Sunday, 30 November 2014

Rishikesh - City of Yoga

Barring a brief return to Delhi, our final stop in India would be the small city of Rishikesh. It was only a half-hour tuk-tuk drive from our previous stop, Haridwar, and it's said that if you visit one you may as well visit the other. Plus, we'd met some fellow travellers who'd recommended Rishikesh to us for its relaxing, zen atmosphere, as a place to escape from the craziness of so many other Indian cities. Known as the yoga capital of the world, the Beatles famously stayed at an ashram there before returning to the UK to record the White Album.

We stayed for a couple of days, and it became one of our favourite places in India. It felt more like a small town than a city, its two sides connected by various pedestrian bridges that spanned some breathtaking sections of the Ganges River. Our biggest regret is that we didn't allow ourselves enough time to stay at one of the ashrams here, where we could have detoxed, meditated and lived like Hindu babas for a few weeks. Oh well, that leaves us a good reason to return. In the meantime, we simply explored and enjoyed the breezy air of this rather Nepal-like place.

Leaving Haridwar, we passed the giant Shiva statue that guards the city.
An almost-vanished river near Rishikesh.
Arriving in the city.
We were pretty hungry, so our first mission was finding some food. We settled for these vegeburgers. Rishikesh is a strictly vegetarian city, and not a single restaurant serves meat.
Our hotel was located in a beautiful valley.
Walking down towards the river, we passed an ashram where visitors were painting murals and statues.

Lakshman Jhula Bridge is an iron suspension bridge spanning the river Ganges.

On either side of the bridge there are lots of ashrams and yoga studios offering spiritual experiences.

Crossing the bridge with a throng of people.
There were also plenty of monkeys, cows and motorbikes on the bridge.

On the other side, this street vendor sold us some bindi powder, which we tried on.
Showing off our bindis.

The main street was filled with souvenir shops, and since we were nearing the end of our trip, we used the opportunity to buy gifts for our friends and family.

Heading west along the river, we caught some splendid views across the valley.

On the grounds of a large ashram.
More primates.
Soon we reached Ram Jhula, another bridge connecting two halves of the city.

Once on the other side, we began the long walk back to our starting point.

That evening, we ate at a Beatles-themed restaurant.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo: cottage cheese-stuffed potato simmered in rich tomato sauce.
The restaurant provided a beautiful sunset view over the river.
The city falls asleep.
From Rishikesh we made a brief return to Delhi. We didn't do a whole lot there, except prepare ourselves for the flight to Europe. Oh, and Angela had this done:

Soon enough we were catching a plane to Stockholm, and saying goodbye to India. It's difficult to sum up a country like this one. I'd always dreamed of visiting India, and in some respects it totally lived up to my very high expectations, assaulting us with its colours and smells and spiritual powers in a way that never stopped being exciting. On the other hand, I'm not sure I can see myself, in the future, looking back with a nostalgic Ah! India! the same way I do with places like China or France. That's not such a bad thing though. We both had an amazing time there, and despite all the scams and the filth and the exhausting conditions, we still want to go back, particularly to see the south. I can see the route forming already: Mumbai - Goa - Hampi - Kerala - maybe Sri Lanka. But that's for another time.

As much as we loved India, it honestly felt much sadder that we were saying goodbye to Asia as a whole. We spent most of the last two years there, and though it's an extremely vast and varied continent, with many distinct, unrelated cultures, there's also a certain quality that ties them all together. Even developed countries like Korea and Japan have it. Maybe it's the hustle and bustle; we were traveling through some of the most highly populated countries of the world, after all. Maybe it's the temples, or that exotic mysteriousness that underlies the religions and cultures in this part of the world. Or maybe it's just that wholesome abundance of delicious food! Either way, Asia has a certain something that other continents don't, and it's what keeps me coming back to explore more of its diverse and exciting countries.

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