate on how to make it work for me.

Every step brings me closer
Besides the asana practice I also got to grapple with my social insecurities and shyness. I arrived as an "outsider", and although everyone was friendly and nice, I was still the newcomer, the one who was there just for a little while, so I found it hard to connect with people. That was also what bothered me about the long-time students who kind of set the culture of the place: they talked a lot about being loving and kind and warm but at the end of the day I didn't really feel they practiced what they preached. And me, still being insecure about myself quite often, of course thought that "everyone else is having deep conversations and it's just me who's excluded, and why am I not making more of an effort to put myself out there" and all that blah that is not true but my mind is trying its best to make me believe it. But luckily I found a couple of lovely people who I could connect with, and one of them especially, Anna, a truly beautiful and deep girl from Germany, helped me get a different perspective and to see that it wasn't just me who felt like that.

It also bothered me that there was all this talk about intimacy and sharing, but not much of that was being done in practice. Even the couples who were there didn't really show that much affection towards each other in public. And as I've come to learn about myself, I really do need the physical intimacy and human touch, hugging and caressing. But here that wasn't to be had, apparently. So again, a matter of people going on about these things in a purely intellectual level, not really living it. That's how I felt about it anyway.

Sunrise walk <3

To sum it up, I'd say I ended up getting what I needed if not what I'd expected or thought I wanted. I got more confident, I got to practice getting over my social insecurities. And I didn't get fed more intellectual stuff that would remain superficial and theoretical and cloud my head, which is actually wonderful. New input is good up to a certain point, but I also need time to assimilate, chew, integrate and see what I can utilize to my benefit. And these 2 weeks helped me do just that.

Of course the beautiful, serene beach, hammocks, really really yummy vegetarian food (I could eat that every day! Oh wait, I just did for 2 weeks...) and the general peace and quiet also helped. I also got my stomach in the best functioning order in a long time, which I was truly grateful for.

After two weeks I was ready to take what I'd learned and dive back into the world outside of Galgibag again. 2 weeks was exactly what I needed, and leaving felt like the right decision. And as luck would have it, Anna was also heading to Gokarna, so we decided to travel together. But, like you might already have guessed, that is a story for another time. For now, I will continue to be floppy and relaxed for a week here in Gokarna, enjoying lemon sodas and basking in the chill vibe. Could I get that tattooed in sanskrit? In a "perfected language", there must be an amazing and concise way to express the innermost meaning of "floppy and relaxed"! Food for thought...

The grandpa of the family who owned my guesthouse greeted me with a happy wave each time

The two places to hit for extra treats like juices and masala chai

Creative plumbing. A cookie for guessing which tap turns on the shower!

Not so picturesque, all of it. Waste management, rural Goa style.

Stumbled on a veggie market, Chaudi

"Big town" (tourist hell) Palolem

Shopping with the Finnish girls Peppina and Tanja

11 February 2016

In sickness and in health? Vagator and Anjuna

Vagator beach. Not what I would call a hotspot of activity.
After bidding a tearful farewell to Arambol and all its joys, I headed towards the party central of Vagator/Anjuna. I wouldn't have left, but now that I was in the birthplace of Goa trance, I really wanted to check out at least one party. I knew the sound would probably be a little more on the forest/dark side of psytrance than I usually go for, but come on, when in Goa, right?

So I took a motorbike taxi to the bus stop in Arambol, managed to hoist my bags on board the local bus and off we went. The trip to Siolim took about 40 minutes and I then lucked out in getting a proper taxi for quite an ok price to take me to Vagator which I still thought to be an Arambol-like village of some sortst. Little did I know... I hadn't done my research, but I went with the assumption that a beach is a beach and along the said beach there will be guest houses. Well, as the taxi dropped me next to the beach, I found out that I was wrong. There was absolutely nothing going on in the north end of Vagator beach, accommodation-wise. Or otherwise either, as far as I could see. If you weren't a cow. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

 So, boiling midday heat, and trundle trundle back the beach road I went. I checked out 3 places before settling on one 500 rupee room with an internet connection a couple of steps away, next to the rooms of the family who were running the place. Not optimal, but it was only for 2 nights and I had zero interest in going a millimeter further with my earthly belongings which seem to get heavier every day. I almost splurged on the neighboring hotel with 1100 rupee bungalows with a/c and your own fridge and looked nicer than I even remember a room could look like, but I still managed to talk myself down from taking it. I figured that if I can still bear the idea of a 500 rupee place without wanting to scream, then I should go for it. I'm sure there will be a time when that ain't so any more, and the extra budget will come in handy then!

