Coming Home – Rishikesh, India

February 6-17, 2017

Rishikesh is one of the very few places in all my travels that I made a pointed decision to revisit. I fell in love with this small Himalayan town on the Ganges just over a year ago and I admit that as I planned this trip, I had a moment of wondering if her glow would shine as bright the second time around. But Rishikesh is one of those places so unique and engaging at its essence, that disappointment simply isn’t an option. Her beauty and wisdom stand unwavering, and upon my arrival she only reaffirmed her deep connection to my heart.

Children overlooking the river
Children overlooking the river
Misty dusk
Misty dusk

If you’ve been to India you understand that the culture has a deep juxtapositional element to it. Initially, India is course and abrasive, and yet hidden under the rough exterior are deep pockets of human kindness, beauty and goodwill. Rishikesh, while remaining authentic to India’s overall cultural identity, is an anomaly in and of itself. It is a warm, nurturing bubble of mystical, magical woo situated in some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet. It is everything you love about India and very, very little of all that disagrees.

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A swarm of pinks and purples engaging us to photograph them.
Living an exemplary life of impermanence
Living an exemplary life of impermanence

Ultimately, Rishikesh is today, and has been for centuries, a place for seekers. People come here searching for their own version of life’s meaning, and Rishikesh provides countless paths, both literal and metaphorical, for you to explore your individual quest. No matter what deep, esoteric questions you arrive with, you will no doubt find elements of your answer embedded here, facilitated by the purity of intention that surrounds you.

You will find meaning in the serious, etched faces of the baba’s and gurus who have lived their lives here in authentic surrender to the divine, and you will find it in the humor and charade of the ones who’ve diverged paths and chosen to get high every single day on both marijuana and life. You will find it in the diversity of every meditation sitting and yoga class you attend, and you will find it when you remember to witness your breath in the middle of cow/monkey/motorbike/pedestrian rush hour on the swaying bridge that connects the east and west sides of town. You will find it on the rocky banks of the mystical river amongst the pinkish-lavender colored rocks that have supported the weight of a million seekers footsteps before you, and you will find it flowing in the glittering aqua-marine color rushing by in the river itself. Rishikesh will recalibrate your inner wavelength to a frequency of happiness and joy… and you’ll surrender to it wholly because at some point it will occur to you: that’s what you’re looking for in the first place.

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Elation on the riverbank
The evening prayer ritual on the Ganges, known as aarti
The evening prayer ritual on the Ganges, known as aarti.

The first half of my two week stay here (which still wasn’t enough time as far as I’m concerned) was spent at an incredible Kundalini Yoga retreat led by Deepak Gupta at Braham Yoga, which I will post about separately and in greater detail on my professional website. Here, I will suffice to say that it was one of the most powerful retreats I have been on, which is not surprising given that kundalini yoga is one of the most powerful practices there is.

Our teacher, Deepak, profusely enjoying his new selfie stick!
Our teacher, Deepak, amusing us with his new selfie stick!
We've not quite reached the enlightened yogi status yet, but we are meditating in a cave in the Himalayas
We’ve not quite reached the enlightened yogi status yet, but we are meditating in a cave in the Himalayas.

The rest of my time was spent doing what most people here do when not involved in an organized endeavor… wandering and exploring, people watching and meeting, shopping for trinkets of devotion, hanging out at all the neo-hippy cafes, sampling the endless supply of delicious food and drinks including fresh fruit juices to die for, masala chai’s galore and an array of local tea concoctions. Outside of the food and social culture are the obvious and endless options for yoga and meditation. Held in yoga studios, ashrams or temples, you can find any style of practice you favor at any time of day, and you can (and will) discover classes and experiences you didn’t even know existed.

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Can you say Namaste?
How many people can you fit in a teeny-tiny tuk-tuk? Turns out, a lot. 11 to be exact
How many people can you fit in a teeny-tiny tuk-tuk? Turns out, a lot – 11 to be exact.

One of the most profound and heart-opening experiences I had was a cacao ceremony and ecstatic dance. While I didn’t know much about cacao in the ceremonial context other than the fact that it’s revered in different cultures around the world as a healing, medicinal substance, I have been to ecstatic dances in the US, which are generally fun, freeing events where by the magic ear of a DJ (if you get a good one) you can express yourself through free-form, anything-goes dance. If you can learn to let go of any self-consciousness and connect to your inner guide, a good time is pretty much guaranteed. Dance, after all, has always been considered one of the fastest ways to connect yourself to the divine.

