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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

“Hello, are you cold?” As I opened my eyes, I found myself shivering on a bench in the front room of a yoga studio that was attached to the guesthouse I planned on staying.  The door was open when I arrived in the middle of the night and no one was there, so I kind of just crashed. The gentle stranger put a blanket on me and instructed me to rest.  Upon waking again a few hours later, I learned that the man who woke me so kindly was the guesthouse’s resident yogi.  This greeting set the stage for my time in Rishikesh.

Transportation in India is efficient in the sense that you can get wherever you’d like to go; how and when you arrive is a different story.  I arrived in Rishikesh from Agra at about 3 a.m.

A 15 minute rickshaw ride took me from the bus depot to the town, set on the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas.  Most of the guesthouses were located on the other side of the river, which you cross via a high, long and narrow walking bridge.  It was a dark, windy and scary crossing that took me to a magical new age wonderland.

Before getting sidetracked, I had planned on visiting Nepal prior to India and still wanted to take in some Himalayan culture.  I narrowed it down to either Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, or Rishikesh, “the yoga capital of the planet.”  Since it was December and freezing in Dharamsala, I opted for the latter.

The town is small, quiet and peaceful. Despite being well-established on the tourist map, there isn’t much development and places close early.  The Nepalese population provide visitors with authentic handicrafts and yak cheese.

Rishikesh’s claim to fame is that it is where the Beatles holed up at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram in February of 1968 to expand their consciousness and write the bulk of the White Album.  The Ashram shut down, but you can pay an unofficial guard 50 cents and tour the grounds.  It’s really cool and definitely worth spending hours walking in the footsteps of hippies.  John Lennon stayed in pod 9 (see photo).  In addition to dozens of living pods and funky buildings, there was also a giant warehouse type building that was converted into a semi-church to the Fab Four.

Oh, yeah.  Yoga.  There are ashrams and yoga studios everywhere and you can get a session in for a couple dollars.  It’s an ideal place to meditate, contemplate and elevate your existence; it’s trippy stuff, man.

I took a break from exploring my inner-self and trekked to nearby Neelkantha Mahadev Temple.  This popular Hindu pilgrimage site dedicated to Lord Shiva is where the god is said to have drank poison that turned his throat blue.  The walk there is beautiful and there is another temple to Shiva on the hill overlooking the shrine.  It’s worth the trip.

The food was vegetarian, simple and tasty.  There was no alcohol to be found, but that would only detract from your mind-opening.

Rishikesh was a very Indian experience and I enjoyed my time there.  It was also nice to visit the ganges far enough upstream where the great river is still clean and pristine.

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