Vagator beach. No beach side guesthouses in sight.
 The friendly owner of the Reshma guesthouse where I was staying also had scooters, so I finally managed to get two wheels under me again. Yay! Now I can officially tick the box of "driving somewhere in India" off my list of things I've done that seemed unnerving at some point. India is so vast that a vehicle of some sort just really is quite mandatory, if you're not staying in a resort where all your needs are catered for or in a convenient little place like Arambol where you can apparently do without a scooter for almost a week (if you don't plan to go to the ATM or check out any of the restaurant not in your immediate neighbourhood). But Vagator seemed empty. I figured out that I just hadn't found the place where the action happened, but after two days I figured out that there really isn't a central place here to be found. It's all scattered and you really need to know where you're going if you want to find anything. Or that was my experience anyway. But I'm jumping ahead of myself, sorry.

So, scooter! Vroom off I went to try and scout a place for lunch. I was starving by that point, so I parked at the first place where there seemed to be at least some people (although mainly enjoying midday beers and conversing with their iPhones), the Mango tree. A fish curry on the menu was only 100 rupees, so I should've known that it won't be anything special, but still when the bowl of red soup with a sad little fish cut in half was served, I wished I was back in Arambol. The soup itself didn't taste of anything except chili and the fish was nondescript and bland and just generally off-putting. I did eat the small amount of meat that I managed to strip off the bones of the poor thing, but the meal was really the worst I'd had since I arrived in India. Folks, beware!

Luckily then my Israeli friend Ito called and I walked along the beach to meet him at Shiva place in the south end of Vagator beach. In that end there were a couple of beach restaurants and quite posh looking resort complexes along the hills, so at least I'd found the place where the beach accommodation lives. Looking at them now, I'm glad I didn't find them before, since there was no way I could've afforded these places, but exhausted from carrying my bags around, I might have caved in. So yay for Reshma Guesthouse's colourful 500 rupee room! <3 Shiva place was nice and chill and I had a decent plate of Chinese sweet and sour veggies. So, food problem solved for a while.

Beach population
We were supposed to go to a party in Monkey valley in the evening with Ito and he'd even got us a free entry, but the Universe had other plans. By the time I was back at my guesthouse I had the kind of a headache I only get when I have fever, and lo and behold, the Sickness was back. To use the definite article is actually misleading, since I've had so many various health issues in India already that The Sickness was more like The Multihued Array of Bodily Annoyances. But yeah, fever is fever. This time I decided to go the western way and packed my body full of ibuprofen and paracetamol. I read Dune, tried not to panic and felt generally lonely, doubting the whole point of this India trip madness and wished I was at least feeling sorry for myself in the 1100 rupee room. And grudgingly, the fever broke. In the evening I felt well enough to go and check out the nearby Japanese restaurant Sakana, recommended by Hippie in Heels. And I had a wonderful time! After the fever induced loneliness it felt wonderful to be surrounded by people. The restaurant had a really lovely atmosphere and decor, the staff was very friendly and I was so grateful for the food. Sushi! Miso soup! And as a perfect ending, ginger-green tea and hazelnut ice cream, one (too tiny) scoop of each. Being such a foodie it felt doubly good to have the wonderful meal and to be actually well enough to enjoy myself. So, in the end, the day didn't end in tears, but in delicious, delicious food and a sense of being ok with myself and the world again.

