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Goan goan a retreat to beat lough derg

Wednesday, 22nd January, 2014 7:34pm

Flying from Dublin to Goa via Abu Dhabi and Mumbai is something of an ordeal - Mumbai airport is not for the faint hearted - but it's all worth it when you arrive at Himalaya Yoga Valley's beautiful centre in the sleepy village of Mandrem, located in Pernem, North Goa. It's far away from the clubbers' resorts of Southern Goa and from the chaos of Mumbai, and by the end of our stay, the friendly seaside village felt like a home from home.

Mandrem Beach, just a ten minute walk from the centre, is sweeping and white, fringed by coconut and palm trees, and scattered with beach huts.

Himalaya Yoga Valley is the brainchild of Lalit Kumar, an Indian yoga instructor with a fondness for all things Irish, and his Cork-born wife Eveanna Barry Kumar, whose previous career in marketing and screenwriting has equipped her perfectly to add the Western touches to an authentic but comfortable - even luxurious - retreat. The couple, along with Eveanna's mother Maeve, the administrative brain of the operation, and teams in Cork and Goa, run Himalaya Yoga Valley on Academy Street, and the corresponding Goa centre.  

The centre is modern, stylish and clean, with accommodation comprised of beautiful newly built villas, a good sized swimming pool, and a restaurant which serves a fabulous, varied, vegetarian buffet breakfast and lunch every day.  

Retreaters share a bedroom and get up every morning at 6.30 for meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises), tea and fruit, and a yoga class at 8am. Throughout this time, silence is observed, allowing you to begin the day alone with your thoughts. Breakfast is made up of fresh fruit, bread and local cheese, bircher muesli, and a range of different Indian breakfast staples including spicy rice and egg dishes. And, fear not, caffeine addicts, coffee is available - in fact, some yogis even recommend a strong cup of coffee before a practice, so 'detox' doesn't have to mean deprivation.  

Lunch each day also features a range of delicious vegetarian fare, some traditional Indian dishes such as chana dal (lentil curry) and palak paneer (cottage cheese and spinach - far more tasty than it sounds) along with super fresh salads and pasta dishes.  

A second yoga class is provided each afternoon along with two intensive yoga workshops for advanced practitioners. All yoga classes are mixed level flow classes - meaning that even the few beginners at the retreat were comfortable taking part.

During the ten day retreat, activities are organised, but not compulsory. These include a visit to the local food and spice market at nearby Mapusa, a trip to the famous Anjuna night market, where Goa's international hippy contingent sell handmade jewellery, fashion and the usual souvenirs in an incredibly vibrant atmosphere, a magical sunrise boat trip with a local fisherman during which we saw a huge school of dolphins, and a visit to Old Goa, where the tomb of the Inquisitor St Francis Xavier and the beautiful Portuguese style churches indicate a rather different history to the rest of India.  

The main activity enjoyed by most retreaters during my stay, however, was the excellent Ayurvedic pampering on offer in the village. For approximately €8, Ayurvedic massage of up to two hours' duration is available in a number of locations including Ayurclinic, and Nirmalam Ayurvedic clinic, both located just off the main drag in Mandrem. Ayurclinic - recommended by Himalaya Yoga Valley both for treatments and for Ayurvedic medical consultations - is clean and modern, while other massage centres may be a little more rough and ready. Customers are best advised to bring their own towel to dispel any hygiene concerns, but the massage is second to none.  

Having never visited India before - and encountering dire warnings about the poverty, the dangers to women and the infamous Delhi belly from all directions beforehand - I was a little nervous.  

However, a retreat like this, with nothing to think about but the next meal and how to perfect your stance in triangle pose, is the perfect way to dip your toe into a beautiful country with an incredibly rich culture.  

Goa's history as a Portuguese colony, and as a favourite stop on the hippy trail means it's very cosmopolitan, with a Christian majority and a lot of English speakers.  

The family-run nature of the business and the warmth and friendliness of the team adds a huge amount to a holiday that is as much about mental and physical wellbeing as the usual sun, sea and sand. Travelling in a group is not for everyone, but the laid-back and open minded attitude of everyone on this trip and the headspace provided by both the yoga and by the calming surrounds of the centre itself made it a real pleasure.  

Authentic Indian yoga with plenty of Irish attitude is what's on offer here - so during our stay, we went to see the internationally renowned Indian musician Prem Joshua, visited some of Goa's most fabulous restaurants, and enjoyed fireworks and cocktails on the beach to celebrate some retreaters' birthdays. As retreats go, it beats the socks off walking barefoot around Lough Derg.

Himalaya Yoga Valley will offer another Goa retreat in December and also February - see www.yogagooaindia.com and yogacorkireland.com or drop into the Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre on Academy Street, for more information.

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