Still My Guitar Gently Weeps

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/07/25/rishikesh/

kevollier.com Rishikesh. The Beatles

Rishikesh before the arrival of The Beatles in 1968 was pretty much unknown to Westerners but there is no doubting that it was indeed this visit by the Fab Four that put Rishikesh, Meditation and Yoga onto the current mainstream map.

The Beatles, simply put, is why Rishikesh is what it is today – the yoga capital of the world – and the number 1 spiritual backpacking destination on the planet – but – you wouldn’t know this when there. There are no shops selling Beatles memorabilia, and their songs from the White Album, which was mostly written in this town along with other of their tunes, are not blaring from every shop and coffee stop. There is a Beatles Cafe hidden away in an underground blaze of buildings outside of he main tourist zone but that’s it.

The greatest monument to The Beatles is not the Cavern Club in Liverpool nor is it the National Trust owned childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and neither is it Penny Lane or the zebra crossing in Abbey Road. It is the crumbling ashram that The Beatles briefly lived in with the Maharishi in Rishikesh. That’s the spot where the Beatles opened their hearts and minds and in the case of Harrison and Lennon, were never closed again. It is the must visit antiquity for any fan of the Beatles but it has to be done soon because in 5 years it will be likely be gone as the jungle is taking it over – and fast.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles became interested in Indian culture after using drugs in an effort to expand their consciousness and in 1966 Harrison visited India for 6 weeks and took sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar.
The band’s visit was one of the their most productive periods. Their interest in the Maharishi changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation to the rest of the world. They first met the Maharishi in London in August 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor Wales. They had planned to attend the entire 10-day session, but their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and made arrangements to spend time with him at his teaching center located in Rishikesh.

Along with their wives, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters, the Beatles arrived in India in February 1968, and joined the group of 60 people who were training to be TM teachers including musicians Donovan and Mike Love of The Beach Boys.

So today was an exciting day for me. We were going to find the ashram. Brought up on The Beatles – my mother tells me when I was born, and subsequently taken back to the ward, the first song I ever heard was ‘She Loves You’ as that was playing on the hospital ‘wireless’. I was even born on September 19th, the same day as Brian Epstein (and Twiggy as it happens but that has no relevance) and I have known every word of every song, verbatim, since I was 7.

We had to ask where the ashram was, as it isn’t signed or mentioned anywhere yet every resident knows where it is. It is a mile down from the Swarg Ashram village, within Rishikesh, beyond where the path ends and forays into the edge of the jungle, or actually where the jungle forays towards town. Even 100 yards away, we had to ask some westerners where it was..

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The Ashram entrance

We were met at the gate by a local guide who was recommended by a departing scouse Indian couple. Then there was an entrance fee, of 5op each. The guide was invaluable. The first thing we learnt was that there were 121 two storey meditation pods circumnavigating the huge ashram where people were left to lose their minds. The Beatles had, wait for it….pod number 9 (explains a lot doesn’t it?)

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Number 9

We were taken to the levitation hall which looks like it was made from Chesil Beach and our guide assured us that levitation was a regular occurrence

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Taken on to the roof of a mediation room

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and into the collapsing and fascinating Yoga Hall which has been left to the graffiti artists and apparently the odd visiting Tiger…

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The weird thing was that if anywhere had a lingering spirit or ghost of the past then this was the place. The whole atmosphere of the ashram was haunting, a crumbling statue in time of the minds of people who were desperately  trying to get out of them and although I debated why it was that the local tourist trade were missing a trick by not opening this up and publicising, what is, such a culturally historic place, the part of the Earth where the Beatles went in search of God/Love/ Self, I also got the beautiful impermanence of it all, the earth itself grabbing back what is its from the footsteps of the greatest celebrities to have ever walked its soil.

Then going to the accommodation building which was that of the Beatles, and of course Prudence who simply wouldn’t come out to play, added a spine shiver. I swear if you were still enough, you could get back and be there, maybe, to where you once belonged

if you look carefully, you might see Lennon peeping out
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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

Rishikesh! Yoga capital of the world

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/07/02/beggars/

yoga rishikesh

The bus from hell pulled in at Dehra Dun at 5 in the morning and still being 10 miles from Rishikesh allowed taxi drivers to take advantage, or try to at least. They should understand that after the last 14 hours my inner yogi had gone awry and I was left with a strong case of the fuck it attitude. The greedy smiles of the drivers saying that ‘there is no other choice than to take our taxi as the first bus is 5 hours away’  found my yogi free body waving a finger at my face and saying ‘do I look bothered ?’ which was lost on them as I can’t imagine they knew who Vicky Pollard was. In fact, nobody we asked, and we asked a few after the shock of the first blank face, had ever even heard of Madonna, so Vicky had no chance.
Standing our ground the fare halved when all the other passengers had gone on their way and soon we arrived at our hotel in Rishikesh, waking the receptionist asleep on the floor behind the counter who, bless him, rounded up some sleepy staff and got our rooms ready.

