Rishikesh, India: The Zen Life

21 May

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April 19, 2012 – April 30, 2012


We arrived in Haridwar and for the first time our pre-arranged ride from the train station to our hotel was nowhere to be found. Shelagh and J.J. decided to walk around the station while Pete and I guarded the bags on the platform in case the driver showed up. J.J. managed to find an Airtel signal as he and She walked around and was able to call the man that had arranged our ride to tell him where the driver should meet us.

Once we were all back together on the platform to wait for our driver we witnessed the following:

  • A man wearing nothing but a dress shirt and some ill-fitting faded yellow underpants (tighty-yellows if you will) whose actions would have all seemed completely normal had he been wearing pants and shoes. At one point he sat down on a bench beside a man in his 20s and you’ve never seen somebody bolt up and away from another person so quickly! Apparently the Indian people at the train station found this as odd as we did.
  • A man wearing absolutely nothing but a bright yellow seemingly homemade banana hammock with wild white hair carrying a walking stick that was as tall as he was walking along the platform.
  • The tiniest piglet I’ve ever seen running along the train tracks. Eventually a station caretaker in his late pre-teens or early teens ran onto the tracks, picked up the squealing piglet and put him down on the platform before shooing it away with a broom.

Our driver finally showed up and we followed him to the van that would be taking us the hour and a half from Haridwar to peaceful and beautiful Rishikesh (well just outside Rishikesh).

Because we spent 12 relaxing days in Rishikesh, I don’t have as much to share day-to-day as I would normally when we’re moving from place to place. As such, I’ll be sharing the highlights from our time there including our 2 days in the Tapovan Resort (another posh hotel than we were used to, arranged by Mr. Shafi), as well as our 10 days at the Shri Sant Sewa Ashram.


April 19, 2012

  • The view from our room at Tapovan Resort was unparallel to any we’d had in India so far. Loads of bright and healthy-looking greenery, a well-manicured garden below and a mountain range in the distance.
  • For the first time since being in India it’s been relatively quiet. Horns honking in the distance only sometimes allowed us to hear birds chirping and children from the nearby school playing outside.
  • We ate at the resort restaurant and the food was ok – less spicy and less flavourful than other places we’d been within India and yet we still all had a bad reaction to the food.

April 20, 2012

  • The day started with a 7am Skype date with my parents, brother and golden retriever as they were all home for dinner celebrating my mum’s birthday (family time is a trip highlight!)
  • All 4 of us did our first 2-hour yoga class at the resort. It was just us and an Australian-Dutch couple and the teacher, Ravi-Yogi.
  • After the class, Ravi-Yogi told us about his 70 year-old guru who lives in a tree in the forest among leopards and white elephants.
  • We had lunch at the resort and all had a case of Delhi belly immediately afterwards. It was then that we decided to always plan to spend 1 hour after eating at the resort before venturing out in case any urgent bodily evacuations were required.
  • We headed into town to scope out the ashrams available for the remainder of our time in Rishikesh and found the Shri Sant Sewa Ashram which offered rooms overlooking the Ganga (River Ganges as it’s called in Varanasi, Ganga is what it’s called here) and 4 yoga classes a day – a beginner and intermediate class every morning and a beginner and intermediate class every evening.


