Rishikesh: The Yoga City

Vegans and yogans, gather around – heaven is a place on earth! Rishikesh!

It’s allegedly the birthplace of yoga, and the locale for the Beatles’ ashram visit in the 60s. Its also stunningly nestled in the mountainous northern region of India, bisected by the Gange river (pronounce with caution), whilst being a convenient 6 hours bus ride from Delhi.

I was concerned for my choice of visiting the “-Kesh” given my lack of interest in yoga, veganism and my fear of run-ins with the grammar police (Gange!) – but I persevered, led by my fascination of new places, and mostly a will to stay in Delhi for as long as absolutely necessary.

It was hell trying to find my bus in Delhi. I booked using the ‘red bus’ app, which worked a treat. But upon arrival at the RK Ashram Terminal, I noted that none of the buses were marked, nor had the bus number been made available to me. There’s about 500 metres worth of road side with buses along it, and a number of attendants who don’t speak English manning them so trying to figure out which was the correct bus was a task. A random phone call in true SAW style came through after 30 minutes of seeking, where the speaker shouted “pillar 26” amidst mumbles of incomprehensible Hindi. I assumed it was related to my bus and, considering I didn’t have a more convincing lead, followed what I assumed were directions down to pillar 26, unsure of what I would find.

Alas, a man at the far off pillar confirmed this was indeed pillar 26, and that yes – my bus was coming here. After a phone call, he also confirmed that my two friends who had missed their bus could also climb aboard – but would need to sit directly behind the driver. The cheap seats I called it (cause they were) – but beggars can’t be choosers. They were embarrassed, but wound up chatting and smoking with the driver. #Travelgoals.

With their yoga mats strapped to their backs whilst sporting carefully sought out “traditional” cheap-cotton garments from the local side store, along with their immeasurable level of smugness, spirited tourists parade around Rishikesh in a brisk fashion, rushing between their yoga/mediation classes and vegan-gorging sessions. I imagine these folk already endure much self-loathing, so I shan’t elaborate further.

My hostel “Shiv Shakti” was not as prison-like as the name suggests, but rather was filled with the expected vegan-fodder folk, so I spent most of the day outdoors or indoors sleeping. Otherwise nice, the beds are adorned with individual plug points and private curtains – so there’s no need to drop tools and pretend to be sleeping when others walk in (I do that).

We took a walk shortly after arrival to the Beatles Ashram, trying sugarcane juice whilst on route from a local man and his archaic cane-crushing machine. Minty and sweet, it tasted like something that would surely make me surrender to the latrine in the arvy.

The ashram was severely overpriced, and I imagine overrated – in true Beatles style (both “imagine” and “overrated”) . We weren’t prepared to be robbed in broad daylight – so we went to smoke bedi on the river bank instead. A spiritual experience – no, but enjoyable none the less. Some local ladies walked past us whilst we were smoking, and though I thought they were greeting us in a friendly way, I heard them say “… haram…”. It took a few minutes for me to realise that they thought we were smoking hash, and we were thus being sternly rebuked by the ‘friendly’ ladies. Sigh.

Be warned – alcohol in Rishikesh is also “haram”. So that evening, after some research (we Googled), we trekked to the top of a mountain forming the Rishikesh valley to find a restaurant that secretly sells beer (the Swiss Cottage Restaurant – sssshhh!). Served wrapped in newspaper, nobody could tell we had beer in our cans (except that everybody definitely could). We then stumbled back to our respective hostels, feeling like guilty school kids.

By not running on alcohol profits, the restauranteers make profit off juice, with an apparent sin-tax-like alcohol markup. Beside the price, the mango and pineapple juice is really good – these notably so at the Little Buddha Restaurant, and the Gange View Cafe.

Caution the famous Lakshman-Jhula foot-bridge after one too many juices however – it takes 8 minutes to cross what should be a 20 second foot bridge. Motorbikes, spirited-tourists, dogs, families taking selfies, cows (?) all use this bridge and the “keep left, pass right” heuristic hasn’t hit the dwellers of this region. Night walkers should bear even more caution as when dark, this bridge is easily classifiable as treacherous.

And on the 2nd day, we went white water rafting. We haphazardly chose a store offering the service from all the many, many stores doing so, and after waiting a short while, were jeeped off up the river.

At the dismount, I quickly sampled a lime juice from a local salesman. God above – truly the worst thing my mouth has ever had to endure – it was sulphurous, eggy, minty, limish and then topped off with some yellowish spice. Disgusting. Putrid. Vile.

With the bad taste in my mouth, I put on my dorky helmet, and we set off down the river. Surprisingly, the rapids were pretty decently sized and the whole experience was a great time. Downroute, we had a few chances to jump off into the Gange for a little dip whilst taking in the sinuous and beautiful landscape. Definitely, the white water rafting is worth doing.

Having heard about the amazing waterfalls in the region, we elected one to go to (the closest one, of course). After an unpleasant trek along the road, a toll gate for the waterfall (?), and a final push to the top we arrived at the waterfall in question – the Neer Garh Waterfall . Those people who post photos of this one on Google are proper rubbish. This place is much, much better than those photos let on. It’s a little Eden that thing, with differing tiers of pools down the waterfall. Great for swimming, and casually bobbing around for hours. It’s awesome and beautiful in a surreal manner – almost spiritual (I never said that) . On the way out I had a “mango dolly lolly”- a treat which brought out my inner child. Just lovely.

That evening, we had some dinner and finally got to sample a dessert which kept drawing our attention – the so called “hello to the queen.” Asking for it by name, we decided to order it roulette style, and not research or ask anything about it. The surprise was amazing – I felt like a child. The dessert was regal as. From the ground up: parle g biscuit base, a layer of bananas, soft serve vanilla ice cream, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce and pomegranate seeds. Sweet but no too sweet, and damn moreish. Im no fan of sweet things typically, so this dessert was almost designed for me. The dessert name is fantastic too. So an all around excellent dish. The queen would approve.

On the way out of Rishikesh, more transport issues ensued. The bus number was again not made available to me, and even locals were at a loss this time. After some discussion, a ‘Rishkeshan’ (?) man pushed me onto a tuktuk and said the tuktuk would take me to my bus. Never have I had to rely on faith as much, but again – without any additional leads, this would have to do. After a drive 3kms away from the station we arrived at my bus. “What he hell – why is it not at the station?” I asked everyone I came into contact with in the bus proximity, not knowing who was actually in charge of the bus. They all laughed however, and I later learnt that the bus assistant was laughing off his responsibility. I boarded, and managed to sleep all the way until arriving back in Delhi at 4am – an hour before scheduled. I wasn’t happy – an extra hour in Delhi.

I spent the rest of the day in the hostel, until needing to go to the airport at 1am. Hoping for a quick escape, again – India was not having it. This time I faced a police blockade and a flat tyre in the space of one trip in an uber . Again, these things must also be beyond the control of Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. I arrived at the airport with less time to spare, but comfortable enough to catch my breath and board the plane to Sri Lanka peacefully.

Sadly, I was glad to leave. India is beautiful and alluring, but it sure is exhausting. I was looking forward to a vacation from my vacation. I hoped Sri Lanka would allow me the solace I felt like I deserved. Otherwise, now that the end was near, there was nothing left to say except namaste. And that I did in my way. But mostly namaste.

Namaste India, namaste.

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