Heaven and Hell: Panchakarma as a Reflection of (My Time in) India

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India showed me both heavenly bliss, and hellish agony. So too, curiously, did the two weeks of Panchakarma (an Ayurvedic therapy) that I did whilst in India. This is my story. It’s an epic tale, so please, settle in and prepare to be entertained; it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

Travel is Contextual.

Before I get into the delights (and horrors) of both India and Panchakarma, it’s important for me to re-iterate that travel is contextual. I’ve said it many times before – especially whenever somebody asks me about my favourite place in the world, but it was probably the biggest lesson (or rather, reminder) that India had for me. Travel is contextual.

So while I’m going to admit up front that on the whole I didn’t like India, it’s not a definite statement about the country or people, nor am I discounting the opinions of the many people who love India. It’s not a challenge or a competition.

My context for being in India was completely wrong. I believe India is great for somebody who wants an exotic experience. Something completely different. An adventure. A challenge.

This was not me.

I’m fundamentally tired of traveling, and I’m officially looking for the next place I can call “home” (at least, “home” for a while, if not forever. More on this in a future post). At the very least, I need some modicum of stability and grounding.

Because of this, India was a very poor travel choice for me.

travel is contextual: example 1

Here’s a contextual exercise: What do you see in this picture above? A broken and dirty road, littered with cow shit, and a noisy construction site ahead? Or the sun playing with a bright alley and interesting mural, and a colourfully dressed woman passing by?

travel is contextual - example 2

Here’s another one: What do you see above? Tattered rags and barbed wire, in front of a field of weeds? Or a green field with colourful bits of recycled sari beautifying the perimeter?

No matter what you see in the pictures above, you’re right. So while I’m sure India is a wonderful place and I don’t doubt the validity of the rave reviews of many people I know who count it among their favourite countries, that was not my experience.

Here’s what really happened.

My month in India - as well as my two weeks of Panchakarma treatments - were both heaven and hell. Here's what happened, and what I learned from it all. #Panchakarma #IndiaTravel #India #FullTimeTravel #TravelPlanning #BudgetTravel #TravelTips #DestinationGuides
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An Introduction to Panchakarma

India is the home to the age-old medicine/practice of Ayurveda, which centres around the idea of harmony of the mind/body/soul. It’s as much a lifestyle and diet (according to your Ayurvedic body type/personality) as it is a form of medicine.

Panchakarma is an integral part of Ayurveda, and is considered a healing art that completely detoxifies and rejuvenates, and restores the body/mind/soul to balance. Although some centres will do panchakarma treatments in as little as three days, other clinics won’t even accept you for anything less than two weeks, preferably three. It’s a process….and one that requires time and commitment.

A friend of mine who described her own Panchakarma experience said it cured her of a pretty bad thyroid problem. As a student of the healing arts myself, I became intrigued by her description, and given that I’ve been feeling off-centre lately, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Although Ayurveda originates in the south of India (specifically around Kerala), I had my eyes on the north, specifically the town of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. I was told that there are plenty of Ayurveda centres there, so I decided to do my Panchakarma there.

Heaven: My Introduction (to India, and Panchakarma)

Heaven on earth, in India

India: How can you not love a place when you’re being catered to in five star glory? My arrival in Jaipur was a soft landing in the hands of the Fairmont, and the warm embrace of my friend and colleague Mariellen. Even after my first four days of swish digs, my couple of days in Jaipur flowed pretty nicely. (See also: Acclimatizing to India, In Jaipur)

Panchakarma: Likewise, although the circumstances that brought me to my first Panchakarma appointment were atrocious (more on that later), the session itself was delightful. After an initial consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, I was prescribed some ayurvedic supplements, lifestyle and diet protocols, and a course of daily two-hour treatments for the next two weeks.

My therapist (Regni) was a tiny woman with incredibly strong hands who rubbed me down with oil in the style of Ayurvedic massage, which started with a thorough head massage and continued on to the body with long firm strokes. There’s no room for modesty in this process; standard attire is a pair of disposable underwear (which Regni comically referred to as my diaper), and nothing more. All skin is fair game.

Following the massage was a treatment called Shirodara, which when I read about it looked like Chinese water torture (hot oil is poured continuously on your forehead), but which I was assured would be relaxing and divine. Save for the three gallons of oil that remained in my hair following the treatment and required a bottle of shampoo to divest myself of, it was indeed divine.

Cap the two hours off with a steam treatment (a steam box you sit in with your head sticking out), and I was in heaven. “This panchakarma thing is going to be most excellent!” I thought. Although I wasn’t wrong, it also wasn’t quite so straightforward.

Slow Fall From Grace

India and Panchakarma
I may look happy here, but trouble is brewing…

India: After a few days in Jaipur, I boarded the Deccan Odyssey (the most luxurious train in the world) for four days, which was a dream come true for me.

Although the experience was truly heavenly, it couldn’t shield me from some rumblings in my inner world. It started with a migraine on day two which required me to miss the morning’s activities and remain in bed (one of the big reasons I decided to do Panchakarma was regular headaches and migraines). It continued with my onward travel plans from the train being uprooted, along with a realization that I’m simply tired of moving around, and of my time not being my own (as was the unfortunate case with both of my five-star experiences; delightful as they were, they are meant for people on vacation, not people like me who work as well. I’m not complaining, but sponsored gigs involve a lot of work).

My travel fatigue and desire for home had bred in me a desire to just relax somewhere; this, combined with an increasingly urgent need to get some work done meant I was not reacting well (physically or emotionally) to my circumstances.

