It wasn’t the most promising start. “Oh, dear,” the landlady of the ashram looked up at me pityfully from the dietary requirements section of my registration form. “Veggan? That is how you say? No milk, no butter, no cream, no cheese, no egg, no honey,” she read from my form. “Curd?” she tried, weakly. I shook my head. “Oh dear,” she said again.
“I can’t be the first,” I began, in my defence. “Almost everyone I know who does yoga is vegan and this is an ashram…” She clasped her hands, shook her head and closed her eyes like I was delivering bad news about a relative. “We will think of something but breakfast real problem,” she said solemnly. “Toast! I have my own peanut butter…” I blurted optimistically, as I followed her upstairs to my room.
“Do you use toilet paper?” she asked as I checked out the bathroom. “I’m sorry?” I questioned, sticking my head around the door. “Do you use toilet paper?” she repeated, nodding her head toward the squat toilet. “I’m not sure I understand. Toilet paper as opposed to what?” “Well, if you do, please put it in the bin and not in the toilet,” she instructed, matter of factly, ignoring my question. “Do some people not use it?” I asked, genuinely confused. “We don’t, we use water,” the landlady shrugged. “But then you’re all wet, you know, underneath. What do you dry with?” “We have a small cloth in the bathroom…” “I see,” I nodded slowly, whilst making a mental note to never, ever use the hand towel in a Nepalese bathroom.
The morning yoga was a little too much pranayama (breathing exercises) for my liking and the evening yoga, although good, was conducted outside in an area surrounded by trees and therefore saw me constantly yanking down my sleeves and trouser legs, hoping to avoid mosquito bites – so I never really relaxed into it.
I just couldn’t bring myself to join in with the neti cleansing conducted in the area I mentally referred to as “the snot garden”. The less said about that the better. *shudder*
I came into myself for daily chanting, though. I was happy sitting in a circle, eyes closed, chanting musical mantras while some shook tambourines and bells and others banged drums. That was my favourite bit – music makes me feel connected.
The meditation needed mixing up a bit in my opinion. I know it’s not meant to be interesting but it was the same technique twice a day which started to become monotonous. A bit of Osho style Bollywood dancing would’ve pleased me enormously but alas so-hum-ing with prayer beads were as much fun as we were allowed.
As all courses (lasting anything from one day to several weeks) begin on any day you fancy, every meal time consisted of the EXACT same conversation with the day’s new faces: Where are you from? Where’ve you been? Where are you going next? How long are you staying? Have you been trekking/paragliding? After all that there was no time for deeper conversation and by day three I stopped wishing to communicate entirely, was very likely considered rude and moody (for which I actually didn’t give a shit) and began resenting the fact that it wasn’t a silent retreat.
It was a complete pain in the arse facing the daily barrage of questions about veganism when it was noticed I wasn’t given the milky breakfast products but was instead presented with an apple and a banana and so I found myself either giving short answers like “everything else” when asked what I eat if not meat and dairy or worse still, saying I’m sick of the questions and don’t want to talk about it. (It gets you that way when you’re forced to talk about it three times a day.)
But the final straw came on the one day there was toast (halelujah!). Everyone was given cheese toasties and when I asked for plain toast got told there wasn’t any bread left. Other than scowling at my apple and banana, I managed to internalise my tantrum, decided I’m not cut out for prison life, grabbed my rucksack and jar of peanut butter and sodded off down to Lakeside to find a drop-in yoga class. And some toast.