11 days in rajasthan

To me, Rajasthan is the India of India. The desert, the camels, the style, the food. It’s everything that is my romantic (western) notion of Inda. How and why I left myself only 11 days to experience this magical state I really can’t explain. But to my pleasant surprise, this 11 day itinerary actually kind of worked. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have had way more time here, and in no way encourage cramming all of the state into 11 days. But if you’re crunched for time like I was, here’s an itinerary that gave me a good taste of Rajasthan.

Agra –> Udaipur
Overnight train, 3rd class AC sleeper, about 1,200 rupees, 12 hours

I spent 3 days and 2 nights in Udaipur. A quiet (quiet for India) lakeside town, Udaipur is clearly made for tourists. Food and shopping was a bit on the expensive side, and in terms of sights there aren’t THAT many. I found Udaipur very relaxing, and enjoyed somewhat lazy days. A few activities I’d recommend: have an Ayurvedic massage (I paid 900 rupees for 70 minutes), take a yoga class, watch the sunset from City Palace (30 rupees to enter the sunset point, just south of the palace), and take and art class! The last was probably my favorite activity. I went to Ashok Arts and had a great experience! My instructor was patient and a good teacher. One of the shop employees read my palm as we all took a chai break. And 3 hours later, I had a one of a kind silk painting, that (imho) looks pretty legit 🙂

I stayed at Bunkyard Hostel, and highly recommend it. I met a lot of cool people, the facility is beautiful with a ton of open space, and it’s very centrally located. I paid 300 rupees per night for a bunk room.


Udaipur –> Jaisalmer
Overnight AC sleeper bus, 750 rupees, 13 hours

I spent 3 days in Jaisalmer, and 2 nights (including one sleeping under the stars in the desert!). Jaisalmer is easily one of my favorite places in India. This may be in part because I’m a born and raised desert girl, but to me there’s nothing better than a desert rain and sleeping under a black sky filled with stars, to the sound of crickets chirping. The skyline of Jaisalmer includes tan desert, tan buildings (including palace-like Havelis that rich families still live in), and the huge tan fort which rises high above the city. I spent one day just wandering around the fort, getting lost in alleyways and admiring the views. The highlight of Jaisalmer, though, was the overnight camel safari. We drove about 30 minutes out of the city and met our camels and guides. For 1,600 rupees we had 2 meals, our bed under the stars, and a few hours of camel riding in the afternoon/evening and the next morning. So much fun!


Jaisalmer –> Jodhpur
Non-AC bus, 350 rupees, 5 hours

I spent 2 days and 2 nights in Jodhpur (the 5 hour bus ride unfortunately took the better part of one of the days). I could have definitely stayed longer. The shopping is cheaper than anywhere else in Rajasthan; at Sardar Market you get the local experience and the local prices. I spent half a day just shopping – the clear highlight was M.V. Spices, one of the oldest spice shops in Jodhpur, and it’s run by all women! The spices come along with emailed recipes, and the best customer experience I’ve had in India. And it was totally reasonably priced, with 150 or 300 rupee bag options. There’s no reason to leave the market for food, as there is a ton of awesome street food. My favorite (not quite street food) was at Shri Mishralal Hotel, just inside the gate. They have one lassi option (the classic Rajasthan flavor) – Makhaniya, which is plain with saffron and cardamom (YUM), and an amazing Jodhpur specialty, Mirchi Bada, which is a pepper stuffed with potato and deep fried (double YUM).

The other major attraction is Mehrangarh Fort and museum. It cost 600 rupees to enter, and you have to purchase a museum ticket to get to the top. For a museum, it was pretty good. But the real reason to go is for the views of the blue city from the top.


