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The Phool Chatti Ashram Experience...

Finally, I'm out of that place - I'm FREEEEEEEEE!
And what am I talking about. Well, I'll just have to tell you it all right from the start, on Sunday, October 26.:
With an open mind, I went to an ashram. I cannot remember whether I've told you all what such an ashram is, so here I go: an ashram, or ashrama as it is called in Hindi,
is a Hindu monastery. In old times, ashramas where sponsored by rich businessmen. I guess these guys paid large sums and in return, they could be more ruthless in their
business - they knew a whole ashramful of monks would be praying for their good health and future place in Nirvana. Don't tell any devout Hindus about these speculations, though.
I'd probably go straight to Hindu Hell for just thinking it! ;o)
Anyway, ashramas where full of pious monks - and in newer times nuns - who were searching for God, the Divine, themselves, etc. Nowadays, ashramas are full of tourist. The do the work of both the business men and the monks: pay loads of dosh to the ashrama and search for God and so on while staying there.
Onwards, the story must go on...
I arrived with an open mind, ready to learn about the different types of yoga and meditation, and maybe even dig a bit into hinduism and spirituality. Close-minded as I am, this would show to be the hardest aspect of my stay, keeping my mind open, rather then closing myself into... myself!

I should maybe explain why, among other things, I was so open-minded. In India it is widely accepted to smoke. Cigarettes are not nearly as popular as paan, a chewing tobacco mixed with different spices and tightly packed into a moist leaf. - the leaf is then chewed and releases nicotin plus betel-juice (from the shredded betelnut which is also put into the paan). Betel is a toxic nut which will make you slightly high if you chew it enough. Paan is therefore extremely popular with the lower castes and the working man. It is a relatively effective painreliever and a nice way to get through the everyday life without suffering too much (or without thinking about it too much, anyway).
Anyway, cigarettes are not very popular. Instead people smoke beedis (a very short and 'charming-looking' cigarette rolled up in leaves) and most of all, charras. Charras is the name for hash over here and charras, my friends, can be bought and therefore smoked and smelled everywhere in India! (actually, sadhus (holy men in search for spiritual uplifting, etc.) will ask you two things when you pass them:
'Harre Om, can you spare a few rupees?' and 'Om harre harre, do you want charras?')

Good, now you know about charras. Some mates and I shared some really bad charras before going to the ashram. So open-minded and slightly giggly (myself, slightly nauseus as well), we got ready for a week of suffering.
We did some yoga (my old knees felt straight away that it'd be a hard week) and then had our first try of chanting, singing, and chanting some more.
A big thing at the ashram (I should say, their main deity was Shiva, the lingam and Destroyer) was chanting and singing about God. During the last week, I've literally chanted/sung for hours about how great and fantastic Shiva is. It was used as a form of meditation - through chanting the mind was emptied of surplus thoughts, letting you relax and "not think" for as long as the chanting lasted.

After the evening chant-sing-song, we had dinner. The meals at ashramas are absolutely not anything to shout and scream about. Breakfast consisted of porridge + two bananas. Lunch and dinner were identical and consisted of rice, dhaal, chappati, raw radish, and a watery vedg-curry. Every single day.
I can say this much in "defence" of the food. The only reason to think about the meals were if you were hungry (cause the food had very little nutrition and you were hungry after a few hours usually). You weren't thinking about how good it was. :)

I must hurry up with my tale:
Every morning and evening we had meditation and yoga. In the morning it was meditation by ourselves - we sat in utter silence at 6 o'clock and tried to leave our bodies behind, and float in utter 'nothingness' - and! battled with our sleepiness so that we wouldn't fall asleep! ;)
In the evening it was a guided meditation session. We tried all sorts, my favorite being one where we had to send out love to someone we liked, someone we didn't care about, someone we disliked, and finally of course, the whole World! :)) It was a positive experience, especially since I couldn't find anyone who I really disliked.

Yoga was good. We did all sorts: laughing yoga, breathing yoga, stretching yoga, etc. I can really feel a physical change after this week, and it's been great to be tired every day - and because you'd been active and not just lazy. Our yoga-guru was called Lalita-ji. She was very into ashram life (of course) and talked a lot about the peace and quiete you gained from it. I turned that aspect of yoga on the head, and made every session an energy-releasing boost. In the start I was crawling out of the yoga hall in pain. By the end of the week, having turned it around, I was almost jumping out, high-spirited and ready for the rest of the day.

Something else we did to meditate, was to go for comtemplative walks in the surrounding area. The Phool Chatti Ashram is situated right down to the Ganga river and the whole area is just sublimely beautiful. We went to nearby waterfalls, bathed in the Ganga, and trekked up and through mountains and jungles. Fantastic.

Lastly, I can tell about the people at the ashram. We were quite a large group, 30 people in all, and... well of course you'll get some different opinions and beliefs coming together. There were Israeli, Dutch, German, Danish,English, Kiwi, Austrian, Russian, and Puerto Rican people and all our different cultures mixed together at the ashram. It was really very cool, and nearly everyone was great. From 5.30am till 1.30pm we weren't allowed to speak.
But as soon as we'd finished our lunch, the talking began and wouldn't stop again til 9 or 10 when everyone went to bed. We had some really good social activities during the last few days, the best being Friday night when we had a big bomfire. We had Indian sweets and chai (tea) and all the different nations had to sing a song. A Russian opera singer gave a great show, so did the Kiwi, displaying a Mauri wardance known as the 'Hakka'. A Dutch fellow sang some songs from back when HOlland was a great nation at sea - songs that the sailors sang on their long trips with the Ost-indische Kompagnie.

The week has left me thinking a lot. All the discussions and profoundly interesting discussions we've had at the ashram have left me wondering about many things - human beings and our need for security, my own beliefs (if I have any), and complex questions of the human mind. The stay has left me confused and bewildered, but wooww, it has also left me happier than I've been for a long time. I feel physically and mentally fit and good, and I feel I can conquer the world, not "only" India. ;o)

Tomorrow, I'm going down to Agra. It'll be quite a trip (12 hours by night-bus), and I won't be staying very long at all. I just want to see the Taj Majal + a few other things at sunrise and sunset, then go on to Pushkar in Rajasthan. The big camel festival is that's been one of the main aims of this trip starts on 10. November. I'm really looking forward to it - and looking forward to getting down to a warm area of India. I know it getting cold in DK and UK, but I can also feel the time of year over here in Uttar Arkhand. It's very cold in the evenings now and I'm very happy I've brought along my sleepingbag this time around.


And so it is that my tale has been told. If you've survive this account and haven't been bored to death, you're more than welcome to drop me a greeting in the guest book-thing. Always good to receive an e-mail once in a while! ;o)

Hope you're all feeling great at home. Put on some thicker sweaters and think of me in the Thar Dessert in Rajasthan in a week - sweating and smelling of camels! :o))

Simon E

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