Saturday 17 March 2018

At peace in incredible India: 'Magnificent, mesmerising, crazy and chaotic'

Holidays in India

Splendour: Bara Imambara is a shrine built by the Nawab of Awadh at Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, India
Splendour: Bara Imambara is a shrine built by the Nawab of Awadh at Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, India

Judy Murray

There would appear to be some confusion as to why I failed to do yoga with the Prime Minister of India, but trust me, it was due to circumstances beyond my control.

At an address to the United National General Assembly in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that yoga was an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition, embodying unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfilment. It creates harmony between man and nature and is a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, a means of discovering a sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature.

In this increasingly divided world, yoga is also integrating humanity. Subsequently, the UN declared June 21 as International Day of Yoga.

This year, I had the good fortune to be invited by Prime Minister Modi to kickstart the International Yoga Day by performing various yoga asanas at Ramabai Ambedkar Rally Grounds in his homeplace of Lucknow.

I was not alone, however, and found myself (and the other 49 people in the party) boarding a bus outside our hotel at 3am. A pitch black morning, the rain was falling in sheets, intense lightning turned night into day, allowing us glimpses of the unusually quiet Lucknow streets and ragged shelters in the shanty towns along our route. Accompanied by a military escort, we quickly arrived at Ramabai and were excited at the prospect of joining 50,000 other invitees at the yoga rally. We made our way through the strict security and, arriving at our own corral in the vast outdoor arena, discovered our yoga mats floating on the sodden ground. In the distance, we could see the covered podium where Modi was to perform his asanas, and, as the light improved, I was able to see the huge crowds all waiting patiently and quietly in the deluge for their president to arrive. Some wise ones had taken shelter under a couple of temple-like structures, but the majority, which included 50 now very wet Westerners, covered their heads with their yoga mats in a feeble attempt to stay dry.

Although daylight was increasing, the sky remained dark with clouds and, as it was the monsoon season, it looked unlikely that the deluge would stop any time soon. Drenched to the skin, we decided that it would be impossible to actually do any yoga on the very wet ground, and it would probably be healthier and safer if we returned to our bus and travelled back to our hotel. After hot showers and some warming coffee we were able to watch the Prime Minister live on television. So you see, while I admit to weakness, I hope Prime Minister Modi considers me wise rather than rude.

India is magnificent, mesmerising, crazy and chaotic, and visitors come for a variety of reasons. Perhaps for some it is the people, who, particularly in rural areas, are the kindest and most hospitable you could wish to meet. Or they come for the Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful architectural wonders of the world. Possibly it's for the maharajas, moguls, majestic forts and opulent pink palaces of Rajasthan, or to track the wild elephants and tigers of Bengal or for the golden, glorious beaches in the south. But in this increasingly busy, divided and stressful world, growing numbers of people, concerned with their holistic wellbeing, are also travelling to India to find wellness and spirituality, practising yoga and attending meditation retreats.

Religion is integral to everyday Indian life, and yoga is part of it. The Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) is dedicated to the promotion of common yoga protocol within India and internationally.

We visited Anusandhana Samsthana, a unique yoga university based on the vision and teachings of Swami Vivekananda, which provides a variety of higher education programmes using the best of the East (yoga and spiritual teachings) with that of the West (modern scientific research), working to make yoga a socially relevant science.

An hour or so away from Bengaluru (Bangalore), the campus is a low-rise affair sitting in the middle of lush rolling hills, and once inside the grounds there is an immediate aura of peace and calm, a complete contrast to the bustle and chaos of the nearby city. There are lecture rooms, a library, dormitories, practice halls and research laboratories, and the students are taught in a well-planned daily routine suited to simple living and high thinking. There are BSc and PhD courses in subjects as diverse as Yoga and Spirituality, Yoga and Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Management and Humanities.

After a wonderful lunch of locally grown vegetarian food, cheese and delicious yoghurt served in the "mess hall", we visited the labs where Professor Ramesh Mavathur explained the research being carried out on subjects as varied as Anger Assessment and Management through Yoga in High School Children, Yoga and Gene Expression in Extreme Climatic Conditions (this is being carried out in Arctic conditions) and Potential Effects of Mobile Phone EMF and the protective value of Yogic Intervention. Work is also being carried out on the effect of yoga on diseases such as MS, cancer and heart disease.

The next day, in contrast to the simplicity of the university campus, we visited Soukya, an international holistic health centre. With luxurious suites and private opulent gardens, this unique facility helps restore the natural balance of mind, body and spirit by combining modern medical advancements with ancient medical techniques and complementary therapies. We were treated to a lunch of Sathwic food, vegetarian fare from the centre's 30-acre organic campus which creates positive vibrations in the body and contributes to a pure, calm mind, a concept central to a healthy lifestyle.

Founders Dr Issac Mathai and his wife Suja Issac and their charming team are perfect hosts, going out of their way to make us welcome and to explain their philosophy. Every person is viewed as a whole - mind, body and spirit. They take into consideration the psychological, nutritional, emotional, social, cultural, environmental and spiritual aspects in health and illness. A disturbance at any one level can affect the others, and this can result in ill-health, and prolonged ill-health results in disease. They treat people with cancer, heart disease and MS. Often people come to rest and de-stress, and claim there is nothing wrong with them. However, after consultation, it is sometimes discovered that indeed there is a problem. A treatment protocol is then individually designed for that person, providing safe and natural treatments, stimulating the healing power within each person, indicating lifestyle changes and educating people to be aware of and responsible for their own health.

All too soon, my whirlwind visit to India was over. What a wonderful and enticing journey it was. I take away some mental snapshots . . . a shy young girl at the Bara Imambara Monument in Lucknow welcoming me to her "beautiful India" in perfect English; the wonderful chaos of Chandni Chowk Market in Delhi, an immediate and complete assault to my senses; a row of six cricket bats hanging on a line to dry and compress outside a ramshackle hut on the side of the road to Bengaluru; the extraordinary Mysore Dasara elephants' ornaments - golden necklaces, neck and foot bells and neck ropes.

My trip has been a tasting menu. The next time I could tour the Golden Triangle, marvel at the colours of Rajasthan, wonder at the textiles of Gujarat, or visit the beaches of southern Kerala. But wherever I end up, my journey will certainly include some days to heal my body and soul in one of the many Ayurveda havens throughout incredible India.

Getting there

Judy was a guest of India Tourism for the 3rd International Day of Yoga 2017 and visited Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

For more information, visit

Judy travelled from London to Lucknow with Air India.

A return economy flight with Air India costs from £499 per person.

The price is subject to availability and valid for travel in September 2017.

For more information and special fares, visit

For further information on India, visit

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

First in the world

Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, Kerala is the world’s first Ayurveda resort. Established in 1985, Somatheeram has emerged as one of the frontrunners in encouraging Ayurvedic holidays.

Pioneering ashram

Ayuryoga Eco Ashram, Mysore is a pioneer in imparting traditional Ayurveda therapies and Hatha Yoga. One of the key attractions of this ashram is its art retreat programme.

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