“Oh yeah, mmmmm. You know what that smells like?”
“It smells like love. Love is the only power you need”
“Yeah man. Totally”
Welcome to Rishikesh. Home of new age, bongos, yoga and more dreadlocks than you can shake a stick at.
I arrived in an early morning haze having not slept a wink cushioned between three Indian women who ordered me about to buy chai, stole my neck pillow and spontaneously broke in to song at 5am. Such a start to the day was not conducive for any sensible negotiations to find a guesthouse and I found myself befriended by a pseudo sadhu who insisted on buying me chai and writing a page long homage to love in my journal. It was there that I also met Lewis, an Australian who I would later become convinced was the only half normal person in Rishikesh.
After settling in to a half decent place I went to explore. Situated on the banks of the holy Ganga river near enough to the source to be a turquoise blue and not poo brown, I thought Rishikesh was pretty from afar, dotted with colorful temples and set against green hills. Yet I couldn’t help feel a little suspicious about it on first impressions. In every cafe blissed out faces spoke about love and compassion whilst on the street sellers yelled ‘come see my shop’ and I had an almost daily charade of running away from the red faced tika man who wanted to put a red dot on my head. I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit like a spiritual Blackpool rather than a special holy place.
What I really wanted to do is get a bike and get away from the strip, so got in touch with Lewis and hit the road the following day. With two creaky old bikes we had a fantastic day exploring the hills, spotting peacocks, stopping for 6 rupee chai and finished with a dip in a waterfall. Fun as it was we upgraded to a moped the following day and snook off 40km out of town to have a beer (forbidden in Rishikesh) and splash around in the Ganges. I can only hope that I’m not coming back as a dung beetle for that one.
“Face like a Buddhist monk, face like a Buddhist monk”
When he left the following day I decided to give Rishikesh a chance and commit myself to daily yoga practice, as this was after all why I was here. I started with ashtanga at Shiva Yoga Peeth. Having practiced yoga every week for the last two years I was fairly confident at my abilities, but it wasn’t prepared for this. As the teacher twisted me in to a pretzel like pose whispering ‘u ji eeeee, u ji eeeeee, breath madam, solves everything’ I could hear the words of my London yoga teacher ringing in my ears to stop frowning and have a face like a Buddhist monk, not so easy when you feel like your arms are going to snap. Still, I left feeling refreshed and committed to return the following day.
It was then that I met Adam again from McLeod Ganj and Till from Berlin who was just about to check out a meditation class. I’m woeful at meditation but decided to go along as this was Osho meditation and promised to be a bit different. Oh it was different alright. Entering the silent room I was handed a flyer outlining the class, 15 minutes of shaking, 15 minutes of dancing, 15 minutes of meditation and 15 minutes of lying down. I looked for the exit, my brain screamed for a Pino Grigio and I glared at the back of Till’s head. But alas the door was closed and I would have to get on with it. As the music started and I started to jiggle a little on the spot I felt like a complete and utter wally. As we moved to dancing I felt more like John Major at a rave and stole a glance at what everyone else was doing, all flowing arms and graceful moves. But then I reasoned I was only making myself feel awkward and let go a little, then a bit more and before I knew it I’d actually lost myself in it, in the moment one might say, and it felt good! I left with a grin on my face and a bounce in my step. It was perhaps at that point that I started to relax in to Rishikesh, open myself up to new practices and ideologies and even shook a maraca a couple of times. Its lure held me there for a week which could have easily stretched for two or three, perhaps next time I’ll be one of those in that cafe that first morning and may never leave….