Observations From Three Weeks in Rishikesh

It’s the little things that add to a country’s charm … and make any trip abroad such a memorable experience.

As I travel, some experiences become full journal entries, while others can be summarized in just a sentence or two. These are they; this and that.

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My First Few Days in Rishikesh, India

Almost immediately after returning to India, it felt as if I never left.

An amazing Thali, Naan, Papadam and Chai - my perfect meal!
An amazing Thali, Naan, Papadam and Chai – my perfect meal!

I gave myself a two day window of not eating street food that had flies on it, then decided that it was stopping me from chowing down on some of my favorite meals and lifted the ban.

I forgot that sitting in the front seat of a bus means that you are subjected to the blaring of the horn and the radio the entire time.

I sat in the front seat for the entire seven hour bus ride from Delhi to Rishikesh and watched in terror as we narrowly avoided oncoming traffic, cows and pedestrians while swerving on and off the road. I’m pretty sure that the bus was on two wheels at times.

During that same bus ride, a man came on selling sliced coconuts. After getting no response from the rest of the passengers, he came directly up to me, shoved a slice almost up my nose and said, “Yes, very nice coconut. Only 5 rupees.” It took me saying no a few times before he removed it from my nostril region.

Oasis Restaurant German Bakery & Narayana Spa - Rishikesh
Oasis Restaurant German Bakery & Narayana Spa – Rishikesh

On my first full day in Rishikesh, I had a full Ayurvedic oil massage on the front porch floor of my guesthouse wearing only my boxers and having to swat away flies. It was not the most relaxing experience, but at least it was only $14.

A few days later Carrie and I got oil massages at a massage parlor/ travel agency/ hotel/ adventure booking business. While it was more private, that also meant that a bit too much time was spent near my privates. But at least it was only $8.

I’m doing very well on my goal of haggling less and constantly reminding myself “A difference of 20 rupees means I’m arguing over 40 cents!”

One of the primary methods of trash disposal in developing nations is to burn it. The scent is quite unique and often smells like burning wood, plastic and poop. From time to time I get a whiff of it at home and am instantly transported back to my travels. Or, in this case, to here.

Trash burning during Prem Baba's Rishikesh Cleanup Day
Trash burning during Prem Baba’s Rishikesh Cleanup Day

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Three Weeks Later, We’re Still in Rishikesh

Om Anand Swami International Yoga Academy - Rishikesh
Om Anand Swami International Yoga Academy – Rishikesh

Carrie and Lauren have been in Rishikesh for months attending a yoga teacher training workshop. Though I heard a few scattered stories over Skype while they were gone, it’s been great to hear lots more about it from them and from some other students who stayed in town for a few weeks after. I now feel like I was there with them…almost.

It took us four tries to make it to the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh. The first day, we never even made it out of our guesthouse. Next, we got a late start and only made it half way. On the third day, we almost made it but got sidetracked trying to move a dying puppy into the shade to make him more comfortable. Mission accomplished, but Lauren got bit in the process, so instead of seeing the Ashram she saw the hospital and a rabies shot. Finally, on the fourth try, we made it! Full story and photos coming soon.

Museli, Fruit Salad, Curd & Honey, Coffee and a lotus candle holder at Cafe Delmar - Rishikesh
Museli, Fruit Salad, Curd & Honey, Coffee and a lotus candle holder at Cafe Delmar – Rishikesh

While I’ve had my share of amazing thalis and other India food, I love how many restaurants here offer a wide variety of food from across the world. A typical menu might have Mexican, Chinese, Israeli, American, Nepalese and Indian food … with a wide variety of beverages and deserts as well.

It’s great to be back in the land of $6 hotel/guesthouse rooms.

It’s crazy just how much construction there is in Rishikesh. From what locals tell me, the town barely existed 15 years ago and now it’s impossible to get land anywhere other than on the outskirts.

Construction or Abandonment in Rishikesh, India
Construction or Abandonment in Rishikesh, India

Why must it be so difficult to find clothing for a 6’3” man in India?! Pants and shirts alike never seem to fit. I’m dreading the day that my flip flops break.

