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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rishikesh

Two of the most sacred cities in India were by far my favorites...Varanasi and Rishikesh.  Rishikesh is fairly small and easy to walk to wherever you need to go. There are many excellent restaurants (all vegetarian!) and lots of shops where you can buy any Indian souvenir you could possibly want. Sadly I refrained knowing that my luggage was probably already overweight and I would be flying to Southern India in just a couple days.

I traveled to Rishikesh by jeep taxi with 4 other women who had been in the training. Three of them were in the TTC and one of them was with me in the ATTC. All of them were Spanish speakers and only my friend from ATTC could speak English! It took us about five hours to get to Rishikesh and once we arrived we had to load all of our luggage into a walking rickshaw and follow the man pulling it to our hotel which was probably a 15 minute walk. Two of the women only had four hours to spend in Rishikesh before they had to head to Delhi to catch their flight back to Spain. We dropped all our luggage at the hotel and then speed walked through the city for these women to buy their souvenirs and grab lunch. I wasn't worried about buying anything initially since I knew I had a couple more days to spend there. The sights, sounds and smells were a little overwhelming for me from just having come from a secluded Ashram setting way up in the Himalayas. As we went back to the hotel and the Spanish women left for Delhi, I passed out in the hotel room. My friend asked me at one point if I was ready to eat and I think I just mumbled at her and fell back to sleep! Finally I woke up and was ready for round two of sensory overload.

Rishikesh is situated at the base of the Himalayas along the River Ganges, the river is sacred to Hindus and revered for its healing powers. There are many ashrams in Rishikesh and it is where the Divine Life Society was founded, which is the start of the lineage of yoga which I am trained in: Sivananda Yoga, a form of Hatha yoga.

Dog using the healing powers of the River Ganges to aid
his sore hip
The next morning we found a yoga class to go to, but to our surprise it wasn't taught by a local, it was taught by a young Japanese woman, probably fresh out of a TTC. However, she did a great job teaching the class. We spent the day wandering around Rishikesh and eating whatever sounded good (we had just finished a month long intensive with meals set for us, and we kept getting the same foods over and over...). We went down to the sacred Ganges and took some photos doing yoga poses (not on my camera, so still waiting to get copies). There were people getting in and out of the river, bathing, swimming etc. At one point this older dog walked over to the river, he had a pretty bad limp with his right hind leg. He walked right into the river and put his sore hip in it and just let it soak for a while. That really made me realize how sacred that river really is. When an instinctive animal walks in to it for its healing powers, you know it must be good!

Sunset along the Ganges in Rishikesh
The next day we found an Iyengar style class to go to that was taught by a local and for some reason he decided that I was going to be his guinea pig for the entire class (he must have sensed my inflated ego saying "I just graduated from a 500 hour training and I know everything, haha). Everytime he moved the class into a new pose, which was really only like three times (seriously, a two hour class and we did three poses) he would use me as the model of what NOT to do and then adjust me into what he wanted us to do! It was very humbling. We used a lot of props and I was really sore the next day, but the thoroughness in his adjustments was amazing! Later that day my friend flew back to England (she's originally from Brazil, but lives in England) and I was left sharing a room with the last woman there, Pila, who is from Chile and speaks a little English, but communication was difficult for both of us. We had dinner together and prepared for color fest which was the next day! Color fest or Holi was the reason I decided to head to Rishikesh for a few days instead of heading directly to Delhi with the rest of the yoga group.

Colorfest is a giant party where everyone throws colored powder at each other. They call it "playing Holi". Kids fill squirt guns and water balloons with water and dye mixed and use those as their weapons against people. I bought a special shirt for the occasion for $2 and wore pants that I didn't care about; I also prepared by putting some coconut oil in my hair ahead of time (thank goodness for that tip, I met a girl later whose hair had pink and blue streaks in it that wouldn't come out!).

Two young girls "playing Holi"
I was flying out later that day so Pila and I decided we would go out and play Holi at 8am. We had our dye packets ready and went down to breakfast. We asked our hotel staff how to play. They told us that we would just walk up to people and paint their faces with our powdered hands. Then we would give them a hug and continue on. We were not allowed to get mad at anyone who put colors on us (well duh!). Our hotel staff was happy to get us started by putting the first streaks on our faces, which we then got to do back to them. We headed out super excited, like kids on Christmas morning!

We were a little shy at first. With it being so early in the morning, many people hadn't been "painted" yet and we didn't know the rules and want to upset somebody or stain their nice clothes (many people were on their way to pray at temples). It didn't take long though, most people saw us with our painted faces, holding our powder packs and walked over to us waiting for us to apply color to them, they would then dip their hands into OUR powder packs and get us back, we would hug (leaving hand prints on each others shirts) and part ways. I had a great time putting colored hand prints on the "third eye" of all the sacred cattle we walked past.  We ran all over making people (and cows) colorful, getting extremely colorful ourselves and then headed back to clean up as I had a taxi to catch to the Dheradun airport.



Siva statue. We actually missed the Yoga Festival, it was
happening during our training.
Pila and Heather "playing Holi" with a local



The Ganges



Heather "playing Holi"



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