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Joumana Saber – Thank you, Mysore.

Friday, October 11, 2013
Joumana Saber – Thank you, Mysore.Like0

Ashtanga Yoga Dubai

We met a while back, while we interviewed her, I remember feeling her aura, her energy all around the room. It was such a beautiful light. Joumana’s diary is the reason why Travel Junkie Diary exist. An inspiring trip to a land where very few know of and those who do, love and cherish it.

Joumana is the owner of The Yoga Room, a place for all people seeking a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of daily life here in Dubai. It is a space that welcomes the new and the seasoned, the young and the old, and people from any walk of life to come in and experience Ashtanga yoga in its truest and purest form as it was originally taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, father of this method. Open daily and is conveniently located in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, cluster Y, on the ground floor of Swiss Tower. Our weekly schedule is tailored to fit students from all different levels. We will also be holding regular workshops, courses and events that allow students to deepen their knowledge of the practice.

“My yoga teachers lived and practiced Ashtanga yoga in Mysore at Sri K. Pattabhi Joi’s Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. It’s only natural that I want to follow their footsteps! I don’t know how to explain it or why I decided to go, but it was the right time and right thing to do at the time. I decided on going in March because that’s when I would have accumulated enough days at work to take a holiday!”

Destination  Mysore, South India

India wasn’t always a must-visit country until yoga became a very big part of my life. I often heard and read about the spiritual experiences musicians and friends had when traveling to and through India. I discovered yoga in 2009, which is around the same time I was finishing my last semester in university. One of my last courses was called “Music of the Beatles” – I didn’t even have to think twice about signing up for that course because the Beatles were a big part of my childhood; my uncle had a Beatles tribute band and gave his sons Beatles haircuts! As we were studying the various phases that the Beatles went through as a band, and as individuals, there came a point in the semester where we looked deeper into the personal, spiritual and musical influences of India on the Fab Four. So that’s when my curiosity started to grow.

Stayed at  The Chittaranjan Palace, now known as the Green Hotel

The first thing I did when planning things to do, places to visit, and accommodation to consider was join the Ashtanga Community in Mysore Facebook group. I wanted to make sure I stayed within walking distance from the shala (Sanskrit word for home – a place to practice yoga). I had my heart set on a guest house called Anokhi Garden, which is also a café that serves breakfast and brunch 6 days a week. Compared to other options in the area (renting a room in a family’s house), Anokhi Garden was a little more expensive. In the months leading to my trip, I took comfort in the advice of those who responded to my question on the Facebook group: “stay in a hotel for the first few days. Once in India, walk around and knock on people’s doors asking for a place to stay”. Yeah, that didn’t work, because it was peak season and everything was rented out. So, we (my partner and I) extended our stay in the Green Hotel and the quest continued.

The hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens that take your breath away, whether basking in the sun during the day with a refreshing beverage, or enjoying the breeze at night with some dal makhani – “Lentil Rich Sauce” – and a glass of wine (if you didn’t have to wake up so early for yoga practice the next day!). The hotel faces a very busy road, but even sitting outdoors in the gardens shuts out any kind of disturbances. Other things to enjoy at the hotel are a café, a souvenir shop and a library. There are 31 rooms located either in the palace or in a separate building that directly faces the gardens. The latter was where we stayed. Due to the hotel’s environmentally friendly policies, the rooms do not have AC, television or generators. That didn’t bother us at all, because the hotel is properly ventilated and luckily Mysore has an excellent climate – it actually gets a little cold at night! To top it off, all profits are donated and distributed to charities and various environmental projects in India. The only disadvantage, personally, was that it was a long walk from the shala. Having to walk the distance is not my complaint, but having to commute early in the morning for yoga practice (sometimes 3:30am!) did not make me feel comfortable in a city I did not know. And so, we decided to move to Urban Oasis once we finally discovered the place, which is a 7-minute walk from the shala. We also came to know that a room at Anokhi Garden was going to be vacant during the 2nd half of my trip. I booked the room straight away!

