I have just returned from the most amazing trip to India where I spent just under a fortnight at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Kerala, South India. Being (as I have recently realised) a bit of a worrier, and having not made this kind of journey since my twenties – I read literally every single Tripadvisor review and blog post I could find about the ashram in preparation for my trip and thus I have to say that I knew entirely what to expect from the experience but obviously I did not know how I would feel in this environment.
Yoga has been a part of my life since my teenage years and has always been there for me when I have needed it. In recent years, however, prior to embarking upon my teacher training and ever since, yoga has become central to my every waking moment and the yearning for an authentic yoga experience in India, yoga’s birthplace, has been growing ever greater. I was very fortunate to be given the green light by my family to embark upon this adventure over the school holidays and it did not disappoint.
I chose this ashram on the recommendation of a friend who had travelled there several times previously and trusted their judgement entirely. I have to say I didn’t give much thought to it being a Sivananda yoga ashram, a style that I had not in fact tried before, but I just went with a completely open mind.
[Please note that this is going to be a very in-depth account of my experience – and I will be dividing it into separate blog posts – as I found reading people’s blog posts who had also been to this ashram to be absolutely invaluable in terms of preparing for the trip and want to return the favour for those considering making the same journey in the future, so please bear with me or skip to the parts that interest you!]
The journey there was LONG. I flew from London Gatwick to Dubai, had a relatively short stopover then continued on from Dubai to Trivandrum airport. Flight time was approximately 12 hours but door-to-door it took about 20 hours (21 hours on the way back!) so as you can imagine I was EXHAUSTED upon my arrival at the ashram but soooooooo relieved to finally get there.
Transport from the airport to the ashram was very straightforward. I had actually been feeling a little anxious about this part of the trip but I needn’t have been. Upon arrival at the airport after collecting my luggage and going through the very thorough visa checking area there was a clearly marked “Prepaid Taxi” booth where I was able to book a taxi from the airport to the ashram (as recommended on the ashram website as the tariff is pre-set) without any problem whatsoever. As a side note, it is not currently possible to get rupees before travelling to India – having spoken to other people and to the foreign exchange bureaus in the UK it seems that Indian rupees are a “closed” currency – meaning that you are generally not permitted to take them into India and as such they are not generally offered for exchange here. With this in mind I brought cash (pounds sterling) along with me which I was very easily able to exchange for rupees at the airport (subject to a commission of course) before catching my taxi.
The prepaid taxi area was easy to locate directly outside the airport and a taxi driver came and helped me with my luggage to the car and off we went. It took just over one hour to reach the ashram and cost 950 rupees (just over £10).
Luckily I was completely spaced out on the journey otherwise quite possibly I would have had a heart attack! If you have ever watched any TV documentary about India you have probably seen that they drive a little “differently” to us here. No road rage like here, however, BUT no road rules either, or at least none that I could recognise. Lots of beeping and overtaking and generally near-misses with other cars, auto-rickshaws, people and dogs. Not an awful lot of indicating either and no clear road markings, so lots of almost colliding with on-coming traffic. In addition, people don’t seem to look when they cross busy roads, so a very chaotic experience generally AND YET they seem to know what they are doing. There appear to be unspoken rules which they abide by and a kind of organised chaos. At the end of the day I made it to the ashram safe and sound but it was a unique experience in itself.
Arriving at the ashram, I paid the driver – I did give him a 50 rupee tip although as far as I am aware tipping is not necessarily the norm- but despite my tip unfortunately he didn’t help me with my luggage and so I had to drag it exhaustedly up a steep set of steps into the ashram one bump at a time. Upon arrival the ashram security guard (preventing people from escaping ;-)) let me in and I made my way to reception. It was all very clean and organised and I was immediately given a handful of forms to complete – including health declarations – and paid a deposit of the minimum 3 nights stay. I had to have a brief consultation with the ashram doctor but this basically involved ticking boxes on a form and having my blood pressure taken.
After completing all the necessary red tape I was given my bedding and a pillow and taken to my room. I had opted for the most comfortable room that they had at the ashram costing 1750 rupees a night (approximately £20) located in the Vaikuntam building which was a twin share room with air-conditioning, hot water and private bathroom. I pre-booked this room 4 months in advance as there are only a few of these rooms at the ashram. The other forms of accommodation included twin rooms with private bathroom but without air-conditioning and hot water, then twin rooms without bathrooms and then finally the dormitories which slept about 18 people (single sex only) and which cost 750 rupees a night so quite a difference in cost but this is the option that most of the people staying at the ashram opted for and if you wanted to mix more with people then this would be the better option.
I wasn’t provided with a mosquito net (which would definitely be given in the dormitories) as my room had mosquito screens on the windows BUT after chasing a giant cockroach around my room, noticing there were very large ants crawling all over the walls, realising I had a pet gecko and seeing the odd mosquito managing to get in through the bathroom window I decided to put my own mosquito net up anyway just to enable me to sleep soundly at night without fear of creatures crawling all over me 🙂
My own front door in the Vaikuntam building
Corridor in my building.
My bed complete with mozzie net (which I brought with me). I also had a kettle and fridge.
Very nice bathroom – couldn’t fault it. There was a shower on the wall on the other side which was more than adequate and I was very lucky to have hot water as very few rooms did.
As I arrived on a Friday – which is the official ashram “day off” it meant that there were no commitments for that day that I would be obliged to partake in other than dinner at 6pm and evening Satsang at 8pm. This gave me the much-needed opportunity to settle into my room, unpack and grab a couple of hours sleep before participating in any activities. Even though my room was officially a twin share I had the room to myself for the entire duration. Some people would have enjoyed the extra company and I’m sure it would have been perfectly fine had I had to share the room at any point but for me it worked out perfectly having my own space and being able to be alone when I needed (there were about 200 people at the ashram) and in particular to make the most of any and every opportunity to take a nap! 🙂