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Going on day three of battling a high fever and sore throat so bad tears came to my eyes when I tried to swallow, I was really questioning why the hell I had gone back to India.
And particularly to Rajasthan, the place where I was hassled by guys who I’m positive were trying to run a gem scam, and spent a night sitting on the ground in the desert throwing rocks at dogs who kept circling closer to eat the vomit my friend was spewing violently for hours.
It took me almost six years to feel ready to go back and less than six days to be completely taken down by strep throat and who knows what else. The thing about India though, is that it’s kind of like eating spicy food – part of you is completely miserable while experiencing it, but you also get a rush and once the burning in your mouth (or trauma from too many close calls in a rickshaw) subside you think, “Let’s do that again!”
India is fascinating and, for better or for worse, it makes you feel alive. Nowhere else in the world do you come face-to-face which such extremes of humanity every day or run through a hundred, often conflicting emotions, every hour. You can’t sit back and just be an observer. Even when you try, your mind still races trying to take in everything you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling.
Plus, it’s undeniably beautiful and unlike any place else.
Despite getting sick and only eating butter naan and mango juice for the majority of the trip (which I really didn’t mind), as soon as I had been back in calm, clean Chiang Mai and started going through photos I thought, “Yeah, I’d go again”.
Part of the reason I’d go again, was because I got to experience a really unique yoga retreat run by one of my good friends, Beccah Bartlett of Yogamour Global.
Yogamour focuses on getting yogis to take their practice off the mat and into the world in the form of seva, or selfless service. The non-profit has many projects going at once, but all have to do with helping support marginalized communities in India, Thailand and Myanmar, with access to free dental and eye clinics as well as other health-related services. To do this, Yogamour uses donations and grants to fund the projects while also running volunteer yoga retreats throughout the year in the three different countries to further raise funds and provide on-the-ground support. The retreats, usually held in Jaipur, Chiang Mai, Koh Phangan and Yangon, include daily yoga, meditation and journaling, as well as volunteering in the communities and traveling around the area to experience cultural sites and activities.
If you’re looking for a yoga retreat that’s in a secluded, exotic retreat center or focused solely around your practice and relaxation, these are not for you. But if you want something more active, while giving back and fully experiencing what a destination has to offer, then check out Yogamour Global’s upcoming retreats.
Along with stops in New Delhi and Agra, we spent a week in Jaipur and saw the full range of the city – from volunteering at a small primary school located in a city slum to visiting one of the most high-end hotels – to get a more complete picture of the place. The retreat was also timed to coincide with India’s Holi Festival and included visits to a number of iconic forts, palaces and markets.
India is so huge and historic that even spending a week in the same place, there’s no way you can see it all.
From cycling through New Delhi at 7:00 in the morning to pulling into my old ESL bag of tricks to try and entertain 50 5-year-olds, the trip was full on and was able to give me something I didn’t get my first time in India: the opportunity to connect more with people and see places outside of the backpacker trail. During my first trip to India, it felt like everyone was out to get us and no one could be trusted. By the end of a month of traveling, my friend and I could think of only two people we had met who had actually helped us or appeared to be honest with us. It was exhausting and disheartening.
This time, since Beccah’s been running retreats in Jaipur for years and has created a great community around her, things were different and I didn’t feel as on-guard or untrusting, plus experienced people and places I would have never found on my own.
We celebrated Holi at Yogamour’s in-country coordinator’s house complete with the most delicious home-made food, we met with the mothers of the children in the slum to learn more about their life and what they needed help with, we were driven and guided throughout the week in Jaipur by a man who then had us stop in his village on our way to Agra and treated us to one of the warmest welcomes I’ve seen with garlands, blessings, food and a parade of people following us around as we caught a glimpse of what life was like in the cotton candy-colored village.
Of course, the young students also stood out from the experience, but that’s for another post entirely. Check back next week – I’ll be sharing more about Yogamour Global’s seva work with marginalized communities.