Tag Archives: hindu

An Indian Odyssey – The Beatles Ashram

An Indian Odyssey – The Beatles Ashram

Rishikesh – June/July 2011

The abandoned Maharishi ashram where The Beatles stayed in the 60’s and wrote the White album. It’s a massive overgrown complex with astounding architecture – a real shame that it’s falling into ruins although the abandoned atmosphere makes it pretty special.

The main entrance.

Atop one of the multi-storey accommodation blocks with the forest slowly advancing over the years.

Destroying to create afresh.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Some of the very funky meditation domes. The acoustics inside are very impressive when you bang out an "Om".

Meditation dome and sleeping quarters # 19.

A shrine to Shiva, God of Destruction (in order to create anew)


All you need is Love.

The encroaching forest.

Frayed electrical cord.

Below, the Bat Quarters…

The bats hang out in the extremely dark meditation cells which are not dissimilar to solitary confinement cells.

‘Om’ – the sound of the universe

An Indian Odyssey – Rishikesh

An Indian Odyssey

Rishikesh: May 22 – August 1

Ahh, Rishikesh…home of the Western seeker and occasional genuine guru. Yoga Capital of the World. Spiritual Supermarket of the Universe!

Ganga Ma passing through town one evening.

I love this high quality ad offering ‘galactic chronicles’ and ‘once in a lifetime experience’…

and this one asking if you are feeling ‘lovely’…but I’m sure it meant to say ‘lonely’…funny either way…

and this one offering what looks like a course in ‘Tour Guiding’…although no doubt s’posed to be ‘Study Your Guide’.

But enough on yoga and spirituality for the moment, let’s hang with the cheeky monkeys…

Check out this little gremlin – there’s plenty of them about…and they’re very good thieves as well. One girl had her glasses taken clean off her face. She instinctively grabbed them back and the monkey then slapped her across the face. Another girl had a monkey lean over her shoulder and take a single bite form her apple before leaving her be again.

A lean Makak racing across the bridge 70 kms up the river at Devprayag.

They are extremely feisty buggers. My guesthouse owner used to fire his sling-shot at them regularly. I had several stand-offs with them at the guesthouse where they would gang up on me and try to take over the terrace. Mimicking their aggressive style (teeth bared, hissing and growing tall) just seemed to make them contemptuous of me and they would make sudden lunges even closer towards me. So eventually I added some lion-taming tactics with chair in one hand combined with the above and that helped me regain the terrace! But generally I felt a little self-conscious after this circus act and would retreat into my room hoping none of my neighbours witnessed my antics. 🙂

One of my neighbours, desperate for sun, took to sun-bathing bikini-clad on the unfinished top-storey amid reo-iron spikes where she hoped to escape the disapproving eyes of the locals. But I don’t think the solitary construction worker on the adjacent rooftop disapproved. He was unable to peel his eyes off her and get back to work for more than a minute at a time. 3 glances, dig. 3 glances, dig. 3 glances, dig. etc etc. Oh, the poor man, it must’ve been heavenly torture.

On another hot afternoon, policemen escorted two young western women off the river beach for smoking and being in bikinis.

Correct bathing etiquette for women – fully clothed on one of the public ghats in town. It was a beautiful site to watch how groups of women worked together to prevent prying male eyes while they changed from their wet clothes. A group of women would surround the bather and encircle her with a long sari to act as a screen and create a mini changing room.

And now to a common scene, above. Indians would often, without asking, turn their camera on westerners to record the novelty of seeing us fair-skinned, light-haired aliens. Many-a-time they would also ask to pose with us and sometimes, strangely, when they didn’t have a camera they would still ask/demand to pose with us for a photo on our camera but were not interested in receiving a copy of the photo – they seemed to just want the novelty of the experience.

This shop owner was a ripper – every time sometime walked passed he would call out ‘Everything is Possible’ of ‘Fantastico’. He was a bit ‘out there’ or perhaps a bit enlightened – one day I saw him sitting in his shop with multiple dried red streaks running down his face. He had earlier been walking in the rain and his tilaka (which symbolises the third eye) had run all down his face – he felt no need to wipe it off and left it for many hours. He looked like a very relaxed head-injury victim ! 🙂

The Third Eye

Streaks of green fungus grow around this spiritual advertising mural.

