Finding My Tribe at Wanderlust

Whether you are a yoga enthusiast, a meditator, a music lover, a foodie, or just a traveller seeking an extraordinary mountain escape, look no further than Wanderlust Squaw Valley – the crown jewel of the summer wellness festival circuit. Last 19 to 22 July, over 10,000 people flocked to Lake Tahoe’s internationally renowned playground to unplug, unwind and tune in.

Squaw Valley: Home to the World’s Largest Lifestyle Retreat

Regardless that yoga retreats have proliferated in all corners of the globe, they all are distinct, catering to different audiences. Nevertheless, Wanderlust remains the Big Dog on the calendar, with its stellar, decade-long reputation and unrivalled diverse collection of sought-after legends. This year’s stars included Chelsey Korus (Vinyasa/Ashtanga/Acro), Briohny Smyth (Fit Flow), Eoin Finn (Blissology to align our energy and presence), Sat Sri Dougherty (Kundalini), and Joe Barnett (Yin). So, whether Savasana is your go-to pose, invigorating flow gives you a glow, or you yearn for yin, this roundup covered all bases with a plethora of classes tailored for virgins and veterans alike.

Wanderlust: The Big Dog on the Summer Wellness Festival Calendar
Savasana After a Vigorous Flow Class

Unsurprisingly, Wanderlust is far more than a yoga sanctuary, hosting a complement of widely acclaimed meditation gurus – namely, Light Watkins, Clio Manuelian, Lauri Glenn, Noah Levine, as well as Aya and Tyler Erin Ward – offering ancient breathwork techniques to tap into the subtle body for overall improved health.

Light Watkins’ Meditation “Finding Your True Bliss”
Feeling Rejuvenated After Clio Manuelian’s Breath, Bandha and Pranya Practice

Another Wanderlust cornerstone is the value of conscious living focused on physical, emotional, and cognitive stability. A range of motivational Speakeasy discussions – featuring foremost thought leaders, coaches, and bestselling authors – invited us to take our training off the mat to nurture compassion and cultivate wisdom. Notably, Kyle Cease, Lauren Zander, and Ken Nwadike Jr. outlined how to lead a mindful, holistic life by integrating yoga, reflection, nutrition, gratitude, generosity, creativity, tolerance, integrity, and a sense of community into our daily lives.

Speakeasy Talks Addressing Balance for Leading a Mindful, Holistic Life

Finally, Wanderlust is lauded for weaving live tunes throughout all its galas, with Squaw Valley famous for its boisterous, sun-drenched pool parties at High Camp. Imagine frolicking in a mountaintop pool, singing along to your favourite DJs, and savouring a bounty of food and drinks – all the whilst encircled by unsurpassed views of the entire Olympic Valley, the lake, and snow-capped peaks. In contrast, after hours were devoted to killer headliners and indie artists delivering over-the-top performances from the massive Main Stage, tricked out, using state-of-the-art electrical, lighting, and sound options. Celebrants grooved under the stars to lively shows varying from funk, hip hop, jazz, soul, RnB, and gangsta rap to folk, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll. More remote stages lured yogis with mellower instrumentals and rhythms, whereas a pulsing disco catered to those craving to dance the night away. Whatever genre, the concerts added the perfect ending to our long, active days.

Squaw Valley Tram Face to High Camp
Sweeping Views from High Camp
A Boisterous Afternoon Pool Party at High Camp
The Main Stage Ramps the Voltage for Its Full House

Notwithstanding my countless memories of summer adventures in the Sierra Nevadas – backpacking, biking, riding horses, river rafting, rock climbing, and camping – I had never attended Wanderlust. So, I decided it was high time to dive into the world’s largest lifestyle retreat and join the Squaw Valley festivities, along with the incredible instructors, talented musicians, and fellow well-being practitioners.