April 21, 2012

  • We checked out of Tapovan Resort and began the 7 minute walk to Shri Sant Sewa Ashram. En route one of the guys that worked at Tapovan came running down the road toward us calling out our room number. Shelagh had forgotten her iPod Touch there and he’d run down the road to find us to return it to her. I love when my faith in the good in people is re-confirmed!
  • We sat in the sun and feeling the cool breezy air on my face while sitting out on the balcony of our ashram as we listened to music, read, wrote and Shelagh gave me her trekking route for Nepal along the Annapurna Circuit (our next stop).
  • We watched 30 or 40 young men bathe together in the Ganga below the balcony of our room, splashing, calling out to one another, cheering and generally having a great time.
  • The green of the much cleaner-seeming Ganga here as opposed to the brown, garbage-filled water of the same river in Varanasi.
  • We learned that if you’re going to swin in the Ganga that Rishikesh is the least bad place to do it. Note: it is still not considered safe because of the bacteria levels of the water. As well, Shelagh was warned by her travel doctor against swimming in any fresh water in India because it is common for westerners that do so to fall ill with parasites.
  • Our first yoga class at Shri Sant Sewa Ashram was the beginner level class as we weren’t sure what to expect. I started out wondering if the teacher was a bit of a jerk but as the class went on I began to understand his humour. He bumped Shelagh and I up to the intermediate class but told the boys to stick with the beginner level (though I don’t doubt that J.J. will be up to the intermediate level in no time – for a guy he’s quite flexible).
  • Myself and Shelagh have been nicknamed by our yoga teacher as Canada Girl 1 and Canada Girl 2, respectively.
  • The yoga studio floor is covered in thick red carpets that are about the size of 2 yoga mats laid side by side and on top of those are the faded seafoam green yoga mats that look as though something has taken several bites out of the foamy pad.
  • We’ve begun to notice a peculiar guy that seems to be staying at our ashram. He’s got tanned skin, dark hair that falls in loose curls just past his shoulders, has excellent posture and a slim but very sculpted physique (think Jesus-ish). (My bet is Israeli while Shelagh’s is Spanish or Portuguese.) He also seems to be on something. After each yoga class today we’ve seen him doing something odd in the courtyard. For example, rapidly pacing while talking to himself and dressed in only navy blue tighty undies. So strange!
  • There was a sunset Aarti ceremony, similar to the one we attended in Varanasi, only this one had tourists participate and far fewer spectators.
  • We had dinner at a restaurant called Paradise and the clientele was all foreigners, something we haven’t seen much of since being in India (aside from the Brown Bread Bakery in Varanasi). The food was okay and the service was pretty slow, but the vibe was cool with low tables where you sit on the cushioned floor to eat, and it got extra points for having a Ganga view.
  • Shelagh called Air Canada to see about modifying her flight plans. After she’d told the woman from the airline (Barb) that she was in India and wanted to fly out of New Delhi Barb insisted she’d have to choose a departure location within Asia. On that same call Barb also insisted that Kuala Lumpur was in Indonesia. You would think that somebody hired to man the service desk of an international airline would have some basic knowledge of geography! Then again, it is Air Canada…

April 22, 2012

  • J.J. left for yoga at 7:25am to attend the 7:30am beginner’s class on his own as Pete had been violently ill all night. Shelagh and I were able to sleep in a little longer as our teacher had recommended we attend the 9am intermediate class instead. When we got there he told us to begin warming up, returning minutes later to tell us the intermediate teacher wouldn’t be coming (apparently he was busy at home because it was Sunday) and he asked us to come that afternoon for his beginner’s class (I guess it was the kind of busy that would keep the intermediate teacher away all day).
  • We guessed that Pete’s illness is due to the water. We’ve all been using steripens and drinking it but when our steripens stopped working Shelagh, J.J. and I resorted to buying bottled water while Pete has been relying on tap water and tablets alone. He’s decided to buy bottles with the rest of us from now on.
  • Shelagh and I spent the morning shopping and getting henna on our feet, leaving Pete to sleep and J.J. to read Shantaram in peace on our balcony, overlooking the Ganga.
  • Our afternoon yoga session, which Shelagh, J.J. and I attended, was really good! Harder than it had been the day before and the instructor spent a lot of time with Shelagh and I helping us with our technique. I know this is only day 3 of yoga but I can’t imagine going a day without it now – Tara Duwyn, you’d be so proud!
  • The crazy looking Jesus guy was meditating in the courtyard, again in nothing but a wet pair of briefs.
  • We had dinner at well-reviewed pizza place where we sad on cushions on the floor and overlooked the Ganga, much like we had at dinner the night before. Surprisingly, the pizza was pretty good! (In my experience so far on this trip it’s best  to eat the local dishes because when you order something you know and love from home it’s usually cooked much differently abroad.)
  • We walked around a bit after dinner before separating to Skype, do laundry and rest.

