Last Saturday started our week long summer break from work (not bad, one week off in ten!). Clara (an intern at Chintan from D.C.), Laura, and I decided after much debate to go to Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand. Rishikesh is situated along the Ganges River in the foothills of the Himalayas and is a famous hub for yoga and meditation. I expected we’d be in a nice mountain town and away from the traffic and crowds of Delhi. I was sadly a bit mistaken. We apparently were not the only people in India who decided that escaping the heat and venturing to the mountains would be an ideal way to spend the “Indian Vacation.” We arrived in Rishikesh during one of the busiest times of year and were greeted by familiar honking horns and flocks of people.
Clara and I had hoped to check into a yoga ashram. We wanted to get a taste of the ashram experience. They have very strict schedules: 4:30am wake up, 5-7am yoga, 8am breakfast, morning meditation, 12pm lunch, 2pm library hours, 4pm lecture, 5-7pm yoga, 8pm dinner, 9pm meditation and then sleep and repeat!
Since we arrived during the Indian work/school break, most of the ashrams went on break as well. The only functioning ashrams during the 4 days we stayed in Rishikesh required that guests stay 12 days minimum. So, we decided to check into a little room on the side of a hotel and had a lovely time visiting the little shops. Along each side of the river were a host of different stalls and stores selling various items. Cows roamed like stray dogs in the streets. Definitely a different site for the three of us. We weaved through crowds of people, dogs, and cows. At first it was an unnerving experience. I kind of expected the cows to charge us or maybe even bite. Turns out, cows are actually very nice and gentle creatures. We even fed them popcorn one day out of our hands (see pictures from Laura’s post).
On our second day in Rishikesh we decided to go river rafting in the Ganges! The Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world but also one of the holiest. People flocked down the stairs and into the river for a refreshing (and holy) bathe. Its hard to tell how dirty the water actually was. The river was a murky greyish brown color which apparently comes from the sands and mud (although I would guess that the runoff from the city and sewage probably added to its murkiness). Nevertheless, we embarked on our “rafting” journey. The rapids weren’t large for white water rafting standards but for my standards they were the perfect size. We bobbed along with river along with a host of other boats. Rishikesh is known for its river rafting. I was reluctant at first to touch the water but we ended up jumping in anyways. Its been 5 days since then and I’m still alive so it couldn’t have been as dirty as I thought. It was a necessary refreshing dip and the water was nice and cool! MOUNTAIN EXPLORATIONS
We also decided, now that we had an extra few days to kill since we weren’t in the ashram, to rent a car and dig a bit deeper into the mountain ranges. The car drove us 4 hours into the mountains and up to Surkanda Devi Temple (10,000 ft above sea level). We had a good 3km (~2 mile) hike straight uphill to reach the temple. Apparently, from this height, we should have had a wonderful view of the snow peaked Himalayan Mountains. Instead we were stuck in a thick cloud. My luck continues (as it had in Peru where after hiking to 15,000 ft for the infamous view of Machu Picchu we were stuck in a blizzard). It was still an amazing feeling to be that high in the mountains and for the first time in 5 weeks I actually felt cold! I almost forgot the feeling. We continued our car ride down to the Eco Park in Dhanolti. We went on another little hike through the park and found ourselves in someone’s terrace farm on the side of the mountain. It was absolutely gorgeous and peaceful and beautifully green. The scenery reminded me of the mountain villages and terrace farms of Peru. I was once again in mountain paradise, clear air, peace and quiet. I will, however, caution anyone venturing to this area in the future that if you have motion sickness…beware. Poor Laura and Clara had their stomachs turned inside out. I somehow escaped the sickness (which is shocking after years and years of carsickness).
Unfortunately, the clouds never cleared up and we were robbed of our view of the snow peaked Himalayas. However, their presence was definitely felt. I guess I’ll have to return some day. I think my next adventure to Asia will be on a mission to at least reach the base camp of Everest. All in all, we had a very nice vacation to Rishikesh. It was an amazing experience to see and feel the Ganges, watch the evening ceremonies on the river, and roam the foothills of the Himalayas! –Abby Waldorf