Yoga in Sri Lanka – 7 Amazing Places to Practice

Yoga in Sri Lanka – 8 Great Places to Practice

wedit2

It’s taken me a while to get around to shortlisting places to do yoga in Sri Lanka. Hell, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing anything about Sri Lanka. I’ve found this becomes customary when you become preoccupied with having an incredible time somewhere and forget to keep track of any ‘work-related’ obligations you may have set for yourself… Sri Lanka definitely had this effect on me!

While Bali has become notorious for yogis the world around, much thanks to Julia Roberts’ ‘Eat Pray Love’ and also due to just being damn beautiful, I visited several places in Sri Lanka during my travels there which made me wonder that it hasn’t been overwhelmed with tourists and travellers of the spiritual-seeking variety yet (touches wood).
It may be that it’s only on the brink of being discovered as the ideal yoga/retreat destination, and if so, this list of places to do yoga in Sri Lanka might be of use to you!

Surf ‘n Yoga

As it’s no secret that the waves here are some of the best in the world, most recently the trend of ‘surf and yoga’ businesses has exploded around the coastlines of Sri Lanka. It’s with this in mind that one might wonder if yoga in Sri Lanka is on it’s way to becoming the next Bali, nestled comfortably in between the crazy, incessant localised chaos of India and the tourist-ridden beaches of Kuta and Seminyak. I found it to be a nice balance between the two extremes. And isn’t that what yoga is all about? Either way, here’s 7 places you can do yoga in Sri Lanka without blowing the budget during your travels here.

 

7 Places to do Yoga in Sri Lanka:

  1. Sri Yoga Shala, Unawatuna

    Image result for sri yoga shala
    Savasana at Sri Yoga Shala (pic: www.retreatnetwork.com)

    This beautiful shala is situated away from the main road just outside Unawatuna and specialises in catering for retreats and teacher trainings. They also have a daily class schedule, hold regular workshops and courses too, and are situated in stunningly peaceful jungle surroundings covered in greenery! Eva and her husband who run it also own the restaurant down on Wijaya beach just opposite the turn for Sri Yoga Shala, and are planning to open a ‘Garden Kafé’ at the shala soon – they’re also some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! The only fault (if you can call it that) I could find with Sri Yoga Shala is that they don’t offer accommodation, but there are plenty of home stays and guesthouses on the road leading down to the shala where guests can organise lodging at a good price!
    Email: info@sriyogashala.com

    Website/Facebook/Instagram

     

  2. Hangtime Hostel, Weligama

    Image result for hangtime hostel

    I couldn’t possibly write about yoga in Sri Lanka and not include something about the time I spent here. About 30 minutes tuk tuk/scooter ride up the road from Unawatuna you’ll find Weligama and it’s famous surf beach, which stretches as far as the eye can see past the tens of colourful fishing boats docked further up the shore. Backtrack to the centre of the beautiful beach however and you can’t miss Hangtime Hostel, which overlooks many of the local surf-schools and provides comfortable, clean and laid back accommodation for those looking to meet cool people while they break from the surf and – you guessed it – do some yoga. The entire third floor of the hostel has been given to an open air yoga studio where classes take place twice a day overlooking the beach. Couple this with a great rooftop restaurant, group activities and a whole bunch of amazing people to check out the nightlife in Mirissa with (10 mins in a tuk tuk) and you might not want to ever leave either…I know I didn’t!

    Website/Facebook/Instagram/TripAdvisor

     

  3. Yoga at the Hilltop Temple with Rukshan Yoga, Mirissa

    Ag léiriú IMG_20160824_131334.jpg
    Hilltop Temple, Mirissa

    This is a bit of an alternative yoga experience, more akin to the random classes along the mountainsides in the Indian Himalayas I attended in McLeodGanj and Dharamkot than the lush shala surroundings of Bali. After locating a hidden stairway along the street in Mirissa and climbing up the (seemingly neverending) steep stone steps to the hilltop temple overlooking the bay, you’ll be greeted by a friendly family and shown into a stone-floored room about 100 metres from a beautiful temple. Here Rukshan will guide you through a short seated meditation, followed by a walking barefoot meditation out and all around the temple. You’ll participate in Buddhist puja blessings in silence, and slowly guide yourself back to the hall for some asana practice which focuses mainly on how to correctly align oneself and others into the poses, rather than just flowing through them. An interesting experience lasting longer than your average drop-in class (1hr 30mins), and great views to boot!

    Maps:
    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

  4. Hideaway,  Arugam Bay

    Image result for hideaway arugam bay yoga

    Arugam Bay is one of the most popular hubs for surfing and yoga in Sri Lanka. During high season here it resembles the bustling, tourist surf resorts of Bali and it’s easy to forget sometimes that road signs come with warnings of elephants crossing and that pumpkin curry is readily available along the street (YUM). Hideaway is a boutique hotel that was above my backpacking budget to stay in, yet luckily offers drop-in yoga classes daily for anyone every day in their outdoor shala. The amazing healthy café (with an actual table up in a treehouse) serves up a variety of yummy breakfast and lunch options with an emphasis on healthy vegetarian/vegan noms too, and the funky surroundings and decor of the place really just added to the whole experience…I spent several days just going to yoga here and chilling drinking coconut milk coffees in hammocks. Bliss.

