The next few days I enjoyed being mellow and fell into an easy groove. I did return to the Ayurvedic center the following afternoon to receive a treatment I had always wanted, shirodara, the process of pouring warm sesame oil in a continuous stream on the forehead for about 30 minutes. It is said to be good for relaxation, headaches, etc. and in particular those with a vata dosha (predominant air quality) which I have.
In addition to the positive effects on the mind, you also end up with a completely drenched head of oil which you are instructed to wash out an hour or so later. There’s nothing like a hot oil treatment for dry hair which is also a predominant vata tendency I definitely have. My new friend, the massage therapist, performed the shirodara on me as well. We were happy to see one another.
My days had already started to have a flow. Mornings began on the roof of my building. Thanks to an Israeli woman I met through Tashi when I arrived, I knew about the roof. She had invited me to join her my second solo morning to meditate and practice tai chi together which she led. That roof ended up being one of the reasons I stayed at the ashram!
Parmarth Niketan Ashram is not normally a place I would choose. The complex is huge. And super busy. It’s constantly filled with Indian people either staying at the ashram or visiting a famous Bodhi tree on the property, the same kind of tree Buddha sat under to get enlightened. But it was comfortable, clean enough, had filtered water available in my building, cheap meals and my amazing roof! My Israeli friend left for Nepal in another day so I had the roof and beautiful view of the Ganga to myself. I would get on the roof early morning before the sun rose over the mountain for a lengthy yoga practice, pranayama and quiet meditation. It was perfect! And peaceful before the day would get going on the streets down below.
Rishikesh is a crazy busy place! Not as crazy as Delhi, Mumbai (so I’ve heard) or some of the other larger cities because it is relatively small, but is still a super popular, crowded and dirty place, despite being called “the birthplace of yoga”. Cars can’t fit on some of the smaller but still major walkways but scooters can. So you are constantly (and I mean constantly) hearing the high-pitched squeal of them as they rush past you at speeds that are dangerously fast for where they are traveling. In addition to scooters, there are tons of cows walking (and shitting) everywhere, so you definitely need to keep your eyes partially on the ground as well as up while walking anywhere. And then you have the monkeys, big white ones and somewhat smaller orange ones that are fairly cute depending on who you ask, or if you’ve had the joy of having an encounter with any of them.
I fell into the “Oh, aren’t they cute” category until I was minding my own business walking down the street one afternoon and one of the biggest white monkeys came running up to me out of nowhere and for no apparent reason and grabbed the straps of my purse with both of its hands. I shouted at it and luckily it let go and ran, likely due to the Indian man that was thankfully somewhat nearby with a stick in his hands. Apparently, that’s the only thing that will get them to take off as they are very sneaky and can be quite dangerous from stories I eventually heard. No more cute monkeys to me. I will keep my distance, thank you very much. Note to future India travelers: apparently, they can smell food in your bag.
Along with the monkeys, cows and scooters, you also have ALL of the people that live in and visit Rishikesh. This includes the many orange-cloaked monks on the streets that rely on others food/money to eat. From what I’ve read, many are authentic and some are not. Then you’ve got the legitimate homeless and often handicapped people who line the streets and bridges begging for money. They are worse off physically than almost any of the homeless I see in the State, because most leg-less people have wheelchairs, unlike in India. And some people are missing one or both arms.
I couldn’t bare not giving some rupees to many of the people I would see begging. How could I not when a 10 rupee bill was just 15 cents??? Imagine what a single or 2 rupee coin means. Plus, a few of these beings truly captured my heart with grateful smiles and super radiant eyes. I was able to gift a blanket I’d been using that my Trinidad friends had left to a woman with no arms. She always had a huge smile and light in her eyes! Content with her place in this world it seemed. I helped her put the blanket in her bag and some fruit underneath to be protected from the monkeys. It felt good to my ego to feel of service I’ll admit but do sincerely pray it will keep her warm and snuggly on the nights that will definitely get cold in Rishikesh.
One of the nice things you do hear amidst the crazy noise that makes up Rishikesh, are the constant sounds of Hari Om in the street. It is by far heard more than anything else as a greeting, along with Namaste — meaning, the light within me acknowledges the light within you. It almost makes the deafening noise of all the other chaos bearable. Just wish sometimes it would drown out the amplified recordings of the redundant mantras always being played by the places that sell CDs. Do people even buy them anymore? Ah, well… you get used to it. Dear Rishikesh.