India is a huge subcontinent therefore traveling means covering quite long distances each time. Sometimes it can last for 20 or 30 hours. Train travel is a fascinating way to explore India. Lines pass through mountains, huge plains, forests, shores, villages and many panoramic views that show the countries immensity and diversity.
Indian Railways offers different classes of travel. The most basic ones are over crowded and unreserved which can be a little challenging. First class has the potential to isolate you from the essence of Indian train journeys. I generally chose 3rd class which was just ok and relatively cheaper. Get prepared for long delays at the schedules. During the journey you will get used to see many people staring at you any time, sometimes blankly, sometimes in curiosity. I advise you to keep your backpack always near you.
I started off from Bodghaya and reached Delhi by 17 hour train travel. The bus journey from Delhi to Haridwar lasted for 6 hours. Then I took the last bus from there and finally after one hour I was in Rishikesh. I was not knowing at that moment that I would be staying here for a month.
Rishikesh is a beautiful town in Uttarakhand state in north part of India. It is located in the foothills of Himalayas and by the holy river Ganges. Rishikesh is regarded as one of the holiest places to Hindus, that’s why it is a pilgrimage site. What a blessing to be close to Ganges and have an ever present connection inbetween. You can always easily walk to the riverside and put your feet into this holy water that comes to you all the way from the mountains.
I am feeling the transformative unique energy Rishikesh holds. For thousands of years people came here to meet with the ultimate reality, prayed, washed themselves in the Ganges. It is not hard to feel the energies that have been accumulated here. Rishikesh is carrying this memory with it, if you open yourself then this wisdom becomes visible to you.
North of the town is a gateway to Himalayas. The fast-flowing Ganges meanders in the valley gifting magnificent views each time. Just 5 to 10 kilometers bring you to this piece of heaven that is surrounded by forested hills (above). Thankfully the water in Rishikesh is unaffected from the pollution as it is close to the springs and major polluting points are down the river.
Rishikesh is believed to be the adobe of Lord Shiva that is –according to Hindu mythology- one of the three principal deities along with Brahma and Vishnu. Hindu sages and saints have visited Rishikesh since ancient times to meditate in search of higher knowledge.
Most of the times I was walking to the northern part of the town, finding myself a nice isolated spot by the river and meditating. I was dipping my body into the water, feeling its energy, purity, healing in my each and every cell and in my mind and heart. Ice cold water makes you breath so deeply and fast and gives you the sense of vitality. This was my ritual to connect with who I am through the wisdom of the water.
Neer Garh waterfall (above) is reached by a two hour hike from Rishikesh. It is in the northwest side of the town. The hike proceeds along dense forested hills.
East direction of the town is again surrounded by forests. This was nothing but a gift to have this nature around me so I went on long walks into the forest. Sometimes little creeks come along your way and decorate the mother nature in the most beautiful way. Dear monkeys are always around. I like to watch them when they are playing or just sitting lazily with other family members. There are also some caves (for example: Baba Cave) around this part of the town which were homes of some saints and sages who meditated here for many years.
You oftenly see many temples and shrines in the alleys or near the banks of the river. This clearly shows the religious significance of Rishikesh. Ancient or new, big or small you come across with many of them which give you many ideas about the religion and traditions. While bells are ringing, priests are chanting hymns, people make offerings of flowers, grass, dried rice, fruits, leaves, water and a milk bath to the lingam.
The depictions of different Gods and Goddesses greet you, bless you in the temples (like above). They may sometimes look simple or even childish. But if you really know what they stand for then you can connect with these qualities that you already have in your essence.
You will see lingams (above, left) in Shiva temples. It is a religious symbol in Hinduism just like the cross is for Christians. It is a smooth cylindrical mass. Often it rests in the centre of a disk-shaped object, the yoni, which is an emblem of the goddess Shakti. Hindus consider the lingam and yoni together to symbolize the union of the male and female principles and the totality of all existence.