Urban Oasis in Gokulam is a modern building and is fully furnished with AC, beds, and sofas. I don’t have much to say about the place other than it was clean, well-maintained and guests were offered free breakfast on the terrace until 8am.

I moved into Anokhi Garden on my own, because Yousef’s trip had come to and end – he only stayed for 10 days. There are 3 rooms located on the ground floor of the guesthouse, and a studio on the 2nd floor. The only other thing up there is the roof, where all the laundry is hung out to dry! I stayed in the studio, not by choice, but because it was the only room available. It felt like I had a place all to myself. The studio is spacious and bright, with a living/dining area (I was told the other 3 rooms are smaller than the studio). The walls are yellowish and the floor is covered with colorful outdoor plastic rugs. The kitchen is huge and always busy during breakfast/brunch time. They don’t serve Indian food at the café. Typical items on the menu include eggs (omelet, scrambled, fried, etc…), bruschetta, vegan pancakes, French crepes, fruit salads, coffee, fresh mixed juices, a variety of home-made patisseries and jam. The owners of Anokhi Garden are two lovely French ladies, Marie and Flora. I only got to meet Marie, because Flora was traveling at the time. Marie is a very vibrant and active woman, as well as very helpful and knowledgeable about things to do/not to do in India. The ladies of Anokhi Garden will gladly help you plan your stay in India!

Month March – hot during the day, but cold at night.

In your suitcase When visiting India, travel light. I packed 2 pairs of flip-flops – a pair of old havainas and a pair of AED 25 flip-flops from Forever 2, a few classic harem pants to wear when I was out and about, leggings or crop yoga pants for practice, and tank tops. For our own safety and in respect of the Indian culture, women are advised to dress conservatively. I’d usually wear my yoga clothes underneath loose pants and a shawl to cover my shoulders and arms when walking in the street towards the shala. I also brought my iPad with me to stay connected with friends and family, my iPod, swim suits, and a few books: Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography ‘Scar Tissue’, by Larry Sloman was one of the books I was reading during my trip.

Dined at  I only ate Indian food while I was there, which is great for me because there are MANY vegetarian options in Indian cuisine. Besides, I am in India and I love Indian food. Why bother eating anything else? My favorite places to go to were Green Hotel on days off, Tina’s café during the week for authentic Punjabi home-cooked food brought to the café, and Anu’s for healthy and yummy home-cooked food. Last, but not least, Sixth Main – a restaurant that serves Indian food (North Indian and South Indian) from 1:00 to 3:00pm for lunch and from 6:00 to 7:00pm for dinner. Their vegetarian curries are delicious, and they make the best fresh (garlic/butter) naan I’ve ever had! I go there mainly for their moong dal (mung beans) and palak raita (spinach in yoghurt).

Shopped {Devaraja Market} Incense, essential/fragrance oils
{Silver Nest}Toe rings, OM pendant, and anything silver!
{Rashinkar} textiles (beautiful silk saris! I plan on buying one on my next trip), a bag for my yoga mat, silk scarfs. You can even get anything tailored at Rashinkar!
{Sapna} books. LOTS of cheap books.

