I arrived in Rishikesh in the only bad mood so far. Ten hours to Dehradun followed by a change and another hour and a half to Rishikesh left me exhausted. My mood was further heightened by the only rickshaw driver left working at 10pm at night deciding to take me to the hotel of his choice rather than the area I asked him for. I didn’t arrive at my hostel until 11pm.
The first few days helped me to recover. Leisurely breakfasts overlooking the Ganges and secluded beaches of a quality that I did not expect passed the time. Compared to Shimla where everyone there was Indian, here it was heaving with every nationality imaginable (although still mostly Israeli!) allowing plenty of opportunities to meet both old and new travelers.
As the self nominated home of Yoga, on one day I put myself into the beginners class in and Ashram to see what all the fuss is about. There were only four who dared to arise at the unearthly hour of 7am. Despite being essentially a dip your toes in the water class (hoping that you might sign up for the intensive class) the instructor did not seem intent on providing an easy introduction. After ten minutes I was experiencing far to much pain to call it enjoyable. With such a small class it allowed for plenty of individual teaching. I say teaching, more like tutting and correcting rather than praise and encouragement. I did receive a thumbs up at the end for my interpretation of the ‘lotus’ position after he had damned everything else. Fortunately he wasn’t looking when I exited it in the most unnaturally awkward and painful way possible. At one point the sustained and serious focus of the class was broken as he taught us the ‘crow’ walk. This involved walking on tiptoes, crouched down and hugging your knees. After a minute or so I had to retire in a fit of giggles as he continuously repeated:
“Let’s do the crow walk” “Everyone is doing the crow walk”
Such was the tone of his voice, the repetition and comedy of movement that it was easy to see where Fielding and Barratt could of got their inspiration for the Mighty Boosh. Consulting Mark and Sean (who know far more about yoga than I ever knew existed) on the ‘crow’ walk was met with blank expressions. From that one session I can understand the appeal of Yoga but it just doesn’t hold enough of a competitive edge to keep me interested in the long term, I don’t think.
Outside of Yoga and Meditation, Rishikesh is also home to the old Beatles ashram which is often seen as the inspiration behind some of their most revolutionary albums. Hidden away, up a mud track, we were guided by a lively and friendly Sadhu who had adopted us. Well I say Sadhu, but he wasn’t. He hadn’t quite made the grade and instead seemed to be living the life of an almost Sadhu. What he actually would be classed as I am not to sure. I don’t normally like taking guides but this guy was a total character plus it was simply necessary as the ashram had long been abandoned.
The first task was getting in through the metal gates, where a no entry sign hung. A little bribe to the guard (it might as well have been a ticket booth) however enticed him to unlock the gates and enter the very ashram that he was in charge of stopping people from entering. It was a very strange place to visit. In the West this would be considered a building of cultural importance. It would have been preserved, possibly even reopened and filled with every piece of Beatles memorabilia possible. In India it had been left to rot. Desloute and overgrown it is essentially an accident waiting to happen. It did however make for a fun hour visiting different buildings, climbing up crumbling stair cases and clambering over broken roofs. It can only be a matter of time before what is left collapses. Whilst not overly enlightening nor picturesque it was entertaining.
Rishikesh ended the leg of the quieter section of my North Indian journey. Next I would make the long journey to the chaotic Varanasi. It would only take twenty hours and fifty stops on the train.