THE TOUCH OF THE INDIAN HIMALAYA

From Delhi, we took our last overnight train, which took us to the city of Rishikesh, located at the footsteps of the Indian Himalaya. We arrived early morning, knowing that our couch surfing host Nitin was already waiting for us at his hotel. Although we were feeling a bit tired after a long ride, we connected very well with our new friend. He took us to his beautiful apartment in the hill area in a very quiet, peaceful and green place. We immediately knew we were going to spend a very nice time in Rishikesh, feeling comfortable in our new “home” and feeling very happy for having left the dusty and loud Indian cities behind us. The views and the fresh air made us feel great, and we decided to spend at least a week there to enjoy the nature and get well rested.

As soon as we arrived to Nitin’s apartment, we started talking and talking and it felt like we had known each other for years. Nitin is really an amazing person, very helpful and incredibly intelligent. We had some interesting conversations about India, our travels and his ideas about transforming the building of apartments he owns into a nice hostel. Later on he invited us to spend the day with him in the nature, and after about two hours we sat in to his car and drove all way up to a temple, lying on the highest point of Rishikesh. Since I was a bit tired and the road was full of twists and turns, I started feeling a bit sick on our way up, but as soon as we arrived on the top I completely forgot about the sickness. An amazing view of the Rishikesh valley, with the Ganga River splitting the city in two on one side, and the snowy hilltops of the Himalayan Mountains on the other, absorbed us with astonishment and complete calm. We felt so happy to finally be in such a peaceful place that we just sat there for a while, observing the nature and listening to the animals. When we arrived back to the city, we bought some food and spend the rest of the day at Nitin’s apartment, talking, watching TV and cooking dinner.

The next day we spent the morning discovering Rishikesh. We walked down to the river Ganga, crossed the bridge and wandered around the other side of the city where most of the action seemed to be going on. We knew beforehand that Rishikesh is the world’s capital of yoga, but we didn’t expect to find so much of it there. Basically every building is an ashram, a yoga school or a guesthouse, but most of the time it is all in one. It was so incredible to see so many opportunities to learn and practice India’s ancient philosophy and way of life that I immediately started getting the cravings for yoga. It has been more than four years since I stopped practicing, but Rishikesh was the perfect place for me to reencounter with it. We returned back home full of new impressions, and I started making the plan for our stay in Rishikesh.

Unfortunately, I had been carrying a cold for ten days, and the next day it hit me badly. I was feeling a bit upset because I was very eager to try all the “yogas” in the town, but I was unable to do any physical exercise. In the night it got so bad I had to start taking antibiotics, which at first turned out to be a good decision, but the side affects sent me straight to the bathroom where I spent the next five days. Meanwhile we moved to a guesthouse across the bridge because we already spent four nights at Nitin’s place, and due to my sickness we were trapped another couple of days in our room, playing cards, reading and writing the blog. Finally I started feeling a bit better, and we decided to try out one session of yoga nidra meditation at the nearby yoga school. It was a nice and very relaxing experience that surely affected my body in a good way. I spent the next days discovering different kinds of meditations, and in the meantime I came across a wonderful place – a Brasilian ashram – where they were performing mantra singing every day. I was so amazed by the beauty of the music that it became part of my daily schedule. I even managed to convince Nejc to join me at one session, but obviously he wasn’t as amazed as I was.

Still I was feeling a bit weak, but our days in Rishikesh started getting better and better. We met Maarten, our friend from Holland, who was also falling under a spell of this special city, and we spend the rest of our Rishikesh days with him. We really connected well, and hanging out with him became our daily routine. He also introduced us to some wonderful people, especially Inge from Switzerland who is one of the most special persons we’ve met on our travels. Later on, another couple joined into the group: Gana and Bernerd from France. We all connected so well that we were spending day after day together.

Soon we found out that most of the people who visit Rishikesh are serious yoga practitioners, and Maarten, Inge, Gana and Bernard were no exception. All the conversations were about yoga, the teacher trainings, the schools and such things and I really started to feel frustrated because I still wasn’t able to try a single yoga class. But finally my time had come, and I joined Inge at Om Shanti Om, the most famous yoga school in Rishikesh. It was simply amazing. The class was tough and dynamic, Dinesh, the teacher, very professional and the atmosphere was very pleasant. I felt incredibly good after the class and I immediately realized how much I missed yoga. I was so excited that I started visiting Om Shanti Om every day. The evening conversations with other practitioners only increased my desire to practice, and each time I found out something new about the teachers and schools in Rishikesh. I went completely mad, and there were so many options that I started going to two or even three yoga classes a day. Om Shanti Om was still on my daily schedule; I also joined Gana and Bernard in another amazing school, Vini yoga; I tried out the laughter yoga, which was probably the most crazy experience of all, but the one I liked the most I just managed to discover a few days before leaving Rishikesh: the best asthanga yoga in the town at Tattvaa yoga school. Each day I was feeling better and better, and learned so many new things that I promised to myself I wouldn’t let yoga walk out of my life again. I bought my own yoga mat, and so far it is doing its job as it should.

