I can’t say I have been travelling a lot lately. Not the way I started out this journey. On the other hand, I always try to encourage co-travellers to go slowly. Not to take the fastest way from point A to point B, not to travel too comfortably and to try to spend more than a couple of days in each place. Travelling is so much more than checking off the list of places we want to see.
So, even though I have been staying in Rishikesh for the past 5 months, I have done some travelling. The physical one has taken me to Delhi a few times and to Nepal once.
And then there is this Rishikesh journey. Rishikesh has changed so much since I arrived 13 January this year. The Laxman Jhula area was a quiet village-like place. A few visitors amongst the locals, everyone commenting on the calmness and no one had to be afraid of being run over by jeeps. Crossing the Laxman Jhula bridge was a delight and I used to stop at the middle to let myself be embraced by the wind and energy from Ma Ganga. Taking a deep breath in, holding it, breathing out slowly. Pure magic.
Now, five months later this is a different place. Everything is about business. The Indian tourists and pilgrims are flooding the place which leaves little or nothing of the original Rishikesh. The kids are on summer holidays so families come here to spend a few days in this holy place. Lots of money are spent on offerings, gifts, presents, food for the fish, rafting, speedboat tours. This place has become more of a circus field than a religious ground.
I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he is not religious, he doesn’t dip in the Ganga, nor visits any temples, he never fasts or acts in any other religious way. But still, when he passes a temple he does this thing with his hands, shows respect. Why do you do that, I ask him since you don’t believe. It is out of fear, he says. What if I don’t do that gesture and something bad happens to me or my family.
Last time I went from Delhi to Rishikesh I took the train and I had a conversation with a woman on her way to Haridwar. Another of these holy places in India. When she heard I had spent four months in Rishikesh she said to her daughter. This woman spends four months in Rishikesh to show her devotion to the Gods and I don’t even go once a month. Yes, why would one stay in Rishikesh for such a long time if not to show devotion to the Gods?
Travelling is not about ticking off a list. It is neither about where we go. But foremost, to me, travelling is about the people that I have met or am about to meet. Like this young man who has come from Delhi to find questions. He is holding the book The Monk who sold his Ferrari as it is the bible. So we talk, we share, we spend two days together and then he tells me of his depression and suicide attempt. Yes, we have to be kind, because it is true as it is said, we never know what the next person is struggling in his life.
The woman I met yesterday evening who offered to give me healing because I was struggling with a persistent cold. I asked her what I could give her in return and she said A hug. So she gave me healing, I felt at ease and when she was done I got up from the chair a took a step forward and opened my arms to give her a hug. She sort of hugged me in that short and not very close way. But I embraced her in a tight, warm, long hug and didn’t let go. I could feel how tense her body was and after five seconds I felt how she surrendered. She exhaled deeply and her whole body relaxed in my arms. The connection between us was extraordinary and I am not sure who was healing who.
Travelling can be all the beautiful places and scenarios we pass. To me, it will always about the people I have met and the ones waiting for me to meet.