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A woolly weekend in Valais (pronounced something like Wallis!)

Valais, Switzerland was the highlight of my Swiss summer. I had a  completely “off the beaten path” weekend out there, high in the Swiss Alps.

First up, I was by myself checking out the International Alphorn festival in the resort town of Nendaz. Imagine trekking up a hill to a vast open ground and listening to the exotic sounds of the Alphorn reverberate around the mountains…magical!

Then I joined my friends in the Spa town of Leukerbad, and after relaxing overnight, we headed out on a beautiful Sunday morning for “Sheep festival” at Gemmi pass (altitude of 8,000 feet). Our breakfast at that place with a view of the best mountains in the alps was a visual and culinary delight in itself!

The Sheep festival is an annual event where thousands of sheep that have been denied salt for months together at high altitude, are released to a lake bed to fest themselves. So we waited for a few hours around a blue lake waiting for the sheep to coming down by the hundreds and play with the sheep!

After that we trekked the whole day in brilliant conditions and lazed our way back home!

I look back at this as the best memory of the summer of 2009.

They says a picture is worth a thousand words; you could add that a video is worth many pictures;  So, I leave you with some pictures and a Video  🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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P.S: If you are inclined to look at more pictures and stories from my travels, you might try:

1. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/saurkundi-pass-trek-a-travelogue/

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/sakura/

A wannabe Yogi’ story

The two yoga worlds 

After what seems like ages, I managed to get up really early on a weekday (to me that means around 6.30) and full of energy. I open the curtains and it was pitch dark (winter has set in here in Basel, and I typically don’t see any light before 7.30 or so), but there were no clouds. Now that was such a pleasant surprise that I actually stood outside in just my T shirt and shorts, unmindful of the numbing chill wind. 

I decided its time for my long overdue morning yoga. I very rarely work out in the morning these days, but today was the perfect day to break the shackle, stretch my bones, and sweat it out. 

Sweat it out? Yoga? Are you confused? 

Yoga, that ancient Indian method of relaxing, freshening and rejuvenating your body and mind is not that well understood. To a lot of westerners, it conjures up images of naked sadhus in some mystic pose in a Himalayan landscape telling you how you can transform your life. To a lot of Indians, it’s a cool thing you state every time to be proud of your culture, but hardly know anything about.

 That’s until people like B.K.S Iyengar, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, and Bharat Thakur popped up on the stage (I may have missed many more relevant names, but that’s because I am not too knowledgeable on this subject myself) 

Although I cant claim expertise on this subject, I have flirted with different forms of yoga at different stages, and perhaps my experiences on this are worth sharing. And I can say with pride that Yoga is a huge contribution to mankind from India. 

First brushes with Yoga

My first initiation to Yoga, was at my boarding school – Rishi Valley. It was one of the hundred good things I picked up there. I still remember my first few weeks of Yoga as a 11 year old. We had to get up early for what is called as P.T session (Physical training), and we fought like crazy to bunk this. At some stage, all of us matured enough to either enjoy or accept as your fate. Most people ended up doing any combination of  a cross country run across  a lush green valley, or a run up hill with an incentive of the view from Cave rock or Boat rock, or limitless rounds across the football field. There was an alternative though, and that was Mishra Ji’s serene, quiet, and non violent (!)  yoga classes. As you stretched your bones and then went into Shavasan (the pose of the dead), you could hear the birds chirping, see the first few rays of the sun, and blissfully fall asleep before he woke you up! 

In those days yoga was all about spending an extra hour either sleeping or doing something closes to sleeping. 

By the time I actually started enjoying them and felt myself fitter, the classes stopped and it was back to the runs and drills. By which time, I made it to the cricket teams , and a chance to do what I loved more than anything else was enough motivation for me to get up at 5 and run from hostel to hostel waking my team mates. The reward was diving and bruising yourself trying to catch a ball, which, if you did, was bound to bite you hard with the early morning cold and dew. I would like to think Yoga helped me play sports pretty well at a time when playing cricket, tennis or football was the biggest passion of my life. 

The next round of Yoga was a few years later at an RSS camp that I attended briefly. For the uninitiated, RSS is a right wing Hindu nationalistic organization, that is typically in the news for all the wrong reasons these days (that’s about as diplomatic and neutral as I can put it!). But at the core of their organization is an endeavor to make young kids work out and do yoga to stay fit & focused. In those innocent days, all that mattered to me was to look at the sun while doing the wonderful Surya Namsakar (Sun salutation) , and competing with the other kids in my neighborhood about who could hold onto a particular posture for longer. 

Like with most things in life, I never followed up those great surya namskar sessions regularly and lost touch with yoga for many more years. 

In my adult life, I tried the “Art of Living” classes that are fairly popular in the country. There is mixed opinion on Sri Sri Ravishankar and his organization, but you’ve got to hand it to him that he has branded his foundation extremely well and is know in most parts of the world. Technically speaking, he teaches specific kriyas or techniques, that are a part of the wide body of Yoga, but I do not think the focus is Yoga itself. 

But to me those sessions were a mixed bag; there was very less of workout, a lot of meditation / breathing techniques, and a fair bit of propaganda. Now that’s the part which fascinates the west : mystics gurus, typically with beard and a pleasant face, and who claim that after a few sessions with them, you will be transformed. This is exactly what a lot of westerners want and this is exactly what a lot of less informed Indians suck up to. 

