2018 India – Rishikesh

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 history.

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 the ruins.

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 started.

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 to Rishikesh.

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 something.

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 railway-station.

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