Rishikesh is not the city of Yogis!

I had been looking forward to visiting Rishikesh mostly to have my first glimpse of the Himalayas. It is also the place where the Bhagirati river touches the plains and becomes the Ganga. Here Ganga is pure, cold and strong. Since the birth of Western interest in Yoga and all things Indian, Rishikesh has attracted seekers of every sort. The name of the city signifies “city of Rishis” but the real deal don’t hang around these kind of places. The city has no significant value to Hindus and traditionally was never counted among the holy cities.  The name has been synonymous with Western seekers after the 1960’s. This is the place where Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (of TM fame) had an ashrama and was visited by The Beatles in February 1968. I suspect that this is what put Rishikesh on the map and into the exotic imagination of Westerners. The other reason that the city is somewhat famous is because this were Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society (1936) and its associated Vedanta Forest Academy.

I had been previously warned by one of my teachers about just how commercial Rishikesh had become. On the whole, it was quite the opposite of a Yogic city. It’s packed with neo-hippie types staying in guesthouses (some for years) and spending their days in a cloud of hash smoke. There are of course people, both Indian and Western, who have taken advantage of the cities (apparent) prestige. There are numerous yoga classes, trainings and lessons on all things Indian, from cooking to music; all catered to the temporary hippie residents and visitors. The city is completely alcohol free (expect where I was staying, who served big cans of Budweiser) but that doesn’t seem to matter as Cannabis products abound.

The location of the city, at the mouth of the Ganga and with the Himalayas over-looking it, is breathtaking. I spent a 3 days there and for the first time in my travels in India, lived like a Western tourist. This gave me a very different perspective on the India that I thought I knew so well. I did visit the Sivananda ashram and cross the 2 famous suspension bridges, Ram Jhoola and Laxman Jhoola. Crossing the bridge is an adventure in itself as the only things not allowed on the narrow paths are cars. Picture an alley five feet wide with two-way (Indian) traffic of people (of all shaped and sizes at different speeds), bicycles, two-wheelers and of course, animals!

I did get to bathe for a second time in the Holy Ganga and see the famous Ganga aarti at sundown. Although I must say that the aarti seemed more like a performance for tourists than Hindu devotion. The fun part for me was taking a state transport bus overnight from Delhi and being woken up at 1:30am by being smashed into a metal bar conveniently located at nose level on the back of the seat in front of me.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy Veena John
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 10:07:28

    Sorry it was a disapointment !! — Its what happens worldwide, to places with lots of spiritual power — people are attracted to the energy. Isn’t there a theory that just being at the AShram has a powerful effect on your Karma and evolvement? (Not that everyone is planning to evolve by being in Rishikesh – but in looking for happiness, in a way they are?)

    Reply

    • Sri Satchmo
      Sep 12, 2012 @ 10:47:43

      Veena, no dissappointment as I wasn’t really expecting much of a inner experience. It was Mani who told me not to even bother going. What a contrast for me after spending 3 days in Kashi! It seemed to me that the ashrams there did not attract too many or maybe because space is limited.

      Reply

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