The Most Famous Ashram – Rishikesh, India

A trip to Rishikesh is not complete without a visit to the Ashram of Yogi Maharishi Mahesh, also known as the “Beatles Ashram.” The old, long-abandoned ashram was made famous after the Beatles stayed there in the late 60’s… a visit that ushered them into an era of prolific songwriting as a result of their time at the ashram.

Although there were reports of rampant drug use by the Beatles despite repeated requests by the Maharishi to uphold the rigid standards of ashram life (it was the 60’s, after all) the guru, best known for popularizing Transcendental Meditation, was reported to have a penchant toward giving into temptation himself, particularly the kind brought about by the fame, fortune and notoriety the Beatles unavoidably brought with them.

After a few months, the Beatles stay at the ashram ended amidst great upheaval and controversy over allegations of both financial and sexual impropriety by the Maharishi. The ashram (sans its original leader) continued to operate for decades after the controversy and closed its doors for good in 2003. It has been abandoned and decaying ever since.

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Annabell inside one of the individual meditation huts.
Annabell inside one of the individual meditation huts.
Old huts and painted trees
Old huts and painted trees

While the Maharishi’s original intentions were likely pure, and he did in fact bring the healing practice of meditation to light for millions, his story is but another example of the controversies surrounding spiritual gurus that invariably arise every few years, reminding us that even the most ‘advanced’ spiritual practitioners can fall prey to the exact ego which spiritual pursuit is meant to dismantle… an all too common pitfall along the path.

Today, the ashram continues to slowly crumble and has become a favored spot for graffiti artists and muralist to showcase their work. When I first visited in late 2015, the ashram was technically “off limits” to the public, a limitation easily removed by a hundred rupee note slipped to the guard. Since then, however, the place has been taken over by the government and is now considered a tiger reserve (?) which also enables them to charge us foreigners a hefty 600 rupee fee to enter. Regardless, it’s a worthwhile expenditure in order to spend a few hours here wandering about, absorbing the artwork, taking photographs (including gratuitous, self-promoting yoga photos!) and tuning into the history and energy of a bygone era.

Natarajasana - dancer pose
Natarajasana – dancer pose, on the painted platform of the mediation hall.
Posing with the boys
Posing with the boys
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Several new murals by the same artist have appeared… and I absolutely love their work.
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“Painting is Prohibited”
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Sacred cow sports sacred geometry.
Carrying her crown chakra with grace.
Carrying her crown chakra with grace.

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{{ I’d like to extend a special thanks to my dear friend Annabell, for not only accompanying me on this incredible journey, but for her artistic talent which produced all these beautiful photos of me! So grateful for you! }}

Two Days in Delhi

October 22-24, 2015

My very first impression of this Capitol city is – it’s so clean! And green! And there are road signs! Yes, there are still a ton of people and the traffic is still insane by US standards, but it’s notably less chaotic than Mumbai… and thank god for that.

Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.

I arrived in the afternoon but drove straight away to stay overnight in  Agra for my visit to the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning. Getting back up to Delhi took much longer than normal due to the traffic-stopping, street celebrations of the festival Dussehra so my evening consisted of strolling around the beautiful neighborhood where I stayed, Niazamuddin East, and stumbling across some crumbling ruins.

Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan's Tomb. I don't think anyone comes here.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan’s Tomb. I don’t think anyone comes here.

I hired a driver for my entire time in Delhi, which was a wise investment and considerably decreased a lot of difficult logistics… but getting around on foot is still a tricky and fairly inhibiting affair. Alas, that is, as I’m learning, just India.

My time in Delhi consisted mostly of sight seeing with just a bit of local culture. First stop, Qutub Minar.

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Closer up of the astounding detail on this tower.
Closer up. Astounding detail on this tower.

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Built in the late 1100’s (these timelines never cease to amaze me) and decorated with verses from the Qur’an, the detail here is unbelievably beautiful.

