Rishikesh India: Bathing in the Ganges River, Kirtan at the Beatles Ashram, Purity, Spirituality and Simplicity

I was a few hours into my second flight home from India to California when it hit me just how far away I had been. 24 hours of flying spread out over nearly 40 hours of time; this might make you think that jet lag would be the hardest hitting shock to my system? Or maybe the infamous Delhi belly you’ve heard about from your friends who tried the Indian street food?

No, I did not experience intestinal distress. And no, thanks to some simple sleep planning, I did not experience jet lag either. The perplexing feeling I had on this plane ride was the knowing that at 9AM the next morning I’d return to my corporate job and to the juxtaposing complex life I live in Los Angeles.

In India, the life that I observed, and that I led, was simple. We rose early to meditate and sing kirtan in satsang (sacred gathering) before sunrise, followed by yoga, ginger-lemon-honey-turmeric drinks, breakfast and daily activities. I hiked the Himalaya foothills and met kids whose family was carving a second room for their home out of mud and stones. The day I arrived, my teacher Govinda Das told me of meeting a sadhu (a renunciate, holy man) in town, who took a few of them to his 8x8 foot home. There, in his broken English, he shared with them, “the greatest luxury is to live a simple life.”

Scenes from Rishikesh: Building homes along the hills, Himalaya hiking and a temple visit with a holy man

Morning kirtan with bhakti yoga shala group at the ganges river in rishikesh, india

Morning kirtan with bhakti yoga shala group at the ganges river in rishikesh, india

A Shift From Western Mentality

This beautiful country and the simplicity observed is a 180 from where I am today. A common question asked in the west of those who visit India because it is so vastly different from our status quo is: why are you going? What are you seeking? I think this question is often about goals: what are you looking to get out of it? In the west we push for goals, that’s what our lives seem to be about, achievement. In India I learned about people who lived with the purpose of pure presence. The light shined bright on this golden wisdom when we were graced with time from Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati.

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Sadhvi is President of Ashram Parmarth Niketan where she oversees a number of humanitarian projects, she is the President of the Divine Shakti Foundation empowering impoverished women and girls, has written several books and is in service to the world and her guru, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati. A woman of many talents, she exercises them daily in her various roles, of which most pivotally is: to be present. Whether at United Nations speaking on behalf of the Global Interfaith Alliance for Clean Water (Wash Alliance) or putting a bandaid on a child, editing the Encyclopedia of Hinduism or doing clerical work, her role is to be present to whatever and whoever is in front of her in the moment.

My experience of her energy was a feeling of pins and needles, lightness, richness and aliveness. Her 180 from PhD student to this life of service is one that I deeply look forward to sharing.

Imagine: The Beatles Time in Rishikesh

Visiting the now abandoned “Beatles Ashram” where the music legends studied Transcendental Meditation with their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and where they famously wrote The White Album was a highlight. Beyond the beauty of the structures on the land, we also found shrines to the foursome and their message of peace and love painted by artists in the Ashram's cathedral and among the structural remains. Truly it is an art gallery, attracting like-minded visitors from across the universe.

Not surprisingly, my group from Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica was inspired to sing kirtan and dance outside of the cathedral. It started with a few singing “Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram” with the ukulele. This devotional heart-opening quickly caught on: passersby from New Zealand and Germany joined us singing and dancing. We continued on with the same tune for well over an hour. In true magical style, one of the Germans pulled out a “pocket” didgeridoo that opened up to over 5ft in length. He played beautifully, allowing the sound healing vibrations to carry us to our next adventure.

Hitting The Reset Button At The Ganges River

If there was ever a place to hit the “reset” button, India comes top of this list. The holy Ganges River flows through India and bathing in it is said to wash away one’s sins, allowing the pure self to emerge. Some say that bathing in Mother Ganga will make you sick because it is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Still, hundreds of thousands of Hindu and visitors alike will bathe in Ganga every year.

What protects all these swimmers from getting ill? It could be strong immune systems and it could be the power of the mind. Devotionally, whole-heartedly, I have practiced daily gratitude and I used this opportunity at the Ganges to dive deeper into that. I jumped right into the shockingly cold fast flowing Ganges River. I swam like I did as a ten year old in Adirondack lakes (on my back, treading water with no hands, then with no feet, then with no hands and no feet). After what seemed like long enough (my yogi friends not sure if they should laugh at me or be worried) I came back to shore. I woke up the next morning and I felt great.

I think that believing in our own health and practicing self care each day through food, yoga, gratitude or prayer and meditation is an agent of protection. 

What Are You Calling In?

A place where cows roam the roads just like me, where a cacophony of horns down the streets is the rule vs rudeness, India is a 180 from what I’ve lived in the US. It is also a place where spirit is pulsating through the land, water, air and people. It is a place where I experienced that with simplicity, we make room to hear our own inner wisdom.

One morning I went to the Ganges alone to reconnect with myself. In pajamas with bedhead, I was there to pray, meditate and call in the day with the blowing of the conch shell. As I start to play it, an entire raft of young Indian men flow down the river in this moment and cheer me on as they pass and then park nearby.

Some of the men come over to greet me. It is Prakesh who first shares that I remind him of himself: he too comes to Ganga for peace and solitude. It is here that he tunes into his nature and it is here where he jumps to build his courage.

Though Prakesh tells me he is scared of water and heights, he is called to jump into Ganga. The jump that he does again and again, it helps him overcome his fear and, in that rush, he is reminded of his own limitlessness. 

In Rishikesh I tuned into my own inner wisdom. Simply, I heard: Explore. Pursue health. Balance. Practice ease daily. From here, be of service in other areas of your life.

Inner wisdom says to tap into courage and something new: whether it's to jump into the Ganges or to play in the echo of the conch shell, you never know what you'll call in each day.

I sit open to the joy, beauty and playfulness uncovered.

What does your inner wisdom tell you?