April 23, 2012

  • J.J. took the 7:30am beginner’s yoga class while Shelagh and I gave the 9am intermediate class another try. The teacher showed up this time and taught for 2 hours and 15 minutes as opposed to the hour and a half he was supposed to – I guess he was making up for not teaching the day before. Too bad a lot of his class was spent talking as opposed to the physical challenges of yoga poses.
  • The intermediate yoga teacher was odd to say the least, having us warm up our facial muscles which included having us open our eyes as wide as possible while opening our mouth and sticking out our tongue and saying “AH!”. He also talked quite a bit about how often we should be “emptying our stomachs” ie pooping. I imagine no foreigner has let him in on the fact that the food here has a tendency to evacuate the body within minutes after eating.
  • When we got back to our rooms we hung out for a little on the balcony. When we looked down we saw crazy Jesus guy playing a white recorder for a cow. He seemed to be calling it with his music and the cow seemed to like it. Again, he was only wearing his tighty briefs. Who is this guy?!
  • We walked around the other end of town before having lunch at Honey Hut. J.J. would strongly recommend the macaroni and cheese which was cooked macaroni noodles topped with a piece of cheese, covered in batter and deep fried (yuck!). It looked more like chicken nuggets.
  • Some favourite quotes of our afternoon yoga instructor (also the morning beginner’s class instructor) include: “Maximum twist. Not too much tension, not too much stress. Complete relax. Total relax.”
  • In our afternoon yoga class Shelagh and I are still Canada Girl 1 (me) and Canada Girl 2 (She).
  • We had dinner at Little Budda and I for the first time in 2+ weeks I didn’t have an adverse reaction to food!
  • Shelagh and I decided to give the 9am intermediate yoga class another try tomorrow – the teacher may have had an off day.

April 24, 2012

  • Shelagh was finally able to speak to a competent employee at Air Canada this morning that was able to help her change her flight details.
  • Shelagh and I went to the 9am intermediate yoga class and we’ve decided we don’t jive with the teacher’s style (he spends a lot of time talking and at the end of the 2 hour and 15 minute class today we’d done maybe 10 poses) and have instead decided to go back to the beginner class (where the physical requirements are more demanding and the poses more challenging) in both the morning and afternoon for our last 6 days here in Rishikesh.
  • We had a late lunch at Little Budda and J.J. gave momos a try (little veggie dumplings), a warm up for the food in Nepal.
  • On our walk back to the ashram we spotted crazy Jesus guy painting flowers on the side of a food vendors hut.
  • All 4 of us attended the beginner evening yoga class and the teacher seems to be taking a liking to Team Canada as he spends a lot of time helping us with our form and pushing us to our limits in a good way.
  • At the end of the evening class the teacher instructed everyone to “give him your money”, by ‘him’ he meant me. Seems I’ve got a side gig as class treasurer.
  • We skipped dinner due to a late lunch.
  • Shelagh went down to reception to use the internet and who is beside her but crazy Jesus guy. According to the language he was speaking and his open Facebook page he’s Israeli: Kait – 1, Shelagh – 0.

