Here you are never alone
And here I am in Delhi. Leaving the airport building, I breathe in the hot, polluted air of the metropolis and literally feel dozens of waiting looks from taxi drivers with signs in their hands, stretched tightly along the fences. I do not see my name, although I booked a car to the hotel. Getting from the airport to the center of the capital of India, the city of New Delhi, is easy: your choice is a taxi and metro (quite clean and well maintained). By subway, the journey will take about 30 minutes, by car – about an hour, depending on the traffic on the streets.
I was impatient to see the city, so I preferred a taxi. The driver turned out to be reserved and silent in a European way. Almost without traffic jams, we rushed to the Main Bazaar, next to which the hotel recommended to me was located. This famous street was once chosen by hippies. Here it is easy not only to find the most budgetary housing option, but also to feel the seething motley life of the oriental bazaar. It starts early in the morning, at sunrise, and does not stop, probably until midnight. Every piece of land here, with the exception of a narrow pedestrian roadway, is occupied by shopping arcades with souvenirs, clothing, food, household items and antiquities.
The driver circled the narrow lanes for a long time in a deafening dense crowd of rickshaws, buyers, bicycles, cows, bikes and cars, and finally stopped with the words: “And then you have to walk – the car will not pass here. It’s close to the end of the street.” Sensing something was wrong, I decided not to act like a spoiled young lady and, picking up my bag, said goodbye. Of course, there was no hotel at the end of the street.
A fair-skinned man in Delhi will not be able to pass a minute without an escort. Curious passers-by immediately began to approach me, offering help and getting to know each other. One of them kindly escorted me to the tourist information office and promised that they would definitely give me a free map and explain the way. In a smoky, cramped room, I was met by a friendly employee who, with a sarcastic grin, informed me that the hotel I had chosen was located in a slum area where it was not safe to live. Having opened the websites of expensive hotels, he did not hesitate to advertise luxury rooms in prestigious areas. I hurriedly explained that I trusted the recommendations of friends and, not without difficulty, broke through into the street. The next escorts turned out to be not as mercantile as their predecessors, and brought me through the hopelessly littered streets straight to the door of the hotel.
The hotel turned out to be quite cozy and, according to Indian concepts of cleanliness, a well-groomed place. From the open veranda on the top floor, where a small restaurant is located, one could admire a colorful view of the rooftops of Delhi, where, as you know, people also live. Having been in this country, you understand how economically and unpretentiously you can use the space.
Hungry after the flight, I recklessly ordered curry fries, falafel and coffee. The portion sizes of the dishes were simply shocking. Instant coffee was generously poured to the brim into a tall glass, next to it on a huge saucer lay a “coffee” spoon, more reminiscent of a dining room in size. It remains a secret for me why in many cafes in Delhi, hot coffee and tea are drunk from glasses. Anyway, I ate dinner for two.
Late in the evening, exhausted, I tried to find a duvet cover in the room, or at least an extra sheet, but in vain. I had to cover myself with a dubious cleanliness blanket, because by nightfall it suddenly became very cold. Outside the window, despite the late hour, cars continued to honk and neighbors noisily chatted, but I was already beginning to like this feeling of the density of life.
My first morning in the capital began with a sightseeing tour. The travel agency assured me that it would be an 8-hour trip to all the main attractions with translation into English.
The bus did not arrive at the scheduled time. After 10-15 minutes (in India, this time is not considered late), a neatly dressed Indian in a shirt and jeans came for me – the guide’s assistant. According to my observations, for Indian men, any shirt is considered an indicator of formal style. At the same time, it doesn’t matter at all what it is combined with – with battered jeans, Aladdins or trousers.
My new acquaintance led me to the gathering place of the group, maneuvering through the dense crowd with supernatural agility. Passing a couple of lanes, we came to an old rattling bus, which eloquently reminded me of my Soviet childhood. I was given a place of honor in the front. As the cabin filled with tourists, I realized more and more that there would be no Europeans in this group except me. Perhaps I would not have paid attention to this if not for the wide, studying smiles from everyone who got on the bus. With the first words of the guide, I noted that I was unlikely to learn anything new during this trip – the guide did not bother with a detailed translation, making only brief remarks in English. This fact did not upset me at all, because I had the opportunity to go on excursions for “my own people”, and not for demanding Europeans.
At first, all the members of the group and the guide himself treated me with some caution. But already at the second object – near the government buildings – someone timidly asked:
– Madam, can I have a selfie? I agreed with a smile. And away we go.
After a mere 2-3 minutes, all 40 people in our group hurriedly lined up to take a picture with a white person, which is still considered something of a good omen in India. Our guide, who at first silently watched the process, soon took over the organization and began to give advice on how best to stand up and at what moment to smile. The photo session was accompanied by questions about what country I was from and why I was traveling alone. Having learned that my name is Light, the joy of my new friends knew no bounds:
– It’s an Indian name*!
