Tag Archives: ashram

Backpacking India: Rishikesh and Haridwar

Rishikesh
Rishikesh is an eclectic city that attracts an interesting mix of tourists – including yogis, adrenaline junkies, foreigners, and middle-class Indians. The city is located at the foot of the Himalayas and along the banks of the holy Ganges River. It’s the epicentre of India’s yoga scene, with dozens of ashrams and hundreds of yoga instructors. It’s also a huge adventure sports hub, with river rafting, trekking, bungee jumping, and zip-lining all available.

Rishikesh

In early April, the weather is perfect (just when Delhi is getting hot and the hill stations are still cold). We were there for the Easter long-weekend, which we didn’t think would be an event in India, but apparently it is one of their busiest weekends. The streets and hotels were packed with thousands of Indians from Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. When we got back from our trek, we had a panicked hour while we struggled to find a hotel, but eventually found a great place in the quiet Swiss Cottage neighbourhood.

Rishikesh

We squeezed as much into our time in Rishikesh as possible, but still left wishing we could have spent a few more days. It would have been nice to check ourselves into an ashram, do yoga, and explore the city at a leisurely pace, but we only had a few days with Dan’s tight schedule and the city was too busy with Easter crowds. In our short time, we managed to take a cooking class, raft down the Ganges, and do three yoga classes. When we did find time to wander, the city rewarded us with many interesting temples to explore, really good restaurants (including a cafe with vegan pizza), cute souvenir shops, and great views.

Cooking Masala Class
The cooking class was really good. This was our third cooking class and we got to choose the menu, so we focused on simpler recipes that we would be more likely to cook at home. We learned how to make aloo gobi, baingan bharta, dal fry, parathas, and a simple chutney. After the class, we went and bought a number of the masala spice mixes so we can hopefully replicate the recipes at home.

Rafting the Ganges
River rafting was a blast. The rapids were pretty tame, but we still had fun. We were able to jump out of the boat and float down the river for stretches. It was cold, but not unbearable. We also brought our leftover dyes and played Holi in our boat. It left a real mess, but I was happy our guide and the other tourists in our boat enjoyed it too.

Rishikesh
Rishikesh
One of Rishikesh’s claims to fame is the ashram that The Beatles stayed in while writing the White Album in 1968. It’s now abandoned, but you can bribe the security guard (we paid 50 rupees each) to let you go explore. It’s a cool space, with Beatles-themed graffiti everywhere and funky buildings slowly being taken over by the forest.

India - Haridwar
Haridwar is just downstream from Rishikesh and is one of the 7 most sacred sites to Hindus. We spent a day there checking out the temples and ghats. Skillfully turning away the priests who kept trying to bless us (and ask for money), we made our own aarti ceremony and offered a prayer to Mother Ganga while floating flowers down the river.
India - Haridwar

More pictures on Flickr: Rishikesh and Haridwar.

Backpacking India: Pondicherry

India - Pondicherry
Pondicherry was the 3rd stop on our grand Indian adventure, a city with an interesting mix of Indian, French, and new-age spiritual influences.

India - Pondicherry
The city is split by a big canal, which sounds glamorous until you realize it is just an open sewer. The French half of town has the waterfront and grand, colonial buildings, although most are in disrepair. This is where most of the western, tourist restaurants and hotels are. I found the other half of the city, with its tiny shops, markets, and bustling life more interesting.

India - Pondicherry
India - Pondicherry
We were lucky to have five days in Pondicherry, because the first day was spent with me mostly lying in bed and recovering from food poisoning and the second day was a bandh and everything was closed.

India - Pondicherry
Our guest house had a great rooftop patio wIth hammocks and tables. It had a view over an open field (part of the port) where locals would gather to play cricket and bocce on the unused helicopter pad.

India - Pondicherry
We joined a day-trip tour of the local sights. Surprisingly, we were the only white people. The rest were Indian tourists. Maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising, but in Peru and Vietnam almost all the tourists were foreigners.

Our guide took us to visit the the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville – both interesting, spiritual places, but we didn’t get a proper feel in our quick visits. We also stopped at a sad local museum and a water sports park, which was cranking tourists through the most boring 10 minute boat ride I’ve ever been on. The only redeeming part was the dozens of giant jellyfish we noticed swimming in the water. But the most interesting stop on our tour was the Panchavadi Anjaneya Temple, where we showed up during a major event and got caught up in a throng of thousands of worshippers. They went nuts when the temple door opened, the chanting and drumming intensified, and everyone surged forward to see the giant idol of Huaman, a Hindu god. It was crazy, surreal, and a little frightening (mostly because we lost our guide).

Pondicherry cooking class
We also spent two mornings doings yoga class and a cooking class at SITA, a local cultural organization. The yoga was very different than what I’ve practiced in Vancouver. Instead of a strength and stretching workout, there was a lot more focus on breathing, chanting, chakras, and the spiritual side of yoga.

The cooking class was awesome. We started by going to the market and buying the ingredients. Then we cooked up a fabulous lunch of vendakkai (okra fry), kathirikai gothsu (eggplant dish), sambar, rasam (broth-like digestive), and rawa halwa for dessert. I’m keen try to replicate them at home, or if we get a kitchen while traveling.
Pondicherry cooking class Pondicherry cooking class

There are a lot of western restaurants in Pondicherry. We preferred eating at the Indian joints (cheaper and tastier) but it was nice have fresh baked baguettes for breakfast.
India - Pondicherry
India - Pondicherry