Tuesday, 4 October 2011

2,3,4 October 2011: Rishikesh

Cabs from Haridwar to Rishikesh were expensive, and I couldn't figure out how to navigate the bus station since all of the signs were in Hindu, so I opted to take a Vikram to Rishikesh. 

The ride was rough and jarring, but the scenery more than made up for it. We quickly started gaining elevation as we entered a valley at the base of the Himalyan foothills. Parts of the drive were densely forested and apparently rife with wildlife.

I had the driver drop me off in downtown Rishikesh and then went into a restaurant to get my bearings. I had my first disappointing meal. The restaurant didn't have a menu so the server verbally told me what was available. I had a hard time understanding him, and he me. I consequently ended up with plain (read flavorless) naan and a bowl of curd. Bland. But it cost less than $1, so I wasn't too upset. 

While studying my map, I realized that I was quite far from the area where I thought the school would be and I didn't feel like walking with my pack. I took a Rickshaw to the other end of town. The yoga school is on the opposite side of the Ganges from Rishikesh proper. The two sides are connected by a footbridge.
View from the bridge. It's always overcast. My camera doesn't do the mountains justice. It's so green and lush.
I crossed the bridge and checked into my cheapest hotel yet: $5. Even though there aren't any road names that I'm aware of here, I had a rough sense of where the school was located. I started heading in its general direction and found it.

I went inside and there were already lots of people milling about. The receptionist told me that I was just in time and that orientation would start in 5 minutes. What dumb luck! I paid my fees and went up to the yoga hall for the orientation, which was really more like an initiation. We watched a puja: lots of chanting and candles and incense. Then we were painted with a red a tilaka and several grains of rice were affixed to the wet paint. Red strings were tied around our wrists. We then ate a devotional candy made of chickpea flour, sugar, and ghee. After that we gathered around the altar (to Saraswati, goddess of wisdom) and individually approached the shrine to swing a Hindu candelabra in front of an image of the goddess. We were then blessed with smoke from the same flames.

After that, there was a brief talk that introduced us to the program. People had arrived days earlier. I didn't realize this. I decided to stay there for the night as classes started at 6 a.m. I needed to pick up my pack at the other hotel first, though. By this time it was 1900. I thought I might be able to make it back by 2000 for dinner. My mental map was faulty, though, and I ended up getting very lost. I finally oriented myself at a neighborhood about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. I felt a bit panicky, but eventually made it back to my hotel. I decided not to brave another night walk, and instead stayed the night in my hotel, leaving at 0500 so as to arrive at the school in time to unpack and start the day.

My room at the school is nice. A big bed, a desk and cabinet, a western toilet, a sink and a shower. I had my first hot shower since arriving in India. The electricity is fickle (it's gone on and off five times since I started writing), but I don't mind.

Here's the daily schedule at the school Monday through Saturday:

0600: Tea
0615: Neti pot
0630: Mantra chanting, asana (physical yoga), meditation
0830: Breakfast
0930: Philosophy
1130: Anatomy
1300: Lunch and break
1730: Mantra chanting, asana, meditation
2000: Dinner

Sundays are free days. I've been talking to some of the girls (I think there are three guys total) about arranging a long day hike one of these Sundays. I think I'll also take a cooking class. That'll be fun!

The long midday break is great. Yesterday I napped because I was absolutely exhausted. Today I went into town and took some passport photos I needed. A local man stamped a bindi onto my forehead for free!

A family stopped me and asked me to meet there little girl. I bought a bar of soap and received a free bag of spices. Being fair and Western makes me both a freak and a sort of celebrity.
The cows are petite.
So far I'm pleased with my experience of the school. The foods good and clean. I'll start taking pictures. I'm so glad to be eating raw fruits and vegetables again. It's all quite light and very healthy. We also get three free glasses of tea a day. I'm hooked on the lemon-ginger-honey variety. We're starting at a very fundamental level with regards to the yoga and will build upon that. I like the teaching methodology and am looking forward to watching my practice grow over the coming weeks. It feels good to be in a structured environment, and I hope I can institute many of the routines I'm establishing here once I'm back home.

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