The day was busy and fun. At each site, members of our group touchingly made sure I didn’t get lost and insisted on paying for my lunch. And despite the terrible traffic jams, the constant delays of almost all members of the group and the fact that because of this, we did not have time to get to the Gandhi Museum and Red Ford before closing, I will remember this trip with gratitude for a long time to come.
The next day I had to travel to Rishikesh. From Delhi, you can get to the capital of yoga by taxi, bus and train. There is no direct rail connection between Delhi and Rishikesh, so passengers usually go to Haridwar, from where they transfer to a taxi, rickshaw or bus to Rikishesh. If you decide to buy a train ticket, it is easier to do it in advance. You will definitely need an Indian phone number to get the code. In this case, it is enough to write to the email address indicated on the site and explain the situation – the code will be sent to you by mail.
According to the advice of experienced people, it is worth taking the bus only as a last resort – it is unsafe and exhausting.
Since I lived in the Paharganj quarter in Delhi, it was possible to get to the nearest railway station, New Delhi, on foot in 15 minutes. During the entire trip, I came to the conclusion that it is difficult to get lost in the major cities of India. Any passer-by (and even more so an employee) will gladly explain the way to a foreigner. For example, already on the way back, the policemen who were on duty at the station not only told me in detail how to get to the platform, but also looked for me a little later to inform me that there had been a change in the schedule.
I traveled to Haridwar by Shatabdi Express train (CC class**). According to the recommendations of knowledgeable people, this type of transport is the safest and most comfortable. We ate several times during the trip, and the menu included vegetarian and, moreover, vegan dishes.
The road to Haridwar flew by unnoticed. Outside the muddy windows flashed huts made of rags, cardboard and boards. Sadhus, gypsies, merchants, military men – I couldn’t help feeling the unreality of what was happening, as if I had fallen into the Middle Ages with its vagabonds, dreamers and charlatans. On the train, I met a young Indian manager, Tarun, who was on his way to Rishikesh on a business trip. I took the opportunity and offered to catch a taxi for two. The young man quickly bargained with a rickshaw for a real, non-tourist price. On the way, he asked me for my opinion on Putin’s policies, veganism and global warming. It turned out that my new acquaintance is a frequent visitor to Rishikesh. When asked if he practices yoga, Tarun just smiled and replied that … he practices extreme sports here!
– Alpine skiing, rafting, bungee jumping. Are you going to experience it too? the Indian asked keenly.
“It’s unlikely, I came for something completely different,” I tried to explain.
– Meditation, mantras, Babaji? Tarun laughed.
I laughed in confusion in response, because I was not at all ready for such a turn and thought about how many more discoveries awaited me in this country.
Saying goodbye to my fellow traveler at the ashram gate, holding my breath, I went inside and headed towards the white round building.
Rishikesh: a little closer to God
After Delhi, Rishikesh, especially its tourist part, seems to be a compact and clean place. There are a lot of foreigners here, which the locals almost do not pay attention to. Probably the first thing that impresses tourists is the famous Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula bridges. They are quite narrow, but at the same time, bike drivers, pedestrians and cows surprisingly do not collide on them. Rishikesh has a huge number of temples that are open to foreigners: Trayambakeshwar, Swarg Niwas, Parmarth Niketan, Lakshmana, the Gita Bhavan abode complex … The only rule for all holy places in India is to take off your shoes before entering and, of course, do not spare offerings J
Speaking about the sights of Rishikesh, one cannot fail to mention the Beatles Ashram or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, the creator of the Transcendental Meditation method. You can enter here only with tickets. This place makes a mystical impression: crumbling buildings buried in thickets, a huge main temple of bizarre architecture, ovoid houses for meditation scattered around, cells with thick walls and tiny windows. Here you can walk for hours, listening to the birds and looking at the conceptual graffiti on the walls. Almost every building contains a message – graphics, quotes from the songs of the Liverpool Four, someone’s insight – all this creates a surreal atmosphere of rethought ideals of the 60s era.
When you find yourself in Rishikesh, you immediately understand what all the hippies, beatniks and seekers came here for. Here the spirit of freedom reigns in the very air. Even without much work on yourself, you forget about the hard pace chosen in the metropolis, and, willy-nilly, you begin to feel some kind of cloudlessly happy unity with those around you and everything that happens to you. Here you can easily approach any passer-by, ask how you are doing, chat about the upcoming yoga festival and part with good friends, so that the next day you will cross again on the descent to the Ganges. It is not for nothing that all those who come to India, and especially to the Himalayas, suddenly realize that wishes here are fulfilled too quickly, as if someone is leading you by the hand. The main thing is to have time to formulate them correctly. And this rule really works – tested on myself.
And one more important fact. In Rishikesh, I’m not afraid to make such a generalization, all the inhabitants are vegetarians. At the very least, everyone who comes here is simply forced to give up the products of violence, because you won’t find meat products and dishes in local shops and catering. Moreover, there is a lot of food for vegans here, which is eloquently evidenced by the price tags: “Baking for Vegans”, “Vegan Cafe”, “Vegan Masala”, etc.
