I had the fortuitous timing to be in Rishikesh during the 2018 International Yoga Festival, held at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram on the banks of the Ganga, what most of us know as the Ganges. I was able to get a day pass, and on my first morning in India was up and crossing the Ganga on the “footbridge” at Ram Jhula as the sun was rising over the nearby mountains. As there were only a few people on the bridge at this hour, I formed an early impression of Rishikesh as a calm, quiet city nestled against the feet of the Himalayan mountains.
To back up a bit, it is worth noting I have been staying in a small, fairly luxurious, hotel on the southern edge of the city, with a rooftop restaurant that directs your gaze to the mountains and swirling water of the Ganga across the street. To get to the bridge was a thirty cent ride in a tuk-tuk, which is a metal box on wheels, a few bench seats, a two-stroke engine and a horn. (The last item being critical.) There wasn’t a bridge in sight when I was dropped off, and no indication of where to find it. So I took the first alley, I mean road, in the general direction of the water and came upon a five and a half foot wide bridge that mysteriously had a short rail at the entrance to funnel people into left and right lanes.
Eventually finding my way to the ashram (mostly by following other white people carrying yoga mats), I registered by handing over copies of my passport and visa, and instead of a map was handed a schedule. This made finding the first event challenging, and along the way I realized my decision to not bring my yoga mat that morning was a wrong one. I found a vendor setting up to sell items tripled in price and grabbed a blanket to disguise as a mat.
Finally! I am outside steps from the river with dozens of people from around the globe to take my first class with Gurmukh Kaur – Kundalini yoga master and the teacher I am here to train with. This 75 year-old woman led a class that scared the crap out of me, knowing I am going to be spending the next 3 weeks studying under her.
The rest of the day was bonus – lectures, Buddhist meditation, lunch in the ashram canteen, meeting people, and shopping. Unfortunately, by the time I found a bathroom I had numerous bags hanging off me that I had to keep off the ground while aiming for the porcelain trough in the floor.
Heading back to the other side of the Ganga after dark, I realized the divider rail was merely a suggestion and just how wrong my first impression was as I dodged scooters, cattle, bikes and masses of people on what is definitely not a “footbridge”.