One of the many riverside yoga schools.

The Chakras

There are several varieties of yoga schools and spiritual courses around Rishikesh. On one occasion I had a reiki session. Part way through the practitioner abruptly stopped and ran outside to attack monkeys that were attacking her precious cat amid a frenzy of screams, hissing and spitting. Shortly after we resumed the cat jumped suddenly onto my stomach and began preparing a place for its siesta. Tres relaxing!

Yoga aspirant, teacher or neither?

Hanuman, the ape-llike deity, tearing open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita residing in his heart. Hanuman was an ardent devotee of Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu, ‘Preserver of the Universe’). A beautifully tacky sculpture, about 4 metres in height.

Shiva sitting atop a tiger skin at the Ram Jhula ghat – if you’d like to know why you can visit here…


Laxman Jhula (Rishikesh) at night.

An Indian Odyssey – Gangotri

An Indian Odyssey

Gangotri – May 9 – 13th


250 kms to Gangotri by bus – 13 hours, that’s a massive 20-odd km/h! The end of the road. Finally, virtually no more car horns – what sweet relief!

The real journey started in Gangotri. Up until then it had just been a haze of people and car horns. Gangotri is at the end of the road, a road which is only open for 6 months of the year due to winter snowfall. There were still loads of pilgrims, thousands in fact, but that was nothing compared to the cities in the foothills. The arduous 13 hour trip along narrow and rocky mountain roads from the foothills had weaned out the less hardy pilgrims. Yet each day, dozens of buses and taxis and private cars arrived first thing in the morning, disgorging their ‘seeker’ inhabitants at the end of this mountain road and at the beginning of Gangotri’s one and only street. For 95% of these pilgrims their goal was at the other end of this street: the Gangotri temple, one of the spiritual sources of Ganga Ma (Ganges River).

Rockslides are common, especially during the monsoon, along these mountain roads.

Ganga Ma and a hillside covered with Deodar Cedars, a tree that can live up to 1000 years and is endemic to the Himalaya mountains from Tibet to Afghanistan.

A house built into a rocky overhang – very common in these parts.

The Om symbol painted on a rock in the valley.

Pilgrims carried to temple in a palanquin (chair strapped to two long parallel poles and carried by four porters).

Deodar Cedar at the base of massive cliffs.

Gangotri at night.

The river here (although still the Ganges) is called the Bhagarathi River.

The sculpted rock face of the waterfalls.

Many saddhus (holy men), like this one, walk many hundreds of kilometres barefoot on pilgrimages around the country.

But unfortunately I’ve brought with me four days worth of galloping stomach due to an overnight stay in Uttarkarshi, halfway between Haridwar and Gangotri. Fun, fun, fun. My first taste of India Belly.

On the fourth day I rose, a bit slower than some other well-known prophets, pulled on my hiking boots and pack, pushed aside my barricading door and strode forth to ahcive my goal in the mountains. I was feeling good. Strong again, full of solids and ready for the 14 km hike to Bhojbasa, a staging post for Tapovan. I strode down the main street of Gangotri, feeling the pack comfortably/reassuringly formed around my back, passing pilgrleaving pilgrim after pilgrim in my wake, buying the same fruit and nut offerings as the pilgrims – but for me, not the gods – but neglecting to invest in the pvc screw-top container. Instead I had the Yalumba Shiraz Chateau de Cask bladder from which I hoped to collect and drink Ganga straight from the source.

Through the temple grounds I floated, passed that easily attained spiritual source, out the back gate and up. Up, up, up, up, up. There was seemingly no stopping this ‘up’ phase and my self-assured assupmption that my rise to the heavens would be easy was smashed. After only 150 metres I was left doubled over, arms akimbo trying to find room for that breath that had comfortably been there up until very recently. It seemed a vice had been placed around my chest and quickly tightened while I wasn’t looking. Perhaps it had happened in the temple grounds as karma for my sacrilegious  nature. I couldn’t get any breath into my body but there was a strange wheezing sound coming from somewhere, my throat I decided in my semi-delirious state. I was in trouble, quite serious trouble and the pathetic yet hilarious nature of my demise gripped me along with the vice and the wheezing.

