This was the big plan for 2018. My friend (a fellow yoga teacher) and I had decided we wanted to visit India and stay at a yoga retreat. Even before qualifying it was something we wanted to do and it made sense to go on this exciting adventure together. Ideally we wanted to go away for five weeks but decided we would try a one week visit and see how things went.
We had never been before and had no idea when to start. when we first started searching on the internet we found ourselves overwhelmed by the options - not just the retreats themselves but also which flights to book.
We had an amazing time and so in the spirit of sharing and encouraging others to have the same experience I thought I would share some hints and tips based on our experience.
We started off looking at packages and asking for advice. The options are over-whelming so it's important to filter your choices as early as possible.
We knew when we were going so decided to try and limit by location. After asking around we decided to visit Kerala. It's home to many ayurvedic retreats. We focused our search in this area.
We created a list of what we wanted (or did not want):
We very quickly found the Namaste Retreat. A small ayurvedic centre run by the wonderful Dr Steephen (a local ayurvedic doctor and yogi who has spent time in London). We booked the yoga package that included everything we wanted.
Dr Steephen and his staff were so welcoming and took such good care of us. We were so fortunate and certainly plan to return.
Booking our flight was getting complicated as there were so many dates and times. In the end we turned to a travel agent for advice - that made things a lot easier for us.
We flew in via Delhi and were surprised to be told our luggage was not checked in for the whole journey. When we landed from our first flight we had to retrieve our luggage, go through passport control & security, then check our luggage in for the next flight. We think we may fly via Dubai next time where the transfer should be simpler.
Fortunately there is an e-Visa option, however it is quite time-consuming and requires you upload a photo of yourself and a PDF copy of your passport. There are size limits and rules about these documents. I took the photo on my phone and that was fine - if you use a camera you may find your image is too big.
You are advised to allow 3 days - mine was approved within 24 hours but I would allow much longer as, if it is rejected, you may need to visit the embassy to get one. If you search online you will find stories of people who had their application rejected and they don't know why - issues with the image/document attachments seems most likely.
They vias application asks for a lot of information - I had to phone my mum as I needed to know where my parents were born!
We took too much as we did not realise the staff at the retreat would do some washing for us!
My advice would be to stick to light and comfortable clothing. I wore harem pants with a t shirt. I also kept my knees and shoulders covered. Yes, we live in an international world and you could probably get away with vest tops but it just felt more respectful. We also found that our appearance attracted attention and so why add to that?
You need to visit your local health clinic for vaccinations (I suggest at least a month before you travel). You can get the essentials on the NHS but depending on where you plan to visit you may need to pay for additional vaccinations.
We took our usual travel first aid kit and plenty of insect repellent. The travel clinic GP recommended repellent that contained Deet. Your skin can react badly to that so I would suggest taking a non Deet repellent too. We also took a plug in spray (which we switched on hour before going to bed), some cream and mosquito repellent friendship bracelets that we wore all the time - they smelt of citronella.
Finally, do take plenty of hand sanatiser.
Yes the culture is very different. We attracted a lot of attention but it was friendly and we smiled, were polite and were happy to have our photo taken.
For me there were two things I found strange.
Everyone eats their food with their fingers, fine when it's a wrap or fruit but curry and rice is also eaten this way. The other thing I found difficult to get used to was separate male/female queuing - ironically often leading to one counter with one person serving. I have no idea whether one was served faster than the other.
My favourite culture difference is that everyone takes their shoes off when they go indoors. That was an absolute joy.
We also noticed posters families had paid to put up to celebrate the academic achievements of their children - education is highly valued.
So, my lasting memory is a stay in a lovely, friendly place were people smiled at us and a stay at an amazing retreat where I enjoyed some amazing massages and great yoga. I came home feeling chilled and wanting to plan a trip back.
Author: Sally Pearce (sallyjaneyoga)