Our experience in the spiritual place of Rishikesh was a mixed bag one. From not getting a place to stay to enjoying the white water rafting through the scary yet breathtaking rapids of the Ganga river. We had a soulful experience.
Our Rishikesh adventure started when we reached Dehradun late in the evening post our Himalayan trek. We were on the look out for a bus at the main bus stand in Dehradun. Late in the night, there were no buses ; with little or no information about the place , we went with our instincts. A local driver came to us and told us that he was a Rishikesh resident. Money spoke the loudest of all. We reached Rishikesh at around 11 in the night.
We were pondering on where to stay in Rishikesh as we had too many options. Half of us wanted to go stay in the famous Ashrams of Rishikesh, while the other half including me wanted to have a 5 star worthy hotel. An auto driver, first led us to his friend who helped us by providing the rafts (if it is called something else, then that) and then led us to a hotel that looked like Marriott on the outside, but was marred on the inside. We were so hungry, we bought a lot of food ; food to fill my stomach for 2 days. However, the food was terrible and we spent the morning launching a scathing attack on the owner, demanding our money back. We paid the returned money for Rafting. The apparent 5 star hotel vacated with disdain.
Water and I never go together. Fear grips me and I tend to stay away. Minutes before rafting, I was scared to death, reluctant to go and sit in the raft even. The instructor looked at me and said “aapko bohot dar hai, ekdum peeche bait jaayiye”. Translation – “you are very scared, please sit at the back.” . “Rapids” said the instructor and immediately, I started to shiver.
There was every probability of me falling. I had no trust in the life jacket, for I thought it was the jacket of death. An apparent inability to swim coupled with fear made it a thriller for people around me. I did not fall when the raft hit the rapids. I clung on to raft rope as if my life depended on it. (Metaphorically, it did). 14 kilometers and I managed to smile through the 14. Ganga had been affable to us.
Post that we went and scouted for Ashrams( places of stay) in the area and we were denied a stay in the famous Paramarth Niketan Ashram because it was full. What!? We were lucky enough to bump into the International Yoga Festival held that week. The event played a host to a wide variety of celebrities including South India’s famous drummer Sivamani , the world famous Dalai Lama and so on. Instead 800 meters from the Paramarth Niketan Ashram, we stayed at Swarg Ashram. A single room that accommodated the 4 of us. A solitary tungsten bulb and a fan that blew constant air regardless of the position of the knob and a wooden bed. That’s it. But we had our essentials.
In the evening, we attended the famous Ganga Aarathi (ceremony to evoke the blessings of the river) and we paraded to a concert a part of the Yoga Festival that was taking place later that night and we were drowned in the music. We bought some food as a stop gap and No tickets. It was not Sivamani who stole the show but the brilliant violinist, the late Bala Bhaskar, a talent gone too soon. The concert ran till 11.30 in the night.
Wait I forgot to tell you, that the gates of the Ashrams close at 10 PM. that we forgot the time and we came in late. Screams of “Bhaiya” ( brother in Hindi) and “Gate kholo” (open the gate – in Hindi) were lost within the air of the cold night. There was no one to open the gate. We were supposedly stranded. Lady luck played a blinder for we wanted to go and check out if there was any back entry to the place. A guy came out of his house, he mentioned that we could walk through the back ( which was essentially a mini forest) and jump into the Ashram. But this was dangerous. Slowly, silently and desperately, we entered our rooms.
A sigh of relief.
The next day, we went about celebrating Holi, throwing color at everybody, dancing to the beats of the local music with the river flowing without much care for the sound and the human activity. Holi being the festival of colors, really brought about a positive vibe around the place. Shopping, visiting the iconic Ram Jhoola and the Laksman Jhoola ( both humungous bridges connecting 2 parts of Rishikesh) and scouring for veg restaurants followed our great Holi bash.
Our adventure lasted over 2 days, both colorful as well as spiritual. A smooth yet interesting experience flowing like the crystal clear waters of the Ganges.