An ear splitting bus ride north of Delhi brought me to the foothills of the Himalayas and the home of Yoga – Rishikesh. The driver of our Volvo coach did not relent on the horn at all – even beeping empty road and seemingly at stationary objects. Imagine listening to this for 5 hours
Set in a lush green valley with the fast-flowing Ganges flowing down from the mountains it was a relaxed change from heat and bustle of Rajasthan. It was here too that the Beatles came to stay in an Ashram in the 60s to find themselves ensuring a steady supply of foreigners ever since though the ashram now is just a ruin.
I checked into to the Anand Prakash Ashram for 6 days of yoga and relaxation which was in the Tapovan part of town.
The schedule was a 5am wakeup bell for one hour of personal meditation followed by yoga at 6am for an hour and three quarters. Not one for early starts I counted a lie-in as a personal meditation of sorts but enjoyed early morning yoga to the sound of cows moo-ing on the street, the patter of birds on the roof or the occasional clattering downpour on the tin roof.
After was the daily fire-puja which involved some chanting and putting spices and butter into a small fire on a special tray for the purpose. I attended on the first day out of curiosity although was a bit adrift on the Hindi chanting!
We had another yoga session at 4pm and then dinner and silence from 9pm until after breakfast the next day. Given I’m not particularly chatty first thing in the morning anyways this wasn’t much of an imposition.
The other ashram attendees were a wide mix from all over Brazil, Irish, English, Canadian, Swiss, Israeli, etc. but not so many Indians. Some had been before, had relatives do teacher training, or just on a long India trip and stopping over on a break like myself. That said you would need to know your mountain pose from your cobra as a few beginners came and went in short order after doing one or two sessions.
The package included basic accommodation and three vegetarian meals a day. After three weeks of continuous travel you cannot underestimate the pleasure in simply staying still, having a routine and unpacking my bag everywhere over the room!Indeed all of Rishikesh town is vegetarian and alcohol free although apparently some whiskey could be got if one knew who to ask.
Meals were mostly lentil, chickpea and potato based, wholesome food with rice and chapatti bread but just next door was a lovely organic café with a view of the mountains and coffee and even pancakes should a steady diet of lentils become too much.Soon I steadied into a very relaxed rhythm of yoga, reading, stretching and hanging out in the café with the other attendees and days flowed by very easily. Down by the river itself are myriad ashrams, bookshops, shops selling bronze statues, incense, cloths and everything tailored to the backpacker seeker crowd along with the obligatory cows everywhere. All too soon I had to head back and stopped in the town of Haridwar before getting my night bus.
Haridwar sits higher in the Hindu holy-site pecking order than Rishikesh and has large stretches of ghats (steps down into the Ganges for bathing) to cater for the local pilgrims. Wandering through the bazaar down to the ghats toward sunset.
There in the icy mountain water of the Ganges were locals bathing, filling plastic bottles with holy Ganges water and waiting for the evening ‘Ganga Aarti’ ceremony.I grabbed my place to watch as the chanting and offerings to the river processed culminating in people releasing leaf baskets full of flowers and candles down the rapids of the river.
It was a perfect sendoff for my time in India, I even dipped my toe into the ceremony. After spending a month here India really is one of those places where you can spend so much time and, literally, feel you are only just getting your feet wet!