When I disembarked the Deccan Odyssey in Mumbai, I had absolutely no plans. I didn’t even know where I would spend the night, and spent an hour sitting on my luggage desperately tapping on my phone to find a half-decent place. It wasn’t half-decent, nor well-priced. Although I initially planned to stay in Mumbai for a few days, I booked a flight out the next day, to Rishikesh.

Panchakarma: My next few panchakarma sessions continued to be delightful but increasingly strange. If the amount of oil in my hair from shirodara was alarming, the amount of hot oil poured over and rubbed into me for my oil bath session a few days later was obscene. Not that I’m complaining – it was delightful, and Regni and I giggled away as I slid around on the table covered completely in oil.

My milk bath the day after also had me in stitches for the sheer oddity of my treatments. Two ladies this time, poured warm milk over me and rubbed and pounded it in with herbal packs.

Things got weird when Regni poured butter in my eyes. Yep. Butter in my eyes. A standard Ayurvedic eye-cleansing treatment involves a barrier of sorts being put around the eye area to contain the warm ghee which is poured into it. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly while Regni did this.

“Okay, open your eyes,” she said when she was finished pouring and there was a good inch of warm butter in my eyes.

“Seriously?” I said. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Open your eyes,” she repeated. Slowly and cautiously I opened my eyes, and started moving my eyeballs around as instructed, so the ghee could do its cleansing thing. Three repetitions of this exercise in succession left me both shocked and feeling a bit nauseous.

My liver cleanse the following day (hint: it involves the Ayurvedic version of laxatives washed down with a mixture of warm milk, castor oil, and sugar, before spending the next six hours no more than a few feet from a toilet) wasn’t nearly as “explosive” as I had expected it would be….it was manageable.

By this point my friend Miki (who you may remember as my “husband” from my adventures in Florida) who was getting regular updates from me, decided I needed to leave. “Nora! They’re pouring butter in your eyes and giving you diarrhea! It’s time to come home,” she said.

Hell

India: I was promised peace and quiet and fresh air in Rishikesh – something I needed by this point as the general chaos and crowds of India were unending, and my headaches were only worsening with the noise and poor air quality. Descriptions of Rishikesh given to me created in my imagination an oasis of quiet and greenery and ashrams and people doing “spiritual things” alongside the quiet and holy Ganges river, surrounded by the Himalayan foothills.

Instead, I found this:

Laxman Jhula bridge in Rishikesh, India

This is the Laxman Jhula bridge – a fairly high, long, and narrow suspension bridge across the Ganges river. I was bound for the other side to sniff out an Ayurveda centre that I’d researched online. If the 15 minutes of shuffling across with people on all sides while sidestepping shitting cows, pissed off monkeys, and honking motorcycles wasn’t harrowing enough, I broke completely when I arrived to the other side.

The other side of the bridge was the “ashram” side of town. Where I was told it’s nice and quiet. The scene I found on the other side of the Laxman Jhula bridge was the antithesis of that. A one-lane road lined with stores and stalls on either side and sections of overhead cover to increase the claustrophobic effect, was home to solid pedestrian traffic (including shitting cows and pissed off monkeys), as well as two directions of car/motorcycle traffic. In order to navigate the crowds, these vehicles would lean on their horn – constantly – the entire time. Because of the very narrow width of the road, this meant that while standing as much to the side as possible, often in a pile of cow shit, vehicles grazed by me with inches to spare. Basically, while nursing the beginnings of a migraine, vehicles were honking (continuously) in my ear, while I inhaled the glorious freshness of shit, vehicle exhaust, and if I was lucky, crops and garbage being burned in nearby fields.

I almost booked the next flight out of India.

Instead, I persevered, and found that the Ayurveda centre of my choice was located in a quiet area (all things being relative) a bit outside of town. The price was right for the (extremely basic but sufficient) accommodation, and I booked myself in.

By now I acknowledged that I’d been tipped into a full-on depression that had been percolating for some time, and I needed help.

Panchakarma: Everything went wrong when it came to the enema. I’ve never had an enema before, and I was pretty nervous about the procedure, yet assured (by others who have had enemas) that I’ll feel great afterwards. The first day of my enema treatments involved a (relatively) small amount of Ayurvedic oil being put “up there”. This actually wasn’t too bad, and gave me confidence for the next day’s procedure. (Miki, on the other hand, increased her plea for me to return home. “Nora! First they put butter in your eyes! Now they’ve put oil up your bum! Stop! Stop now! This is insane!”)

When Regni appeared the following day with an obscene amount of medicated liquid that was going to be syphoned up my bum, I paled. Breathing hard in an attempt to relax, I endured the procedure (which was incredibly uncomfortable for me, but apparently some people actually find it pleasurable). What happened afterwards, I can’t explain. I started crying uncontrollably, for an hour. Poor Regni didn’t know what to do with me; she’d never seen a patient do anything like this.

“Most people say ‘ugh’ then go to toilet. Why you cry and cry?” she said bewilderedly, in her broken English.

I couldn’t explain it, except to surmise that some sort of emotional trauma that was stored “up there” was released with the enema. In the realm of the work I’ve done with plant medicine and spirituality, I recognized this as a good thing, but it still felt like absolute hell, and I spent most of the rest of the day in bed under the covers (literally).

And Back Out Again

Rishikesh and Panchakarma

India: I can’t say I ever got accustomed to the vehicles honking in my ear; I frequently yelled obscenities at vehicles and drivers for their very unnecessary contribution to noise pollution. But I did find some quiet spots and learned to appreciate some beauty.

