We’re nearing the end of our bus trip seven hours north of Delhi to a town called Haridwar. After seven hours sweltering in the crammed seats with no air conditioning and any attempt at napping broken by the horrendously piercing, incessant, horn honking, we can’t wait for this journey to end. Trouble is, we’re not sure exactly where we’re going.
I lean across the aisle to our new Indian friend and show him the vague address I found online the day before. He examines it and, puzzled, shows it to a group of young men seated in front of him. They all start speaking in rapid Hindi, break out their phones, argue while pointing at screens and start dialing without breaking the stream of their arguments. Apparently, they don’t know where we’re going either.
A day prior we were sitting in my college friend’s family house in Delhi counting our blessings for access to a cool room and internet. Our stay in Vrindavan had ended earlier than expected and we were searching online for ashrams to stay at in the famed yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh. Unfortunately, all of the blogs we found seemed to suggest that in the past years Rishikesh yoga has fallen from grace as the international attention has attracted money-seeking hustlers who build cheap hotels, hire a friend to lead a daily class and call themselves a yoga ashram for foreigners. Amid this research we happened across a post that briefly mentioned a small, humble ashram in a nearby town that, apparently, you cannot find. Instead, “the ashram calls you and brings you home when you need it most.” I managed to find a phone number and was able to get a call through for long enough to speak with a woman who confirmed that yes, we would be able to stay there. The call dropped as she was giving directions, though.
So now we are in a dusty, dirt lot somewhere near the Himalayas as the group of young men from the bus now argue in loud, rapid Hindi with a group of auto rickshaw drivers over a price and over where, exactly, my cryptic address should be. Eventually, an agreement seems to have been reached and our friend brings us to a driver.
“This man will take you where you want to go and offers a respectable price. But don’t let him charge you any more,” he warns.
We shove our bags in the small rickshaw and head off down a small highway cluttered with motorbikes and barreling buses and bicycles weaving in and out of one another with a never-ending cacophony of honking.
We pass over a bridge and I can see dozens of people bathing along the brown current below. The river is surprisingly wide and stretches on for as far as we can see up the mountain to our left. Then it strikes that this powerful river is also the holiest in world; we’re driving over the Ganges. I bow slightly in respect and look up to the far end of the bridge we’re approaching to see a massive statue of a fierce warrior with long hair, blue skin and a tiger pelt wrapped around his waist. Between his brows is a third eye like the one Sparky Sparky Boom man or P’li would shoot explosions from. In awe, I look up to a 100-foot statue of Shiva looking down on the flowing river. The sun setting beyond the green mountain creates a golden glow the halos Shiva. I almost expect the statue to look down at us.
It doesn’t and we pass by Shiva down a thin road flanked on either side by lush pastures dotted only by the white of grazing Bahman cows and orange of monks’ robes, wandering slowly with walking sticks. A mystique hangs over this land like the mist clinging to the mountaintop, shrouding it from change since ancient times. After the madness of Delhi’s streets and the oppressive heat of Vrindavan, the cool breeze following the river down the mountain is very much appreciated.
We pull up to a metal gate and the driver gets out and rings a dangling bell. A woman opens the gate and gestures us into an open courtyard and immediately we notice something distinct about the space.
“So what brings you to Sri Santosh Puri?” the woman asks.
“We’re interested in learning about fire”
“Well then. You’ve come to the right place.”
Behind her are photos of her parents who founded the ashram. Somehow, I feel as though they were the ones who invited us. But why? What, I wonder, do they have to teach us.
I sip my steaming chai.
All in due time, I hear. All in due time.