After what was hopefully our last bumpy overnight bus ride in India, we arrived in Rishikesh, about 14 hours south of McLeod Ganj. Rishikesh is on the river Ganga, which runs right through the middle of the holy city. There are a few big suspension bridges that connect one side to the other, which are a constant tangle of pedestrians, scooters, cows and overly zealous monkeys.
Rishikesh is also the yoga and meditation capital of India, all kicked off by The Beatles when they stayed in an ashram here back in the 60’s and allegedly wrote much of The White Album. In any case, just about every hotel, guest house, shop and café offers some form of yoga or meditation practice. While the Beatles ashram shut down in the 90’s, there’s also a number of huge ashrams that offer rooms, yoga, chanting, and meditation practices. We tried yoga at what is supposed to be one of the best ashram’s in all of India and were pretty disappointed. The teacher didn’t really seem to care, in fact he was completely disinterested, and it was all a little disillusioning.
We did take a stroll through the now decrepit ashram where The Beatles once stayed. Legend has it that Ringo and his wife left because they didn’t like the vegetarian food and missed their children, while two others left after a longer stay because the guru had a bad attitude towards women and wanted more money from them. Surprise surprise – welcome to India, dudes. The ashram was very cool though – weird looking stone dome accommodations, which have all become overgrown and dilapidated. It’s as though everyone in Rishikesh came to pilfer everything that wasn’t concreted to the ground when the ashram shut down.
We also took a walk to a waterfall outside of the city with an English couple we’d met when we arrived. The walk was long, but worth it when we arrived – you could climb up to different levels of this waterfall and then swim in a pool underneath it when you reached as far as you could climb.
Other than that we just chilled out, hanging by the river, making friends with little kids (I think I found myself a boyfriend if I wanted one), and trying different yoga classes. We had a super painful mission to the train station to try and get ourselves tickets to Varanasi. Apparently there’s a bunch of festivals on at the moment, so every man and his cow is trying to travel. We ended up having to get an “emergency” ticket, which they issue a certain amount of the day before. The system here truly baffles me – they make you line up until 9.40am for these tickets and then let you in…. but the ticket clerks take a “tea break” from 9.40-9.55am, so you end up standing in a line for another 15 minutes until they start selling the tickets. I use the term “line” very loosely as this isn’t a term that Indians have much respect for. It’s more of a group surge towards the ticket counter, waving your form and shouting at the clerk. In the end we had to pay 4 x the price to get “special” second class tickets AND tip the ticketing guy. This country can honestly go from confusing to frustrating to infuriating and back to befuddled amusement in the space of half an hour.
We’re now in Varanasi, our last stop in India before we cross the border into Nepal almost two months to the day since we arrived. Blog to come, but I can say it’s a very apt way to end our time here in India.