Sitting one day on the steps by the Ganges river (by Ram Jhula bridge), I watched a “ferry boat” (the words ‘ferry’ and ‘boat’ being loose approximations of anything you can conjure up in your mind for such a thing) come across the river and drop off a dozen Indian passengers – women and families – near to where I was sitting. I watched them set up on a tiny spot of “beach” (more like concrete) by the river and ‘bathe’; a holy ritual more than a cleansing act. They also offered prayers to the river (by floating little boats with candles and flowers down the river), and then proceeded to wash their laundry. In that moment, everything was bizarre, and perfect, and beautiful.

Bathing in the Ganges River in Rishikesh

I’ve heard people say “India is like a punch in the gut followed by a big kiss”. They talk about how you can have a challenging day but then the sheer kindness of a stranger, or simplicity of a passing smile, can turn everything around. Sure it can! You’ve just been punched in the gut! You’ll take anything you can get!

I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. I can appreciate a passing smile, or a connection with a stranger, without being abused first.

But in that moment, after the hell of experiencing all the challenges of India, as well as the hell of my own inner demons of depression and the detoxification challenges of Panchakarma, I realized that everything was exactly as it was meant to be, I was in a great period of learning and self-compassion, and all would eventually be okay.

Panchakarma: I was actually scheduled for five enemas – one small (the oil), then big, then small, then big, then small. After my meltdown I was off the hook, and we finished up that part of my therapy with just one more small one, thankyouverymuch. From that point on my treatments were back to delightful and enjoyable, my favourite treatment being warm oil being beaten into me with herbal packs followed by massage. All treatments of course started with a head and shoulder massage and finished with steam.

The day of my final treatment was both happy and sad, as Regni and I had grown quite close. Despite language barriers, I came to know her as a remarkable woman who shines light and fun on every situation (except, perhaps, enema meltdowns), and who has made the most out of a very trying life. She cried when I left, and even though given my lifestyle I’m accustomed to saying goodbye, I had to fight back a few tears myself.

Thank you India: Context, Healing, Self-Compassion, Home

Sadhus in Rishikesh, India

India’s lessons to me were all reminders of what I already knew but perhaps had lost sight of.

India’s first lesson to me was that travel is contextual. My inner landscape of wanting home and a brewing depression was reflected on my outer landscape of challenges. I couldn’t appreciate India’s beauty for all the ugliness I saw (both outside and inside of me).

India’s second lesson was that I needed to take some time to heal, and that healing is hard work. Suffering a migraine on the Deccan Odyssey was my cue to change tack, cancel plans, and do a panchakarma treatment. The panchakarma itself required me to take a lot of time each day to focus on myself; my bodily functions, the food I ate, and more. The emotional release I received during my enema was both agony and a great relief. My continued attention to diet and lifestyle is the gift of Ayurveda, for which I am very grateful. Two weeks of panchakarma didn’t heal me, but it started me well on my way.

India’s third lesson has been ongoing for years, and the hardest yet for me to truly grasp and practice. What is self-compassion and self-kindness, anyway? Is it doing whatever you want to do? In that case, roll me a joint and give me a vat of chocolate….but no, that’s not self-compassion – it’s self-destruction.

I was “supposed to” visit Rishikesh to experience the birthplace of yoga and explore the Indian “brand” of spirituality (having been to two other places of spiritual pilgrimage this year – the Andes of Ecuador and Ubud in Bali). My act of self-compassion was doing none of what I was “supposed to” do in Rishikesh. To forgive myself for changing plans when my body and soul told me I needed to relax, eat good food, sleep, work, read, and see/do nothing more than that. People in Rishikesh laughed when I said (with some degree of pride no less) I didn’t do one yoga class, nor set foot in one ashram in my three weeks there.

In a world where we’re “supposed to” do a lot of things, self-compassion (for me) is really tuning into to my inner voice that might contradict those ‘should’s and following the beat of my own drum instead. Easier said than done, but well worth the effort.

My final act of self-compassion was also realizing that India isn’t my cuppa tea, and being okay with that. Perhaps under a different set of circumstances I could return and love the place. I am totally open to that.

But what India really did for me, in flying colours, was to emphasize something I already knew but to make it irrefutably loud and clear: it’s time for home.

I’ve been whispering this ever since I left Peru, and now I’m prepared to shout it out from the rooftops. They say people travel to escape something or look for something. Although this hasn’t been true for me in the past, it is now. I’m looking for the next place to call home.

I’ll be patient in the search, but I am grateful for this opportunity to get really clear on what I’m doing.

And because of that, my trip to India – heaven, hell, and everything in between – was a great success.

Epilogue: Curious About Panchakarma/Ayurveda?

After reading this post, I was contacted by the owner of an Ayurvedic clinic called Sevayu, near Toronto, where I have since established a home base. He offered me a complimentary massage and shirodara treatment in the hopes that I might have a wider frame of reference to better understand my Panchakarma experience.

The proof is in the pudding: when the doctor met with me prior to my treatment and asked what my challenges were, I mentioned anxiety and never feeling properly rested after sleeping. This allowed him to “prescribe” the right oils and massage methodology for my session. In the two nights following my treatment, I slept better than I had in….well, possibly in my entire life.

If you are in the Toronto (or Mississauga) area and interested in a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, followed by a customized selection of Panchakarma treatments, I can certainly recommend Sevayu. You’re in good hands, and their prices are very reasonable.

Where to Stay in India

I stayed in a hole in Rishikesh. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a hole, but it certainly wasn’t luxurious. If there’s anything I can recommend about travel in India, it’s that you’ll have a good time if you don’t scrimp at every turn. I was staying in a place that cost $6/night. For incrementally more money, I might have had a different – more pleasurable – experience. (Too bad for me I couldn’t handle moving any more, so I stuck to my guns). 

