Rishikesh. (unchecked and unfinished, more to come)
I went to Rishikesh thinking to stay four or maybe five days. Two weeks passed gracefully away in days full of spring and sun and still I wanted to stay really.
The train from Varanasi to Rishikesh is 20 hours long and arrives at 4:30am in neighboring Haridwar.The Indian train ticket booking system automatically places foreigners together. I was next to a Dutch guy called Tim who had been two weeks in Varanasi learning the Tabla (an Indian drum). together we got the biggest most elaborately decorated Rickshaw I've yet been in. The drive was freezing.The night was cold as it was, as we hurtled along in our cavenous painted box the biting wind had us huddling behind our backpacks and digging for our socks and hats.
Lax Ramjula and Lax Manjula (although technically still Rishikesh) lie a little further up from the main town. They sit on the sides of the valley, the base of which holds the imposing, immortal, turquoise power that is the Ganges. Two white suspension foot bridges loop above the sweeping water. It was these we needed to find. Our Rickshaw dropped us in the pitch black, an arm waved vaguely towards a huge curving flight of concrete, with a shout of "bridge that way" and a sputter of petrol, we were alone. The town was silent, asleep. In the sky I could see the outline of the mountains blocked out against the stars. The air felt unbelievably crisp and clean after Varanasi.
Down, down, down the huge steps we went. They wound past endless shuttered shops and coming to another deserted main road. A statue of Shiva hunting stood silent dauntlessly staring at the sky. Down more steps and there was the bridge, and below, the dark river. The bridge rocked in the wind as we crossed. Under the stars, in the soundless valley, with the metal below my feet sighing in the wind, I suddenly felt a huge surge of excitement well up like a lump in my throat. I felt like the river, the mountains,and the darkness were all talking to each other in the wind.I shivered and ran a bit to catch up with Tim who was striding ahead.
Tim had a friend who had a room for him to share. But when we asked at the guesthouse which room he was in they basically told us to piss off and come back at a more reasonable hour. So we snuck up onto the rooftop and sat there waiting for it to get light. The sky got paler, Tim started playing his didgeridoo and from our vantage point we watched for the first chai store to open.
Two hours later I was full of hot sweet tea, had left my big rucksack in Tim's friend's room and was looking for a room for myself. An American girl with short blonde hair asked me if I knew anywhere selling chai, but she was the only other person about really, even though it was now about 7:30. I knew a French friend of mine from Varanasi was in Rishikesh but I didn't know where he was staying. I found a room with a great view but couldn't check in till midday so went and had a huge breakfast. I had been ill for five days before in Varanasi. Then on a train all day where all I ate was bananas, fruit juice, chai. I suddenly discovered I was ravenous. I ate in a restaurant that over looked the bridge. I had a chocolate croissant, a tomato and cheese toasted roll, a fruit salad and two teas. As I ate Donkeys carry bricks, milk motor bikes, many many people, mopeds trying to squeeze through everything, cows and monkeys stealing fruit filled the bridge. The sun was in the valley now, but it wasn't warm yet. A morning chill prevailed, the colours were also fresh, cool. Sapling greens, muted grey and brown, and bright blues had usurped night's shades.A little monkey came and sat on the restaurant railings infront of me and squawked for food. I waved him off and he re-appeared as I left and a french girl took my place and started to make a chocolate banana croissant. By the sounds of it he was much more persitent with her.
I walked back across the bridge, it was that point in the morning when then sun is just starting to feel warm on your skin. I was now looking for yoga schools. I'd got a flyer for a a big blue glass yoga hall over on the breakfast side of the bridge. I'd seen, on my side of the bridge, a huge orange building with the words "YOGA TRAINING" painted on it. I wandered in, saw a big hall with lots of statues of Gods, a large photo of an Indian man, and ambled over to the stairs. Suddenly, I was grabbed by my wrist "shoes madame shoes!", "what?". A young Indian man beamed at me and grabbed my wrist. I was pulled and shown where to leave my shoes out side. I came back and made for the stairs. "No madame come come, see see, shiva mam' utterly berwildered by now, I nodded something along the lines of "aerh,yesok? err". Whisked I was, through a tour of the statues. Merrily and proudly the young man tugged me round the hall. Stopping at each statue and asking if I knew the name, beaming at me as I, stammering, desperately tried to remember what the hell I could about Hindu Gods (many different names and encarnations) In frantic whirl in which this was all happening I was blurting out a mix of random names and "ah, dunno". Each wrong answer he threw his arms up, exclaiming"Nooo, it's _____" laughing and grinning obscenely he would hurry me to the next statue. I managed to get Shiva right and the "YES!" was phenomenal with joy. Statues over. "Sit!". He stabbed me in the head with a red paintbrush, poured water into my hands (I spilled it all over my crotch). Ten rupees to the Gods, no I don't want a necklace. The assault on my forehead had brought me round a bit. "Do you have, er, Yoga Training?" ... He blinked. ... "ahh yes! Yoga! At my house, my wife she there." "Oh ok cool, she teaches?" "yes!" Ok. One more option to choose from, great. "Can you give me the address?" "I give you number?" Ok. I extracted my notepad. He wrote, smiling, and as he handed it back to me he, beaming proudly again, announced "Me also teaching, me your teacher!"
