May 18 - June 13, 2018
A 26-Day Mini-Life in Rishikesh
Location: Rishikesh (city), Uttarakhand (state), India
The Foot Bridges - Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula
My arrival in Rishikesh was during the hot and dry months of May/June when foreign travelers are few and Indians flock the city for their pilgrimage. It's considered low season but it's crowded. There are only 2 foot bridges spanning the 2 main areas of the city and the chaos in the bridges characterize the city's state-of-affairs - you elbow your way through the 2-meter wide bridge as you compete in space with cows, motorcycles, selfie people (who stop, take their time in taking their selfies on the bridge), professional photographers (who stay on the bridge) and the throng of pilgrims crossing the bridge. That in itself is an experience - interesting and exciting the first time and agonizingly painful during the subsequent times. Yes, it is mayhem, but there is order in the chaos as well.
Gurus, Babas and Saddhus
Rishikesh being the "Yoga Capital of the World" and an established pilgrimage stop, devotees come in droves - specially this season. With them come babas (spiritual gurus) and saddhus (religious ascetics), all conspicuous with their archetypal look - beads, beards, braided/bundled hair, saffron robe, face paint, etc. They come in all kinds. I've heard of bad babas who inappropriately touch women, babas who shun women, good babas doing noble tasks, beggar-babas and babas aiming to be the next Youtube sensation - Rishikesh is Mecca for them. They dispense 'words of wisdom' which make sense in isolation, but compared to what other babas say, they end up debunking and contradicting each other. Babas are intelligent and clever. They can coin words of wisdom to justify a fleet of Rolls Royces, words of wisdom to justify sex with a hareem or some twisted logic why they should travel in a $5M Lear Jet. And yes, they can charm a snake - enough charm to actually make their devotees buy into their thinking - warped or otherwise. To the bigger-than-life babas, the iconic rock stars who were not in Rishikesh, their banners adorn the landscape together with their merchandising. Dead babas mired in controversies have their followers conduct workshops in their names. Of course add to all that, the proliferation of yoga, meditation and pranayama in temples, ashrams and studios (some iconic institutions, some newbies with savvy marketing-hype), and you have the spiritual Disneyland that is Rishikesh.
Yoga has been my morning constant here in Rishikesh - thanks to my hostel's yoga shala. Sometimes, some guests join me (on a donation basis) and sometimes, it's only me. Increasingly, I am able to refine my sessions with new techniques - holding the breath after a pranayama and wait until the out-of-breath panic sets in, then observe the panic with an equanimous mind. This is an integration from my Freediving experience.
When practising alone, I would bio-hack my body by experimenting intelligent combinations of chakra, bandha, mudra, mantra, kumbhaka, visualization, pranayama and meditation - e.g. to develop the Muladhara chakra, mudra is Apana, mantra is LAM, kumbhaka is Antara, bandha is Jalandara and Moola, visualization is 4-petaled red lotus, pranayama is Ujjayi. I develop full awareness how my body is reacting, careful that I'm not frying my nervous system with all these simultaneous elements done while in Padmasana. I would rather have a qualified teacher to teach me all these, or have a book to reference, but in the absence of both, I have to rely on my own bio-hacking. So far, no red flags for me. My body and mind remain strong.
During one of my yoga classes while doing a backbend, my vertigo suddenly kicked-in. My head started spinning. I was reminded that I haven't fully recovered from my failed cliff dive 3 months ago. I was then warned by my doctor that this vertigo can and will recur. It lingered for a week and would recur usually during my yoga classes when I shift my head different ways. I was careful not to let my students notice.
Meditation Cave, Pilgrimage and Ashrams
As a holy place, people are drawn to Rishikesh to do cave meditation, pilgrimage and ashram immersion. Conversations I have with people tell of their adventures which leave me excited and a bit torn. From an adventure perspective, it's exciting. They went to meditate in caves where mystics have done so for millenia. The energy is intense. They took the multi-kilometer long pilgrimage in the heat of the sun ascending up the mountain roads. They stayed in ashrams where they deepened their spiritual practice with a guru in a collective environment of fellow seekers.
I didn't have any of that. I remain torn. The adventurer in me was taunting me, "why didn't you? losing the juice?" But the spiritual seeker in me was saying, "why look elsewhere when you already know the answers lie within?". I remain conflicted.
I haven't made money in a long time, so even though I wasn't spending on lodging, getting free rafting tours and keeping my meals frugal, I was feeling uneasy. I know my universe provides - it has consistently done that without fail through all these years. But still, I'm human - there is a bit of worry underneath the cool facade. At the very least, I had to do my due-diligence in generating some cash. I pitched my service to some high end resorts.
Veda5 Ayurveda & Yoga Retreat
This was a pleasant curve ball when I received a reply from Veda5. As timing would have it, they had an injured yoga teacher and needed a quick substitute. I went to the resort and met up with Stuart, the affable General Manager who showed me around. Veda5 was luxurious with the cheapest room starting at INR 11,000 ($162). It is perched on a mountain with fantastic views. I was to teach yoga twice/day for about a week in exchange for free stay with food. If I had loose change, I'd say yes without the money - that was pampered life for a week. But I was hurting for cash. We couldn't come to terms. That paved the way for my Dharamshala trip instead. In hindsight, it was still a very tempting option to have just stayed in the resort.
