there’s something about taking a bus with your closest friends to a new and unfamiliar destination that fills your soul to the brim.
I spent this weekend exploring the beautiful town of rishikesh with some of my closest friends.
After a extra difficult afternoon of final hugs and handshakes at the school, ethan and i rushed back to our homestay to pack and eat one last delicious homemade meal. the fact that i had to say goodbye to thirty of the most incredible children and my beloved homestay family in the same afternoon was brutal. i gave nani the biggest hug ever- "when you come back next?" she asked, her words actually understandable this time. I told her soon, and i intend to keep that promise.
Mamta helped us flag down a driver before giving us one last final hug, and we both held back tears (and laughter) as ethan and I uncomfortably wiggled in the vehicle with our overstuffed backpacks. the tuktuk whisked us away- fast at first, then slow, until the engine sputtered and gave out all together… in the middle of a busy delhi intersection.
We managed to grab the attention of a new tuktuk driver and dash across a very bewildered lane of traffic. it was a fiasco. the remaining journey from the tuktuk to the metro went without a hitch. We met 5 other volunteers at the metro as planned, and together navigated the absolute puzzle that is disguised as a metro station. after the hour and a half metro journey, we flocked to the bus stop and managed to find our correct bus amongst an ocean of dingy buses.
the bus ride from delhi to rishikesh was maybe the longest 8 hours of my life. i was still heartbroken over having to say goodbye to nani, mamta, and the twins. and on top of that, unfortunately for me, i forgot to bring a pillow or travel pillow.
one thing i learned over the overnight bus ride is that i am quite committed to my sleep. once i got it in my head that it was bed time, i got creative with my resources. with some resourcefulness (and sleepless delusion), my bulging backpack doubled as a pillow. I also expanded on my array of invented sleeping positions and slept hunched over with my backpack “pillow” in my lap. where there’s a will there’s a way, am i right?
I was jolted awake at 5am thanks to the planet sized road craters, but it proved to be a treat, as i got to see the sunrise filter through the first expanse of mountains. at 7:00 in the morning, we all unloaded our bulky belongings and sleepy bodies from the bus. fyi- bus stops in india are literally just where the bus stops. The backpack pillow proved to be less than ideal as I’m still working out the knots in my neck. but i made it to rishikesh in one piece, and that’s about as much as i can ask for.
we found ourselves hailing yet another tuktuk, this time to get to our hostel. the drive through the mountains into rishikesh was breathtaking- and not simply because we had stuffed 7 bodies into a single tuktuk. 20 minutes into our ride, we were dropped off in front of massive suspension bridge. apparently, the hostel we had booked was inaccessible by road. Our driver's only directions? cross the bridge and hike a little ways up the mountain. his “little way up the mountain” was the understatement of the year, as it was the most cardio i’ve done since leaving the usa. by the time we made it to the top, i was covered in sweat and breathing heavy. rather than complain, i found myself feeling lucky for a body that could take me on such unexpected adventures.
After unpacking and doing a bit of exploring, the girls and i hit the town to do some shopping. i put my bargaining skills to the test and picked up some incredible trinkets. After shopping, we split into a smaller group of 4 girls (myself, kush, birdgette, and hannah), and we enjoyed lunch atop a rooftop treehouse.
As we all rubbed out the knots in our backs from our unexpected hike, we did as those with logic do after being subjected to unexpected cardio: book a massage. I was so excited about the 600 rupee ($10) price tag for the hour massage that i didn’t realize just exactly how long it’d been since i’d shaved my legs until it was too late. I will not comment further on the situation except that i did tip extra well.
that night, the 15 or so of us volunteers ate dinner in another rooftop treehouse (do you sense a theme here?). i feasted on the most delicious vegetarian meal i've had in quite some time, and didn’t even complain when the actual bottom dropped out of the sky. Even the most horrible lighting storm is wonderful in india.
During dinner, three more of the volunteers arrived in rishikesh. they also had to navigate the bridge and streets to find us, and just brought their backpacks to the restaurant. One of the volunteers who came late was my friend bri- she lived at my homestay with ethan and I and was from the volunteer group two weeks before mine.
After dinner, my friend tom and i insisted on walking bri to her hostel since she wasn't able to get a room in ours and it was dark outside. get this: he's from birmingham, uk, and I'm from birmingham al. coincidence? i think not. Although we got drenched and managed to step in every puddle imaginable on the way home, i found myself laughing harder than i have laughed in a very long time. did i mention tigers roam wild here? we practically sprinted up the side of the mountain in fear of being a tiger's late night snack, all while laughing hysterically (it's the best work out ever omg).
sleep was refreshing, even on the top bunkbed. the vistas from the hostel are unreal. I woke up easily at 8am this morning and took my laptop to the rooftop cafe where i enjoyed breakfast and the most unreal panoramic views of the city. Rishikesh is nestled in the mountains and severed by a beautiful river. the colorful buildings stand out beautifully against the green flora, and the tibetan influences make the city all the more enjoyable.
a few other volunteers gradually joined me on the roof, and within half an hour, we found ourselves with an agenda for the day: find and explore the beatles ashram.
While the exploring part went without a hitch, the actual process of locating the ashram went over embarrassingly bad. not only did we walk past the ashram by like 2 miles, but we managed to take a tuktuk to the entire wrong mountain. if there’s one thing to bear in mind while in india, it’s that nothing will ever go as planned. to thrive here, you must learn to go with the flow. also, i've come to the sad realization that i'm just as directionally challenged in india as i am at home (close your ears, mom).
we were all so beat from walking and discouraged by our lack of navigational skills that we all came very close to giving up our search. surprisingly, this beatles ashram is not as wildly popular as one would imagine. There are no signs and about half of the population had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for directions. Another pro tip about getting lost in india: locals won’t ever admit they don’t know where something is. They usually just make up random time estimates and give you absurd directions. “Iceland? yes, 15 minutes down this road.”
we all decided to take a lunch break. after getting some food in our system, we resolved ourselves to follow through with our search for the ashram. and oh, thank gosh we did.
i can’t even begin to explain this place. we somehow lucked out and landed a crazy cool tour guide- aka the local monk. he must have been a massive beatles fan because he knew every little detail about this site.
So if you’re anything like me and didn’t already know about the beatles ashram, i’ll give you a quick history lesson. in 1968, the beatles traveled to rishikesh india to study meditation and yoga. they stayed for 6 weeks at this ashram and wrote their white album and some songs featured in abbey road. the ashram closed down in the 90’s due to land disputes with the government, and has since been abandoned. today, the ashram is a canvas for tourists, beatles fans, and artists alike to pay tribute to the beauty of creativity and music. i cannot explain the magic i felt in this place. it truly felt like an alternate universe exploring the acres upon acres of an abandoned, graffiti covered yoga school.
The monk encouraged us all to leave our mark on one building in particular and offered us paint. i can now say i’ve added to the beautiful abundance of art thats housed within the expanses of the ashram. its was an experience unlike anything i've ever had before.
Tomorrow, i leave this beautiful city. To be honest though, i’m nowhere near ready to leave rishikesh. Me and my friends have breakfast plans in the morning, and i might do a drop-in yoga class if i wake up early enough.