When I arrived at The Village, Ground Zero for the upcoming event, I was greeted by crystal-blue skies and the stunning landscape of the ski resort’s bowls and jagged, granite pinnacles. The industrious back-office and operations teams were putting the final touches on the venue fairgrounds, where the familiar restaurants, bars, galleries, and boutiques had been integrated into our campus. Neighbouring studios, conference centres, auditoriums, plazas, lawns, and meadows had been converted into living-learning spaces, just as tennis courts and parking lots were now embellished with super-comfy pavilions and kiosks –providing all the necessary infrastructure for our mega affair.

Welcome to Wanderlust Squaw Valley
The Wanderlust Campus Integrated into the Olympic Valley
Picture-Postcard Views from Our Alfresco Classrooms
The Village: Ground Zero for the Festival

As the throngs of colourful students and cheerful vendors convened, the energy began to vibrate. The next thing I knew, brightly decorated pop-up food stations began dishing up chef-quality, nutritious fare. Meanwhilst, vibrant fresh juices, protein shakes, smoothies, and a medley of tea and coffee concoctions were being passionately blended at hipster cafes. Nearby, fanciful cabanas housed eclectic merchants meticulously displaying eye-catching, eco-chic clothing, props, boho jewellery, and handcrafted accessories. The overwhelming avalanche of freebies – including organic snacks, probiotic shots, Kombucha, sunscreen, visors, bandanas, decals, pins, thermal bottles, and carry bags – contributed to the carnival ambiance. A unique fiesta was unfolding as attendees mingled, soaking up the California rays and non-stop melodies – all in search of a reboot, some insight and even the possibility of change.

I eventually meandered into The Compass, an alluring, rigged-out marquee, complete with Persian carpets, floor pillows, ornamental lights, uplifting artwork and 5G Wi-Fi. As the logistics hub and central hangout, certainly someone there could provide tips to navigate my full-access pass. Where exactly were all those venues with perplexing names like The Nest, The Shala, The Mothership, The Sanctuary, and The Nook? Was there transportation to my Paddleboard courses? And what on earth is the Happiest Hour? Little did I know that the cowgirl behind the counter with the megawatt smile was the Head Honcho, who would be my genie in a bottle for a hassle-free festival.

Meet Kelly Casey: My Genie in a Bottle for a Hassle-Free Festival

My schedule was a kaleidoscope of inspiration, with an array of prominent masters. However, by far, my most precious sessions were those pioneered by industry entrepreneurs introducing inventive twists to the age-old art form.

Thanks to Sarah Tiefenthaler, I was able to float my yoga on a mountain lake with a Stand Up Paddleboard. Her Vinyasa asanas came with detailed coaching to keep me balanced as the board wobbled unpredictably – slow it down, remember to breathe, stay centred, and gaze at the horizon. Though she challenged my attention, fired my core and encouraged light-hearted exploration, it was virtually impossible to hold my headstands amidst the ever-present ripples.

Think Balance Before You Take to Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga
Inversions on a Wobbly Paddleboard, Really?

Carmen Curtis, founder of AIReal Yoga, had me suspended, hanging in midair amongst the pine trees – solely supported by a silky, hammock. By manoeuvring the fabric, I learnt to twist, turn, swing and hang upside down in no time – defying gravity to deepen my stretches, improve my alignment, and refine my inversions. Cocooned in my broad sling, effortlessly swaying in the breeze, that Savasana was downright heavenly.

Just Hanging Around Upside Down in AIReal Yoga

With Jocelyn Gordon, I rediscovered my childhood love for the hula hoop and became a HoopYogini – manipulating the hoop, using minimal force, to get it to twirl around my waist and hips. Managing even the basic hoop actions was a thorough workout – igniting my glutes, thighs, abs and lower-back muscles. In an attempt to advance to the neck, shoulders and chest, what ensued was pure helter-skelter – pumping me full of endorphins, with many laughing-out-loud moments.