This event, however, was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Created and led by couple Drow and Sophia, known by their collaborative entity as Shunya’s Couch, this ceremonial dance is a magical medley of practices that become a powerful, cathartic and transformative event. Elements of ancient cacao ritual, kundalini kriyas (repetitive and somewhat strenuous movements meant to raise the powerful kundalini energy in the body) and pranayama (targeted breath-work) continuously weave around pour-your-heart-out dancing (think tribal beats meets Michael Jackson) and soul-stirring chants. The energy in the room and in your body builds and builds, and you get entirely lost in the strong current until at select moments you are asked to just stop and feel what’s happening inside of you… and it is absolutely glorious.

This goes on for what seems like a simultaneous eternity and blink of an eye until both exhaustion and elation are tightly intertwined before we are finally released into the most beautiful savasana ever (savasana is the laying down, final relaxation pose that comes at the end of every yoga practice.) Any simple savasana would have felt like heaven at this juncture, but the immersion into sound comprised of powerful, shimmering gong vibrations alongside Tibetan singing bowls and tinkering chimes was without question, a indelible taste of nirvana.

Reflections at sunset
Reflections – another epic Indian sunset

Perhaps it was simply the space I was in, having just come out of a 6-day internal-energy raising retreat, or perhaps it was being surrounded by an entire enclave of like-minded souls (both in the room and in the city), or perhaps it was the mastery with which this deeply connected and aware duo led us through this process… or most probably it was the convergence of all of the above… but I departed this three hour event a different woman than I entered it, and that transformative energy stays with me still. If you ever get the opportunity to experience what Drow and Sophia have to offer, please take it – it’s an experience not to be missed.

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One of the other incredibly transformative things I did while I was here, was the age-old Ayurvedic cleanse known as ‘panchkarma’ (panch, meaning five, karma meaning action… five actions toward healing.) Ayurvedic medicine is the ancient sister practice to yoga… a holistic means of addressing all the physical and energetic aspects of the body through food, herbal remedies and treatments in such a way that is in alignment with the science and philosophy of yoga which addresses the entire mind, body, spirit realm. Panchkarma is a (minimum) 7 day cleanse meant to detoxify the physical body and clear the energetic body, bringing your entire being into harmony.

I have to admit that despite my desire to undergo the cleanse (the timing was perfect in conjunction with the kundalini yoga retreat) I had a bit of fear around some of the specifics. But I’ve come to recognize fear for what it is… a clear sign that I’m moving in the direction I’m meant to go, and so I put myself into the healing hands of a lovely practitioner named Siroji and surrendered to seven days of varying (and very enjoyable) massage techniques, reflexology, herbal steam baths and oil treatments on the body and head, including an incredibly soothing 30 minute warm oil drip on the forehead/third eye… as well as some (not so enjoyable) colon cleansing treatments, herbal detoxification supplements and dietary restrictions.

Drinking in the purifying waters of the Great Mother Ganges
Drinking in the purifying waters of the Great Mother Ganges

There were some undoubtedly rough moments but in the end I felt (and still feel) an incredibly strong connection to previously untapped energy and a beautifully calm sense of well being along with a clear awareness of all the physical and metaphysical changes happening inside me. The more experiences I have in consciously connecting the mind, body and spirit, the easier it is to understand why these practices have been around for centuries and have withstood the test of time. The evolution of the soul through the practices of the body is very precious and very real.

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I see with great clarity now, that India in general, but Rishikesh in particular, has much more to offer me. My first visit to this enlightened city gave me a strong sense of “arriving” some place I had meant to arrive, but didn’t quite know about yet, and this trip simply confirmed that it is a coming home of sorts. Rishikesh is a place of kindness and benevolence that patiently awaits your readiness to receive so she can bestow all the life-enriching, soul-awakening and awareness-inducing understanding you seek… perhaps even before you know you seek it.

And so, it is with an abundance of gratitude that I say goodbye to Rishikesh for now, knowing I will be back in her arms soon enough.

A poignant moment with a man named Devananda. I met him 15 months ago in a completely different part of the city and our encounter had touched me. I recognized him immediately, but was shocked that he too remembered me ( the woman from US California, yes?) Thank you universe, for crossing our paths again
A poignant moment with a man named Devananda. I met him 15 months ago in a completely different part of the city and our encounter had touched me deeply. Today, I recognized him immediately, but was shocked that he too remembered me (“the woman from US California, yes?”) Thank you universe, for crossing our paths again… it was incredibly special.
Morning ritual
Morning ritual
At the Beatles Ashram
At the Beatles Ashram

 

{{ For more on the Beatles Ashram… }}

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