Don’t be like me. Check out the deals below and get a place that fits your travel budget but is also a decent place. 

Booking.com

Things to do in India

My second piece of India travel advice is to book organized tours. My time aboard the Deccan Odyssey was utterly delightful – and also incredibly educational. While you don’t have to ride the most luxurious train in the world to have a safe and pleasurable experience, I recommend checking out some of the bestselling India tours below:

Staying in India for six weeks including three weeks of Panchakarma treatments included the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Here is my adventure. #India #Panchakarma #Rishikesh #traveltales #TheProfessionalHobo #DeccanOdyssey #luxuryIndia
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60 thoughts on “Heaven and Hell: Panchakarma as a Reflection of (My Time in) India”

  1. Your path is a winding one Nora, but you sound like you’ve an idea of the direction you’re heading, that’s a positive thing in my book!
    With your good attitude you should do ok.

    Reply
  2. Idk why but this has me bawling. Good luck on your health journey. Mine has been crazy with reiki and Ayurveda and half the time I’m like “WTF just happened?” And “I’ve gotta put WHAT in my WHERE?”

    Reply
  3. As always Nora, I love your honesty and sharing your challenges through your beautiful writing.
    It sounds like something new is trying hard to get born in you. I’m so proud of you for listening to that inner voice and even more excited to see this next chapter of your life.
    Sending you love and healing.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ms. Love! I think you’re right about something new being born. I’ve been resisting it because it may mean making some big and scary changes, but then again, it’s nothing I haven’t done before….

      Reply
  4. Bravo, Nora! Bravo for sharing your vulnerable, authentic experience. I respect you for following your own path that does not always make sense to others. But if we pay attention, it ends up making perfect sense, don’t you think? It takes a lot of courage, but as you know, reaps the rewards. It has led to your extraordinary life. I, too, live my life this way. Thank you for enriching my life by writing about it. Keep doing you, its awesome!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Emily! Indeed, if I get out of my own way long enough to take a look at what’s going on, everything is in perfect harmony and makes perfect sense. That’s kind of what happened to me when I sat by the river towards the end of this tale.

      Reply
  5. Dear Nora,
    Before your trip to India, I saw a picture of you and I said to myself that you were not feeling well. I thought you had enough travelling. May you find an exquisite place to rest and start a joyfull life.
    Roxanne…

    Reply
    • Thank you, Roxanne! The irony is that the travels must continue until I find that place to call home, but hopefully now that I know what I’m looking for it will be a bit easier. 🙂

      Reply
  6. oh man, what a crazy journey! as a health guy, I’ve often thought about enemas but I’ve never done one. Perhaps it’s better that way LOL.

    Reply
    • Hey Ken,
      Tough as it may have been, I’m actually grateful for the enema. A friend and physical therapist wrote me an email after reading this article, saying that it’s actually quite common for people to have emotional outbursts when they have enemas – it’s normal to store lots of emotions and stress “up there”. So, perhaps that episode was the most healing part of my entire panchakarma experience. Ha!

      Reply
  7. Hey Nora,
    Oh I feel you on some of your India observations. We intentionally choose India as the last country on our year long Southeast Asia trip because we were pretty sure it would be, in certain ways, a struggle to be there. For us India had some of the best and worst things of life and travel. It sounds like going to India was the final straw so to speak for you to get clarity on what should be your next steps, so in the weirdest of ways, India speaks again. Best thoughts for your next transition.

    Reply
    • Hey Tiffany,
      Indeed! I knew that finding a home was important prior to going to India, but India certainly made it abundantly clear – ha ha! Like you say…India speaks again! 😉

      Reply
  8. Hi Nora,

    I loved your account of India. I missed my opportunity a couple years ago, but your descriptions were so vivid, I felt like I was there with you. I especially loved your lessons learned…I had to reread them as they were heart felt. Thank you for a very well written piece. We have much to learn from you.

    Reply
  9. What a compelling essay Nora! Being an editor of travel stories, my attention is not easily held, but your descriptions and self-reflection are beautifully woven together and I could not stop reading.

    Your years of travel and experimentation have given you such strength even in your rarely-found public exploration of vulnerability. Not one to offer advice to anyone who does not ask for it (and even then…), I did have a premonition of your current worldview from the time we started to correspond. There are certain archetypal experiences and realizations that sensitive and thoughtful people seem to embody, regardless of specific circumstance and location.

    I am very happy for you no matter what you do, as you seem to have reached many levels of spiritual transformation necessary to reach and appreciate inner peace or a desire for peace in general. Your travels remind me of some of Herman Hesse’s great novels (I think he is underrated in the way he merged a reading of Nietzsche et al and spiritual views from both East and West, with the huge influence of India — thank you for confirming what likely would be my reaction to what you experienced).

    The linkage of travel and literature seems completely organic, and your Odyssey has always been the source of great interest to me as to so many of your legion of followers, as few are willing to take the risks you have taken. My view of “adventure travel” transcends merely seeking adrenalin rushes, and courage is the willingness to see the world from as many perspectives as possible.

    I look forward to your coming choices as you report them and wish you all the good karma you deserve for giving so much of yourself to others.

    Reply
    • Hi Greg,
      Thank you SO much for your observations! I value your opinion greatly, and what you write means a lot to me. Heck – a comparison to Herman Hesse?? Wow. Keep it up – and I may just get around to writing that book I’ve been inspired to write about travel. 😉
      Thank you. I feel very lucky to count you as a friend.

