I am in Rishikesh on the banks of the holy Ganges, the Yoga centre of the world – more of that later.
On the final morning of our lovely stay in Kovalam I decided to hire a kayak. Thinking back to my last kayak on the Ottawa river nosing about the islands and catching bass, I went in with my glasses on and spent a happy time paddling about in the sea. The seat being somewhat uncomfortable, after half an hour i had had enough. Foolish me: the Ottawa river has no waves; I was tumbled over as I came in and after laughing a lot ran my hands through my hair … no glasses. This was compounded by the right arm of my spare pair having rusted off when we arrived in Kovalam. The next morning JR whizzed me off to a nearby town where I purchased a pair of reading glasses so at least I could read. (However, I have been managing ever since with the one-armed spare pair balanced on my nose.)
Lord Shiva at Parmath Niketan
The journey was uneventful. (I bought the latest Dalrymple in hardback at Mumbai airport for seven quid and panicked that I had read all 500 pages before but the subject, the East India Company, had featured a lot in The Last Mughal, and as usual with Dalrymple the writing is marvelous.) I arrived in Rishikesh which looked a dump and when we left it and headed off into the mountains. I wondered whether I had made another terrible mistake. However, the yoga centre is the other side of the Ganges and until the car bridge is finished in 2021, a 10 mile detour is needed. A nice hotel, welcoming staff and a comfortable mattress (but there is always something conspiring to inhibit my sleep and this time it was mountainous pillows (now fixed).
The Yoga Village
I ambled down back streets and through soulless ashrams to the Ganges, walked up and down the main drag which is a little street parallel to the river with lots of typical shops, and walked over the pedestrian bridge to the other side with a similar main drag. This bridge is also the conduit for motorcycles and one has to pay attention or die. An uneventful meal and back to the hotel. The TV advertised English films but all such channels are Not Authorised (except one which I found last night).. At least the wi-fi is good and the night passed with The Archers and various other Radio 4 programs.
The next morning I set off to walk to the main town 2km away to see if I could get an Indian SIM card for an old mobile and an optician who could fix the right arm of the glasses. I ended up paying three visits to a mobile shop with a charming helpful manager: an Indian SIM would not be possible; that way to an optician; that way to a jeweller who might be able to fix it; that way to a hardware store for superglue (which I now see won’t work). A fruitless journey apart from a visit to a Sikh temple (sparkling white as always but this one has about 1,000 rooms for whoever) and some time watching the pyres being built and set afire ready for three cremations. Finally, a 10p a trip in a ferry across the Ganges.
I thought I knew the extent of the place and where the various ashrams were (and some are truly gigantic) but after lunch I decided to nose around and came upon Yoga Village: everywhere I turned was another place offering teacher training (certificates accepted the world over) but also drop in classes of all types. Spying one which advertised meditation, I enquired about breathing ad meditation classes and as luck would have it, one at 3pm and the other at 4pm. I vowed to come back and went off for a coffee. At 2.45 I set off. I searched high and low and in despair at 3pm tried one last alley way and there it was. A very large studio … and just me and the teacher Ruhal: Indian, mid-thirties, very handsome, almost understandable and just what I wanted. An hour of breathing and meditation. I came back this morning for another hour and am booked in tomorrow.
The streets of Rishikesh are spotless. Cows roam free but their deposits are whisked away in no time.
At 5pm every day, outside the Parmath Niketan ashram on a ghat by the river, a 90 minute ceremony is held with lots of chanting (very beautiful voices) and a special treat for a couple getting married who became the centre-piece of the ceremony (I like to think about what it cost them!) with a eulogy from the guru (some words in English). Back up to a little ayurvedic cafe I had had a tea in prior to my class (actually I ordered tea but it came as coffee and having waited an age I just drank it) for a Mushroom and Onion Khichari (delicious). I had spied this internet cafe the night before and set off to find it. I could not find it because I was looking on the wrong side of the river, and this combined with not finding the breathing place and not being able to remember the name of one of the girls I sponsor when out in the kayak make me glad I have completed a Power of Attorney!
This must be very low season for many of the shops are closed and yoga people seem few and far between. All who do yoga or are being taught are non-Indians. It is also a very holy place and there are very many mainly-old men with beards dressed in yellow and orange headdresses.I need to find out more about how they live, where, and whether they partake of yoga (I think not).
After this mornings breathing/meditation session and a vegetable sandwich, I set off for a temple – Neelkanth Mahadev – a three hour walk up a mountain. I have to say that the views on the way up were not spectacular, there are so few walkers at this time of year that all the little tea shacks were empty, however getting there was fulfilling. I spotted a different sort of shit on the road and thought “what a big horse” but of course it was from an elephant and fresh. A young Indian told me that they are around in the early morning and evening .. as are leopards, and both can be dangerous. I thought about Corbett and recalled reading The Man Eaters of Rudraprayag (just up the road) and had to talk sternly to myself to stop worrying. One person walked past at speed, another was walking so slowly I think he was on speed, and a third and I acted as if in a relay race. The temple itself was rather a disappointment and the village which has arisen around it had a post-apocalyptic feel. The path up had been quite slippery and the thought of slipping and of facing down a mountain with vertiginous drops was too much so a searched for a taxi and by luck found a charming young Indian man, Sangeet from Madhya Pradesh, and his boss (in a Skoda Octavia Estate like one we used to have) who offered me a lift back for nothing … and thence ensued 40km of windy mountainous roads, small tracks up to another temple, and all the while driving at high speed with one hand mostly in the wrong position. Anyway, the three of us bonded and many photos were taken and I will no doubt be on Facebook by now.
I am really enjoying it and feeling quite relaxed (for me!).
That is it for now.