No your alright mate.
Leaving, chuckling to myself at his nerve/opportunism. I looked like I'd wet myself and I was smeared with red. So naturally I bumped straight into Flavien (friend from Varanasi). He laughed at me and we agreed to meet for dinner.
I went to Rishikesh to do yoga and left completely converted. For the first week I did a class every day and some days practised on my own as well. I started to notice a subtle clicking and crunching feeling as I walked and moved around. it felt like a lot of tiny puzzle pieces were falling into place. In the second week I only practised with the Russian who stayed opposite me and who I made really good friends with. I've kept it up since I left Rishikesh. It's a little bit everyday, but everyday I'm a little bit better and it's so much fun. My flexibility has increased no end and I feel fantastic. Just making yourself do it everyday is that hardest part.
Rishikesh is completely vegitarian. I though this would be unbearable. But after two weeks of eating delicious salads, juices and lots of potatoes and mushrooms I found that I really didn't want meat. Whilst we were in Rishikesh spring well and truely sprung. So all the fruit and veg was delicious, strawberries came into season whilst we were there, as did mango. In fact, the first thing I ordered out of Rishikesh was a tofu and egg pasta dish. It was only when I was half way through eating it that I realised it wasn't the massive chicken burger I thought I'd make a beeline for.
One day me Erica (the American girl who asked me about chai, who I saw every day and became one my best friend there) and a French girl called Julia walked and visited the Beatles ashram. The Beatles stayed, meditated, practised yoga, and wrote "The White Album" there. It was huge, green and fresh in spring. The whole place felt unbelievably calm. It's abandoned now and is basically a huge green park with a lot of delapidated concrete buildings in amongst the foliage. We spent hours walking around. Sometimes you'd come across a huge hall, or a bunch of small houses in amongst the trees, just big enough to sleep eat and mediate in. We had a picnic lunch and I spent a wonderful afternoon painting sitting on a rooftop in the afternoon light.
What we spent most of our time doing was lazing on the river beach. The sand was soft and sparkled. The days got hotter and hotter as the weather crept into summer and a dip in the breathtakingly cold Ganges was more delicious every day. I cooked on a fire on the beach every day for a week. The first few days were with the French boys (Flavien and his best friend Ewan). We could shop for the fresh ingredients in town for pitance, then spend all day lazily cooking and digesting in the sun. With the boys we had tomato, aubergine potato and cheese mess followed by banana and oreo melt (yum!). One day Ewan went into main town Rishikesh and came back with a proper Chapati pan. They tried to make chapati dough, and the end product was definately chapati like if not quite perfect. The next couple of days it was just me and Erica. Devoid of the boys and their pan we bought the dough and cooked instead on a rock we made hot with a big fire. On the third day they were practically chapati. The small Indian boy who sold flowers on the beach hung out with us when he wasn't selling. He was fascinated with my pen knife and found our enterprise hilarious.
We were also in Rishikesh for the spring celebrating festival where they throw all the paint (called Holi). Getting completely covered in paint and the whole town act like they were five years old was SO MUCH FUN. People were running up and down the street throwing poder, water, paint. People were chucking water off buildings, and even the cows didn't escape the colour fest. One Indian guy grabbed my bum as he walked behind me, but happily I was able to turn round and smack him full across the face, smearing paint in his eyes. Most satisfying.
Gunja Puri. The waterfall.
The internet cafe is closing now. And I'm off to the Fijian desert island tomorrow. So no more blogs for 10 weeks. I'll keep a diary and try and write up some semblance of what I get up to once I'm back. Love to all.