is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.


This week I’ve been transported back to Rishikesh in northern India, while writing a story for Traveller about my Phool Chatti ashram experience.

It’s been real, taking a flight of fancy back to the motherland.

But what I’ve been trying to figure out is: what did I actually learn there by the banks of the river Ganges? Apart from how to wash my nose out with salt water (more on that later), what my threshold for dal consumption was, and how to master the art of looking like Jesus while worshipping Shiva (see image 4)?

My main outtake was that silence, for me at least, really was golden.

You see a good chunk of every day at the ashram was held in silence. From when we woke up at 5.30am, through morning meditation and chanting, pranayama breathing, yoga, karma yoga (aka free labour), breakfast, meditative walking and lunch, we had our lips sealed. And I loved it.

This might sound harsh but I wasn’t there to make friends. Well actually, I was there to make friends but with myself, to go deep and get some answers and blast away some of the shit after a particularly difficult time in my life.

I’ve stayed in a few ashrams before and found the social side pretty draining when so much inner work was being done at the same time.

So yeah, I revelled in the idea of the silence.

It helped me access those dark corners of my soul, and also made me reflect on my need to communicate. Did I really need to say to the person next to me at lunch, “wow, how spicy is this food?!” or, “God I’m tired!” at meditation in the morning or, “I’m so over this!” when we hit our ninth hour of yoga in three days?

No, not really. In fact, often speaking those kinds of annoyances out loud makes them worse, I realised. It solidifies them in some way and gives them more strength. Leaving them unsaid, they often just float away.

Unfortunately, not everyone shared my joyous feelings over the silence. When a lovely fellow ashramite asked me where I got my top from during karma yoga one morning, I found myself nodding at her and putting my finger to my lips, then flapping my arms forward to signal some portion of time in the future.

Arsehole? Yeah, sure, especially when the one-word answer would have been so easy to say. But those little interruptions into my cherished periods of silence were like a pin to my holy balloon. An iceberg to my spiritual cruise ship. A… You get the picture; they were disturbing, and I wanted to make a point.

But on a positive note, they made me realise that we all have different needs when it comes to verbal communication. Maybe because I write (and man did I write while I was in that ashram) I felt less of a need to communicate verbally. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an introvert at heart.

Anyway I’ll leave it at that for now. More to come when the story makes it out into the world.



Leave a Reply