In a Throwback to My Childhood, I Became a HoopYogini

Lastly, Govind Das and Radha’s version of Bhakti Vinyasa combined soulful Kirtan and traditional Indian strings, drums, and pump-organs to accompany their dynamic sequences. The perpetual motion fused with sacred sounds resulted in a compelling asanas series.

Bhakti Vinyasa Complete with a Kirtan Jam

Although I relished my menagerie of workshops, I was also fascinated by others absorbed in their practice. One morning I spotted a dewy meadow sprinkled with meditators in silent contemplation. Midday, I stumbled upon a handful of energetic slackliners nervously attempting their gymnastic swagger, teetering precariously on a thin rope strung across an alpine reservoir. In a secluded courtyard, pairs were engrossed in AcroYoga, playfully trying to find the delicate synchronicity between the Base and the Flyer. Elsewhere, in the shade of an oversized tent, a turbaned Kundalini teacher, dressed completely in white, was leading her charges in chanting and breath-of-fire exercises. The overarching atmosphere was relaxed but supercharged with undivided concentration.

Sat Sri Dougherty Awakens My Kundalini
Joining a Self-Healing Kriya in Kundalini Yoga

That serenity was the antithesis of the pervasive hubbub taking place at The Village. As much as it was entertaining to visit the stalls, catch a vegan-cooking class, muse over an essential-oil tutorial, and spy fun-loving face-painting, hair-braiding, and temporary-tattoo booths, I was equally delighted to encounter zen dens and tranquil lounges – providing the ultimate chill-out zones where I could kick back, cool off, recharge, and rehydrate.

Chill-Out Zones to Cool Off and Kick Back
A Living Lounge to Unwind and Recharge
A Zen Den to Reboot
Endless Supplies of Flow Alkaline Spring Water to Rehydrate

As I reflect on those four magical days, there were many takeaways. I was, no doubt, acutely impacted by the intense convergence of movement, merry-making and introspection – leaving me calmer, with a more open heart and a freer mind. Despite constantly exploring new boundaries and pushing my comfort zone, I had been able to live in the moment and keep coming back to my breath when things were chaotic. What emerged was a renewed commitment to set clearer intentions, address old habits, loosen attachment to outcomes, and stand up to lingering fears.

But, in the end, the real game changer was the unexpected naturalness in engaging with those thousands of strangers – all drawn to the same place, with a joint desire to learn, tackle our physical and mental constraints, and share the miracle of life. Over the days and the many engagements, barriers disintegrated, and unfamiliar people became colleagues, and even friends. In realising my oneness with the crowd, I awakened to an awareness that we are not separate, independent beings, after all – we truly are all interconnected. In that priceless transformation, I had found my tribe and a bright light shone on my path pointing to my True North.

When Strangers Become Friends
The End of a Perfect Festival

Trekking in the Indian Himalayas: The Final Chapter of a 4-Part Series — Our Extraordinary Experiences at Tapovan and the Hair-Raising Descent to Safety

This 4-part blog series is being featured on The Wise Traveller – a global travel site providing innovative ideas and insights to make travel easier, safer, cheaper and more enriching. In addition, freelancers share their travel experiences there, so the community can have a taste of a variety of destinations and/or escapades.

Click here to read my latest article posted on the site highlighting our time at Tapovan, a high-altitude meadow perched over one of the most sacred glaciers in the Himalayas, surrounded by revered summits:

Blog synopsis:

I was captivated by Tapovan, a stunning paradise, tucked away on the Himalayan border shared by India, Tibet and Nepal. This legendary, high-alpine meadow was truly Shangri-La – bursting with colourful flora, meandering creeks, and highly adaptable blue-mountain sheep foraging on the lush tundra. Nonetheless, the bucolic tranquillity was eclipsed by the encircling, uninhabitable backdrop of Mts. Shivling, Meru, Bhagirathi I, II, III and Sudarshan Parbat – all boasting intimidating granite and ice faces, as they towered to more than 6,700 m (22,770 ft). This paradox affirmed the delicate harmony between man and nature – leaving little wonder why babas, yogis and sadhus have chosen this sacred sanctuary for countless centuries for their year-round meditation retreats.