Jodhpur –> Pushkar
AC bus, 450 rupees, 4 hours (the bus actually goes to Ajmer, but my hotel picked me up for free)

I only spent 2 days and 1 night in Pushkar, and that was enough for me. I bought awesome, funky, and most importantly fairly priced jewelry at Vikas Silver Walla. The shopping is definitely good in Pushkar, but a lot more expensive than in Jodhpur. I wished I’d bought the funky leather pointed slippers in Jodhpur, because they had way nicer and cheaper ones there. I skipped Brahma temple (the only Brahma temple in all of India), because the crowds were overwhelming. What I did not skip was Savitri temple. For 90 rupees a cable car takes you to the hilltop temple, and it was more than worth it for the views of all of Pushkar! Pushkar in general is a bit expensive, especially if you eat at the more “western”/tourist places, shop along the main road, etc. The best deal? Street cart lassis 🙂


Pushkar –> Jaipur
Cab from Pushkar to Ajmer train station, 400 rupees. Non-AC train to Jaipur, 2 hours, 250 rupees

I spent 1 day and 2 nights in Jaipur, and it was my least favorite of all of the cities I visited in Rajasthan. The Amber Fort was pretty spectacular, but Jaipur is a big city, and big cities in India come with an entire set of their own difficulties. Urban poverty was the most obvious here. The noise and traffic was the worst. And more than anywhere in India, I couldn’t walk more than 10 seconds anywhere without being yelled at by a shop owner, food cart guy, tuk tuk driver. I was more than happy that I only gave myself one day here. After a long day of sightseeing (exhausting!), the day was saved by an amazing hole in the wall restaurant right outside of my hostel (Zostel). The food was yummy, the people were nice, and best of all I walked to a nearby bakery afterward and ate a delicious, chewy, coconuty desert. I have no idea what it was called, but it was amazing.


Jaipur –> Delhi
AC train, 6 hours, $750 rupees

Rajasthan really exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. There were times when it was really hard (like a lot of India), but the colors, the tastes, the scenery, the forts, the camels, the jewelry and the shoes and the textiles and the sarees… So much beauty crammed into 11 days 🙂

varanasi, the holy city (in the off-season)

After over a month in Nepal, I was so excited to go back to India. My first stop, Varanasi. When I shared my plans with people, literally the only response I got was, “Now? Don’t go there now.” I went anyway. Despite temperatures well over 100, and humidity upwards of 80%. Monsoon rains provided brief relief from the heat, in exchange for very flooded streets. Because tourism comes to a halt this time of year, only one of every three storefronts was even open. What doesn’t slow with the heat is death. Year round pilgrims come from all over India to send their loved ones to the afterlife on the holy river Ganges. To die in Varanasi is said to allow a person to reach moksha (or nirvana). If not to die, to be burned by the Ganges is beneficial, and some believe necessary, in sending a loved one to their next life. While tourists are few and far between, the fascinating rituals around death are as alive as ever.

Varanasi was really really cool. And as a bonus, I was able to meet up with two of my yoga friends from Rishikesh and Manali! Even in the summer, there’s a lot to do and learn in Varanasi. Below are some activities that filled our time. Some are more serious than others, but all are real things we did.

1.) A boat ride on the Ganges – we woke up for sunrise, but unfortunately cloud cover meant no sun.

2.) Every morning there is yoga at sunrise at Assi ghat – a fun procession of fire ceremony, singing and chanting, breathing exercises, and laughter yoga. And hundreds come out for it, young and old alike!

3.) Watch a cremation, usually many at a time, at one of the burning ghats.

4.) Have a lassi (or two) at Blue Lassi (still open even in off-season!). My favorite, and very unique flavor – mango cashew chocolate. Yum.

5.) Go into hotels that are clearly out of your budget and haggle for “off-season” deals. (haha)

6.) Watch how silk fabric is made on a traditional loom.

7.) Trek through the narrow streets during a rainstorm – knee deep in the dirtiest water you’ve possibly ever seen.

8.) Attend a fire ceremony at the main ghat – every night.

9.) Go to a Bollywood movie.

10.) Talk to people. You can’t stand or walk anywhere near the ghats without people coming to talk to you. Most are touts and will ask for money. But we talked to them anyway, and learned a lot! Here are some interesting tidbits about Varanasi, cremations, and the Hindu belief system around death.

