On the day I arrived in Mcleod Ganj in Dharamsala in India in June, I instantly felt home. It has a hodgepodge of everything I wanted- the scenic mountain ranges, the fusion of the cultures of Tibet and India, Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, and a wide variety of vegetarian food.
I found myself giddily stalking maroon-clad Buddhist monks at Mcleod Ganj’s Main Square with my SLR camera on one hand on my first day. They are everywhere. You can see some sitting in coffee shops tinkering with their phones, some buying goods from the stalls along the main street, others you can see chatting with the locals.
“Tashi delek,” I greeted a monk walking on the street to practice the first Tibetan words I had learned. Looking surprised, the monk smiled at me and returned the greeting.
“This is not India,” an Indian tourist from New Delhi told me and my yoga classmate over coffee.
My picture of India before I left Manila was far different from the image of Mcleod Ganj. I was bombarded with warnings from friends and relatives about India before I took the flight from Manila to New Delhi. “Be careful. Don’t walk alone in the night. It’s dirty and polluted, worse than Manila.” These warnings could be the reason I decided to sleep away my time at the Indira Gandhi International Airport just to avoid New Delhi in my first month in this country.
But India means a lot of things to be judged in two to three sentences. You can find the best and worst things in this huge country with an exploding population that is the world’s second biggest.
Mcleod Ganj, a hilltop suburb in Dharamsala in the Himachal Pradesh state of India, draws tourists from all over the world, either because of the stunning views of the mountains or because of the Dalai Lama who has been residing there with the Tibetan government in exile since his daring escape in the 1959, or both. It is called Little Tibet because of the large population of Tibetan refugees living there. In fact, there seems to be more Tibetans than Indians here.
From my room at a guesthouse, about 10-minute walk from the Main Square, was a striking view of the lush Himalayan ranges with the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains peeking through the clouds. Every day, I will see this, I told myself before the start of the month-long yoga course.
It was a good decision to practice yoga in this place. Back in April, I was scouting for 200-hour Yoga Teaching Courses in India, Nepal and Thailand. Why did I choose India? The answer was obvious. Where else do you want to learn yoga but in its birthplace.
I chose the teaching course instead of a month-long retreat because I thought then teaching was the best way to learn.
I found online Chandra Yoga International , a yoga school accredited by Yoga Alliance, which offers 200-hour Yoga TTC in Dharamsala on dates ideal to me.
Starting with an hour session of controlled breathing and meditation at 6:00 a.m., our usual day was packed with two to four hours of asana (postures). We took one day of rest a week. “You are breathing yoga,” a teacher told us one time.
For the entire 28 days, we stuck to our vegetarian diet, an Indian Thali made up of dhal, mixed vegetables in curry sauce, rice, chapati, salad, on a metal plate. Drinking coffee was not encouraged. But I felt like a school kid breaking a rule. My newfound friends, my Italian, Russian, and British classmates, would often break this soft rule on coffee during our afternoon breaks, while munching our favorite pastries.
In the first two weeks I saw my body improve. It was more flexible and stronger. My mind was calmer than ever, too. Yoga, after all, is the alignment of the mind, body and spirit, as we draw our attention inward and allow our body and heart to open up.
The second part of the course was devoted to our practicums- teaching a 30-minute asana class for beginners, an hour-long class, and a 30-minute meditation class. These made me a bit anxious, because in my mind I knew I was not a yoga teacher yet. But I told myself. “This is a new experience, let’s have fun.” And I did, thanks to my wonderful classmates and teachers.
The people I met in Mcleod Ganj were the jewels in this course. For a month, we considered each other family. I could feel the class pulsating with love because every one has put his/her heart and soul in the practicums.
Will I teach yoga? Perhaps. I can start with my friends first. The best thing in this is not the Certificate after the course but the lifestyle that it has taught me.
How to go to Mcleod Ganj in Dharamsala:
I took a Manila-New Delhi flight via Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia. Arriving shortly before midnight on June 12, I decided to sleep in one of the paid lounges at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and wait for my flight the next day to Gaggal Airport in Dharamsala. From the airport, I shared a cab with a female Indian traveler I met upon landing.
Where to stay in Mcleod Ganj:
You can easily find private rooms with attached bathrooms for 400 INR a day. I stayed in Sharma Cottage, which was paid by the Chandra Yoga International as part of the YTTC package.