Upon arrival in Nepal, Kenny and I ran a few quick errands in Kathmandu and then made our way to Ananda Yoga Center, in the hills about 20 minutes outside of town. I had read about the center in our Lonely Planet guide, and we were both eager for a few days of relaxation and asana practice.
What we found when we arrived was different from what we had expected in a number of ways, none of which were necessarily negative:
- Aside from the two of us, there was only one other student at the center. She arrived just minutes before we did, and had registered for the month-long teacher training course.
- The center is run by Sannyasi Shivgiri, an adherent of Bihar Yoga, which is a branch of yoga that was completely unknown to either of us. This wasn’t a problem, just took some time to acclimate.
- The asana practice was certainly more basic than the “Level II” hatha yoga classes that I’m accustomed to from Seattle. However, even over the short time that we spent at the center, we noticed that our teacher ramped up the difficulty level. I suspect that if we had stayed for the full month, the practice would have progressed to a fairly high level of difficulty.
- The accommodations were decidedly basic. A bit more so than we expected. We had been warned to bring a bed sheet and a towel, so this was really not a problem, but it was a surprise initially. Once I discovered the flush toilet down in the common courtyard area, I was much happier about the situation. The water in the shared shower was quite cold, but I coped with that by showering during the hottest part of the day, and only once. ;) This would’ve been more of an annoyance if we had stayed longer, especially because the weather deteriorated after we left.
There were a few things that far exceeded expectations as well:
- We absolutely adored Ganga, our asana teacher. Not only did we thoroughly enjoy her two daily asana sessions (especially once I got past my reservations about the difficulty level), but she made us feel like part of the family in every interaction, especially at mealtimes with the whole extended clan.
- The food was delicious and plentiful. Lunch and dinner always consisted of dal bhat (the national dish of Nepal, namely lentils and rice), but by no means does that mean the meals lacked variety. Every dal bhat was accompanied by a different veg curry, pickle, and some spicy delicious vegetable on the side. Breakfasts consisted of fruit, curd, and some kind of cereal (semolina, corn and wheat, etc.). Ganga and the rest of the family would never be satisfied until we had eaten seconds or thirds of everything.
- 6am mantra chanting turned out to be one of my favorite times of day (never would’ve guessed that one!) The best part of the chanting session was when Shivgiri’s adorable granddaughters would rush in (usually a few minutes late) to join us. They were the most enthusiastic singers of the group.
For dinner on our first night in Delhi, Meera recommended that we try out Khan Chacha, a hole in the wall that serves grilled meats either straight up or as roomali rolls. A roomali roll is meat with onions and yogurt sauce wrapped in a large roomali roti.
There are basically three choices at Khan Chacha – Seekh Kebab (ground mutton), Chicken Tikka, or Paneer Tikka. Normally 1-2 rolls make a meal. Given that this was my last meal before Yom Kippur (and I didn’t really have a proper lunch), I ordered one of each roomali roll. Lauren had the chicken and paneer tikka rolls.
They were absolutely delicious! The Seekh Kebab was the spiciest and got me sweating a bit. The chicken was charred, very flavorful, and medium spiciness. The paneer offered a softer texture variation along with very mild spices.
So far this is my favorite “fast food” in the region, and we’ll be sure to come back on our return trip through Delhi!
The Salim brothers at work making kebabs
Happiness is double fisting Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka rolls
New Delhi, India
Tonight, after our Yom Kippur break-fast, Meera took us to the neighborhood celebration of Dussehra, where the locals celebrate the victory of good over evil on the final day of Navaratri.
We settled into a nice vantage point behind the large crowds, where we could observe the festivities and still make a quick escape at the end. Over the next hour, a parade of characters arrived to act out the story of Rama destroying Ravana and saving his bride.
The whole evening is a build up to the burning of effigies of Ravana and his two brothers.
Rama symbolically shoots an arrow into the effigies to light them on fire. First the brothers go down.
Then the evening culminates with Ravana going down in flames.
We are in Delhi for Yom Kippur. After a delicious (though non-traditional) pre-fast meal of kebab roomali rolls, we headed to Delhi’s sole synagogue: Judah Hyam (note the probably unintentional but brilliant double-entendre of their URL).
The Jewish community in Delhi is a small mix of locals and ex-pats. The service was intimate, and everyone was very friendly. There were a few differences from your typical American services though:
- There was no English during services. Not that there was Hindi either. The entire service was conducted in Hebrew, and there were no sermons to be had.
- The prayer book used was Sephardic. I’d never been to a Sephardic service, but the arrangement and choices of psalms was noticeably different.
- The tunes being chanted (outside of Adon Olam and Oseh Shalom) were completely different then any service I had partaken of. It was similar to my Mom’s descriptions of the Catskills (lots of very fast, guttural Hebrew).
- The torah scrolls were held inside of upright cylindrical boxes. To read the torah, the box was placed vertical on the bimah, the clamshell opened up, and the scroll is read while still vertical.
Hope that everyone had an easy fast and a happy new year!
The next stop on our whirlwind New Delhi tour was India Gate, completed by the British in 1931 to honor the 90,000 Indians who died fighting with the British Empire in World War I and the Afghan Wars.
Our first New Delhi sightseeing stop was an impressive Hindu temple – unfortunately, no photos allowed.
Next was the Bangla Sahib, more commonly known as “the Sikh Temple” by tourists. The temple complex is awe-inspiring, with its beautiful white buildings and golden dome surrounding a large ritual pool. Female visitors are asked to cover their heads (Meera had warned me to bring a scarf) and all are asked to leave shoes at the entrance. Normally the shoe requirement would be no problem, but on this 37 degree day in Delhi, the ground was hot!
We arrived in Delhi at 3:30AM last night, and promptly passed out on arrival at our guest house. Our hostess Meera told us that breakfast was “whenever we woke up”. We made our way downstairs this morning around 10AM and laid out on the table was mango juice, apple slices, and honey.
When we told her how appropriate apples and honey were for a “Days of Awe” breakfast, she was delighted. It proved that we were meant to stay here :)
We’re halfway to Delhi from Shanghai and just finished dinner service. They served a spinach curry with rotis, chutney, and dal. It was possibly they best airline food I’ve ever had (Cathay Pacific is the only other contender), and tastier than most Indian restaurants in Seattle. The businessman sitting next to Lauren said that even though they are often delayed, he always flies Air India because it’s the best meal he’ll get on his way to Delhi.
If the Indians can do this much with an Airbus kitchen, I can only imagine what awaits on the ground over the next few months! :)
Our way to the airport involved my fastest ever land-travel experience. We took the Maglev “demonstration line” that covers 30km nonstop in about 6 minutes:
Our original rough plans are still intact; we’re heading to Delhi for Yom Kippur and a few days of sightseeing. Then we’re off to Nepal for two weeks of R&R.
Seen on a storefront in Suzhou, China:
Let me know if you can explain this one. As far as I can tell, it has something to do with counterfeit pearls.