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"I'll find my way home while exploring the galaxy"

Day Seventy-Four: Week of New Eyes, Saving Lives and the Beatles Ashram

Continuing on with the theme of ‘experimenting with living,’ this week was all about seeing ‘home’ and experiencing routine with new eyes, for better or worse. “For better” seems like a natural and nice place to start, so let’s begin there.

Our private yoga instructor Summit left for Dubai last week to teach yoga workshops, so we were left to find a new morning Ashtanga class, a seemingly easy task having lived in Rishikesh for over a month now. It took us a few classes to find Prakand who teaches hands down, the best Ashtanga class I’ve experienced yet.  Prakand is a short, broad-chested Indian man whose usual get up includes tight spandex shorts and a small man bun collecting his mullet. The upper walls of his studio are decked out in photos of him doing all 84 postures of the Ashtanga flow, wearing nothing but a white loincloth. Sorry, no photos to share here.

His teaching style is super no frills, direct and disciplined, which if you’re raised by Asian parents, feels very familiar and comfortable in a strange way (hello tiger mom memories!). Upon extremely detailed instruction on how to engage every muscle in your body, Prakand can have you burning up with heat just standing in an upright position. Not to mention, his repetition of ‘you have no choice’ does not encourage you to take any shortcuts. By the time I’ve gotten through five rounds of Sun Salutation A and B, my thighs and back knees are ready to fall off, but his energy inspires me to keep at it until the very end. So much of the resistance I’ve been carrying in mountain pose along with fear I’ve been holding onto leading up to handstand is created in the (wo)man-made mind. It’s high time to let that ALL go!

Of course, I’m aware that stronger thighs and core won’t just come from thinking them out of thin air. Wylie and I decided that as one of our experiments of living, we would begin dedicating 15 minutes every morning after yoga class to a core strengthening sequence. To get the momentum going, we’re calling this “The 23-Day Core Challenge,” which will take us right up to the first day of Yoga Teacher Training and hopefully result in some shapely and yoga-school-ready abs. Plus, we purchased some golden “om” stickers as a reward to track our daily progress on a calendar. Yes, STICKERS.

"You have no choice!" -- Yogi Prakand

"You have no choice!" -- Yogi Prakand

As a result of raising the notch on physical exercise intensity, we’ve included another fun ritual into our daily routine. On the way home from yoga class, we cross a suspension bridge called Laxman Jhula which takes us through a series of windy roads back home. There’s an itty-bitty coffee shop nestled directly to the right of the bridge, which I pass pretty much on the daily. I usually walk right by the shop because of all the dogs, cows and flies that congregate on and around the steps leading up to the shop. This past week, Wylie convinced me to see past the buzzing nuisances to experience this place, if only for their excellent cappuccinos and prime real estate for monkey watching. No lie, this was another highlight of the week. Who needs National Geographic when you can spend 90 rupee on a delicious hot beverage and watch monkeys all morning?

Hello friends.

Hello friends.

The real sun salutation = Sun Salutation C(appuccino) #yogijokes

The real sun salutation = Sun Salutation C(appuccino) #yogijokes

This monkey knew how to turn on the drinking water faucet to get his morning fill. He still needs to learn how to turn it off, but that’s what nearby Indian passersby are for.

This monkey knew how to turn on the drinking water faucet to get his morning fill. He still needs to learn how to turn it off, but that’s what nearby Indian passersby are for.

Typical Rishikesh traffic jam, monkeys included

Typical Rishikesh traffic jam, monkeys included

Sippin on gin and juice

Sippin on gin and juice

Following the normal morning routine, afternoons offer much more flexibility in which to play and experiment. This week, Wylie so kindly offered to be my next subject for “Experiments with Living” so we spent some time this week location scouting a spot on the Ganges River, figuring out the optimal time for the shoot given how short the days are becoming, and finding creative ways to make tripods out of books and buckets used for taking showers. These are the realities of low-fi productions, which in India, feels extremely appropriate.

Lo fi productions, aka Madam I Have No Idea Productions (this will make sense later)

Lo fi productions, aka Madam I Have No Idea Productions (this will make sense later)

Now, this is where the story shifts from “for better” to “for worse.” It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and Wylie and I couldn’t have been more ready for the shoot. The sun was exactly where it needed to be, all the cameras were rolling, and we were secluded enough to get the perfect audio. The questions and answers were flowing as planned, until about eighteen minutes into the interview…

Wylie spotted her first.

A girl’s head was bobbing up and down from inside the river as she struggled to scream for help. While the current didn’t appear to be moving quickly, an invisible force seemed to be pulling her down aggressively and fast. The fight or flight impulse kicked in, and before I even knew what was happening, Wylie had already stripped down to his underwear and plunged into the water in hopes of rescuing her (mind you: we were joking that week that maybe he would go in for his first Ganga swim during the interview...and now, here we are).

At that moment, a much older flabby man emerged from behind one of the bigger boulders with nothing but his underwear on, frantic and ready. He jumped over the rock and ran towards the bank of the river where Wylie had already gotten a hold of the girl and was now swimming towards shore. 

Luckily, this girl made it out alive. She had a giant hole in the crotch of her pants and was shivering as she made her way onto a rock to rest. Both her and Wylie developed immediate massive headaches as they sat catching their breath and their brains. 