Mts. Shivling and Meru Tower over Tapovan
Bhagirathi I, II, and III, Gaumukh Glacier and Tapovan
Tapovan High-Alpine Meadow in Full Bloom

We relished the opportunity to rest and acclimatise here for two days before forging ahead to Nandanvan and Vasuki Taal – a reward for our formidable, three-day ascent, teeming with countless, inconceivable spine-chilling encounters. We luxuriated in the sunshine enjoying azure-blue, cloudless skies and unobstructed, jaw-dropping views, whilst practicing pranayama breathing to counter our oxygen deficit and soothing our over-worked muscles with alfresco yoga. Refreshed, we set off to Neel Taal, the blue pond renowned for its intense reflections of Meru and the Bhagirathi range. The 60-degree slope meant a two-hour scramble, leaving us panting, only to discover that the recent landslides had obliterated the pool, filling the crater with a jumble of rubble.

Morning Yoga at Tapovan
Neel Taal After the Landslide

Vigilant to not get close to the wobbly edge that was still spewing gravel avalanches into the abyss, we zigzagged our way along the ascending ridge to better size up Shivling – known as the Matterhorn of the East for its near-perfect, conical shape. Alpinists know it is rare to fully view any mountain, which made Shivling enthralling to witness, proudly exhibiting its pinnacle, rivalling a massive, pearly-white tooth. We had the good fortune to meet an expedition ferrying loads from base camp to advanced stations for their upcoming gruelling summit attempt. They were full of climbing chronicles – including the somber news of two Polish climbers who had died a year ago, just a mere 200 metres shy of the prized North Face apex.

As we clambered onwards, we were granted an up-close frontal of Meru Peak – with its magnificent, expansive glacier – certainly a photographer’s dream come true. Though Meru was calling us, the winds began gusting and dark, menacing clouds barrelled towards us – shortcutting our exploits. It was a sight for sore eyes to finally see the glow of the mess-tent oil lamps and tuck into a sumptuous Indian feast of roti (Indian bread), sabzi (fried vegetables), sabji (vegetable curry), dal (lentils), mixed veggie pakora (fried fritters) and rice – whipped up by our camp chef in a bare-bones galley. As the night-time temperatures plummeted past freezing, I cherished his toasty hot-water bottles.

Mt. Meru and Its Glacier
Descending from Mt. Meru to Tapovan Through a Boulder Field
Hanging Prayer Flags at Tapovan
Our Camp Chef and Helper Whipping up Dinner

Daybreak brought an incessant drizzle and thick fog, leaving a conspicuous stream of water running along the inside, front seam of my tent. Before heading out to further explore our playground and its many attractions, the trekking company’s ‘expedition-quality’ digs needed an emergency overhaul to cope with Mother Nature. It took fancy footwork to traverse the super-saturated, boggy terrain. We struggled to make out Mt. Kedar Dome swallowed by the mist. Similarly, Sundervan, ground zero for Bhagirathi III assaults, played hide and seek in the low-lying clouds. Even Tapovan’s third jewel in her crown, the mighty Kirti Bamak Glacier, was veiled in the pea soup. Despite the curtailed vistas, the universal, interconnected web of energy vibrated powerfully in this off-the-beaten-path, exotic utopia. I felt blessed to tune into this expanded consciousness from such a remote hideaway, where so few dare to venture.

My Trekking Party on a Foggy Day

The next morning, our best-laid plans to head farther into the wilderness came to a crashing halt when we awoke to an off-season snowstorm. Despite our best efforts to shovel snow off the tents, by mid-afternoon, it was undeniable we were losing the battle and the lightweight structures eventually collapsed – rendering us effectively homeless.