And the following morning I felt quite ok, so my scooter and me went on a little adventure. Driving around Vagator and Anjuna and trying to figure out the lay of the land, consulting Google Maps every which way. I managed to find a nice organic restaurant called Blue Tao near Anjuna and had a really nice and filling tofu scramble with a massive side of brown rice for breakfast. It felt wonderful to be on two wheels again and free to go where I wished. I took detours and small roads, and found out that all the lines that look like roads on the map really aren't. Google Maps, you lie. More like a jumble of boulders, many of them. And if a sign says a bridge is closed and you should take a detour, it doesn't mean that's true. Just follow the other scooters and you'll find a way.

Tofu scramble, Blue Tao style
Scooting along and admiring the landscape

A random temple. India, I love your colours <3

This bridge leads to a restaurant with nice psytrance but not a scooter-friendly connection to the main road. 

As I missed the party on Friday I'd made plans to go to the Arpora Saturday Night market in the evening and then continue on to the Bamboo forest party if I felt good enough, but yeah, you can guess how it went. Around four the fever was back with a vengeance. And after a couple of paracetamols did absolutely nothing for the 38.0 temperature I decided that instead of shopping in Arpora I would go to the hospital and get myself some really nice bloodwork. A girl has to spoil herself once in a while, no? It was an interesting feeling actually: on Friday I was way more panicky about the 37. something temperature I had. Now, as I sat in Natti's Naturals, another wonderful restaurant recommended by Hippie in Heels, I just accepted it all. Ok, no need to panic, no reason to fight. This is how I feel now, and I know where the hospital is, I have a scooter, so let's just get there and get this over with. Of course I hoped I didn't have anything serious (denguemalariatyphoidfeversomething) as I was about to start by tantra yoga retreat the day after (non-refundable), but somehow I had also made peace with whatever was coming.

I only wish I had felt better to enjoy the food to the full, but still in my feverish state the lemongrass cooler and veggie burger with gluten free bread (!) was nice. The menu in Natti's Naturals looked pretty amazing and they also had a cute boutique offering everything from yoga clothes to food items and cosmetics which would have been wonderful to explore. But not in this fever zombie state...

St. Anthony's hospital looked kind of worn down and oldish, and I really didn't cherish the idea of staying there for any longer period of time. But I did get my bloodwork done with good news: no dengue, malaria or typhoid fever! Wohoo! The doctor prescribed me 3 days of ominously sounding Nazi 500 antibiotics and an anti-parasite pill. In Europe I would have been hesitant to take the antibiotics, but here, I just wanted to get rid of whatever that was ailing me. The antibiotics were for "the cold" I had (sinus and forehead pressure was there full force), but they might have also done something for the bug in the stomach I was pretty sure I had.

Good news in a newspaper bag
Anyway, I was relieved and very proud of myself that I went to get checked. I'm sure that at some point when I've had fevers on and off a couple of times I'll start getting less panicky about them. But for someone whose normal body temperature is closer to a hibernating lizard than a human being and who never gets fevers, whenever the temperature rises, say, over 37.2, and I happen to be in the tropics, the fear of Something Serious is still very strong. But slowly slowly, shanti shanti, I will get to grips with this Fearmonster as well!

So, the 2 days in Vagator weren't like I'd planned (surprise surprise) and I really wished I'd stayed in Arambol till Sunday. But this was the way it went this time. And on Sunday I took a taxi to South Goa, a really off-the-beaten-path beach Galgibag and Shri Kali ashram.

And I am loving it here. Really really loving it. I feel good, it is quiet and peaceful and in the middle of nature and just wonderful. But stay tuned for the next post where I'll get into more detail!

7 February 2016

Arambol, Goa – A home away from home, my little paradise

Morning mist over Arambol

After the deep freeze of Haridwar the blissful sun and warmth of Goa was really needed. I spent the first night with a friend in Badem (a village that doesn't apparently really exist) near Anjuna and then moved on north to Arambol. I'd read about its hippie vibe and sunset drum circles on the beach, so I thought it would be a good place to start my Goa explorations.

And it really really was. Although, to talk about "exploring" is maybe a tad too grandiose. I got to Arambol, felt at home and stayed. I fell in love with its spiritual vibe and winding alleys, always leading me into unexpected places. Arambol, the place where streets seem to mischievously shift place when you're not looking, so you never end up taking the same road twice – you're just not going to find the same one the second time! Ok ok, I'm exaggerating a bit, but after the relative ease of Koh Phangan, this tropical little village seemed like a true maze. But people always pointed me in the right direction eventually, and I couldn't think of a better place to be lost in than Arambol.

