By Laura Neal
A native Vermonter, Laura is a 23-year-old religious studied graduate who is just trying to figure out ways to connect her interest in her studies, with her travel, work, play and everyday life to sculpt a vision for her future that is meaningful. That's surely a savvi outlook, Laura! Check out more of Laura's savvi stuff on her blog Alternative Realities.
It’s been one week since I embarked on my first solo travelling journey to Rishikesh, India. The beginning was stressful as my first flight out of Montreal got cancelled and I ended up missing all of my connecting flights that I had spent many hours meticulously planning. After the two day journey to New Dehli and next day flight to Dehradun, I made it to Rishikesh and checked into my hotel where I am staying for the yoga teacher training course I’m currently taking. I met my room mate who had arrived at the very same time as me and we went off to explore the neighbourhood. After chatting, drinking some chai and taking in the serenity of my surroundings I instantly felt a wave of relief that I had made it through many adversities to this place that I could tell was going to become special to me. After spending a week here I can say that it is one of my favourite places I have ever visited. The area Laxman Jhula, where I am staying is full of yoga ashrams, meditation courses, jewelry shops and vegetarian cafes. It might sound like something out of a hipster area of some US city but here in Rishikesh everything truly feels genuine. Those who have travelled to this place are seekers of a deep connection to something bigger than the human ego. People have come from all over the world to be a part of something spiritual and to practice yoga and meditation in the traditional way where it began so many thousands of years ago. There is no alcohol in Rishikesh and no one is seeking it. I can’t express the extremely positive effect that this has on the vibe of the town. Days are spent sipping tea and conversing with strangers, being fully present instead of looking for a substance to help escape from reality. There are no backpackers looking for a party and no drunks causing commotion or disturbance. Instead there are people looking inward, spending time by the flowing river Ganges and hiking into the Himalayas. Before I came I had done some research about the Ganges river learning that it is said to be extremely spiritual and healing. I didn’t understand until I spent a full week beside this majestic body of water but I couldn’t agree more. The sound of the constant flow of the turquoise waters calms and soothes the mind and eases even the busiest of people into a relaxed state. Its hard to look at the Himalayas and the Ganges and not feel that there is some magic in the air around us. We’ve spent the week singing, chanting and dancing as well as practicing yoga and meditation all day every day. The evening aarti, a nightly ritual of prayer to Ganga, the goddess of the Ganges river was one of the most beautiful events I have ever attended. We listened to music and chanting which was awe inspiring as the sun set over the river and the birds swirled over head in the wind. It felt like something out of a fairy tale and the feeling that it gave me was blissful inside. We have been learning in our classes that the purpose of the human life is “self realization” and this evening of ritual had me thinking about that idea. Hundreds of people had gathered to sing, chant and pray which was a humbling thing to experience. It was admitting that indeed the connection of humanity and shared sacred space is bigger than the individual and seeking and finding that feeling of oneness with others and the natural world is what makes life worth living. Experiencing a place like Rishikesh has embedded in me the idea that experience and connection is the meaning of life, no doubt about it. Sometimes I feel out of place in the US or Canada telling people I studied religion in University, am interested in Buddhism, and do not have a set plan for my career path. I feel judged but I didn’t mind because I felt in my heart that I knew there was more to life than just getting a job and spending my years trying to make money and own expensive things. Rishikesh has validated this feeling in me, being surrounded by so many like minded people, seeking a deeper purpose in life and spending time creating the reality that makes our hearts full and our minds at peace.