I’m writing this blog whilst sat on a train from Ajmer to Delhi. There was a moment when the cockroaches appeared that a plan started to be hatched to get off at the next station and get a bus but things have settled down and I’ll be on cockroach alert for another seven hours 😂.
I’ve been on an organised tour with eight other ladies for the last week, hence it’s been a bit too hectic to keep up with blogging. So my time at the ashram seems a long time ago now as I’ve visited four cities since I left there nearly two weeks ago. Note to self to keep on top of blogging – shorter ones more often perhaps?
I’m often asked what an ashram is and what do you do there? Having only ever stayed at two ashrams I’m not really experienced enough to answer this question with any authority. So I can only tell you about my time at Shri Jasnath Asan, based in the small village of Panchla Siddha, in Rajasthan.
I didn’t actually choose to come to stay at an ashram rather I chose to attend the festival Utsava Maa, which just happened to be hosted here. However plan A after the festival finished was to stay on for a few weeks until the tour with my friends began early February, unless I got itchy feet. I have already written about the festival and if you’d like to find out more you can read about it here. Utsava Maa
For brevity I’m going to share my experience in pictures accompanied by a few words to give you a feel for ashram life Shri Jasnath style.
So let’s start with some images of the ashram itself. It’s situated in a fort like structure, with a palace, temple, gardens and a library all held by high white walls. I loved to climb up onto the tops of the walls to meditate and practice some yoga asana in the warm afternoon sun.
Outside of the inner fort walls is a large parking area and other buildings that include two temples, a large yoga hall, an ayurvedic wellness centre and some offices. There’s also a large area set up for tennis or badminton.
Walking through some internal gates to the outside of the fort area takes you to a newly completed guest house, a large Bhojanshala (dining hall) and huge washroom facilities for the occasions when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit.
There is also a wonderful vegetable and fruit garden which is a source of food for the delicious meals we had each day. The food really was exceptional and my digestive system was very happy whilst I was there 😊. A wonderful man called Ramuji tended to the gardens and it was a peaceful place to practice walking meditation. Loving the pink turban 💜
My favourite Indian breakfast is Poha which you can see in the photo above with the pomegranate seeds. Poha is made with flattened rice, peanuts, tumeric, coriander and onion and has a lovely light consistency. Sometimes vegetables like peas are added to it.
The area around the ashram is very flat and there is a lot of scrub land and sand since Rajasthan is a large desert. I have to admit to missing the green hills of Yorkshire to get some exercise but nevertheless I enjoyed the walks that I did in the surrounding countryside. There are plenty of birds and the ashram has produced a leaflet with details of some of them and I spent a few happy hours playing bird bingo. One of my favourite birds is the owl and there were some living in an old tree in the ashram grounds that seemed quite happy to sit and be admired.
Most of the land around is farmed with vegetables and mustard seed being the most grown crops. Water irrigation systems are essential as there is very little rain here.
I was often accompanied on the road by cows, goats and one morning I saw a deer with young ones which apparently is quite rare. In the morning the route was busy with children going to school and I was often stared at by the locals who were really not used to seeing Westerners. They would also wave with huge smiles or stop and ask me the usual questions of “Where you from? Name? How old?”
During my stay I was asked if I could take a daily yoga class for guests and for some Indian ayurvedic patients staying at the ashram. The weather was warming up and we were able to practice on the yoga hall rooftop and in the Palace gardens. One thing I’ve noticed about Indian people is the abundance of burping whatever they are doing and yoga is no exception. Excessive burping together with language challenges, oh and yes one Indian lady was pregnant too, made the classes rather interesting and was a great example of why a class plan is really a waste of time 😂. So I learnt a bit of yoga hindu which was basically inhale, exhale and breathe.
It’s possible to stay at at the ashram on a karma yoga or seva basis where accommodation and food are provided in return for a few hours a day of work. There is always lots to do to run the programmes that are offered here and to keep the ashram running on a daily basis. The ashram are keen for anyone willing to offer their skills whether marketing, teaching, accounting, art, cooking, music, gardening or just happy to roll up their sleeves and muck in to come and stay. You can find out more here.
Numerous programmes are run throughout the year to locals and visitors in line with the purpose and mission of the ashram. These are sponsored by Guruji (Surajnath Siddh), the spiritual head of the ashram and Shreejan Sita who came to stay at the ashram six years ago and now spends much of her time running and supporting programmes such as Ayurvedic and yoga training, yoga retreats, de-addiction, empowering young women, kids yoga camp and eco-friendly farming.
You can see Shreejan in the photo with the puppy which fell ill whilst I was at the ashram and which after some treatment and a lot of loving care by Shreejan returned to good health. This puppy, named Yoda, was exceptionally lucky, there are a lot of stray dogs and other animals and it’s not uncommon to see them injured or dying which can be quite heart wrenching.
The young man with the dog is the son of one of the few paid staff here and he was such a wonderful young man. Always smiling, polite and respectful and was quick to help out without being asked.
Over the three weeks of my extended stay the number of people that had been attending or helping at the festival slowly decreased. Austin, an ayurvedic chef and coach remained throughout the time I was there and planned to be there for at least another 12 months or more. He is receiving training in ayurvedic healing and yogic practices whilst in return offering his skills for the running of various programmes and promotion of the ashram. He is devising some online ayurvedic programmes and you can find out more about these and Austin’s work on Facebook and Instagram (@austinvantastic).
Towards the end of my stay I had a consultation with Shree (these and ayurvedic treatments are also available at the ashram) and one of the topics that came up was the three stages of change and how these cycle through our lives. The first stage is when change or transformation arises which might be through choice or can unwittingly be thrust upon us. In ayurvedic terms this is a Vata stage and quite often we can put off a much needed change. The second stage, which is often skipped, is incubation, a Kapha time, when some space, stillness and quiet is needed for reflection and to let the third stage arise. In this third, Pitta, stage we are able to move forward with clarity and purpose. After some big changes in my life recently it feels like incubation time, a time of liminal space that needs to be honoured. We also talked about using this time to focus on more spiritual practices. More on all of this next time.
Before I leave you , a little update on my journey so far….no rats seen on the train, you get used to cockroaches, Indians seem to carry so much luggage when they travel (not that I have much room to talk), the carriages can get quite busy, everyone is very friendly and sociable, some Indian men snore, belch and talk loudly, 7.5 hours on a train is a long time, people ignore the signs that say ‘do not open doors whilst the train is moving’, people walk around on the rail tracks whilst trains pass by, some trains look like cattle carriages and are crammed full of people (heaven forbid that ever happens to me), toddlers are fun to be around 😊
So thank you for accompanying me on my train journey today, we’re getting closer to Delhi now so time to sign off. Tomorrow my friends fly back home and I take a bus to Rishikesh. The call of the mountains and nature has been too strong to ignore. I’m headed for some quiet, stillness and space to support this liminal time. It’s been over six weeks now since I arrived in India and something is stirring around the spiritual path that I need to sit with. Once I’ve settled in the farm stay at the foot of the Himalayas and out in the countryside, I’ll share my reflections with you later this week…..