It's 4:45 p.m. and I am sitting on the banks of the River Ganges close to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram with my feet submerged in the Holy water, listening to the 'Walk Of Life'- Dire Straits (on repeat of course!). It's a day after Diwali, and suddenly I have this urge to jot or scribble down my thoughts as to what an incredible Diwali I've had (and I am not even talking about bursting crackers or eating sumptuous dishes or sweets!), about the strangers and the hippies I've met, the places I have been the entire day. My day began waking up at the Forest Rest House. Yes! 'THE FOREST REST HOUSE'. This is just one of the many gratifications you are entitled to when you go on a holiday with your relatives who work for the Government. Anyways, after careful thinking/judgement and checking out the capacity of my wallet (which interestingly has more business cards than cash!), I decide to go solo for the day, rather become a 'Hippie'.
Forest Rest House
So, after packing all the necessities (water bottle, hood, wayfarer and a camera) in my backpack, I navigate through the forest corridors and in a zest, try to find my own shortcuts to the general mass. After getting lost amongst the woods (for most of the next 60 minutes) and finally finding my way out in between the Homo-Sapiens, I head towards the 'Ram Jhula'. (Ram Jhula is an iron suspension bridge situated at 'Muni Ki Reti' in Rishikesh and built in the 1986, over River Ganges to cross the river and is a landmark of Rishikesh.) On my way I encounter this clean stretch of concrete tiles which was kissing the Ganges and decide to spend some time there and just soak in to the sound of the river flowing through and hear the morning chants echoing from the temples close by.
One can sit around for ages accompanied by the sounds of the conch shells and the pleasant aarti sounds
For someone who loves staring at the sheer beauty of the nature and watch the time flow by, this was ecstasy. After spending some time here, off I embark towards Ram Jhula and more importantly exploring the town ( I guess it's all about reaching the destination, not just merely arriving at it ;) ).
Accompanied by the nascent winter sun and the soothing winds, I arrive at the Ram Jhula. I walk through it. The bridge is narrow, with people entering and exiting (from the same side) and even the bikes and animals commuting through it, it's sure is an engineering marvel!
Though similar in design, this bridge is bigger than Lakshman Jhula.
The walk of life I guess??
Once you enter the other side of the bridge, there is a Plethora of ashrams and ghats. But the catch of the eye is the 'Parmath Niketan Ashram' or more popularly known as 'The Beatles Ashram'. The place where the Fab Four had come to seek solace and catch their inner self's long long time ago.
It's about 500 meters from where the 'Jhula' ends. And one gets to see the many facets of the Hindu culture along the way. There are sadhus that are so immersed in their meditation that you get connected to them in the most pious of ways. There are shops selling scented mala's and religious books and not even for a second one gets tired browsing through all this. For one, who grew up on the narrowed streets with small decorated shops of the lore, this was all but mesmerizing.
View from the other end of the 'Ram Jhula'
This is the point one gets to when one has crossed the bridge either on foot or ferry.
On my way to Parmarth Niketan, I plan to hog at the famous 'Chotiwala' restaurant (a piece of advice to the readers- do try out their Thali!). This is a family run restaurant by a family dedicated to serving Northern Indian, South Indian, Chinese and many other International Cuisines for the past 50 years.
The restaurant made famous by the 'actual CHOTIWALA'S'. Yes! they paint their faces and sit there all day long and get paid for that! Not to mention that the tourists die to get their photographs clicked with the man! Best job in the world??
Once I had tanked up my tummy, 'The Beatles Ashram' was all that had the small boy in me excited all about. Growing up (although I came across their music quite late), I'd always heard stories about 'The Fab Four'. The music royalty that they were. The assassination of John Lennon. Stories about Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison. Their stories on their way to stardom is what stuffs of legends are made of and they also inspire small town folks like me to dream big and pursue dreams no matter how silly they sound. I reached the ashram and got flabbergasted not that because The Beatles had stayed there, NO! But because of the stunning architecture that greeted me. The neatly trimmed grasses and the vibrance is what captured my imagination!
