English novelist and philosopher, Aldous Huxley has rightly quoted “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
My traveling experience changed my preconceived notions about the majestic country, India. Yes, if you are lucky, you will spot a snake charmer but the living & breathing country is much more than just that.
As an America born Indian, I never really got a chance to visit India for many reasons. The most important one being that we don’t have any close ties out there! In 2017, my childhood friends – Miriam and Elisa – and I planned to take a trip to India for a yogic escape. The monotonous lives were getting on our nerves and we really needed a getaway.
Miriam, an Israeli by nationality, had a few friends staying in some parts of Indian states of Himachal and Uttarakhand, so we were certain about visiting them. Her friend Ira, asked us to take a bus from Delhi to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh was magical
Known as the world capital of Yoga, the city welcomed us with a sense of serenity. We spent two days strolling around the streets of the city, which are consumed mostly by sages in saffron robes. We visited a few temples and spent rest of the time chilling, playing ukulele with Ira. Our accommodation for the next 3 nights and 4 days was fixed at this yoga school where we were supposed to take up the yoga retreat.
We attended ‘Shakti Retreat For Women’ at Ekattva yogshala, where we experienced sessions on introduction to Yoga, pranayama and meditation, emotional cleansing through mantra chantings, vedic rituals, Q&A sessions related to health & well-being. I was so taken by the whole learning experience and teachers, it deepened my enthusiasm for yoga to a great extent.
Our visit to Shakti Temple called Kunjapuri and sunrise meditation with chanting session was one of the unforgettable activities of the Retreat. Some of the Shakti Retreat sessions were conducted in Shakti Temple. It is truly a purging experience when a group of priests (5 to be specific) chant Sanskrit verses and vedic hymns in unison. The blocks of mind-body-heart-soul are removed and one can start feeling divine within.
The four days of learning simply flew away.
Post Rishikesh longing
After our return to Seattle, I continued practising Yoga and also start reading books of renowned yoga practitioners. Over few months, I completed 5 books of yoga masters and it gave me a deep understanding of what yoga is all about and how it helps you connect with yourself & the Eternal.
A 9 to 5 job is something that I never aspired for. As the months passed and I felt more connected with yoga, the drudgery started to repulse me more than ever. My urge for learning & teaching yoga was at its stretch. A year later, after much deliberation I decided to revisit India for something bigger. I decided to become a certified Yoga teacher. I confirmed my tickets, applied for a month-long leave, and registered for the Yoga teacher training course.
The 19 hour flight to New Delhi was undoubtedly tiring but I was stoked for my time ahead. I stayed in the capital city for two days, exploring the places of historical importance and relishing the street food. The overcrowded streets, mad rush, and the constant honking was something that I had really not anticipated from this trip.
The second night I left for Rishikesh, the mystique city nestled in the Himalayas. Waking up to a sunrise in the mountains was the first spiritual experience I had during this trip. The cup of masala chai that followed was equally healing.
During my one month stay in Rishikesh while pursuing my 200 hours teacher training course from the same yoga school, I explored so many places including my inner self. My yoga training schedule was gruelling but thankfully the program managers made time for outdoor activities.
Below are the places and experiences that made my stay in Rishikesh worth a lifetime:
Being a diehard fan of the Beatles, the very first place that I wanted to visit was what is popularly known as Beatles Ashram. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram is where the Beatles came to learn the advanced transcendental meditation. The remnants, graffiti and paintings on the building portray the journey of Beatles’ transformation experiences. Their stay at the ashram turned out to be the most creative period for the band’s song writing. A must visit in Rishikesh I must say.
The Ganga aarti performed around 6:30 each evening in Rishikesh is a marvellous ritual. Witnessing and being a part of this beautiful ceremony regularly helped me strengthen my bond to the powers that control this universe. The sound of bhajans, prayers, slokas, and bells with a view of vast Ganges embellished with floating lit diyas is a tonic for the eyes and food for the soul.
As part of outdoor activities and fun, our mentors at Ekattva accompanied us to many ancient temples in Rishikesh. We trekked to this beautiful temple amidst dense forests, the Neelkanth Mahadev temple. Next on the list was Trayambakeshwar temple, a 13 story temple dedicated to lord Shiva which is believed to be 400 years old. Apart from this, we went to Bhootnath temple, Shatrughna temple and Vashisht cave. The guru of Lord Ram, Vashisht ji is believed to have meditated here for many years.
Nature and adventures
My yearning for adventure found all the answers here. My fellow teammates and I journeyed through the mountains and wandered local villages. River rafting in the fierce rapids of the holy Ganges was a thrilling experience. We explored the local market and tried some local food. One particular delicacy that amazed mewas this chutney made of hemp seeds which they served with mandua roti, a flatbread made with millet or ragi flour.
While Rishikesh touched my heart, practicing yoga under the supervision of experienced teachers opened it up. Every day, we spent over 8 hours:
- Doing yoga asana practice
- Studying yoga philosophy
- Learning principles of Ayurveda
- Participating in teaching practice
- Pursuing meditation
The learning experience while participating in 200 hrs yoga teacher training programcame with comfortable private stay, vegetarian meals, unique experiences, and wonderful team support. I am thankful to Ekattva Yogshala for such a wonderful time and of course also the international certification of Yoga Alliance registered Yoga teacher.
I came to Rishikesh with a mind full of quests, spirit of learning and longing for adventure. I left with answers that I don’t need to memorize, knowledge that will stay with me forever and a spirit that keeps me going. Those 30 days made me realize how the people living in these small cities, untouched by the modernity are so self-sufficient.
My stay in Rishikesh gave me clarity of myself, my inhibitions, my fears and my strengths. All I perceived is that this city and this country is quite a charmer and not a land of snake charmers. And I can say this with certainty, that you cannot visit Rishikesh and India just once. It keeps calling you back. I will always remain filled with gratitude for this country, the friends I made at the yogshala, the hospitable locales, and every single being I came across during this journey.
I’m now saving money to go back to the spiritual world of Rishikesh for 300 hours YTT program to further deepen my learning. Wish me luck!