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A few hours later we were up and out and immediately the senses were assaulted by more yoga posters than you could ever imagine. I confidently think that you could stay in Rishikesh a whole year going to a different yoga class each day without repeating one. The yoga posters though had stiff competition from the meditation posters. And it is a honey pot for westerners – most on month long courses and nearly all on a long term world hippy travel adventure – and of all ages – in fact the over 50’s were as abundant as the under 30’s.

We wandered down the narrow alleys to the first cafe – a chilled cushion seated affair called the Happy Buddha Cafe which afforded the first views of the Ganges. It maybe only a river in the same way the Himalayas are only a mountain range but breath is stripped from your body just the same.

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I struck up a conversation with an English threesome who were at the back end of a Sivananda yoga course, one I’ve never tried but their recommendation to do so will be acted upon. They told us of a circular walk that takes in all of Rishikesh so that’s what we decided to do. Heading off we soon came to the defining Lakshman Jhula pedestrian suspension bridge but spotting, what truly has to be, one of the best sited people watching cafes in the world, the Devraj Coffee Corner and Bookshop hovering above it, we decided to have another rest – this time a Honey Lemon Ginger tea was the order of the moment to watch the constant drama unfold below.

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To say this is a pedestrian bridge is pushing it to say the least. The only thing not allowed on it, and only because it isn’t wide enough, are cars and trucks.  Motorbikes and scooters cross it and it seems as long as you ‘peep’ it’s ok to kill a pedestrian. I assume a death resulting from no peeping results in prosecution.  But ‘peep’ doesn’t adequately describe the murder inducing sound that is emitted. Along with the motorbikes and scooters, also jostling to cross are cows, buffalos, dogs, the odd donkey and every sort of human alive, and constantly, the very naughty monkeys, who, looking all cute at first glance, are jumping down on to the bridge and then literally stalking and then grabbing and ripping any bags not held against a chest. There is no movie worth watching that is as enthralling and dramatic as the live action of Lakshman Jhula bridge.

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Once one runs the gauntlet of this crossing you come into the area that is itself Lakshman Jhula. To picture this imagine the Green Fields’ cafes of Glastonbury Festival crossed with the High Street of Glastonbury town with a splattering of ashrams to a backdrop of Himalayan foothills and a turbulent Ganges running through it all, accompanied by scents of Patchouli, Sandalwood and Hashish with yoga and meditation being the main stay of business.
One word.
Go!

 

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more posts on Rishikesh to follow…..

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

 

The Karma of Gay Abandon

Before this India trip a neighbour informed me that he’d never get on to a bus in India where the driver believes in reincarnation. I recalled this statement less than one hour in.

The day had started with a tad of tension which as the day and night went by descended further.
We’d taken a taxi from McLeod Ganj down to Dharmasala bus station where we were to pick up the 14 hour overnight deluxe coach to Rishikesh. 
Leaving McLeod was slightly throat aching, reminiscent of those past holidays where you say goodbye to a place where a great time was had.

We had an hour to spare at the station and the first thing I did was to go to the ticket office and pointlessly ask what platform our coach was to depart from. They never tell you unless waving their hand in a dismissive manner is a signal.

The small station shop was selling pop and water and so I went to get some refreshments and it was then that I made the mistake I never thought I’d make. As I removed my wallet a small kid of about 4 years old ran over with his hand outstretched. He found me in a moment of compassion, having just been surrounded by Buddhist monks for 4 days, and as the note was out, I gave it to him – 50 rupees (50p). Before I’d had time to put my wallet away an army of very small children surrounded me, hung to my legs, gripped my shirt and made me the amusement of the whole station and so I took them to meet my family and we all started repeating the word ‘No’ verbatim with accompanying head shakes, that, on reflection, may have made us look like an odd cult.

The families they were with were camped out on the station floor and only admonished their child beggars when they went back empty handed it seemed. Amongst all this, a beautiful puppy was looking for safety from the kids who were doing their very best to terrorise it. It chose well in picking under our chairs to take refuge and he was loved and cuddled and how I wished we could take him with us.

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I was taken away from this puppy reverie by an elderly member of staff telling me that our bus was in. I turned to follow his pointing finger and then turned back to explain that we actually have a deluxe coach and this isn’t our bus. He assured me in a rather vengeful manner that it was our bus, so I showed him our ticket and he brushed it off and said ‘your bus’.  As the bus to Rishikesh was to leave in less than 10 minutes I went back to the ticket office ‘allowing’ three people to barge in front, before spreading myself across the ticket window. I carefully explained that we have a deluxe coach. He replied, whilst pointing at the same vehicle the other guy had and said ‘your bus, deluxe’. I had to assume that this wasn’t his first day and he’d know what a deluxe bus looked like but on this occasion he was mistaken. He replied to this suggestion, and rather too gleefully for my liking, ‘deluxe, deluxe, only bus to Rishikesh until tomorrow’. I had to accept that as the bus route and the destination and the time of departure all matched that on the ticket that I’d booked 3 months previously, that this was indeed our 14 hour overnight bus. I informed the other two members of my family of this and I think the exact words my son used were ‘you fucked up this time dad’ – and he was right.

