Ashwath N Hegde, Dharmasthala.
It was the night of the 14th of March, 2015. We sat in the Mangalore Junction railway station, a group of young boys and girls from a Yoga Institution, chosen to represent their University at a National Yoga Championship, eager to demonstrate their hard-earned skills and abilities to the world. We were soaked in our own sweat (and some blood, courtesy Mangalore Mosquito Union). At exactly 8:30 pm the Kerala Samparka Kranthi Express rolled lazily into the station, blowing its horn and sending waves of relief through our minds, waiting to escape the sweltering heat of the Deccan Coastline in peak summer. You know, they say that around Ugadi, the sun shines the hottest on India? Well, in Mangalore, it’s pretty much Ugadi all year round.
The train pulled to a stop, and thirteen of us shoved our way through the crowd into the train, onto our seats. A woman sitting next to us asked us where we are from, and we proudly answered, “We are the Yoga team representing Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Bengaluru, in the National Yoga Competition at Haryana, which is going to be held in a few days.”
Six boys, six girls (don’t get any ideas now!) and our coach, Dr. PR Krishna Murthy, former International Yoga Champion 1995 and National Yoga Sports Coach & Referee Grade – A (YFI), had been training hard for months now, with many hours of intense yoga practice every day, apart from all our other work. I’m doing my BNYS (Bachelor of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences) internship at SDMCNYS (SDM College of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences), you see, which in itself is a hectic full-day schedule.
Phew. Let me go on with the story now:
The 42-hour long train journey to Kurukshetra, Haryana, was, to cut a long story short, LONG! Phew. We had amazing fun on the trip though. Countryside meadows, farms and forests flew past us, bringing various kinds of scents and emotions with them. Our respite was the two decks of cards we had with us, and a few other creative games we thought up along the way. Like the countryside scenes, time flew by.
We slept well in the train, and woke up late in the morning, in time for breakfast. Our hostel cooks had lovingly packed us huge parcels of chapathis with generous helpings of pickle and chutney powder. Unfortunately for me, I am not accustomed to eating chapathi regularly. Eaten once or twice, it does not create too much of a problem, but I could not eat just that the whole day! Recently, at the SDM Yoga and Nature Cure Hospital (SDMYNCH) where I’m interning, I had the opportunity to deliver a talk on salt, sugar and wheat, and how detrimental they are to our health, causing a wide range of diseases from the likes of indigestion to diabetes to cancer even. As you could imagine, after learning about wheat in depth for this talk, I could not digest these chapathis well, nor did they sit too well with my mind. One day passed with us eating just chapathis. Technical difficulties had prevented us from carrying any other food that day.
The next day, I woke up praying for some fruits, or even just some vegetables! Thankfully, a vendor selling some chopped vegetables came by on the train. I bought some from him and ate them happily. In my mind, I had now eaten enough fiber after eating what could pass as ‘rubber’ to me. The sad news is, even that fiber was not enough to broom out the poop the next day, because the ‘rubber’ I had eaten had sufficiently blocked my intestines!
In the evening on March 16th, we reached Kurukshetra. What poetic justice for a yoga competition to be held on the same ground that Shri Krishna expounded the Bhagavad Gita, describing the different forms of Yoga to Shri Arjuna, preparing him to fight the War of the Mahabharatha in the name of Dharma!
Kurukshetra was cold. It must have been around 15 degrees Celsius. We hurried to reach our accommodation. When we went in search of dinner, I fell in love with the oranges. Fresh, cheap and some of the best oranges I’ve ever eaten – at just Rs. 25 per kg! I ate nearly a kilo of oranges and a big glass of carrot juice, hoping for a normal potty next day. When I woke up the next morning, my bowels seemed a little unsure and indecisive on the potty matter, so I decided to take an enema. Ah.. It was wonderful. God has hidden pleasure in all kinds of excretions. One thing I have observed is, whenever I take an enema, the day will be wonderful. I feel very energetic. For this, and for emergency use, I always carry an enema can with me on tours.
The tournament was finally here. We attended the inaugural function and got together in the evening for a final practice session before our performance the next day. For dinner, everyone had very light food with plenty of fruits. If we had eaten a heavy meal, it would have been very difficult for us to perform yogasanas, and we would have serious trouble during the kriya round of the championship.
At 6 am sharp on 18th morning, we were ready in the championship ground for the Kriya competition. For girls, the kriyas to be performed were Jala Neti, Sutra Neti and Jalakapalabhathi. For boys, they were Jalakapalabhathi, Vastra Dhauti and Nauli Kriya.
Jala Neti consists of passing a pot of warm saline water through one nostril and letting it flow out of the other nostril, with a tilted head. That’s the easiest one. For Sutra Neti, you need to pass a rubber catheter into your nostril and remove it from your mouth – without coughing or sneezing. In the Jalakapalabhathi performance, we take a mouthful of water and bring it out through our nose, like two jets of water. Nauli Kriya consists of isolating the abdominal recti muscles and churning them.
These are relatively simple.