April 25, 2012

  • Shelagh, J.J. and I took the morning beginner’s class and had a GREAT session! The teacher gives the 3 of us more challenging versions of each pose and has us hold each one longer than those who are experiencing yoga for the first time. It’s awesome to be taking 2 classes a day with a teacher that we all really enjoy.
  • In the morning yoga session I was able to place my forehead on the ground in the butterfly pose while having the teacher stand on my knees to push them to the floor. I can’t believe in just a few days how much my flexibility has improved!  And it’s not just me – J.J. and Shelagh are both killing the balance poses and both of them also notice improvements in their flexibility.
  • After yoga I took my malaria pill with a banana but my stomach was having none of it. I learned today that a banana tastes the same going down and coming up. (Gross, I know, but India has made us all very comfortable talking about all kinds of bodily functions. Maybe too comfortable…)
  • As I was waiting for the nauseous feeling in my stomach to pass I joined the others on the balcony. We spent a good 5 minutes watching crazy Jesus guy prepare to play his recorder by praying numerous times. He finally played some music before stopping to seemingly play fight with a cow on the beach. All of this in his (wet) underpants.
  • When I was feeling better the 4 of us set off in search of a waterfall we’d heard about from our yoga instructor that was about 4km from our ashram. We walked along a winding gravel road that overlooked the white water rafters on the Ganga and were accompanied by a local dog. The waterfall itself was nothing too spectacular but the peaceful sound of all things natural and the clear water was a welcome change of pace in the midst of the madness that is India. (Though admittedly Rishikesh is quite peaceful as well.)
  • As we began to head back we met an American guy, Richard, who we found out was staying at the same ashram as we were and was also studying the healing art of Reiki. He too had been to Varanasi and told us that children and pregnant women aren’t cremated when they pass away, but rather stones are tied to their bodies and sunk to the bottom of the Ganga.
  • A different dog accompanied us on our walk back to town and we called him Tuxedo because he was all black with a white tummy. Tuxedo and a wild monkey faced off, growling and hissing at each other, their noses almost touching. I was happy Shelagh had picked up a monkey stick just in case!
  • On the road back from the falls we ran into a man draped in orange, yellow and white cloth. He looked me up and down, rather creepily, and said “You like cheese?” Unfortunately for him, he found one of only 2 people I know, myself included, that don’t like cheese.
  • We had lunch at Little Budda (the food from there seems to sit ok) and by the time we got the bill had only an hour before our evening yoga session.
  • The evening yoga session had 5 or 6 true beginners and the teacher set them up on mats in the front row of the class while motioning for the 4 of us and an Australian girl we’ve met to take the second row of mats. While the beginner students rested between poses the teacher had us doing additional poses with very little rest time. It was the most challenging session we’ve had so far but felt so good!

April 26, 2012

  • Shelagh, J.J. and I made our way to yoga very slowly. After yesterday evening’s challenging class we were all a bit stiff and sore. Needless to say I don’t think any of us succeeded in advancing our flexibility any further today but on the positive side it felt great to stretch out.
  • We said goodbye to Pete this morning as he made his way to Kuala Lumpur for his last week of traveling.
  • The 3 of us were feeling pretty drained and almost like we were all coming down with something so for the first time we skipped our evening yoga session in favour of some R&R – J.J. putting a good dent in Shantaram and Shelagh and I doing something less intellectual (a Teen Mom marathon – say what you will, it’s addictive!)
  • No sign of crazy Jesus guy all day – I’m really hoping he hasn’t left as I’ll miss his bizarre antics.
  • We were off to bed early and without dinner (or lunch for that matter) in hopes that we’d be up for the morning yoga session the following day.

April 27, 2012

  • All 3 of us were feeling much better this morning and we all attended our morning yoga session. Our teacher called us out for missing the evening session the previous day, but couldn’t really say too much as he admitted he missed it as well. Looks like we chose the right class to skip!
  • Morning yoga was challenging as we were all still a bit sore but again, it felt so good to stretch out.  We also got to try headstands today – J.J. killed it but She and I struggled to keep our balance.
  • Between yoga classes we decided to cross the suspension bridge over the Ganga and have a light lunch at the Honey Hut. Shelagh is crazy for this lemon ginger tea they have there and J.J. swears by their chocolate balls (yes I realize how that sounds but chocolate balls is better than what is referred to as brown Indian doughnut holes, which is kind of like a Timbit).
  • J.J. went back to our room to continue his quest to finish Shantaram before we leave (great book but a monster to carry around) while Shelagh and I spent our afternoon in search of the elusive ATM 1.5km away.
  • As Shelagh and I walked around town a car stopped dead in the middle of the street so that the people inside could take our photo. They used a flash and took their pictures through the glass of the window so I’m quite sure they didn’t turn out very well, if at all.
  • There were only 5 of us in the afternoon yoga session, the 3 of us, an American we met a few days ago while walking back from the waterfall (Richard) and an Israeli guy trying yoga for the first time. Our teacher took it a little easy on us but I still managed to do the butterfly pose with the teacher standing on my legs and actually got my chin to the floor instead of just my forehead.
  • We learned our teacher’s name today: Yogi Dilup. He also has asked our names and now we are known as all of the following: Canada Girls 1/Canada Girls 2 (‘girls’ is always plural), Sheeta/Geeta (Sheeta means big and Geeta means little so I’m Sheeta for big sister and She is Geeta for little sister), Kait/Kaitie/Kaitalina (I’m told my name is difficult) and Shelagh/Shiva (Shiva is an Indian God which makes it easier to remember).
  • We had an eclectic dinner (Italian, Israeli and Indian) at Little Budda which still holds the best record in terms of post-meal sickness.

