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In about 2003 I asked my teacher Acharya that I wanted to learn more about yoga, his advice to me was to go to India and see what you find.
I asked him where in India should I go and his response was Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is said to be the “Yoga Capital of the World”, made famous to the west by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who became the guru of the Beatles in the late ’60s and spread the teachings of transcendental meditation. Ever since, Rishikesh has been a magnet for spiritual seekers.
Acharya told me of this wonderful place at the foothills of the Himalayas along the banks of the sacred river Ganges lies the town of Rishikesh. A place where sadhus and Religious people lived as true yogis.
He even explained to me a good place to stay ‘Swiss Cottage’, a very small Ashram run by an old Swami and a Swiss woman.
And so, I created this grand illusion in my mind of such a place where I would find a great master living at the top of a mountain which I was to climb every morning before dawn to begin my yoga practice – as if I was some kind of apprentice in a kung fu movie!
At the end of that same year I found myself landing in the chaos of the Dehli and then quickly on a long and bumpy night bus trip to Rishikesh.
Arriving in the early morning to see sunrise peaking over the mountains and reflecting in the waters of the holy ganga river my heart was a little crushed I must say. Yes, it was an amazing beautiful place but not quite as remote and quiet as I had expected.
I arrived to the swiss cottage to discover no old swami was living there and a fairly modern looking guest house, definately not an Ashram. I asked the owner of the guest house repeatdly
“Are you sure this is the only Swiss Cottage?”
was his reply with a little shake of the head and a twinkle in his eye.
This swiss cottage was filled mostly with young Isralie backpackers who were more interested in full moon parties than pranayama, and in fact there was another swiss cottage exactly the same, only next door run by the brother of the first swiss cottage!
Again I felt a little disillusioned, yet still thrilled with the idea of being in such a holy place. As the days passed by I realised Rishikesh to be a little like a yoga supermarket. Each electricity pole had a different poster stuck to it advertising different yoga teachers, classes or gurus. You could choose from Astanga yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha yoga, Trika yoga, Tantra yoga, Iyengar yoga, Sivananda yoga, Vedic yoga just to name a few!
Some even offered crash courses in enlightenment “Be enlightened in 28 days”.
It was quite bewildering.
Within a few weeks I managed to find my way and discovered the jewels of Rishikesh which are hidden beneath the surface. I found an amazing teacher who I then spent over five months studying with,
I discovered the real swiss cottage which existed away from the tourist area, I discovered waterfalls, caves and where to find the best lassi in town. Since this first trip I have since returned on three other occasions and hope to come back many more.
Rishikesh is definately a tourist yoga hub and filled with yoga teachers who come to make money from them, but it is also a place full of magic. The roots of yoga can be felt here and it feels incredibly special to sit quietly by the ganga river as hundreds and thousands of other yogis have done in the past.
As the sun rises from behind the mountains, and cuts through the fog, locals wash in the river. Live temple chanting sets the tone. Beginning around 4 am, the chants float across the water until well after dark. During night time pujas (ceremonies), offerings of hundreds of camphor flame leaf boats float picturesquely on the river.
Many people make a pilgramage here to come to and bathe in the sanctified waters of the river, as Hindus believe this can remove layers of karma from past and present lives. Dunking your head three times under the icy cold water should wipe your slate clean; ahhh now I understand the “Be enlightened in 28 days course”.
In India all is possible.
I recommend that everyone visit Inida once in their life as this country has an unexplained magic which opens the heart.
Most people either love or hate it, but all who visit can not deny that it changes something inside you forever. As for learning more about yoga I definately did but it also taught me how lucky I was to have Acharya as my teacher at home in Sydney.