The Peace Tower in the background
Parmarth Niketan is built on the banks of the River Ganges. The ashram is as lively as its guru Pujya Swamiji, who is a wildcard to draw people to the ashram in itself. Swamiji does not shy away from the spotlight, trotting all over the globe to speak on yoga, ayurveda and related fields. However, he has a huge following in the West as is evident by the wide number of Western devotees who throng along the ashram premises clad in dhotis/white suits et all. Parmarth Niketan is an avalanche of emotions, vibrance and experience. With its 1000+ rooms and the extremely lip smacking food (sadly, i did not lay my hands upon any of it. But that's what the locals told me.), the ashram is also home to the world famous annual 'International Yoga Festival' in which different types of yoga are taught by renowned Yoga gurus from around the world. Built right on the banks of the River Ganges, the ashram is the perfect place for yoga, redemption and people-watching. Plus, there are no time boundations, so the visitors can come and go as they please. This concept is much welcoming and is a paradigm shift in the change of guard from the traditional ashrams. A typical day at the ashram ends by wandering down the tiled steps on the wide platform that is built right onto the Ganges for the daily Ganga Aarti and watch the dazzling sun extinguish its blaze in the river. No wonder this is the place where The Beatles famously studied under their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The shadows from the trees are a relief in the summer
A sure relief from the chaos and it's world!
After being enchanted for a while now, I had to move on. This is life. So, I made a promise to myself that one day i will return for the proper goodbye.
Now, the Sah onto the next destination, clinging and clanging with my backpack. I head towards the 'Lakshman Jhula' (It is said that Lakshmana crossed Ganges on jute ropes between the place where this bridge is built). The Jhula is approximately 2.3 km from the Parmarth Niketan (via Swargashram). You can hire a scooty at Rs. 300 for the day or just walk and explore and experience things first hand! I decide on the latter.
On my way to the Swarg Ashram promenade
People from different cultures are usually seen thronging the road
The 'Swarg Ashram Marg' (although long) is a beautiful boulevard and a perfect place for the morning jog. It's a quite stretch with beautiful trees for company and if lucky, you get to see the peacock's in the forests running parallel to the road.
Ishq Ka rang neela hai?
It's a great way to spend the day walking to and fro on this road, but beware and protect your bag and food from the monkeys and langoors that loiter gang-like on the roadside. Although you can still risk it by sitting right next to them, arm in arm- maybe for a selfie or a Facebook profile picture! How?? Guts bro guts!
Who's photobombing whom?
After stopping in between just to have the wind blow my brains off and the sweet music of the nature, I reach my destination. I could see people vying for selfies and sipping a cup of tea. And then there were the langoors, only this time they were more concerned about the moments to preen and promenade for the cameras following decades of practice and patience.
These days the ever rowdy Langoors seem more gentle than the Humans
P.S: The date and time on the cybershot does not make a good case for my wording on the early morning? Does it?
I walked and clicked. Only stopping on the way to feel the breeze over my face (I had my Titanic moment with the winds in between though!). I watched the Ganges flow beneath me and in complete awe of its power and the myth surrounding it. Its surreal. You have to thank your stars for being there! At that very moment. The wind hitting your forehead is something out of the world. You just had to let yourself into it. It can't be explained, it can be just felt. Standing right in the middle of the bridge, you feel as if you are the cynosure of the Gods!. At every step, you feel, you learn something that cannot be taught by the text- books in schools, colleges. Neither you have to be the CEO of a top notch company or be the absolute bonkers rich Arab of the Middle East. You just have to be you and cut loose!!
There is something magical about this place, something brews everyday. Trust me you ought to explore this place alone!. And by alone, i mean ALONE!. Switch of your cell- phones just for a day, keep your girlfriend(s) at bay and explore this place! The tag of 'The Yoga Capital Of The World' is no overstatement. Rishikesh is more than just gateway to the Himalayas, River-Rafting, Bungee jumping and Yoga! It's the soul of the city that leaves an ever lasting impact on you.
I was so overridden with emotions that I decided to take the same route back and to the Ghats, to sit there- just sit and watch the Ganges flow and the time pass away.
Remember when you were young, you shone like the Sun. Shine on you crazy diamond!.....(Pink Floyd anyone??)
Thus, This is how my Diwali was spent! exploring, clicking and although the festival of lights did not have any tangible, ritzy presents for me but after experiencing Rishikesh do I need it??. So, I think that it is safe to say that Rishikesh is to Yoga and peacefulness what New York is to skyscrapers, Wimbledon is to Tennis, Old Trafford is to Manchester United and Partying is to Las Vegas!. Although for some inexplicable reason I was sad to leave the place. Similar to as how a jilted lover would react. Rishikesh connects you to corners, places, views and people we would generally look past. I for particular felt connected to their journey, their stories and most importantly to RISHIKESH!
My day ends at Parmarth Niketan where the Diwali celebrations begin by addressing the Gods right onto the banks of Ganges.
Here people just do not care how they look or what their wardrobe is!. People are polite, super friendly and they give you your space. Late in the evening, after sitting for a while on the banks of the Ganges, I go to witness the commencement of Diwali Puja. Although I did not participate much in the proceedings, I chose a spot a bit further from there, where there was no one, covered my head with the hood and looked up at the sky which was full of stars...................
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain