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/

 

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I am not a Buddhist – McLeod Ganj

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/05/10/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj/

‘I am not a Buddhist’ were words I heard myself uttering at the end of our three day stay in the home of the Dalai Lama – the town of Mcleod Ganj not the big man’s house itself of course.

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We dropped our backpacks into the Pink House Hotel, had a hearty breakfast of Mango Lassi, Chocolate and Banana pancakes and a Tulsi Tea and then went off to discover the town. After just 100 yards I was approached by a woman with a baby who told me that she didn’t want money, just food, for her starving child. How could one possibly refuse? –  so I was led back the way I’d come, to a shop. It was at this time I realised that I’d become part of a scam I hadn’t come across before. The shopkeeper was well prepared for me as I assume the woman must do this as many times a day as she can get away with. The choice offered was rice or/and milk and I decided to pay my dumb dues and pick rice – at 400 rupees a bag which I later found was about 350 rupees too much. I guess that she gets a small commission and the shop owner, Mr Robin Bastard, gets the rest. I left muttering inner ffs’s and started back up the road only to met by another woman and a baby. I couldn’t tell if it was the same woman and baby and I entertained the prospect that today might actually be groundhog day. This time I said No. I learn fast.

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Apart from gangs of babies clutched by women, McLeod is brimming with purple robed Buddhist monks and nuns and a hefty mix of dreadlocked Ohm wearers who fill the many groovy cafes and funky restaurants.

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Most of the population are Tibetan non-monk refugees fleeing the on-going Obama and Cameron ignored  atrocities of the Chinese which has been on-going since 1960 when the first refugees came and still do to this day.

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Tibetans outnumber the Indians by at least 5 to 1

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All of the buildings are built in Tibetan style which include the residence of the Dalai, the Tibetan Childrens Village, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute and hundreds more. I wasn’t sure about the Astrological one as I’m a Virgo and it’s a known Virgo trait not to believe in Astrology. There is the Library of Tibetan Works and countless yoga and meditation centres. It was in Mcleod Ganj that I discovered what I assume must be a Tibetan delicacy – French Toast. Everywhere does it and they all compete for taste. This is not Eggy bread, this is French Toast – the names don’t even sound similar.

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What surprised me here was being in a restaurant and monks ordering chicken. I was always under the impression that sentient beings weren’t supposed to be eaten and apparently the Buddha himself died choking on pork which might have been his very last lesson on the pitfalls of eating a fellow sentient. But more than that, from what I understand, a monk dons his robes to renounce the world, but I didn’t encounter one who wasn’t holding a smartphone or an ipad where, rather than renounce the world, you can access all of it, 24/7 which makes becoming a monk bloody easy in my opinion.

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I always wonder what Christ would think, if he came back, and allegedly he’s supposed to, of all the churches built in his name, each one with his murder hanging from every arch and alter and I do wonder what Buddha would think of all the golden statues of him, some small with holes in his head to hold joss sticks, some so big to rival a cathedral.
At least the Buddhists don’t have his everlasting image as a guy trying to cough up some bacon, so he got a better deal than Jesus.
And where does it say that to understand the teachings of the big B one has to shave one’s heads or don robes or prostate?
It doesn’t.
The philosophy and teachings of a tuned in being, once again, have been lost or side stepped into a religion of ritual – yet another case of fingers pointing at the moon.

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The Dalai Lama was in residence when we were there, though I think he was having a lie-in and indeed the temples are certainly very  impressive – as buildings and as symbols of devotion, and all of it with the majestic and mystical snowy peaks of the Himalayas as a back drop. It is a magical town.

Visiting India? You might not come back…

well I haven’t! –  although my body is definitely in the UK, It seems I left something of me in India and possibly the best bit and for my sanity I’m going to have to go back and retrieve it or just go back .

It’s a cliché I heard so often, before what was our first ever sojourn into the land of the enlightenment of Buddha and the birthplace of yoga, the stomping ground of Gandhi, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama, the best chai tea on Earth that ‘you never come back the same as you went’ and I’d agree.