Main street can also be surprisingly hard to find, sometimes
Right after settling in to my first guest house I met a lovely British girl Cara who was handing out flyers about a concert they were having in the place she was staying at, Shakti Paradise. She was so warm and welcoming and offered to show me the way to the beach and where this Shakti Paradise was. So we talked and walked and eventually ended up on the beach (not the way we were meaning to take, but a way nevertheless. All alleys lead to the beach, sooner or later. Except the one behind Once in Nature! True story. But I digress...)

 The hut Cara was staying in was very very basic, similar to the bungalows where me and the ex were staying at Pondok Lestari in Kadidiri (Togean Islands, Indonesia) way back when. If it had had a mosquito net and I wasn't carrying so much electronics with me, it would have surely been a lovely place to stay (right on the beach!). The owner of the place, Prandeep, was a very interesting Indian man (with always a gazillion irons in the fire, like they all seem to have, but yes yes ok my friend evetything is possible), and he had been running his meditation/yoga place for some years now. The atmosphere of the place was very safe and welcoming (and the food was good; he even offered to make me some kitchari if needed!), and this corner of the beach ended up being my eveningtime home in Arambol.

Pradeep the owner of Shakti Paradise and his famous chai. Don't know who Blue Pyramid Skaska is...

After taking a super long detour to my place (yes, Arambol roads can be tricksy if you don't know where you're going) and finding out that the nearest ATM was about a kilometer away, I wanted to rent a scooter to get there. I even exchanged all my emergency euros (the whopping 20 that I had left) to get one, but Sunday = all the scooters were gone. But luckily I could hitch a ride with an Indian guy on his scooter (who also didn't know where the ATM was – the blind leading the blind here) but after asking around we found it and after waiting in line for half an hour, I got some cash, yay. And then it was already time to leave for the concert in Shakti Paradise. As it happens, the power was out and the concert starting later, but as luck would have it, directly next to the place there was a group of people singing bhajans and Osho songs. So I joined them. That night and every night thereafter. Instant home = just add singing!

Bhajan group
What a lovely group of people! I made friends with Ambo from Sweden and Bhavnath (what a beautiful name!) from Mauritius in particular. It seemed like the Universe had led me to this place in time, to be and sing with these people, to feel like I was surrounded with friends. Such a wonderful feeling, this home away from home. It made me stay in Arambol for almost a week and I would have wanted to stay for much longer.

As a foodie, I must dedicate a paragraph or two to the restaurants, especially Once in Nature! <3 Breakfast, lunch and dinner, wonderful and tasty every time. Try their gluten free pancakes! Which means, all of them. Or their muesli bowls with like hald a liter of home made muesli. Will fill you up, guaranteed. Or the stir fried veggies or gado gado that made me cry tears of joy after the starchy root veggies and rice/wheat (or kitchari...) only fare I'd had in Santosh Puri ashram. Did I mention I love Once in nature already? Did I convince you to go there? Good. But: don't think you're getting an ice cream even if you order one. What you will get is a bowl of semi-chilled smoothie-quality goo. Yummy, but calling it ice cream is like calling a steak a salad.

There were also other restaurants that came recommended but I didn't manage to find (Magic Park). And I did go to Cookie Wallah that is apparently an establishment around there, (according to the lovely and knowledgeable Hippie in heels) but didn't sample their cookie desserts which are said to be the bomb. But the shakshuka was nice. Also La Muella bistro (in the backroom of a shop, a tad hard to find if you don't know it's there) had wonderful breakfast: try the vegan potato pancake. Very yummy! I wasn't too impressed with their veggie thali though, so for your evening meal take something else.

 There were also yoga and spirituality groups on offer, but not nearly so in your face like in Rishikesh, for example. I didn't really explore the offerings since I knew I was going to a yoga ashram afterwards and I just wanted to take it easy.