Rishikesh, in this pilgrimage season is intense! Stepping out of my hostel during the daytime is daunting - the heat, the dust, the crowd, the blaring horns, etc. I'm not saying it's bad - just saying how it is. I would often take refuge in my cool room during the midday and come out when the sun is low. The night offers reprieve with cooler air. I would often default to the cafes where I meet fellow travelers. Meeting interesting people remains the highlight for me - I see entangled karmic paths along the journey. But I remain conflicted by the "could have beens" - could have meditated in a cave, could have done a pilgrimage, could have stayed in an ashram and could have accepted the resort offer. Sigh! But life goes on. For now, I am enriched by all the experience in Rishikesh and all the wonderful people I was blessed to meet.
Thank you Rishikesh!!!
Yoga & Fitness Website: YOGA by Gigit
Reader Comments:Dindo Velasquez
(Jun 17, 2018) Gigit, are you planning to venture in South America for its famous plant medicine journey (ayahuasca et al) and meeting shamans?
(June 17, 2018) Ayahuasca has always been tempting but I already know fully well whatever I'm looking for already resides within...metta
(June 17, 2018) I find your reply interesting as I often wonder about ayahuasca, tempted but careful as I do value my mind greatly
(Jun 16, 2018) Wow, good for you!
(Jun 16, 2018) Great to meet X
(Jun 15, 2018) I sympathise with you regarding the 'could have beens' though only spent some 10 days there. But as you write, meeting interesting people is more rewarding than anything else 🙂 I wish you good continuing travels! And heed to the words of Kurt Vonnegut: "Peculiar travel sugestions are dancing lessons from God"
(Jun 15, 2018) You might need to do the Epley Maneuver to dislodge those stones. Wow, observing the panic. I should practise that more.
(Jun 15, 2018) Wow wow wee! I feel sorry for me. I want your life, pare!
Next stop: Forgiveness
Rishikesh (city), India
Travel Tips for Rishikesh
- During the cooler season when any of the hugely popular gurus or babas visit to give a satsang, eg. Prem Baba, Mooji Baba, all rooms are fully booked from Rishikesh to Hardiwar!
- short power outages frequently happen during the day
How to get to Rishikesh from New Delhi by bus
- Bus - take the Metro Yellow Line and get off at Kashmiri Gate. Exit the station from Gate 7 and enter the ISBT building - this is the bus terminal. Go down one flight and go to Platform 14. This is where you buy the bus ticket and board the bus. A/C bus, INR 454, 6 hours. You can take the 10:30pm bus and arrive 5am in Rishikesh.
scam alert! - over the ticket counter, the guy may verbally charge you INR 765 - this is usually the online price of the bus ticket. But I looked closely at the printed ticket, and found the price at INR 454. I demanded more change! The guy knew he's been discovered and gave me back the rest of the change.
You will arrive in Rishikesh at Adarsh Gram. To get to your hotel, travelers usually share a tuk-tuk (called Vikrams) for INR 10-20/passenger if shared. Since I arrived 5am, there was no one to share so I ended up paying a negotiated INR 150.
Travel Tips for India
- e-VISA - visa on arrival is no longer done. Tourists should apply online for an e-VISA (https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html). Tourist e-VISA for 60 days = US$51.25 (including surcharges, non-refundable). NOTE: e-VISA is only honored in 25 designated airports and 5 designated seaports (Cochin, Goa, Mangalore,Mumbai,Chennai). You CANNOT do a land crossing using an e-VISA.
- US$1 = Indian Rupee (INR) 67.18
- nearly every food served is spicy...there is no escaping it
- other travel destinations in India
- always good to have an Indian SIM. It's handy to get wifi in some cafes
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
India Blogs by TheLoneRider
- 16 Days in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala: Goodbye India June 23-July 8, 2018
- Peoplescape of Dharamshala, India June 14 - July 8, 2018
- Visiting the Tibet Museum June 27, 2018
- In Search of Tibetan Yoga (Yantra Yoga) June 25, 2018
- Conducting Yoga Classes at Pema Thang Guest House, Dharamshala, India June 24 - July 8, 2018
- Life in Upper Bhagsu, Dharamshala June 16-23, 2018
- Trekking to Naddi from Upper Bhagsu, Dharamshala June 19, 2018
- Matters of the Heart Jun 17, 2018
- A First Timer in Dharamshala Jun 14, 2018
- 29 Hours in New Delhi Airport July 9-10, 2018
- Meditation with Shirly Pnina at Lodi Garden, New Delhi May 15, 2018
- A First-Timer in New Delhi, India May 12-17, 2018
- A 26-Day Mini-Life in Rishikesh May 18 - June 13, 2018
- Peoplescape of Rishikesh May 18 - June 13, 2018
- Rafting the Ganga River with Greg Goldstein June 1, 2018
- White Water Rafting on Ganga River, Rishikesh May 25, 2018
- Satsang (spiritual discourse) by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati May 21, 2018
- Ganga Aarti (devotional fire ritual) at Parmarth Niketan Ashram May 21, 2018
- Bouncing Back into Yoga in Rishikesh May 21, 2018
- Exploring Rishikesh, India May 18, 2018
- India e-VISA snag May 9, 2018
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