On the night of the Indian holiday Diwali, festival of lights, Nidhi taught me to make a Rangoli, often know as a Mandala. We drew out the lines, then sprinkled colored rice and semolina flour mixed with finely powdered dye inside the pattern to create what became a beautiful flowerlike design. We lined it with marigolds and lit candles around it that night and in the morning it was washed away, as mandalas always are, a tribute to impermanence and non-attachement.
We walked past the Chai stands and waking Sadhus in the street, down a dirt path littered with discarded things and interrupted by tiny rivers, to the gate of the Mahesh Maharishi Ashram . In 1968 The Beatles studied transcendental meditation at the ashram, bringing attention to Rishikesh from the West that would last well beyond the years of the ashram its self. It closed in 1997, and became a part of the National Park bordering Rishikesh. The many meditation pods and dormitories, as well as the personal home of Maharishi are now historical relics covered with art, vines, and lines from Beatles songs. It may be trespassing, and the threat of the guards was hot on our minds, but the place is alluring. We spent 2 early morning hours inside the overgrown walls. When I walked into the small temple with walls covered in stones from the Ganga, I felt a strange sensation travel down my spine. It wasn’t unpleasant, it just made me careful, Made me mindful amongst the splintered wood and broken glass.
Around half past five, people walk to the sandy bends of the Ganga, India’s sacred river, to pray, and to offer a blessing to the water. I have watched Aarti a few times, but this time I participated and bought my own 10 rupee leaf-woven basket of flowers from a young girl. She lit the small candle for me and I stepped into the cool water and silently said a prayer and expressed my gratitude for recent experiences. The young girl stood with me, protecting the flame from the wind till it was out of reach, part of the river. Another experience to be grateful for.
Another Sunday, I went to the very public weekly Aarti at an Ashram in Ram Jhula, with ghats to the Ganges. There were speakers from Organic India talking about the new laws protecting the riverside from development and the plans to plant organic fruit trees and other sustainable plants that will help prevent erosion and provide sustenance for those living nearby. A group of young boys, were enthusiastically chanting mantras and Hindi songs as the candles were lit and passed around the glowing crowd. After the speeches and songs people knelt and said their pujas at the waters edge, splashing themselves with the holly water and offering flowers and candles to carry their prayers downstream. An older woman showed me how to swing the candle properly and dripped the cool water on my forehead. It was an engaging ritual, very heartfelt.
The blessing a construction site taking place in the bottom of one of the 5ft holes dug for the foundation.
Thinning the grass at Krishna Cottage in the early morning.
A Sadhu entering his temple home in Laxman Jhula.
Sunset from the banks of the Ganga.
Last week a I went on an excursion with friends to a small white temple in the Rishikesh hills. The ride was packed, and a few of us (myself included) who were sitting sideways in the way back became quite nauseous. The expanding valley outside our window was a viable distraction. We walked through a bit of brush then up 300 steep, narrow white steps to Temple. The view was peaceful, no urbanization, just quaint villages and lovely, verdant mountains. The priest was a slight, friendly man who shared mantras and gave us scrumptious, crumbly treats. The temple was dedicated to these four Hindu gods, Durga, Kali, Ganesh, and Shiva, and inside was a statue of each, bathed in color and covered with intricate patterns. They represent the value in prosperity, destruction, abundance, and rebirth.
Last week my friend Sonia from Serbia, and I met these children while hiking near Rishikesh. Their family lived simply, seemingly the only family atop this steep mountainside. The eldest daughter smiled widely at us and spoke shyly, but the younger two, who, along with their mother seemed more Nepalese than Indian, would not break their pensive glare. The word stoic reverberated in my head as Sonia talked to them in her warm way, trying to draw laughter from their pursed lips.
In Hindi Jharanā means waterfall. Last Sunday a group of us Yoga students went on a hike to the construction site of the Ashram being built for Peeth Yoga training in a few years. Along the trail there happens to be a short detour to an amazing waterfall. In my life I have experienced many breathtaking waterfalls in Hawaii and the West Coast, and this one made the ranks. I was unable to take my camera to the most mystical part that was only seen by 4 of us because it involved climbing up slippery algae covered surfaces and passing under curtains of falling water. That unseen part was the most special for me, maybe next time I’ll protect my camera and share it.
Just beyond the city of Rishikesh there is a river town split in half by two bridges, Ram Jhula to the West and Laxman Jhula to the East. I am living on the third floor of an apartment in Ram Jhula that resemples the color of key lime pie. Between the two parts of town, a footpath winds along the Ganges, or the Ganga as people call it here. In those two kilometers I have come across gangs of boys romping in the Ganga, artists painting quietly, schoolchildren walking home holding hands, women singing and dancing in Puja, and many others that I hope to never forget. These images will be my safeguard for remembrance.
Today marked the end of my first week in India. On the first morning I barely made the train to Haridwar, sat in the wrong AC, and ended up sharing a compartment with five older Indian men who quickly behaved like my band of Uncles, sharing their chapati with me and trying to talk despite my inability to speak Hindi and their inability to speak English. One of them bought me a small Masala Chai, my first in India, and it was delicious. In Haridwar I went to Har Ki Pairi Ghat around 7am to watch thousands of people bathe in the Ganges and offer puja with more fervor than usual in honor of the new moon. The Ashram I stayed at was like a small haven from the craziness, right along a quiet part of the river where there were no people, just cows. I spent two days there then taxi’d to Rishikesh where I have been practicing yoga four hours a day. I’ve met amazing people thus far, on our first day together we bushwhacked our way to Neer Ghar Waterfall, were blessed in Mahadev Temple, and indulged in mango lassies. This is a taste of my beginning here. Enjoy.