At four o’clock, an almost inhuman time
the alarm went off and another day began. After having showered and
looking at my ticket once again I noticed I had messed up and could have
slept one hour longer, oh well, things happen…
My taxi arrived punctual
at and brought me to New Delhi railway station where I started my quest
for the platform for the 6:45 Dehradun Express to Haridwar. That was
easier said than done as even at this time on a Sunday morning the
station was chaotic and buzzing with activity. People were sleeping on
the floor of the central hallway and somehow I had to make my way around
them. Eventually I made it to the right platform and I even managed to
get in at the correct couch and found my reserved seat.
It took about five hours
to cover the 210 kilometres to Haridwar, making it the quickest
connection between the two cities. All other trains, which would have
permitted a sleep-in took much longer.
After I got off the train
it didn’t take long to find a taxi to Rishikesh (actually it did find
me…) and as soon as we left the square in front of the railway station
the relative peace and quietness of the last couple of hours was
Drivers used the horns of
their cars almost non-stop to announce their presence, competing not
only with the other traffic on the road but with pedestrians as well,
also the cows were back on the road…
About an hour later we
arrived in Rishikesh and as usual it took a couple of phonecalls before
my driver found my apartment. The place was spacious, spotlessly clean
and tastefully decorated. The only downside of it was it’s location, at
the edge of town, a fifteen minute walk to where the activity was.
Rishikesh has been a
magnet for spiritual seekers ever since the Beatles put it’s name on the
world map when they stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram in the
late ‘60s. By now it calls itself the “Yoga Capital of the World” and it
was not difficult to see why. I have never seen so many ashrams, yoga
and meditation schools in one place, you could not miss them. Virtually
every restaurant in Rishikesh only serves vegetarian, vegan or organic
food, it all came across as a bit over the top, too forced.
I must admit walking
through the centre was a shock to the system for me. It was all just a
bit to touristy and the atmosphere far to much hippyish. I saw several
Westerners who definitely seemed to have somehow lost the plot, but then
on the other side, who am I to judge…
On the other hand, the
scenery was gorgeous. The city is surround by beautiful hills and the
main attraction is of course the mighty Ganges that splits the city in
two and where most activities take place. Beside the spiritual seekers
it’s now also a popular white-water rafting centre, backpacker hang-out
and Himalayan-trekking gateway.
I had a small bite to eat
at a rooftop restaurant after which I made a stroll through the city
centre to get to know my directions. The next coming five days I would
get to know this place a little better and I already decided to at least
try to do that open minded.
Back at my apartment I had
a nap and worked on my journal. I did not feel very hungry and neither
felt like walking about 15 minutes to the nearest restaurant. Therefor I
stayed in, listened to some music and had an early night. The day had
started early after all…
Eleven hours later I woke
up, I must have needed it… After a refreshing shower I headed back
towards the Lakshman Jhula hanging bridge where I had a healthy
breakfast whilst overlooking the Ganges and the Swarg Niwas temple. It
looked a bit weird, like a giant wedding cake and I did lot know what to
think of it. Time to find out by myself.
I crossed the 150 meter
long bridge, left my sandals with the shoe keeper and entered the
temple. Built by the organization of the guru Kailashanand, it resembles
a fairy-land castle and has dozens of shrines to Hindu deities on each
level, interspersed with jewelry and textile shops. A rather surreal
experience whilst I slowly spiraled my way to the top. Worshippers
stopped at a very deity to show their respect whilst shopkeepers tried
to grab the attention of every bypassed, hoping to make a good sell.
From the top there was a
brilliant view over the Ganges and the neighbourhood across the river.
Once I had enjoyed it for a while I made my way down and strolled
further upstream through numerous food stalls. It had a lovely
atmosphere and there was plenty to see.
After a kilometer or so I
returned, passed the bridge and walked a bit further south. I found a
beach at the Ganges where several people were bathing and then made it
back to the place where I had breakfast. I was getting tired a bit and
knew I needed to sit down.
Whilst zipping from a
fresh lemon soda I got in a deep conversation with a father and son at
the table next to me. An extremely interesting duo. Although being
Australian the father had converted to Hinduism, whilst the mother had
became Krishna. The son had a very worldly point of view in spite of
being influenced by his parents. Both were still very open for other
opinions and it was en interesting meeting.
After they left I picked
up flashes of the conversations around me, almost without exception
about the teachings of the gurus and spiritualism. I noticed I got an
overload of this and left for another walk.
There was enough to be
seen in this part of Rishikesh and I just hung around, breathed the
local atmosphere without having a fixed goal to go to, going wherever my
eyes were leading me.
I found another place
overlooking the river and had a couple of mint-lemon drinks. I saw it
was getting late already when I returned to the Lakshman Jhula, crossed
it and enjoyed the sunset over the Ganges.
