The unfortunate fact of the matter is that as far as travel blogs go this one is bound to be a bit lacking. I really only plan on staying in one place for the next few months barring, perhaps, a handful of excursions. That place is Rishikesh. So really this will be mostly a Rishikesh blog for the next while. But Rishikesh is a pretty deep place. There is enough to absorb here to last a lifetime never mind a few months.
Before arriving in India I had agonized over all the things I felt I was obligated to see and to do in the time before my first yoga course begins. To make sure my time was filled up with adventures so that I could enthrall and educate all my fervent admirers back home. Should I rent a motorcycle and take the road from Manali to Leh, the 2nd highest in the world? Should I undertake some religious pilgrimages in the high Himalaya and really get deep into the guts of the Hindu religion? Should I go to Lucknow for Ashura and see the blood drenched rituals of zanjeer and talwar zani? I couldn’t decide. I was anxious with option paralysis.
But within hours of arriving in Delhi I simply got on a bus to Rishikesh. The place that has come to be known as the “capital” of Yoga, and started practicing.
Rishikesh first became a destination for western travellers after the Beatles famously learned meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his ashram near the banks of the Ganges but it has always been a center of pilgrimage for Hindus and the large ashrams of Parmarth Niketan, Kailash, Sivananda and Dayananda, among others, have made it a center for the study of yoga and spirituality since long before the western world caught wind of it, and anyone expecting it to be full of skinny white girls in lululemon pants will quickly be disabused of that notion. It’s not that they aren’t there. But they are very much overwhelmed by the thousands of Sadhu’s, Hindu spiritual renunciants who line the streets with their alms bowls and populate the enormous dormitory complexes that have been set up to provide for their wellbeing, as well as the locals and domestic pilgrims who come to the Ganges to bathe, make puja and visit the local temples. And the cows…thousands and thousands of cows.
The cows in India are one of the real strange things about this place. I mean, cows are a domesticated animal. But in India, and especially in hindu holy places, they’re just around, feral, and seem to be doing just fine. In Rishikesh the cows are the most incredibly docile creatures you can imagine. They seem to feed off of the religious energy of the place and they are treated relatively well by the locals, which is not always the case in other parts of the country. Some are even outwardly affectionate as evidenced by this picture of a cow licking and nuzzling this Krishna guy. I felt a bit profane taking a picture of their special moment, but I couldn’t resist.
I assume people must be feeding them, since unlike the rather bold and enterprising feral dogs and wild monkeys that are also around, they don’t really seem to do much other then chill the fuck out. You sometimes see them listlessly rooting around in the garbage but it never seems like enough to sustain an animal of that size. In any case, Rishikesh cows are A number one cows.
The monkeys, on the other hand, are some sneaky little bastards. Hot Rishikesh tip: Don’t cross Ram Jhula with food in your hands because you will get attacked by monkeys. And on a narrow footbridge, 60 feet above the Ganges, when they surround you on all sides, the monkeys have the advantage. It took a whole lot of stomping and barking to keep possession of my spicy yams with mint sauce, but I’m not about to get pushed around by a bunch of sneaky bridge monkeys.
The dogs here are also unusually cheerful. The mid-sized feral mutts of India are a famous nuisance and often travel in intimidating mobs that like to frighten people wandering around late at night. But it’s hard not to fall in love with a couple of lovable pooches bounding around the bathing ghats, playfighting and frolicking and then running up to you and jumping in your lap unbidden like you’re best buds before bounding off to frolick some more. I’m not sure what it says about me, because its one of the things that people often deride about places like India, a marker of a certain lack of civility and civic control, but the ubiquitous presence of animals is one of the great joys of this place. Sure there’s shit everywhere, sure it’s complete chaos, but cleanliness and order come at a price, and I think it’s good to be reminded of that.
Until next time…