However some take this symbol differently. The world of Shakti is the world of name and form. Shiva is outside name and form. It is the destructive so the generative power of all existence. How do you worship the formless? So in old times the rishis simply picked up river-stones, given shape by the flowing water and worshipped it by placing it erect in the ground, or simply creating a mound of sand on the river bank.
There are two bridges uniting the west and the east of the town. One of them is the orange coloured suspended bridge Lakshman Jhula (above, left) It is one of the icons of Rishikesh as well as the Swarg Niwas&Shri Trayanbakshwar temple (above, right) which is located at the east bank of the river. There are dozens of shrines to Hindu deities on each level of this big building. Rishikesh is also a cafe rich town where you can meet like minded people. One of them is the German Bakery located at the beginning of this bridge on west side. And the other one is the Little Buddha cafe on the east side. I really enjoyed to sit and relax in the afternoons at these places.
Other bridge Ram Jhula is located in the southern part of the town (above). I find this part a little less touristic and enjoyed so much wandering around the inner roads of this area. It has more flavours of Indian essence.
There are many ashrams and religious centers established at both sides of Ram Jhula like Sivananda Ashram on west and Parmarth Niketan on east. Parmarth Niketan (above) is the largest ashram in Rishikesh with over 1000 rooms. The ghats in front of it is a nice place to hang around. Daily activities include yoga, morning universal prayers, meditation classes, daily lectures and kirtan (singing devotional songs).
Hinduism is a religion that raises the status of mother to the level of Goddess. Therefore, the cow is considered a sacred animal, as her products provide us nourishment. With the ideal of ‘Ahimsa’ (nonviolence) that is the absence of the desire to harm living creatures, the cow became a symbol of nonviolent generosity. It is considered highly auspicious for a true devotee to feed a cow even before eating oneself. Due to the religious significance of the place, non-vegetarian food and alcohol are prohibited in Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’. Serious yoga students come to learn to become qualified as yoga teachers. Yoga and meditation classes are everywhere in different times of day and night that offer many techniques in different disciplines. There are also other centers that offer a wide variety of teachings on reiki, ayurveda, tai chi, kung fu, dance and so on. I tried some places and decided on one teacher, Surinder for hatha yoga and attended his classes as much as possible.
I also loved to attend kirtans and bhajans whenever I had the chance. These are performances using music and chantings of spiritual teachings or mantras that express loving devotion to the true nature of consciousness. It can be in ‘call and response’ style. They bring healing and openness to the heart when performed in big groups of people.
There are also some cooking classes in town that offer to teach many different recipes of rich Indian cuisine in which the spices are the most essential ingredients. In these classes you can learn how to distinguish the flavours and to cook red, green, yellow curries with vegetables and paneer (cheese), breads (chapati, naan) and different types of rice and chutneys.
Don’t miss the chance, go and attend an Indian wedding anywhere in India. It is an amazing experience. You don’t need to be invited, everyone is invited. Go and join the long cortege of hundreds of people. Sparkling lights, high volume upbeat music of different instruments, drums, bells, beautiful Indian women in their colourful sarees, all come together for this colourful and joyful experience.
First you walk the whole neighborhood with this cortege for some hours and dance altogether like crazy. Then you come to the wedding place which may be the largest feast that you have ever seen. Never ending food stalls line next to each other offering an enormous variety of delicious Indian food. People go on dancing in different stages that play different tunes of music. Ceremony can last for some days even.
I catched the Holi festival in Rishikesh which is another crazy celebration. Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival also known as the festival of spring or the festival of colours. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of a fullmoon in the beginning of March. At the first night people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire and pray that their internal evil be destroyed.
Next day is literally a crazy day. Everyone, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children or elders go into a joyful fight with colours in the streets. Many groups of people carry drums and other instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. The drink called Bhang (made from cannabis) is commonly drank by almost everyone. It was an amazing day with my dear friends Lorraine and Alejandro who came into my life like a gift. I am so grateful for their friendships and sincere hearts. Happy Happy Holi!
