When in Rishikesh…

All unannounced, (at least in blog-land) I went to India for a month last fall to study yoga and Ghandian philosophy. I couldn’t admit it to my blog, because then I would have had to admit it to myself, and I was having to sneak around my fears to be able to get myself to the plane. Someday, maybe I’ll tell you how to plan a trip without letting yourself know.

We could pretend that I managed to affect the role of the seasoned traveller, and that there was very little hand flapping. And that I did not cry tears of joy and anticipation on the plane over, distressing the flight attendants. But we would be lying.

This is a picture from a field trip with the Bija Vidyapeeth group to a Sikh temple in Himchal Pradesh. We are from (in order) Austria, Tibet/Dharamsala, France/Madagascar, Canada. This is about 1/4 of the group. We garnered rather a lot of attention from the Indian pilgrims, many of whom wished photos with our motley crew.


I found myself one evening, on a tiny (10 rupee) ferry in the middle of the Ganges River at dusk, looking up at the bare sliver of a new moon, and realizing that I never could have planned this. The magic of that moment was complete. And then it just kept going, to the puja with the enormous statue of Shiva, out on a bridge in the river, looking back at the assembly of devotees chanting their nightly Hares. (1)

To placing our own offerings of flowers in the Ganges, splashing ourselves with the water at the edge of the ghat, and finding myself separated in a crowd from the woman who had my shoes in her backpack.

It would have been less amusing, I guess, if I had been able to remember the name of the ashram I was staying at. Or if I understood the vikram system, and why exactly we had taken 2 taxis on the way to the ferry. And if I knew how to hire a taxi to take me back to the ashram, which I was pretty sure involved crossing a footbridge. And so, I decided… she will find me. There is no point in panicking. Here I am, standing with my feet on the ground in India, surrounded by other people, also with their feet on the ground in India. And the phrase that is sometimes given us in meditation came to me, “What is it, exactly, that you are lacking in this moment?” My feet did not hurt. I had air to breathe. I had no need of water, and was not nearing death by any known means. I was not in imminent danger. So it was an adventure, not a crisis.

I stood on top of a wall, surveyed the crowd and waited. Somebody asked me, “Did they steal your shoes?” (It happens. That’s why my friend was carrying them.) “No. They’re in somebody’s backpack. She’ll come back for me.”

And she did. And then we went for pizza.


1. “Do you want to go to the puja?” had come the question. I had already determined to say yes to whatever adventures came my way. This is how I had come to the ferry, not knowing where I was. Pretty sure that the river was the Ganges, at least? As we got off the ferry, my Turkish roommate, a second year student, and thus an actual seasoned traveller, said, “The puja’s at 6 o’clock.” “Aha!” said my husband, as I told him this story. “So, it’s an event, then?” “Yes,” said I. “That’s about the point in the story where I figured that out.”

It’s the word for the ceremonial offerings in the Hindu tradition, it transpires. Frequently involving ghee.

2 responses to “When in Rishikesh…”

  1. Seonaid, thank you for sharing. And thank you for the eloquence of your words. With them, you clothe your experiences so that others can fully share of your experiences. I can’t wait to read more about your adventures, trials and triumphs from your trip! Oh, and I can’t wait to hear about your thoughts on the food!

  2. Wow! Good for you, Seonaid. It IS scary to plan getaways from our normal life, especially if you’re going halfway around the world! But wow, it sounds like you soaked it all in and made thorough use of that time away. Beautiful piece.