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Going to India is not a ‘holiday’ in the seaside and sangria sense unless you find yourself in the sticky honey trap of the distraction that is Goa which to some, however, is a tidy balance of seaside and sangha. In this short life I’ve travelled through Europe, the US and Canada, been into Africa and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and even ventured daringly and more than once into the depths of Wales (think Borneo with sheep) and all of them are very different to England but always, and without exception, it felt that we were on holiday even though we avoid most of the tourist traps  but India for me was like ( another cliché) returning home to a distant memory that fills (just one more cliché) the heart with unbridled joy. It immediately felt like I’d always been there and that I’d just popped out to have a life as an Englishman to see what that must be like.

About a week after returning  I found myself sat in the car in the local High Street waiting for one of the family to return from a self-imposed errand, and whilst  witnessing the passing scene, the only thought that came up, projected or otherwise was ‘lifeless’. A grey stepfordian, freezing turkey, comedown, drudge of lifelessness. And I realised then that what India has, projected or otherwise, is life-force.

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I began missing the beeping horns, the colours, and smells and of course stinks, the abstract poverty wearing a smile alongside the newfound western inspired consumerism wearing a frown. I missed the endless tuk tuks, the clever scams, cows and goats and cats and dogs and monkeys wandering ignored everywhere. I missed that all you had to do when a curious local stares at you, which they do, is  not to look away but to smile and be reciprocated with the sunniest of faces. Subsequently I smiled a lot, and at everyone and everyone smiled back.  🙂

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I imagine for some it’s a culture shock too far. It’s definitely a long way from most westerners’ comfort zones which explains why so many congregate in AC coffee shops. But for me it put the western world into a Orwellian perspective that modern India is desperately currently trying to emulate, much to its loss – though somehow I think it will take a long time – possibly long enough to be able to attend the funeral of the dying world of capitalism.

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see the other ‘Visiting India?’ blogs in the Visiting India category

How to Avoid Delhi Belly

The qualification for daring to write such a blog is that we recently spent three weeks travelling through Southern India on dirty, sardine packed buses, on trains that were so unclean that even the flies got off at each stop, to cafes without adequate sanitation such as running water from the one tap in the loo with no paper with the one toilet which might flush if your luck was in.

We ate and drank well, we didn’t wear plague suits and none of us got even slightly ill.

We could have just been very, very lucky as over 70% of all visitors to India succumb to the DB or it could be because we had a disciplined regime that we adhered to, what Buddhists might refer to as mindfulness – and that is the first thing you must have – especially in India.  If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys every five minutes then go to Disneyland or Center Parcs instead.

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I was given lots of advice about the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ for months before the trip. None of it however was how to actually avoid it but what to do when you inevitably get it which included, ‘take lots of Immodium’ and  ‘if you’re not better within 48 hours go and see a doctor’ – the latter advice has to be noted. We met a frantic girl whose boyfriend had been losing weight at an accelerating weight she said for over three days and she needed to go to Goa. We said that he needed to go to a doctor and not the Dr Pepper sort she was buying to hydrate him.

The best bit of really bad advice I was given was, ‘you’re going to get it whatever you do, so you may as well, as soon as you get there, drink a few pints of water straight from the taps and get it over with’ – DO NOT DO THIS. The favourite tip I collected and one I did put in to my top pocket was, ‘don’t travel on buses with it, as they don’t have toilets and they don’t stop’ – a combination, I admit, that I wouldn’t like to put to the test.

So, here is a list I complied mentally in the quieter moments on the long train rides;

Don’t expect immunity by staying or more particularly eating in 4 and 5 star hotels or restaurants. Eating at a 5 star and expecting to stay DB free is like buying a Volvo for safety reasons and then constantly pulling out at junctions in front of oncoming traffic thinking the side impact bars are made of armoured iron. We all know those Volvo drivers.

The rules are not necessarily about where you eat but what you eat and how it is cooked and whether all the staff who handle your food and that you may never see have washed their hands.  It is far, far safer to eat from a street vendor wearing disposable gloves (a lot do) who has just cooked your food right in front of you than it is to put literal blind faith into an unseen chef in the sealed off kitchen.

Forget all about meat in India. You don’t need it and the risk from illness is high. The Hindu diet is vegetarian and rather than having to endure the token Vegetable Biryani at your local curry house which always tastes like a meat dish with the meat removed, the quantity of vegetarian dishes to be enjoyed in India are incalculable and all the ones I tried were astonishingly gorgeous, particularly Pea and Cashew Nut Curry and of course any non-meat Dosa. If you think you can’t live without meat, visit a local market and that should sort you out, possibly for good.

