When I arrived in Rishikesh 2 weeks ago I didn’t know what to expect. I had just read what my guide book recites about it:
“The town of rishis has got notorious in the sixties upon receiving John Lennon and its acolytes, come here to learn transcendental meditation. Since then, the world-wide capital of yoga never stops to welcome thousands of sages, westerners looking for their own identity and people eager to be initiated to yoga and meditation. As a consequence, there is no lack of pseudo-ashrams and yoga centres aimed to exploit their beliefs… There is an ambience a bit ‘baba’ but remains ‘little baby’. Downtown is packed with traffic and has no interest. On the contrary, the quarters known as Swargashram and Lakshman Jhula, both pedestrians, offer an ambiance favourable to peace of soul”
Le Routard, 2012
Now, after 2 weeks, of which one spent with a dear friend (I met her by chance on my second day here, but this is another post :-D) who had already spent 2 months in town and who was so kind to show me all around, I agree with my guide book that the atmosphere is a bit ‘baba’ but have my opinion on all else… starting from the description of the town!
Rishikesh isn’t just one town, it is more an aggregation of different villages each of one with its own peculiarities. It takes around 20/25 minutes walk to get from one to the other: Downtown Rishikesh (that is not in the centre, but at the beginning of the town), Swargashram, Ram Jhula, Lakshman Jhula and Tapovan. Let’s briefly see them:
There are no westeners here if not to catch the train or bus or just because they got off one. There is a small fruit and vegetable market going on all week long and a couple of interesting little places (houses and small temples). Prices are far lower than in the rest of the town (let’s say about 1/3), so it is good for shopping but you find only stuff addressed to Indians.
According to my guide book, that was the place to be. Actually, it is the destination of all pilgrimages of Hindu people, especially those having young kids: I am told that Hindu people brings their children to the most saint places as soon as possible after they’re born so they can receive an impression. Swargashram is mainly made of ashrams (the name seems to suggest so ;-)) mainly along the Ganges and the place get very busy, expecially in the evening, for the Ganga Aarti fire ceremony that takes place starting 6pm at Parmarth Ghat, as daily ‘routine’ of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Swargashram also includes the former Maharishi Yogi Ashram, today completely abandoned and better known as ‘Beatles’ Ashram’: entry is forbidden, though with 50 rupies you will always get the gate open for you by the ‘guardian’ and the place is busy with yoga students and tourists.
I’m staying at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, in this part of the city, and yesterday thinking of it, I could only find one expression to define it: a ‘holiday village of spirituality’. In a holiday village you have activities planned to entertain tourists, here in a way it is the same… only you have a yogasana class instead of water aerobics, you have half a hour meditation sit instead of beach volley, and when the time for ‘Happy Hour’ comes, a Ganga Aarti is there…. and 90% of the people attending them are westeners, except for the Ganga Aarti fire ceremony, where Indians dominate by far.
To be continued on next post…