During travelling when you stay in a place in a longer period, this naturally brings a routine into your days. And I sometimes need it and love it. The road above is the line I walked each and every day to go here and there. This old man with his beautiful heart was greeting me with a warm and caring smile everyday, asking me if I am ok and need anything. He was creating a cause for me to be happy each day. May he always be happy. Staying at a place for longer times enables you to build closer friendships. Our dorm became like a home for all of us.
It was just my second day in Rishikesh, I’ve learned that one month series of satsangs of Prem Baba would be starting. What a synchronicity again! As my entire journey has the main direction on spiritality I am always open and willing to learn. I hadn’t known him before but after couple of days listening to him, I was impressed enough to stay and continue to listen to his teachings.
Satsang can be translated from Sanskrit as ‘to be in the company of true people’. It is an environment where you listen to the teachings of the Guru (teacher), meditate and contemplate together, sing together. This allows an individual to elevate the mind from one that is worldly towards a higher level of consciousness. It is sometimes accompanied with the presence of a holy person.
Prem Baba is a Brazilian spiritual teacher who focuses on building a bridge between spirituality and psychology. I took benefits from his teachings that focuse on overcoming limiting psychological patterns and taking responsibility for transforming the negative conditioning that causes suffering to the person and to those around him/her.
Everyday I was going to his satsangs, opening myself to the teachings and taking nourishment from the energy of the unity of hundreds of people that are on the path to know the truth. Bhajans were setting the environment for me to really connect with my heart. I was deeply contemplating on his words and orientations every day and night, exactly at the times that I was working mainly on my ego and its layers. During this whole one month, I had some observations that evoke some criticisms in me but I chose not to focuse on those but take whatever I needed to learn. When you are a seeker it is just ok to try and try and try to see what is best for you. Then eventually the time comes to show you who is your real Guru. I was going to meet him in the upcoming months in India. (If you are interested to know about it, you can check two essays; Tiruvannamalai Part I & Tiruvannamalai Part II, in India folder.) Nevertheless I am thankful to Prem Baba for lighting some dark places in me.
Prem Baba was saying; “True love is letting the other one be. When you love everything then you are free from everything. Only love allows you to be free.” These words were wandering around in my awareness and I was doing my best to let them penetrate into my realizations. But even if I repeated these words a million times there was something lacking that was preventing me from understanding the totality. Ahh what a challenging time it was. Later on life showed me the real way. I am so thankful for this and for myself that never gave up to be courageous to walk the path even it was staggering at some points. There are two flows, one from love to wisdom and the other from wisdom to love. My path is a blend of this two. If any of this is missing then the true transformation and total realization can not be possible. So what is wisdom? Hopefully I will write an essay on wisdom and share it on these pages.
But before realizing all these, I strived in my psychology for some months. My investigations were going deeper and deeper. I was holding my awareness at the highest level on not fooling myself but to be true to myself. Define your patterns, your impurities, resentments, shame, greed, pride, jealousy, weakness, fears. Be courageous. See the scale of the destruction, find its causes and results. Eventually you will understand that this is the blaming game of the ego. Don’t feed it. If you don’t blame then you are not a victom any more. Choose to let go. Be in the moment. . .
Ahh many times I was failing, becoming so exhausted then the result was low self esteem and anger to myself. In order to love wholely, loving one’s self was advised at the first place. But those times I was misperceiving this with my limited understanding. What was Self? What was that really?
Rishikesh had become a home for me where I was mostly introverted and engaged deeply with meditations. Before Rishikesh I was in Bodghaya and after Rishikesh I went to Dharamshala. At these two spots I stayed in two Buddhist centers and took very beneficial teachings from the path of Buddha. If you are interested, please check Bodghaya – Dharamshala essay in India folder.
I was reminding myself to see my experiences as part of a greater flow, that I was evolving in it. But there was an instinct there whispering me that something will manifest itself. In subtle levels I was feeling that it would be destructive and striking. Life would show that so soon.