    Ag léiriú IMG_20160823_083707.jpg

    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

  5. Talalla Surf n’ Yoga Retreat, Talalla

    Image result for talalla yoga
    Yoga at Tallala (pic: Bookyogaretreats.com)

    While this place unfortunately came in well over my backpacking budget for Sri Lanka to stay in, I did make several good friends and spoke to many people during my travels who had stayed here too. Fortunately they also provide drop-in classes daily so you can check it out for yourself and see the beautiful shala surroundings! Reviews of the retreats also seemed extremely positive and if the website is anything to go by I’m definitely going to have to stay here whenever I find myself in Sri Lanka again. They offer a few different options for retreats, classes, treatments, and packages for both surfing and yoga, and you don’t have to be a pro or seasoned practitioner to partake – anyone can go!

    Website/Facebook/Instagram/TripAdvisor

    6. Bay Vista Arugam, Arugam Bay

     

    boatarugamedit

    Another boutique hotel in the Arugam Bay area which offers daily yoga classes, this time on the rooftop. Drop-ins make up most of the clientel and the classes vary from some pilates-based exercises to vinyasa flow classes with a stunning view of the beach and coastline (‘Bay Vista’…). Bay Vista is directly across the road from Hideaway and to be honest I went just as often to this place for yoga as I went to Hideaway, depending on what times suited best – both places will have signs out on the road with their class times and they are always just slightly different . This worked out extremely well and you get to try some different styles and teachers – one of the main things I love about travelling with yoga in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere)!
    Website/ Facebook/ TripAdvisor

     

    7. Camp Poe, Ahangama

    Image result for camp poe yoga

    Another hidden gem off the beaten track, Camp Poe is a secluded retreat centre/campsite offering boutique camping surf and yoga experiences in Ahangama on the road to Unawatuna. Camp Poe places an emphasis on cultivating creativity and drawing its guests together to share experiences. Just away from the private tents there is a delightfully bright and colourful hangout area with bookshelves, beanbags, hammocks, and peaceful nooks and crannies for reading, writing, singing, or just chilling out. Yoga takes places twice a day and is also available for drop in classes, not just to those partaking in the retreat. As the camp is situated a little away from the shoreline, a scooter or tuk tuk is necesssary to get to the beach/into town, but this actually adds to the tranquility and ensures you ultimate space to let your creativity flourish.

    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

To thrive. To flourish.

To take all that I am, and everything I’ve encountered, and to blend them into something new. To use what I’ve been given, and to nourish it so it reaches its highest and furthest potential.
This is what I’m taking away from my current travel experiences coming to a brief hiatus as I return home slightly earlier than planned for Christmas.

‘We are the sum of all of our past experiences“, they say and so, I am a unique blend of everything and everywhere I have been. Everyone I’ve encountered. And all that currently surrounds me.

These past 5 months have been an incredible journey. A journey through some of the most beautifully stunning and culturally rich places I’ve ever been. A journey through some of the most difficult emotions and mental limitations I’ve grown accustomed to placing on myself. A journey out of my comfort zone, out of my perception of comfort zones…
A journey with myself, by myself, to myself.

To Open Up

Everyone I’ve encountered along the way has shaped me somehow, just as I have (however minutely) impacted their journey. I’ve opened up in ways I was barely even aware was possible – I’ve learnt that remaining open is to become malleable to new experiences. My journey with yoga has allowed me to open. Open up the channels of energy I had allowed anxiety to close. Engage in open communication. Open and honest interactions, softly allowing the essence of myself I lost somewhere along the way between puberty and the end of my college years to return, frightened as it was of what others would think, what they would see….
I now know how little any of that matters. I not only know it, but I live it.
Because here’s the thing.

Travelling can be difficult, but it’s even more fucking difficult if you hate yourself.

Nobody wants to talk to the frowning weirdo in the corner who glances at herself in the reflection of every shiny surface and glares jealously at the big groups of new travel-friends all having fun at the bar. Sure, they might have issues, but nobody on a trip is going to want to be bogged down with some stranger’s lack of self-esteem, lack of balance and life lived in fear of the world around them.
We’re all here to see as much as we can, mate, it’s up to you to hold yourself together long enough to get there.

To Be Steady

And what is travelling, when you do it right, but living your life and moving, discovering, remaining and being yourself somewhere other than in your own home? Changing surroundings beg the need for a constant and steady spirit to successfully move through them, and so I’ve found a kind of satisfactory balance here somewhere in the midst of all this movement.

To Take Things Less Seriously

Taking yourself too seriously is not an option when every unknown turn in a new city could lead you into anxiety-inducing situations. Trusting yourself becomes the number one priority, and your own judgement becomes the only thing that really leads the way when you leave home with no particular direction or plan – you learn to just go with it. Taking things less seriously, but ensuring you remain steady within it. Humbly balancing out what we have, moving through it with grace and ease, going where we can and taking our bodies and minds on a modest journey through the bigger picture.

Because the bigger picture will always be the bigger picture, and we will always be just one little pixel in that grand tapestry that creates our perception of the images around us.

Our job is simply to ensure that our pixel shines as bright, as clear and as strong as it possibly can be. That’s all we can ever hope to achieve. In surrendering to the powerlessness and lack of control, we ironically gain it for ourselves.

That Comfort Zones Don’t Exist

Allowing that little dot to thrive and really believing in its’ worth is vital if we want to progress anywhere in life. For some people, this comes naturally to them. For others, we must assert ourselves and realign with these beliefs time and time again, repeatedly acknowledging our sense of worth and maintaining a persistent awareness of the things that put this balance at risk. Travelling through uncertain areas, with unknown associates and changeable destinations requires a certain sense of self and strength that I never ever believed possible for me, and yet here I am. I’ve met some incredible people, seen beautiful places, experienced lifestyles and norms so contrasting to my own comfort zone and everyday life that I’ve come to realise ‘comfort zone’ is just a label we put on ourselves to justify staying still.