      Reply
  10. Travel is acceptance and adjustment and rejection…and this is for any traveler in any part of the world. I know of Indians finding it difficult to adjust in the western world (food, lifestyle etc.) and having a harrowing stay, long or short.
    Enjoyed reading your matter-of-fact India posts

    Reply
  11. You tried India and that is important. I dislike when people have to say they “love” or “hate” India. Just go and experience what it’s like. You don’t have to have a strong opinion about it. India is one of my favorite countries. It’s tough sometimes but what it comes down to it’s the most interesting place in the world for me. And that’s why I like traveling there.

    Reply
    • Hi Stephen,
      I agree completely – not only is travel in general a very individual experience, but also, there’s no need to make sweeping statements about loving or hating a place. I’m glad you like India, and I understand why you would (despite my own experience there).

      Reply
  12. I’ve known it all along.. or at least ever since we (finally!) met in person: you’re one courageous, honest and hilarious soul. Onward ho… to ‘home’ wherever that might be – and don’t I know it!!

    Reply
    • Amit,
      I think we’re two peas in a pod in more than one way! May our respective journeys be gentle and fun (and with minimal butter in the eyes and oil up the butt). 😉

      Reply
  13. Thanks for braving the share as I know it is difficult being authentic when one is committed to keeping up an appearance or pleasingly their readers. In life moderation, I have learned is key. I travelled for about 5 years without having a stable home and I know what that did to me. There is nothing like having your own kitchen, cooking rom prepping your own food, your own warm bed to sleep in that you know was not holding so many others before you.

    It is almost impossible to be truly healthy when you eat at so many different places, taking in so much more than your bare eyes can see. The stomach goes through hell, less more the rest of the body, the mind, the soul. I won t even mention the environmental hazards and toxic intake your body beholds. And if one is an animal consumer then….good luck.

    Healing is not all fabulous and smooth as the images deceive. It is painful, dirty and stink and India is a perfect classroom to teach you that. Poverty is tricky and so is abundance.

    I am happy that you are hearing the call that most likely has been ringing for a while. Find a home. Set up. Then go and come as you please. The self destruction of traveling to showcase and to create an impression is bitter. You find it easy to share the bright color moments but the truth is in the difficult moments of sharing the shadow truths. It’s time to EVOLVE!
    All the best to your soul.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing, Sas, and for your compassionate observations.
      For years now, I have been committed to sharing my experiences without (much of!) a filter, for better and worse. I’m reaching a point in my life (and travels) where what filter there was, is coming off. You’re right – my life, my travels, and my writing, are all evolving. That’s life! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Love your honesty, Nora. If you want to learn more about self-compassion, Buddhism is the best teacher. And if you’re willing to risk a trip to India again, I recommend you visit Dharamshala and McLeodganj. I did a 5-day Introduction course at the Tushita Meditation Centre there years ago, while I was on my own path of healing, and I loved it. Als you’ll get nothing BUT peace and quiet. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you for the recommendation, Priya!
      I think it will be a while before I set foot in India again, but I’ve certainly not ruled out the possibility, and I hear Dharamshala is gorgeous.

      Reply
  15. I was in India for 3 weeks in 1997 and found out that it wasn’t my cup of tea either Nora! It was definitely “interesting” but it was also exhausting. And filthy. And crowded. And infuriatingly bureaucratic.

    Reply
    • Hey Marie,
      Yep. Seems like we had similar experiences. Funny thing is, some people find all these factors somehow charming; they enjoy being confronted in this way, and rise to the challenge to see the world in a different way. Perhaps in another time on my life under a different set of circumstances, I could have done the same.
      And let’s get it right: my luxury times in India were downright blissful. Perhaps India is one of those places that is exponentially easier to travel in/through, the more money you invest in the experience. I guess that’s a worldwide phenomenon.

      Reply
  16. Nora,

    (Speaking as a human, who happens to have Indian Ethnicity, however as a Indian-American)

    Panch-Karma, done properly, organized, communicated properly, and performed properly. Well, you have to look west young lady. Basically, one of the better (side) outcomes of the TM (transidental movement of the 70s – please dont join TM!!! dont!), is their Panch-Karma, branded name Maharishi_Ayurveda.

    (Wiki page:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maharishi_Vedic_Approach_to_Health)

    They are not cheap as in India, however, they are very organized, and systematic, and not half-assed as in India, especially the north, only for this kind of stuff. I like northerners over southerners… even being an Indian myself!!! well, Indian-American! India, in general, is shit (air, noise, water, sanitary, population pollution), with some exceptions! I hear your! I hate going myself!!!! north, south anywhere! (Except for like way up north near the Himalayas if one doesn’t get killed )

    Maharishi_Vedic_Approach_to_Health:
    I would perhaps recommend their center near FrankFurt (https://ayurveda-badems.com/).

    Or if your are more comfortable being with USA/Canada:
    http://www.theraj.com/ (This will cost you) and here is the main link:http://www.mapi.com/ayurvedic-self-care/learn-panchakarma-self-care.html

    About Ayuervedic:
    1. Dont discount it!!!! your “husband” (why do you call him that, why not just X or XBF?). Although, your “husband” probably meant to communicate for you to get out of there, rightly fully so, because they were probably not conducting it properly as here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i_OEB73zFI
    However, I am not even sure, if you needed this!!!! Only if you have problems with your eyesight, or eye related or “heat” in your eyes stuff only then you need this! Not for stress release!

