The Road to Enlightenment is Cold, Wet and Covered in Potholes
It’s hard to know where to even begin to talk about our experience in Rishikesh. It’s easy to want to skip ahead to the calming effect of early morning yoga, the breathtaking views of the mountains and river or the delicious food at our amazing ashram, but I guess, like most things, it’s best to start at the beginning. Our week in Rishikesh was almost over before it even began…
We awoke at 5am on the 28th to catch our flight from Cochin to Delhi. Despite our concerns, this being our first airport and low-cost carrier experience here in India, we were pleasantly surprised by how smooth everything went. Check-in was a breeze, boarding was on time and everyone actually stood in an orderly line to get on the plane (see India, I knew deep down you knew how to not be a chaotic mess). We arrived into Delhi around 11am and slowly made our way to the New Delhi train station, using the cleanest and most organized subway system I’ve ever seen. It even had free Wi-Fi so we camped out on the platform for a while. We may have looked ridiculous sitting on the floor with our bags propped up against the wall and our laptops balanced on our laps but we didn’t care. This was a miracle and we weren’t going to pass up our quiet, clean, pop-up internet café. Plus we had a couple hours to kill before our 3pm train to Rishikesh and, as India vets by this point, we knew this peace was contained to the metro station and the real India was waiting for us on the other end.
We finally left our bubble of cleanliness around 12:30pm and arrived at the train station with 2hrs to kill. While the station was filled with the typical sights, sounds and smells – seas of people sleeping/sitting on the ground, talking/yelling constantly interrupted by announcements and, you guessed it, pee – we were able to find a relatively (India) quiet area that had available seating.
Despite the craziness around us I was in a great mood. Not only did I have my French language app to drown out the noise and a comfortable chair that allowed me to not have to find a spot on the floor and play the ‘pee or water’ guessing game, but I had been looking forward to our stay at the Anand Prakesh Ashram for weeks. Once we boarded the train (a/c chair car) my spirits rose even higher and the 4hr train ride into the foothills of the Himalayas flew by (well it was scheduled as 4hrs but ended up being 5hr #India).
As we pulled into Haridwar Station we were met by unexpected rain and cold, which would have normally damped our moods (especially Adam’s) but we didn’t care – Anand Prakesh here we come! Or so we thought. We exited the station and were immediately surrounded by the typical tuk-tuk swarm. Despite our declaration that we had a car coming, most of them were quite persistent, something I will never understand. Well the joke was on us because our car never came.
Over the previous couple weeks I had been emailing with Naveem from the Ashram and he had assured me there would be a driver waiting for us at the station, so after 30 minutes we began to worry. It was then that we realized the contact numbers for the Ashram and hotel were in our email (rookie mistake, never assume things will go as planned). So we were forced to head out into the freezing rain in search of Wi-Fi. Now Haridwar isn’t what you’d call a bustling town so we were thrilled when we stumbled upon an Internet Café (India uses that label loosely). Once inside we realized we had no way to pay since, in the never ending joke that is ‘cash’ in India, the ATM had given us 1,000rs notes and, of course, they didn’t have change. Luckily the owner took pity on us and let us use his computer to get Naveem’s number, as well as the Hermitage’s (our hotel). We thanked our internet angel and headed back to the train station.
At this point the cold, rain and late hour were getting to us, but we tried to remain in good spirits, or at least neutral ones. The first call to the hotel (not sure why we called them first) seemed to go well and they said they would call the Ashram to make sure the car was on the way. So we waited, this time a little less confident and a little colder. After 20 more minutes and no word we called the hotel again. They told us to call Naveem, which we did, and he said to call back in 15 minutes for an update. At this point we had officially lost our cool. Normally all of this back and forth calling would have just been a slight inconvenience but unfortunately we have the crappiest phone ever made, with no volume control, so hearing people is really difficult. Add to that the constant train announcements and it becomes nearly impossible. So every time we had to make another call Adam had to run out into the rain just to get away from all of the noise.
To make a long story short(er) after multiple calls back and forth with Naveem we learned that no car was coming and we needed to find our own transportation to RIshikesh. This wouldn’t have been a problem at 8:30pm when multiple taxis had been lobbying for our business, but now, at 10:30pm in an empty parking lot, we were screwed. I felt totally defeated. We were soaked, freezing cold, exhausted and hungry (we hadn’t eaten since lunch) and I suggested that we just get a hotel by the train station and head back to Delhi in the morning. Luckily, despite his equally bad mood, Adam insisted that we keep going so, once again, we headed out into the rain to try to hail a taxi (silly white people, it was late and pouring, no one was going to drive an hour to Rishikesh….ha, ha, ha, ha).
Of course we had no luck and ended up going into one of the ‘travel agencies’ (again a loose label here in India) and were informed that it would cost 1,100rs (double the standard fare). Normally we would have negotiated or sought out other options but there was no use. They knew we were stuck so we begrudgingly agreed. We called Naveem and told him we were on our way and he agreed to meet us at the Hermitage in an hour. I tried to relax on the drive, but couldn’t since we were being driven by NASCAR India over the worst roads I had ever seen. Since there were no seatbelts poor Adam kept slamming his head into the ceiling every time we hit a pothole (crater).
We rolled into Rishikesh around Midnight and after some ‘Indian navigating’ we arrived at the Hermitage to find a locked gate and unanswered phone. Our driver just began yelling in the direction of the hotel (naturally) and ringing the doorbell until the manager finally appeared. (Side note: over the next couple of days we got to meet all of the people who had been woken up by our arrival…great first impression). He ushered us into the lobby and then informed us that we had no reservation, despite what I had been told (repeatedly) by Naveem. Apparently multiple guests had decided to extend their stays and, for some reason, they give them precedence over people with upcoming reservations….awesome. And to make matters worse, Naveem was not answering his phone.
I was just about to beg the manager to let us sleep on the floor when Naveem finally answered. About 10 minutes later he moseyed up to the hotel, in such a casual way that I was overcome with the desire to begin beating him with my bag. The manager told him there were no rooms, which didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest, and he asked us to follow him to another guest house. Again I wanted to pummel him, but instead I just followed him back out into the rain, with absolutely no confidence that anything he had told me over email was true. We made our way around the corner to the Guru Residency and were shown to our room. It was small but good enough and we were just happy to be done moving for the night.
Naveem proceeded to fill us in on the Ashram schedule, which began with a 6am morning Yoga class. When he asked, at 12:30am, if we planned on attending the ‘next’ day I thought I was finally going to snap and beat the crap out of him. Instead we politely declined, like good Americans, and asked if we could start the following day. He smiled and, with a head bobble, said “no problem”. Once he left we quickly changed out of our wet clothes and crawled into bed. It was only at that point that we realized our room, which was currently hovering around 0 degrees, had no heater.
And that was how, in the most un-Zen way possible, the Universe welcomed us to Rishikesh.