The really tricky one is Vastra Dhauti. Unlike the therapeutic version of the same, to even qualify in the competition, you need to eat a 6 metre long, 8 cm wide cotton cloth in under three minutes! With our practice and our coach’s guidance, all of managed to do it well.
Our next challenge was to perform advanced, difficult yogasanas wearing just a pair of shorts in 5 degree Celsius temperature. We could hardly take our shoes and gloves off. Fortunately, our turn came around 2pm, by which time we were able to warm up and practice enough stretching. We went on to the stage, did our best and were satisfied and pleased with our performance.
After the competition, we were free for two days. The travel bug caught us, and we excitedly planned to roam around to the nearby places.
This part of the trip was something I hadn’t expected. One of my biggest dreams was coming true! We were headed to the ice capped mountains of Kufri, near Shimla. As soon as we reached there, we had another pleasant surprise!
Horses were the only mode of transport to go to the mountain peaks there. I gingerly sat on one of the friendliest-looking horses. Ah! It felt great, like a prince, a hero on horseback! It was brown, my favorite color when it comes to horses. The child in me instantly named him Browny. I kept on talking to Browny all the way to the top. The path was in terrible condition. It was a black muddy shitty watery path with lots of stone. The poor horses. I don’t know how many times they go up and down every day, on a path where a normal human being can hardly walk. I asked one of the guides there, ”Why is the road in such a pathetic condition?”. He answered with a grin, “Saab, otherwise, there wouldn’t be any horses. Everyone would take their own vehicles and we would be forced into unemployment.” I laughed, reflecting on how difficult life must be for these horseback guides and the people living in these mountains.
We reached the peak around 12 noon. Things were going in a flow, in sync with the people around us. Mischievous as I am, I wanted to put a stop to that calmness and normalcy, and get people to break free and enjoy themselves.
Finally an opportune moment came. We reached a temple and took a break for a few minutes. Seeing the snow lying all around us, I couldn’t resist myself. I quickly shoved my hands into the snow. I was in for a cold shock! I thought it would be as soft as cotton, but it wasn’t. It was like cold sugar crystals. I quickly made a snowball and threw it at Deepashree. Surprised, she turned back with a shout, grinned when she saw what was happening, and joined in the snow fight! We played until we were thoroughly satisfied, and were so caught up in our game, we didn’t even bother to eat lunch.
Once again, we were on our way. This time, we had to maneuver a steep, slippery slope. The snow kept getting into our boots. It was painful, but the fun we were having made us oblivious to it. We took so many photos. Sleeping on the ice was one of the best experiences we had, even though I could hardly lie down for a minute, lest I freeze! We reached a point where we saw the sun, but we couldn’t feel our hands and feet. We were full of wonder and praise for the soldiers and others who worked in places like these. Around 4pm, we were back in our vehicle.
The two other places we visited that are worth a mention here are the Rock Garden and Rose Garden. Nobody who visits Chandigarh can afford to miss these! The Rock Garden, Chandigarh, is full of beautiful sculptures and installments created only with waste materials – holders, broken tiles, bangles, weirdly shaped rocks, and the like. Some of the sculptures took our breath away.
The rose garden was a titillating experience. Imagine walking into a garden filled with nearly all the kinds of roses that exist. Smelling a single rose itself makes one close his or her eyes and get transported to a different world. The aroma that hit us when we walked into this garden, well… Simply unbelievable. If you want to fall in love, my friends, this is the place to go.
All too soon, we were on our way back. It had been an experience of a lifetime, with all my friends and Yogis – Deepashree, Shobhith anna, Prabhu anna, Adithya, Arun, Kaushik, Chaithra, Kusuma, Annu Pallavi, Vinaya, Vishaka, and Chethan anna managing all of us! I don’t know what can beat days-long train journeys with some of your best buddies, riding horseback on snow capped mountains, a garden of roses filling all your senses, snow fights with strong-bodied athletes, a treasure trove of memories and what I will call Minimal Clothing Yoga in freezing temperatures in the very spot where the Dictums of Yoga were laid down by a Divine soul.
It isn’t without a heavy heart that I departed from Kurukshetra with the team, but I’m looking forward to go back to where my heart resides – Ujire, deep in the Western Ghats, filled with the chirping of so many birds that I cannot even identify all of them, the place where I learnt about Yoga and about Naturopathy, where the patients and the doctor are busy healing themselves and others respectively, by the Power of Nature. My deep gratitude to our principal, Dr. Prashanth Shetty, Dean of Yoga department, Dr. Shivaprasad Shetty, Physical Education Director, Mr. Dharmendra Kumar, our coach, Dr. PR Krishna Murthy and RGUHS University for having made this trip possible. We are all now looking forward to go back, yes, despite the sweltering heat!
Here’s to a whopping, amazing, marvelous tour! I do hope I get the chance to return to Kurukshetra next year, and go exploring again.
The author, Ashwath N Hegde, is currently doing his internship as a Doctor of Naturopathy and Yoga, at SDM College of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences. He is an avid practitioner of yoga and a budding doctor. His passion in life is to teach people the real meaning of Yoga, enabling them to experience it for themselves. Ashwath can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you can’t wait to talk to him, you can call him right away at +918749071567.