If someone had of told me I was going to be responsible for a large group of people in a developing country by running spiritual retreats in Nepal, I would have laughed out loud…though I do remember when I was 15, a psychic at the Conscious Living Expo said my work was going to combine alternative health and travel! What was I even doing at the Conscious Living Expo at 15 you may ask? Well, I was a weird kid.
As a child I began to become interested in both spiritual and wellness subjects. A friend of my mother’s was diagnosed with cancer when I was about 11, and was given a very short prognosis of 3 months to live. She started working with a naturopath, doing fasting and various therapies and she completely healed! That amazed me and inspired me to want to become a naturopath. Around the same time I read Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay and started to become fascinated by the power of our thoughts and I soon began devouring books on all sorts of subjects from meditation, to energy healing to past life regression and nutrition. And I am still a massive book junkie to this day.
I studied Reiki at 16, began my degree in naturopathy straight after high school, and also started dabbling in meditation and yoga. My dream though was simply to run my own natural medicine clinic. After graduating college and working as a naturopath for some time, I decided to go travelling like a lot of my friends were doing…fully expecting it to just be a one year sojourn before coming back and getting to work on my clinic.
The Travel Bug Bites…
Well…the travel bug bit me…big time.
One year turned into about 5 years and I became addicted to my new nomadic lifestyle, and had fallen in love with India and Nepal especially. I couldn’t imagine going back home and living a “normal” life anymore. I went through a bit of an existential crisis as I no longer knew what I wanted to do. I knew I was passionate about natural medicine, yoga, meditation and travel, but I didn’t know how to combine these passions. I had an intuition to return to Nepal and India one more time, and that I would somehow find the answer.
A Mountain-Top Ephiphany
One day in Sikkim, in Northern India, I was perched on top of a mountain gazing at villages blanketed in clouds in the valleys below. I felt sadness that I had to leave soon and return to ‘the real world’. Dipak, my Nepalese friend and tour guide was sitting next to me, we had travelled overland from Nepal into Darjeeling, India and then into Sikkim together and had become firm friends along the way. At the time Nepal had only recently emerged from a civil war and was excruciatingly poor due to a major lack of tourism, and I felt really sorry for my friend having to stay behind and try to eke out a meagre living.
He asked if I could send people from my home country to Nepal and recommend him as a guide. I said I would, but inwardly I felt disheartened as I thought of people back home and how they would love Nepal but wouldn’t find it an easy place to travel in.
I knew Nepal had so much to offer: the beauty of the Himalayas, the rich Buddhist and Hindu spiritual heritage, friendly, gentle people and age-old healing traditions from Tibet and India. But it wasn’t the most organised of places and unless you were an intrepid backpacker with months to spare to find all of these hidden gems, it could end up an uncomfortable and fruitless visit.
And then it just came to me. What if people could travel to Nepal in comfort and ease but still have a truly authentic experience? What if people could travel to Nepal and experience the spiritual and healing traditions instead of the usual treks, safaris and white-water rafting? What if people could travel with both Western and Nepalese guides with experience and knowledge of the area?
In a flash I saw a new possibility accompanied by the deep inner knowing you get when you know your soul is speaking to you. I knew I had to create an incredible Nepal experience that took people on a spiritual journey. I explained the idea to Dipak, and while he agreed it was unconventional for Nepal given the nature of most tour packages, he conceded that it was a good idea and that some people would want this kind of experience. The idea was born, and though I experienced a lot of self-doubt, I followed through on it and Ashima Journeys became a reality.
In Over My Head?
After the mountain epiphany the real work began. Dipak and I went back to Nepal to start months of research looking at everything from the legalities to finding the right accommodation and teachers. It was a project of passion and a big leap of faith, as we actually had no capital to start the business at all! I was fortunate that on my way home to Australia I met up with an old German friend in Thailand who was quite business savvy. I half expected him to laugh at my idea, and tell me all the reasons it wouldn’t work, but he actually thought it was a good idea and offered to build me a simple website for free. And if it wasn’t for his generosity as well as him constantly holding me accountable once I got home (he was kinda strict!), I may have been overcome by fear and self-doubt and just given-up.
I will never forget the day a few months later after the site was up. I got my first inquiry from an ad in a spiritual newspaper. Although the lady didn’t end up booking, it gave the confirmation I needed that at least someone out there liked the idea! And when my first two clients booked in soon after, I was elated with joy! I had officially started a business, doing something I was truly passionate about.
Baptism of Fire and Rookie Mistakes!
In October 2010 Dipak and I ran our first retreat with just 6 people. While it was amazing, it was certainly a baptism of fire. All the things that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Air India lost one of our guests luggage. Another guest got food poisoning and had to be taken to the doctor. We accidentally planned the first day of our retreat on the biggest festival day in Nepal and at the last minute our drivers and guides decided to pull out to attend celebrations. (We luckily found Buddhist staff at the last minute who weren’t celebrating the Hindu festival). It was challenging and it stretched us beyond our previous capabilities. But we rose to the challenge. Despite all the hiccups, our guests LOVED it. They shared with us that it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of their lives They asked me to design new tours in Peru and India. They sent me rave reviews and testimonials and to this day we keep in touch. And now that I am so much more experienced, the retreats run without a hitch and I take groups of up to 16 people. (Dipak no longer works with me after fate brought him a beautiful girl from Hong Kong whom he married and emigrated with).
The Retreat Today
We now have a varied, international demographic of men and women of all ages and walks of life who come on the retreat. However, the majority of our guests are women aged between 35 and 60 who lead busy lives and want to take some time out to get re-centred and to reconnect with their inner selves, they usually already have quite an interest in Buddhism, spirituality or yoga and like to connect with like-minded souls, as well as have an amazing travel experience.
Each year gets better and better and the new improved itinerary really is AMAZING! I have designed the whole experience so that is an authentic spiritual journey with workshops on Eastern philosophy, Tibetan sound healing, journaling exercises and meditation lessons. We practice daily yoga, with an emphasis on restorative, yin and gentle flow sequences. It is my aim to give participants tangible spiritual tools that they can take home and implement into their own lives.
With my passion for travel, there is no way I wanted us to be cooped up at a retreat centre, so we do a lot of sight-seeing and exploring, visiting temples and Buddhist monasteries, hiking in nature, visiting a local school and the Tibetan Refugee handicraft market as well as experiencing an incredible Himalayan sunrise on top of Sarangkot mountain.
I never could have envisioned it becoming what it is today, and it is an honour to do this work with all of the incredible people this retreat attracts – it’s a dream come true. The moral of the story – next time you get an epiphany on a mountain top (or anywhere else for that matter) – take it seriously…even if it seems totally crazy and impossible and you are racked with self-doubt. Just start…you never know where it may lead.
Check out the latest “incarnation” of the retreat here.