If you are going to Rishikesh to practice yoga, then it is better to choose an arsham in advance, where you could live and practice. In some of them you cannot stop without an invitation, but there are also those with whom it is easier to negotiate on the spot than to enter into a long correspondence via the Internet. Be ready for karma yoga (you may be offered to help with cooking, cleaning and other household chores). If you are planning to combine classes and travel, then it is easier to find accommodation in Rishikesh and come to the nearest ashram or a regular yoga school for separate classes. In addition, yoga festivals and numerous seminars often take place in Rishikesh – you will see announcements about these events on every pillar.
I chose the Himalayan Yoga Academy, which is focused mainly on Europeans and Russians. All classes here are translated into Russian. Classes are held every day, except Sunday, from 6.00 to 19.00 with breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This school is designed for those who decide to get an instructor certificate, as well as for everyone.
If we compare the very approach to learning and the quality of teaching, then the first thing you encounter during classes is the principle of consistency. No complicated acrobatic asanas until you master the basics and understand the work of each muscle in the pose. And it is not just words. We were not allowed to do many asanas without blocks and belts. We could dedicate half of the lesson to the alignment of the Downward Dog alone, and each time we learn something new about this pose. At the same time, we were taught to adjust our breathing, use bandhas in each asana, and work with attention throughout the session. But this is a topic for a separate article. If you try to generalize the experienced weekly experience of practice, then after it you understand that everything, even the most difficult, is achievable through constant well-built practice and that it is important to accept your body as it is.
I returned to Delhi on the eve of the Shiva holiday – Maha Shivaratri **. Driving up to Haridwar at dawn, I was amazed that the city did not seem to go to bed. Multi-colored illuminations were burning on the embankment and the main streets, someone was walking along the Ganges, someone was finishing the last preparations for the holiday.
In the capital, I had half a day to buy the remaining gifts and see what I did not have time to see last time. Unfortunately, my last day of travel fell on Monday, and on this day all the museums and some temples in Delhi are closed.
Then, on the advice of the hotel staff, I took the first rickshaw I came across and asked to be taken to the famous Sikh temple – Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, which was a 10-minute drive from the hotel. The rickshaw man was overjoyed that I had chosen this route, suggested that I set the fare myself, and asked if I needed to go somewhere else. So I managed to ride in the evening Delhi. The rickshaw was very kind, he chose the best places for pictures and even offered to take a picture of me driving his transport.
Are you happy, my friend? he kept asking. – I’m happy when you’re happy. There are so many beautiful places in Delhi.
Towards the end of the day, when I was mentally figuring out how much this amazing walk would cost me, my guide suddenly offered to stop by his souvenir shop. The rickshaw did not even go into “his” shop, but only opened the door for me and hurried back to the parking lot. Confused, I looked inside and realized that I was in one of the elite boutiques for tourists. In Delhi, I have already encountered street barkers who catch gullible tourists and show them the way to large shopping centers with better and more expensive goods. My rickshaw turned out to be one of them. Having bought a couple more Indian scarves as a thank you for a wonderful trip, I returned to my hotel satisfied.
Already on the plane, when I was trying to summarize all the experience and knowledge I had gained, a young Indian of about 17 years old suddenly turned to me, sitting in a nearby chair:
– This is Russian language? he asked, pointing to my open lecture pad.
Thus began another Indian acquaintance of mine. My fellow traveler introduced himself as Sumit, he turned out to be a student at the medical faculty of Belgorod University. Throughout the flight, Sumit eloquently talked about how he loves Russia, and I, in turn, confessed my love for India.
Sumit is studying in our country because education in India is too expensive – 6 million rupees for the entire period of study. At the same time, there are too few state-funded places in universities. In Russia, education will cost his family about 2 million.
Sumit dreams of traveling all over Russia and learning Russian. After graduating from university, the young man is going to return home to treat people. He wants to become a heart surgeon.
“When I earn enough money, I will open a school for children from poor families,” admits Sumit. – I am sure that in 5-10 years India will be able to overcome the low level of literacy, household waste and non-observance of elementary rules of personal hygiene. Now in our country there are programs that are struggling with these problems.
I listen to Sumit and smile. A realization is born in my soul that I am on the right path if fate gives me a chance to travel and meet such amazing people.
* In India, there is the name Shweta, but the pronunciation with the sound “s” is also clear to them. The word “Shvet” means white color, and also “purity” and “cleanliness” in Sanskrit.
** The Mahashivaratri holiday in India is a day of devotion and worship to the god Shiva and his wife Parvati, celebrated by all orthodox Hindus on the night before the new moon in the spring month of Phalgun (the date “floats” from late February to mid-March according to the Gregorian calendar). The holiday begins at sunrise on the day of Shivaratri and continues all night long in temples and at home altars, this day is spent in prayers, reciting mantras, singing hymns and worshiping Shiva. Shaivites fast on this day, do not eat or drink. After a ritual bath (in the sacred waters of the Ganges or another holy river), Shaivites put on new clothes and rush to the nearest Shiva temple to offer offerings to him.