But I always believe in coming out of anything with the positive take ways, of which there were a few techniques that helped me deal with stress better. 

That being the approach, my search went on until I found Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga. Now this is not the perfect thing, but the closest I have found.

A yoga form in tune with modern life & times… 

BT, as he is popularly called, is a bit of a maverick and a new age guru. I am going to do free marketing for him here, but you can read up about him on his website. Makes for a pretty good read actually! 

Artistic Yoga is a bit of  a rage across large cities in India, drawing youngsters and elders alike. It’s a bit like power yoga or aerobics, in its genre, but there are differences. In spite of being fairly pricey, people are flocking to these classes. I have nothing against the fees, as I can afford it and see the value for money; plus when you pay for something you tend to be more serious about it. But I hope in future more yoga centers at different price levels, but with same quality, expand across the nation. 

I have been doing it whenever I was in India and the daily evening classes were a no miss for me, and a huge part of my life. 

The classes were typically very intense, comparable to any hard gym session, and full of fun. Almost inevitably your body ached a little afterwards but you were assured of either a good day at work or a good sleep, depending on when you did it.

 The most impressive things I took away from those classes were:

  1. A risk / injury format of an ancient science form, that has been customized to modern life
  2. Fun, fast, intense and sweaty classes!
  3. Very easy to follow and DIY workouts. You don’t have to go for the classes after a while, but they helped tremendously from a  motivation and routine perspective
  4. Loads of fun people to meet and friends to make, including most of the teachers 

I still do some asanas, bandhas  and stretches that I learnt over the years, but its not quite the same as being in my friend Ramshad’s classes in Bangalore where on a crazy day he is capable of pushing you to do over a 150 surya namaskars in an hour. (If anybody reading this can Google how to do surya namaskar, and can do more than 50 in an hour, please let me know, I’d like to meet you!) 

I am pretty sure there are many different yoga gurus, and centers across India and rest of the world,  that are run by well trained and committed people.

So, I would love it if my friends reading this, take the initiative to sign up to any yoga class that suits their style and convenience. Tapping into our rich heritage of knowledge of the body and mind, is tremendously rewarding! And, if you have been as lucky as I was to travel to,  and do yoga near  an icy waterfall on the Himalayas, at a lush green village in the alps, or by a silver sand beach in Goa, there’s nothing quite like it in life 🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

The dark and sinister confessions of a facebook addict

Facebook threw up an interesting statistic to me. “How addicted am I to facebook”. It was a shockingly high number, and so high I dared not publish it. Damn, it was even higher than that of a good friend of mine S,  who I keep taunting in jest for being on Facebook all the time! 

And she coolly  suggested I have to first admit there is a problem. She made it sound as if I was an alcoholic in need of help! 

While all that was in good humor, I couldn’t help thinking about it. Have I let the online social networking world take over my life? 

The short answer was no, and the long answer is as follows: (And this is dedicated to my well meaning friend who got it wrong nevertheless!) 

I have been observing how people use / misuse social networking for a while. I think some people use it very smartly and that is irrespective of how much time they spend on it. Some people may spend less time, but may go about it in a way that doesn’t help them or their online  friends. So while it is a good idea to keep your time spent on it to the bare minimun, it’s also important to understand how we use these technologies, and where we should draw the line. 

I have a few guidelines that I try my best to follow when it comes to social networking, specifically for Facebook. This is based on what I did in the past, and found to be a waste of time / harmful, and what I have seen others doing: 

  1. I don’t typically add friends I do not know at all
  2. I do not add friends to show that I have a few hundred friends on my Facebook
  3. I do not use it to read up about people’s personal info or stalk women (Women, you could be either flattered or shocked if you know how many men you never know stalked you online!)
  4. I try not to share very personal feelings, discussions, moments, photos etc
  5. When I see something very significant posted on a friend’s profile (such as a child’s birth,  a separation, or a new job) I make it a point to contact them over phone / in person. A lot many people think it cool to just click on “like” and not bother there after
  6. I use the privacy settings pretty well, to control who can see what
  7. I do not see my friends as “virtual only”. If anybody on my Facebook happens to be in and around where I live, I make it a point to call / meet hang out with them
  8. I use it to promote my thoughts / websites etc, but I do not rely entirely on Facebook for that
  9. If I go somewhere and take pictures, I do not upload a few hundred pictures and expect my friends to see all of them!
  10. I do not play any games on Facebook 🙂 

Now you may, or may not agree to the points above, but I think it’s a good idea to develop your own guidelines and stick to them. Else we all may have technology like this take over our lives, and affect our ability for normal human relationships one day! 

On a lighter note, one of my best friends ever – B, refuses to tag herself on photos of us together. She truly believes she does not look cool enough in those pictures, and apart from laughing out loud and screaming “Women”, I didn’t bother about it. I know a lot of other friends who take such things seriously. Do  you need a Facebook picture / wall post, or some stupid Facebook quiz to tell you who your best friends are?

 P.S: I know the title of the blog is misleading, but it’s always a nice feeling to pull a fast one on people 🙂

 Cheers!

Vasu

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