Diary The purpose of my trip to Mysore was to practice at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute for 1 month. Upon registration, Sharath (our teacher) gives each student his/her start time. March was the busiest month, so classes would end a little later in the morning. Some people started as early as 4:30am, others as late as 9am. My start time was 6:00am for Mysore classes and 4:30am for Led classes. From Monday to Thursday, I’d wake up at 5am to shower, get dressed and have coffee or tea. I’d make my way to the shala walk slowly to give the coffee a chance to kick in before I arrive to my final destination 15 minutes before my start time. I’d sit at the entrance of the house and get my mat ready until I hear Sharath call out “one more!” – that’s my cue to go in and start my practice. There are 70+ other students sweating around me, some in the middle of their practice and others about to finish. I get on my mat and recite the opening chant in silence, and I go through the postures that I was taught. After 1.5 hours of asana practice, I join other students out on the street for fresh coconut water. You can spend anywhere between 5 minutes to 30 minutes sipping on coconut water, depending on how many coconuts you have and on the interesting conversations you have with those around you. On Fridays and Sundays, 150+ students get together at the same time and practice the same sequence of postures to the sound of Sharath calling out the names of the postures and counting our movements – all done Sanskrit, except for when he says inhale and exhale! Since start time for these classes was 4:30, I’d wake up at 2am and make sure to be at the shala 1 hour before class starts so that I don’t end up practicing in the changing rooms because there isn’t enough space in the main room. We then sit outside Sharath’s house on the street; some of us read a book or listen to music, others nap as we wait to be let in for practice. On any given day, post-practice routine is similar: go home, shower, have breakfast, take a nap, maybe have 2nd breakfast, have lunch either at Anu’s or at any local Indian restaurant that you can trust, go to the pool, and at night go to Anu’s and have banana smoothies for dinner. By 7pm, students start to head back home and prepare to call it an early night. In between all the eating and the relaxing, there are many activities that you can take part in: chanting classes, philosophy classes, kirtans, cooking classes, Sanskrit lessons, visiting temples and the Mysore palace and, of course, staying at Anokhi garden for hours chatting with friends over French press coffee. Since Saturday is traditionally a day off, we’d spend Friday night at the Green hotel having dinner, which usually involves more than just banana smoothies. My favorite dish there was Dal Makhani – whole black lentils (dal), white butter (makhan), and cream – served with rice and/or naan.

Tips India changes you. There is a lot of poverty around you, but it is a very beautiful country and the people are friendly accommodating. I met a lot of locals that lived in the gulf, and it was great to reminisce on what Dubai looked like 10-20 years ago! It was refreshing to have such conversations with people when you feel like you’re the only there not visiting fro Europe or North America.

Mysore’s royal family was very religious; many Hindu temples were built and renovated, and have become big tourist attractions. Most of the temples are located inside the Mysore fort or around the Palace, making it easier for the Royal family to access the temples for daily prayers. Foreigners are expected and encouraged to dress conservatively as a sign of respect towards the culture and the people of Mysore. It’s also best to do so for your own safety, even though Gokulam is known to be a very safe area.

Gokulam, a suburb of Mysore, is a simple and slow-paced place with beautiful homes in one area and slums in another. It can be very quiet during the day, so it’s a great time to stay in and slow down with a book or lounge by the pool to cool off. The best advise I can pass down to anyone planning on visiting Mysore is to not have any expectations, and to just allow the magic of Mysore reveal itself on its own time.

Mode of travel I flew via Emirates from Dubai to Bangalore (Bengaluru International Airport). I arranged for a pick-up car from the airport to Mysore through Krishna Murthy. You can also arrange for a car through Ganesh, which is what I did when I was leaving Mysore. The car ride to Mysore was 4 hours, give or take. The airline, obviously, was great – you can’t complain about Emirates Airlines

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Travel Junkie Diary

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  1. Maya Gaafar says:

    Beautiful! Keep it up!

  2. Alecia bennet says:

    Hi Joumana, thank you for sharing your diary! I have been waiting for a sign, I needed a life changing experience, I just wanted to know if you had any idea what you were doing at first? Travel Junkie Diary, thank you so much for posting this! x Alecia

  3. Ayesha Bana says:

    This is the reason I am in Love with your blog. You grab the most inspiring people. You turn them into something magical. Thank you Travel Junkie Diary
    Joumana Saber, you have inspired me, travel Junkie diary team, do not stop doing what you are doing!

    • Joumana says:

      Ayesha, thank you so much for your comment! I was telling team TJD that, although this is my story, I’ve already read this entry twice ever since it was posted and got goosebumps as if I was reading it for the first time. Travel Junkie Diary has allowed me to relive the most important journey of my life and appreciate what it means to travel: to be inspired.

    • Travel Junkie Diary says:

      Thanks Ayesha! Your words mean so much!

  4. lucie says:

    Wow!!!!! So inspiring!!!!

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