Homeless After Our Tents Failed

Not one to readily accept defeat, I was determined to scout a dry sleeping nook in the barren wasteland. I had heard tales about an unearthly baba (wise, holy man), who had taken a vow of silence whilst living in solitude, meditating somewhere in Tapovan. After some traipsing around, we found him, and he humbly agreed we could stay with him. Surprisingly, his four-season homemade accommodation was more like glamping than austere cave dwelling – comprised of a hodgepodge of stone walls and a make-shift roof. I was convinced we would be protected in the presence of Mouni Baba.

Spending the Night in Mouni Baba’s Ashram
A Rare Photo of Mouni Baba

Waylaid at 4,463 m (14,640 ft), conditions deteriorated, and a strange phenomenon called thundersnow occurred. It was eerie to hear thunder bellowing overhead and watch the relentless wet powder accumulate. To me, the blizzard was otherworldly and calming; but my hiking partner did not share the vibe and her mounting panic required some intervention. Tapping into my yoga and meditation training, I asked her to chant with me. Sure enough, in time, the anxiety relaxed its throttlehold and serenity was restored. Regrettably, the peace was short-lived, and I was rattled from my blissful state anew by this woman’s high-pitched shrieks. This time, the perpetrator was a tiny field mouse that had snuck in between the rocks. I will never forget the frenzy that ensued out of her unadulterated hysteria, with the critter eventually losing its life. Talk about bad karma – reminding me that we, alone, are each responsible for taming our pesky minds.

Mt. Shivling’s Climbing Expedition

Dawn served up much improved skies and we held council to assess our menu of options. Our guide and porters decided our fate and we were turning back. The rationale was conclusive: our over-rated tents had failed miserably and there was no Plan B for lodging in the hinterland; the weather was frighteningly unpredictable; and my hiking partner had become unhinged by a tiny rodent – not a good omen. So, in a whirling dervish of activity, we broke camp with a single-minded mission for our safe return.

Mt. Shivling After the Snowstorm
Hungry Bharal at Tapovan

It is an age-old mountaineering truth: if climbing up was problematic, then getting down will likely be down-right risky. We had to first inch to the bottom of the unapologetically sheer wall leading to Gaumukh Glacier, that was now uber slippery. It was daunting that the descent did not look anything like the route up, with Akash Ganga now a waterfall tumbling down the embankment, which had been a mere trickle three days ago. The icefield flaunted fresh, gaping crevasses, with a brand-new topping of muck, making it simultaneously adrenaline-pumping and perilous. We had no choice but to re-enter the manic rockfall area, that had lengthened three-fold. It was terrifying to eye the unstable cliffs overhead and contend with raging forces of water gushing down the crags. Once again, this trove of hazards, that each seemed insurmountable, became doable as our most gifted and trustworthy porters graciously guided us with their instinctive grit.

Beginning Our Descent from Tapovan
Akash Ganga Waterfall Tumbling off Tapovan
Halfway Between Tapovan and Gaumukh Glacier
Gaumukh Glacier with the Bhagirathi Peaks in the Clouds
Crossing Gaumukh Glacier with Fresh Crevasses
The Boulder Fields on Gaumukh Glacier
Gangotri Glacier’s Snout After the Storm
Assessing the Extended Rockfall Area After Gaumukh Glacier
Running the Landslide Gauntlet
Crossing Gushing Streams Without Any Bridges

When we straggled into Gangotri two punishing days later, I was filled with immense gratitude. I had just completed this incredible, blockbuster Himalayan adventure. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to explore our planet’s natural grace and its rugged tangle of mountains, rivers and glaciers in such a secluded geography. And, lastly, I was moved with a sense of wonder that my inner strength and intuition kept me grounded in the face of the many challenges presented throughout this magical and spiritual journey.

Gangotri Temple Marks the End of Our Trek
Jubuliant at the End of the Trek
My Hero, the Master Porter
The Master Porter’s Sidekick