Rishikesh is a place that feels almost surreal. Clad in orange robes, sadhus chant on the streets and offer blessings. Incense burns, cows mill around, and monkeys hop from pole to pole, stealing food from unsuspecting tourists. Rishikesh is one of the most renowned places in the world to practice yoga, and everywhere you go there are classes being offered. In addition, there are ayurvedic clinics, natural health centers, and reiki and massage treatments.
From Delhi to Rishikesh
However otherworldly, Rishikesh and I got off to a comical start. Based on the Tripadvisor reviews, I decided to stay at Mahatma Yoga Ashram. As I was coming from the Delhi airport, I arranged for a driver to pick me up. I knew it would be an interesting ride when I gazed into my driver’s bloodshot eyes in the rearview mirror. He just nodded sleepily at me as he downed his energy drink concoction.
About two hours into the swerving ride, I started to get a little frightened as I could visibly see him dozing off and returning to consciousness while barreling down the road at 80km per hour. I asked him if he was alright, but he just shrugged crankily at me. Afterwards, he just resumed driving, occasionally swerving into the next lane.
I rested my head on the window and resolutely decided to ignore him. This didn’t work, as I was jolted awake by a large shake and crashing sound. He had driven into another car. Unsurprisingly, the other driver began shaking his fist in rage and following us down the freeway. Vin Diesel over here refused to stop and just upped the speed. We were barreling down the freeway like a goddamn Fast in the Furious chase. He ended up losing our pursuer, while I just sat dumbfounded in the back.
Getting to the Ashram
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, as the large dent in the side of his car seemed to be a wake-up call. We arrived in Rishikesh around 8pm, and it was already dark. My driver pulled over, and a random man opened the door and hopped into the car with us. I was immediately freaked out. I started to ask who this person was, but they just kept conversing with each other in Hindi.
I started to have a mild panic attack as we pulled out of the city center and down a dark, narrow street. The car stopped at the end of the road. I could make out a dimly lit path that led into the woods by the Ganges. They both got out of the car and pointed towards the path stating “Ashram…that way.”
At this point, I was having a full-fledged anxiety attack. I refused to get out of the car, and without thinking, locked them both out as they looked on with bemused expressions.
Yes…I locked my driver out of his own car.
Loudly proclaiming that I wanted to go back into a well-lit area, I started shouting at them that they needed to call the ashram immediately. The kept just saying it was through the dark woods while pointing and laughing. Finally, they got the manager of the ashram on the phone, who told me that the ashram was indeed through the woods.
And Finally…Not Dying
Half thinking that I was still going to be murdered, I got out of the car and paid the driver. About five minutes into the pitch-black walk, I saw the lights of the ashram and nearly cried with relief. Feeling quite silly for locking him out of the car, I apologized and checked into my room for the night.
So, the ‘random man’ did indeed work for the ashram, but it would have been nice to have an introduction. (Side note, we’re homies now and have laughed about the whole I thought you were going to rape/mutilate/murder me thing).
Gotta let bygones be bygones, ya know?
Overall, it was quite the start to my experience. Although I ended up having quite an enjoyable time at the ashram, I will never forget that initial feeling of thinking I was going to be the next Indian news report headline.
In my next post, I will be going over the details of the ashram, and what it is like to do yoga in Rishikesh.