Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rishikesh: beyond the ashram

Rishikesh from Ram Jhula

India unearths your limits and pushes you to them, and sometimes a little bit beyond. It’s challenging, overwhelming, and impossible to ignore. But there is beauty and magic, too, that’s difficult to put into words. So much colour. So many sounds. So many smells. So much of everything.

Though my days were long at the ashram, we had Sundays off and a couple of breaks in the day, and after meals (when it wasn’t too scorchingly hot), I would walk down to the river and through the bazaar, past the chai, vegetable, and jewellery sellers, among the babas, sadhus, yogis, and others at various stages on their path to enlightenment. Oh, and of course cows – that sort of goes without saying, since they’re nearly synonymous with India – high on their own sacredness, leaving fecal landmines willy nilly for us lowly spiritual aspirants to dodge.

Rishikesh is spread out along both sides of the Ganges, which, since it’s closer to the source, is much clearer, having not yet accumulated as much pollution as it will have by the time it reaches Varanasi. Also, it’s cold. Blissfully, frigidly so. And since the daily high was in the mid-forties – and there’s no AC anywhere, just fans to push the hot, dry air around – a dip in the Ganges is going to happen, fecal contaminants or not. The river rushes past the ghats at such speeds that holding on to a chain is necessary, while the sand from upstream gets swirled into your pockets and crevices (yes, women must go in fully clothed, this isn’t Koh Phangan). This isn’t a leisurely river swim by any stretch. It’s a desperate attempt to lower one’s core temperature to survive the inescapable heat for the following few hours.

The neighbourhood I lived in is called Swarg Ashram, near Ram Jhula, and it’s about a half hour walk from better known Laxman Jhula, which is full of restaurants, stores, and more ashrams. It’s a colourful, vibrant area to walk around, and go for a contraband dinner after days and days and days of dal and curries (though delicious, sometimes you just want pizza – though don’t expect to break all the rules and eat meat or have a beer – Rishikesh is a dry, vegetarian town).

A few other highlights include a visit to The Beatles’ Ashram (I didn’t have my camera with me when I went, which is probably best for everyone, since I’d still be there photographing all the incredible architecture and graffiti and decay), rafting, visiting Hindu and Sikh temples, hiking to waterfalls, chanting in caves, and meditating under trees.


Up in the foothills.

Cooling waterfall mist.

Walking back from the waterfall and caves.

This little guy lived down the alley by my ashram. He looked sicker and thinner every
time I saw him. I brought him food, but never managed to get him to eat anything.

Over a month you get to know the dogs too. This old guy likes a good head scratch.

A cooling dip in the Ganges.

Morning pranayama along the river.

Sun rising over the holy Ganga.
An adorable, (and healthy!) puppy!


  1. Beautiful photos - such a wonderful experience.
    Chey xo

  2. Gorgeous pictures as usual. Love Mum & Dad