India Yoga Tour 2011

Indian Summer: A Journey of Yoga, Culture and Calm

Kaivalyadhama, Mumbai and Kerala
February 6th-20th 2011

Your Guides:
David Stott (Author, Footprint India guidebook)
Helen Laird (Yoga Teacher)

This India yoga tour focuses on deepening your yoga practice, experiencing beautiful and rarely explored parts of Kerala, and helping you make sense of the incredible melting pot of ideas and cultures that is 21st-century India.

India can challenge you on many different levels, and this tour is not about us trying to shelter you from the reality of life. This is not going to be the twenty-thousand-dollar “Eat Pray Love” tour, with ridiculously fancy hotels and obsequious attendants bowing to your every demand. What we will do is introduce you to the reality of India in a supportive way, with understanding, compassion – and a suitable amount of comfort.

And we will, of course, eat – handsomely and authentically, in ashrams, thali restaurants, and from the scrupulously clean kitchens of Brahmin householders in rural Kerala. We’ll learn the complex etiquette of Brahmin table manners, and get a chance to turn our hands to a few traditional vegetarian recipes.

We’ll also have ample opportunity to pray. Nowhere I’ve ever travelled comes close to India in its power to reconnect you with the sacred. In a country where gods almost outnumber the people who worship them, you’ll see first-hand how the humblest act can be treated as an act of devotion, and why one writer claims that “in India, you can experience three miracles before breakfast”.

I can’t promise you love. But I can say that 90 percent of people who go to India end up feeling a strong desire to return, over and over again. For me, my first visit to India changed my life in the best possible way. I arrived stuck in a dismal, depressing rut. When I walked out six weeks later it was with a new career, a new zest for life, and a new appreciation of the illusory nature of fear, shame, and all the other emotional rubbish that gets between people and their happiness.

So let’s cut to the chase. Here’s the trip I’ve got planned for you, this Indian Summer.

Your itinerary

Part One: A week of Yoga

Sunset over Kaivalyadhama

As a smooth introduction to India, we’ll spend a week at Kaivalyadhama, a pioneering yoga hospital, college and research centre in the Sahyadri Hills east of Mumbai. This week includes:

  • Two yoga asana classes per day – suitable for any standard
  • A variety of meditation classes – try tratak (Candle meditation) and sitar meditation
  • Consultation with expert Ayurvedic doctor, and one free massage or shirodhara treatment
  • Two daily treatments in the centre’s naturopathy clinic
  • Training in yogic cleansing techniques (kriyas)
  • Daily lectures on yoga philosophy, medicine and Ayurveda
  • Private sightseeing tour to Karla Caves, a superb example of rock-cut Buddhist temple architecture
  • Private sightseeing and shopping tour to Pune, the ancient capital of Maratha king Shivaji and one of India’s fastest-growing cities; we’ll also stop in for a full traditional Maharasthran thali
  • Plenty of free time to practice, use the library, or talk with Swami Maheshananda, the spiritual head of the ashram (Swamiji’s travel schedule permitting)

Part Two: Mumbai

Riding the Rails in Mumbai

The home of Bollywood, Slumdog Millionaire, and 21 million dreams. We’ll stay two nights in a unique but very comfortable temple guesthouse in the relatively tranquil beachside suburb of Juhu, and venture into the heart of the city for a day of exploring museums, fine shopping, and feasting on street food. If you’re feeling brave, we can arrange an optional tour to Dharavi – the world’s biggest slum.

Part Three: Kerala – The River Nila

Country boat cruise on quiet backwaters

For a taste of Indian culture that tourists rarely see, we’ll spend four days exploring the verdant rural landscapes of the River Nila, which flows through rich rice farming country to meet the Arabian Sea on the legendary Malabar Coast. The Nila is considered the birthplace of much of Kerala’s renowned classical and folk culture; it is also one of the holiest of Kerala’s rivers, and is known locally as Dakshinaganga, or the “Ganges of the South”.

A taste of Nila folk culture. Courtesy of Vayali Folklore Group

Our journey along the Nila will be guided by award-winning responsible travel company The Blue Yonder. Travelling with their local guides is like stepping into an episode of the Arabian Nights, as they make the river come alive with extraordinary-but-true tales of  psychic sages, warrior kings and celebrity elephants.

This portion of the trip offers a rare insight into rural Indian life, far beyond the guidebook trail. Activities here include:

  • afternoon cruise aboard a traditional timber thoni boat, along quiet waterways that hint at how Kerala’s backwaters would have looked before large-scale houseboat tourism
  • a private performance of authentic folk music and dance by the internationally-renowned Vayali folk troupe
  • a morning with the masters at the Kerala Kalamandalam performing arts academy, where we’ll see classical musicians and dancers in training
  • visits to local traditional crafts people
  • four nights of exceptional accommodation in a variety of ancient Namboodiri (Keralite Brahmin) homes and heritage hotels
  • optional cooking class with Uma, our hostess at the Kodeeri Mana guesthouse
  • time to relax and watch village life go by.

Our tour will finish in the historic port of Fort Cochin. We’ll celebrate a memorable journey with a final Kerala feast, and there’ll be time to see the famous Chinese fishing nets and catch up on some last minute shopping before we transfer to Cochin airport for the flight home.

Traditional Kerala feast

As well as everything I’ve already mentioned, your package includes:

  • Accommodation
  • All ground transport and airport transfers
  • Mumbai and Cochin sightseeing tours in air-conditioned minibus
  • All meals during our time in Kaivalyadhama and the River Nila
  • Internal flight from Mumbai-Kozhikode (Kerala)

How much will it cost?

The price of the full tour is AU$1,950/US$1790/£1,150 per person.

Yoga-Only Option

If you can’t spare the time for the full 16-day journey, but want to experience yoga in India and a brief taste of the country, we offer the option of booking in for just the first week of the trip. If you’d like to know more, contact Helen.

Longer Options

If you want to extend your journey in India, David can offer advice and put you in touch with recommended tour agencies and travel providers. Tea and spice plantation tours, trekking with tigers and elephants, houseboat cruises – get in touch with us and let us know what you’d like to do.

International Flights and Visas

We’ve deliberately not included international flights, as the price to reach India varies greatly depending on where you’re coming from and how many connections you’re prepared to make. From Australia, Singapore Airlines can fly you into Mumbai and out of Cochin (Kochi) for around AU$1500 return in February. This route connects smoothly with the two ends of our tour, but we’re happy to advise on alternative routes – wherever your departure airport might be.

Visas for India (required by all visitors) are also not included in the price quoted. VFS handle all India visa applications in Australia and the UK; the current fees for a 6-month tourist visa are AU$93 or £39.05. In the USA, apply through Travisa; a six-month visa costs US$73 .


  1. Peter

    August 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    I’m wondering how much previous experience of yoga the participants should have. If there is a really wide range of knowledge, how would the different participants feel?

  2. Helen

    August 25, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Hi Peter,
    Excellent question.
    The yoga component of the trip is designed to accommodate all levels of experience. Kaivalaydhama has people from all walks of life and abilities attending their classes. Many people come specifically for yoga therapy never having tried yoga before. For people who’ve practiced yoga for many years they’ll benefit from experiencing a different method of teaching. Everyone will learn new practices and techniques rarely taught in the west.
    Of course, I will also be on hand throughout the trip to answer any questions people may have about yoga.
    I think the most important thing one should have is an interest in learning about new ideas and different cultures. In India some of the most profound yoga lessons I’ve had the teacher never mentioned the word yoga.

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