“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” says ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. In our yoga course, a journey to your inner self begins an awareness and curiosity to ask deeper questions about who we are and how we are living. The combination of the two had landed me at 1:30am in Delhi’s international airport.
After a long flight, filled with fluttering butterfly feelings, excitement and mediocre airplane food, I arrive in hot, humid Delhi. A group of us that are all heading up to the ashram together and after some tricky taxi driver antics where they pretended to call the number of the ashram but instead called a friend who told us that our driver has broken down along the way and that we should grab a taxi at the airport, we found our actual driver and was on our way. Our driver arranged by the yoga school was amazing and kept on stopping to get us little paper cups full of piping hot sugary, milky tea, stopped for us to feed monkeys on the side of the road from inside the car and even a short detour to show us an elephant. The last part of the drive from Hardiwar to Rishikesh took us through winding mountain roads through a jungle filled with little monkeys with black faces framed in wild grey fur peering at us from the trees. The trees were alive with the buzzing of insects challenging the drumming beat of Bollywood tunes blaring from the stereo.
Our ashram, yoga school, is located in a city of ashrams – the holy city of Rishikesh. The city is framed in mountains and cut in two by the swift flowing Ganges River. As it flows deeper into India, the river becomes slower like a stately waltz but here, it has only recently been birthed in the Himalayan Mountains and the water flows quickly, dancing with energy. There is a suspension bridge that connects the two sides that feels the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims, residents, tourists, yoga students, cattle and annoyingly, motorbikes that cross each year.
Rishikesh is how I remembered it when I first visited it with Bryan on our first major trip together seven years ago in 2006, though there are now vehicles and motorbikes on the eastern side of the river now. On the western side of the river is the major road where you have to cross using the suspension bridges to the eastern side where there are many holy temples and spiritual centers. The sides of the rivers are lined with steps that lead down to the water for pilgrims and worshippers to touch the sacred waters. Instead of skyscrapers, the peaks of temples and statues and monuments of gods form the city skyline against the backdrop of green mountains. The air is thick with smoky incense and sacred cattle meander through the busy people filled streets. Colours are everywhere – in the beautiful saris worn by women, in the delicious yellow mangoes, the juicy fuchsia watermelons and vibrant green mint leaves sold by vendors and in the brilliant orange marigold garlands draping the entrances to holy places. Chanting can be heard from multiple locations, as is the rather frantic calls of “rickshaw” and “ice cream” from vendors hawking their goods and services. Also heard is the loud blaring horn of motorbikes that try to part the ocean of people – rather convincing since their horns are loud and annoying.
Our yoga school, Rishikesh Yoga Peeth, is a bit closer to the mountains, about 7 minutes walk from the busy temple and ashram lined river, which I can see it from my room window and patio. The horns are only occasional and distant sounding, competing with bird calls, “moo”s of cattle and the occasional barks of stray dogs. Rishikesh Yoga Peeth seems to taking over this little corner of the city with a network of 3 or 4 hotels with yoga halls on the roof. I am in the main building – Krishna Cottage, a green and white hotel with rooms circling an inner courtyard with a vegetable garden in the middle – where the dining hall is and the main yoga hall is on the roof. My room feels a bit like a palace with a comfortable king sized bed, tile floors, a full bathroom with a working western flush toilet and shower and I have balconies and windows on both sides of my room looking out to green of trees and mountains. The front balcony is a shared walkway between the rooms and the back is a private patio. I used to keep my back door open in addition to the front door and windows to make a lovely cross breeze, especially with the fan, but one day I woke up from my nap to a troop of monkeys walking across the patio! Apparently, you’re not supposed to make eye contact with them, with each aware of the other but pretending to pretending to not know to keep the peace. I went to close my door and locked eyes with one of the last monkeys in the party. The monkey growled. I growled back. The monkey scampered off.
Just a couple amazing quotes from our very eloquent yoga master, Roshan, who teaches us philosophy and anatomy & physiology:Just a couple amazing quotes from our very eloquent yoga master, Roshan, who teaches us philosophy and anatomy & physiology:
“Love what you do, do what you love. This is perfection in action. This is yoga” “Advancement in yoga is not bending yourself by your awareness of it (the self)”