It was my first time visiting India and, honestly, I was a little bit nervous.
I’d heard stories about how overwhelming and hectic it can be (especially as a young female travelling alone), so I made the strategic decision to start in Bangalore, in the south of the country, as I’d heard it wasn’t as full on as Delhi. Luckily, I’d found the perfect trip that started in Bangalore, which meant I could avoid the madness of Delhi airport altogether. But most importantly, I was excited about the Ayurvedic focus of this itinerary, with plenty of mindfulness, yoga and wellness activities packed in.
I was about to head off on a 9-day India: Mind, Body, Spirit trip. Ayurveda is an ancient healing system that has its origins in India and would be informing a lot of the experiences and activities on our itinerary. An Ayurvedic lifestyle looks at overall health and wellness as a fine balance between mind, body and spirit, so despite being over 3,000 years old seems to be more relevant than ever in today’s crazy world!
On the first day of the tour when I met my local leader Usha (who I learned was Intrepid’s first ever female leader in south India!) and the other four women in my group, I knew immediately the trip was going to be amazing.
I have done other group trips before as a solo traveller and sometimes it can take a while to bond with the other people in the group, but on this trip it was instantly apparent that our mindsets was our common ground, despite differences in our age and background. What we had in common was that we all wanted to go on a personal journey that gave us an instant connection on a much deeper level than a normal travel group.
After Bangalore, our first stop was an ashram in Mysore where we met a yoga guru named as Jai. He was everything I had always pictured a yoga guru to be – mid to late 20s with a man-bun (all the ladies loved him!) and his energy was just so calm. As soon as you were in his presence you felt better.
Funnily enough, we were all quite intimidated going in to this first yoga session, because we thought everyone else would be really advanced. There was one lady in her late 50s from Canada in our group who was trained in reiki (a Japanese relaxation treatment used for stress reduction) and was a lifelong hippie, so was practiced with mindfulness but not so much with yoga. And there was another Australian girl in her 30s who was very fit, but didn’t have much experience with meditation. And the rest hadn’t really done much yoga before. It was really nice to be able to learn together but also from each other’s experiences.
One other concern I had before the trip was what to wear for the yoga sessions, but I didn’t need to worry. As long as your knees and shoulders were covered, it was fine and everyone we met was understanding of Western yoga attire, so our tight yoga leggings weren’t an issue.
Next, we went to Wayanad, which is a really beautiful mountainous part of Southern Indian with tea plantations and wild elephants. Here, we met an Ayurvedic doctor called Baba who taught us about how Ayurveda is so engrained in the society and culture in that part of India – for example, if you get sick you would use Ayurvedic remedies as a first point of call, rather than going to a doctor.
That night our accommodation was dorm style, which was really fun all bunking in together. We had a campfire in the evening and then got up early and did a meditation class the next morning and it was a real bonding experience, especially considering we were all solo travellers.
Our next stop was Thrissur, which was probably the highlight of the whole trip for me. We were staying at a proper Ayurvedic retreat, which was a haven of lush grass, yoga nooks and pathways, just tucked away off a little backstreet. Aside from the yoga, one of the more memorable moments at the retreat has to be the Ayurvedic massages we got.
None of us were expecting it to be as full on as it was – it’s definitely not like a Western massage where there is a lot more privacy. It was a full body oil massage with TWO ladies massaging you! In an Ayurvedic massage they drip warm oil on your forehead out of a barrel, the idea being that it drips on to your third eye and it balances and purifies your chakras. The oil is meant to be so good for you that they tell you not to shower for about half an hour afterwards, so your body can absorb all the nutrients in it. Once I let my guard down it was a really good massage and experience.
When we got to our next destination, Kochi, we attended a Kathakali performance and it was quite the experience! Kathakali is a type of traditional Indian theatre that has been going for hundreds of years – the actors get dressed up and do their makeup on stage for the hour beforehand, so you can see how they get ready, which is cool to watch. They act with their eyeballs and hand movements, but no talking. Luckily, we had a guy explain to us what the different movements meant in English before the show started. The show we saw was one hour long, but the traditional performances go for about 13 hours – the actors don’t even break to sleep! There was lots of running around and it was very theatrical like Bollywood but in a stage play. It was honestly really weird but a very cool experience.
The next day, after a morning exploring Kochi’s seaside markets and meeting some of the local fishermen (we even helped reel in a fish!), we headed to a lunchtime cooking class. We all had our own hot plates and were given pre-chopped ingredients, like on a cooking show, to cook a full vegetarian menu. The teacher took us through some basic Ayurvedic teachings for how you should eat based on your personal needs and gave us great alternatives. For me, I try to avoid spicy foods, so she gave me alternatives, so I could cook without chilli.
Spicy food overall was something I was worried about before going to India, but I shouldn’t have been! Everywhere we stayed, the food was cooked for us – it was mainly vegetarian curries (although sometimes there was chicken) and different breads like naans and chapatis, as well as endless amounts of chai tea and desserts. We were really well catered for, especially those of us with dietary requirements. As someone with zero spice tolerance, I felt very well looked after.
This trip opened up my mind to the world of Ayurveda and there are so many little things that I have taken away from this trip that I will apply to my everyday Western city lifestyle back home. Being present and actively using each of our five senses during activities like yoga or eating a meal seem like small changes to make but the actual difference you will feel is endless and will be a lifelong journey for me.
Do you want to nurture yourself in India? Book a place on our 9-day India: Mind, Body, Spirit trip today.
Hero image by Damien Raggatt.