Through yoga, through solo travel, and through combining them both, I have come to see movement as the one key aspect of life that helps us maintain a balanced and healthy mindset, and I’m excited to see how I will progress forwards with this newfound understanding. Moving on, moving away from damaging behaviours, moving ever onwards and avoiding stagnancy at all costs – this journey has really only begun.

What a Month in India Taught Me About Yoga

What a Month in India Taught me About Yoga
*

Before I begin I want to make clear that the views expressed here are purely objective and that I’m only going on what I experienced, not an in-depth study or survey.

‘What are the differences between practicing yoga in the West and practicing in India?’

This is a question I’ve been asked quite regularly in recent weeks, having embarked on a solo trip with no definitive end on the basis of exploring the ancient practice and contrasting attitudes towards the study of yoga around the world (well in Asia, anyway).
To be honest, I came to India expecting (or maybe hoping) to experience some sort of revelation when it came to my yoga practice, the stories I’ve heard having inspired me to explore the places most attributed with the origins of yoga and somehow find or realise something I haven’t before by immersing myself completely in a strange country and alternative habits, values, and climates. I wanted to really push my boundaries and experience yoga as a lifestyle properly for a little while, embracing new aspects and styles with unfamiliar surroundings and people – places you don’t see on Instagram or enticing Google adverts boasting a luxury yoga retreat and 5-star accommodation. In a way, that’s kind of what happened.
In another way, it’s not. At all.

5742c9ce-6e9f-4f66-a41d-dec010dbbcdc

It sounds obvious to me now, but the biggest thing I’ve realised since coming to India is that it really doesn’t matter where, when, why, or how you practice – yoga is both universal and intensely personal. Yoga is as unique to each practitioner as their individual height, weight, hair colour, daily nutritional requirements and sleeping patterns. Each person’s practice is their own, no matter where you do it, for how long, or at what intensity.

Or at least it should be.
Strangely, one of the things that brought me to this realisation was attending classes that seemed very impersonal, and I was surprised to find that some of the guided classes I attended in McLeodGanj (Dharamsala, North Indian province of Himachal Pradesh) in particular lacked in creativity. Disappointingly they felt like going through the motions of a standard fitness class in the gym back home. At the same time, I understood the reasons behind these elements of the practice.
After speaking with several yoga-instructor friends and enthusiasts alike, I came to understand that some of the more established Indian yogis (I won’t name names for obvious reasons) have been doing the same ‘routine’ sequence and practice every day for over 40 years. Because of this, it has become almost mechanical in its routine progression, and one could almost argue that anyone who’s attended enough of the classes to learn the routine by heart could in theory also ‘teach’ a class themselves.
I want to be careful how I vocalise this, but the truth is I found that this sameness has both positive & negative aspects.

On the positive side, the benefits of 40 years of consistent Ashtanga practice are blatantly apparent in the physique and steady, controlled way these yogis speak.
It’s also inspiring to see that the practice itself has become a sort of constant for them, in the way that prayer or religious devotion has for the many Buddhist monks and nuns inhabiting the Northern Himachal Pradesh Himalayas. It’s ritualistic, which can be a valuable thing in a modern world that otherwise lacks rituals.

On the negative side, the lack of creative exploration & facilitation for the fluctuations of the body from day to day during these routines flies in the face of one of my own beliefs about the practice of yoga – that it is a way of accepting and appreciating change with ease and grace, being open to and moving with it, instead of resisting.

I cannot help but marvel at the depth, widespread popularity, and general understanding and acceptance of the entire practice of yoga in India. I have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible.
For me, this is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is. Trusting what you have and that which is constantly in flux around you, instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. A feeling of harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.
This includes change.

Change and evolution are part of who we are, the only two constant reliable elements of life that we can depend on outside of our own minds. Being able to tolerate and adapt to natural and environmental changes is crucial for so many reasons, and it confused me to see some of the yogis upholding a practice that seemed quite stagnant and repetitive, unbending even. Maybe I’m just too used to attending creative classes that adapt and cater for the elements and our bodies – a rainy day class at home in Yogahub Dublin once focused on shoulder and chest-opening poses in response to the week of horrible weather we’d just experienced, hunched over and hurried pacing a necessity with disregard to posture or discomfort.
But it seemed to me that the whole ‘oh she’s gone to do yoga in India’ myth and expectation of self-understanding and epiphany-gaining experience is exactly that – a myth.

This is what I mean by having an evolving practice. India as a country is still evolving; it is a land of extremes. Colours, tastes, wealth, poverty, heat, rain…you name it, India has an extreme to meet it.

Avoiding extremes and finding balance has been part of my own yogic journey, and I found the almost extreme lifestyle and all-or-nothing vibe of several of the yoga studios and gurus I attended to be somewhat overwhelming and contradictory in their message. That being said, there were several teachers that were more supple in their ideologies and achieved a more rational balance between the unchanging ritual & the realities of a living daily practise, so I can’t be too generalistic here either.

My point in writing this was to express what I’ve learnt, and to disprove the theory that yoga can only be learned correctly or experienced fully by travelling to India. I’m guilty of harbouring beliefs such as this, although deep down I sort of knew the truth for what it is – that yoga is accessible anywhere, to anyone, and in whatever capacity you have to experience it and your own body. Even on a balcony in a tiny hostel in Sri Lanka where the cleaning lady tries to sweep crumbs and dust from within an inch of the mat around you. I’m still practicing. I’m still moving. Evolving, changing. And that’s ok too.

 

IMG_20160722_142616

Amritsar, Punjab – New Friends, New Headgear, and Very Serious Selfies!


Amritsar, Punjab New Friends, New Headgear, and Very Serious Selfies!

