Its not all about the yoga in Rishikesh
January 1, 1970
by Sun Ithilwen
Never too old to travel
I’ve often been told I am super lucky to have been living overseas for nearly three years. When I mention that it was not luck or fate, it was about letting go of what society told me my life should be, that’s when changes started to happen. I spent most of my life wishing for the life I have now. When I had the wake-up call to believe in myself, and more importantly, the burning desire to travel began, I was already in my forties.
The yoga capital of the world!
When I arrived in Rishikesh, India, I felt like I already knew the place. I instantly felt a connection to the gravity of its peacefulness, and from the moment I arrived, I took in the serenity of the Ganges. Known for its location at the foothills of the Himalayas, it is also widely popular globally for its endless amount of Yoga Teacher Training Schools. It was the reason I had also come to this ancient land of Hindu worship. I was not disappointed by my selection of yoga school, as I had chosen it for the style of yoga I preferred. In Rishikesh, there really is a matter of choice on what you want to expand your knowledge of yoga with. All yoga schools do however, have a similar routine of waking up for 6am meditation and mantras, followed by yoga classes, with Anatomy & Philosophy being taught in the middle of the day. Generally, a couple of hours plus for lunch break, which will predominantly be your study time, followed by late afternoon yoga, and evening meditation. The average 200-hour course runs 6 days a week for 1 month like this. Its intense, but if yoga was what brought you to Rishikesh, you will power through, and return home with a new bunch of life-long yoga buddies.
So much to do on your day off
With only one day off a week to relax, you will find yourself with more options than you can fit in. Again, there is something for everyone.
Sunday Funday must-do attractions:
- White-Water Rafting
- The Beatles Ashram
- Walk or swim The Ganga
- Aarti ceremony in the evening
The power of Maa Ganga
There really is no description that is fitting enough to explain what I felt when I saw the beauty of the river. The power she holds, is far greater than any experience I have ever had. Every opportunity I could, I would find time to sit by her, and reap in the magic that rushed from the bounty of her current. I felt an existence that was far greater than the ordinary world I’d known, and it was there that I felt a true sense of inner peace. Some days she would be wild and crazy, and others she would gently flow. My thoughts would be clearer in those moments, just watching her, whether it was on the Ghats alone, or with a group of musicians rolling through town, and other days it would just be chilling in a cafe with friends. Her presence is the essence of Rishikesh, and fortunately for everyone who travels there, they will leave with something more than they expected.
The Animals of Rishikesh
I was only 2 weeks into my teacher training course, when I realised I’d found my purpose in life. My doctor had warned me to not touch the animals in India, in fear of disease. Although, as an animal lover, I couldn’t resist, and found myself raising four abandoned puppies. My Yoga training was hectic, but I somehow managed to find homes for all of them. It was then I knew I would not return to Australia when my flight was scheduled. I stayed in Rishikesh for 5 more months after my course finished, with my sole intention to help these helpless creatures. It was a huge decision to leave my western life on hold, but I never regretted doing it. I got involved with other animal lovers in the area, and I helped an NGO from Siberia set up a month-long sterilisation unit. We spayed and neutered 104 dogs, and 1 cat!
A lesson for everyone
Those six months were the pinnacle of finding myself. Two days after deciding to stay on, a puppy found me, who I named Rishi. It took me over four months to find him a home, but he now lives in Israel. The locals at first took offence to me naming the dog after the spiritual birthplace, but by the time I left they were curious with questions on how I raised him to be a completely new and healthy dog. I gladly gave advice, thrilled that I had led by example. It was not only my work with the animals that taught me about myself, but it was the life I had built there in such a short period of time. The days leading up to me finally leaving, I was asked on several occasions what I had learnt from my time in Rishikesh, and my reply was always, “To Trust!”
The magic of Rishikesh
Rishikesh encased me into a reality that I sometimes wondered whether I’d died and gone to heaven! It lived up to its Sanskrit meaning, ‘Lord of the senses’. Every moment I breathed in its crazy wonder, I contemplated if it was possible to ever leave. I looked back at that first day in Rishikesh, and I knew that I had changed from my yoga and animal work experience. I spent my final hours sitting once again by the beauty of the River Ganges. Like the mother she was she relayed her final message, “Its time,” she breathed. “You now have the power, go use it!” That feeling, is what has kept me travelling and part time living in India ever since.