Lakshman jhula -- the bridge joining the eastern and western banks
Well, not just the yogis, but pretty much everyone.
Neha, my friend of a number of years, is in Rishikesh for almost two months to learn yoga from a visiting teacher from France. Since it is just an hour’s drive from Dehradun (where I live) I decided to pay her a visit and see the historical town. Finally.
Rishikesha, meaning Lord of the Senses, is one of the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity. The town today justifies the name in many ways; it preserves several kinds of sensory experiences, and propagates them. If you are a seeker of divine presence; a practitioner of yogic forms for a more fulfilled life; an enthused wader of the waters of the sacred Ganga at a place where she leaves the laps of the Himalayas to embrace the hot plains; a lover of cheap hallucinogens; or an intrepid traveller interested in trekking, mountaineering, river rafting, Rishikesh has it all for you. And more.
The town — its air, its dust, and indeed its waters — has the ability to make you see divinity, if you let it. At least that is what many people believe.
The Hindus come here to see their beloved Ganga in its final mountainous avatar, to pray at the famous Triveni Ghat, and visit the numerous temples. As most Hindu pilgrim sites are wont to, however, the river bank, the temples, the ghats, all nurse suppurating wounds on propriety and respect. This might be one of the biggest mysteries in this land. We uphold propriety and respect for others as the supreme virtues, and yet have precious little to show for it. Waste lies all around, people defaecate and urinate at the most inappropriate of places and allow the animals to do the same, shop-keepers throw their discards on to the road sides. No nook, no cranny is spared. Not even the ever-loving, ever-patient Mother Ganga.
Curious People from the Worlds Afar come to seek a kind of peace they feel only India can provide: by way of its ancient, mysterious wisdom, or through its sometimes happily lax policies for weed. Some pick a wave from the veritable tsunami of ashrams and schools offering courses in yoga, meditation, ayurveda, and many more concepts most of these schoolists know zilch about, and ride it. (The ones knowing something worthwhile normally don’t accept pupils just like that. And most don’t make inflated promises on signboards in front of their dilapidated huts.) Still others take their yoga mats along the banks of Ganga and sit and try to meditate. Its enormously normal-looking waters promise a quietude they don’t seem to find at any other place. And then, there are those people that mostly inhabit the Tapovan part of the town, who are living an extended rush of the 60s.
Rishikesh is a heady mixture of everything you’d want from a quickie vacation. Or, more accurately, a mixture of things you might seek and things you are bound to hate. My time there was spent catching up with an old friend, who is sure she has found what she was looking for most of her life — yoga. It challenges her, fulfills her, settles her. She is happy. As are the many I couldn’t help noticing even as I drifted in and out between conversations with Neha and with Rishikesh. There are people running booming businesses by milking spirituality; some are seeking their long-elusive dreams. All find some connection with whatever they wish to get connected to.
When I was driving back to my home, to my reluctant-to-let-me-go husband, and to our ever-welcoming dogs, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you about this ʻstrange placeʼ I had heard about, and have now seen. A few hours is of course nothing to gauge a place, but people and places radiate vibes; they either feel good, or bad. Rishikesh, despite its strangeness, felt good. Give it a try some day. It is one of those cliched things — you can hate it, or love it; but it never allows itself to sink unnoticed.
This is the only place around the Lakshman jhula, Ram jhula area where Ganga warbles a little. Everywhere else, it is calm and quiet, like it is for the rest of its journey through the plains.
Another view of the river, Lakshman jhula, inhabitants of its banks and aspiring rafters
An unsure woman, taking a dip in the water sacred to a billion and more
This man was standing with his arms spread wide over the water for a long time. By the time I could decide to take a picture, he'd begun wringing a piece of his clothing
For a long time, I kept looking at these rocks and thought they were elephants taking a welcome bath. I need new glasses. And while you are looking at the faux elephants, try not to see the waste on the hill-side.
One of the big ashrams with a lot of promises
Just about to hit the partially 'white' waters.
Lakshman jhula -- the bridge we took to go for 'the best meal in all of Rishikesh'
Neha, taking a picture of me as I took one of her
Two of the many places for seekers of wisdom of all kinds
Mother monkey, keeping an eye on the people, for the good ones throw goodies
So that they can then pick them up from the bridge floor
But their best performance is as rope-sitters. Windy weather doesn't threaten their perch one bit.
I don't know why he was rubbing these bamboos clean, but he was.
I heard this sadhu saying "Thanks" as we walked past.
The first thing across the bridge is this. A very 'India' place. Every corner has a bit of its very unique identity. The sign on the round-about under the statue of Lord Shiva says "Please take off your shoes before you climb."
This modern dude didn't flinch when I "shoved the camera at his face", as Neha put it.
One of the many fascinating shops, selling Indian-ness
This beautiful building is reminiscent of the ideal architecture for this heat. Most houses are now a silly mixture of confusion. Sad.
Finally, The Little Buddha Cafe aka Buddha German Bakery. We had awesome Tomato and Garlic Bruschetta and Watermelon juice. Rishikesh is a strictly vegetarian, alcohol-free zone. But such places do offer tuna and Ganga-trout, and eggs, too. And pot, should you be brave enough to ask for it.
A glimpse of the ghat, the place where people gather to pray, to bathe.
Seekers of something, all.
But these boys know what they want, now, don't they?
He looked like the sadhu who thanked me for taking his picture. But then, all sadhus look the same.
This photographer stands underneath a lemonade stall umbrella. No takers for either. The signs warn of many things,including photographers like him: "Please check the photographer's credentials before allowing him to take your picture." Another sign reads "Please only give food materials to the monkeys at one side of the bridge. Do not harass the monkeys. Put the food only at the stipulated places."
A man posing as 'monkey-god' Hanuman. He tricks passers-by into putting a tilak (vermillion on the forehead) and then demands money.
My favourite thing in the whole trip. These bright orange Hanuman car-ornaments. They promise all that is good (and beautiful, I think)
But this young man looks completely unimpressed...