The World Capital of Yoga

In 1968, the Beatles came to Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 2013, Diane and Paul came to Rishikesh for a few days of yoga and relaxation. Maybe the experiences aren’t that similar, but I’ll bet the Beatles’ TM sessions weren’t interrupted by the chirping of the yogi’s smartphone announcing another incoming text. How times do move on.

Regardless of what it was like then, Rishikesh bills itself as the world capital of yoga, and many people come here for just that. In fact, Western seekers after knowledge of various sorts drive the economy now, with many restaurants proclaiming themselves German Bakeries, or advertising American or Israeli breakfasts. The Bella View restaurant does good pizza, and there is a very good English bookshop, next door to the Devraj Coffee Shop. Whatever, it is a gentle and picturesque place to pass a few days, and the yoga gives us a chance to stretch out again after a few weeks of trains and indifferent pillows. Here’s Diane standing next to the “iconic” Laxman Jhula footbridge over the Ganges. In India, though, you can ride a motorbike anywhere you can walk, so it gets a bit crowded sometimes, especially when the odd sacred cow wanders over it and annoys one of the Rhesus monkeys which live there, stealing things off the tourists.

We were tipped off about the view from the Little Buddha Cafe so after we conclude yoga each morning, we amble down there for brunch. We usually arrive about 11:15am and leave at about 1pm, having drunk tea or coffee, had breakfast, browsed the web, and drunk more tea or coffee. Time seems to slow down here: there’s no point wanting things to happen in a hurry, because they won’t. Just let it go.

One advantage of a leisurely timescale is that it gives you a chance to move ever closer to the view, as people vacate their tables.

As mentioned, the cow is sacred here, and many of them wander the streets at will. India has it’s own Starbucks-like coffee chain, called Cafe Coffee Day, which we occasionally patronise in order to escape the heavily over-sweetened coffee served in most places. One thing that has never happened to me in any coffee shop anywhere is that a cow walks in and slurps the little sachets of sugar off the table. Here is that enterprising beast, enjoying the warmth of fine coffee, plus a few others lounging around outside an ashram.

So how was the yoga, I hear you ask ? Well, it was fine, and it turns out, all about the breathing. We breathed like crazy during the classes, as well as having a good stretch, saluting the sun, and doing various other postures. It was quite gentle, compared to the 200-hour intensive teacher-training courses also on offer, but enough for us.

On one evening, walking around town, we ran across a wedding. The groom parades through town on a horse, accompanied by a band and several hundred dancing guests, and in this case, large carriage-style lights powered by a small diesel engine on wheels, pulled along by two people. They were crossing the bridge when we saw them, and an hour later, after we’d had a meal and a short wander around, they’d travelled about 300 yards, still dancing. A long night in store.

Saying goodbye rather sadly to Rishikesh, we headed back down the valley to Haridwar, where we have arranged for a jeep safari in the local wildlife park, Rajaji. There’s the prospect of wild elephants, but we deem it unlikely, as it’s really the wrong time of year. Still, we’d like to get into the countryside and have a look around.

There are lots of spotted deer around, possibly the most numerous mammal species we saw.

No elephants, but here’s the next best thing: elephant droppings.

Lots of birds, including two species of kingfishers, and these rather cute owls.

Haridwar is a very holy place, being where the Ganges leaves the mountains and reaches the plains. Every evening, people gather to bathe in the river and perform ceremonies at sunset.

The next day, we’re on the train again. This is the railway station entrance in Haridwar.

Next stop Delhi, where we’re due to arrive at 11pm. A day there, and then off to Jaipur.

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