We’re still in Rishikesh. We checked into the ashram April 12 and haven’t left yet. At first we thought maybe we’d stay a week, then perhaps 10 days, now it will be a full two weeks. Life has settled down and our bodies are refreshed. We’ve met some interesting people and it will be difficult to leave, but I’m itching to move on and see more of India. We have a bus ticket to Dharamsala tomorrow.
The ashram is a three-story yellow building with a half-grade basement, complete with dining hall, library, garden, internet room, two yoga studios, and 30 double-occupancy rooms. The ashram life starts with meditation at 5am, followed by morning yoga from 6-7:45am in the upstairs studio. It’s a large space with wooden floors and a woven bamboo ceiling. The front wall is lined with windows facing east to easily admire the sunrise over the hills while focusing in a strong Warrior II pose. The breakfast bell rings at 8am, leaving just enough time to bask in a few minutes of sunshine on the rooftop patio outside of the yoga studio after class. Meals are served in the dining hall, a plain room about 20’x30’ with small personal tables lined around the edges. We eat seated on the ground, backs against the wall, and are served portions one by one. No one eats until everyone is served and the mantra has been chanted in unison. Breakfast is light, typically a piece of fruit and a carbohydrate with hot tea. Around 8:30am, the Agni Hotra ceremony begins under a canopy in the garden. It is intended to purify the air and bless the land by reciting Vedic mantras while throwing offerings into the fire, particularly ghee and cow dung. It’s optional, but Gabriella attends every morning and comes back with a fresh bindi on her forehead. We’re free from then until noon, when the lunch bell rings. Lunch and dinner are similar and consist of white rice, a curried vegetable, soup, salad (cucumber, carrots, beets), and chappatti (bread). Portions are reasonable, but there’s always seconds! During the day we’re free to relax, meditate, read, or explore Rishikesh (there’s usually a nap in there). The afternoon yoga is from 4-5:45pm in the downstairs studio, with its cool marble floor, followed by dinner at 6pm. After dinner we usually hang out and chat with people over tea or use the internet. We’re usually in bed by 9pm, which is when silence begins. There’s no talking from 9pm until after breakfast the next morning, when we do it all over again. This has been our routine every day, except for Sunday when there’s no yoga class, but rather karma yoga at 9am (aka. cleaning the ashram). There hasn’t been much to complain about while living here. The room is clean and quiet, the yoga teacher is knowledgeable and graceful, and there’s always plenty of food.
In my free time I’ve been reading a lot. I finished “On The Road” (Kerouac), “The 5 People You Meet In Heaven” (Albom), and “Life of Pi” (Martel). I’m currently reading “Franny and Zooey” (Salinger) and hope to finish it before we leave. We also walked down to The Ganges one day for a dip. It was cold! Or maybe that’s just what it feels like to be removed of all of your sins. Last week, I went for a walk to see a nearby waterfall. It was about 2.5 miles away, but maybe 10 minutes into the walk a stray dog decided to show me the way. He would walk ahead of me, stop to look out over the valley of The Ganges until I caught up, and then proceed along the road. He stayed with me to the entrance of the waterfall and all the way up the trail, about 45-50 minutes, until we reached the top of the waterfall. We hiked to a decent altitude and enjoyed a nice view of the hills. Then, he disappeared back down the trail and I never saw him again. Curious dog or guardian spirit? Two days ago we met with an Ayurvedic practitioner for a brief consultation. After asking a serious of questions to each of us about our personal habits, childhood, and preferred lifestyle, our dosha was determined. We’re both vata-pitta, but Gabriella is a bit more balanced than me.
There are also some really nice people at the ashram. We’ve become quite friendly with a couple from Scotland and will be heading up to Dharamsala with them tomorrow evening. We became a bit indecisive about when to leave, but didn’t think it would be a big deal to simply book a bus ticket the day before we wanted to head out. On Monday night, our friends told us they booked their ticket for Thursday because Friday was already sold out (when they hoped to leave). We quickly walked up to the travel agency around the corner and asked about the Thursday bus. He told us there were only 2 seats left, but they were in the last row and he didn’t advise taking them because of how bumpy it will be. The next possible date for us to leave would be Saturday. I didn’t want to wait any longer, since we’ve already got a flight booked from Delhi to Goa on May 3, so we took the seats. The bus departs at 4pm Thursday and is scheduled to arrive around 7am Friday morning. Whether we’re in the middle or the back, a 15-hour bus ride isn’t going to be too much fun. We have no idea what to expect, but I don’t plan on sleeping or bringing any carbonated beverages. It will be quite an experience, to say the least.