It’s also difficult for a 6’3” man to sleep in a bed sometimes, as a footboard means I can never truly stretch out laying on my back.

That's me hamming it up in the middle of a very crowded Laxshman Jhula Bridge
That’s me hamming it up in the middle of a very crowded Laxshman Jhula Bridge

A walk across one of Rishikesh’s two narrow suspension bridges (Ram Jhula and Laxshman Jhula) usually means dodging and weaving through a sea of pedestrians, motorcycles, push-carts, cows, monkeys, people taking photos and bike riders. Needless to say, bottlenecks are a-plenty.

As Rishikesh is so used to Western tourists, it has an abundance of Western toilets. That said, there are still plenty of squatty potties around.

Our current guesthouse room is located directly next to the old motorized pump that brings water up from the ground level to the top. Needless to say, it’s quite loud and they sometimes put it on in the wee hours of the morning.

So far, I’ve seen two tarantulas and one scorpion in our guesthouse rooms.

A tarantula in our room at the Ganga Darshan gusthouse. We let it live
A tarantula in our room at the Ganga Darshan gusthouse. We let it live
A scorpion on Carrie's yoga mat at Ganga View Guesthouse. I'm not sure if we let this one survive...
A scorpion on Carrie’s yoga mat at Ganga View Guesthouse. I’m not sure if we let this one survive…

I love how clean the Ganges River is in Rishikesh, as opposed to Varanasi where it has been polluted for hundreds of miles.

Clean Himalayas Recycling and Dustbin
Clean Himalayas Recycling and Dustbin

That said, despite having a nonprofit (Clean Himalayas) that has placed recycling/trash bins all around town and offers free pickup, people still insist on throwing all of their trash into the Ganges. This includes our hotel :(

In an effort to use less plastic bottles, we have a water purifier pump that we hook up to any water source. It saves the planet, but sure tastes gross sometimes!

My friend Heather and I had the idea of drinking 9 Masala chais in one day. We made it to 6.

For reasons having nothing to do with its name, our favorite eating spot by our guesthouse is Café Delmar. This is funny to us, as Carrie and I just spent two years living on Delmar Street in San Francisco.

I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with a dude in 3 weeks! As you can imagine, the majority of the people from Carrie’s course were women.

Gems and Mala Bead Necklaces for sale in Rishikesh
Gems and Mala Bead Necklaces for sale in Rishikesh

I would conservatively estimate that I’ve spent at least 12 hours in gem/jewelry/crystal shops since arriving. Mostly just sitting around, occasionally offering my opinion, sipping free chai teas and enjoying the fan that keep me cool and fly-free.

One hot afternoon, Carrie, Lauren and I decided to take a full dip and cleanse ourselves in the Ganges. They kept their clothes on, but I reluctantly stripped to my boxers before taking the plunge. Naturally, after coming up, an entire tour boat went by and I’m pretty sure a photo of me must be on someone’s Facebook wall by now.

My last few months in San Francisco were non-stop. Between moving out of our apartment, finishing up my job at Dickerman Prints and getting ready for my first solo photo show, there wasn’t much time for relaxing. Fortunately, that’s about all I’ve done since getting to India…and it feels GREAT!

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Some Interesting Things That I’ve Seen So Far

A wandering Ear Cleaner...this I find very odd...
A wandering Ear Cleaner…this I find very odd…
Toys for sale on the shopping gauntlet near the Ram Jhula
Toys for sale on the shopping gauntlet near the Ram Jhula
Water Bottle Disposal - River View Cottages
Water Bottle Disposal – River View Cottages
Face in an Ashram - Rishikesh
Face in an Ashram – Rishikesh
Monkey by Swarg Niwas - Rishikesh
Monkey by Swarg Niwas – Rishikesh

For more stories from Rishikesh, check out Spirituality, Relaxation, Tourism and the Ganges in Rishikesh.