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Jana Chovancová
October 31, 2023, 4:30pm
Reading time: 10:36

Tanya and Martin have been living in India for two months: in the Himalayas we smoked hashish, on a yoga course we vomited salt water (Interview)

In the story of a young Slovak couple who set off on a journey across Asia, you will learn how they became yoga teachers, why children in India smoke hashish and what volunteer work they do in the Himalayas.

Jana Chovancová
October 31, 2023, 4:30pm
Reading time: 10:36
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Tanya and Martin have been living in India for two months: in the Himalayas we smoked hashish, on a yoga course we vomited salt water (Interview)
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"We would advise all people that if they go to places with high humidity, they should not leave their clothes and other personal belongings on the ground or against the wall. In three days, our backpack was eaten by fungi and we had to clean it with vinegar to get rid of the mould," say Tanya and Martin.


In the middle of August, Tanya and Martin packed their backpacks and set off on their journey through Asia. The first destination they visited was India. However, the traveling couple approached their visit to the country differently than most tourists. They signed up for a 200-hour yoga course, learned a new lifestyle, got to know the local people and are now volunteering in the Himalayas. Over the course of more than two months, they've experienced many interesting and bizarre experiences, which they'll tell you about in our interview.


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We've found that volunteering allows us to extend our time abroad and save money on food and accommodation.


How did you decide to go on a backpacking trip to India?

Martin: Having travelled in the past and always being attracted to it, I also didn't enjoy staying in one place for too long, so it basically came naturally. After a year and a half of living in Bratislava, where I settled down, I decided to move away. Since I met Tánica and we got together, after about three months into the relationship we started talking about going somewhere together. It started with teasing that we would visit Vietnam, we eventually dropped it and after almost a year of relationship, we finally went to India.


Tanya: For me, it was my last year in college that I realized that my major wasn't exactly what I wanted to do right now. I was doing some part-time programming on the side from school, but I wanted to completely change my day-to-day activities. I decided to go from the computer to the field instead.


Did you decide how long you wanted to travel?Martin: First we said we wanted to travel for about half a year, until next spring, to skip the whole winter in Slovakia. Since this lifestyle was new to Tanya, it seemed like a lot to her at first. Later, when we were already here and getting used to it, it seemed too little again. So the time we want to spend here is getting longer at the moment.


What about money? Aren't you worried you'll run out if you stay longer?Tanya: We've found that by volunteering we can extend our time. We save money on normal things like food and accommodation. At the same time, it also teaches us something new. We want to make the most of it.


Stop smoking, drinking and dope. You will save money if you cook your food at home.


How much did you manage to earn on your trip?

Martin: We averaged about 8 to 9 thousand each.


What did you save the most money on before you hit the road?

Martin: The funny thing is that I learned to save with Tanya. Before seeing her, I had more expenses than income. I routinely spent up to 800 euros a month on fun with friends. We had our own ways of saving. My advice to everyone is: Stop smoking, stop drinking and stop doing drugs.(laughs) Cook at home, don't go out to eat. Non-material things are more important than material things.


Tanya: We didn't really have to consciously take a lot of things away from our mouths, though. All we had to do was stop going out to eat, change our lifestyle a little bit. We had a lot of time on our hands, I was in my final year at university, I didn't do much during the day apart from writing my thesis, and Martin had a remote job where he worked for about two hours a day. So we had a lot of time to come up with recipes and to cook.


How long did it take you to save?Táňa: It took Martin about half a year, and me a bit longer, because I was still just a student with a part-time job. I guess you could say I've been saving money since I was a kid, and now I've put that into travel.


The first month we spent 1100 euros, the second 800 because we bought a yoga course. Thanks to volunteering we will spend only 100 euros this month.


You have both given notice at work. How did it feel?