  • Anywhere from 70-300 people are burned in Varanasi every day.
  • Six types of bodies are not burned: small children (because they are already innocent), pregnant women (same reason, innocence), people who die of leprosy (the smell of the corpse burning is too strong), animals (because of their place next to God), those who died of cobra bite (because of their potential to have second life if a healer finds the body), and holy men (because of their closeness to God). All of these types of bodies are wrapped with rocks, rowed to the middle of the river and sunk, except for the cobra bitten bodies – they are wrapped in banana tree leaves and floated down the river, hoping that a healer will find it and bring second life.
  • Women and children are not allowed at cremations because they are more likely to weep, and weeping doesn’t allow the deceased soul to leave its body.
  • Priests and holy people are burned on platforms high on the gat; on the river bank, the poorest people are closest to the water, middle and upper castes higher up on the bank.
  • In old times, wives were expected to jump onto their husbands burning bodies; if not, they were thrown on.
  • Cremations don’t smell bad at all because oily wood, like sandalwood, is used.
  • Cremations only last 3 hours, which usually leaves part of the hip bones of women, and chest bones of men – these along with the ashes are thrown into the Ganges.

Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited end cities in the world, the 12th oldest. Its narrow, winding alleyways are famous for getting lost in. There are beautiful old temples around every corner. Cremations happen openly throughout the day, and you often see bodies wrapped in colorful cloth being carried through the streets by chanting family members. The introduction of motor vehicles and packaged foods means a lot of noise, and a lot of trash. But it’s a beautiful city, and its wealth of tradition and ritual made this an amazing city to visit, even in the off-season.

chitwan to varanasi in 22 hours

In my (almost) 3 months in India and Nepal, I’ve had some very intense travel days. Getting around India I spent up to 17 hours on local buses from place to place. But getting from Nepal to India overland was the longest travel day I’ve had yet. It included an overnight train, a tourist bus, 2 local buses, a shared cab, a tuk tuk, and a bicycle rickshaw. It also included a ~2 hour or so stop at Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace. To my surprise, this was one of the easier and more enjoyable travel days I’ve had.

7:30am – left hostel in Chitwan to walk to the bus stand (a little over 20 minutes)

8:00am – arrived at bus stand for the 9:30am bus (this was unnecessarily early, since the bus wasn’t even there until 9; during on-season you’d buy your ticket ahead of time, but I had no problem buying on the bus when it arrived). 600 rupees.

9:30am – 2:00pm – bus ride from Chitwan to (near) Sonauli, a border crossing for Nepal/India (about 4.5 hours); compared to the bus ride into Chitwan, this one was much smoother. The ride in was so bumpy I was flying out of my seat every other minute. This bus ride was much more crowded, though, as it acted like a local bus. We stopped several times, letting locals on and off. The bus will filled almost the whole way. I’m so thankful it wasn’t too hot of a day, and an early rain cooled us off even more.

2:00pm – from where the bus let us off, I took a shared cab to Lumbini, which was about 20 minutes. I spent about an hour in Lumbini, I walked to the temple at Buddha’s birthplace, but decided not to go inside. It was 200 rupees entrance, and I was in a hurry because I’d left my backpack in a random travel booking office. The shared cab was 500 rupees 😦

4:00pm – took a local bus back to the bus stop for only 50 rupees (apparently this bus runs every half hour or so), then switched to another local bus to get to Sonauli, 15 rupees. About 30 minutes total.

4:30pm – arrived at border crossing, hired a bicycle rickshaw for 100 rupees to take me to the Nepal immigration office for my exit stamp, the India immigration office for my entrance stamp, and then to the bus stop. About 30 minutes total.

5:10pm – 8:20pm – local bus from Sonauli to the train station in Gorakhpur. About 3 hours, 97 rupees. When I arrived at the train station, I skipped all of the lines because I’m a tourist. I got one of the last two seats on the overnight train to Varanasi, and had to pay for 1st class. I was lucky because it’s off season in this part of India too, during on season you’d be extremely lucky to get a train ticket only a couple hours before departure I think. 