Fortunately I was out of sight of any folk in the temple grounds, beyond further embarrassment at this stage at least. I clung to the rock wall for support and waited, having luckily told myself that time may help ease the pain and I may in fact recover. Hopefully not another four days staring at the waterfall. ‘one foot in front of the other’, this had been my motto when I more sensibly assessed the potential difficulties of a trip like this prior to committing.

I threw one foot out in front of the other, then the other, and continued to do so at a much more rational pace. It worked. Soon I reached the crest where the trail levelled out and which, I had been assured, would be a ‘moderate’ grade. Things felt possible again.

An Indian Odyssey – Haridwar


An Indian Odyssey

Haridwar – Fri May 6th

I quickly headed for Haridwar and the Shivalik Mountains, the foothills to the Himalaya – about 250 kms NE of Delhi.

Hit by car today – side-swiped by a four-wheel drive and reeled back in shock, the weight of my backpack making me wobble like a bouncy-clown, while the onlooking Indians laughed heartily. Not nastily, just heartily. All I could do once I realised all limbs were intact and in their proper places was to join them in laughing and continue on with life, satisfied I had survived. But in truth, this sort of occurrence made me impatient to reach the Himalaya.

Haridwar’s main strip/road is a 3 km stretch lined with with merchandise, souvenir and religious shops, tea stalls and restaurants. But the closer you got to the river end the more it was lined with religious paraphernalia. All in the name of God – but which god I wasn’t sure. Shiva? Hanuman? Ganesha? Vishnu? Or was it just The Dollar?

Why this profusion of religiousity? Every night of the year thousands of people file along this street as sunset approaches to Harkipuri, the town’s main ghat, to witness the famous nightly aarti ceremony on the banks of the world’s most well known river, the mighty Ganges. The ceremony is a puja (religious offering) in which tiny boats made from leaves and flowers are released into Ganga’s waters. Each boat carries a lit candle.

As you approach the three km mark on the main road it rounds its one and only bend and comes face to face with the river. She flows swiftly here, faster than one would expect, carrying the rainfall and snow-melt from the Himalayan peaks 250 odd km to the north. It is about 400 metres wide and on the western side, separated from the main flow, lies a 30 metre wide concrete channel, lined on both sides with steps down into the water. This is Harkipuri Ghat.

In part, it’s like a carnival atmosphere …but with a strong religious air. Novelty salesman roam widely spruiking glo-sticks and glo-helicopters. Plastic water container salesman push plastic so folks can take Ganga home in a screw top pvc container. And tikka (a religious mark placed on the forehead) salesman swoop unexpectedly, make their mark right between your eyes without invitation, then promptly demand payment. At dusk, by which time the ghats are packed with seated, standing and bathing spectators, the official ceremony begins, broadcast over loudspeakers to the audience here and beyond. Mantras are chanted, prayers offered, fires lit and the official aarti boats are launched.

A pujari (Brahmin priest) coordinates a puja ceremony for pilgrims.

The aarti boats packed with flowers and candles await purchase by the pilgrims.

No, he’s not a nazi – the swastika symbol is one of the 108 symbols of the Hindu deity, Vishnu and one interpretation says that it represents the sun’s rays, upon which life depends.

The PVC ‘Pushers’ – selling ‘beautiful’ containers in which to collect the sacred water from the Ganges.

A couple says prayers before sending the aarti on its way downstream.

A mixture of frivolity and profound worship occurs as pilgrims bathe in the sacred Ganga.

The carnival atmosphere prevails for this brother and sister duo.

An aarti floats by on its journey down the Ganges.

An in case mayhem breaks out amongst the pilgrims, never fear, there is an army officer with machine gun up there in the guard tower!

Pilgrims line the ghat as an aarti is swept by in the strong current.

Rajaji National Park Safari – our driver’s assistant asked if we minded if he drove. "No, of course not." He failed to mention it was only his second time at the wheel! Bunnyhops and swerving ensued as we continued down the already rocky road. I dropped from my standing position to the relative safety of the seat.


A Black-faced Monkey (Langur) takes a break from the monkey madness.

An Indian Roller swoops by as it comes in to land.

A Sambar Deer caught in the lens.


Haridwar – Sat May 7th

Someone’s throwing up in the restaurant where I’m eating. ‘Mmmm, really adds to the flavour of my dahl. It’s a tad off-putting.

10 pm and work goes on.