Tanya: It was strange. I started working part-time in my last year of school. And I was planning on basically staying there after school. Everybody was living in it and counting on it, so it was very difficult for me to suddenly tell them that I wasn't actually going full-time, but I was leaving. They were very unpleasantly surprised at first, but eventually they understood that I was young and that I had every right to be. In the end, they agreed that I should definitely go for it, and my departure was finally justified by my travel plans.


Martin: All the HR managers agreed that they envied Tánička's departure. (laughter) In my case, it was so routine, as it wasn't the first job I left. I just told them that hey, I'm quitting, chaute.


But let's look at your life in India. What do you normally spend money on there?Martin: In the beginning, when we went travelling, Tanya's sister and her boyfriend joined us for a month. Since there were four of us and it was very difficult to juggle things to keep everyone happy, we were classic tourists for the first month. And since classic tourists often fall into tourist traps, so did we. We spent quite a lot of money in that period.


Tanya: The biggest item we paid for back then was a whole month's worth of experiences compressed into some sort of package. They offered it to us and we thought it was a nice idea, so we paid 800 euros for an organized month-long trip to India from the person who planned it for us. However, he didn't provide any food, which we also spent money on heavily. So the first month we each spent about 1100 euros, the next month a little less, about 800. It was still a lot, but we invested in something we wanted and bought a yoga course. This month, thanks to volunteering, we will only spend about 100 euros per head.


The yoga course lasted 28 days. Every morning for three hours we cleaned ourselves, canvassed and drank salt water, which we then vomited.


You mention the yoga class. How much did it cost? Are you already licensed teachers?

Martin: We did our yoga course in Rishikesh, which is the so-called cradle of yoga. There are even several yoga universities in the nearby town of Haridwar. The course cost us about 750 euros per head. This included accommodation, food and the program. We basically devoted nine hours a day to yoga, of which three hours was practice and six hours was theory with meditation and other things.


Tanya: We are licensed teachers in theory, we both got certified after we passed the exams. In order to really be official yoga teachers, we still have to pay the Yoga Alliance registration fee and some other things.


What did you learn?

Tanya: I find it very difficult to talk about theory, for example, because I don't think we had a completely ideal teacher. I had the feeling that he was describing one idea for the whole lesson, so it was very easy to lose concentration. He spoke terribly slowly. I think that such things are not easy to teach and the person should be interesting in some way so that people pay attention. Apart from the facts, I would accept open discussions, for example.


Martin: It was hardcore Hindu history. The whole course lasted 28 days and our normal day looked like this, we woke up at half past six in the morning and we had an hour of shatkarma, which is purification. It looked like we poured warm salt water through a teapot into one nostril and let it flow out the other. Or we'd stick a rubber tube up our noses, which we'd push through the septum and it would come out of our mouths. We then drank a liter of salt water, which we vomited up.


Tanya: The cleansing was followed by pranayama, which is a series of breathing exercises. We were taught various techniques, such as regulated breathing or alternating nostrils during inhalations and exhalations. After that was an hour and a half called Ashtanga Vinyasa, where we practiced yoga. After these three hours, we had breakfast.


Martin: Well, and after breakfast we had theory, starting with anatomy, or learning how to put people in the right positions. We were also learning how to teach yoga properly. Then we had lunch and an hour break. When we rested, we learned philosophy, naturopathy, and in the evening we practiced hatha yoga. This was followed only by meditation and dinner. We functioned in this way for six days that week, after which we always had one day off.


Many people don't know that yoga is not just an exercise, but a lifestyle. How do you define it?

Martin: We were taught on the course that yoga consists of eight parts, each of which is equally important. Right, it's not just about the exercises. The first part is the yama, which signifies abstinence. The second is niyama, or in translation, observation, where you learn to treat people the way you would like them to treat you. You're not supposed to cause evil in thought, word or deed, which is very difficult because unfortunately society is often set up in such a way that if you want to succeed, you have to bring someone down.


This is followed by asana, which are yoga postures, pranayama or breath control, prathyahara, which translates to the withdrawal of the senses. The last three are dharana, concentration, dhyana or meditation, and samadhi, absorption.