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Do not eat the skin of fruit such as apples, pears, plums, peaches etc as these may have been washed in DB causing water or had flies land and play footsie on them, and/or been handled by many hands. Rubbing fruit up and down your arm mimicking a Cricket bowler simply will not cut it.  Stick to bananas and oranges or peel everything carefully yourself.

Bananas, however, are everywhere!

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Otherwise eat only cooked food, ideally vegetables and always try to be able to view the cooking of it.  There are plenty of Pizza Huts and international corporate chains with their pre prepared fayre that we tried occasionally in the bigger towns and they have Air Con! Do not eat salads as they are nearly always washed in water.

Chai Tea. If you go to India and don’t have a Chai Tea from a street stall at least once a day, you should be sent home. It truly is the taste of India (and Glastonbury Festival as it happens) and it costs only 5 to 10p a cup (In India that is, more like £3 a cup at Glastonbury) and each vendor uses a slightly different recipe so every time it’s a slightly new experience. We must have had 10 cups a day each and each time they were served in small polystyrene or plastic – used only once, bad for the environment, but good for your intestine, cups. We were served in glasses only a couple of times and in those instances we tipped the scorching tea around the edges of the glass where our lips were to go as a form of crude albeit risky sterilisation.

Water. Don’t allow water from any tap or dispenser into any bodily orifice so avoid home-made colonics and keep you mouth shut whilst in the shower as it really doesn’t take much. Travellers are advised to always check the seal on bottled water as they can be tampered with and then filled with tap water for more profit. We checked every time but never discovered a broken seal. Before going back to your lodgings, buy an extra bottle of water to use to clean your teeth. Loads of people, it seems, come a cropper here by using the sink taps and thinking that not swallowing will save them. That is extremely high risk. Use the bottles.

Ice Cream and ice in drinks. Don’t touch. When ordering drinks that would normally come with ice such as shorts and soft drinks, always and firmly say ‘no ice’. It’s of no benefit to fish the ice out once in as the damage is already done.

Alcohol. And here lies a problem. The bonus is that drinking out in bars in India would probably turn you tee total as they are always darkened to the point that you’d think there was a power cut, women are not forbidden but I wouldn’t dream of taking a woman into one as the men seemed far more pissed than they do in any bar I’ve ever been in, they re all in a state of total squalor and the smell of urine is nostril ticklingly overwhelming – so if you find yourself in a typical back street, hidden away Indian bar – as they all seem to be, you can assure yourself that you are definitely an alcoholic. I did put my head into quite a few in different towns for reasons of research for this very blog but was careful not to touch anything. God knows what the toilets were like or even if anyone bothers to leave their seat to go one!

However, towns that attract a lot of westerners have more approachable bars, and hotels often have bars for non residents and here lies another risk and that risk is getting drunk, because once drunk you forget about the ice and may miss the not perfectly clean glass rim and may end up eating anything. Kebab houses only exist in the UK for this very reason.

There is a golden elixir that each person must carry a vial of at all times – and that is alcohol hand gel. I can’t emphasise enough how essential this is. Every time you’ve been to the loo and had to open the door or  touch any surface in there really, have a squeeze of hand gel.  Do not touch a surface and allow you hand to get to your face before first stopping at the hand gel.

I’m not advertising for Dettol – there are many brands to choose from – but the picture does say a 1000 words

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But the item that we thought was the ‘be all and end all’ was a homeopathy travel kit that we purchased for this very trip. In fact it may well have been the use of its contents that was the only reason we didn’t fall ill. There is really no way to know other than going again and not taking one of these kits – and we won’t be doing that!
The one we used and would certainly suggest checking out was from
http://suzyparkerhomeopath.com/

I’ll add-on to this list as I think of others but if it all goes wrong and you find yourself stuck in a bedroom and toilet for two days, be sure that you have the sort of room and loo that makes that time more comfortable and if you must travel whilst ill then either breakfast on Immodium or dress in Pampers.

see also ‘North India, Glastonbury to Delhi’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/12/north-india-in-23-days-day-1-glastonbury-to-delhi/

and ‘North India. In Search of Gandhi (Part 2) at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/