Hey there, its Rachelle & I am back from my month-long yoga hiatus. Hopefully Ben’s adventures down ski slopes & along the beaches of Goa kept you entertained as I took some much needed time off to be selfish & focus on myself. Truthfully, I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time in one place. After all our moving around, it felt nice to call somewhere “home” for more than 4 days.
At first, I should be honest & admit I was feeling apprehensive about spending a month in Rishikesh – especially on my own. To help set context, I had traveled to India 5 years earlier during grad school & the experience had only been so-so. We stuck mostly to larger cities, given the purpose of our trip was to visit area universities & study major international businesses (i.e. Microsoft etc.), so I never really got a chance to see a softer side of India, outside of the hectic hustle & bustle that surround almost every major city in the world. Plus, I ended up really really ill. I’ll spare you the details but I didn’t eat Indian food for a year after I got home. Ending on a rough note, I don’t think you could have told me then I would be back to India, much less hangout for a month amongst the Himalayan foothills.
But back I was, about to embark on what would be one of the most incredible experiences of my life & would ensure Rishikesh always had a special place in my heart.
Rishikesh has a vibe to it, a feeling & a buzz that’s hard to describe in words. Considered one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion, non-vegetarian food & alcohol are strictly prohibited (so yes I was also giving up all cheeseburgers & wine for a month….), numerous Ashrams & Temples dot the country side. The self-proclaimed “Yoga capital of the World”, it’s easy to see what drew so many wannabe yogis to this magical place. Every shop, almost every activity & business center around yoga, meditation or Ayurvedic health. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of yoga schools (so be picky if you go, you want a good one!). The Beatles put the place on the map when they spent weeks at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi studying transcendental meditation & were inspired to write much of their “White Album”. Visiting this abandoned place now, it’s not hard to imagine how incredibly beautiful & inspirational it must have been in the 1960’s.
It is believed that just entering the Ganga can wash away ones’ sins & ills, daily rituals (Aarti) are held throughout India, nowhere more prominent then in Rishikesh & Varanasi. The ceremony is performed as an act of gratitude & thankfulness to the “Mother Ganga”, nothing is asked it, it is simply to say thank you for the rivers blessings.
The Ganga may be the focal point of the area, but the animals are a close second. Cows & monkeys have their run of the town. More than once we found ourselves at a roadblock of cows attempting to navigate their own way through the busy streets. They became sort of like our own pets, they are very friendly (usually, though you may get a headbutt if you aren’t careful) & when looking for food or a pat on the head have no problems coming right up to you & snuggling their heads in your lap. If you thought “puppy eyes” were the sweetest things in the world, its nothing compared to the sweet look you get from a baby calf.
Monkeys however were a different story…. Entertaining at first & interesting to watch (how many other people have daily views of monkeys??) they quickly become your nemesis. Nothing was safe, not your laundry, grocery bags, even books or passports! I was luckily spared any of the worst but amongst our yoga group the monkeys snatched socks, sports bras, bananas, granola bars, a yoga asana book & passports. They were ruthless. I had to be “rescued” from the roof one afternoon while trying to collect my laundry. About a dozen monkeys had turned the washing lines into their own personal playground, swinging on pants & twirling with shirtsleeves. It was funny to watch actually but I couldn’t get to my pants! Luckily one of the guys came up with a stick & shooed them away. I started leaving my laundry right outside my balcony instead of on the roof….
Probably one of the best parts of being stationary for so long were the relations made with local bakers, cafes & shops. We had a favorite “chai man” on the side of the road who served the best chai from his little pot under a tarp. Our favorite “German Bakery” (run by a Nepalese man so no idea why it was German) served delicious vegan brownies & “Reese’s” balls (peanut butter & chocolate). A few of us had the amazing chance to be invited into a local woman’s home for a traditional Indian cooking class. To be welcomed into her kitchen, meeting her husband & son, it was a special chance to learn more about local culture & appreciate how the locals live.
While yoga drew me to Rishikesh, the people & experiences are what made it all worthwhile. If any other place exists like it in the world, I have yet to come across it. My own journey & experience of yoga was deepened & forever impacted by those I met & the times I enjoyed here in Rishikesh. I know I am not the same person who arrived on the shores of the Ganga, in a rainstorm, wondering what in the world was I doing in this place.