‘This is it,’ my taxi driver said. He pointed up a steep gravel hill and a path that disappeared into a clump of trees. His car was unable to go any further. From here, I had to walk.
Like the trooper I am, I slung my gear on my back and my day pack on my front and began the steep and slippery hike up to the village of Sedi Bagar.
About two kilometres from the lakeside town of Pokhara, it’s nestled into the hill halfway to Sarangkot, a popular lookout point for watching the sunset over the lake.
I wasn’t going for just the one sunset, though. I was going for at least three.
After my rather traumatic high-altitude trek around Mt Kailash in far-western Tibet only a couple of weeks before, I’d decided that in Nepal I wanted to relax and stay as close to sea level as is possible in one of the countries that lies on the roof of the world.
So once I finally left Kathmandu, like most trekkers I took the bus seven hours to the town of Pokhara. But instead of then making a beeline for the Annapurna mountain range, I had a booking at a yoga retreat.
Once I made it up the hill, refusing offers of assistance along the way from the persistent local entrepreneurs and followed the signs to the retreat, I was greeted warmly by the owners and by the current guests, who were all sitting around a table chatting, drinking chai and eating freshly popped popcorn. I’d arrived at afternoon tea time.
I don’t think I made a great first impression.
I dropped my bags with a grunt and a groan and hobbled over, hunch-backed and aching, to the table. My face was bright red and sweat was beading up and dripping from my forehead and neck.
Luckily, no one really seemed to mind.
I was welcomed warmly into the fold and, at 5.30 the following morning, joined in the daily schedule of activities.
This began with a 30 – 45 minute meditation, where we would wordlessly gather in the chilly yoga room, sit on cushions on the floor and wrap ourselves in yak wool blankets. The meditation was led by the owner of the retreat and involved lots of chanting of mantras and conscious breathing.
Afterwards, one of the girls on the staff would take us for a walk into the hills. The day would already be warming up and we often passed boys or young men taking their buffalo out for a morning walk.
Back at the retreat we would have tea and then yogic cleansing, which involved using a tiny watering can to pour water into one nostril so that it flowed out of the other.
I never got the hang of it, and the warm salty water went down my throat instead. Everyone else seemed to manage it ok.
After yogic cleansing it was finally time for yoga. The morning session was fairly basic and relaxed, whereas the afternoon sessions focused more on flow.
Once yoga was out of the way it was finally time for my favourite part of the day – breakfast of homemade museli, yoghurt and tea. Yum.
The rest of the day was pretty much free to spend it as we liked. This meant reading or journalling in the sunny courtyard, doing washing or occasionally sneaking over to the hotel next door to use the wifi or buy toilet paper.
By lunchtime, we’d usually all end up sitting around the communal table chatting about India. Most of us were either on our way there or had just come through and we delighted in sharing our Indian horror stories.
In the late afternoon we’d be called on to do some karmic yoga, which included things like tidying the garden or sorting bad grains of rice from the good.
Then it would be time for chanting, when the owner’s wife would lead us in drumming and singing mantras, which, once I got over my self consciousness, was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day. I wish I’d made a video or an audio recording – or even copied down the words!
After chanting came more yoga, then dinner. By that time it was dark, the lights that ran the backup generator too weak to read by. So one by one we’d disappear off to bed, ready to start it all again the next morning.
So…how was it?
I stayed for three days and would have stayed much longer if I didn’t have friends waiting for me in Pokhara town so we could cross the Indian border together.
It was my first experience of a yoga retreat and I loved the relaxed and flexible nature of this particular centre.
I would have preferred a stronger emphasis on yoga, but it was the perfect place to chill out after several months of fairly rough and difficult travel. I didn’t come away with any great insights into myself or yoga or meditation, but it was nice to be part of a temporary family and the owners were incredibly welcoming and caring.
It makes a great alternative to trekking in the Nepalese Himalaya, or tacked on to the beginning or end of a trek. It was fairly expensive for Nepal, but not too much different to spending a few days in Kathmandu – about $40/day full bed and board and all instruction. Please get in touch if you’d like the details of the centre.