I open my eyes and it's still dark and the mind's silent. I stumble out of bed groping for the light switch congratulating myself that my meditation is finally bearing fruits when i realize that the silence is not of the mind but because the noisy fan is not working. So no electricity again ! It's 5 in the morning and not hot, so no complaints. I can't get lost in my room because its 6 feet by 8 feet. A strong urge to empty my bowels leads me outside to the common toilets where its pitch dark. I finally get an idea how it must feel for a blind man to shit in a new toilet, Indian squatting style. He can't poke his white stick around to probe the exact location can he ? I finally manage to do it successfully ( i think !) and make a quick exit.
Welcome to Ved Niketan ashram, a real ashram with no creature comforts. Its a backpacker's paradise and they seem to love the minimalistic design... there is a thug at the front desk who always grunts whenever I greet him. I still remember the first time I set foot in my room and sat down on my bed. Everything was suddenly fuzzy due to the enormous dust cloud that rose when I settled my backpack on the bed. Its not all bad though, the shower's excellent , a swanky new thing out of which three threads of water squeeze through almost as if it cant decide whether to piss or cry. The ashram's in a very quiet area though and they were the only people brave enough to take on a solo Indian male traveller in the whole of Rishikesh.
This was after my stay in the great Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh, an institution in itself. To be in with any chance of staying there you have to write 2 months in advance, so straight after I landed in Rishikesh I just walked in there hoping to charm my way in. The swami in charge was not amused and told me so. But just as i did my pranams and lifted my butt off the seat, he relented and gave me the dorm. The dorm in Sivananda is ***** compared to the single room in Ved niketan . A view of the Ganga , with a sunrise thrown in everyday + my dorm mates, who comprise of swamis in the ashram, travellers, of all ages, brahmacharis, etc. There was a guy who walked from Rameshwaram all the way here ( just 2000 km) with not a single paisa in his pocket. Everybody has their story and it will fill a book or two easily. Most of them seemed genuine , at least more than me , and that's the criteria I go by to judge genuineness! So all sorts of guys came and went during my 10 days there , and it was fascinating. Yet it was quiet most of the time, people just minded their own business. It was great not to feel the need to explain why I was STILL travelling close to a year. It was the norm.
During the last two days though, a sanyasi took upon himself to give me small lectures on the mysteries of the universe. Maybe i reminded him of his son who was a similar age. This small mishap apart, it was a beautiful tranquil period.
One day it was the birthday of one of the gurus and we all floated scores of diyas on the Ganga as part of the aarti ( evening worship). No photograph could capture the beauty of that scene. Finally i overcame my phobia of bacteria count and dead bodies and swam in the Ganga. Everyday 2 oclock sharp , i used to go with a swami and man it was just ccchhhhhillllllll...... so cold so refreshing, better than any coca cola in the world !
Any travel in India is bound to be engaging , you never know what to expect even if you're Indian. Just today, i saw a cow stealing and munching heartily some orange ice cream cones while the vendor was screaming blue murder and a Tibetan looking chap walking dreamily around in his underwear with welts all over his body as if he just landed from some S & M club. Then there's the dirt , the shit, the smells , the poverty which I can never get used to... Oh the bulls are something else here. They are big humped ones and I saw one charging a swami in the groin in a narrow lane.
So life's never dull, although... sometimes travelling alone gets to you. You might be lying in your room and suddenly it hits you, the loneliness you've always been carrying with you since birth, with no distractions in a 'foreign' land far from 'loved ones' makes you think about the absurdity of it all. Isn't it just better to sit at home and go for that 9 to 5 job? But then i look outside my window and see that the tussle between the bull and the swami is still going strong...