Let me make a confession right away. The first time I visited Rishikesh was just like any other tourist. Having put up in Roorkee, Rishikesh was a perfect weekend getaway. All I did was check the top things to do in Rishikesh on various travel websites, then roamed around for a couple of hours, visited some iconic spots, picked up woolens, crochet work kurtas, wooden ladles, and returned home by dusk. Everything about the place was touristy. But then I didn’t notice the sadhus in deep meditation, foreigners seeking inner peace and… of course, little did I know that I would come back over and over again for some soulsearching and to just find myself.
A sense of calm washed over me as I stood on the banks of the mighty Ganges. It was a cold winter evening and the emerald green water was so crystal clear that I could see the smoothness of the rocks underneath. I cupped my hands to take a draft of the ice-cold water and splashed on my face. And I have to admit that it was exciting. I decided to take a walk across the Ram Jhula to arrive at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Once the formalities were completed, I decided to sit on one of the garden benches to simply soak it all in. The well-maintained gardens, the trees, and statues, the softness in the eyes of occupants of the ashram- how easy it is to feel a sense of peace, of serenity here.
Then I saw the Rudraksha tree. Known as the teardrop of Lord Rudra (Shiva), I so wanted to find the Rudraksha fruit. And there it was – just one, peeping through the leaves. Rudraksha is often believed to symbolize the link between the earth and the heaven. An object of veneration and also the source to reach the higher self, Rudraksha beads are the seeds obtained from the fruit – perfect for the body, mind and spiritual gains.
Amidst the beautiful garden also stood the Kalpvriksha tree, the divine tree of heaven. It was planted by Vijaypal Baghel of Himalaya Vahini.
And then I met her. Her name, I do not know. Why didn’t I ask her, I wonder. She was a solo traveler from Canada who decided to take a break from the constant stress and anxieties of life and embark on a spiritual journey. She had been to McLeodGang before and decided to visit Rishikesh, and then found the whole experience so gripping that she decided to stay back this time.
I was in awe when she explained about her stay in the Ashram, where each day started with meditation, followed by practicing Yoga, daily Satsang and lecture programs, kirtans, and the famous Ganga Arti at sunset which is attended by hundreds every day. They always had a regime, a soothing, calming one- away from worldly pleasures.
The Parmarth Niketan Ashram founded by Pujya Swami Sukhdevanandji Maharaj, in pre-independence 1942 also practices scientific Ayurvedic physiotherapeutic processes like acupuncture, Reiki, and mental pressure control.
She took me to that part of the Ashram where stood the 14 feet high Shiva statue (The featured image of this post) which got washed away in the 2013 Uttarakhand flood. It looked so empty now. How soothing it would be to feel Lord Shiva’s energy in the morning winds that would howl down the valley in winter, I wondered.
I saw the elderly woman who came to the Ashram some 45 years ago. She may be 80 years old now, living a simple life, lending a hand in preparing the meals, watering the garden, and feeding the cattle. Her face looked plausibly radiant. She was speaking to one of the inhabitants of the Ashram and then fell into her melancholy musings again.
I walked along the streets.
|There were fruit vendors…
|… who were happy to part with a banana or two for the monkeys…
|… and the monkey not wanting to share it with the cows…
|… and a family of cows soaking in the sun.
I continued to walk along the mighty Ganges at dusk. It’s fascinating to think that a lady would travel miles from the comfort of her home and people, and would come to a place in search of inner peace. Like her, there would be thousands in this sacred city Rishikesh. Holy cows, Om symbols, and orange-robed sadhus; fresh mountain air, sunrise over the peaks and a torrential river; incense wafts on the breeze, temple bells ring incessantly, and yogis seen everywhere – the signs and symbols of a sacred Indian town.
I closed my eyes and tears streamed down my face. The divine simplicity and serenity of the place was greater than just a fleeting feeling. Rishikesh is a way of life. It is that kind of a place where people end up staying for long stretches of time. Some return again and again. And then there are those who really never leave, at least not in spirit. For me, Rishikesh was only a small town in North India which is scenically located at the spot where the Ganga spills out of the foothills of the Himalayas and begins her long journey across the plains of India to the Bay of Bengal. But now, I think there is much more to it.
Everyone should take a hiatus from the hustle-and-bustle of life. Have a quiet moment of introspection in this peaceful city. Go on solitary walks along the banks of river Ganges, trek in Rishikesh, walk across the Lakshman Jhula, chat with travelers in cafes, shop, eat at Chotiwala, do water rafting, and experience an unprecedented level of tranquility.