April 28, 2012

  • We attended our morning yoga class and since it was our last full day Yogi Dilip allowed us to bring our camera to be able to take a few shots once the class had finished. We had no idea he’d be walking around with the camera for part of the class shooting us while we were sitting with our eyes closed.
  • Between yoga classes we did our final loads of laundry and packed our bags for the journey back to New Delhi and flights back to Canada (Shelagh) and Nepal (J.J. and I).
  • Our evening yoga class consisted of holding poses longer than we had been. It was a tough class – I guess Yogi Dilip was wanting us to go out with a bit of a bang.
  • After class we took a few more photos, making use of the empty yoga room. My favourite is the one where Shelagh is standing on my knees while I’m in the butterfly position purely for She’s facial expression.
  • We ventured out into the very windy evening to dinner and got back to our rooms just before the clouds opened up and a wicked thunderstorm took shape.

April 29, 2012

  • We had our last morning yoga class and I think Yogi Dilip wants us to remember him because he worked us hard! He had us doing a mix of new poses and poses we knew, all of which we were to hold for a very long time (or so it seemed!).
  • Our crazy Jesus friend was outside as we were leaving. In passing someone asked him how he was and he answered enthusiastically, drawing out each word for maximum effect, “I’m feeling WOONNNDDDDEEEEERRRRRFFFFFUUUUUULLLLLLLL! I’m feeling FAABBBUUUULLLLLOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSS! I’m feeling GLLOOORRRRIIIIIOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSS!” You get the idea. I’m going to miss that nut bar.
  • We had booked our 7-hour train ride back to New Delhi in what is known as 3AC class, which means there are 6 beds to a berth, 3 high on either side, and there’s air conditioning. Our ride was late afternoon and into the evening so we didn’t pull the beds down, instead we sat with a very nice Indian couple in their early 60s and the stinkiest man in India. The smell coming from his armpits was seriously offensive!
  • We passed the time on the train playing 20 questions and Scrabble – lots of giggling and accusations of cheating were had by all.
  • Our cab ride from the train station to the airport was pure insanity. The van sounded (and felt) like the wheels could fall off at any time and leaning back against the seat felt like one of those massage chairs that is less relaxing and more about violently vibrating your whole body to the point where your teeth chatter together
  • We were at the airport with 8 hours to kill before our flights and because we weren’t able to check in and go through security until 3 hours before our flights we found a nap lounge (with wifi for J.J.) and slept

And just like that, our long-anticipated trip to India and meet-up with my sister was over and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Many times over the course of the last 3 weeks we all agreed that the order in which we visited places was perfect, beginning with the more hectic and hot places and ending with the breath of fresh air that is Rishikesh. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I was excited to be off to Nepal where we’d be busy and active hiking the Annapurna Circuit with only a map to guide us but sad that my sister wouldn’t be with us on this leg of the trip. As I hugged her goodbye in the New Delhi airport I tearfully told her that I’d written her a note and tucked it away in her passport. To my surprise she burst out laughing saying she’d also written me a note and put it in my checked bag. Mum, that’s all you in us!


2 Responses to “Rishikesh, India: The Zen Life”

  1. Harju May 22, 2012 at 10:49 #

    Aww the end of this post made my teary – sister love! xo

    • kaitlinhaynes May 22, 2012 at 11:56 #

      It was an amazing part of the trip for me to have her there and share in all that is India with her. Now if only my brother would get his passport and come meet up…(hint, hint Geoffrey!)

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