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Strangely (and I had read about this before arriving) everyone, particularly at tourist places like this, wants to take a photo of themselves with you. I declined the countless requests from groups of boys and men, but obliged a couple of families. A husband asked me to pose with his wife, so I figured when in Rome (or Delhi, as it were…) and handed him my phone for a photo of my own. 🙂

Me, and a complete stranger.
Me, and a complete stranger.

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Bored. One day he'll appreciate it.
Bored. One day he’ll appreciate it.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.

Next stop, Hauz Khas village… a quaint and trendy sort of neighborhood built around the Hauz Khas ruins. The ruins are engaging enough, but the interesting thing here is that they are more of a hang out spot for young people and not much of a tourist attraction.

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Inside one of the domes.
Inside one of the domes.

The village itself encroaches right up to the borders of the old complex and walking through the neighborhood was not only cute, but very easy to navigate (that is the first time I’ve uttered those words here in India!).

The streets are narrow so virtually no cars come through, only scooters, adding to the easy appeal.

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I sought out a relaxing lunch spot overlooking the ruins and Deer Lake… as finding these pockets of calm have become an imperative necessity for me on this trip.

Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.
Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.

I also got to enjoy some company for a couple of hours, when Raman, my friend Lochan’s cousin, took some time to meet up with me.

We hung out at the Baoli step-well, which is a very cool, antiquated structure (in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, you don’t have travel very far before stumbling upon some building or ruin that is several centuries old) that originally served as a water storage well.

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I had wanted to come to this place anyway, so it was ironic that it was here I also got to see some of Raman’s artwork along the surrounding street walls… he is a commissioned graffiti artist who has worked all over the world.

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The day ended with evening drinks at a bar in central Connaught Place, overlooking the city.

A little view of the city from above.
A little view of the city from above.

Day 2
Really, this was only a half day, but I crammed in a fair amount, starting with breakfast and some chai from a local street vendor. Brave, I know.

Making chai.
Making chai.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.

Then off to Jantar Mantar, a group of vast astronomy structures built in the 1700’s by scientist Jai Singh.

The grounds at Jantar Mantar.
The grounds at Jantar Mantar. This big structure is the observatory.
These two pillars... casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.
These two pillars… casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.

The structures are apparently very precise and although I didn’t understand a lot of what I saw, for a few rupees a self-appointed ‘guide’ gave me some helpful tidbits of information.

When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day.
When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day… up to the minute.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.

From here I went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the stunning Sikh Temple, where I spent quite a bit of time.

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Outside the front of the temple.
Washing the feet before entering.
Washing the feet before entering.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
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The main ‘alter’ is open on all four sides where people sit and listen to the music/chanting/prayers.
The large pool area, behind the temple.
The large pool area, behind the temple.

Coincidently and luckily for me, my driver is Sikh and wanted to join me, so I was able gain a little more insight from him than if I had just wandered in here on my own.

Karma, my faithful driver.
Karma, my faithful driver.

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Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.
Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.

After this I went to a gorgeous Hindu temple where understandably but much to my chagrin, I had to check my camera… my least favorite sign hanging above the entrance: No Photography Allowed.

From the outside.
From the outside.

Inside, the ornate, brightly adorned statues of Hindu gods were everywhere, each with its own alter where offerings have been placed… piles of marigolds and other brightly colored flower petals, intermingled with rice and money.

The walls are adorned in carved out drawings and accompanying scripture… written in both Hindi and English, much of it from the Gita texts which I am familiar with from my yoga studies. I wandered from room to room for some time just trying to take it all in, loving the ornamentation and inherent festive feeling that is the aesthetic of the Hindu worship.

Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.
Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.

Waiting for my driver to come pick me up, I decided to courageously try one more street snack before heading to the airport, and it was particularly good! It is several hours later as I’m writing this on my way to my next destination, and so far my tummy seems just fine… so a big thank you, to the powers that be (and also, to the Chinese herbs I brought with me, specifically to help prevent any unwanted belly bugs.)

The ingredients...
The ingredients…
Mixin it up...
Mixin it up…
Voila! Deliciousness!
Voila! Deliciousness!

 

Delhi, India
Delhi, India