Day Thirty-Six: Rishikesh, Where Have You Been All My Life?
This has been the most bipolar day, fluctuating between moments of bliss and devastation, I’m sure you can imagine why. It’s the first time being abroad during a major presidential election, where you appear to be the only are glued to their phone, tracking the polls like your like depends on it. The anticipation, shock and disbelief I felt all the way over here was somewhat of a surreal experience. Is this really happening? How did the media get it all wrong?
Mystically, we are in Rishikesh, which if you don’t know is the birthplace of yoga – the quintessential place to find zen and every healing modality imaginable. Name any one, you’ve got it here – chakra therapy, yoga and meditation centers, ashrams, past life regression therapy, crystal therapy, color therapy, sound healing…colonoscopy detox cleanings!
Thank you universe for giving us the gift of this place on one of the bizarre days in American history. As a social media post said, “We live in a big country. I must live in a small bubble.” That bubble has officially burst.
Anyways, at some point, we’ll need to move forward and I am grateful for landing in the spiritual mecca of India. This couldn’t have worked out any better.
Just to catch you up a bit on how we arrived here, I’ll just say this – Delhi’s pollution has reached seriously dangerous levels and we were lucky when we left. We saw protesters marching around with facemasks calling out for normal oxygen levels. Thankfully, we got out of there at the right time, and better yet, took a first place sleeper train to Rishikesh, which we realized is the way to go.
Six hours and many hearty naps later, we landed. It took about an hour to riskshaw from Haridwar station to Rishikesh, and as the Himalayas and chilly mountain air emerged, I knew I was home. It’s that feeling of instant connection to a place for reasons that are still unknown to you. I got that in Amsterdam, Pai (Northern Thailand), and Railay (Southern Thailand). I can now add this one to the list.
We arrived late afternoon on November 8th and settled into our hostel. Knowing we have all the time in the world here, at least for the next month or two, gave us serious relief – no need to see and do everything all at once. Though Wylie was feeling weak recovering from his latest bout of food illness (update: Wylie’s been sick 3 times, and me 4), I felt compelled to venture out and explore on my own for the first time. It’s taken me a full month to feel comfortable adventuring on my own, but the vibe of this city feels like a different country than India. A mountain town filled with spiritual seeking, harem pants wearing wanderlusters mixed in with Indian locals and tourists. Not much in the way of haggling or hustle.
I wandered down the narrow windy road from the main road of our hostel down to the small town of Tapovan and back up as night crept in. On my way, I must have taken a different path and came across the most vibed out spot called Pure Soul, an organic café restaurant. What I thought would be a quick look on their menu turned into a full meal of amazing coconut milk-based mullagawtany soup. A plus points for taking your shoes off before entering the space, and A plus-plus points for the seating – low long tables with plush cushions dotting the outer rim of the space for sitting, brick and floor to ceiling glass walls peering out into the Himalayan mountains. This was heaven on a mountain. The menu was insanely robust, boasting every time of elixir, smoothie and juice for all kinds of ailments.
The manager assured me this was the cleanest restaurant in town, and that there would be zero chance of extracting Delhi belly here as their produce is grown on an organic farm. Not to mention, they have the cleanest space and coziest interior I’ve experienced in all of India.
Well, by next morning, Wylie and I were back there again for breakfast – tofu scramble with homemade bread…mmmmhmmmm. Oh, have I mentioned that Wylie tried chicken the last night in Delhi and decided, no mas? Chicken just doesn’t taste the same he says. I still haven’t had that moment (knock on wood that doesn’t happen) but good thing, as we’re in a strictly vegetarian city. It’s crazy to think that it’s taken me coming all the way to India to appreciate really consciously sourced and hygienically handled fresh foods. I swear I could be a spokesperson for Pure Soul – mystically they were looking for a female to help them with sales and marketing in exchange for free food and housing in their sister hotel (5100 rupees a night!). Just so happened that they gave the position away just the previous morning, so I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
After breakfast, we decided today would be the day to scope out some apartments. Our plan is to find a place with a kitchen in a safe, quiet part of town to give ourselves the option of cooking and time to explore different yoga ashrams before settling for something. In the absence of Craiglist or decent Airbnb selection, we went old school style and asked just about every friendly local to see if they had any connections or recommendations. After convos with our Laundromat guy, Pure House manager, and friend of an Ayurvedic spa receptionist, we found one viable option – a small one bedroom with a bathroom and kitchen (though the stove and fridge are missing and need to be installed) with a sweet babbling brook just outside the door, for a whopping $300/month! The path down to this spot is a bit of a trek as far as the rockiness and unevenness of the dirt road, but all things considered, it would save us a few hundred dollars compared to living in a hostel for a month.
We’ve got two really nice Indian men on the lookout for more options tomorrow, but in the meantime we had much to explore today – there’s a certain magical quality about this Indian mountain town. It feels like home already, and made me think back on this Mark Twain quote I stumbled on just days earlier…
...so far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.