Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Holi One Festival of Colors, Ashrams, Meditation and Yoga in India

Namaste Bloggers (which means, Hello Bloggers in Hindi),

There’s a lot you need to consider before just jetting off to India, saying you want to be at an ‘ashram,’ and you want to ‘meditate’ ; ‘do yoga,’ and ‘attend the Holi One Festival of Colors.’

Firstly, make sure you know what The Holi One Festival of Colors really is and why it is celebrated. It is so much more than just a festival to chuck colored powder (gulal) all over each other! 

The festival is symbolic to the victory of good over evil - this is the more ancient, religious belief on Holi. 
The night before Holi, bonfires will be lit which correspond to a story about a demon king called Hiranyakashipu and his evil sister, Holika
Hiranyakashipu demanded that everyone worshiped him but his own son, Prahlada, didn't agree. He worshiped another, Vishnu
This, of course, made Hiranyakashipa furious. He subjected his son to endless cruelty but nothing deterred Prahlada away from his faith. 
Then, one day, Prahlada's evil aunt, Holika, deviously tricked Prahlada to sit on a pyre (a build up of combustible material that is often used to burn corpses,) with her. She had a shawl wrapped around her that made her immune to fire while Prahlada did not. 
Even so, once the fire was roaring around them, the cloak was suddenly ripped from Holika and encased Prahlada, protecting him from the fire. 
Inevitably, Holika died in the fire and Prahlada survived. 
Vishnu then appeared and killed Prahlada's father, Hiranyakashipu - hence the festival and bonfires being symbolic to the victory of good over evil. 

By throwing the powder over each other an opportunity to forget people's differences is formed. 
Race, sex and religion are forgotten;  discrimination broken. 
It celebrates Spring by letting go of the gloominess from Winter and embracing the new colorful season.

Holi is also a time to rid yourself of all mistakes, mend relationships, forgive and forget. 

The Holi One Festival is celebrated all throughout India and each different city or village has their own traditions for it. So firstly, I’d suggest researching the places that the festival is held to establish which way of celebration you are most drawn to.

There are so many fascinating places in India that host the festival and each have unique quirky things that make that celebration different and special. However, one place stands out to me more than all the others:


Delhi hosts the Holi Cow Festival which is a more modern twist on the annual event. There is a music festival along with the colored powder throwing. 
It takes place in the backpackers hotspot, 'Paharganj.' 
Tickets for this particular festival range from 1500-2000 Rupees (R272.79 - R363.71) or alternatively for a more luxurious experience (welcome drinks, private lounges etc,) you can expect to pay up to 3000 Rupees (R545.57).

I really didn't expect to be drawn to such a major state. On the contrary I thought I'd be the sort of girl to venture off into the heart of Mathura and Vrindavan, temple towns with a more traditional way of celebration. 

Another place that celebrates the Holi Festival of Colors is Jaipur. 
Their festivities sound incredible with elaborately painted elephants and games. I am skeptical about visiting Jaipur for the festival though as some years the elephants do not make an appearance - and I'm not sure how I'd feel about seeing the elephants being used in such events. 
I guess I'd have to research it further to be able to make a more knowledgeable comment.  

To me Delhi sounds so wonderfully enticing. Of course there's some unavoidable things there such as the 'Delhi-Belly,' but this is why it is so important to do your research before packing your bag and boarding that airplane.  In India, it is advisable to stick to eating freshly cooked foods and avoiding raw veggies and fruits that could have been washed with dirty water. Even though it's blistering hot, don't put ice cubes in your beverages either. These little tips could really save your trip to Delhi - the last thing you need is to be suffering with a bad stomach for the duration of your stay there! Not fun.

A few lovely things you could do while in Delhi is visit the upscale Khan Market, which is in the center of New Delhi. This is very close to a beautiful green park called Lodhi Garden which you can picnic in after a stroll through the market. There is some wonderful history to  be seen in the park such as the tombs of the Lodhi Emperors. There's also a restaurant there where you can have tea and lunch - this is a lovely break away from the hustle and bustle. 

In Delhi there is also an abundant amount of cultural centers where you can attend art exhibitions, live-music and so much more. The list is endless on the delights that await you in Delhi. All you have to do is look past the intimidating and admittedly daunting demeanor.