    2. Ayurveda is not a magic cure! It might not work! Especially if done in a half-assed manner or fully screwed up manner! And even if done with assistance of a super duper well qualified practitioner! It’s not just “chemical” or based on Colon cleanse from mouth or the other end (Enima), and Herbs/Herbal Tablets,and not just on Diet Changes, and not just on Life Style Changes.
    Although, all that surely will help! (if pulse is checked properly – that is diagnoses, and properly administered recommendations with caution!)
    The full cure has to do with yourself, and supposedly your subconscious, and therefore your energetic bodies (Pran body in Ayurveda, your Chi in Chinese)…that is all levels of your consciousness affect —> subtle body–>blah, blah, blah—>energetic body—>which then affect your physical body.
    Still, if you have say a serious physical problem, please see a regular doctor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allopathic_medicine), like if for heart palps etc.

    3. See more than one Ayurvedic practitioner (hopefully not Indian, however, there are some good ones out there, and stick to the West!). I actually found one in India once who was an excellent Homeopathic (note readers Homeopathic originated in Germany not India) with very good skill at pulse reading (cant explain how to determine whats very good). Any way, there are some pretty good ones in the west (USA). Go to 3 or 5 people who check your pulse, which is always, always, the first step! DO NOT TELL THEM YOU HAVE BEEN TO ANY ONE BEFORE! Because then their pulse reading could become biased!

    4. Basically, Panch Karma I was to do in Germany and had it scheduled, however something very personal came up. Note: I am of Indian ethnicity (Indian-American), and I haven’t visited INDIA, nd hope never have to!!!! Most people who write about it as in awe don’t visit most of India. One doesn’t need to visit India, or another country to be spiritual or even know the definition of spirit (which I dont!). Ayuerveda, heck, stay in the USA (sorry dont have much info on Canada with Ayuerveda).
    “The Raj” center is supposed to be execellent. I was supposed to go here with another person, who was a part of the nutty TM movement for like 15 years. He’s a nut, but oddly, even a nut has some good abilities like Ayurvedic/PanchKarma, he does read my pulse, however,hes an amateur, however still pretty good. Oh, hes not Indian, hes a nutty schmuckaroo!

    I might go to one of their other cheaper centers in New Mexico or somewhere this year. BTW – They all want to make money too! However, they are already making money, so its not like India, where they are starving for money or just always hungry for money or just plain idiots (undisciplined… therefore shit quality or worse harmful to your health).

    5. I follow Ayuervedic stuff, plus other non Ayuervedic stuff.
    I am a Male in my late 40s. Been doing this stuff for almost 20 years! I was diagnosed with some Thyroid stuff. I opted out of western stuff because of bad experiences with US (NY) Health Care with 2 family members and also myself.

    Other stuff that has worked for me:Herb Pharm, Thyroid Calming, System Restoration. And MotherWart (yes! Actually works for me!), and Lemon Balm!.
    Then there is Ayuervedic stuff that has worked for my moodyness.
    Then Western Vitamins like Iron, Vitamin B Complex (Low Dose! High dose may give you palps). Plus, have to do that Panch Karma. WHich has to all do with Pitta (fire), Vatta (wind), and Kapha (dont know ) balancing!
    (Asian/Chinese medicine has similar stuff just different words)
    Yes, once you understand it, and kind of make an effort to understand your body, mind, personality, it will make sense (however – mind is a big one here it, I am speaking in a shallow manner, not like sub conscious mind etc, etc.)

    As far as you go, without Ayuervedic stuff in mind. You just look tired. You might want to go home. As in Toronto! You might go into this thing about what is home, where do I belong, etc, etc, there is phsyical traveling, and then there is mind traveling. You feel Ungrounded! You want grounding! HavingYour “husband” or new “husband” might help, but then you have to ask will it that kind of “grounding” be there forever?

    Basically, I think you need to rest. And feel safe. So you could rest. Maybe you could figure out aside from the physical rest, whats the mental stuff thats got you less grounded. There is nothing wrong with going back to Toronto! Its not like you feel defeated about a purpose to Travel! Look at Bill Bryson’s way of travelling. He traveled (probably still travels) but is also GROUNDED!

    Oh by the way, even as a Guy, I am learning more about hormones (that includes Thyroid, and all kinds of glands), and it really does a big number on women (married, unmarried, divorced, with kids, without kids, and even say nun types!!! – I actually know these women in my life !!! not some BS).

    Utilize your Canada Healtcare girl, get Hypo and Hyper Thyroid tests (simple blood test) done. There are also tests for checking out your Adrenal Glands (also simple blood test – I forget count of of something). These are western (regular) tests, not like those books who talk about self diagnoses of Adrenal Fatigue (which actually is also true) but regular lab tests that exist are awesome cause you get to it so much quicker to have or better to eliminate the possibility. BTW, talking about women, I know someone going through MenoPause for sometime now (yeah its taking time for somreason) her hormones were doing a number on her, including low energy.

    Enough of my god darn rant!

    Reply
  17. Having read the article, I would say that it was the author’s lack of research which led to this dilemma. Sure, India is a bit overwhelming if you are there for the first time but the adventurous may get a hang of it eventually. It is just a question of the individual’s taste. This article paints an entire country in a dim light when words like hate are being associated with it. That being said, I would also like to point out that not everyone might find India very palatable! It is a developing country which might have it’s cons and a seasoned traveler knows that the infrastructure is poor compared to developed countries. But calling an entire country shit based on a superficial experience is questionable indeed. Also from your account of your preference, I find it surprising that you chose India as your destination!
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Hi Justin,
      I’m not sure what article you read, but it wasn’t the one I wrote above, because absolutely nowhere did I “call the entire country shit”.

      In fact, let me re-iterate one of the first few paragraphs of the article:
      “So while I’m going to admit up front that on the whole I didn’t like India, it’s not a definite statement about the country or people, nor am I discounting the opinions of the many people who love India. It’s not a challenge or a competition.”

