It’s been one week since we arrived here in Rishikesh. Last Wednesday, we took a 10-hour train from Agra to Haridwar (about 1 hour south of Rishikesh), watching the littered countryside pass by and holding our breath whenever toxic smells overwhelmed the train car. As we neared the station, a nice Israeli couple asked if we’d like to split a cab to Rishikesh, since that’s where they were headed, too. We ended up taking the bus, and then hired a rickshaw to take us around the various cottages to find a place to sleep. We settled in to a decent place around midnight, delirious after a long day of travel and little food. In the morning, we began to explore our new destination. Softly nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Ganges River flows lazily through town. The traffic is reduced, the air is cleaner, and the heat is not quite as intense. This place is exactly what the doctor ordered.
On Friday, we moved into the Swiss Cottages in High Bank, more removed from the busier district we were staying in. It’s a quaint community where there are a few accommodations, restaurants, and basic services, all perched on the hillside overlooking the River. There are many backpackers here that typically end up staying for weeks because it’s so quiet and cheap. The room plus three healthy meals per day is averaging us around $12/day. I like! We’ve met a couple of Australians, Swedes, and one guy from Madison, WI (the only other American I’ve come across so far). We’ve become quite friendly with a Swedish couple (Jonas and Ellen) a few doors down from us, sharing stories over meals.
Rishikesh has two main suspension bridges that connect it with marketplaces across the river, Lakshman Jula to the north and Ram Jula to the south. Although they claim to be “pedestrian only”, scooters and motorbikes dominate the 6-ft wide bridges, honking their way across. The marketplaces are filled with knickknacks, jewelry, and clothing (along with the usual cows, dogs, and monkeys). Further south, beyond Ram Jula, is the ashram where The Beatles came to study with the Maharishi Mahesh yogi back in Feb 1968. We visited the area Monday, tucked into the hillside, but it’s broken and weathered after being unoccupied for the past 30 years. The buildings still remain where there was once a yoga hall, residences, and meditation chambers, but the forest is slowing taking over. Apparently, much of The White Album was written here as John, Paul, and George delved into Transcendental Meditation and Eastern philosophy (Ringo wasn’t too thrilled about it and left after only 3 weeks).
Rishikesh is known as the “yoga capital of the world” due its plethora of ashrams around every corner. We attended our first yoga class on Monday at the Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram and it was one of the best classes I’ve taken. I thought I might be struggling to get through the 1hr 45min class, but it was relaxing, energizing, and restorative. Anyone can drop in for class ($2), but residents are entitled to 2 classes per day (6am and 4pm), Agni Hotra (8:30am), 3 meals, and a room for about $12/day. The quarters are quiet and well-maintained with a small garden in the interior. We enquired about a room, but they’re currently full. We’re going to go back to the 4pm class every day and keep asking for any availability. We’d really like to stay for 1-2 weeks to regain some regularity in life and have the ashram experience, but we know there is much more of India to see; planning to go to Shimla and Dharamsala next. Until then, we’ll just have to enjoy the lazy rhythm of Rishikesh and purify our soul with a dip in The Ganges.