After the mayhem of Delhi, we decided to head North to the refuge of the Himalayan foothills, a little place called Rishikesh. Now Rishikesh I had heard varied reviews of; words like “Butlins” and “touristy” were thrown around by our guidebook, and I admit, far from being apprehensive of this, I secretly craved a smoother ease into Indian life. And Rishikesh was exactly this.
We stayed in the truly breath-taking Lakshman Jhula, connected to Rishikesh by a monkey-guarded, springy footbridge over the Ganges. And these monkeys of questionable intent were just an introduction into this weird and wonderful place. Hundreds of Hindu pilgrims travel to Rishikesh daily, walking bare foot through the streets to the shrines and to bathe in the river Ganges. I myself was too nervous to take a dip, but was taken aback by how clear and inviting the turquoise waters were. Sam and I shared a calming moment as we sent burning flowers down this most sacred river. It hardly even mattered that mine washed into the rocks seconds later…
The peaceful moments continued with lunch atop a roof, which we were lucky enough to have to ourselves. Although it transpired the reason we had it to ourselves was because the place was over-run with those pesky monkeys, who were bold enough to snatch icecream from the hands of poor defenceless children. But fear not; we were accorded the special honour of our very own monkey- guard (or a teenage boy brandishing a stick).
Asides from the hazy summer days nestles in the safety of this hillside sanctuary, there is another force at work here; the Westerners.
On days were there are few pilgrims, there is probably one Westerner to each Indian person. It’s not hard to see why we flock to this beautiful paradise, but this has had quite a strange effect on the place. One can get too comfortable here. I glance over disdainfully at the next table ordering a pizza, only to find myself tucking into one the very next day.
You can barely walk a pace without glimpsing a Westerner wearing not only “authentic” Indian garments, bindis and Aladdin pants, but the self-satisfied air of one who has mastered Indian living and become at one with this vast country and it’s people. However, of this vast country all they have experienced is Western comforts. With a coffee shop at every corner -pizza, pasta and a vegan bakery – they have mastered nothing. The population of ageing American wannabe philanthropists and dread-locked hippies starts to leave a sickly taste in one’s mouth, as you can barely sit down for dinner without hearing people trying to out-zen one another or bragging about yoga expertise.
It’s a credit to the natural beauty of the place that it isn’t ruined by all of this. It’s certainly not the “authentic” India I was looking for, but I appreciated and enjoyed it nonetheless.