A place where serenity and absolute peace enveloped me.
We went from Haridwar to Rishikesh which is only 24 kilometres away, accompanied along the way by the energetic couple from Europe, Nick and Kerry. We shared an auto rickshaw from the bus stand up to Ram jhoola, one of the two hanging bridges across the Ganges that had become landmarks of Rishikesh. The monkeys played on the high rope walls of the bridge and some even seemed to be meditating upon the river Ganges.
After leaving the couple to the path they chose to go, we went to Geetha bhawan, an ashram I read about in some website, to find out if we could find any free accommodation there. And we failed, obviously. They offered stay for the poor, the old and the helpless only.
Walking onto one of the banks or steps where people take those holy dips, the first sight that caught our attention was two women were being taken away by the strong flow of the roaring Ganga. One was yelling for help and holding the other to save her from fully drowning, while both drifting away together. A few people jumped, some failed in swimming beyond a few metres and some distance afar they were saved some how; everyone including old people started concentrating on the Holy dips and bathes again.
After checking in a clean hotel we walked the evening out eating cheap but tasty apples; apples are costly in Kerala. We crossed Laxman jhoola, the other hanging bridge parallel to Ram jhoola, and walked through a narrow street reaching the bank of Ganges again with only a very few people around us, enjoying the evening light. A sadhu sat there with a backpack, tied on its sides a pair of hanging shoes, water bottle, and perhaps carrying everything he will ever need to travel across the Himalayas forever. A true minimalist.
After a few more rounds having multiple teas and street food, watching the various activities happening around the place, finally I had a great sleep and the next morning woke up at 5 am without an alarm. I tried to wake up my two friends and Sree accompanied me out. The hotel’s gate was locked and there was no sign of the room boy; we happily jumped across and had tea from a nearby shop.
We kept walking without any aim and reached an ashram gate. I felt like going inside; a few steps inside and while we reached another gate, the gate-keeper denied us entry further where several people were having their morning walks. Seems like one of those ashrams that offer a lifestyle for a few days based upon how much you pay. Through the gaps of the iron gate I noticed a building, perhaps a temple up above the hill, partially covered by mist and the green background of the mountain making it look like some picture out of a fairytale.
It was Bhoothnath mandir, someone said. So after a few minutes we were climbing up the thirteen-storey mandir.
The dawn was here, the narrow morning light slowly enveloping the place with its magic, and the white mist staying silent and unmoving as if meditating. As we were circling and climbing each storey up, the over all view of the Rishikesh slowly unravelled before us. The mountains around, all lush with green, the Ganges a little far away, the hanging bridges, everything became part of a three-sixty degree view that the encircling steps of the mandir offered. It took us to a flight of astounding peacefulness, so serene and evident that we became silent for moments, merely saturated by the beauty that engulfed us from every direction. We were not even aware of such a place a few minutes ago, and now we were here!
Down from the building, we found a narrow stream nearby, by following the sound of the flowing water. there was a narrow trail up towards the mountain, and we chose the path. The rain was still there, playing hide and seek, and the path upward emerged dangerous as we reached and crossed a tarmac road stepping into the trail again. The scenario became a dense forest, most of the time making us lose sight of the way, and thorn filled plants blocked our way all the time, sometimes hurting us with its pin pointed weapons.
Then came a tortoise, of medium size, with brown stripe patterned shell, a real piece of beauty; it stayed and looked at us to see if we were dangerous, and slowly walked away without bothering to retreat into its beautiful shell of safety.
The path became non-existent once we reached the plains, which I suppose was the top of the mountain. The forest and the thorn-plants were so thick blocking us from going forward. We started climbing down, losing the track many a times, and some times even falling down thanks to the muddy path that slipped often due to the rain. But somehow, we found our trail and reached the streets back again.
After having a delicious hot milk tea, we returned to our friend waiting at the hotel room, who had zero idea of what he had missed this morning. I checked the time : four hours had passed since we got out, and all these treks and walks without having eaten anything. But still, I felt more energetic and refreshed than ever before.
By the time I left Rishikesh it had become one of my favourite spaces. The place, also known as the Yoga centre of the World, and brought into the limelight by the Beatles, had something peculiar about it. Some say one could meditate at his/her home, and there is no need to go to the mountains for the same purpose. But what I felt was, Rishikesh had a meditative ambiance embedded in it, and it shares its precious quality with whoever comes here. Yes, many are just religious, collecting gallons of Ganga water using all shapes and sizes of containers available for sale. But beyond religion, beyond the temples and rituals, beyond the occasional ganja smokers, this place had something that made it attract the same ones who already came here, to visit again and again. And I knew it, right after leaving, that someday I will return too, to stay in Rishikesh for a longer time like weeks together, and have the taste of the hidden gems that it takes a little time to unravel before the newcomers….
But more than that, I would come here again anyway, just for the love of sitting on one of the secluded steps on the shores of Rishikesh on an evening, without doing anything else other than to watch the Ganges flow by, to watch the monkeys dance over the bridges, to watch the fire lamps lighted all around for worship, and to meditate upon the purposes and meanings of our lives….