Rishikesh Stories – My Solo Trip of Revelations & Rhapsodies

I poured out these first few lines at the departure terminal of Dehradun as I waited for my flight back home from Rishikesh.

Any return flight after a holiday is a tad heavier because holidays are always such fun, but some holidays turn out to be more than that. And one such is concluding now. When something delights you with all the rasas of life, you desire more of it. But if it was more, it would probably cease to delight. The trip to Rishikesh was one such, which was also my first solo travel. Another bucket list ticked: to travel alone, without a plan, to step out of my comfort zone, even if just slightly.

This trip was so flavourful in its entirety that it overwhelms me to recollect it in words. But because I am not endowed to capture it in images, words are my salvation. I experienced an entire spectrum of life in those five days, from the spiritual and emotional to the worldly, feeling the workings of my heart, mind, and body.

A person who tends to get lost even in a mall, navigating a whole new city on my own was my biggest fear especially if you are used to traveling with a micro-planner husband. But I fared well, thanks to Google Maps and the crowded Indianness with abundant people to ask for help and directions. From riding a shared auto to riding pillion on a hired scooty, or from walking the length and breadth of Laxman and Ram Jhula to asking unknown families to ride along in a taxi, I was constantly surprising myself.

My mind is abuzz with memories as I reminiscence on the trip, but I will begin with what was the most impressionable and exciting part for me. It was meeting absolute strangers, making random conversations, exploring life without filters, dropping all judgments, going about without my many relationship tags, and gaining a fresh perspective on life. I could accomplish all this because I was alone, left to my instincts and devices.

Every individual that I came across during my stay has contributed in making it the most vibrant travel mosaic. I have always believed in humanity despite Russia – Ukraine, Israel – Hamas, Kuki Zo – Meitei, etc. and I am so glad that this trip restored my faith in the oneness of our species. Deep down we all attract and connect to that inherent goodness.

One evening at the Triveni Ghat, while I sat aimlessly munching moodi and mesmerized by the waning sunlight, flowing Ganga, and the exodus of human faith I got talking to a bunch of unhurried bystanders. The lads hailed from a village called Tehri in Punjab and we had one of the most entertaining conversations. While Instagram hasn’t spared any village or youth, it has not tarnished their bucolic charm. Their rustic simplicity was endearing. They couldn’t fathom the idea that a lone female could travel solo and enjoy it. How on earth could I take two flights and visit alone, stay by myself in a hotel, and roam around without any company? Girls in their village would never be allowed!

The last part is not surprising. We have huge differences in urban and rural cultures which is not even a point of debate. But the difference in our perspectives was the most refreshing part. Things that seemed most natural to me were most unusual for them. We came from widely different lifestyles, backgrounds, and more but we spoke unpretentiously. I made friends on the go because for once I hadn’t gone with any. 

Thanks to my sports-aficionado husband, I even regaled a six-year-old kiddo with a well-informed cricket world cup conversation who was insufferable sitting in the Satsang hall. I had such an amusing time with him and between us, we even decided to get the World Cup home this year. Another time, while I was waiting for some poha and chai under a blooming tree at Ira’s Kitchen, I met a healer from the UK and in the course of our conversation, it was incredible that we both had the exact thought at the exact time. We were exchanging some interesting information and she reminded me of one of my favourite Rumi quotes, “Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” At the same time, she penned the very same emotion in her diary, “Whoever you meet is meant to heal you first so be grateful.”

In those five days, I met some wonderful people from different walks of life, in different age groups with the most varied back stories, each charting their dreams and futures. Whether we talked over dinners at Bistro Nirvana, Beatles café, brunched at the Secret Waterfall or Tulasi café, or over live bands at The Hosteller, every conversation always brought a new dynamic whether it was God, religion, relationship, or just banter. There were people with strong beliefs, identities, and habits, others who were more malleable, and some to whom opinions didn’t matter. But nobody judged anyone because no one was playing any role, no one had to appease each other or fear upsetting them. We were ourselves, unapologetic in thoughts, uninhibited in words, and not looking for any deliberateness with a stranger. This was truly one of the most liberating parts of this trip.

However, witnessing the splendour of Ganga Aarti against the Shivaliks at Triveni Ghat was an awe-inspiring and exhilarating experience. The first time that I dipped my feet in the mighty Ganga, with the sun hung low and lights twinkling beyond, I was overwhelmed by reasons I can never comprehend. I felt a surge of gratitude for everyone and everything that made it possible for me to stand there and feel the exuberance of existence in every cell of my being. I didn’t know that that was just the beginning of an enchanting evening ahead.

Soon the bhajans filled the air with piety as throngs squeezed in to partake in the celestial grace. The priests took their places, and the diyas swayed in rhythm as did people, lighting their hearts with a flame that burns on faith. At that moment, you are only in the present, detached from the past and the future, soaked in the swara of NOW. And there can be nothing more emancipating than that head space. But what followed next touched me with surrealism. As the aarti ended and the kirtan picked up its crescendo, hordes of young and old, desi and videshi, men and women came together for a dance of absolute joy. A dance where ‘I” dissolves, and something higher takes over in the most elated expression.

Two realizations struck me that evening. For the first time, I felt privileged to belong to this ancient spiritual land of Bharat because belonging here offers so many opportunities for a true seeker. Nowhere else can one feel this crazy, chaotic yet liberating experience of divinity as deeply as on this land. The other realization was a catalyst.  It felt to me that when people were rejoicing Krishna or Ram or Durga in their dance, it had nothing to do with God, Goddess, or even Higher Power. In those movements, they simply relinquished themselves from being center stage in their lives. Instead, there was the most effortless flow of love. This natural renunciation of ego set us free without resistance and thus the experience of such ecstasy.

Religion is about holding someone else in power and awe. Whereas spirituality is about holding oneself in surrender and gratitude. Religion instills fear while spirituality instills freedom. These transcendental moments at Triveni Ghat, Parmarth Niketan, and Vashisht Gufa Temple gave me goosebumps and grace. However, the world of cravings and stimulations was never behind. It traces you through nooks and crannies carrying whiffs of excitement in its wake. It found me too. But before reaching a stage of ‘no indulgence’, there is a stage of aware indulgence if there is such a thing. And I think I belong there. It only means I set my limits, know my point of return, and stick to it.

This gamut of experiences from the sensory to the meditative, from the physical to the mental, and from the conscious to the subconscious, is each an intrinsic and indispensable part of self-discovery. And one cannot be understood without the other.

We make stories every day of our life but on certain days we make them more in newer avenues with newer people. Some such stories become special and memorable because of the characters we meet along the way. Through this post I intend to relive and share the rhapsody of my personal pilgrimage and thank all those who shook my hand along this journey. Because I believe happiness should be shared and gratitude must be expressed.

Photo by Abhishek  Gaur: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-scenic-shot-of-rishikesh-from-the-ganga-river-13918457/

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