Traveling to India? AWESOME.
India is a beautiful country deeply rooted in tradition and culture. Most of my friends travel to India for a spiritual experience… and well, that’s because most of my friends are yogis. Go figure.
Most yogis who travel to India stay at ashrams, which are spiritual monasteries (and really, really, really cheap places to sleep). When I traveled Southern India (Kerala) this past March, I stayed at an Ayurvedic Ashram known worldwide as Amma’s Ashram.
Amma (meaning Mother) is a living saint (yes, a real person) who has the stamina to bless and hug people for 16hrs straight sans lunch or dinner. It’s kind of her thing and she’s been doing it for decades. Her ashram is open to everyone: locals, backpackers, yogis, devotees, travelers, etc. So for my first trip to India, I was looking forward to receiving one massive hug, yoga at sunrise, and one dosa a day. However, my time at Amma’s proved to be more challenging than initially expected.
Sidenote: Dosas are thin crepes that are made of fermented beans, stuffed with spicy potatoes, cooked in ghee, and topped with coconut chutney.
It is imperative that you are aware of this street food item because dosas will lead you to happiness. Or at least it does for me.
If you’re planning to stay at Amma’s Ashram (amma.org) in Kerala, I’ve compiled a list of “need to know info” that you will not find on the main website. These tips will mentally prepare you for your upcoming journey and (hopefully) allow you to embrace life at Amma’s. Please keep in mind that the ashram lifestyle isn’t for everyone but it is an experience that I highly recommend experiencing.
HOW A NEW YORKER PREPARES FOR AMMAS:
1. Bring toilet paper, buy toilet paper. Carry a fanny pack stocked with toilet paper, tissues, and hand sanitizer. Throw a few bottles of water in there too. Just do it.
2. What to wear? Most people wear loose white clothing as a statement of simplicity. I wore a typical NY outfit — black on black on black—Amma still embraced me.
3. Avoid a potential argument. Every roommate should have their own key to access their room — pick up extras at the International Center.
4. FACT: Half a year's rent in NYC (or less) will last you a lifetime at Amma's.
5. In the word's of Amma, "some people who come to the ashram are crazy," so just acknowledge that for a sec.
6. You'll find that most people at the ashram are living in savasana and will walk straight into you sans apology. Don't get all NY on them, just smile and move on.
7. Public Service Announcement: The ashram uses communal spoons, plates and cups. After you use your utensils, you are responsible for washing these items in cold water and cheap, watered down soap. Consider buying your own spoon (15 rupees), a food container (180 rupees) and cup (20 rupees) from the shop located inside the ashram. Basically, keep yo' germs to yo'self!
8. On a similar note, avoid contact with ALL left hands at ALL times in India (even expats)... if you don't know what I am talking about, google it.
9. FACT: The ashram provides one sheet, one pillow and one pillow cover for your cot. The room is the same size as a NYC studio apartment.
10. FACT: When you take a shower, hot water is not available. And you’ll need to bring your own towel. If this is a potential problem for you, bring dry shampoo and deodorant.
11. FACT: The shower is positioned directly above the western toilet… so forget the towel, just double up on the dry shampoo and deodorant.
12. Sign up for seva (service) at the office. If you don’t feel like waiting at the seva office, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer throughout the ashram. No one will refuse your help. They’re uncomfortably kind and welcoming.
13. Seva is optional. You are not obligated to clean toilets. I chopped vegetables and enjoyed it.
14. Dosas are available on-site at the Indian canteen.
15. In case you’re not interested in the complimentary Indian food, there’s a western café where you can purchase grilled cheese, handmade pizza, egg sandwiches, toast, spirulina bars, etc. However, I was told they’ve run out of tator tots until October.
16. NY’ers walk a lot so if you find yourself strolling outside of the ashram walls, you can easily find Amrita University just over the bridge. Keep in mind, this state-of-the-art building does not have western toilets, soap or toilet paper. Hence, fanny pack.
17. Head straight to the beach, just don’t go in for a swim. Their rules, not mine.
18. Take probiotics daily. I recommend hitting up your local JUICE PRESS at least one month before you arrive in India.
19. The ashram is awesome; participate as much as possible.
20. Two full days and one night will give you the opportunity to experience everything… or you can stay for 18 years, your choice.