10:45pm – 4:45am – 1st class AC train from Gorakpur to Varanasi. The train station was extremely confusing. At around 10:40, I was still waiting for my train at the platform listed on my ticket and on the electronic departures board. I looked back at the opposite platform and noticed a tiny sign on the side that said “Varanasi.” For the next 5 minutes I ran frantically down almost the entire length of the train looking for my car. There were no conductors or train station employees. Luckily people were really helpful, even though almost no one spoke English, several people looked at my ticket and pointed me in the right direction. I finally found my car, and my sleeper bunk. I was exhausted and slept like a baby. Setting an alarm for 4:35 was absolutely necessary, as there were no announcements, the lights stayed off. I definitely would have slept until the end of the line (wherever that is). 1,160 rupees.

4:45am – arrived in Varanasi; it took about 10 minutes to walk out of the train station, and from there took an 80 rupee tuk tuk to my guesthouse.

5:30am – arrived at guesthouse!

Total time on the road from hotel to hotel was about 22 hours. The stop at Buddha’s birthplace was completely unnecessary, but I would have just spent the extra time at a bus and/or train station. I was really intimidated by all of the bus and train changes, but it was actually kind of nice to break up the trip that way. I got really lucky with the timing of all of the buses too, I never had to run after one, but I never had to wait that long either. All in all, not a bad travel day, and definitely not the miserable and confusing trip that I’d read about online.

family history in mussoorie, india 

A lot of people have asked me why India. The short answer is that I’ve always wanted to come here. The culture fascinates me – the dress, the food, the spirituality – all have always felt so vibrant, so different. The longer, and older answer is that my grandmother and her two brothers were raised in the hills of Mussoorie, India, and it’s always been a sort of pilgrimage/genealogical quest dream of mine to see where she grew up. And I certainly wasn’t the only one to develop a keen interest and strong desire to spend time in India; numerous family members have spent varying amounts of time in the country, and have kept a tie to India strong for all of us. In family gatherings, in culturally influenced bits of decor – I’ve had sprinkles of Indian culture here and there throughout my life. And when I decided to take significant time to travel, there was no question that India was at the top of my list.

Visiting Mussoorie was all about finding the places rich with family history. I started at Woodstock School, an international, English boarding school attended by my grandmother BJ, her two brothers Ray and Dick Smith (all of whom graduated from and spent the majority of their K-12 years there), as well as my mom’s sister, Karen, who spent her junior year of high school there. I scoured yearbooks, toured the school and surrounding area, and even got to stay on campus! My visit coincided perfectly with that of a good friend and classmate of my grandmother’s, Bhavenesh Kumari, who showed me around the school and town, shared meals with me, and most importantly shared stories.

Tucked behind the school is Redwood Cottage, the home my great grandfather built, the house my grandmother grew up in.

I also visited Landour Language School, where my great grandfather, Caldwell Smith worked from (roughly) 1933-71. I met with the current school principal, Chitranjan Datt, whose father worked closely with Caldwell in expanding the Hindi language school. Near the school is the Kellogg Church cemetery, where my great great grandmother Vaughn is buried (no luck finding her, but special nonetheless!)

Mussoorie is now a huge tourism hub for Indians. I spent one afternoon walking around the “main” part of town and was overwhelmed, and a bit turned off by the crowds, the neon signs. There was even a street stall with a guy offering tattoos! So unsanitary!! But the Landour side of town is a total escape from that. It’s quiet and tucked into the hills. It’s quaint. The Sister’s Bazaar and Chaardukan, two main places to visit in Landour, are each just a few storefronts. Landour Bazaar has a special charm, and older feel.

Mussoorie was as a few Indian people had warned me – overly commercialized. But Woodstock school and Landour are in a totally different, beautiful world. This was a very, very special stop for me.

a week in manali

As we were nearing the end of our month long yoga program, I had a general idea of my plans after Rishikesh. I’d stay close to the area, head to Delhi, take a day trip to the Taj Mahal, and then make my way to Nepal by mid-May, at a nice leisurely pace. As soon as I had basically decided this, something else of course tempted me! A handful of my classmates were heading to Manali for a music festival. I LOVE music festivals, and I liked the idea of not saying goodbye.

