I had planned to stay in Northern India until the New Year which gave me 3 weeks to enjoy the Himalayas and there was no better place to relax than Rishikesh. The town in the mountains was catapulted to fame when the Beatles arrived at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in the late 60’s and what has since become the yoga capital of the world has been a magnet for spiritual seekers ever since. I found an Ashram to stay in, enrolled in an Ayurvedic massage course and settled into a few weeks of relaxation. Staying in Ved Niketan ashram was wonderful, it was cheap, comfortable and full of interesting people, I was paying 150 rupee a night which included 2 yoga sessions a day, this seemed like a world away from the financial crisis that was currently affecting the rest of India. The people you meet when you stay at an ashram are usually pretty interesting and at times quite inspirational, travellers who have made their way to India by bicycle, car or hitch hiking and are now immersing themselves in new journeys of self-discovery. The atmosphere in Rishikesh was exactly what I needed to unwind from the chaos of India, the chilled out attitude of the people was infectious, a stroll along the banks of the Ganga River was testament to this as you passed by a line of Babas, the smell of hashish thick in the air as they smoked their chillums. My day would generally consist of 1 ½ hours of yoga in the morning, 2 hours of massage course, a jog in the hills and then another yoga session in the afternoon with a little bit of reading and meditation in between, life doesn’t get simpler. Rishikesh is a purely vegetarian city so my staple diet for the day consisted of porridge, paratha, Dahl and the occasional fresh juice and vegan cake from one of the local coffee shops, the mix of healthy food, yoga and meditation felt like this was a detox for the mind, body and soul.
Rishikesh was one of those rare places I found along my journey where I felt as though I could stay for a lot longer, life was easy here, but as always the show must go on and after 2 weeks enjoying the peaceful lifestyle on the banks of the Ganga it was time to begin making my way toward the Pakistan border. I still had a week before I left India so I visited the towns of Manali and Kasol, it was very much winter when I visited these charming Himalayan towns and other then the odd Indian tourist you could tell that it was well and truly the low season. There was some very nice hiking in the area, unfortunately the road to Leh and Ladakh (the world’s highest motorable road) had long been closed due to the winter so after putting on my hiking boots and exploring some of the mountain tracks I was back on the bike and making my way to Dharamsala and Mcleod Gang, the latter being home to the Dalai Lama who was followed by a community of Tibetan refugees. Mcleod Gang was another wonderful little town, the Tibetan people seemed to bring an Aura of calm and peacefulness with them and it was a nice opportunity to stroll through the streets and take in some of their culture. I had planned to have a quiet new year’s here but it seemed that quite a few locals had the same idea and the peaceful town was quickly filling with Indian tourists. This new year’s eve (incidentally also my birthday) was one of the quietest ones I could remember, there wasn’t another western tourist to be seen and after spending most of the evening phoning family I barely made it to the new year countdown, this was definitely no party town but it was an enjoyable evening nonetheless.
I had one more stop before I left India, The border city of Amritsar which was home to the world’s largest Sikh temple. Amritsar wasn’t the most tourist friendly place I had visited and certainly not for a motorcycle traveller but once I found a hotel that had parking for the bike I was able to forget about the traffic and concentrate on doing some sightseeing. The golden temple is the holiest shrine in Sikhism and with over 100,000 worshipers visiting a day it was obvious that this important pilgrimage site was the cities major tourist attraction. The streets leading to the temple were crowded and people jostled to make their way to the entrance, it was worth the pushing and shoving to get inside the complex, the golden temple sitting in the middle of the large pool of water really was an impressive sight. As the sun set behind the golden temple I couldn’t help but reflect that this was a fitting way to spend my last day in India, tomorrow Pakistan.