“Beatles ashram?” we asked hopefully to the two small village boys that stood idly across the overgrown forest trail. Our enquiry was met with vacant expressions. Apparently they weren’t fans. Yet despite the lack of guidance we found what we were looking for but a hundred feet or so further down the trail. And it was shut – fabulous. Our ‘relaxing weekend of yoga and meditation’ in Rishikesh had not exactly gone to plan. Arriving in the early hours of the morning after another crippling overnight bus journey we were met by a friendly four-legged centenary, christened Oedipus (owing to his funny apparently webbed feet)! Most of the time nothing makes sense in India, so whether Oedipus led us or followed, we found our way to a guest house – and passed out. Awakening, what felt like a week later and unbolting the door our gaze fell upon the best view of Laxman Jula. Well done Oedipus.
After gathering our thoughts and belongings we decided to do what one does in Rishikesh: yoga. We arrived to find our yogi either asleep or in a state of deep, impenetrable meditation. Probably the former. Not to worry, this is Rishikesh after all – we’ll go for a spot of Ayurvedic healing and get our doshas diagnosed. A long and uncomfortable motorbike journey later we arrived at “the absolute best clinic of Ayurveda in Rishikesh, madams” *said in thick and undulating Indian accent. The doctor was out: Fuck. This. “To the Beatles ashram!” we cried, which now, no longer a functioning ashram, seemed not be much of a tourist destination, judging by the fact that NO-ONE KNEW WHERE IT WAS. But it meant a scenic walk through some of the more rural parts of Rishikesh and, upon discovering it was closed, we decided to make our way back to town along the banks of the river Ganges, which the ashram sits right next to. Oh, the Mother Ganga, she always brings good things and this time she did not fail to deliver. Tired, hungry and a little pissed off we scrambled over sand banks, hopped over sewage pipes until we finally came to a bit of a clearing. Who should we find relaxing under the shade of a little bridge beside the Ganga – the babas of course; the best people in India!
Welcomed with the humble hospitality only a real baba can give we were ushered into the make shift tent of Baba G. I am always amazed at how easily conversation flows and how much one laughs when spending time with babas – nothing to do with the chillum pipe being passed round like a conveyer belt. They are such kind and open people. We spoke of the Kumbh Mela, which my friend and I had attended (along with hundreds of thousands of other babas and a hundred million other Hindus) earlier that year, Hindu philosophy and life. After sharing a tasty meal of daal, chapati (with the biggest mountain of sugar on it! Still don’t really understand that?) and chai it was getting late. We made our way back to Rishikesh stomachs, minds and hearts full of food, thoughts and love. The afternoon spent with Baba G had obviously caused our planets to align because on our way back to we stumbled across the evening Ganga Aarti at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram. Unfortunately the huge statue of Lord Shiva was not present to oversee the evening’s festivities, having been destroyed in the devastating floods that swept through Rishikesh earlier this year. The young boys from the ashram performed bhajans and offerings were made to Agni, the fire god. There is something really hypnotic about this performance and it is easy to get swept away by the beautiful voices and the ever audible roar of the Ganga.
So, Rishikesh, you weren’t what we’d planned but then when does a good plan go to plan anyway? However next time I come I would like to do at least one of things we’d set out to do! If you’ll permit it that is?