Boys selling yummy coal grilled sweet corn. Just add lime and chili powder salt mix!

Sunset Hare Krishna group singing their hearts out with a circus group and a saxophone player who happened to pass by

So the days were lovely and lazy. Did some macrame, learned some new poi tricks from a Russian guy, made friends with a macrame shop owner and sitting and having chai while browsing through his bead supply. Inhaled the lovely creative atmosphere and marveling at the pieces people were selling at sunset on the beach. Ate delicious food, super carefully picking what to have and tried to persuade my stomach to come to grips with it all (with no real success). On Wednesday I met an older Canadian lady Heather and shared a taxi with her to the Anjuna fleamarket. It wasn't anything special, I must say, and I was looking forward to the Arpora Saturday night market as I'd heard they had more crafts people and also supplies to sell. (Didn't make it there, but that's a story for another post.)

Amazing breakfast at Once in Nature

Absolute favourite in Arambol. Still empty in the morning.

What I didn't know before arriving was how popular Arambol was with the Russians. They were everywhere. Like, 90 % of the people around were from Russia. I'm not kidding. So it was also a lesson in compassion for me, who comes from a country that shares an uneasy history with Russia. But this bunch were cool. At least I didn't come across arguing, loud conversations, drunkenness or anything offputting. I had no trouble with them. They were just fun to watch, especially in Arambol carnival, that happened to take place when I was there: bunch of Russians dressing up in all sorts of costumes (the theme this year was animals) and getting their groove on. To call it a carnival is pushing it a bit though: there was one cart that somewhat resembled a dragon with a couple of people drumming around it, and the carnival people following it up and down the beach. Quite hilarious actually :D

Carnivaly Russians

This is it. THE carnival float.

Beach fun on carnival day

I also got some activity done while I was in Arambol: one morning me and Bhavnath climbed the hill that separates Arambol beach from Sweet lake. What a view! And what a wonderful feeling, to be free from all the usual bustle. The town and beach were still asleep, only a few people about, and the atmosphere calm and serene. If only it hadn't been my last day, I would surely have got up a little earlier every morning and gone out there to do my meditation. But at least I got to see this wonder, thanks to Bhavnath. And the sweet lake, a peaceful oasis just next to the sea. And I got to borrow some of the deep, grounding energy from the huge trees in the jungle we walked by as we trekked to see the big banyon tree. It was also still nice and quiet there, some people who were apparently camping there were clearing out the rubbish (so much of it everywhere... why can't people take care of their waste?) and a baba of some kind was chilling beside the tree. But no hordes of tourists with their loud chatter. Wonderful.

Banyon baba

Sweet lake

On the other side of the lens for a change
We also had a great conversations with Bhavnath about our personal journeys and the difficulties and obstacles in the spiritual path, how everyone is confused but how everything gets a little more clear, step by step. It is always so inspiring to meet someone who's been on the path longer and see how much clarity they have, how much strength and sureness (is that a word?). It gives me hope that one day I will also be able to communicate what goes in my head so clearly and to get these spiritual ducklings of mine in a row. I am on the right way, for sure, as it feels so completely, well, right. Not an easy one, for sure, but mine and so dear <3. We also had a chance to go sit for a moment in silence in Bhavnath's friends dark room (not the photography but the meditation kind). It reminded me of the amazing Osho darkness meditation we did in Berlin's Osho studio with Sven, a friend from the conscious relating group. It's just such a weird but quite profound thing to sit or lie in the darkness with your eyes open, encountering the Universal darkness, not just the one inside your head when your close your eyes. In my experience there's a different quality to it, of a calmer, warmer and more comforting kind. Love it.

I really didn't want to leave Arambol, but I'd promised myself at least one Goa party since I was in Goa. So on Friday I took the local bus to Siolim and a taxi to Vagator. But more about that in the next post!

Cookie Wallas. Very stoned atmosphere. Didn't indulge, not in the smoking or in the amazing sounding cookie-based desserts. Their shakshuka was good, though!

Fireshow to accompany a concert in Shakti Paradise

The mandatory beach shacks

Sokerina pohjalla: jotain suomalaisille!