If you turn off the main road that leads to Shivpuri – the starting point of River Rafting into the holy Ganges – and walk about the small alleys of Rishikesh, you’d find that the place is swirling with all kind of adventure sport and tour companies – alluring tourists to partake into its cultural destruction, by making Rishikesh nothing but just another weekend getaway around us.
For those who can see its invisible forces and read all the unseen currents in the air, Rishikesh is a magical world. It is one of those places where you come to regain your inner consciousness and learn about maintaining a harmony with the world – by staying close to the Ganges and under the undiluted purity of Himalayas. Yet for many, the town has become a place for enchantment, for having a few pints of beer, and enjoy the aggression of Ganges, rafting and kayaking. But that’s not what Rishikesh’s real charm, at least not in its real sense.
I’ve some personal attachment to this place, some affection – that makes me want to come back to its cosy, almost mythical streets – yearning for self-discovery, for answers about my life and all those things I am not fairly connected with. And no, I’m not alone. This has always remained the land of rishi-munis, of sadhus, of those learned men who’ve travelled all across India, in search of a place, almost untainted, to practice meditation and seek the higher truth.
From Swami Vivekananda to Swami Shivananda and their uncountable followers – Rishikesh has acted as the fatherland for people to walk on their spiritual journey. No wonder, it’s a place to practice spirituality not adventurism.
Rishikesh is no less than a holy place for me, and for those who discern a different sense of warmth from it. It has some sort of force full of magic, and if it is, it speaks for a magic that is only pushing back and down the clear daylight world of reason. Those born with a higher sense of knowledge seldom have to go back to world for it. Yet here, all these ideas are upended. Here, people come back inquiring those questioning, stretching their sense of understanding, again and again. After all, this is where holy Ganges bids farewell to the colossal Himalayas.
But now this place serves a different purpose – of tourism and money making – and is no more the place it used to be, about a decade ago. As back then, it used to be quiet. Or at least more auspicious.
When I was in Shivananda Ashram for two months – trying to “be good and do good” as Swami Shivananda always inspired people to be, I realised that the new and fancy businesses – stretching their boundaries around its little walkways – are deteriorating the very essence of this place, every minute. And with each visit – I get a sense as if this place is moving faster than ever to become one of those quintessential Himalayan towns, with strip shopping centres and high end tourist shops.
There are some places that are better left untouched, if only we don’t want to see ourselves regretting, years later, for not doing anything to save their cultural significance, and let them transform into just another city around us – or let’s say, into yet another Lhasa – lost in the translations of the world.
And that’s what happening to Rishikesh, slowly, but evidently.
Though it’s a different thing that many people don’t find it having such high religious significance – as they otherwise do while speaking of Kedarnath or Badrinath. But for me it is one of those (unfortunate) consecrated lands, around the world, that are going through a never-ending cultural makeshift, and are calling us every minute – to take our first step towards preserving their true identity.
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