This was the sort of bus that was running, woefully, in Manchester in the fifties.  Air con was supplied by the windows that had an automatic slide mechanism which worked by them sliding forwards only to slam shut on every brake of the bus and to slide backwards and slam open on every acceleration, which essentially means 20 times a minute.  The seats were very, very shiny, and they weren’t leather or plastic, and as the bus began to move it shook as if it had square wheels. It shook as if every nut and bolt was hanging on by a thread. I felt my first measure of total discomfort before it had even left the bus station and had resigned myself to the fact that sleep would not be something that would occur.

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The actual ‘deluxe coach’

We were then told that the beggar children had got hold of the puppy and had thrown it violently down a set of stairs. The sadness this filled me with made me angry as it must have surely died and the thought that went through my mind was that the beggars had virtually guaranteed their rebirth as a dog in India.

My mood was jolted sideways when the driver, a maniac even by Indian standards, having dared to do 007 manoeuvres on very winding mountain roads, with infinite drops, hit the brakes, and skidded across the highway narrowly missing wiping out an ambulance on an emergency call. Once we’d all removed our heads from the very, very shiny headrests in front we consoled ourselves that had he hit it, we would have at least got instant medical attention, had the crew survived themselves. This was 15 minutes into the 14 hour journey. We were later joined on the bus as dusk fell by several large families of mosquitos taking advantage of the automatic windows.

But there’s only one thing you can do in a situation like this.
Switch off your mind, relax and float down stream.

At the halfway stage the driver stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ where we got talking to our fellow passengers all of whom were Indian. One guy said he does this journey, 10 hours from Dharmasala to his drop off point,  twice a week to commute to work –a return journey I might add! After staring at him speechless for a long unbelieving while I asked if all the drivers are as bad as this one and I was reliably informed that they are not and ‘this one is crazy, the worst driver I’ve known’.

Lucky us.

 

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

see also

‘I am not a Buddhist….’ https://kevollier.com/2014/06/14/i-am-not-a-buddhist/

‘In Search of Gandhi’ https://kevollier.com/2014/04/14/north-india-in-23-days-day-2-in-search-of-gandhi-part-1/

Glastonbury to Delhi

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After our last trip to India in 2012 we decided not to ever again sleep overnight on chairs at Gatwick or any other airport and so we booked in at a nearby Gatwick Hotel which is a 10 minute shuttle from the hotel door to the North Terminal.
The staff here were lovely but for all its neon promise of decadence the room was, in a word, shit. The bed, when one sat up straight in it with one’s back against the wall (there was no headboard besides it being London in the 21st century), rolled away towards the door. The one pillow seemed to be stuffed with itching powder and, as the walls were no thicker than white washed kleenex, it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the thoughts of our young neighbours – neighbours, it turned out, that were on a school trip from Brookside, just 2 miles from Glastonbury.

All flights were on time and once again Emirates proved to be real value for money. Their economy class would match business class on many other airlines. The seats are spaced so that in the event of a crash you would actually be able to get your head on to your knees rather than up against the head rest of the seat in front of you and as I practice Yoga I knew I’d have no trouble in going as far to be able to kiss my arse goodbye if the moment called for it.  This leg of the journey took 6 hours which the three of us whiled away watching movies. There was an hour to kill at Dubai airport which we did in a Costa before getting the connection to Delhi, a trip of 3 hours.

Arriving in Delhi at 2am to the amazing Mudra walled arrivals building everything was going swimmingly until we met the queue for passport control

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We stood in line watching the queue we’d thought about joining diminish at least, I had time to work out, five times faster than ours. After a whole hour and having only 5 people in front of us, we swapped queues. This was a silent protest at the imbecilic official that had converted mild mannered travellers in front of us into potential terrorists. I was particularly anxious as I’d mislaid (turns out, lost) the phone number and address of the small hotel down a side-street that we’d booked and there was supposed to be a driver waiting. Had he gone home, all I knew was the small hotel down a side-street’s name and in the biggest city in India, I knew we could be in trouble and at 3am. We were in 20th position in our new queue but still we went through passport stamping before one other person had moved in the other.

Suffice to say our backpacks were just being loaded onto the Delhi lost persons presumed dead trolley when we arrived and thankfully the wonderful driver from our booked hotel had waited all this time who by now was nonchalantly waving a board with ‘OLLIER’ across it to anyone who would listen. I’d use the word ‘relieved’ to describe his reaction but I might have been mistaken as I think he also had given us up for or wishing we were dead.

At 4am he delivered us to ‘The Tree of Life’ and our second India adventure had begun, this one with our adult son along for the ride – and what a time was about to be had………

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/