Rishikesh is the cleanest and most peaceful city. The typical Faridabad smog isn't there, there's no garbage, the air smells fresh, the dogs and cows arent starved, and the view is amazing. It was better than I expected, though I should have figured it would be that way considering it is a holy city and the yoga capital of the world. There are multiple ashrams, multiple yogis, various yoga classes in the morning and evening, and a river ceremony every night that I will talk about momentarily.
Upon arriving at the Hardiwar train station late Saturday morning, we got a taxi to Rishikesh and made it to the hostel (it was 20km away; there isn't a train station in Rishikesh). Normally, arriving at your hostel is a relaxing affair. And it probably would have been if not for the fact that this is India and Rishikesh is full of monkeys. We walked upstairs then through a door to an outside corridor to get to our room, when we were surprised to see a seemingly-cute monkey eating peanuts on the ledge. We wanted a picture of him of course. Maybe he was camera shy, or maybe the peanuts were bad, but he was just not having it. As soon as Francisca walked near him, he got up, bared his large teeth (with big fangs!) and came towards us! We screamed and all fell over each other trying to get back through the door to safety in the stairwell. The hostel worker heard us and came up with a stick to beat the monkey away so we could get to our room. Otherwise, the hostel was great: big clean bed, accommodating owners, hot water showers, and wifi! We ate lunch at a nearby "Italian" cafe, where the pizza was alright but nothing special. I was sick so I particularly enjoyed my hot lemon ginger honey tea. We walked through the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, down to the Ganga (Ganges) river, then through a small market to look at the various jewelry and scarves. Rishikesh is known for gemstones as well as yoga, and Francisca was particularly interested in finding a turquoise ring. We passed by the large Ram Jhula suspension bridge and went down to a small beach where we were assaulted by kids doing EVERYTHING they could to get us to buy little offerings (whining, calling us their big sisters, tears....the whole dramatic show). Once I found out from a local that they were offerings, I did purchase one because I wanted to participate in the ceremony later. I, however, only gave them 10 rupees rather than the ridiculous 50 they first said (10 was even too much for how tiny and simple it was, but it was like 5 cents so I wasnt worried). We stopped back at the hostel then went down to the river for the ganga aarti ceremony. The ganga aarti is a holy ceremony done every night to give thanks and praise the river/river god. The boys of the ashram were all seated near the river, dressed in their traditional yellow and red, and singing songs and beating on drums. There was a fire in the middle at the river's edge, with more boys seated there, and then on the steps behind it leading toward the road were the ones singing and playing. The guru of the ashram came out after a little while and sang with them for a few minutes, then spoke about new exciting changes going on regarding making the state more green and reducing pollution. These gold things looking like glamorous incense burners but holding fire were then passed around. I lit the small wick on my offering at that point and set it in the river to flow away with the current. There was a little more singing, then the ceremony just ended and people began to leave. It was a very peaceful and nice experience that I was glad to have.
Day 2 in rishikesh began with some disappointment. We wanted to do the yoga class offered by our hostel at 8:30am. We got up, were led to the yoga room through a series of stairs and doors, then waited....and waited....and waited. After 45 minutes we just decided to leave because it was apparent that the yogi was not showing up. We found out later that there aren't yoga classes anywhere on Sunday -_- We were a little put off by that though since the guy at the desk took all that trouble to lead us to the class rather than telling us there wouldn't be class. After showers, we walked down to another close restaurant and had delicious Nutella banana crepes for breakfast (not Indian, but oh well). Following breakfast was a stop at the ayurvedic spa to look into ayurvedic massages. We flipped through the booklet, made an appointment, then decided to make a quick walk through the market from the night before so we could cross over the Ram Jhula bridge and check out the other side of the river. Turns out, it's just another series of shops. These sold basically the same things, but I actually purchased a few souvenirs for friends this time. And I got something for myself: a handmade silver opal ring! I hadn't intended on getting it, but we happened to walk into a shop that sold rings and I commented on an opal one saying I wished they had them smaller (all the gemstone rings had very large bulky stones). The shopkeeper pulled out a package of opals of various sizes and color and said I could pick one out to be made into a ring. I found a gorgeous small one just under a carat, then picked out a pretty simple band from another ring that I wanted mine to look like. He sized my finger, put it all in a bag, then told me to come back the next evening and it would be done....all for the equivalent of $22!
We went and ate at our same breakfast cafe for an early dinner, then I went down to the ganga aarti while Anais and Francisca got their massages (only 2 could go at a time). The ganga aarti this night was shorter and the guru didnt come out at all.
My massage was next, and it was a new experience since it was my first professional massage ever and quite an intimate affair. The masseuse first gave me a head massage with oil . I climbed up and laid on the table next, and she went body part by body part down each side massaging a scrub into my skin and putting acute pressure on specific parts of each section. She did all the appendages first, then the whole blanket had to come off so she could do the torso area. I flipped over and she did the same thing to the other side. Then I was done. It was nice, but I do wish more time was spent on the back and neck with a deep tissue massage; this massage didnt leave those muscles any looser so I still have that tension.
Day 3 started at the early hour of 11am because we decided to sleep in. Lunch was consumed at our usual restaurant, then we decided to make our way to the Lakshman Jhula bridge and explore the rest of Rishikesh. We crossed the Ram Jhula, picked up my ring, then caught a tuk tuk. He dropped us off in the general area at the top of a hill, then we ended up walking past the side road to go to the bridge. It was still a pleasant walk though and we got to see some more ashrams and buildings. We asked around and found the side road, then made our way down through winding narrow streets and alley markets until finally finding the other bridge. Our plan was to cross the bridge then take a tuk tuk back to our hostel (completing a big circle), but we didnt pass any at all on the entire walk. This was walk even nicer: tons of green, a lot of shade, and very little noise. We were all absolutely exhausted upon arriving to our room, making it just in time for yoga. Anais and Francisca went to the yoga class, but I was still feeling sick and dehydrated and having stomach cramps so I opted to sleep instead. Dinner followed yoga, then we all relaxed in the room until going to sleep since we had to be up at 3:15am to get to the train station for our 6am train.
The train was agonizing. I didnt realize I had changed our tickets to AC Sleeper class. We originally had non-AC sleeper so I went to the travel agent and told him we wanted an AC compartment since those were safer (assuming all the ACs were chairs...apparently they aren't). 2 of the bunks were in one little area, and the 3rd was across the hall. Since the area we had 2 bunks in had the potential to be filled with 4 more strangers, all 3 of us just decided to pile on the one bunk across the aisle and sit rather than lay down and sleep the whole time with sketchy strangers. It was so uncomfortable though because we also had our luggage on it too. Then to make things worse, the train ride that took 4 hours to get to Rishikesh ended up taking 7 hours to get back to Delhi! We finally made it, found our driver, and got to our respective homes....with me being last and finally arriving at 2:30pm. I promptly showered and napped then relaxed the rest of the day.
Tomorrow I go back to gynecology for a few weeks to hopefully learn from the doctor this time.