The day of our graduation, we were packed and ready to go. As soon as we had our certificates in hand and had said our goodbyes, we were off! A group of 10 or so (including a few adopted friends made in Rishikesh) took tuk tuks to the nearest bus stand, made it to our bus with literally no time to spare. Our first bus to Dehradun was an hour and a half – it flew because we were all so excited, not to mention in shock that we’d made the bus!

The next bus was a bit of a different story. It was an overnight local bus. It was packed, uncomfortable, and nearly drove off with at least one of our group at every stop we made. But 15 and a half hours later, we were in Manali, and all of our complaints forgotten. It was beautiful. At about 6am, it was freezing cold (a shock from Rishikesh, where you were always a little on the warm side).

In total, we moved hotels 3 times. We stayed in New Manali where the bus dropped us off the first night. We learned quickly that Old Manali was the backpackers hub, and also the location of the festival. So we moved all together. The festival (Dance of Shiva) was so much fun! A small group of maybe 250 people attended, and by the end of 3 days we knew many of the faces, and lots of names too! The music (psy-trance), was not exactly what I’d choose to play for myself, but it was fun and a new experience! And the festival grounds, a 30 minute walk into the forest, with the main stage backdropped by snow caped mountains – superb.

After the festival, the group of 4 girls left moved to yet another hostel – Rockway- which was tucked into a hillside and about a 10 minute hike from town. A much needed change of pace and scenery from the huge group, the festival, and just the noise that comes with any busy tourist town.

After 9 days in Manali, I was ready to be on my own. My “solo travels” had been anything but so far. It was hard to break from such great friends, and I’ll be surprised if the four of us don’t meet up again soon!

In total it took me about 20 hours (two bus rides, 2 tuk tuk rides, and a taxi ride) to get me back to my next stop, about 30 km from Rishikesh. The route could have been better, but all of the travel was 100% worth it. For the views. For the festival. For the community feeling – we knew so many people by the end of our stay and everyone was always smiling and happy. The restaurant and hotel owners took amazing care of us. If we went to a restaurant for 2 meals in a row, we were pretty much guaranteed free dessert. One day we went to a nearby town, Vashist, and hiked to a beautiful waterfall with amazing views of the entire valley.

There was so much in Manali that I would have loved to stay longer for – more hiking and trekking, temples, more waterfalls. But until next time, I will remember my week there very fondly.

yoga teacher training in india – expectations vs reality

Almost two weeks ago I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training certification with Nada Yoga School in Rishikesh. Now that I’ve had some time to decompress, here are some thoughts.

Expectations (although, I honestly tried to have as few as possible):
-super healthy vegan diet

-no alcohol, caffeine, or sweets

-several hours of intense physical yoga per day

-a diverse group of people from all over the world

-somewhat “western” accommodations (hot water, wifi, etc.)

-long days, and mental and physical exhaustion

-white rice, heavy soups and cooked dishes (vegetarian, not vegan)

-no caffeine

-no alcohol anywhere in Rishikesh (ok, actually I have heard of one place)

-lots of sweets

-several hours of very technical physical yoga per day (alignment alignment alignment!)

-a diverse group of mostly women from all over the world (but a lot of us from the states and Canada)

-no hot water

-squat toilet

-no wifi in our rooms (just at the school and cafes)

-yoga philosophy classes with an extremely knowledgable, but very eastern-style guru

-meditation classes that are hard to follow sometimes, and minimal instruction around whether or not I’m “doing it right”

-long days, and mental and physical exhaustion

My overall thoughts: 

I did feel myself getting stronger, physically but also mentally. I did poses I’ve never even attempted. I meditated 30 minutes or more every day (from 0 ever before). I learned a lot about the history and philosophy behind a practice that encompasses body mind and soul – a huge shift in understanding about something a month ago I was doing purely for physical exercise.

