Wow, Rishikesh, I don’t even know where to begin. I stayed here for a month and a half. Everything seemed to move in phases, 1st was exploring the ancient Indian knowledge, 2. was self & nature and 3. was festival & family.
I found a great hotel for the reasonable price of 300 rps ($6), with these 3 owners who were all 25, had moved down from their mountain village, saved money for 6 years and finally 6 months ago bought a hotel of their own.
The first week I kept super super busy, the Rishi spiritual craze as many called it. Everyday I was going to a Meditation, Pranayama, or Mantra chanting in the morning and 1 or 2 yoga classes and vedic philosophy classes in the evening. I was searching so hard to find a Guru or Yoga center where I would learn divine knowledge and be taught the ultimate Yoga. After 1 week I was super burned out, and realized that the psuedo spirituality offered in this town was directed toward westerners with the crazed ambition of self realization. During the initial phase in Rishikesh I re imagined my intention of going to India. Spirituality isn’t about being ascetic, sacrificing yourself to spirituality to overcome the body, finding sacred self is only the first piece of the puzzle which constantly changes.
This is Parmarth Niketan, the most auspicious and expensive of Ashrams in Rishikesh. There is a giant Shiva statue on the Ganga. Everynight they hold an Aarthi fire ceremony at 5pm, which is basically an elaborate ceremony for tourists.
The first photo is Yogendraji teaching us Vedic philosophy in a morning class I went to for a few days. The man in red is an Osho meditation practitioner.. The meditation I attended was babble meditation where you yell nonsense for 30 mins then sit in silence for 30 more in his cave. Other meditations are Laughing, dancing, crying, & yelling, Osho has something like 200 meditations.
Other Yoga studios attended: (my honest description, by no means an official review)
The most famous Ashram for yoga on the Lakshman Jhula side of Rishikesh (backpacker side)\
was very over crowded, and had a strong competitive air to it
Also very overcrowded, but very friendly atmosphere
everyone was laughing and talking before and after class
Yogi Vini only allowed 8 people max in the class I attended
so you must go early, his adjustments were great but sometimes a little too much
he gives a foot massage during shavasana
A joke, I’m sorry
the Yogi couldn’t touch his toes, and his belly was hanging out of his shirt
he made us go in childs or shavasana 10 times so finally I peeked and he was eating
Very great teacher, was the closest I came to actually joining a teacher training program
Lauren’s Kundalini Yoga (picture of Lauren and I in front of Shiva Statue)
Lauren’s first three classes she ever taught after her training were some of the best classes ever, Wow. I’ve never tried huffing paint, but I think that was how I felt after her kundalini session.
After an Aarthi ceremony at Parmarth Niketan, my friend ask me to record her and this other girl (in the picture) while they sang a song next to the Ganga. I start recording, with no idea what was about to happen, when up comes her boyfriend from Canada proposing to her. She hadn’t seen him in four months. The crazy part is that we went to an Astrology reading the day before and the reader said that she should marry the man she is with.
Phase 2 was the self & nature phase, where I abandoned all my classes, re realized that I already do yoga every day and my self practice is strong so I shouldn’t stress so much about finding a teacher who is going to give me the ultimate lesson (I had gone to 7 different yoga classes, some of them more than once, which was an amazing learning experience but always left me craving something more).
A wise brother told me that the most powerful experience he had in Rishikesh was waking up before sunrise and bathing in the Ganga. The next morning I was awoken at exactly 3:33am with one booming voice in my head saying, “go down to the river and bath”, and another voice which replied cowardly “aww, really do I have to?”. I sat up in terror at the prospect of walking about a mile down hill through the town to the river in the dark. I sat there and sat there, frozen in place. I knew I had to do it, I knew the fear was telling me I had something to face. Also, if I didn’t go I might miss out on some spiritual growth or insight. Finally I got up, took nothing but a towel and went down. The statue on the other side of the Lakshman Jhula bridge laughed at me and my terror. Once by the river I stripped bare and went about knee high and just dropped down into the freezing water. I jumped straight back up and got out feeling amazing. I stayed up the rest of the day with a powerful joy in my heart. The next morning around the same time I awoke with the booming voice in my head saying to go down to the river again to wash in the Ganga. I wanted to go back to sleep, but knew I couldn’t ignored the command. The third morning when I awoke, I expect it, and the fourth I looked forward to it. On the fifth morning I met a group of drunk Indians from Delhi who followed me down, we laughed and joked together along the way. The sixth morning a group of dogs followed me and I stayed by the river after bathing for a while in deep peace. The seventh morning I didn’t wake up and slept through the night. Sometimes I even have trouble believe this all happened to me, but I remember it clear as day. I felt like this was my baptism, something I came close to as a teenager in my parents Christian church, but I was never willing to accept the commitment it entailed. I always wonder if the voice was my own conscience or what I thought at the time might be Shiva’s, the god of the Ganga river and one of the three major gods in Hinduism, the god of destruction, destroying my fear. Not physical fear, I had faced that as a firefighter, but spiritual fear, fear of believing there was something more.