I guess if you're lucky you could travel around and experience as many places as you can - but as much as that would be fabulous, I am only interested in a day or two at the festival. The rest of my trip to India (the first of many, I hope,) will be spent meditating and stretching in awkward and painful positions (hey! I'm new at this...) in an ashram. Perhaps devote myself to silence for a while - I don't know. I just have this force driving me to India to grow and learn, to discover and gain inner peace.

You'll never be able to see all of India in one trip... not even a long, extended one. So my advice to you would be to make a list of the things that are the top priorities for you while you're there. 
For instance, a huge tourist attraction is The Taj Mahal

This is in Agra, Uttar PradeshIt costs about 750 Rupees (R134.00) to see and this is one of the most expensive attractions you'll find. From Delhi it's about a 2 hour train ride. There's a morning train called the 12002 Bhopal Shatabdi that costs 370 Rupees (R66.00) which included air conditioning (score!) This train departs at 06h15 and arrives in Agra at 08h15. The only day that this train doesn't run is on a Friday.
There are other popular trains too, I've just mentioned the fastest morning train for you to consider. 
After your visit to Agra, you'll need to catch a train back if you aren't planning on staying. The 12001 NDLS Shatabdi is the quickest train from Agra to Delhi and leaves at 20h30, arriving at 22h30.
Again, there are other modes of transportation available to you - but the trains are wonderfully air-conditioned, seated and convenient. 

Once you’ve decided where you want to go you can start worrying about accommodation. 

There is a wonderful guesthouse called Thikana in South Delhi, should ashrams not be completely your style then this is a marvelous place to book into. With the incredible decor and friendly hosts, you can't go wrong. 

If you’re like me though and want to experience an ashram for yoga, meditation and spirituality, then it’s important to know what type of yoga and meditation you either do or are interested in doing.   

Different ashrams will cater for different styles of yoga / meditation practice.

This is a list with very brief summaries of the different styles of yoga you can choose from. Find the one that best suits you:

1. Anusara

Anusara means 'flowing with grace.'
This style of yoga is perfect if you are interested in working on both your physical and spiritual well-being as it is beneficial for the body and the mind.
It is based on the philosophy that all people in the world are inherently good, allowing you to let your goodness shine through as you open your heart.
Doing Anusara will teach you about the Universal Principles of Alignment.

These classes are usually very fun and filled with positive-energy.
As this class encourages the use of props it is easy for people at all levels to join.

2. Ashtanga 

Ashtanga means 'eight limbs,' in Sanskrit and is a style of yoga often seen as covering all aspects of yoga.

It is also well-known as being the more modern form of classical Indian yoga.

It is a more 'athletic' form of yoga and is often described as intense. You need to be made aware that Ashtanga will be physically demanding - leaving you hot and sweaty with its fast-pace.
Flexibility is a priority for Ashtanga.

This form of yoga is perfect for you if you like your independence and also if you like structure and order in your life as the poses are done in a certain sequence that you must follow. As you move through each pose you will also be encouraged to focus on breathing.

Ashtanga is very similar to Vinyasa yoga.

3. Bikram 

Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? There's a line Lindsay says in that movie about why she loves maths so much: "Because it's the same in every country." 

Well... this is true with Bikram yoga too. Rest assured that there will always be consistency in this form of yoga.

There are 26 postures and 2 breathing techniques no matter where you go for Bikram Yoga, which are all done in the space of 90 minutes in an artificially heated room, which encourages you to sweat. As in Ashtanga yoga, there is a sequence to be followed in the poses but they differ from those in Ashtanga.

It is a challenging style of yoga which is great for flushing out toxins from the body as well as managing your weight.

This style of yoga is incredibly popular and therefore is easy to find no matter where you go.

4. Hatha

All yoga styles are genres of Hatha Yoga so to speak.

If a class is described as Hatha Yoga then expect a very gentle class introducing you to the very basics of yoga postures.

You won't break a sweat in Hatha Yoga as in other styles but will still leave feeling calm and loosened.

Hatha Yoga is perfect for beginners.

5. Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is very similar to Bikram and is done in an artificially heated room which encourages you to sweat more than you ever have before. The only real difference is that hot yoga style deviates from the sequence structured by Bikram yoga and therefore must be called a different name.

The heat in the rooms help with your flexibility and is fantastic for detoxifying the body.

6. Iyengar

This style of yoga is very precise, showing great attention to detail and is done very carefully. Each pose will be attended to until the perfect posture is found. Props like blocks, straps and ropes are encouraged in order for each pose to be done correctly.

The poses are held longer than in other styles of yoga so that the teacher can closer look at the subtleties of each pose, carefully paying attention to the alignment of each asana (posture).

Should you suffer from an old injury, Iyengar is most likely the most suitable style for you as the teachers undergo comprehensive training and can give you knowledgeable training.

7. Restorative

If you are in serious need of some relaxation or to ease off some anxiety, then this style of yoga is definitely for you.

With the use of props for each pose, you don't need to put any effort in but still experience the benefits of the poses that can be held for as long as ten minutes. It is gentle and passive, some say even more rejuvenating than a nap!

8. Vinyasa

Vinyasa is the Sanskirt word for, 'Flow,' and often Vinyasa yoga is called Flow Yoga.
Like Hatha, Vinyasa describes many different styles of yoga.

Basically, Vinyasa lets you flow into sun salutation poses while synchronizing your breathing accordingly. Music is often played to keep up the energetic feel of the class.

No two Vinyasa classes are the same so if routine isn't really your thing and you enjoy challenging yourself physically then this is the style for you.


This is a list with very brief summaries of the different styles of meditation you can choose from. Find the one that best suits you:

1. Guided Visualization 

Guided Visualization is often done while listening to a CD, helping you imagine a certain image or an imaginary setting. This form of meditation is fantastic for optimizing your creativity. 

It does not focus on the breath is any certain way but rather to create a stress-free, blissful place to 'visit.' 
I find that this kind of meditation helps a great deal to slow your thoughts down, allowing you to really focus something else instead of letting all the other jumbled thoughts in your head in.  Another great benefit is that it makes you focus on a positive thought or place. 

2. Heart Rhythm Meditation

This is a very different sort of meditation from all others and is not in any way transcendental. Where other forms of meditation focus on lifting your energy upwards, Heart Rhythm Meditation focuses on bringing it down towards the heart. 
Most meditations help relieve stress from you mind, body and spirit where as Heart Rhythm Meditation is intended to help you DEAL with it. 

This exercise requires you to become conscious of not only your breathing but also your heartbeat. 

3. Kundalini

Kundalini is a Sanskirt word meaning, 'Snake.'

"Kundalini" refers to a type of energy that lays dormant at the base of the spine, in the first chakra of the body.

This energy can be released during life-threatening situations. It is an explosion of power surging throughout the body and can give you the strength to do what you need to do in life-threatening situations. 
It can also be released by having an orgasm.

The goal of Kundalini Meditation is to become aware of that specific energy rising, and to ride this stream of energy to infinity. 

Kundalini Meditation and Yoga is a combination of posture, breath and chanting. It is not a heart-based meditation. 

4. Vipassana Meditation (Mindfulness)

Vipassana means 'to see things as they really are.' 

This is one of the most popular styles of meditation as well as being one of India's most ancient forms of it.

It focuses on 'being present.' You need to let whatever thoughts come into your head in freely, but then practice detaching yourself from those thoughts.
While doing this, you must focus on your breath.

You become very attentive while doing Vipassana Meditation.

This comes from a Buddhist tradition.

5. Qi Gong 

This Chinese form of meditation has a powerful healing system involving a combination of slow, graceful movement and breathing techniques. It involves focusing on circulating, cleansing, and strengthening the life energy (Qi). 

People often call this kind of meditation, 'Chinese Yoga.'
It is important to know that there are thousands of different types of Qi Gong meditation. 

You do a lot of inner work on yourself when practicing Qi Gong. 
As it teaches you to control your reactions to stress in particular, it is a wonderful way of finding a very tranquil state of mind.  Stress leads to many things such as high blood pressure, anger, anxiety etc so this is a great preventative.
Stress can also age you - so this anti-stress meditation is also proven to be anti-aging!