 

unnamed-16

My decision to leave Dharamkot and the mountainous hub of yoga, Tibetan culture, health food and chilled out cafés at first seemed very difficult. However after a few days of severe rain and downpours so heavy that ‘damp’ became my response to any generic question posed to me by either local or fellow-traveller, I decided that I owed it to India’s sheer size and to myself to see as much more of this vast and sensory-rich country as I can before departing for Sri Lanka. I’ll admit I was mistaken in thinking I would be satisfied with a month here. A month seems so miniscule when I think about how quickly the days have been passing, flying by in the squint of an eye against a haze of dust rising up from chaotic streets and overly potent onions.

unnamed-13
Peekaboo…The sun disappearing behind the entrance of the The Golden Temple

So I enlisted the help of Lakshmi Tours in Dharamkot, (the tour operators directly under Trek n’ Dine, probably the most recognisable landmark in the teeny town and some extremely yummy homemade muesli), and booked myself a one-way ticket to Amritsar, in the Western province of Punjab. A whim, a blessing, a sign, whatever you want to call it, I then proceeded to reserve a room at the first hostel that made it’s way to the head of my Google Search – Jugaardus Eco Hostel, and I have to say, for once, I did good. I’ve stayed at my fair share of dingy, anti-social, isolating and DAMP accommodation, but from the second I stepped in to Jugaardus I felt completely comfortable and welcomed, the graffitied walls of clichéd travel-quotes and creative-traveller-type masterpieces ‘just scribbled’ onto the walls reminding me of the Madpackers’ in Delhi in all it’s hipster and backpacking glory. The best thing about these hostels is definitely the social aspect, and the organisation of tours several times a day to places that would take a lot of wrong turns and mind-numbing sign language to find alone without a guide. The team at Jugaadus are also extremely friendly, open and welcoming to solo travellers and groups alike, and the included meals (donation based) were also a blessing!

unnamed-19

A well-timed group outing to The Golden Temple in Amritsar, home of the Sikh religion and one of the most stunningly beautiful areas of architecture and peaceful settings I’ve ever laid eyes on/stepped foot in, occupied the first evening. From being treated as tourist attractions ourselves and stared at, to being bundled into a foodhall and served chipattis in a clamour of splashing dahl and clashing metal plates as the next round of hungry mouths waited expectantly outside, only then to come out again to find the whole place suddenly lit by the reflection of real golden temples on the water where hundreds of Sikhs have just bathed and redressed the turbans and scarves of every colour imaginable…it really was an unforgettable experience, and one of my favourite outings in India so far. (That’s saying a LOT!) Beers in the local brewery (situated at the top of a shopping centre?) with new and familiar hostel friends ended the day nicely and the tourist in me was satisfied for another while.

 

unnamed-7
Foodhall in Amritsar’s Golden Temple
unnamed-35
So many colours!
unnamed-8
Bathing at the Golden Temple

 

Day two began with a fruitful breakfast and spontaneous jamming session in the hostel, before being whisked away on a food tour of the city, which lasted hours and brought us to some of the cheapest and most tucked away corners of Amritsar..I tasted the sweetest black chai of my life, and before even getting a chance to return to the hostel it was time to be picked up to continue the day of ‘touristing’ and go on the ‘Wagah Border Tour’. Another spontaneous decision, I only realised as we left the perimeters of Amritsar behind that we were actually headed towards the Pakistani border with India to witness a ceremony crossing flags and celebrating the two country’s heritage and peacefully maintained boundaries, as well as ironically symbolising their rivalry. unnamed-20Passports in hand and a kind of nervous expectancy hanging in the thick dusty air preceding sunset, we walked the long road-blocked entrance like that of a road headed into a music festival. Vendors painted Indian flags on our faces and sold bottles of water, fresh juices, mystery fried yellow things, and tables of other products outside.

When the stadium eventually filled to capacity and the sun had all but disappeared from the sky, Indian residents on one side of two iron-clad sets of gates and Pakistani on the other, thumping Bollywood music flooded the stadium and a troupe of dancers emerged in the road below.

unnamed-22
Indian supports at the Pakistani border

On spotting us taking pictures, we were pulled into the crowd by young students to join their dancing in front of the hundreds of spectators! Dancing to ‘Jai Ho’ in a mass of colourful saris and flowing black hair overlooked by a crowd of chanting Indians is something I won’t forget in a hurry!

Once the dancing ceased, drum rolls signalled Indian soldiers marching and high-kicking their way towards the Pakistani gate to a height Micheal Flatley would envy and with such conviction that it was difficult not to take it very seriously. Between the crowds chanting in Hindi, the drums rolling, the clip-clop of the uniformed officers and the opposing chants and singing coming from the Pakistani side, it felt like being a spectator at some kind of bizarre sporting event!

 

unnamed-29
2 sets of gates – India border vs Pakistan

After a lengthy marching routine, eventually the guards tired out high-kicking and opened the gates, where they swapped sides and lowered each country’s flag together, crossing them over in a sign of peace. And that was it. Back together the gates clanged, back down the stadium the guards skipped, and the Indian crowd’s chanting reached a peak to meet the final drum rolls end. Time to go home! It was back to Jugaardus for a shower to wash the dust away from tired feet.

unnamed-28

unnamed-21
“Just one picture, Madame!”

My final day in Amritsar was spent catching up on sleep and online work, venturing into the madness of the city several times to explore local shops and market stalls! Back to Delhi now for a final night with the Madpackers and then onwards as my visa expires in a few days and I’ve yet to plan the next leg of my journey properly. Oops.

