"In-Roads", Life Positive Magazine, 2001

You know you are in the land of the Rishis, when the Himalayas make a sudden appearance, and as you breathe in, you know you breathe in freedom. When the cries of bam bhole rise up occasionally, and the color orange begins to dot the landscape. Just in remembering Rishikesh, am I not already there! In merely describing the experience, my mind encroaches on that space where it ceases to be. Strife loses to rest, and effort gives in to mutely to the caress of the calming breeze. The breeze just been touched by the Ganges feels almost like the out breath of the Rishis delving deep within Himalayan caves. Its coolness assures that one has arrived, and need no longer strive for the place called home.

Yes. Effortlessness is the predominant flavor of Rishikesh. It is not a place to visit, but a place to return to after long tiresome journeys on the streets of life. Though its sidewalks are lined by signboards of Hatha Yoga classes, and shops selling umpteen meditation aids, from books to yantras and the like, strangely they are all just not required anymore. Once you step onto the land of the Rishis, you can safely drop your luggage of belief; and all stringent practices, as this is that piece of India’s soil where yoga happens spontaneously. Your spirit can rest on the shoulders of those who have striven, and be taken forward by the strength of their penance; like a leaf afloat on the ocean. And though the word ‘Shanti’ is marked all around the lanes of Rishikesh, it need not have been, for here’s where, for once, peace is not to be sought. Peace comes.

Before I check in luggage at one of the many ashrams, and my spirit into the safe custody of the spirit of Rishikesh, I rush to offer my frame to the Ganges. Ahh! This is one dip that frees me in one go off the baggage painfully accumulated over years. As I step into its fold with my feet firm on soft disappearing sand, it feels like I have come to my very first home—the mother’s. I turn to it totally, trustingly, as day turns to night for rest, and the traveller turns to shade from scorching summer heart. No sooner than I emerge dripping with water, the sun hastens to dry me up. As I brush away dried sand from my feet, I know each grain of it to be resplendent with energy. I shut my eye and decide to begin my chant, and soon realize that it was rather the chant that had decided to ride my breath, becoming manifold in intensity and depth of its own sweet accord. Sitting solitarily by the bank, I knew I was being watched. Looking around, I saw time resting across the river, leisurely ridden off awhile from its tireless travel.

Peepul tree (Ficus religiosa or sacred fig native to the Indian subcontinent) bending over the Ganges

Morning turned to noon. Harsh rays of the sun finally decided to give in completely to the coolness of waters. Evening came, and I watched its display of myriad magical costumes. The diyas afloat on the playful waves seemed like evenings lit footwear. Yes, evening walked on the waters all through evening, till night came and brought its dark cover to commune privately with the Ganges. After a daylong bask near the banks, I was in no hurry to reach anywhere anymore. The pebbles, the sand, the rocks, the gang of babas, and the Himalayan linings...all receded to the night, recharged and healed. As I stood up, the echo of the night’s last temple bell rose with me.

For the explorative mind, there’s lots more to see in Rishikesh besides the river. Like the bustling streets lined with exciting curios, the trek upto Neelkantha (the Shiva hill), or the walk from Laxman Jhula to Ram Jhula that gives glimpses into the lives of local folks. There is the thick cover of the Himalayas to get lost into, and there is the river rafting excitement to swell your spirits. Yet, it is the Ganges with the majestic Himalayan cover on three sides, and the riot of color orange expressing the spirit of renunciation that makes Rishikesh so very special. The hunger of the soul is satiated by merely walking through the carefree color filled streets.

It feels as though each speck of this soil is oozing with the fruits of penance of earstwhile saints. One almost feels guilty for soaking it in so easily, for not having striven enough! But just as it is in the nature of the sun to give warmth, and in the nature of water to quench, it is in the nature of the love of Lord to reach out to all in its vicinity. So soak in this gift of freedom rightfully and with ease. Only remember, that life is not just meant to be lived here, but worshipped. Each minute is potent with the possibility of your release.

Rishikesh is a city in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. The city is renowned as a center for yogic practices.