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Rishikesh – Gateway to the Himalayas

February 7, 2010

A Note

Thank you, thank you, and thank you!  Thank you to all the people who have constantly checked back here to look for updates.  Similarly, I’m sorry to have disappointed you.  Truth be told, there came a point in my journey where I could no longer find a balance between living my experiences and documenting them.  Needless to say, I am still astonished by the support you all have shown me.  Its especially touching considering I haven’t posted in at least a year and still so many of you have been stopping by!  It’s quite surreal to me that people from around the globe have been checking the blog, including people from places I’ve never even been!

I’m sure if you are reading this, you’ll be excited to hear that I’ve decided to take play catch up.  So do check back frequently because over the next little while I’ll be going through old writings, pictures and videos and doing what I can do to get up to date.

I hope each of you are going after your dreams and getting what’s yours!

Welcome to Rishikesh

Rishikesh is the gateway to the Himalayas and the yoga capital of the world.  When you first arrive, you can hear the sound of the Ganga well before you even see it.  This place is the heart of Hindu pilgrimages.  Every 12 years there is a Maha Kumbh Mela which is held in Haridwar.  Haridwar and Rishikesh are sister cities that are connected at the hip by the Ganga river itself.  The Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering of people anywhere in the world.  Somewhere between 60 to 80 million people gather to bathe in the Ganga together.  I had a chance to experience this and it is something of an experience.  Still, for me, I prefer to find places away from the masses.

While staying in Haridwar, I stayed at Swami Ramdev’s Ashram.  Swami Ramdev to me, had just been a character who I had seen on TV in the west.  Contrary to some of my uninformed opinions I held back home, I was rather impressed by his facility and all that his organization was working on.  He has an impressive hospital set up where Ayurvedic physicians offer free consultations to anyone! Each day, hoards of people come for treatment.  The cafeteria serves healthy and naturally delicious food.  There is even a school that has just opened to teach students about Yog and Ayurveda.  

One area that I was impressed with was the research facility.  His foundation is among the first groups pairing traditional yoga with modern science.  This is unprecedented as Ayurveda and yoga have not traditional held much standing in the medical community.  In an effort to broaden the reach of these practices, they have been conducting research to close this gap.  One particular study I found interesting has proved through the scientific method that the practice of Pranayama brings balance to the right and left brain.

Admittedly, I had never been one to practice yoga back at home.  Still, if I’ve learned anything on this journey, its that I should always keep myself open to ideas.  For the first times trying yoga, it was quite an experience waking up at 5am to do 4 hours of yoga in an outdoor tent with thousands of people.  This is typically the format in which Swami Ramdev conducts his courses.  Although the conference was intended for doctors who had preregistered in advance, I managed to squeeze myself through the bureaucracies.  

While staying at the complex, Patanjali Yogpeeth, I met two girls who were studying at the Yog school.  I could never be quite sure how appropriate it was for me to be speaking to them as there always seemed to be judging eyes on us.  I always do my best to be weary of cultural norms.  In this case, the girls approached me so I simply followed suit.  One of the girls, Komal, was really curious about where I had come from since it was her first time out of the village where she grew up.  It was a big achievement for her family to see their daughter leave to study.

Over the few days I spent there, I learned a lot about the simplicities of her life.  She learned about the complexities of mine.  One area she had been quite concerned with was her impending arranged marriage.  I told her to push the lines wherever she could.  I could tell that meeting her may have been a big moment for her because my words of encouragement seemed to open her eyes.

One day we set out to the Kumbh Mela.  Battering my way through the crowds was too demanding for my liking.  If that wasn’t enough, there was sand blowing in all directions.  To me, it was like a spirituality fair.  I could relate it to a career fair I had once been too.  The only difference were the spiritual leaders weren’t selling employment, rather beliefs.  Each Swami had set up their respective camps.  The ones that I was interested in were the ones with the smallest camp.

