Part 4: Creating a Yoga Retreat
The months flew by as we worked against the clock to get the retreat ready for our first guests in May. The workers came back and forth from Bangalore (taking off heaps of time for the numerous Indian festivals that occur every month), but worked from sunrise until nightfall, to finish the remaining masonry and electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, painting, landscaping and clearing of the land. We had countless power cuts, which meant that anything that required an electrical current could only be done in short bursts, but magically the retreat began to take shape. We planted grass for the lawn, heaps of bougainvilleas and colourful flowers and filled the pond with lilies and reeds. We even took a trip to Mahesh's grandfather's village, where he commandeered an enormous clay grain-pot, which would not look out of place in the British Museum. Curious as to why a Modern Indian would have use for an ancient village storage receptacle, several of his granny's neighbours appeared and offered him their clay pots too. We gingerly loaded the van with their gifts and drove back to Nirvṛta.
One of the most exciting aspects of building your own homestay retreat, is that you can design it exactly as you wish. We have been acquiring a collection of interesting antiques and rustic curiosities from all over the world for several years, but it was as if the house was specifically created to accommodate our treasures. We couldn't have known this as it took over three years before the contents of my North London flat, finally arrived in Sakleshpur. We had to go over to Chennai to meet the crate (containing our beloved possessions), deal with customs and check that everything was there. Three boxes were missing and of course they were the only ones that I particularly cared about. They contained my antique furniture. After numerous phone calls and a lot of detective work, we established that two boxes were in Delhi and the other one was in Mumbai. No one could quite understand why. Six weeks later our eighty seven boxes (coming from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai) arrived together. We then had to keep them in storage for a couple of years, whilst we finished building the house. Eventually a van carrying our goodies arrived in Sakleshpur and Mahesh and we turned into small children, as we eagerly ripped open packaging and discovered belongings that we had long since forgotten about. Miraculously everything fitted into our homestay perfectly and nothing looked out of place. Artefacts from all over the world now adorn our living room and even the black clay grain-pot stands magnificently next to the majestic wooden front door (which has distressed-brass handles, that resemble two figures in Setu Bandhasana). The other eight clay pots are scattered around the retreat and feel quite at home next to old wooden pillars, benches and sculptures the we have acquired.
A week before the guests arrived, the cook that we had organised to come from Mysore, rang Mahesh to tell us that his boss wanted him to dog-sit for the next three weeks. I couldn't believe it. We had visitors coming from all over the world and there was no cook. Mahesh said that he could do it, but we needed him to mange the retreat and to over-see everything. I went to bed in tears. At seven o'clock the next morning there was a knock at the front door and a tiny woman in a large shirt said "I think you need some help." She had already cleared a huge area of flat land half way up the hill, which was carpeted with weeds. "Meditation area" she informed us. She had gathered all the leaves from the lawn and created a compost heap at one end of the organic vegetable garden. She then asked us if she could clean the house and after doing an immaculate job, cooked us dinner. Who was this Fairy Godmother and who had sent her? She was a widow named Saroja, whose children had left home and who had a gift for using her initiative. Saroja came every day, helping us clean, tidy, cook and organise the kitchen, guest rooms and shala. She made heaps of suggestions about how things should be run and had basically taken us under her wing.
Obviously we needed to increase the size of the team during the retreat and Saroja took it upon herself to recruit appropriate helpers. The community spirit was wonderful, as everyone mucked in and pulled together to ensure that our soft launch retreat at Ashtanga Nirvṛta was a joyful success. What we had created was not only a fabulous sanctuary in nature (for Ashtanga practitioners to immerse themselves in every aspect of yoga), but also a traditional-style Indian homestay yoga retreat that the locals were proud of. www.nirvrta.com