Located in the coastal town of Mulki, just north of Mangalore in Karnataka, Ashram Surf Retreat has grown in popularity since its inception in 2007.
The retreat is part of the Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram. A painted surfboard that hangs in its courtyard reads “Om Sweet Om”. The other side has a quote attributed to Krishna from the Bhagvad Gita: “Of bodies of water, I am the ocean.”
Nestled at the mouth of the Shambhavi river and the Arabian Sea, the ashram is in close proximity to a surf-friendly stretch of sea. The residents are serious surfers and have earned themselves the epithet of “surfing swamis” over the years.
Click here to view a slideshow of images of the Ashram and its surfers
The retreat can accommodate only four guests at a time apart from its five permanent residents. Guests pay for lodging and surfing lessons, but the place seems free of commercial trappings (room rates start at Rs2,500, inclusive of vegetarian meals; surfing lessons cost Rs1,500 a day). One need not be a devotee of Krishna to stay, but guests are asked to refrain from smoking and drinking. Couples are asked to observe celibacy.
Twenty-eight-year-old Daruka Dasa, a native of San Diego, US, founded the surfing retreat with two others and his gurus—Swami Narasingha and Haridas Babuji. “It’s definitely not open or recommended to anyone,” says Dasa. “We weed out party people and that kind of crowd. It’s for people who are looking for a unique spiritual experience while having the freedom to surf uncrowded waves.”
Dasa and others wake up at 4am every day, bathe and begin their meditation. After a group chant and puja, they head out to surf.
The “swamis” also do Web-designing work to fund the ashram’s activities. “This, along with the sale of coconuts, helps us maintain our ashram and surfing lifestyle,” says Dasa.
Daily activities include surfing, kayaking, swimming, playing volleyball, mantra meditation, yoga asanas and screening surfing-related films and environmental documentaries. Guests aren’t really obliged to surf, some just come to have a holistic stay.
On the stretches of white sand at Mulki, it seems, one needs nothing more.
Sanjit Das is a self-taught documentary photographer based in New Delhi. He is represented by Panos Pictures and his work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, Newsweek and BusinessWeek, among other publications.
Photographs by Sanjit Das