After that I strolled at
ease towards my apartment, had another refreshing drink (this week was
going to be a trial without meat or a beer but so far I was doing well).
As once again I was not very hungry I moved on. Somehow I come to a
point that two meals a day are simply enough, although the food is
simply stunning. There is only so much one can eat…
Next morning after my
shower I returned to the German bakery for breakfast. Their coffee was
simply irresistible, something rather rare in India. When I was finished
I booked a rafting tour and a day tour of sightseeing at a travel
agency I had spotted earlier.
Then I crossed the hanging
bridge once again and made my way downstream towards the 2nd hanging
bridge in Rishikesh. It was a gentle walk and there was enough to be
seen. When I arrived at the bridge and the ghats at the Ganges there was
a lot of activity. This week there were two yoga festivals taking place
but somehow I could not get myself together and sit down for the
lectures. I had heard enough conversations about spiritualism, self
reflection and healing, enough was enough.
I continued my walk
towards the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, better known as the Beatles
ashram. It was located Just south of Swarg Ashram, the neighbourhood
where I was right now and is a famous place where the Beatles stayed and
apparently wrote much of the White Album. After decades of neglect, the
Forest Department has decided to reclaim it from the jungle growth that
had nearly consumed it, turning it into a pilgrimage site for Beatles
fans, as well as an evolving graffiti-art museum.
It wasn’t easy to find and
one could wonder whether the 600Rp entry fee (foreigners only) was
justified as there was not much to be seen. First I passed some
meditation cells which had seen better times. Some interiors were
decorated with graffiti, many of course dedicated to the most famous
visitors of the ashram in the sixties.
In one of the buildings
there were a couple of lectures going on about trancedental meditation
but I thankfully declined the invitation and continued my exploration of
There was nothing much
left to see but definitely most interesting was the previous prayer hall
with beautiful graffiti of the Fab Four and the Maharashi.
After having spent some
time at the ashram I started my 2 kilometer walk back. At one point I
set down to listen to two musicians.
Temperatures were rising
and I noticed I needed to stop every now and then as I was getting tired
rather quickly and my breaks were becoming more frequent. Finally I
made it to the Lakshman Jhula hanging bridge, crossed it and ordered a
well deserved drink at the German bakery. I must admit the morning had
completely drained me and the only thing I wanted to do was relax.
I met Brian from London
and got into a nice conversation with Him. Apparently he and I had the
same ideas about Rishikesh. A wonderful place without doubt but some
things could be a bit to much smack in the face.
Time flew by quickly and
neither of us had any plans for the afternoon. We decided to go for a
walk but it did not take long before we found a quiet cafe to continue
our chat. It suited me fine as I really did not feel like doing a lot
that afternoon. Later in the afternoon we moved to a garden cafe,
overlooking the Ganges and had a bite to eat. The long afternoon was
finished of with a final coffee at the German bakery after each of us
went or own way. In spite of a lazy afternoon I still felt tired and it
did not take too long after I returned at my apartment that the lights
went out and I went to sleep. Another day had come to and end.
That night my mind was in
overdraft and I spent far too much time awake whilst my thoughts went
everywhere and nowhere. Finally I fell asleep again but it did not take
long before the alarm went of.
Feeling more exhausted
than refreshed I returned to the city centre for breakfast after which I
returned to the travel agency where I had booked my rafting trip. The
trip would start a bit later than originally planned, a good excuse to
enjoy another coffee and the activity around the hanging bridge.
Minutes before the new
departure time I left to the travel agency where a motorbike was waiting
for me to bring me to the main road. There I transferred into a jeep
and the journey upstream started. When I looked down I could see the
Ganges meandering deep in the valley amidst a gorgeous scenery. For sure
it would even look better once the return journey in the raft had
Some more people were
collected, amongst which a young Romanian couple and once at our
departure point everything was prepared for our 24 kilometre trip back
After brief instructions
we left and I can only say the nature surrounding us was absolutely
breathtaking. I saw some monkeys, as well as some deer high up the hill.
It was a highly enjoyable trip but at times I really needed to
concentrate to the fullest when we crossed class one, two and three
rapids… It did not take long before all of us were soaking wet. The
water of the Ganges, still very clean at this stage had a wonderful
emerald color but was quit cold. To cold for me to take a dip although
some others were brave enough to to do so.
There was a great vibe in
the boat that was stimulated by our enthusiastic boat driver. But time
assed by quickly and far too soon for my liking we arrived close to
Rishikesh where we debated and the staff loaded both rafts on the car.
Not much later I was back at the travel agency, changed into dry clothes
and went for a drink.
By now I realized how
tired I was and although I wanted to return to my apartment I stopped at
two more cafes to catch my breath. An early dinner was out of the
question as no restaurant served anything before seven o’ clock so I
bought a bag of chips, and had a nap once back home.
