I had lost 6 kilos in three days. Chronic allergic bronchitis seemed to have killed my appetite & I knew in my mind that the medicines were going to be of no use this time. I had heard of yoga curing these sorts of ailments & I wasn’t going to let ill health ruin my happiness. So without a plan & just a faint idea of my destination I boarded a train to Delhi; threw away all my medicines & swore to myself about never using them again. After sleeping for 12 hours straight in Pahargunj, Delhi – my road trip started & I boarded a bus from ISBT Kashmere Gate in Delhi to Haridwar and onward to Rishikesh.
There was a chill in the air as it was the first week of January. I dragged my bags across the Ram Jhula to arrive at Parmarth Niketan Ashram before darkness descended. I was almost denied entry at the ashram but I guess fate had a role to play when a kind man inside the office of Parmarth Niketan gave me the keys to the room.
Imagine yourself sitting in peace on the banks of the Ganges (or holy Ganga for the purists) with a thin veil of mist shrouding the evening; listening to the soothing sounds of gurgling waters & add to that the mellifluous chants of the soulful Ganga Aarti with the Himalayas in the far distance. Spirituality had not yet had its tryst with me due to the mundane affairs of daily life. As they say ’When the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ My moment had arrived then.
Closing your eyes and getting swayed in the chants of the aarti with the heartrending voice of the guru is possibly the most divine experience anyone can have. It is an indescribable happy high & enlightened feeling, like an unending crescendo of uplifting trance! I wished the Ganga Aarti would never end; for it was like being brought back to earth from heaven itself! The meditation class proved to be a tough nut to crack with most of us having never tried it earlier.
On the first day, everybody had smiles on their faces & tears streaming down their eyes by the end of a 30 minute session. It was quite surprising to know that this was a sort of inner cleansing. Come second week, natural detox had resulted in zen-like inner peace. I was joined by a handful of other folks in Parmarth Niketan; mostly foreigners from different countries. It was an eye-opener to have unhindered conversations about life as travellers bared their hearts to strangers.
I had been humming Scorpions’ ‘Send me an angel’ on the repeat mode since Christmas. The universe responded and how! There I met Nicole from Copenhagen and had an instant soul connection. When we parted ways, she drew me a tattoo & said ‘remember each other till it lasts.’ Fellow travellers from across the world had become everlasting friends.
Rishikesh literally means ‘Lord of Senses’ (Sanskrit translation) & is rightfully called the ‘yoga capital of the world’. Ganga River is the holiest river for Hindus and it flows right through Rishikesh.
Why is Rishikesh so popular among hippies & travellers?
Rishikesh shot to prominence in the late 1960s when The Beatles visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram for meditation & wrote most parts of ‘The White Album’ at the Ashram. Subsequently, hordes of westerners followed their footsteps and came searching for peace & enlightenment to gave birth to the offbeat hippie holiday trail.
Expert Tip from 2014 : To get inside The Beatles Ashram, jump in from the side walls, as the gates are usually closed due to it lying within the Rajaji National Park. The lucky ones stumble upon impromptu jam sessions held in the hall known as ‘The Cathedral’. Explore an array of graffiti on the walls made by travellers from around the world. Thank me later!
At the ashram; Sasha from Kazan in Russia was trying to get a sim card but was having a lot of trouble doing so due to the language barrier. I helped him in getting it but would strongly recommend reading this ‘How to get a Sim card in India‘ post by Rachel.
2 weeks at Parmarth Niketan in the non-touristy part of Rishikesh had transformed me from being sick; to fit as a fiddle. It was time to head northward to the high Himalaya and ‘reclaim my life’. The next leg of my journey would take me to McLeodganj and then to see more snow in Manali.
As Rumi says : ‘And you. When will you begin that long journey into yourself?’
I knew I had begun mine.
Have you ever had a life changing travel experience?
Practical Information :
Buses from Delhi to Haridwar/Rishikesh are very frequent and run from the ISBT Kashmere Gate in Delhi. Parmarth Niketan Ashram is located on the other side of the Ganga river in Rishikesh. It is best to reserve accommodation in advance at Parmarth Niketan Ashram as it has become known as the best Yoga and Meditation Ashram in Rishikesh and sought after over the years. You can connect with them on email or by calling the phone number mentioned on the website.