Here's Wylie and the girl who he rescued catching their breath. Forgetting her name, but she's Sri Lankan by nationality and from Denmark -- arrived in Rishikesh only a day before.

Here's Wylie and the girl who he rescued catching their breath. Forgetting her name, but she's Sri Lankan by nationality and from Denmark -- arrived in Rishikesh only a day before.

I’m doing this...I have no choice.
— Wylie's inner monologue right before taking the plunge (cue: yoga class)
Superhero status

Superhero status

Not too long after, Wylie and I made our way up to Ramana’s café to bask in the sun and recover from the trauma of what just happened. These photos were taken a few days earlier, but I thought some smiley faces of the orphans who live there and are educated onsite might shine some light on why we love this place so much:

Selfie time with cute kids from Ramana's

Selfie time with cute kids from Ramana's

We learned in the days after that people drown in the Ganga every year, even those that who call themselves skilled swimmers. The undercurrents are powerful and as described to us by Dr. Harsh, are similar to tornadoes operating underwater – they simply suck you down with their force. What I can’t seem to understand is why there are NO signs anywhere along the river to warn people about this potential danger. It’s not like you would know this simply by looking at it, especially for all the talk about how ‘holy’ the Ganges River is. If you spend even a few minutes googling “Ganges River deaths from drowning,” you can barely find anything about this issue either. Wylie and I put together a short video of the footage we captured: "Drowning Woman Saved in the Ganga River." It’s so basic -- people deserve to know about this! 

The current in some parts of the Ganges is very strong and as inviting as a dip from one of the beaches may seem, people drown here every year. Don’t swim out of your own depth!
— Lonely Planet (India)

Since we’re on the topic of man versus nature, I want to also highlight a beautiful forest oasis that we discovered this past Sunday, otherwise called the Beatles Ashram. Although abandoned in the early 2000s, this ashram is still standing untouched with forest overgrowth weaving in and around the ashram’s meditation halls and chambers. Think Jumanji jungle vibes with broken glass shattered inside derelict buildings, Buddha-shaped heads as hut roofs and street art adorning the walls of the bigger now defunct meditation halls. Coming into contact with such a vast piece of history spanning seven acres long was exactly the kind of solitude I wanted to experience. You would think that modern day ashrams would be secluded in such a way, but that is not the reality today.

En route to the Beatles Ashram on our favorite mode of transportation, the Pleasurecraft.

En route to the Beatles Ashram on our favorite mode of transportation, the Pleasurecraft.

In 1961, a spiritual teacher named Maharishi got 15 acres of land for the ashram on a 20-year lease. In that period of time, he spread the teachings of transcendental meditation to people from all corners of the globe, including all the members of the Beatles. In this time, the Beatles wrote 48 songs in just seven weeks, many of which landed on their White Album. It sounds like some of the Beatles were doing much more LSD than meditation, which had a small part in the larger drama that went down between the band and Maharishi. Eventually after overstaying his lease by twenty plus years, the Supreme Court ordered a ruling for the ashram to shut down. Though it ceased to be an ashram for several years now, the Parks Dep’t has helped restore the property and open it up to the public, with future plans to turn this into a museum.

We just so happened to have met the Director of the Wildlife Preserve Agency the night before at a festival fundraiser, so we may have done some name-dropping at the ashram gate and saved ourselves 1200 rupees! I have no shame though, considering the Indian government is likely holding a package of mine hostage right now at the customs warehouse…different story, but really same same different.

I took more photos than I could ever upload on this blog post without running a restaurant’s wifi dry, so here are some of my favorites:

Meditation chambers dot the ashram grounds. The stones are locally sourced from the Ganga.

Meditation chambers dot the ashram grounds. The stones are locally sourced from the Ganga.

Inside the meditation chambers which allow for sleeping and meditation, on two separate floors

Inside the meditation chambers which allow for sleeping and meditation, on two separate floors

Wylie just finished having a private moment of meditation upstairs in the meditation chamber, followed by an impromptu beatboxing sesh...

Wylie just finished having a private moment of meditation upstairs in the meditation chamber, followed by an impromptu beatboxing sesh...

Color therapy on derelict walls

Color therapy on derelict walls

If ashram walls could talk, this one may be saying "Hari Om," or supreme absolute truth

If ashram walls could talk, this one may be saying "Hari Om," or supreme absolute truth

Oh hello

Oh hello

Boss status

Boss status

Blissed out

Blissed out

Yoga asana break

Yoga asana break

Inside the Beatles Cathedral Gallery, which started in 2012 and gathered conscious creativity from all parts of the globe

Inside the Beatles Cathedral Gallery, which started in 2012 and gathered conscious creativity from all parts of the globe

No Beatles ashram visit is complete without your very own meditation ceremony vibed out with tea lights and burning sandalwood 

No Beatles ashram visit is complete without your very own meditation ceremony vibed out with tea lights and burning sandalwood 

Getting my hands dirty in the ashram 

Getting my hands dirty in the ashram 

And voila!

And voila!

Holy cow, there you are

Holy cow, there you are

Hey there sadhu

Hey there sadhu

Found a group of Indian men huddled on the second floor of the meditation chamber "the Beatles Cave" smoking some green and living it up because, #yolo

Found a group of Indian men huddled on the second floor of the meditation chamber "the Beatles Cave" smoking some green and living it up because, #yolo

Tiffany Wen