Avoid eating for a half hour before practicing Qi Gong as this can weigh your system down.

6. Trance-Based Practices

In the style of meditation, your state of mind is completely induced by someone else and you have little to no self-control. 

This style is often guided by music, drugs and hypnotism accompanied by a more shallow breathing technique.  

If you are searching for spiritual growth, I would strongly advise against Trance-Based Practices. 

7. Transcendental Meditation

This is a non-religious practice that requires you to sit comfortably, close your eyes and use a silent mantra twice a day.
No life-style changes are needed to practice Transcendental Meditation. 

Instead of focusing on breathing, in this form of meditation you are told to focus on the mantra. 

It is said that this form of meditation can improve not only your focus on a whole but also your job performance too. It can increase your overall calmness, creativity and so much more. 
You can treat anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder with this form of meditation. 

It is taught one-on-one by a certified teacher.

If you're South African and are looking to find the closest teacher in your area, take a look HERE to see where you can go.

8. Zazen

In Zen Buddhism, Zazen literally means, 'Seated Meditation.'

This meditation is often done over long periods of time and without much instruction. It focuses more on basic posture (straight but comfortable back, sitting cross-legged,) and does not have any particular attention to the breath.

This form of meditation is difficult to both learn and make progress with. You must let thoughts and ideas pass through you without becoming involved with them.  
It is a study of the self. 


In short, meditation is basically a method that we use in order to have flourishing attention. 

After doing extensive research into what style of yoga and meditation would be most suitable for me (read more about that HERE) I had established that I...

A) Wanted to go to Delhi for the Holi One Festival of Colors
B) Had chosen Vinyasa and Bikram Yoga
C) Planned on dedicating myself to either Guided Visualization Meditation or Transcendental Meditation (eventually... although I have been practicing Zazen Meditation for a short while as that is all I have found that is available to me right now with a certified teacher)...

I could begin really planning my travels!

There is something very important to factor into all of this planning though. 


Don't build your travel adventure up so much that you leave no room for surprises and changes. 
I don't want to say that Delhi is DEFINITELY where I'll be. That could very easily change in a heartbeat... on a 'whim.'
You need to open yourself up to the chances and possibilities. 

India will change you, if you let it. So let go - and embrace it. 

As a few friends of mine have been lucky enough to travel to India and stay in Ashrams already, I was able to ask them for some advice:

My friend, Chett, author of Breaking Free, mentioned that some ashrams are free! Again, I haven't been able to research too much into this yet but I'm guessing you do things around the ashram (wash dishes, scrub floors,) to earn your room and board. 
Chett said that other ashrams can get quite expensive and warned me to beware of this. 

He mentioned the Ramana Maharshi Ashram in Tiruvannamalai (about a 37hrs drive from Delhi...) which most 'tourists' shudder... I hate that word... LOVE going to because of its spiritual vibe. 

However, you can only spend 3 days in this ashram. 

Then he told me about the Sai Baba's Ashram in Puttaparthi which is also far away from Delhi (See what I mean? Delhi might not be the most ideal spot after all! I'm sure there will be plenty of villages with different celebrations for the Holi One. It doesn't necessarily HAVE to be in Delhi! Keep an open mind and make sure wherever you go is convenient for you to be able to see as much as possible... or save up much more than originally anticipated for travel expenditures!). 

At Sai Baba's Ashram it is only 100 Rupees a day (R20.00)

Amritapuri Ashram situated in the small fishing village, 'Parayakadavu' in Kerala is on my MUST DO list when I head over to India too. This is also HOURS away from Delhi.

Amma is an incredible spiritual leader and guru that I learnt a lot about through Chett's book and ever since reading about her it's been high up on my bucket list to meet her. 
She says that her religion is love... which I think is beautiful.

She has dedicated her life to alleviating pain and suffering from others.
People travel from all over the world to get a hug from Amma as it is said (and proven) that her hugs can heal you from your physical and emotional pain. 
It is about R 60.00 to stay at her Ashram per night.

Just be warned that Amma isn't always at her Ashram so if seeing her is important to you then do some research first before trekking all the way there and missing her. 

