Backpacking Rishikesh

The Land of the Bholenath. You may be outside a temple, walking the busy streets across the Lakshman Jhula, or be sitting by the Ganga, you are bound to find a Sadhu, a hippie in the strangest of clothing, or a local in his everyday attire casually slipping a kash of ganja.

The story of how Rishikesh went from becoming an Above of Gods and a land of several myths and legends to the Yoga capital of the nation and a place to let your hippie side out is particularly interesting. The Beatles came in search for answers to life’s larger questions in 1968, and ended up performing transcendental meditation - I’m certain they were merely stoned, and were given the freedom to sit and ponder by the holy Ganga - but it’s here they wrote their most famous album, the White Album. There was then a second wave of foreign artists coming in search for a story of their own, and this is where the locals realized these visits could become a major tourist attraction.

There are now a dozen privately owned hostels in Rishikesh - very western hostels with walls painted with ideas of western depictions of India - men in Rajasthani attire riding camels, funny yoga poses, the macho Shiv and his body smeared in ash, vivid colors on flowery designs - everything the West thinks India is. The downside is - having talked to locals who’ve seen it all since the 60’s of what they feel about this shift in culture - all this happened at the expense of the loss of the real Rishikesh. The original locals, Shaivites, vairagis who are beyond worldly desires have now succumbed to the seductions of the materialistic world, greed of money has caused an insane number of land disputes between the government and the locals, people have converted dharamshalas - government/temple owned dorms you can live at for free to privately owned guest homes and hotels, destroyed temples and threw the remains in the Ganga - the very thing travelers come to see - to make a couple thousands through the form of hostels and cafes. This is upsetting but this is how it is.

All in all, Rishikesh is a great place to spend time not doing too much but letting your mind believe you’re undergoing deep introspection - you spend a couple hours doing Yoga at a time of your preference, attend Samadhis hosted by Sri Prem Baba, a Brazilian (ironically!) who says love can answer it all, spend the rest meeting people at your hostel or at cafes serving pizzas and German Schoko delicacies, you can roam the streets stoned and no one’s going to judge or pester, you can sit by the Ganga for a whole day, and even at night and the police won’t ask you a thing.

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