At the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, the holy river Ganga flows steadily, crystal blue shimmer, mythology older than life. It’s common to hear of the river Ganga as the physical manifestation of the dreaded hair of Lord Shiva, God of yoga. We don’t often hear the entire story, that the Ganga is actually a goddess, who descended to earth from the heavens and landed with little reverence on the head of Shiva. Instead of reacting in anger, Shiva slowly released the goddess Ganga through his dreads, creating what we now see flowing from the mountains today.
Rishikesh is nestled just there, at mouth of the lush Himalayas, where the river goddess springs forth, a town with no more than 60,000 people, two walking bridges, and hundreds of temples, ashrams and yoga studios. Rishikesh is sometimes called Yog Nagri, Yoga City – A.K.A. My Personal Heaven!
In this humble little place I’ve made so many wonderful connections with people – in one of the hundreds of jewelry or clothing stores, after one of Surinder Singh’s blissed out classes, or sipping a banana lassi in a riverside cafe. It’s a common destination for Hindu pilgrims, and is only 25 kilometers away from Haridwar home to the Kumbh Mela celebrations – the biggest religious gathering in the entire world.
Every year, in March, an international yoga festival is held – and I plan on being in there in 2012, a very special year indeed!
The slideshow tells the story, really. There you’ll see the sp0t where the Beatles wrote the White Album – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s renowned ashram. It’s nothing more than abandoned buildings and overgrown brush and trees, but the atmosphere is as peaceful as I imagine it ever was, and a very friendly dog gave us a tour at no charge whatsoever!
On both visits I made the journey forty minutes into the mountains to the Neelkanth Mahadev (Shiva Blue Throat) Temple. We made offerings, under the tutelage of some friendly pilgrims, giving thanks and respect to Shiva for swallowing the poison to save the world (hence the blue throat).
River rafting, hiking and treks are big attractions in this mountainous little haven, and I chose the former to satisfy the adventurer in my heart. Jumping out of the boat to actually swim was one of the most joyful moments of my entire time in India. The sun was shining, we’d just paddled our hearts out, and the water was as clean and refreshing as a good round of meditation!
Rishikesh was the perfect introduction to India for me, no peddlers, schemers or thieves to ruin your vibe. Life here is simple, no alcohol is served and vegetarianism is actually law. I felt so blessed to be able to show the town to my friends on my second trip (also in the slideshow), though I wasn’t aware of the alcohol ban when we planned our Christmas celebrations! We made due . . .
And for me, the best part of Rishikesh, on top of the breathtaking mountains, the kindness of the people, the variety of yoga on offer, and the fresh holy water at the center of it all, is my friend and teacher, Surinder Singh. Full of joy and warmth, he channels the wisdom of yoga with utter humility and accessibility. He’s traveled the world, bringing the healing powers of yoga to students and teachers ~ what can I say? I love the guy!