That evening I did not go out anymore. I knew when my body had enough and today that definitely was the case…
In spite of having gone to
bed early I slept through all night and just woke up before the alarm
went off. I felt much better now.
For this day I had booked a
trip to Devaprayag, a small municipality in Uttarakhand, Which is one
of the Panch Prayag (five confluences) of the Alaknanda River where the
Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet and takes the name Ganga.
First we drove for some
time upstream and once again I could admire the breathtaking scenery
where I had been rafting the day before. There were several stops
because of road construction but after all not to bad. Unfortunately my
driver’s English was extremely limited which lead to some amusing
misunderstandings at times.
After about a three hour
trip we arrived at Devaprayag, I had not realized the place was that
far. My driver showed me the way to where to cross the walking bridge
and that was it. I was on my own.
A small path lead towards
the hanging bridge with small shops and stalls at either side. Being
located at such an auspicious place it came to no surprise that a small
temple was built at the location where a meditation cave had been found
that was much, much older. I was lucky enough to witness a small arti
(prayer ceremony) at the temple after which I climbed down the steep
steps towards the hanging bridge to get back to the other shore.
My driver was waiting for
me and we slowly started our return journey to Rishikesh, but not
without stopping at the Arundhati Gufa cave that was located next to
the Ganga close to an isolated ashram. The scenery was beautiful, the
cave itself was less impressive, but then who says that historical
sights always have to be impressive…
I was getting a bit hungry
and also noticed I still wasn’t in the best shape. Therefor I delayed
my decision to go to the Haridwar evening arti or not till after lunch.
Lunch had done me well so I
told my driver to continue as originally planned for a visit of the
Haridwar arti. The city, located where the Ganga immerses out of the
Himalayas is one of Uttarakhand’s holiest Hindhu places and every
evening thousands of Pilgrims gather around the fast flowing Ganga for a
ceremony led by seven Brahmans.
This evening was no
difference. Whilst some pilgrims were still enjoying their ceremonial
baths and other launched small leaves filled with marigolds and a candle
(some of them not that small) the Brahmans started their ritual. The
crowd went ecstatic.
It was a great ceremony to
witness, but after an hour or so I had seen enough and asked to return
to Rishikesh, something my driver was not to happy about as he
tremendously was enjoying the ceremony. Oh well, things happen.
Back at my apartment I called it a day and enjoyed another long sleep.
My last day in Rishikesh
had arrived and I had decided to once again soak up some atmosphere,
make some additional pictures and perhaps enjoy a massage. I returned to
the hanging bridge for breakfast at my favorite hangout place and met
Marian, a Dutch lady with who I had had some great conversations
already, this time was no different.
After an extended and chat
full breakfast I went for a short walk but quickly realized I wasn’t
doing that well. My condition was terrible and I had to stop to recover
my breath constantly. My dizziness at times became unbearable and a
couple of times my vision completely blurred… So I sat down with
another lemon-mint drink after which I strolled at ease through the
narrow alleys looking out for a place for a massage.
And I did find a place
that was absolutely lovely. Although I had opted for a deep tissue
massage I fell asleep within minutes unconsciously still benefitting
from the skillful hands that were massaging me. I had to be woken up to
rotate on my back to continue the massage.
After an hour or so I
returned to Tat cafe for a late lunch and then went back to my apartment
for an afternoon nap. Unfortunately the effects of the massage had not
lasted long and it did not take long before I felt the same as before.
It seems that this
journey, although I am doing things in a relatively low pace is
definitely taking it’s toll. The immense impressions and experiences,
although I love every single moment of them, seem to have their impact
on me and my condition. Next day I had planned to travel to Amritsar in
Punjab and as I have five days over there I can relax the first day or
two till I feel better without having the feeling I am missing out on
So far the journey has
been absolutely stunning and with still a month to go there is nothing
wrong with slowing down for a couple of days till I feel a hundred
percent again. I have booked myself another massage at nine, a good way
to start the day before breakfast. By noon I will have to be back at my
apartment to hand in the keys and grab a taxi to Haridwar
Rishikesh had in many ways
been a strange place to visit. I must admit I kinda liked it but the
overwhelming presence of yoga institutes, healing places, ashrams,
vegetarian and vegan restaurants had a slightly avert effect on me. I
absolutely could not connect with the hippyish atmosphere where some of
the tourists did their extreme best to appear more local than local and
had adapted to a lifestyle in a way that I could only define to as
extreme and disconnected from their own roots.
Perhaps it did not help
that I did not feel very well during my stay and I was on the edge most
of the time. Perhaps Rishikesh, in spite of it’s beauty and stunning
location simply was not my thing, I will never know.
Continue to the Punjab Experience