However, this is what I was mostly doing during our stay in Rishikesh. But Nejc, he is a completely different story. First, he had never practiced yoga before, neither was he interested in trying it out. At the beginning, he was a bit lost in our conversations, but soon he started to understand what it was all about, and at the end we even managed to get him on the yoga mat! Surprisingly, he wasn’t bad at all! And he even admitted it made him feel good, although apparently not good enough to continue practicing. Anyway, while I was going crazy with all the activities, he found an activity for himself, too. He spent most of the days laying at the Little Buddha Cafe, writing the blog and doing research for our next stops. His record was 11 hours laying at the same table, and we all started to make a joke out of him: we started calling him the Savassana Guru (savassana or the corpse pose is the posture performed at the end of every yoga practice when your body lies on the ground and relaxes). But soon I started feeling a bit bad seeing him in the savassana every day, so one Sunday we decided to do some hiking.

We heard from many people there’s another temple three hours walk from Rishikesh, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to start preparing our bodies for trekking in Nepal and to enjoy the nature. The way to the Neelkant temple is actually a pilgrim path and unfortunately it turned out to be everything else but a quiet walk through the nature. As soon as we started walking, we realized there were hundreds of people going to the same destination, and since it was Sunday, all the way up was fully crowded. Mostly they were young boys whose intention was having fun, more than to roam up to the temple. They were screaming and shouting, listening to the music and making a fool of themselves. Besides, the road was full of trash and dirt, and we really couldn’t enjoy our hike the way we imagined we would. However, we finally managed to reach the temple and came across a huge crowd of people making offerings inside of it. Once we were there, we took an hour to relax and enjoy the sun, and then headed back down to Rishikesh.

Unsatisfied with the trek, we decided to do another one, this time to the famous waterfalls. The first part of the hike was mostly on the main dusty road, but once we started to ascend, the scenery was getting more and more beautiful. We reached the first waterfall after about 45minutes of walking, but then we headed further up to get to the second one which was much nicer and more quiet. We saw that the path was leading even further, so we continued on walking until we reached a small village and a narrow path that led us to a remote stream. It was a perfect place to relax and meditate. We felt much better after visiting the waterfalls, and we ended our day dining with our friends with whom we really had a great time. We were laughing, playing cards and making fools of ourselves.

There is another famous excursion we made during our stay: a long, but not intensive walk to the abandoned Beatles ashram. It is an enormous complex of abandoned buildings which were once rooms and meditation halls, but it is still an enigmatic place for travellers to visit for two reasons: first, because it is completely empty and ruined, and second, because it used to be an ashram where The Beatles spent half a year, composing songs for their famous White album. We spent there about two hours, getting lost in the ruins, climbing up on the rooftops and making photos of thousands of grafittis and writings on the walls. It is a special place where you can still breathe the spirit of a former ashram, but it is not protected at all, and since the buildings are deteriorating the accident is just waiting to happen. It is only a matter of time when somebody gets hurt.

After three weeks of really enjoying Rishikesh it came the time for us to leave. We are very grateful for all the special and amazing people we’ve met there and with whom we’ve shared so many beautiful and unforgettable moments. We surely made some lifetime friends there.

Our next and last stop in India was Naini Tal, a mountain city close to the Nepali border.

As curious as we are, we wanted to explore less known places in the Indian Himalaya, but visiting Naini Tal was a real kick in the dark. It took us more than nine hours by local bus to arrive to Haldwani, a city where we were supposed to take another bus through the mountains to reach our final destination. The ride was extremely long since the Indians were getting ready to celebrate the two-day Shiva festival: everybody was going on a pilgrimage to Haridwar (more than 200km) to scoop a bowl of water from the holy Ganga river and carry it back home to pour it over the Shiva statue. The main road, as well as all the side ones, was full of thousands and thousands of pilgrims, and due to the crowd the traffic was even slower. When we finally made it to Haldwani it was already 7pm, and there was no way to find out which bus to take to Nani Tal. After our experience with travelling by bus in India we learnt that enquiry offices are totally useless. Clerks don’t have any information about bus schedules, and rather than saying they don’t have an answer to your enquiry, they just make something up. However, Haldwani was not an exception. Everybody just kept giving us different information, saying that the bus to Naini Tal would take off in 10min, in half an hour, and even that there was no more bus service that day. After waiting and asking every single bus driver whether he was headed towards our destination, we finally gave up and took a shared taxi. It took us about an hour to reach Naini Tal and soon we found out that it was probably one of the most expensive cities in India. We tried to find a budget room, but had no luck. At the end we got one with no hot shower nor Wi-Fi for 900Rs, being the most expensive room we’ve ever had in our whole trip. But we were happy to finally get into the bed and rest after a long, long journey.

The next day we started our sightseeing, and it didn’t took us long to find out that we were the only foreign tourists there. It was full of posh Indian tourists with lots of money who don’t mind paying high amounts of money for dirty rooms with no shower. The city didn’t impress us either since the main attraction is its famous lake and the cable cart that takes tourists to the viewpoint. We decided to try it out, but unfortunately the clouds didn’t allow us to see a single mountain peak. A bit disappointed about our whole Naini Tal experience, we went back to the hotel and decided to skip other villages we were planning to visit around there and head straight towards Nepal the very next day.

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