There is one thing I am sure of, however…

India, I’m not done with you yet!
I will most definitely be back. Onwards and upwards!

unnamed-5

 

unnamed-11

unnamed-23
IMG_20160718_201046
unnamed-9

 

 

 

Useful Links:

Trek n Dine Facebook / Trip Advisor
Lakshmi Tours India
Jugaardus Eco Hostel: Website / Facebook / Trip Advisor
Madpackers Hostel Delhi : Facebook / Trip Advisor
Gold Temple Amritsar Website

 

The Home of Yoga – An Adventure in the Himalayas

It’s currently raining in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh, one of the Northernmost populated towns in the Indian Himalayas.

Meanwhile, I hear that it’s been 26 degrees in Ireland. Typical!
Monsoon season here is in full swing, and as irritating as a downpour can be in the midst of exploring new towns and places, the people that you meet when huddled together with a street of strangers under a bright blue tarpaulin to shelter from the rain often make it seem worthwhile.
Another plus is that the more strenuous yoga classes have not proven too overwhelming. My practice in Bali and Cambodia last year showed me just how exhausting naturally heated yoga can be – there is no escaping the heat when you’re already outside!

Attending classes at both Universal Yoga in McLeodGanj and now a rigorous 5-day intensive at Himalayan Iyengar Yoga school in Dharamkot has been a fascinating, self-exploratory and humbling experience so far. Although I had reservations about exploring Iyengar Yoga further – even during the first day or two I doubted my decision and considered seeking guidance elsewhere – I cannot help but marvel at the depth and intricacy of the practice over here, and have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible. This for me is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is – trusting what you have and that which surrounds you instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. Harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.

My place right now just happens to be India in the middle of monsoon season.

India as a country is as dense as it is beautiful – there are so many layers just waiting to be peeled back. So many aspects, so many different sides and underlying elements to this ever-changing and evolving landscape. This kinetic energy in itself is a perfect emulation of human nature as a whole. We too are consistently changing. We hide beneath layers, personas, images and complete strangers that we for whatever reason so often strive to emulate – the list goes on. Yoga helps us peel back those layers comfortably, to open up and purely exist in acceptance of what’s around us, learning to enjoy the process instead of thinking about what will or may come to be.

Practicing yoga here has been challenging both mentally and physically, and especially difficult on realisation that the warm and cosy bed usually awaiting my arrival after a tough practice is in fact a flat, hard slightly damp resting space of a room costing less than €2 a night! Not exactly my idea of luxury but then again, I shouldn’t complain, right? I’m pushing boundaries. It’s not supposed to be comfortable.

My mental stamina, moreso than the physical has been tested to the point of breaking, and it may sound extreme that I have now experienced first hand what it’s like to be positioned upsidedown with tears streaming out of my eyes and down my forehead – not out of pain, but out of sheer exposure and lack of familiarity to..anything! Succumbing to the unknown? I can’t quite describe it.
It’s a new perspective, anyway. It’s been freeing.

The sheer amount of yoga schools and meditation classes around Dharamsala, McLeodGanj, and Dharamkot is testament to the deeply moving and widespread popularity of the practices in India, and it has even been predicted by the Dalai Lama himself that ‘if every 8-year-old is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation’. I’m not sure how accurate I believe this statement to be, but I must admit that my own sense of peace has been heightened purely by being present in this beautiful part of the wild animal that is India. There’s definitely something in the air over here, whether it’s because every second Westerner you meet is a hippie-pants wearing yogi with feathers in their hair and mandala tattoos on their arms, or simply the proximity to the birthplace of Buddhism – it doesn’t really matter. Peace of mind is peace of mind, and for every way there is to find it here, whether it’s attending morning Puja or Vipassana practices or simply attending a yoga class a day, you’re guaranteed to find likeminded souls who share your search for space, calmness, and self-acceptance.

For now I’m happy just being here, uphill walks, bugs and language barriers aside…

Until next time…Namasté!

10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”

’10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”‘

Wonder is a great thing.
When you embark upon a journey into the wild, or on a safari, you expect to encounter wild and wonderous things and places. You choose to dabble in the unknown. Untameable, charming, ferocious, unstoppable, beautiful, completely alien in nature, enchanting in their distance and in the depth of our misunderstanding – it’s more than just language barriers. It’s communicative, instinctual, historical, habitual, and societal contrasts ingrained deep within the very cracks of the higgledy piggledy streets and contents of the stunning architecture, pungent sewers and aromatic street food stalls alike which tumble together and simmer to the surface to serve up unique experiences and interactions and form the somehow multifunctional city of New Delhi.

 This ‘safari’, for want of a better word, has been the most daring expedition I’ve embarked on yet. People coming to ‘find themselves’ by getting unfathomably lost in an unfamiliar and almost unsettlingly diverse country as a concept in itself has led me to consider the entirety of India in terms of a wild animal that I have yet to wrap my head around and tame by establishing a firm enough grasp on it. Even just in my head. There’s just so much to it.

In an effort to portray simply the ins and outs of just how intense and incredibly humbling my first encounter with India has been so far, I’ve compiled a short list of the things which most impacted me and made me literally say ‘Wow’ (in both the good and bad ways!) as I took that first tentative step into a city more vast and untameable than even my frizzy hair after a week of camping in a field in the West of Ireland.

