Daryll retreats to the Himalayan Foothills
When do you start on that bucket list? At the top of mine was yoga in India, to immerse myself in a kind of spiritual calling that has been knocking at the door for some time. So no time like the present, I proposed a sabbatical from my role as Culinary Director at Thyme and with the kind blessings of our leader, Mrs H. ... I packed-up English life and decamped to Rishikesh where 'The Himalayan Yog Ashram' became my new home for a month.
Set in India's northern state of Uttarakhand, Rishikesh sits at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains alongside the River Ganges. A pilgrimage for those seeking spiritual enlightenment also made famous from the Beatles time here in the 60's. This seemed like the obvious place to me. I might have opted for a glorious beachside location, palm trees and ocean views, but I knew I had real work to do. We studied hard, practiced yoga and meditated every day. Free from the distractions of our usual daily life no INSTA anything!! Facebook, emails, texts, phone calls and the World Wide Web all off limits for a whole month. These were house rules, if we seriously wanted to embrace this opportunity.
A strict but happy program. Up at 5am and in bed by 8pm. Not always possible in the real world but this was the ideal world! Ram, our guru and mentor, threw his all into his teachings and expected the same commitment in return. The whole idea of getting to know ourselves ‘warts and all’ could only be achieved this way. Meditation is not just daydreaming of blue skies and butterflies. It's hard work to sit in absolute stillness. My spine was on fire for the first week and only then could I start to ‘still’ my mind. Forget the therapist, MEDITATION is where we all need to be... some days it's your friend, other days it is not. But it will ultimately help your wellbeing and mental state to cope with everything that life has to throw at us.
The Ashram at Rishikesh is a small, clean and comfortable space, it didn't offer any luxuries but that's the intention. We only left the space for a Sunday walk to one of the mountain waterfalls amongst a jungle full of butterflies, monkeys and to my delight wild curry leaves. The swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall was unimaginably special. After a week of total immersion in the ‘self’, a walk in nature brought the senses alive. It was paradise.
I’m a chef and food is at the very heart of what we do at Thyme, so what I was to eat for the month was obviously on my mind. The Ayurvedic approach to diet is not only food related though, it is more of a philosophy of life. Dating back over 5,000 years from the time of the Vedas, it might be thought of as an art. Your whole being is assessed from your body shape, personal traits, taste addictions 'sweet/sour/salty’, through to the size of yours eyes. Your constitution also realised through pulse, tongue and blood pressure. The five great elements Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space are condensed into the Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha; all of which should be in harmony for health and wellbeing … so if one is out of whack then you have a problem. You can be any one of these three with a little or none of the other thrown in. It came as no surprise that I am almost totally Pitta the fire and water element. Usually medium in height, weight and endurance; we can be irritable, the fire element can make us impatient. I know it sounds like the mumblings of a horoscope but delving into this philosophy, in this place, was a journey of discovery.
Lovingly prepared, our daily meals were delicious and nutritious. Vegetable and pulse-based gently spiced with warming Ayurvedic herbs and spices to calm and nourish our systems. So the ‘daily devils’ of coffee, alcohol and sugar were all off the menu, along with any intolerances we might have brought with us to India. Except for a very little sugar in our ginger and cardamom scented Chai (the cardamom counterbalancing the small amount of caffeine in tea). We would all sit on the floor around a small table (better for our digestion) eating in silence and using our right hand to eat, fingers joined together to signify our offering to Shiva. Himalayan long grain rice formed the foundation of our diet alongside wholewheat chapatti, all lovingly prepared by our Hindi cook Narinda. Sometimes we were treated to delicious paneer, so fresh and sweet. The cooking medium mustard oil or ghee. Nothing was wasted. The holy cows would walk by our window during mealtimes and all the vegetable scraps were saved and put out for them.
It is a place where everything has meaning; an experience I will never forget, an amazing time in a truly amazing country. 'Namaste'.
A month in Rishikesh is not something we can all aspire to, but why not join us at Thyme this month for our 'Rosemary & Thyme Retreat' - three days of nutritional advice, cookery classes, treatments and yoga, that will help you start 2017 in a truly inspiring way.