Mountain climbing to see the sun rise, waterfall, rafting, & beaches. Full power nature.
Phase 3 brings us into the festival + family phase, where I starting making a lot more close friends and a few larger festivals came up.
Dharm (one of the owners of the hotel) and I went to his village by motor bike for his little sisters birthday. The first picture is us leaving, 3 men & 1 cake. On the way our tire went flat and it was too late to get it repaired so we hopped on the top of a truck. The truck then broke down but was somehow fixed with a condom. Finally we got to the birthday party just in time for the two year old to cut his own cake (at 10:30pm) then eat a giant feast. The next morning we had to leave early in the morning to get back to Rishikesh and retrieve the broken bike. Before we left we ate fresh buffalo cheese and took some nice photos of his home and the beautiful tree at the top of the road.
These are some of my Kundalini friends who dress in white, I attended some classes they were teaching and wow, powerful stuff. Kundalini is all about awaking the power of the Kundalini serpent which runs up your spine. Many of the classes consist of warming up your spine then holding hand mudra while chanting something or listening to some mantra for a set time, then the classes closes with some good spirited fun like dancing or singing.
Other than attending a few classes my friends were teaching, after the first week I didn’t really go to any more yoga except Acro Yoga on the beach. All the street kids knew we were there so they would come join us and we would flip them around and show them some love. Seeing so much of this inspired a few of us to volunteer at an orphanage for 10 days.
During Shivaratri the festival of Shiva, I accidentally followed a crowd of people on a four hour 15 mile pilgrimage up a mountain to the Shiva temple where masses and masses of people were making puja. As always when being the only westerner around I drew a crowd that followed me up the hill, the last photo is of my posse. Along the way there were many (maybe 10) people climbing the mountain each step prostrating, fully extending their body on their back or front flat on the ground. I can’t imagine how long this took, but the people were very dirty, cut up and happy.
Holi, Holi, Holi. Wow. It started at 9pm (technically it doesnt’ start until 2am) and went until 2pm the next day. At 9pm they burned a giant fire about 20 feet tall and played super load music while we danced our hearts out. We resumed the next morning at 9am, add colors. By about 10am we were completely covered in colors, by 1pm we were ready to lye down and by 2pm everyone ran to the ganga to wash. Supposedly this holiday celebrates the 12 hours a year that the gods take a little vacation. When they aren’t watching you can do what ever you want. In this dry city many many people were drunk, all the shops locked up to avoid theft, and the few restaurants that opened later in the day made you pay before you ate to make sure you didn’t skip on the bill.
My camera broke before Holi so none of these photos are mine, thank goodness the wonderful Katrin who took excellent photos. The main thing I missed telling you about was a few days before Holi about 10 of us rented motorcycles and road an hour outside the city to an amazing waterfall, Shiva swimming pool and then went to a isolated beach were we built a big fire and slept around it.
While I was in Rishikesh three people died in the Ganga, two of which I had met. The Ganga is a sacred and serious river, many people die in it each year and everyone has their ashes scattered farther south in the river near Varanassi. One day Nadi and I went for a swim, where we had swam many times in calm water created by a sand bar. We jumped in without a care to suddenly realize we were drifting out into the middle of the river. We tried to swim back as fast as we could, yelling help to the shore. Three more people came and jumped out to save us. We shouldn’t have panicked, wasting all of our energy. Nadi was swallowing water while we tried holding her exhausted body up. Now five people were drifting out into the middle of the river. Just as we thought that death was imminent, a river rapids raft came around the corner. They rescued us just in time, and we collapsed on shore. After Nadi and I faced death together there was some bond between us we could not explain. We decided it was time to leave Rishikesh and bought tickets together to go to Dharamsala.