1. Lodi Gardens

IMG_20160722_142616

Talk about finding calm in the chaos. Easily the most peaceful and least crowded place I visited in Delhi, these natural gardens contrast the chaos directly outside their perimeter by boasting spotlessly clean, quiet, organised and expertly maintained pathways and flowerbeds. Seemingly a popular hangout spot for young locals and couples alike, Lodi Gardens contain some of the most beautiful plantlife and temples unspoiled by litter or the everyday madness and pollution in Delhi. Bonus points for free entry and hosting outdoor yoga sessions every Saturday and Sunday morning! #Zen

2. Cables
image020

Cables. Cables. Everywhere. I stopped wondering why the wifi seems to disappear whenever it rains even a little bit. Everywhere you go there are crossing wires and open sockets and fuses boasting naked electrical goods that are really just crying out for a little bit of DIY to hide their modesty! It’s the kind of thing you have to just turn a blind eye to and ignore the instinctual discomfort ingrained by years of Irish paranoia that leaving the immersion on will see you meet your end. It won’t. I promise.

3. Market Madness

20150101_175709

It wouldn’t be a visit to Asia without a trip to the market, and Delhi’s markets don’t disappoint! Sarojini Nagar and the Spice market were favourite of mine, but you name it, you can buy it, most likely at a hilariously injust ‘special tourist price’ that newbies regularly fall victim to – haggling is key here! Start 1/3 of the price lower and don’t be afraid to say no and walk away – 80% of the time you will be called back with a lower price!

4. Hauz Khas Village

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 17.46.41

Central to the ‘party’ scene of modern New Delhi, this hip section of bars, cafés, and nightclubs is the place to go after dark, if you can brave the whirlwind of a tuk tuk ride there and back. Our international group of ‘mixed vegetables’ as the driver labelled us from the Madpackers’ Hostel had a brilliant night here and pushed even Indian drivers’ boundaries by piling 7 into one tuktuk on the way back ! Despite my own reservations I actually did feel able to let go and have fun – maintaining awareness in late-night situations is key though, especially for girls (has to be said!), and our ‘numbers-system’ proved effective in ensuring we stuck together at all times!

 5. I Grew it Myself

13819653_1038008286246462_322184977_n
I won’t lie here. I’ve finally realised that I can’t go to any tourist attraction in India without becoming one myself. Red hair, pale skin and freckles seem to be on the checklist of all Indian visitors to their capital city and main ‘must-see’ sights, and they are certainly not shy when it comes to asking for pictures. Besides paying the substantially lower fee for Indian visitors into all these attractions, they also get to satisfy their curiosity for pale skin and hair…I now know what it feels like to be an animal in a zoo. Funny the first few times. Gets very uncomfortable after a crowd gathers and children cry when you say no.

6. Awky Momos

20160722_134626

Momos are great. Everyone should try them. These ones are even vegan.

 7. Bus Station

New Delhi Bus Station at night is a raving, romping, shouting, beeping, hollering, and chaotic melting pot of humanity, the contents of which departs sporadically every 5-10 minutes for destinations all over the massive, massive country and gets replaced moments later by a new influx of bodies. The heated atmosphere added to my already heightened anxiety ahead of a 12-hour bus journey, but thankfully things cooled down as we pulled away from the hub of disgruntled passengers of all shapes and sizes clamouring to be heard over the continuos din of the incomprehensible intercom announcments. Phew. I was stressed even writing that. No picture. No time for pictures here.

8. Humayan’s Tomb and the Red Fort 

20150101_184238

I’ve grouped the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb together as they’re fairly standard stops to tick off on the tourist checklist. The Tomb is like a mini Taj Mahal, which is good for those who aren’t prepared to take the day trip to Agra, but fairly repetitive for those who’ve already been. Steep entry fee for tourists also put me off!

9. Taj Mahal

IMG_20160718_201046

This may possibly seem like an obvious one and is technically not actually in Delhi, so I thought I’d leave it til further down in the list. The Taj Mahal does what it says on the tin. Even standing a few hundred feet from it, I found it difficult to believe it wasn’t photoshopped into my line of vision and wondered how on earth such a solid piece of beauty and representation of love could actually be real. The rain didn’t help, but it made for a funny day of singing in the rain with some new friends from Madpackers (see #10), who organised a day-trip for us to Agra and back.

10. Madpackers Hostel
13769365_1115412608518928_3472572485710494523_n.jpg

I can’t possibly write about Delhi without mentioning the Madpackers Hostel! Pranav, Mayank, and the rest of the team were honestly the most welcoming and hospitable hosts for the few days I stayed there, ready to help with any queries or struggle any of their guests had in a chilled and friendly manner. Met some amazing people and it really was a brilliant start to my time in India. Best hostel I’ve stayed at in a long time! Namasté!

 

 

Ha Long, Ha Long must we sing this song… A Beautiful Day in Vietnam

 

01dd0927-a14c-4aec-a16a-7068f64976dc

If I can’t see ‘the island’ back home, I know that it’s raining. Or else, that it will be sometime in the very near future. Islands are fairly black and white in that sense.
They stay put.
Although still unpredictable, this small droplet of observant common sense derived from a fine-tuned intuition has proven more useful and informative than many weather forecasts. Strange how a place can become so familiar that you tune into it’s weather-warnings and signals as naturally as if each gust of wind were it’s very breath.

This morning, over 6,000 miles away from home, the fog is so thick that most of the boat tours out into Ha Long Bay from the mainland have been cancelled. I can’t see the ‘islands’; big chunks of grassy rock and land protruding at random from the still, grey waters like stubborn weeds or sudden video-game obstacles to be navigated – an image which makes progressive sense after the go-karting and uncontrollable chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

 I admire our guide’s positivity. “Sun come out later”, he reassures us.
“You will see. Trust me.”
So I do.

