By Keshav Krishnan
My time as the official “Bilbo Bloggins” started at the Phool Chatti ashram. I enjoy the time I spent there in retrospect, although it was tough for me at (most) times. We had three hours of yoga asanas (the stretching and stuff) a day! We also had some incredible experiences outside of stretches that I couldn’t do. Every day we did a walk into nature, ending near a body of water we’d stay by before heading back. I got in the water pretty much every time. I found myself in the Ganga not once, not twice, but three times. I also enjoyed time under a waterfall, despite having a soggy walk back to the ashram. On our last day, we had a long purification ritual that involved chanting the same prayer 108 times, and then burning a lot of tiny little bits of wood. After our time at the ashram, we returned to Laxman Jula.
A bull the size of a motorcycle is standing in front of me, its head lowered. To my right, a huge car is trying to get past, horn blaring. Nostrils flaring, the bull charges forwards, leaving me nowhere to go but backward. My feet left the ground and landed before I’d made the decision to jump, narrowly saving me from a bit of a painful encounter with one of the many animals that roam the streets of Rishikesh near Laxman Jula.
The cows aren’t the only animals that seem to have a more aggressive temperament here in Laxman Jula—the monkeys are the real terror. They sneak up on unsuspecting tourists and snatch food from their very hands. They’ve even learned how to open and drink soda bottles here, which is why they steal so many of them. I need to be honest here, I don’t really like monkeys. I stare into their dark, soulless eyes and see an intelligent creature staring back. Despite the intelligence, they don’t feel like they have the kindness or civility I expect from humans. They are monkeys after all.
About a 20-minute walk alongside the Ganga (praise mama Ganga) from Laxman Jula is a really interesting temple called Parmath Niketan. Every single night they have a “Ganga Aarti”, a ritual to praise the goddess Ganga (the goddess of the Ganges River). People chant, have their ceremonial lamps, the works. Anyone can join in the fun and praise by sending their own flower bowls down the river with a small candle, a coin, and a wish that you hope mama Ganga will bestow upon you. Watching the current sweep away your little bowl of flowers, flame, and a single rupee (worth somewhere between one and two cents) is quite a calming and beautiful experience. I remember lighting the candle on mine and sending it down the river, watching the flickering little flame be swept into the night. Then, somebody next to me asked me what my wish was. At the moment I had no idea that I even got to make a wish. Apparently, without a coin, your wish won’t come true, but at least I didn’t have a wish to lose (and two cents is a pretty low price to pay for a possible wish come true).
I managed to find myself in a very unique experience at Parmath Niketan. At the same temple as the Ganga Aarti, they had a ceremony to feed the Sadhus. The Sadhus are Hindu holy men who renounce the ways of worldly life and have to turn to the generosity of others to feed themselves. I stumbled upon hundreds of Sadhus all pouring into what looked like a carpeted concert hall, and decided I had to see why they were all coming. Not only was there food, something at least I personally see almost every day, there was a famous Hindu swami, Sai Baba, leading the ceremony. I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly don’t see Sai Baba almost every day. Watching all the Sadhus pray alongside this Baba after having all eaten was a great surprise adventure that I found here in Laxman Jula.
One of these nights here in Rishikesh we had a knighting ceremony. As a lord of Sealand, I can (and did) raise multiple peasants to knighthood. On a dark beach with a few too many dogs nearby, a few of my companions knelt in the sand to make their vows and receive their new titles. Everyone who showed up to be knighted received the honors, and I have eight new knights sworn in.
The cafes here are quite nice. They’re clean, a bit pricey, and have a lot of other travelers. They usually have good food and either music or guitars for people to play. I ended up spending a little too much time in these cafes and felt as if my life force itself was being slowly dragged out of my body. There’s just something sinister behind the good food and large menus, I can’t quite place it. It seems to me I’m the only one in my group with this problem, but I have my doubts.
Overall, Laxman Jula has been a fun place to be. Wishes, Babas, the Ganga, and knighthood, what more could you want?