from Yoga Journal Teachers on Tour

Unpublished November 2010

As the last stop in the Sikkim Himalayas, we journey to West Sikkim with some of the best views of the Kanchendzonga range. West Sikkim is alive with history where the first Chogyal, or divine ruler of this region was crowned by three high lamas from three different directions – north, west and south.

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The scenic town of Pelling looks north towards the glaciers and peaks of the Eastern Himalayas, and high above forest covered peaks, is an amphitheater of cloud, snow and mountains with the entire range on view.

This terrain is rich in biodiversity, filled with lakes,  waterfalls, and a mind-boggling array of flora ad fauna. Hills and valleys abounding in orchids, rhododendrons, marigolds and magnolia, while exotic cardamom wafts through mist-laden hillsides, and innumerable butterflies paint rich colour onto verdant woods. Sikkim has 500+ species of butterflies, 600+ varieties of orchid and rhododendron forests varying from lowland giants to dwarfs above the snowline.

On the road, we pass through Ravangla (6,800 ft), saddled on a ridge between Menam (10,600 ft) and Tendong (8500 ft). I am a bit of a nature, particularly flower fanatic, and these mountains are crazy coloured with tropical and mountain flora, and I am bewildered that they can all live side by side. Perhaps it is a reminder from nature that we too can live in harmony with one another?

I ride with Tina and Ann today, and one of us has to sit in front, which means the front seater has to constantly turn to connect and chat. This can disorient  belly of the most stalwart traveller, and as the mountain roads soon turn precarious, soaring and windy peaks ahead, we begin quiet personal mantras to calm our inner belly spirits!

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As we arrive at a small village to take a much needed bathroom and chai break, the counter has some local Sikkimese liquor. I decide this is going to be the time to pick up one of the monk shaped rums and Kukurri (sword) shaped whiskeys to bring home. These crazy souvenirs, along with about 5kgs of pink Himalayan rock salt are some of the most prized purchases of the trip, and we carry these across many trails, before I sadly dispense of them on the way into Bhutan.

We drive through Ravangala, finding the Kewzing Bon monastery, one of its kind and a symbol of the determination to preserve independent religious tradition. Bon faith flourished in Tibet pre-Buddhist, and the roots of Bon offers profound respect towards nature and healing our physical, environmental and spiritual afflictions. Tenzing the young monk who is tending the monastery, enthralls us with a cymbal and other traditions and artifacts of Bon. Tenzing is a talented young artist and showed us some of his beautiful thangkas.

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We arrive at the hotel and discover the only place to practice yoga will be outside near the parking lot, with no covering. We had expected a heated room to avoid the morning mountain chill. After so many obstacles and unexpected hurdles on this journey, I can only look to my practice and let go of expectations. It is always a challenge to teach on these trips. People come wanting to experience the beauty of scenery, learn yoga and stay healthy and fit as they explore other cultures. And yet, when the trip involves coming to India, and especially to the Himalayas, and the “hinter Hims”,  it is always a deep lesson in patience, acceptance and adaptation.

Flexibility may be necessary as a yoga teacher, but Adaptability is key to being a yoga tour organiser! Nothing can be taken for granted, and when we leave the comfort of what is known and expected, there can be many struggles of mind, body and soul. At dinner, I advise the group morning yoga will be held outside on a cold and misty stone deck. There may not be class if it rains or temperature drops too low. Several of our adventurers decide they’ll skip practice and indulge in steamy lattes and cappuccinos at breakfast instead!

W Sikk-Yoga.jpgSending a prayer and a wish for no rain and clear skies in the morning, I go to unpack and settle into my room. Most rooms face the mountain range, and as I look towards the falling night on these sacred and invisible mountains, a verse from the Katha Upanishad reminds me of what this practice really is:

“that path is sharp as a razor’s edge, impassable, and hard to go by, say the wise.”

~ Katha Upanishad – 1.3.14 trans. Paramananda

The Katha Upanishad is a work of mystical beauty and radiant imagination; an inspiring chronicle of wisdom and insight, and a timeless story of the journey into Self and the meaning of reality. These invisible mountains are a metaphor for our own self inquiry. Like these stable and majestic grand mountains hidden from view, our inner wisdom and insight lies hidden from our own view. The mist and clouds that seem to ever cover these mountainsides mirror our attachments and aversions as we journey through life. What is present and alive in us at all times, is the substance and omnipresent stability that lies within. Our inner wisdom, our deep and true illumination. Like these sacred mountains before us, insight and wisdom are the foundation to conscious living.

W Sikkim3.jpgThe next morning is brisk and the mountains are still hidden from view, but with the windows open and cool Himalayan air breezing in, I wake up early to a glimpse of light in the window. As my eyes focus, the clouds peek through mountain peaks, and sunlight seems to stream from the vapour. Like bursts of radiant joy coming through each cloud.

One moment it is gloriously beautiful, and the next we have full bladders and the windy roads only serve to reinforce tummy upset. Every moment shifts and changes the colour of perception. As we practice yoga here on this Magical Mystical Tour, we have had a marble floored disco, clourfully painted dining hall, and side of the road as practice spaces. So a stone deck facing the clouds is actually a perfect yoga shala for the Hims! Learning to adjust, and adapt as the winds blow, and days carry us is the ultimate lesson of yoga, so we practice in our long underwear, and salute the rising sun over these sacred mountains! Another day begins, and a glorious one it is!

Only with our heart can we see rightly says the Little Prince. And long ago, the Katha held the key in simple sacred verses.

om saha navavatu
saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam karavavahai
tejasvinavadhitamastu ma vidvisavahai
om santih santih santih
May we be protected, teacher and taught.
May we be nourished. May we acquire strength.
May our study bring us illumination.
May there be no enmity among us.
Om Peace Peace Peace