The Northern bay of Vietnam is colder than I’m expecting. The ‘cruise’ ship’s blind persistance through the eerie silence of pre-dawn waters sends a chill down my spine, along with a twinge of regret that I failed to check the weather conditions for today. No matter. Experience has taught me that storms always lift, and that even through the most deafening downpour of rain– the islands always stay the same.
Making the most of my short time in Vietnam has meant bypassing several stops I had previously intended on, but there hasn’t been a draft of the guidelines I’ve drawn for myself where Ha Long Bay does not feature.
One thing I notice as the waves become more stable is that the sea breeze here doesn’t quite cut the skin like it does back home. The chill I’m feeling is purely due to movement – our progression through the still air the only instigator of activity for several hundred meters around us – the distance from our boat to the next stationary vessle, a ‘party boat’ still lying sleepily comatosed in the early morning haze. Several small fishing boats have passed since setting out from the docks, a familarity I can’t help but admire – it takes a special kind of storm to perturb the fishermen in the West of Ireland too.

As expected, our approach to the main attraction slowly brings clarity to the previously foggy mounds of matter. The mainland view might be good, but the towering mountains rising from the surface of the water like proud statues of Gods overlooking their kingdom are even more impressive up close. Colours saturate every glance. Pure nature, pure height, depth, and growth dwarf every man-made structure I’ve ever laid eyes on.

All attempts I’ve made at reassuring myself this trip it won’t be in vain fall overboard, as I stare in awe around me. These aren’t islands. These are natural works of art.

cca2d91b-e58e-4c0c-bda2-1ca4c6e6c232-1

7 Top Air B’n B’s in the West of Ireland available RIGHT NOW

7 Top Air B’n B’s in the West of Ireland available RIGHT NOW – BEAN AN TÍ

 

In a post originally inspired by Journalist on the Run, and again prompted by my recent post on the West of Ireland and why it’s actually kinda great, I thought I’d do some research and compare some of the most interesting and unique accommodation options listed on Air B’n’B in the area, should you be so inclined to favour the internet over the traditional B’n’B strategy of knocking on doors and hoping for the best.

Also worth mentioning is a friend’s recent establishment of an Air B’n’B feeder company – quite aptly named in this sense ‘Bean An Tí’. The company offers regular or once-off cleaning and maintenance services to Air B’n’B homeowners for a fee and a kind word of recommendation. They’re currently based in Dublin and work with Air B’n’B hosts there, but should their success extend further afield in the coming months I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Here’s a short list of some of the most intriguing dwellings in the Galway/Clare area listed on Air B’n’B right now..if number 5 doesn’t make you want to at least experience it I don’t know what will!

1. The Camper Van

 


Quirky Burren Camper

Ballyvaughan, Clare, Ireland

If you’re a fan of camping yet would prefer a

slightly more luxurious option (‘slightly’ in this case meaning absolutely marginal) this 2-bed camper van in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare near The Burren is available to rent a mere 20-30 minutes drive from the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, and the Ailwee Caves. Despite the lack of a shower (?!) this seems to be a pretty alright deal, with the only catch being that you can’t actually drive the camper van. Right. It also says nothing about heating or even a mini-heater, which, as anyone familiar with camping in Ireland will know is just a bit silly really. Ireland is cold. Undecided about this one.

2.  The Stone Cottage


A stone cottage we call “The Bothy”

Gort, Galway, Ireland

This is the reason people come to the West. Typical traditional stone dwellings with no internet, TV, or external communicative outlets to be found, in the middle of nowhere. Great for a few days unplugging from the world….It may make you feel like you’ve escaped civilisation. Whether this is a good or bad thing, you decide. Cabin fever medication not included.

Car is recommended.

 3.  The Light House 

 


The Light House

Fanore, Clare, Ireland

– a misleading title if ever there was one! Don’t be fooled here, you’re not going to get to stay in an actual Light House (how cool would that be?!) but this 2-person loft conversion above a house in Fanore, County Clare is still quite an attractive option. This is how you market your extremely clean but fairly average and pretty out-of-the-way spare room, people! €59 a night and with great views it’s kind of a no-brainer.

 4. The Gate Lodge

 


The Gatelodge

Killoscully, Tipperary, Ireland

 

I’m not going to lie, this looks like something out of ‘The Secret Garden” movie. An entire charming country property available to rent complete with stone walls, surrounding coutry walks, and a stuffed pheasant in the window. Only a stone’s throw from Shannon airport and Lough Derg in Killoskully, Tipperary, this looks like a great option if you’ve forgotten your wellies – they seem to be included too!

 5. The Wagon.

 


Kittyscamping cosy accommodation

Kinvarra, Galway, Ireland

 

For anyone who grew up watching ‘Into The West’ with Gabriel Byrne (classic 90’s Irish movie involving a boy and his mythical horse) this traditonal gypsy wagon accommodation will be like taking a step back in time. Stationary wagons accomodate up to 4 people and are situated in a campsite near the Burren, which also welcomes other forms of mobile accommodation. Shared BBQ and other amenities make for a real community feel. If that wasn’t enough they’re also situated close to the Burren and other tourist attractions, in case you didn’t want to, I don’t know, just live there and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. This looks so cosy I don’t think I’d ever leave.

 6. The Cottage

 


Idyllic views in Connemara, Galway.

Oughterard, Galway, Ireland

 

If it’s views and typical Irish scenery you’re after, this ‘Idyllic’ property in Oughterard, Connemara has you covered. Still only 5 minutes from the town, the attached images and reviews seem to live up to the detailed descriptions and honestly look absolutely gorgeous. Yeh. Seems like a solid choice.

7. The Self-Contained POD.


Self Contained POD

Clare, Clare, Ireland

From Wonderly Wagon to a futuristic take on the same nomadic lifestyle – this ‘Self-contained POD’ in County Clare allows for comfort and style in a kind of festival ideal that will just make your heart ache for the ‘glamping’ area of Stradbally and Electric Picnic – only 3 months to go!

