If you were in Rishikesh for a Yoga/ Meditation Teacher Training Course (‘TTC’) like I was, hopefully you’ll have a few days of freedom during your training as well! I’ll share my most memorable experiences outside of the TTC school during my month in Rishikesh, including my experience with Aryuvedic panchakarma treatment.
(If you’re interested, I described my experience at the Meditation TTC in a previous post!)
Experiences NOT TO MISS in Rishikesh
1) Patna Village & Waterfall
A friend and I ventured out to the Patna waterfall near Rishikesh, and then we hiked up further to the Abhayaranya Yogapeeth ashram, which sits atop the mountain.
While roaming the outskirts of the ashram, we stumbled upon a quaint, colorful village, where we sat down to enjoy a chai. Next thing we know, our new friend, Bhagadji, was showing us around his village and escorting us through a nearby village, which happened to be at the onset of a wedding celebration! Of course, I can never pass on joining in the village festivities… We ate with the guests (all the food was prepared using locally grown veggies!), we danced to music played on instruments made by the villagers (including a bag pipe!), I unsuccessfully attempted to play the drums, and we danced endlessly in celebration with the locals.
As we headed back down the mountain towards Rishikesh, guests from other villages were arriving for the wedding.
Envision this: There’s no road for motorbikes or cars to get to up to Patna village, so all the distant guests must hike up the mountain to attend the wedding… and then hike back down at sunrise, as it’s too dark to hike down the mountain during the night!
This village is off-the-tourist-path, so you’ll likely be the only tourist there! Bhagadji offered us to sleep in his home with his family, and take us on some hikes through the jungle the following day. If you have the chance to stay overnight and spend the day with Bhagadji (he speaks excellent English) I would highly recommend it!
2) Rafting with Red Chilli Adventures
I went on a rafting day-trip in the holy Ganga river with the safest rafting company in Rishiskesh, Red Chilli Adventures, and the most experienced guide: Sahdev Rana. For safety, Red Chilli Adventures arranges for 2 kayakers alongside our raft (none of the other rafting companies had safety kayakers!), which helps justify their higher price range.
It was a peaceful day, and we were the only raft in the river most of our trip. It was a blessing to be rafting between hills covered in jungle, and with untouched sand banks on either side of us. At this time of year (November), the river was darn freezing, but that didn’t keep us from jumping right in to float down the mother Ganga on our backs. The wetsuits and splash jackets definitely helped keep me somewhat warm.
Next time in Rishikesh, I’d love to do the 3-day rafting trip with Red Chilli Adventures!
3) Ecstatic Dance
Ecstatic dance is a drug-free, alcohol-free, conscious dance party with upbeat music. No speaking is allowed, so any communication must be done using only eye-contact and body gestures. You dance to your own groove, and express yourself through your own free-form movement. It’s a unique dancing atmosphere, as everyone is in their own zones, rather than staring at or judging those around them.
I had been to Ecstatic dance in LA several times, so I was overjoyed to hear that it was happening in Rishikesh. Can’t express the joy in my heart when I went to this event. Ozim zim! (You can check out my previous post about the Meditation TTC, were I describe free-form movement in more detail!)
The ecstatic dance times and locations change on a weekly basis. The best way to find out when they’re happening is to look at the wall poster advertisements along all of the streets in Rishikesh center.
4) Kirtan with Ganga Ma
A kirtan is group chanting of mantras (short prayers) accompanied by instruments. From my Meditation TTC (I share my experience in a previous post), I discovered a deep connection with chanting… It reminds me of the the days when I attended orthodox Jewish day school, where we prayed aloud, in song, together each morning.
I went to Ganga Ma’s kirtan in Rishikesh, where Ganga Ma plays the guitar & sings mantras with her mesmerizing voice. The energy generated from all of our singing voices in the room was astounding. It felt as if we were healing the world simply through chanting. I left the kirtan with a newfound energy and ecstasy.
You can find Ganga Ma on Facebook to find out where and when!
5) Celebrate ‘Diwali Festival’ (‘The Festival of Lights’)
Diwali typically falls between end of October and mid-November.
On Diwali my classmates and I showed up early to the special aarti (ceremony) in Ram Jula to ensure we got seats. After experiencing the festival prayers, singing, and placing our offerings into the Ganga River, we decided to venture out into Rishikesh for a festive Indian meal. However, little did we know, most restaurants are closed for the holiday!
As we searched the streets for somewhere to eat, we were dodging explosions left and right from firecrackers being thrown at the ground by young Indian celebrators. These weren’t just poppers, they were massive firecrackers flying into buildings and people.
Along the way, we stumbled upon a local street procession of music & singing (re: blasting speakers) walking through the streets as well.
If you’re interested in knowing, we ended up finding one empty restaurant that was open! However, with only 1 chef/ staff, it took us around 2 hours to get our food orders. Needless to say, this wasn’t the smartest of ideas for the night.
6) Aryuvedic “Panchakarma” treatment
If you’re interested in trying an alternative form of medicine, aryuveda is an affordable form of treatment. Make an appointment to see an Aryuvedic doctor and sign up for the “panchakarma” treatment if you have a few days in Rishikesh.
I suggest you invest the time to research for a reputable, experienced aryuvedic professional for treatment (if possible, try to speak with current patients at the doctor’s practice for recommendations before you go)! I chose the clinic based on convenience (i.e., the one right next door to my MTTC), and I highly regretted it!
