The mysteries of Rishikesh

On Sunday, an old post of ours on Indian syndrome had an unexpected bump in traffic. I mentioned it on Facebook and someone pointed out that CNN has a new, and it turns out, very lengthy, piece on Rishikesh.

That, apparently, spawned some searches, which led here.

I’ve seen some people passing the piece around, and it is notable in its length, and the photos are nice. Here’s a bit:

Prateek then gives me a mystical punch to the gut. He tells me my father committed suicide.

My dad had a hard-to-diagnose neurological disorder, somewhat like Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was progressive, degenerative and slowly stole the active life he’d lived. He was open with me, saying that someday he might want Dr. Kevorkian on speed dial, a comment I more than understood.

But he wasn’t ready for that when he died at 67. He was still getting around and, to some extent, doing his thing.

He and my stepmom had gone to their vacation home in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. She’d stepped out for two hours and came back to find him in bed, lifeless, his body already cold. There were no pills, no bloody, gruesome discovery. We never got an autopsy — rushing my dad back to the States was more important — but the medical examiner who showed up that night was certain that whatever happened was instantaneous, natural.

I tell Prateek I don’t like what he’s said and refuse to believe him. My father would have said goodbye. He was a thinker and a writer who would have penned something poetic.

Prateek shrugs and continues.

I might have written the piece differently — I suppose that’s obvious — as it focuses too much on the writer for my taste, but it is worth at least skimming through, seeing if you have some parts that resonate. (I also understand why the story focuses so much on her; my sense from some of the story and comments on it is that that wasn’t her intent.) For instance, this scene from Hardiwar, where we will be in about a month:

Along the riverbank, beggars with missing and crippled limbs or clouded eyes call out for donations. Pilgrims brush by, clinging to their children’s hands, carrying plastic bags full of offerings. Guards scream for us to remove our shoes as we walk near temples.

My head spins as I weave around human obstacles, chasing after Kalam Singh Chauhan, co-owner of the guesthouse where I’m staying. Today, he’s leading me through Haridwar, a holy city for Hindus not far from Rishikesh. It’s a festival day and especially chaotic.

Thousands fill Har ki Pauri, the famous ghat or steps that lead down to the Ganga. People have come to bathe in the sacred river and wash away their sins. Others are here to release the ashes of loved ones. The Ganga is considered a river goddess who gives life, rejuvenates and liberates. She was brought to Earth, it is believed, to purify souls and release them to heaven.

As Kalam strips to his underwear to go into the water, I watch a family of women step off the ghat and submerge themselves, their bright saris hanging wet and heavy. Three children approach and ask if they can pose with me for a picture. A little girl squeals as her mother coaxes her into the river.

Kalam returns, towels himself off and asks if I want to go in next. I know I won’t leave India without going into the Ganga, but I’m just not ready.

What I’m watching is more than I can handle. This isn’t my place; it’s loud, overwhelming, intensely meaningful to those who are here. I’m afraid, amid this crowd of pilgrims, I won’t feel a thing.

I’m of course expecting we will feel quite a few things.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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