When I first started going to Rishikesh, the Ashram Village between two pedestrian bridges, it was even more rustic and quaint than it is now. I remember walking on the beach at Ram Jhoola at sunset and then rushing back across the suspension bridge at dusk, dodging wandering wild boars, to make it back to the Ashram in time for dinner. I remember full moons rising above the mountains with a view of Mars and Saturn hanging on the horizon from the rooftop of Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram, then my home for six months of the year. In the early 2000s, there were a very few open-air tea stalls with wooden benches inside where you could get very firm slices of home-made bread and a version of apple pie. Walking the Sadhus trail between the two bridges, I’d meet familiar sadhakas who came every year for the February/March teaching season carrying a journal or a copy of Siddhartha. I’d meet local swamis who lived in the small huts along the footpath who would nod on morning walks or proffer the yogic greeting of “Hari Om”.
Time seems suspended as the days stretch through two daily yoga classes, time for journaling, walking, meditation and sharing a cup of tea with others on the path. And meetings or teachings seems synchronous or to fall into place with fluidity and ease. On one of my first trips, I had been questioning whether teaching was in fact my right calling or how I would balance it with possible parenthood, writing and living in the world. Just as I was in an internet café (before we were wired with Wifi cellphones) mulling over these choices, I heard someone mention satsang with Shanti Mai, and inspiring American teacher, that began in an hour down by Laxman Jhoola, the second bridge. When I got seated at the satsang in a room with billowing curtains overlooking the Ganges, she asked if anyone had any questions and proceeded to say that sometimes we wonder about the worth of our offerings and we are challenged in class. But that it was at those times we needed to keep teaching. Those who question the worth of their offerings are usually those who put a lot of sincere dedication into their work as a teacher. The message was clear – and when I walked back down the sadhus’ trail to Ram Jhoola, I felt a deeper connection to the land, to the wandering cows, to the whole energetic space of Rishikesh and the messages and support it offers.
All this is still exists, though there are more cafés serving banoffi pie or chocolate banana samosas, and glass shop windows have replaced the open-air stalls. Many of the swamis and sadhakas even remain the same though there are more families and children now than when I was living half the year at Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram with my infant daughter. Yet in spite of further conveniences and a more direct highway from Delhi to the gateway of the Himalayas, Rishikesh has a unique charm that persists. There is nothing like a Sunday morning walk upriver to the waterfall and beyond to remote picnic spots in the dunes. Or a trip to the nightly Aarati (sunset ceremony) where groups sing as the blood orange sun slowly sinks across the river and small candles are sent down steam on a bed of broadleaves and rose petals.
I hope one day as I’m walking the sadhus trail or sitting with my journal on the roof of Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram, that we’ll cross paths and share a moment in the timeless experience of Rishikesh!