The idea was a simple one. We would explore all the secret, remote and magical locations in Southern India in order to put together our own unique itinerary for our yoga retreats. This is a story, told in hindsight, of two yogis, on our own quest to bring joy, steadiness and ease into our lives and those around us, drawing on yogic philosophy for guidance. Sthidhi is the name we have chosen for these transformative yoga experiences, meaning position, seat or balance in Sanskrit.
Let not the fruits of action be your motive…
We felt no desire to join the throng and gawp at caged animals at Bannerghatta biological park. Then, our attempts to find a decent hike were thwarted when we were informed, at the Forest Office, that under no circumstances could we walk through the national park because tigers had been spotted recently. Only authorised Jeeps could take people to watch the wildlife from a distance. I envisioned being incarcerated in a Jeep with strangers making awkward conversation and trying not to rub legs. We dropped the plan and the next day we continued towards Billikal Forrest via the Raghihalli State Forrest.
Now we were seeking a patch of land to camp, a spot safe from tigers and forest officers alike, and amidst the beautiful shrub forest and farm lands. Akhil, he’d admit it himself, is a country boy (with city dwelling experiences). So he was clear where would be suitable to stop and thus far he felt either we were too near a town and therefore vulnerable to thieves, too near someone’s home, which is intrusive and could cause offence. Or it was too isolated and therefore susceptible to wild animal attack! What was required was an off-road open space, not totally isolated, but away from towns. This is a task that’s becoming more and more tricky in a country seized by huge development and change.
We reached Udinapalya and found a shop selling savoury and sweet non-perishable food products and some vegetables at the back; and Chai !! We had arrived at Kempa’s shop. Kempa also owned a some land in the village and was more than happy for us to camp on his land! We followed his moped to a bush on the side of the road that he revealed was actually just a pile of twigs, which he parted to make way for our car. From the top of the hill we could see farm lands stretching as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking. Have we arrived? we thought.
We wanted to succeed in our mission, so our journey would feel ‘worthwhile’. Quietly a local village boy and his elder brother approached us with their dog. The elder of the two was a lorry driver of one of those highly-decorated beasts of India’s motorways, the roar to which I had now become accustomed, and for which I have developed a very profound fear.
Shielding our gas stove from the wind using our car door we enjoyed two amazing meals at this spot (brown rice with spicy green bean and tomato for dinner and a plantain roti with scrambled egg for breakfast). We discussed whether it would be an appropriate camping spot for one of our retreats. Our yoga practice in the morning felt magical. Had we found a key place where we would return one day on our retreats?
Onwards to Sivanahalli, passing a forrest of bold banyan trees (its branches take root as the reach the ground and left to their own devices one banyan tree can eventually create a forrest), but we did not stop. We had a mission to achieve! Past villages cultivating silk worm larvae on reeds. Near the embattled Kaveri river we discovered a dam by Muthathi. This time we got out of the car and danced by a beautiful flowering tree, overlooking the eerily still waters and under the lashing heat of the sun.
As it is wont to do near the equator, the sun was quickly descending into the water and we were getting close to having to sleep in the car. We drove on through to Halagiri and stopped for tea at a shack attached to a house. Here Sheila dwelled, her wise eyes, firmly set on the road, told a story of loss. Her husband had died not long ago. She let me use her toilet in her house and observing that my hair was sticking to my back, gave me a hair clip. It was moving to see how she was present in that moment and concerned for me, a stranger, despite the pain she was clearly feeling for herself.
We finally arrived at Sivanasanmudra found a very old bridge which must have been used to carry water hundreds of years ago, derelict, forgotten, heritage. We discovered two waterfalls near each other Barachukki Falls and Gaganachukki Falls and while they were beautiful and set up for visitors, we felt beauty from a view point, however natural and lush, was not what we were seeking.
We even found a lake with crocodiles rearing their ominous heads yet without a place to sleep nearby, we knew this was not the location we needed. Would all our searching pay off?, we wondered. Or should we even be so determined to find what we are looking for?
We heard from locals there was a Dharga where we could stay (accommodation near religious site) which we thought might bring us back to the days when we met at the ashram. Unfortunately it was a far cry from the experience we had in the Sivananda site at Neyyar Dam. The village was swarming with flies and ants and mosquitoes, every imaginable bug had made home here. We had a room with a light bulb and a mattress on the floor. We brought in our gas stove, cooked up some okra and garlic and crawled inside our tent to eat and hide from the swarm. The next day we escaped the ‘Village of Flies’ and crossed the border back towards Kempa’s land. We passed the immense banyan trees again. This time we stopped to hang from the roots in the cool fresh shade of their generous wise limbs. It was clear by now that this leg of the journey had no worth as a possible retreat destination and we gave ourselves time to play!
The Bhagavad Gita offers this advice: “You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”
In other words if you only consider the result of your actions you are barely living. If we can embrace each moment that arises as complete, an experience to be observed and perform action by virtue of the action itself, then you are ready for any result.
You may view the destinations we finally selected for our retreats, here: https://www.sthidhi.com/fire-1