Asia, India

A Holy City: Rishikesh

Asia India

After working for 10 years, my company offers its employees a 5 week sabbatical. That’s enough time to go somewhere far, learn something new, or as one of my colleagues says “Howard Hughes-ing it” and never leave the house! For me, when my time came, I had no plan. I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I have a big world map in my bed room, and you can scratch off each country you’ve been to. India was staring me in the face for a while. I suddenly felt compelled to go to the farthest and most remote place I could think of;  where nothing and no one could find me. India it was.

I did a Google search for meditation and yoga retreats. Keep in mind I had never really done yoga or meditation before! I just wanted to sit somewhere with my thoughts and just be. World Peace Yoga School popped up. I immediately liked that it was in a holy city.  In a place like that, nothing bad could happen to me, right?! I was traveling alone as a single woman so, there were a few precautions I wanted to keep in mind.  Having a driver pick me up at the airport and having my own room with an attached bathroom and meals included, made sure that I avoided potentially sketchy situations I could find myself in.

Rishikesh is the perfect size for a town. I stayed in Laxman Jhula, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is very walkable with a quaint street on the banks of the holy Ganges River. I did everything! Getting a henna tattoo was of course a must do! It was only $2 USD and took only 5 minutes for a very intricate design! I was impressed!

While at World Peace Yoga School, I studied yoga and it’s philosophy with about a dozen other students. I was just there for a week, but these folks were there for 5 weeks, going through an immersive yoga teacher training course! I was so impressed with them and their resolve and talent.  During break between classes, we’d sit in the cafe attached to the school and enjoy avocado smoothies and get to know each other better.

Every evening at the temples and shrines along the Ganges, or as they call it the River Ganga, there were nightly evening prayers and chants. You send your prayers down the river on a little float with flowers, leaves, and a candle. Thousands of people gathered to chant until the sunset.

What’s funny is that many of these places don’t have true addresses. The address of the school said it was by the police station. There was a resident monkey who lived at the police station and he owned this part of town! It was funny to see the same cows and monkeys everyday, just as if they where people in the neighborhood.

Rishikesh is also known as a destination for extreme sports. Bungee jumping, zip lining, and white water rafting are just a few you can do! My trip was in early September right at the tail end of monsoon season so, the river was changing daily. I was nervous since I had never done rafting before. But I thought, if today was my day to die, doing it while white water rafting on the Ganges wouldn’t be a bad way to go. I was all in and once we went over our first rapid, I realized there was nothing to be scared of. It was so fun and such an adventure!

One day, we crossed the river to the other side of town in search of Dosa, a chickpea crepe stuffed with curried vegetables. The other thing about Rishikesh is that it is a vegetarian city. Because the Hindu religion reveres all life and believes in incarnation, no meat is served here. We took a tuk-tuk to the restaurant and it was such a cool experience to travel the way the local do.

The street that the yoga school was on became my daily play ground. I just loved walking up and down the neighborhood looking at everything and everyone. Every detail about this place was so fascinating. It felt like it was a scene out of the Wes Anderson movie “Darjeeling Limited.”

I love discovering the shops and vendors along the roads. I love popcorn so much, so when I saw a guy in a near by market area, I was more than happy to give him some rupees for a bag! It was only $0.10 USD! This became a daily addiction!

One of the most amazing moments was when I found the Rishikesh temple. Just one month earlier, I had Googled “Rishikesh” and this image appeared.  It was amazing to me to know and feel that the thing I had Googled just one month before. I was standing there right in front of it. It brought my experience full circle.

Contributed by Annie Kawasaki