In the Himalayas we volunteer, we were taught how to make hashish.


Do you plan to use your knowledge in Slovakia and start a business here?

Martin: Probably yes, but it's a long way off. I can imagine doing yoga classes on the side. I mean, kind of a side job, definitely not full time. It's nice to have an extra skill you can offer people within your portfolio.


What does your life look like after the course?Tanya: We wanted to maintain at least part of our lifestyle after the yoga course, so we always start the day with the aforementioned caning in the morning. Except that we are currently in the Himalayas where we are volunteering. We also teach yoga here, as there are various guests and caretakers in the house where we live. People have either joined us on their own or have been called by Smart.


But I would like to highlight one interesting thing, that there are people who practiced yoga with us for the first time in their lives, and they were native Indians. It was interesting that actually in a country where normally people live that lifestyle, we Westerners taught them a typical thing for them. But in return they taught us how to make their traditional dishes and play cricket.



What are you doing in the Himalayas?

Martin: We are involved in volunteering. As I mentioned before, we get up in the morning, we do our rituals, we have our breakfast and we get down to some work. Lately it's been art, we've been repairing walls and drawing all over them. Then, for example, we painted huts, pulled grass and so on. Otherwise, we play cricket with the kids here, and also a game of Rummikub.


Táňa: Besides that, we also help in the kitchen and we are able to cook the meals they taught us. We also wash the dishes, like two or three times a day. We keep clean and do what we happen to do, for example, we also cleaned apples when they just needed it from us.


Martin: And we were also taught how to make hashish. The Himalayas are famous for growing an awful lot of grass or cannabis. They process it into all sorts of things, but a lot of Indians smoke it on a regular basis.


None of the people we're surrounded by work nine to five and go home stressed out.


Would you say that they have a similar problem with hashish as the Slovaks have with alcohol?

Martin: In my opinion, within the Himalayas, everybody rocks except children. But unfortunately, they often make hashish. But I still think it's less harmful than, say, alcohol in Slovakia.


Did they teach you how to make hashish?

Martin: Yes, the procedure is quite simple. When you want to make hash from cannabis, you have to pluck a ripe plant and lightly peel it between your hands. In the post, the pollen from the plant sticks to your hands, and there is more of it the longer you peel the plant. Once your palms are covered in the brown layer, you scrape it off and you have hash.


Why are children doing this work? Does it have any negative impact on them?

Tanya: We were told that the finer one's hands, the better the production process. We have no personal experience of this and have never seen a child smoking hashish, but we have learned from locals that it is common.


Martin: I don't know, I'm more of the "live and let live" opinion. Some countries in Asia are hugely behind Europe in some things, we can't expect them to be like us now. Cannabis used to be grown here and it was legal, people used it and took it as a normal thing.


Tanya: We are not here to lecture and moralise that young children shouldn't do this.


What is the biggest difference you see in people?

Martin and Tanya: They are happy, smiling and having fun every day. None of the people we are surrounded by work nine to five and go home stressed. For the most part, the locals here also follow the aforementioned "live and let live" rule and are pretty phlegmatic. They want to have a simple, easy but happy life. At least the Indians we have met so far.


What's the biggest quirk you've encountered there so far?

Tanya: For example, that we wash ourselves with water from a bucket. We heat it with spirals, which worked in Slovakia about a hundred years ago. For me personally, it was a huge leap from the comfort of having to wash yourself with small buckets and waiting half an hour beforehand for the water to heat up in them. And sometimes you can miss it and pour boiling water on parts you don't want it on. Right, Martin? (laughs)


Martin: It was bizarre for me when my backpack was eaten by mushrooms. And that's why I advise anyone going to a country that's wet and has rainy seasons not to put their stuff on the ground against the wall. Mould and fungi can really turn your backpack in three days, and getting rid of them is not exactly easy. We had to use vinegar for that, which only partially worked anyway.

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Thumbnail: Smart a Táňa
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