A Monk, a Ginger, and a Picturesque Palace

A young Buddhist monk clad in orange robes and flimsy, thin sandals holds up a smartphone. I quickly stow mine away. Who knows where he’s had it hidden, those robes look fairly impractical when it comes to storage and safe keeping of things.
All of a sudden the tables have turned, and now I am the subject of interest; the main attraction; the pale, ginger alien from afar. For some reason all I can think of is how violently those orange robes would clash with my hair if I ever had to wear them.
I glance around the vast grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, uncomfortably in search of the tour group I’d wandered away from. The young monks, (the eldest can’t be older than about 13) have started giggling amongst themselves now, as my anxiety spikes higher and I grow visibly flustered. Or maybe it’s just the heat?
They clearly don’t know how to put the camera switch on silent mode either, I grumble internally, as I hear the phone make the ‘click’ and ‘click’ and ‘click’ noises of this impromptu photo shoot.
Surely this is against some religious code or regulations, surely they’re not allowed to do things like this? What happened to empathy, understanding, treating fellow humans with respect and privacy??
As my frustration builds I realise that I’ve been guilty of all those things I just listed as being ‘out-of-bounds’ for the monks. Me and the thousands of other tourists who pass through their home everyday and gawp in awe at their clothes, their houses and schools – their entire world. It hardly seems fair that they should have to put up with it, but then again, Cambodia has many aspects to it that Westerners would consider unjust. The Khmer people just accept things as they are.
The grandeur of the Palace in Phnom Penh is testament to that, as I consider the riches and perfectly preened gardens and hedgerows in comparison to the wildness, the go-karting, free-wheeling adventures of the city streets beyond. Somehow everything in here seems calmer, as if the Playstation game has been put on pause and everything moves in slow motion until you’re ready to go again.
I eventually spot the gaggle of excited Chinese tourists who were part of my group by the submarine-pipe heads of their selfie-sticks bobbing above the crowds. Glancing behind me, I notice that the monks have fallen back, now sullen in their observation of the mass of tourists and my re-assimilation into it after a brief escapade into their camera-range.
How odd it must feel to be a stationary figure in the middle of such a steady, ferocious stream of people passing through. The orange robes to us are just about as fascinating as orange hair is to them, yet their desire to express their interest and marvel at things unaccustomed to them is met with questioning, staring, and judgement. My own reaction to their interest shamed me.
As I reach the outer gates of the palace, I lighten up at what’s just occurred, and manage to laugh off the irony of it. I steady myself to prepare for the tuk-tuk games to begin again, reflecting softly that Phnom Penh and Cambodia as a whole is truly a beautiful, chaotic celebration of the old world and the new coming together in a frenzied rush of confusion, odd smells, and exhaust-pipe dust.

12255488_1198573330156445_121572998_o-1

Bashful Balinese Biking!

Rumbling to life below me, my dusty, metal, fully-unleaded steed for the day surges eagerly forwards like a particularly strong bulldog just after catching a glimpse of his dinner.
Woah. That’s powerful.
I’ve pulled in to one of the many roadside ‘re-fill stations’ visible every kilometre or so along the country roads in Bali – (can you call them country roads when they’re the only roads around? ) signalled by a bookshelf populated by rows of upturned Absolut Vodka bottles filled with a mysterious yellowy-gold substance.
Petrol, obviously.
Usually these ‘garages’ are merely the front garden water-feature of the vendors’ house, and it’s not unusual to see small children playing with spare motorbike parts in the dusty gravel beside their parents’ work station – in this case a faded plastic garden chair and carefully bookmarked porno magazine. Great!
“Petrol?!”
Dropping a clearly unfinished plate of food to the ground, he’s up and jumping to assist before I’ve even tried to remove my helmet, gesturing enthusiastically to the selection of fine liqueors behind him. That’s the Balinese for you.
I nod encouragingly towards my newly acquired bike, hoping he’ll do a girl a favour here and know exactly where the tank is and how to fill it.
Because I sure don’t.
He watches, perplexed as I pretend to rummage in my bag for change.
“I just got it!” I try, sheepishly, letting on again that this isn’t the first time I’ve ever had to fill a moving vehicle with fuel. As he reaches for a vodka bottle, I straighten up and decide to play it cool.
“Make it a double!!”
I laugh at my own hilarity, exaggerated in the heat and reddening shame of my situation – I’m clearly not the cool indie-surfer biking chick I’m letting on to be. I should have just stuck to my yoga mat and pedal-bike.
This humour is entirely lost on my new friend, however, as he blankly holds out the bottle for me to continue.
“Ummmm…yes….petrol..”
I prod at several buttons. Nothing.
Flick a switch.
Nothing.
Meanwhile, Petrol Pete’s gap-toothed grin widens, and the petrols’ urine-coloured hue gets a worrying physical manifestation.
“First time?” He chuckles.
With ease, he flicks up the seat and twists a nozzle that clearly states “FUEL TANK” in very large (and English) letters. I laugh nervously.
“New bike! Y’know yourself! – Terima Kasih!”
Irish wit aside and rusty Balinese to boot, the deed is done in a matters of seconds and I hand over several withered bank notes. He then stands back with a smug grin and arms folded as if waiting for an amateur street performer to reach an unattainable punch line.
Here we go.
I truly deliver, surging forwards ungracefully, stirring up dust with my dragging heels and knocking into several bushes and innocent plants along the way. I regain balance briefly only to lose it again to the forces of my other side like an inflatable Mr. Blobby in the wind. Eventually finding the equilibrium through acceleration, I glance back quickly to see the man’s entire family outside the tiny dwelling pointing and chuckling together, shouting out in amusement;

“Hati hati!!”