We did major detoxing. In week 1 when I was one of the first students to successfully do jala neti from mouth to nose I was proud! I couldn’t have predicted that less than 2 weeks later I’d be proud of myself for doing shankprakshalana (going to make everyone google that one…)

Teacher training is intense. From what I’ve heard, that’s universal. Whether you do it in San Francisco or Rishikesh, it’s unlike anything you could have imagined. Bonus points for an AMAZING group of people, many of whom I’ve already traveled with and more still I plan to meet up with further into my trip!




chasing sunrise and waterfalls in rishikesh

Sunday is our day off from yoga. Monday through Saturday we begin asana classes at 6am and end with music classes around 7pm. This Sunday*, we had an optional field trip to Kunjapuri temple, on the top of a mountain with beautiful views. We woke at 3:30am to leave at 4 to catch the sunrise. It was gorgeous. We did Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) in the clouds as the pink sun rose from behind the mountains. We drank delicious, brewed just for us chai tea (my first caffeine in almost 4 weeks!). When we returned home, they had made crepes for breakfast, a treat always, but especially when you have the same porridge and papaya for breakfast every other morning.

After breakfast, 6 of us had decided to find Patna waterfall, and asked for the best directions from a local. She told us to cross Ram Jhula bridge, take a tuk tuk east for a couple kilometers, and then walk about one more kilometer to the waterfall. Simple enough. This was the first of many many times a local would give us totally inaccurate information/directions. It was now about 10am. We decided to take a 10 rupee boat ride across the river instead of walking across the bridge, just for fun. We got in our tuk tuk and were off. At the edge of Rishikesh city limit, the driver stopped, told us to walk about 1 kilometer, and then we’d find the waterfall. We walked and walked, finally asking someone for directions, and he told us to walk about 1 kilometer and we’d find the waterfall.

We did finally find it. Sort of. We found a sign for “Neer Waterfall,” 50 rupees for foreigners. Ok, wrong waterfall, but we’ll take it. The ticket guy told us to walk for about 10 minutes. We walked for about 15, found a snack stand and asked again. Walk for about 10 minutes to get to the waterfall. Ok, keep walking. At this point we are hiking up and ask someone coming down how much further. 3 kilometers. 3 kilometers?! Far stretch from the original 1 our tuk tuk driver had told us. But after about 5 more minutes of walking we were at the waterfall. Every single direction so far has been wrong. But the waterfall was beautiful, and so worth the hike.

We decided that we’d walk to Patna waterfall next. We asked another snack stand guy for directions, and he said to walk about 2 kilometers to a bridge, cross the bridge and we’d be at the waterfall. Easy enough, so we set off walking. Everyone we asked had the same few answers. 2 kilometers, 10 minutes, or 2 minutes. None of these were ever accurate, but each time we decided we had come this far, we’d finish off the day right – at Patna! We wandered by ashrams, local residences, cows, monkeys, snack stands. We asked everyone, and it became a joke that the waterfall would always be “2 minutes that way” (or 2 kilometers). Eventually we did find the bridge. Then we got matching directions from a couple of sources. We knew we were close. When we had walked the last kilometer or so (we were sure) a local told us 3-4 more kilometers! He was messing with us. We found Patna waterfall. And it was amazing too.

We reached the second waterfall at about 4pm. 12 hours from the start of our day, and about 6 from when we began walking. According to my iPhone we walked a little over 10 miles! We took a tourist jeep back to town, because we were exhausted, and at this point we could say we really used all possible modes of transportation in Rishikesh.

It was really an amazing day, though, we all agreed. Our favorite in Rishikesh so far. The day was long and filled with beautiful sights and great people. Our pod of 6 was perfect, we got to know each other more personally. We were all positive, even after the 100th person told us only 2 more kilometers. We rewarded ourselves with an amazing family style Indian dinner at Chatiwala, a well known Indian restaurant in Swargashram (actually two, we went to the second). And the best banana lassi (and most deserved) so far.

