“The earth and myself are of one mind” – Chief Joseph
This blog post is of largely split into two sections, with me (Toby) writing the first part and Joe the second, so if your only interested in one person you know where to jump to! The reason for this is we’ve had fairly different weeks with different interests that Rishikesh could cater to. Our main meeting points were either a lovely little bakery that did decent coffee and cakes overlooking the Ganges (although nearly everywhere overlooks the Ganges!) or a brilliant local Dhaba that did a 50p Thali with fantastic fresh chapattis.
My week has been intensive on the yoga with four hours a day being the norm. My teacher Akesh was great and crafted all sorts of contraptions from pillows and chairs to compensate for my lack of flex in some positions. The week was tough, I’m not used to being the worst in an exercise class and at times it was frustrating being so terrible!
For example during a bending exercise he had the class hold a roled up blanket under their abdomen as they bended over. I couldn’t bend far enough to hold it in place so Akesh switched it for a much larger rolled mat to hold. This failed so Akesh switched to a pillow to hold.. This quickly also fell to the floor at which point I was allowed to just try bending forward
Despite still not being able to touch my toes I enjoyed the yoga and noted down positions so I can practice if I get the inclination. I think the week of being the worst in the class has helped me for when I am coaching/teaching in the future to be more patient and find ways to help those struggling with something that may be fairly straightforward in my mind.
Alongside the yoga I’ve had been on a fair few runs (mainly to make myself feel good about exercise!) and had plenty of time relaxing in cafes, getting massages. Alongside a nice cycle trip to swim in the Ganges which Joe mentions in his section.
All in all I have loved my time here and feel very chilled! Excited to start our tour around Rajasthan, which we can now book ourselves as we have an Indian train booking account! This was no easy feat. The relaxing after a busy first month is well earnt I feel and I think the next month may be even busier!
For me, Joe, each morning has been a successive programme which starts at 6:45am with mantra chanting and purification. This involves a lot of shouting in Hindi (to release those inner demons and all that bad energy) whilst purification involves pumping salted warm water through your nasal passages. The latter was certainly unpleasant, and it reminded me of swallowing salt water as a child! Between 7:30-8:30am I would mediate on the banks of the Ganges, an amazing setting and a peaceful one for something which required such focus. At 8:30-9:30am I’d do some basic Hatha yoga, which was tough and I now have lower back pain! I guess it’s a good sign?! (Luckily I’m booked for a back and shoulders deep tissue massage this afternoon – £4!). I’d also mediate in the evenings 7-8pm before dinner. A day like this was the norm for 6 days here, and the intervening hours would be spent in cafes reading, talking to other travelers or simply daydreaming across the Ganges!
Another highlight we both shared was cycling 5km further upstream to swim in the river. Set against rolling Himalayan foothills we plunged into the freezing ‘Mother Ganges’. I found it so exhilarating because of it’s temperature, the roar of the river crashing against rocks just behind us. To swim in a river so many deem to be sacred felt strangely energising.
We’ve spent a week here in Rishikesh, the longest time I’ve ever stayed in one place whilst travelling, and most likely our longest stop here in India. It’s a very unique place, and it really fits a niche in the travelers itinerary. The Beatles came here in 1968 for 2 months to practice meditation and experiment with Indian instruments (Among other things…). They wrote 48 songs, 18 of which appear on ‘The White Album’. Ringo said it was “just like Butlins” – he was referring to the statues in the Ashrams. It’s an unremarkable town in appearance and it’s very ‘easy’ to stay here, with so much free wi-fi and cushioned cafes lining the river bank, but for me, it’s ‘made’ by the presence of some interesting local characters who roam the streets. I can recall three who have spoken profoundly about mind, matter and soul without hesitating to talk about death or rebirth who’ve made me think and questions aspects of life today.
In brief, I’ve spoken to:
Simon, a British expat who’s come ‘home’ to India and has lived here for 15 years. Every evening Simon drives around on his scooter with speakers chanting ‘Hare Krishna’ whilst banging a drum for the pleasure of those who want to join him, often locals. To Simon everything we do in life is a materialistic facade which merely distracts the soul from it’s real spiritual journey towards enlightenment and eternity. Everything we do in life “should be dovetailed towards Krishna”, and he told me specifically to “Lock your mind up and chuck it in the mother Ganges, it’s redundant.”
Rahul, a bizarre man who approached me whilst I stood outside a cafe stealing some wifi. I was initially on autopilot and was distracted but his fluency in English made me listen, and he began to tell me about how my life should be conducted, and how all negative feelings I have should be dispelled. We eventually spoke for an hour over Chai, as he tried to explain the way in which pranayama (The science of breathing) can be used to purify the soul and manage bad karma. He kept touching my hand, and when I asked why he said he was “taking energy from me.” Then he got up suddenly and left, and wouldn’t even let me pay for his Chai. I haven’t seen him since. Bizarre and profound, all in one.
Finally I met one local who hasn’t spoken for 12 years (He’s got 12 more to go). His pledge of silence is for him to be able to one day ‘not have to think’. Seems crazy to me, 24 years of thinking about life and then giving up one day! He communicated to me by writing in a book. He was only in his mid-30s, and I pondered whether he was wasting his younger years in this bizarre method of self-discipline.
Tomorrow we leave the spiritual river town of Rishikesh for Jaisalmer, 30hrs away in Rajasthan near the Pakistani border. Situated in a desert with all the buildings built of Jurassic sandstone, I can’t think of a more contrasting next stop.