Monday, September 23, 2013

A surreptitious oasis in the middle of Jaipur, India: Free Yoga and open space to escape the struggles of the city

Early rising yogis in Jaipur's Central Park

 Visiting capitals around the globe is bound to leave you in a concrete jungle. Whether it be bustling, well thought out, or a chaotic amalgamation of roads and buildings lain when forethought was on vacation, peace and quiet aren’t always readily available. Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan in India, is no exception.  While most travelers are met with scorching heat, professional hustlers, and a desire to just sit at a hotel pool, there is a place where a weary soul can recover.

If you find yourself low energy and need to be at full power, 24-hour (Indians love this saying!), Central Park is your refuge. Located only a few km from the Old City walls, Central Park offers an ocean of green grass, with scattered benches and happy onlookers, as well as a 4 km long jogging path. Along with the grass and paths, each morning at 6:15 am a free drop-in yoga class is offered. The class is rarely frequented by westerners, and is taught by a charming 70-year-old man who looks as if he isn’t a day over 50. Accompanied by his wife, the couple have run the course for over 10 years. The men and women are split between two large cloth tarps, with individual mats being provided. Don’t expect a western style sweat fest though, as this yoga is “Indian,” yoga according to the guru. For the hour, class I found myself switching between my bum and knees, doing surprisingly difficult breathing exercises, and roaring to my heart’s fullest extent during tiger pose. 

Like all aspects of Indian life, the park is heavily populated. The running trail can feel like a highway at points, and even the inner grassy areas can look more like a Miami beach than a secluded oasis. But for all the hustle and bustle, one is rewarded with majestic low-flying kingfishers and prancing peacocks around every bend. The sounds and smells do provide a firm reminder of your current location, only to be fortified by the women in brightly colored saris jazzercising their way around the park.

While blazing around the jogging path, one encounters both a colonial-era polo ground and a few fenced in holes of Jaipur’s golf course. The polo grounds are now nothing more than a great place to add a bit more mileage to your run (apparently Polo died out with India’s independence), but the golf course is a sight to see. Though well maintained, each hole has at least 10 people aiming for the same shimmering green simultaneously. Whether party sizes are larger than that of other courses, or India’s population negates the idea of “private” anything, the spectacle is definitely one you will remember.

If a place to lay your yolk, even momentarily, is what you desire, then Central Park in Jaipur is where you need to be. For those making the pilgrimage, the best times to visit are in the early morning (5-8am) or the early evening (5-7pm). The road to the park is (relatively) calm at these times, and tyrannical sun’s oppression takes a nap. Enjoy the calming effects Jaipur’s not-so-hidden oasis.

Photo courtesy of Panoramio

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