After struggling with feeling a bit stagnant here, following the same rigid schedule day after day. After all of the noise of Rishikesh, the barking, the yelling, the constant blaring of horns. It was such a necessary escape into nature. Walking, splashing. Covered in dirt and sweat. Today was an amazing day.

(*I wrote this post about 2 weeks ago)

maharishi mahesh yogi’s ashram (aka “the beatles ashram”)

In 1968, John, Paul, Ringo, and Harrison came to Rishikesh to study transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (My philosophy teacher at yoga school was also a student of Maharishi Mahesh!) In the early 2000s the ashram closed. The ashram went into ruin, but over the years has also been a canvas for artists from all over the world visiting this world famous and incredibly inspirational place.

I was uncertain about going, but am so glad I did. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in Rishikesh so far. It’s about a 20 minute walk Southwest along the Ganges from Ram Jhula. The cost to enter is 600 rupees, which is about $12 US. Not expensive by normal standards, but when you’re India, 600 rupees is a lot! We had heard that it’s easy to sneak in to avoid paying, but since the Indian government took over (within the last year we heard from a local), they have security patrolling some of the old “sneak in” spots. Probably still possible, but we decided to just pay. We were able to negotiate down to 500 rupees per person since we were a group of 6 (“group discount?” is always worth asking).

The ashram is set away from the rest of the hectic city. It’s huge. The first buildings you see are stone huts that look like igloos. We wandered through them. Some had artwork. Standing in the dome at the top, your voice vibrates in a totally surprising way. We met a local who knew all about the ashram and showed us around. There are bigger, multi level buildings as well that we wandered, admiring the eclectic art. There is a warehouse that feels like a place you should watch live music. There are stone meditation caves. We walked to the top of the tallest building to watch the sunset, and it felt like we could see all of Rishikesh.

Amazing views. Amazing art. Amazing vibes. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram is not to be skipped.

mean monkeys and nice monkeys

There are two types of monkeys in Rishikesh: black faced and red faced. The black monkeys are super sweet. They have a ring of lighter hair around their faces, kind of like a lion. I see them carrying babies a lot. Sitting in small groups, eating bananas or coconuts in harmony. The red monkeys are another story. They steal from each other and humans alike. They’re aggressive and territorial, again with each other and with humans. You see them alone mostly.

The other morning I was walking home from breakfast with a banana in my hand, and looked up to the gate in front of my building to see a red monkey. It’s fine, I thought, it’s just one. And it’s like a foot tall to my almost 6. But I felt it was looking at me, and I made the mistake of accidentally locking eyes. He got down from the gate and started walking towards me, with an attitude like he was a 6’6 guy backing me into a dark alleyway. I screamed and threw my banana and ran in a wide circle to my house. When I got safely inside, I looked out my window and the monkey was enjoying my banana, sitting on my patio. Did the monkey technically steal from me? No. But he scared me into giving him something that was mine. Classic school yard bully.

This is the difference between black and red monkeys in Rishikesh.

first impressions of rishikesh

 I am writing this from the balcony I share with 3 girls in my yoga program. It looks out on the Ganges, and Ram Jhoola bridge which tonight is lit with beautiful, dynamic, colorful lights. I wonder if it is lit every night. In addition to an intense day of what cannot be described as anything but culture shock, I am extremely jet lagged, and despite being very short on sleep still, I am wide awake at 1:30AM local time.

After spending several hours at Delhi airport, at 6:00AM yesterday I flew into Dehradun and took a taxi into Rishikesh. I spent all day exploring the city and getting to know some of the people from my yoga program. The taxi ride in was just as people described it would be. Traffic laws don’t seem be a thing, honking almost constantly is the norm. There were monkeys all over the sides of the road. When we got into Risikesh, 2 boys who hardly spoke English grabbed our bags out of the car and walked with us across the bridge. People, dogs, motorbikes, and cows share all roads here.

The city is loud and crowded, but walk down an alleyway and it’s serene. The gardens, the mountains, the river, they all hold an energy that is calm and reflective amidst the chaos.

Rishikesh is like nowhere I’ve been before.