From Shimla we embarked on another long bus ride southwest and finally out of Himachal Pradesh and into the Uttarakhand region finally arriving at Rishikesh - the yoga capital of the world. The city is situated on the bank of the Ganges an recognizable by it's enormous Shiva statue that rests on the water between the two bridges: Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula. With it's idyllic location on the water, it's numerous temples and ashrams, and its rich history it draws a large crowd of Indian Pilgrims and international tourists. The city is even vegetarian by law. The peaceful pretense is juxtaposed by the reality of thousands of people situated around one main road in Rishikesh. In actuality the city is loud and chaotic, bustling with rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians, praying, chanting, cows, monkeys and all sorts of liveliness. The north of India had been so quiet and seemingly sparsely populated in comparison. But this is India. Truly. And I felt awakened here in a way that I hadn't up north. The noise was startling at first but after acclimating I began to see the appeal of Rishikesh and shortly after fell in love with the city.
Every evening around sunset there is ceremony of Ganga Aarti held on the water. The ceremony includes singing and clapping before the release of floating flowered lanterns onto the water. Ceremonies like these are held nightly in cities all along the Ganges and are meant as ritual of worshipping the river that has so much importance in Indian culture.
Much of life in Rishikesh revolves around the Ganges and spirituality. Many pilgrims come to the city to worship in the temples and to bathe in the holy waters of the river.
Rishikesh earned international fame when The Beatles stayed at an Ashram in the city in 1968. More recently, the Ashram succumbed to financial ruin but is still a well known destination. It's hidden behind locked doors on a bath past Ram Jhula but a small donation to the guarding Baba will grant you entrance. The buildings are now crumbling and most of them covered in vines and graffiti dedicated to The Beatles and other inspirational peaceful historic characters including Ghandi.
But not all of the city is completely holy or spiritual. There's plenty of shopping and souvenir hunting to be had.
The eccentricity of the city comes from it's considered holiness juxtaposed with the vibrant chaos of animals and people that is characteristic to many Indian cities.
I practiced a lot of Yoga in Rishikesh so I wasn't surprised at the soreness that enveloped my body one evening while crawling into bed. But throughout the night the soreness amplified and was accompanied by feverish chills and such a headache that I thought my brain might burst out of my skull. I pulled out every piece of clothing I had packed in my small backpack but my teeth continued their incessant chatter. On the second day it was recommended I visit a hospital but I was too ill to consider the rickshaw ride that would take me there. I did manage to exchange emails with my sister who was still in Laos and confirmed that it was most likely Dengue. Miserably I crawled back in bed and waited for it to pass. But it wasn't until well into the third day that I could consider getting out of bed. And on that day I sat stood with the swedish-Israeli couple as we waved my friend off as the cab took her back to Delhi and she was homeward bound.
Weeks later when I arrived back in the states I read that a Dengue epidemic was wreaking havoc on India with infected numbers reaching unexpected proportions and burdening hospitals that were beyond their resources. See the story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-24440145