      Reply
    • Hey, Justin: I’m living in Auroville, Tamil Nadu which is visionaries paradise-definitely NOT “real” India. You want me to Go Pro the cow shit on a well-travelled scooty ride to town? It’s like 50/ 50 cow shit/pavement. I think Delhi just broke the worst pollution world record with Diwali fireworks, garbage burning, and a thermal inversion to start with. I’m constantly amazed at noise levels even in “peaceful” rural areas. People in close proximity have never heard of “Inside voice” levels. I can share my own horror stories about Indian enemas: first customer finishes, gets off the table, toss the used newspaper on top, put fresh newspaper, your turn. Unwashed hands handling the equipment about to go up your ass. I saw the oil massages going on, but no way I’m lying on somebody else’s oil residue. THERE IS NO CONCEPT OF HYGIENE, DISEASE VECTORS, etc. “My infection is your infection” seems to be the mantra. I can go on-we haven’t even touched the Dante levels of foul smells.

      Reply
  18. I traveled to Rishikesh myself, to Parmarth yoga center on the bank of the Ganges river. My own culture shock with India was the number of garbage piles everywhere, the smoke, the dangerous dirty roads, and filth all over. Honking was also disturbing. A lot in Indians smoke, pee, poop, yell in public. And a lot of them do not speak English, even though it is an official language of the country. I felt threatened and scared all the time. I was attacked by a silly monkey. I now live in Bangalore in the South and I am encountering the very same trouble. As a travel writer, I feel I can never write about India, as I don’t want to sound negative about the country, I just want to share with you.

    Reply
    • Hi Sid,
      I’m sorry that your experience of India has not been great. May I ask: why do you continue to live there?
      You bring up an interesting point about how we as travel writers portray India. I have gotten a lot of flack for this article, and for simply describing my experience of India, which I believe I did honestly and fairly to my experience.
      A lot of writers write a lot of negative things about a lot of countries, but somehow India is supposed to be “untouchable”. Having said that, I do admire the fierce pride many Indians have for their country. Its is such pride that will (hopefully) help the nation improve every day.

      Reply
    • If you don’t like feel comfortable or safe in India, then leave. No one forced you there. This is the home to millions. Remember you a visitor. You are in a foreign country, English should not be expected. Go home to your comforts and safeties, and language you desire and expect.
      As a traveler you are a guest. Observe, appreciate and practice gratitude or go. It’s thst simple.

      Reply
  19. Hi Nora,
    Firstly i apologies for not having a great experience to you in India.
    Yes we are over populated, noisy especially in north (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab & Fewer cities in uttarakhand nearby to delhi & UP), air quality is severe.
    India is very diverse country, we speak majorly 22 langauges, different cultures, different people, lots of mouth lickering food and many more.
    One major thing i would like to highlight here is that all the major cities are overly populated reason being most of the opportunity in the big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore & Kolkata, people from rural India are migrating to these cities for their better future or i can say have a better lifestyle.
    If you like peaceful & less crowdy places then avoid big cities and experience other cities & hills, you’ll definately have diffierent experience.
    I would recommend few places if you’ll visit again:
    In North: Laddakh, dharmshala, dalhousie, mcleodganj, mussoorie, manali, nainitaal.
    In North east: Start from Darjeeling, gangtok, tawang, shillong, cherapuji.
    In West: Vadodara, kutch, Ahemdabad, gandhinagar, Nashik, Mahabaleswar, Pune, Goa.
    In South: Maysore, Ooty, kodaikanal, Gokarna, Kunnur, Kerala espcially munnar, rameshwaram.
    Apart from above visit port blair (Andaman & Nicobar), lakshadweep islands.
    At last i will just say travel is all about experiencing things, places, culture, food etc. so buckle up for roller coster ride and all the best.:-

    Reply
  20. I read your article and really admire your efforts to reveal truth. As an Indian I would recommend you to stay in good hotel that may cost higher but offer comfortable experience. An average person in India does not live in a hotel less than $25/ night. And you lived in a $6 per day hotel. So it was not a good idea. Also you need to select places far from cities and near to the nature. There are many 5 stars and 7 stars hotels in Rishikesh and around India where you could have enjoyed peace and harmony. The global brand of Marriot is also present around Idea. So, next time you check in, try to avail the services of a good branded hotel.

    Reply
    • Hi Davinderpal,
      I experienced the full spectrum of accommodation in India, from the Fairmont in Jaipur, to a few $40/night hotels, to $20 hostels, to my $6/night room in Rishikesh. Certainly, I learned that the more money you are prepared the spend, the more comfortable an experience you’ll (usually) have!
      But I was also surprised at what amount is recommended to spend on hotels in India. Like you say, $25 as a minimum is suggested. Somebody else told me that $40 is their minimum threshold.
      This surprised me because from afar, I had always read that India is so very cheap, and many people brag about how they got great hotel rooms for $10 or less.
      In reality, my $6/night room in Rishikesh was much better than my $45/night room in Mumbai….

      Reply
  21. I just got back from 6 weeks in Rishikesh. As someone who has done panchakarma in the past, I have to say, you really need to go in very well educated on how pk works and affects a person. All of what you experienced was normal. It can take 2-6 months following treatment to really see the therapies take hold, and a good center will have you on medicine to rebuild your system following treatment. I stayed at a center that just opened and all sattvic meals were included along with a nice room. With treatments and all accommodations it was $130 per day. On the high end in Rishikesh but worth it, the place was clean and quiet. It is frustrating to see the trash there, and then there is the smells. I knew how dire it was to stay:

    1. Warm but not hot
    2. Cool but not cold
    3. Silent and calm

    So I stayed with ear plugs, very good ear plugs. It helped minimize the noise to my sensitive body. A hat is a must to stay out of the sun. Keeping talking and walking to an absolute minimum. I personally had a really lovely experience, but it requires a lot of knowledge and prep work. The doctors in India don’t explain a lot. I was lucky to have gotten an American before going to India that helped me understand what the process was and how to have it be successful. Whenever I go back for another round I will be even more prepared.

