I said that life in India happens on the street, I should have added that one of the best vantage points from which to watch it’s coursing is from the rooftops. Each morning here holed up in Tapovan, high up on a hillside away from the grime and noise of Rishikesh city I sit on my balcony, in my wicker chair and watch the world, I see the little rhythms of life, the first sound before dawn is the clip clop of hooves, then soon after a line of Donkeys, four or five at a time, led up the climbing alley ways, each animal carrying heavy sacks of building rubble, each few minutes they pass, empty one way, laden the next. This is low impact haulage, no spluttering engine fumes or noise, just natural movement, harnessed. As the minutes tick away and the light grows stronger the bipeds begin to move, in the houses close by figures stir, each morning I watch as an elderly gentleman climbs the stairs to his rooftop terrace, each morning the same ritual. He has what might be described kindly as an ample girth, he labours up the stairs, reaching the top floor he walks ponderously towards two large water storage tanks. He removes a lid from each and peers inside, checking the water level, afterwards he goes down one flight, puts his hands together in prayer, genuflects twice. Then he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a packet of cigarettes, or maybe bihdi, and smokes. Afterwards he disappears inside his house. Each morning this is his ritual, a little later in the morning a lady of a similar age, his wife I assume will also climb the steps to the roof terrace, she likewise will peer inside the water butts. This couple begin each day the same way, it is their practice, their rhythm, it is their flow, like the Ganges that courses a few hundred metres below in the valley. As it reaches 7am the little alleyways become busy again, though now with different passers by, light skinned, carrying Yoga mats, in snaking lines, trailing to Yoga centres for morning classes. This is Yoga Central, the world capital of Yoga, each alley way, each street is a home to an Ashram or a studio, shops awash with Yogic ephemera. As the clock reaches 7.30 I to head for my rooftop terrace, the kitchen is now open, now it’s time for my ritual, coffee. As I look down from the rooftop, coffee in hand I can see the Ganges flowing through the valley below. Turquoise, coursing through the land etching the rocks as it goes, living,breathing, flowing, its own practice.
My third attempt to find the Marahrishi’s Ashram is finally successful today, down a dusty track in the woods I find locked gates, a group of guys charge me 50 rupees and I am let in, they are on the make of course, I’ve read that the site is the subject of a dispute between the government and the Maharishis followers, it remains unoccupied, and nature and time begin to reclaim the site. A series of conical stone pods are built along an ascending trail, each has an upper and lower room, a space for sleeping, a space for meditation, they are like ancient ruins, once inhabited by a people now lost and forgotten, now just a relic, the property is immense and covers many acres, rooms and buildings, refectories and meeting rooms, kitchens , communal buildings, shrines, The place is like a small city, perfectly formed, devoid of inhabitants. In places there are grand buildings, mosaics and fountains, long dry, Wandering into another building the room is filled with graffiti, a stage covers one end, here once the Beatles played to an audience a lifetime ago. Here to life flows, and moves, what once was is gone,only echoes remain, in time these to will still and the Ashram will change and grow into something new. I hope it is not some grand hotel or moneyed experience, a nostalgia trail, or pampering palace, better that it goes back to being an Ashram, or to simply crumbling into dust and nature taking it over.
Rishikesh is a place full of little wonders, of travellers looking for flow and rhythm. I didn’t find what I was looking for here, but it was a fine place to stop and to wonder for a while, now it’s time for me to move higher into the Himalayas & to new rooftops.