View from the Amritpurri Ashram

Chett also did say that as far as he knows, most ashrams are the kinds of places that you can literally just rock up and stay at without needing to book in advance. 

There are no direct flights from Delhi to the above ashrams but there are modes of transportation to help you reach your destination such as the Spicejet, which is a low cost airline. This will get you closer to where you need to go and from there you can take Indica (a supermini car) to your destination. 
So make sure you tuck away enough for the trips and transport costs that you will definitely be doing while there if you want to experience India to the fullest. 

While we're on the topic of cash.... you should get used to bartering before heading off to India. I was lucky enough to learn how to barter while staying in Phuket, Thailand a years ago. Almost everything in India is up to negotiation. Don't feel guilty about it because it is in their culture to barter. Be firm. If the price doesn't lower to one that you're happy with then take your business elsewhere because there is NO doubt that you will find the exact same thing elsewhere for half the price, whether is be clothing, food or even taxi fares and accommodation costs. Nothing is a fixed price unless you're in a real store that has the price printed beside the product. 

Now let's move on to fashion, ladies! We all know how important style is to us - but it's important to the Indian culture too. Make sure that you cover your shoulders and legs, especially when entering a sacred place such as a temple. The temperatures are high there so buy a few loose fitting, cotton clothing because although this covers you up, they also keep you cool more than your tighter fitting items. You can really have some fun getting Indian-style clothing too, this shows that you are embracing the culture and it also makes it easier for you to blend in.  

Here's a question I've been asked lately:

'Is India really where you'd want to go on HOLIDAY?! It's DIRTY!' 

Here is the right way to answer this when people try to tell you how filthy and how 'un-holiday-like' India is:

'India isn't a holiday. 
India is where you go to transform. 
You will never be the same once you've visited India. 
It awakens you. 
It challenges you. 
It helps you grow and learn and experience.' 

Oh right, and just in case you're wondering about my little India trip and regular travel rambles - Bali is definitely still happening next year too. That trip will be with my handsome bearded fellow.. but first there will be India which will be just for me and perhaps a girlfriend or two - a time to reflect and grow and learn.

I'll end this with a quote:

"I don't know what the question is.. but I know that travel is the answer"

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  1. I would like to visit India and people who said ''it's dirty'' or something like that are not wanderlusts at all.

    1. I agree completely - it's all part of the experience.

  2. Wow! Nice post, I love travelling :)

  3. Cool Post, great informations and photos:D

  4. Wow! Sounds like quite an adventure and experience.

  5. When I was younger it was my big dream to visit India. I hope I will go here someday, and of course see the Taj Mahal.

  6. Lovely post! India has some beautiful places that I would love to visit.

    I saw your comment about reviewing your books - I would love to, if you would like, you can email me at :)

  7. I think India is a magic country and even though i do not like the air there ( a lot of pollution) but with the rich history and some strange yummy food also yoga i think it is worthy to travel around.

    Hello i am a writer and blogger who covers fashion and culture

    1. I agree - you find beauty in negative spaces. Not that India is negative, but so many people choose to solely focus on the bad.. like the dirt and pollution. It's not fair on such a majestic country

  8. It's so interesting to read about the real background history of these rituals! In Germany it has become a new trend to celebrate Holi Festival of Colour Parties, but sadly the purpose is to get drunk, party and throw exploding colour bags at each other :-/

    1. Yeah unfortunately that's what it has become pretty much everywhere so I thought it would be nice to share with everyone what the celebration is REALLY about..

  9. That looks so awesome, I def want to go to one, it reminds me of the colour run

    check me out

    1. Exactly - I think this is where the colour run originates x

  10. love your blog, gives me a really warm feeling.
    peacefull I guess.
    looking forward to see more


  11. Thank you for this great article about India. Tiruvannamalai is one of my favorite places to go and we walk around the mountain on a Full Moon Night which just rejuvenates us spiritually.

  12. Excellent Travel Blog & very nice pics.. Thanks for all your effort marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back from now on. I want to encourage that you continue your great job, have a nice day.If you are interested, here is some for my information too open it Travel Agents in delhi


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