Why would people seek out teachers who you can’t access anyways?  I needed to escape.  I looked around and noticed a temple at the top of a nearby hill.  I asked Komal about going to the temple.  She explained that there was a cable car that would take us up there.  After finding a place to cross the river, we took the cable car and got to the top.  It seemed to me as if this temple was offering religion in the fast lane.  Komal bought an offering to take to the temple.  We waited in a roller coaster style line up to arrive at the murti (statue of god).  I will never forget the enthusiasm with which Komal offered the coconut to the pandit (priest) and the indifference the pandit showed when he quickly smashed it open and gave her the routine blessing.

When we got outside, Komal was just about ready to head down to the valley.  I told her to wait and offered to show her what my idea of a temple was.  The thing is, temples in India are typically built at the tops of the most beautiful places.  I knew that the real beauty of this spot could not be found within the confines of four concrete walls.

We took a walk not more than 100m from the temple.  It was at the edge of the hillside.  From there, you could see all of Haridwar below.  A birds eye view of all the various camps set up for each swami.  I could hear all the voices below me chanting.  Everyone was chanting different mantras at different times.  From where I stood, it all sounded like one uniform sound.  I thought to myself, if there were a God somewhere up there listening, it wouldn’t really matter what everyone was saying anyways.  The thought affirmed my belief that the road to spirituality does not have anything to do with rituals.  We had only spent 10 minutes in the temple and yet we spent the next 4 hours until sunset here.  Nature’s temple.

Back in Rishikesh, you can’t help but find yourself in a trance as you stare at the Ganga.  Its a type of magic that cannot easily be described.  Mesmerized, by the endless flow of water, it amazes me how effortlessly it flows.  A constant flow of energy, like the blood in our veins.  In our own lives, we can choose to go against the current, but quite soon, you’ll tire and eventually drown.  Watching the flow of water, I considered the flow of my own life.  Everything started to make sense.Banks of the Ganga

The magical Ganga – I spent many hours everyday sitting by the her shores.  Whether I was playing tabla, practicing yoga, meditation, or simply drifting into thought, the place had its hold on my heart.  In some parts, the river almost looks as if it is as still as a lake.  In a way, it is – it never moves.  Yet, you can also find raging white rapids to remind you of how fierce even a collection of water can be.

Its one thing to stare at these white rapids and its quite another to experience it in a raft.  One morning, I set out with my cousin Kunal and some friend to go rafting.  I had already gone rafting once before with Kunal’s brother Rishaal, but its a thrill I just couldn’t get enough of.  It was a bumpy jeep ride upstream.

The morning mist ubiquitously blanketed the hills around us.  Like a group of kids, we laughed and chanted Ganga Maya Ki JAI!  While paddling through a series of rapids, there is a surge of adrenalin that feeds your pulsating heart.  We arrived at one open stretch of the river where we all decided to jump in. Rafting With little hesitation we leaped off the raft as if it were a diving board.  Jolted by the frigid waters, we splashed around in joy.  As we screamed, I will never forget what I heard next.  We were immediately silenced by the sound – SQUAAAAAAAAAK – SQUACK!! SQUACK! SQUACK!

Looking over at the shore as we drifted with the current, I found the source of the sound.  It was the most stunning peacock I had ever seen.  Wild and beautiful he stood.  Proudly showcasing his colours in all their glory.  There amidst the foggy haze, I found myself in one of the most purest of human conditions – awe.

On my journey, I have been to Rishikesh four times.  I truly believe magic happens here.  Each time I’ve had the fortune to visit this place, its been full of wonderful experiences and beautiful people.  In fact, one such beautiful person who I met on my first trip to Rishikesh has come to be extremely meaningful in my life!  Alas, that story is still in the making!  Perhaps one for a future entry!

Love to all!

Here’s a compilation that I believe captures much of what I love about Rishikesh.  Enjoy!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anjli - Crew member permalink
    April 28, 2011 7:37 pm

    Rishikesh was quite something; the power of Ganga ma is unimaginable.
    Thank you for yet another awe inspiring insight to the world.

    As always, peace, love & smile.

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