How do I even begin trying to describe this fascinating, colorful, spiritual, bizarre, beautiful country???
Getting to Rishikesh from Delhi was an adventure. We were woken up at 4:15am with shouts from our driver outside the hostel gates. We took off through the dark sleepy streets of Delhi. Indian drivers are.... how do I put it??? CRAZY!!! I thought Kenyan drivers were the worst... until I arrived in India. The comforting thing is that there seems to be a rhyme and a reason to the chaos on the roads.
There definitely is a hierarchy to the roads. #1 is the cows... being sacred and all... they have the right away to everything in India. After cows, it goes to vehicles... the bigger you are, the better. Then the crazy weaving bicycles, and last of all, the pedestrians. You have to be aggresive and know these rules to drive in India. I would be eaten alive if I drove here. I trusted our quiet yet aggresive driver with his gods and goddesses on the dashboard to protect us, sat back, and read my book with a smile on my face.
Right before reaching Rishikesh, he took us through Rajaii National Park which was gorgeous. He told us to lookout for elephants and tigers... I tried my elephant call out the window to see one, but our driver quickly replied: "NO! elephant... one leg... kick... you down. But Tiger... no problem."
Our first stop in India is the Parmarth ashram in Rishikesh. We were dropped at their door, and entered this mystical, peaceful city within a city. There were gardens, orange painted buildings, statues of shiva, fountains, monkeys guarding the grounds... We checked in at reception and were led to our cute, quaint little room which will be our home for at least the next two weeks.
We headed off to join the New Years meditation retreat which was already in progress. First on the list was the "World Peace Yagna." It was a sacred fire ceremony which was on the bank of the Ganges river. Stephanie and I were clueless as to what was going on, but tried to follow the locals. We through spices into the fire and listened to their enveloping chanting. Holy crap I realized... WE'RE IN INDIA!!!!!!!!!!
Our yoga teachers in Japan, Tae-sensei and Fuku-sensei, flew out to stay at Parmarth with us for the New Years Retreat. It was sooooo great to see familiar faces and share our first few days in India with them. They took us on a tour of the streets of Rishikesh, pointing out various ashrams and yoga studios we can check out during our three month stay in Rishikesh. Tae and Fuku pushed my yoga to new heights, so I am grateful to start my journey in India with them by our sides.
In the evening was satsang and darshan. We gathered in a garden and met Swami-ji for the first time. He had a HUGE beard, and was dressed in an orange robe. He sat in the middle of the garden and gave words of advice, answering any questions that people had.
Before bed was meditation, bhajans and kirtan in the main hall. We sat down in the main hall surrounded by little monks in training. They ranged in age from 6 - 20 years old. They sang out songs and prayers led by a man with this boxed Indian accordian. We meditated and joined in by clapping our hands and swaying about. We went up to the boys afterwards and wished them a happy new year.
On the way back to our room, we enjoyed the millions of stars that were out, and watched some of the little monks play with a fire outside in the garden.
As midnight struck, we heard some fireworks in the distance, jumped on our beds... so excited to finally be here in India.