Finally I was able to escape the oven roasted heat and enter the cooler Himalayan Mountains via a foothills town called Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is known as the “world capital of yoga”. There are ashrams and yoga centers
everywhere. While on the bus, as always, I met a group of backpackers from Estonia (Dagmar, Cristina, and her mother). All of us survived the 12 hour, overnight, rickety and cold bus ride and ventured off to find a place to crash.
One side note on Rishikesh…The Beatles put this place on the map during their visit in 1968. They composed 48 songs here.
After a long nap, I walked around and eventually made it to the well-known prayer service, held nightly about 1 hour before sundown on the Ganges River. Thousands of Indians, mixed with a few foreigners, gather and chant while incense fills the air. It’s quite spiritual and very colorful with many holy men and children dressed in orange garb.
Rishikesh also has a number of holy men that live on the streets. I find it peculiar…many locals give alms to these “holy men” who, many of them, seem to be smoking hash all day. In return for their gracious donation, they are granted a blessing. Many give to improve their karma. I rarely gave as there were too many of them and I think there are other ways to improve karma.
Many visitors come to this part of India to meditate. The Estonians and I thought we’d test the waters (when in Rome!) at a domed temple down the hill from where we were staying. There was a religious service and chanting prior to the meditation phase, which involved an uncoordinated man hurling water as far as he could. Then, one by one, each person went up to the front near the plastic god figures on display and took what appeared to be water and splashed it on their faces. Only it was not water, it was heat from the candles. We all went up and tried to mimic the person in front of us. The lights were very dim so nobody could tell if we were doing it correctly, except for the guy holding the candles.
Anyway, after their prayer/chanting, it was complete silence, not even the noisy tuk-tuk horns could be heard. I sat in my makeshift yoga pose, propped up on a pillow and began to “meditate”. I closed my eyes and had a conversation with myself, which I found out later was not meditation. The conversation was quite comical as whoever was talking to me internally was ripping on me for not figuring out “my purpose” of this journey. Where are you going, bro? What are you going to do when you get back? The mysterious Gandalf-looking dude from Madrid also surfaced asking me what I’m going to do with my privilege!
Yeah, deep stuff, but again, this was not meditation. Meditation, as I found out later, is going to a place of no thought and it takes many conversations and flipping back through your personal photo album before you can achieve this state.
I wanted to check into an ashram but I became ill for a few days and quickly lost my
desire to sleep on a wooden cot and not speak for multiple days. I did attend a few yoga classes (“put your feet feet together”), a white water rafting trip which included a plunge into the mighty Ganges, and a long hike up to Kunja Puri Temple. I also hung out at a cool restaurant called The Pyramid Cafe and met some interesting cats from all over the world, many of which are scrapping by but enjoying the ride! Ride on!
Rishikesh was a very positive step into the spiritual side of India. Many people come here to feed off the energy, some dabble more than others. I was thankful for escaping the chaos of India and getting a little spiritual appetizer in the process.