Aryuveda is the traditional Indian system of medicine (5,000 years old). “Aryuveda” means science of life; it’s a holistic type of medicine centered on natural healing.
In aryuveda, there’s no disease, there’s only imbalances of the “doshas.”
Aryuveda teaches there are 3 doshas (i.e., types of humans): Vata (air), Kapha (earth), and Pitta (fire), which are derived from the elements of nature. Each of these doshas represents a unique blend of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics (i.e., your personality traits). At birth, each human has a unique constitution of all 3 doshas (i.e., 40% Vata, 30% Kapha, 30% Pitta), in which there’s always one dominant dosha. If we deviate from our unique balance between the 3 doshas, then we said to be imbalanced. There’s no disease in aryuveda, there’s only imbalance. Therefore, health is defined as the balance between your doshas.
Aryuvedic medicinal treatment is to rebalance your doshas to be aligned with your unique, basic constitution (i.e., which you have had since birth).
My “Panchakarma” Experience
Since there’s ample aryuvedic doctor offices in Rishikesh, and I’m exploring the depths of Indian culture, I made an appointment for a general aryudeic consultation.
The doctor explained that my unique dosha is Kapha (50% Kapha, 30% Vata, 20% Pitta) and I’m imbalanced with Vata. This was determined based on my birthdate, wrist pulse, observation of my tongue, and a few simple questions. As he explained his understanding of my mental, emotional and physical attributes, I identified with his explanations (similar to when someone explains your character traits based on your astrological signs!).
Prescribed aryuvedic treatments typically include ‘panchakarma’, a detoxification of the body for 5-7 days using a combination of oils, herbs, massage techniques, a strict diet, etc. The objective of the ‘panchkarma’ is to help rebalance your doshas. Since I have a persisting issue with my left shoulder, I decided to try out this ‘panchakarma’… “when in India!”
This was a memorable experience to say the least. Each of the treatments on their own were unexpected & unconventional… then, add Indian service culture on top of it, and you’re in for a real treat.
7 Days of “Panchakarma” Treatment
Before I discuss the results of the ‘panchakarma’, allow me to share my 7 days of treatments:
- Day 1: Oil lathering massage (i.e., basically just pouring oil all over my body)
- Day 2: Chapati back treatment (i.e., they put a circle of dough (yes, like bread dough) on my back, filled it with hot oil, and just let it sit there for an hour)
- Day 3: Leaves treatment (i.e., wrapped leaves in a cloth, and dipped it into boiling oil, and rubbed the wrapped leaves on my body)
- Day 4: Ghee (‘butter’) treatment (i.e., massaged my body with butter)… I smelled like popcorn for the rest of the day
- Day 5: Powder treatment (i.e., mixed a brown powder with a bit of oil, and smeared it on my body)… It smelled like cow dunk and look like I was covered in shit.
- Day 6: Shirodhara (‘third eye’) treatment (i.e., pouring oil in between my eye brows for an hour)
- Day 7: Lotion treatment (i.e., rubbing my body with a thick lotion/ cream)
“Treatment Service” Culture in India… Hilarious, yet Daunting
And here’s my experience with Indian service culture during the treatments:
- The massage rooms were always freezing cold, so we asked to put a heater in the room. Yet, after getting the heater, the masseuse would feel too hot and turn off the heater & open the window mid-treatment.
- The masseuse’s hands were always freezing cold when they touched your body.
- The masseuse will stare at you as you get fully undressed.
- While you’re naked, the masseuse may open the door, allowing outsiders to see in.
- There’s no face hole in the massage tables, so your neck is always kinked.
- None of the treatments specifically focused on my shoulder ailment, which I had repeatedly requested from the doctor.
- At the end of the treatment, they wipe your body off with a cheap disposable towel that doesn’t absorb or remove anything from your body… it just spreads and moves it all around your body.
It’s simply a different culture where the most basic comfort considerations from the West don’t even come into their attention. This showed me how pampered and comfortable we are in the West, in comparison to the East. So much gratitude for the comforts we’re privileged to have.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when my final day of treatment arrived!! Unfortunately, the next day I found out I had miscalculated, and still had one more treatment 😫
Results of the “Panchakarma”
Regarding the results of the treatment, I didn’t observe any notable changes with my physical ailments in my left shoulder from Day 1 to Day 7. Regarding mental and emotional, I was meditating for several hours per day as part of the MTTC, and I believe that any shifts in mental/ emotional capacity were the direct result of my meditation practice. Therefore, I don’t believe I received much benefit through the ‘panchakarma’ treatments. This may have been influenced from my constant irritation and inability to relax during the treatments, as described from my experience above.
Funny Story to End With
I’ll end this post with a funny story:
On the first day of my treatment, I went in with flip flops, and removed them when I undressed. At the end of the treatment, I got up feeling super relaxed, and I grabbed my clothing to get dressed. Then when I went to put my flip flops on, I couldn’t seem to find my flip flops. I look over and the masseuse is wearing my damn flip flops!! He was wearing them the whole treatment! He looked at me, removed them from his feet and looked away. I went to my room, and washed the life out of those flip flops! Get your own damn flip flops.
On day 2, I wore shoes, as I expected the masseuse would try to wear my flip flops again. When I entered the room he was barefoot. I took off my my clothes, placed my shoes against the wall, and got on the table. Then, I heard some ruffling of shoes…. I look over in fear that he was putting my shoes on! Thank god, he was just putting his own shoes on!