I choose the latter. I choose well.
Autumn in the UK is both beautiful and dark, damp and miserable. It’s the perfect time to throw caution to the wind, fill up the rucksack and head for the hills.
I browsed the internet, with a half-baked intent: Somewhere far away and exotic, but affordable (please and thank you universe). My eyes kept being pulled to these words:
8 days Yoga, Meditation and Hiking in Nepal”.
So, go for it. Check out flights, book annual leave, figure out the finances – it’s do-able.
It’s done. It only took a few clicks.
By sheer coincidence I’d arrived at the beginning of Diwali. At the airports, complete strangers wished me a Happy Diwali. It felt like Christmas Eve, and that warm glow-worm of delight filled my belly. It was Diwali – imagine that. Festival of Light! Four flights removed and now I was on the edge of another world – it felt oddly ethereal, as I took in the panorama of the Annapurna range.
My destination was the Shivalaya Yoga and Meditation Centre at Lake Begnas. The little town of Begnas is about a half hour taxi ride from Pokhara – and oh my, what a ride! I was a complete novice to the Nepali road experience, ‘sans seat belts’ and so my heart leapt into my mouth – once, twice, thrice! ‘I’m a survivor right. What could possibly go wrong?’ and nothing did, that was the joy of it.
I’m dropped off at the edge of Lake Begnas. The taxi driver points – “up there” – to a stunning looking edge of forever place. I could have taken the steps, but that would have been too easy – I took the trek less travelled, which as it turned out, was much more interesting and yes, entertaining.
Each stranger I asked “Shivalaya Yoga?” and each friendly face – from small child to ancient octogenarian – points “Up there”.
Now, to reverse a bit, on the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu I got my first ever sight of the Himalayas. I was overwhelmed by the majesty of their crowns and thought I might cry it was so beautiful. On the little, low flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara I saw the Annapurna range for the first time, and was filled with that wonderful child-like sense of wonder – but the best was yet to come.
When I got my first view from Shivalaya across Lake Begnas, the pure-white peaks beyond the rice-terraced hills, I got chills. The purity of light, the way it seemed to stream and cascade from the heavens; the sunsets and sunrises casting cool, delicate shades – pink, orange, blue and purple hues draped across those snowy peaks – if this don’t make your soul soar, nothing will. Just go with it – move with it, breathe, fill the lungs, chill, laugh, cry if the mountains move you to do so. It’s ok. Everything is ok – it’s my first day, and I am filled with an overwhelming sense of peace and well-being – and we haven’t even started the retreat yet!
She is a force of nature, and a beautiful human being. She could not have been more helpful. I am a day early – but she arranged a room for the extra night, meals, and even a couple of extra classes to kick start the experience.
Her smile stretches from ear to ear, her lilting accent a delight to hear, and her light and love radiate magnetically. I feel in safe hands and wonderful company. Most of all, Marija does not take herself too seriously – she has an enigmatic sense of humour. She’s funny and she laughs a lot. She is a joy-maker. I could not have chosen better – all by chance, by sheer luck and good fortune, I am here at Shivalaya, Begnas, Nepal, far from Belfast and the hum-drum rain-sodden streets.
The retreat proper starts on 1st November 2015. We are a small group – but we bond as if by magic. Michelle from England, Steffi from Stuttgart, later Alice arrives from Pokhara. Other yogis and travellers come and go from the centre – it feels as if the whole globe is represented. We are a multi-cultural crew; chatting, storytelling, adventures and experiences – long leisurely breakfasts, delicious dinners with entertaining company, watching those sun sets seep into star-lit nights. Hawks swoop, eagles soar, fruit bats loop the loop.
I have a double bed, cosy cushions, a bedside table, a desk and chair, an en suite with toilet and shower. It’s simple but tastefully done. I could not want for more.
The days start early – but we retire early, relaxed and exonerated from each wonderful day – just the right mix of full on activity and time to relax and check in with the self.
Morning yoga – might start at 6am, or 7 or 8am depending on the day’s agenda – takes place in a beautiful covered but open air studio – overlooking the lakes and mountains. Marija teaches traditional Hatha, with an emphasis on alignment – and her classes are a perfect blend of gentle poses to the advanced – but each individual encouraged to go with their own pace and ability. As someone with a daily home practice, who makes a class whenever I can or when I can afford to do so, I’m by far the least advanced of the group – but I don’t feel disadvantaged or discouraged in any way (which has been the case occasionally at classes – one of the reasons I have preferred to practice at home in the past).
For November, the weather is wonderful - warm mornings, hot afternoons, cool evenings.
Eight days of heaven, bliss, and an all-embracing wonderful experience.
I’d only tasted Nepal, yet I wanted to drink it all in. I made wishes and tossed them out there in the hope that some fly-by fairy godmother might notice.
I fly back to London for a few days – then touch down in Belfast midnight, 12th November. Rain batters the apron, I get the chills. I look forward to the day when I go back up the Nepali hills, and stretch on through this life via a thousand more amazing yoga, meditation and hiking retreats. Bring it on!
19th November 2016