On The QT

A not so Yatra in Rishikesh

Blogger: Katie Burke

After a brief stop in Delhi to purchase an unnecessarily fancy 1st Class train ticket, which the travel agent insisted I needed  “It is most safe ticket for you”. This over zealous travel agent, who insisted on closing our deal (screwing me over) with a cup of chai and a “chat”,  was also the one that introduced me to the word Yatra- meaning Religious Pilgrimage. I noticed he had written “Happy Yatra” on the envelope containing my tickets and with some curious googling, I discovered the meaning and smiled. Not quite expecting a spiritual experience but hoping for at least a little Indian enlightenment I headed North once more for Rishikesh.

Although I had briefly visited Rishikesh a few weeks previously to celebrate Holi, I felt it was worthy of a more thorough exploration. Also I thought it would be quite the suitable location for spending a couple of weeks by oneself in India and it would enable me to release my inner hippy and spend some time meditating. Rishikesh, which is located on the banks of the Ganges with the Himalayas in the background, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque locations I visited in India. I had booked myself into Parmarth Niketan Ashram for the duration of my stay and was delighted to have my own room and bathroom for the first time in six weeks. Also for a small donation I was entitled to participate in 6:30AM yoga classes given by a one hundred and six year old Yogi. Now despite some subtle hippy tendencies, I’m not the most yoga friendly soul (most probably due to my complete lack of flexibility) but I figured this was an opportunity not to be missed.

After  a brief settling in period my lackadaisy life in Rishikesh took shape pretty quickly. It began most (certainly not all) mornings with Yoga in the Ashram. It was the least taxing yoga class I have ever attended but that said it was somewhat discouraging to watch a man almost four times my age on his hunkers, keeping perfect balance while alternating between touching his left and right knees off the ground. After yoga I would venture off on a fifteen minute walk through the hoards of vendors and beggars vying for my attention and my money in search of Swami Chandrin’s Shri Krishna Meditation Centre ( basically a room with a collection of colourful yoga mats and pillows on the floor). Swami Chandrin himself was quite the character, to me he embodied the perfect combination of Rafiki (the wise witch doctor monkey from The Lion King) and an old stern camogie trainer I once had. His English, though good, followed its own particular style.  For example; after a period of lying down he would order us to “Sit down” rather than sit up which initially caused some confusion. Also he had a certain propensity to shove a “h” into a word in which it wasn’t required, regularly ordering us to “Shtart” and “Shtop”. In addition to these quirks he had a most fantastic old cassette tape filled with loads of joyful songs praising Krishna and the gang which played throughout his classes. The tape was most likely as old as myself causing it to dip in and out of tune every so often but I felt it added greatly to the overall comical serenity of the experience. All in all I quite enjoyed the classes and I only ever skipped class once out of laziness.

After meditation I would head off for a massive breakfast, sometimes alone, sometimes with fellow classmates. I would  spend the late mornings and early afternoons eating massive, delicious fruit salads with curd and honey, with eggs and toast to follow. When breakfast was inhaled I’d spend my time idly chatting or else catching up on my backlog of blogs. In the afternoons I regularly attended a Satsang (spiritual lecture/discussion) with a European Swami in a private ashram across the river. People would gather on cushions and chairs in a bright clean room and were invited to put questions to the Swami while enjoying complimentary tea and biscuits. Everything from the meaning of life to the madness of India was discussed and although I cant say it would be everyone’s cup of tea, I found it an interesting way to while away a few hours.

In the evenings I was fortunate to usually have someone or a group of someones who I’d encountered during the day to dine with. Though sometimes I dined alone and was surprised to find that I wasn’t the worst company in the world.  Sometimes I even had a laugh when I found myself in Indian family restaurants, the only white person present with not a clue what I was ordering all the while being stared at by open mouthed children and amused looking waiters.

Some evenings before dinner I would sit at the banks of the Ganges at sunset watching Aarti- a Hindu ritual where a small selection of flowers and a lighting candle or incense stick are placed in a floating bowl formed from leaves and sent down the Ganges as a form of prayer and an offering to the gods. It also involves chanting, ringing bells and even singing. Its was quite peaceful and somewhat enchanting to observe. The ashram where I was staying had speakers everywhere to broadcast the singing from their Aarti which was a little off putting so I usually opted to watch Aarti from one of the less commercial ghats further up the river.  I even sent my own set of flowers down the river the evening before I left Rishikesh to round off my stay.

My little Yatra, though certainly not the most crazily exciting or indeed spiritual experience was probably my most favourite of all my Indian adventures because I did it all alone and still manged to love it. That said as I tuk tuk’d out of Rishikesh on a dreary Sunday morning I was very much looking forward to meeting up with friends and highly excited to take things up a notch and embrace the party atmosphere in Goa.

Blogger: Katie Burke - Adventures in India
Katie is an aspiring writer who is originally from Galway. She has been travelling in India for the past two months. She has had an eclectic journey including everything from experiencing the culture shock of Delhi to teaching baby Buddhist monks in Dharamsala and so much in between. This blog covers the highs, the lows and the hilarious of each site and situation visited and reveals the madness that is India from the naked eye of a first time visitor.
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