    Glad you found a place in Toronto that helped you. Migraines and headaches tend to be a pitta problem, the ghee in the eyes definitely disturbs imbalances in the head area where pitta is predominate.

    Reply
    • Hi Jenny,
      You’re absolutely right. While I had a (Canadian) friend in India who had initially turned me on to the idea of doing Panchakarma, when the place she recommended (in the south of India) was unavailable, I was left to my own devices to find a place and that’s where things went wrong.

      To be honest I wouldn’t recommend the place I went to. My frame of reference isn’t good enough to say if they were good or bad, but it wasn’t an “all-inclusive” deal and I believe all-inclusive is a very good thing in order to properly control your diet and circumstances and get the most of the treatments.
      Instead I was left on my own find restaurants that served PK-friendly meals, and I probably bent the rules more than I should have – or would have if food had been provided.
      I also was given so many different pieces of information regarding diet etc, I was thoroughly confused as to what I could or couldn’t eat.

      Anyway, thanks for weighing in, and I’m glad you had a good experience with PK in Rishikesh!

      Reply
  22. Nice long article. Ayurveda originated in India and is the ancient Yogic science. Panchakarma is gaining popularity nowadays. In India itis best done in Southern India, specially Kerela.
    Even Every state of India has Government Ayurvedic Hospitals where Panchakarma is done.

    Reply
  23. India is an odd choice to get peace and quiet. I have been reading about India for some time, subconsciously contemplating a visit. However, the crowd abd vibrancy aren’t really my cup of tea to be honest. You were not well but chose India. I wonder if you subconscious tried to shock you into coming home (Toronto).

    Reply
    • Hey 33,
      I’m not sure I knew I was unwell when I chose to visit India; I booked the ticket because of a killer seat sale from Indonesia!
      But I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and hitting rock bottom – whether it was in India or elsewhere – was important for me to realize I needed a home base.

      Reply
  24. It is just a matter of perception; people in India will never treat it as hell; on the other hand, the picture can be completely different and in Ayurveda, it is said that healthy living comes from within.

    Reply
    • You are absolutely right, Sarah! It’s all about perception, and context – as I was careful to point out right from the start.
      And indeed, health is much more of an internal thing than most of us can comprehend.

      Reply
  25. A great read, impressive in its honesty and straightforwardness.

    I’m surprised, though, that your therapist in India wasn’t aware of the emotional impact of ayurvedic enemas. The meltdown you experienced is a *very* common phenomenon, in fact, and I witnessed it first hand in a number of the people who underwent the same 21-day Panchakarma treatment I did in Bali a few years ago. I personally didn’t have a strong reaction, and on second thought I suspect it’s because I need a considerably longer cleansing regimen due to the two chronic health issues I suffer from.

    The ayurvedic clinics in Ubud (I believe there are 2 or of them now) charge very steep prices for their Panchakarma programmes. A good and much more affordable alternative are the German-managed hotel-clinics in Sri Lanka, several of which offer high-quality Panchakarma and other ayurveda treatments. I’ll be visiting a couple of them this coming summer and am really looking forward to the experience.

    Glad you got such profound and immediate headache and insomnia relief from the clinic in Mississagua!

    Reply
    • Hi Yelena,
      I have a friend who goes to Sri Lanka almost every year for Panchakarma, and she swears by it. I hope you have a great experience.

      And yes, with a good dose of hindsight, these guys didn’t really know what they were doing, as I’ve been told that enema-inspired emotional releases are actually quite common.
      Ah well – at least it made for a good story! 😉

      Reply
  26. Hi Nora,

    Feeling hard for not having a fabulous experience for you in India. From your perspective of view, you’re right. Anyway, the Union of India is an amalgamation of 29 different cultures. India is home to one of the wettest, coldest and humid places in the entire globe. “India is a country of many diversities: India is a country which comprises 29 states and 7 union territories together forming 36 entities in total.

    So, next time visit other parts of India. Especially, south India where it is my favorite. At least south India is more developed in infrastructure ( especially Kerala ), not overpopulated.

    Reply
  27. I read your article and I just wanted to shed some perspective I feel is missing. I think you were already vulnerable in some ways when you arrived and you had certain expectation of how healing would be for you. Panchakarma is not a relaxing detox. It is a very intense cleansing proces for your body, mind and soul. Most people feel worse during it. Because your body needs energy to heal. You feel sluggish and tired and weak. But it also brings up emotions that were supressed. Panchakarma means going back to the roots of who you are. It is not a spa. You learn to look inwards. You were focussing on surroundings and views outside and other people. When you have certain expectations you sabbotage your healing process, because your expectations force your healingproces. An important way to get there is to let go and listen to your inside voice, not your thoughts but your authentic emotions: your emotional brain. What does it say. It is very hard to listen and know. It will take time. I hope you find what you are looking for.

    Reply
    • Hi Selin,
      I agree 100% with everything you wrote! Panchakarma is not a spa retreat, and healing can be tough work. Also, the inner work I was already doing was likely exacerbated by the Panchakarma making everything even more challenging. Lastly, expectations do very much sabotage the healing process.
      Thank you for your perspective and wisdom!

      Reply

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