"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Rishikesh: Memories Left Behind

Romola Butalia, Editor, India Travelogue, allows her unbidden memories to surface, before she treads quietly on.

Thoughts have a strange way of creating images suspended in time. It is difficult indeed to be a mere witness to memories that are associated with a flood of emotions. When recollections of Rishikesh surface to my conscious mind unbidden, it is not the place I remember. I recall instead, a flow of emotions. Surrounding them, images give coordinates and credence to the feelings that are evoked. What is so special about Rishikesh?

The crisp early morning air and the feeling of excitement of a brief vacation dulled the fatigue caused by a sleepless overnight journey from Delhi. I hunted for the perfect place to stay in an unfamiliar town. The steaming hot bath was invigorating. Hungrily I looked at the meagre menu. Parathas, dahi and achaar had never tasted that appetising. The shadows in the room remained etched long after I moved on. I smile to myself now, as I wonder what is so exciting about going "kabhi idhar, kabhi udhar" (hither and thither).

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The bridge on Laxman Jhoola that was once a swinging, swaying ropeway, has since been fortified with steel ropes that have a sturdier feel. In my minds eye, I can hardly recollect the bridge with shops and buildings on either side, the river flowing beneath, the distant setting sun and the gathering dusk that enveloped me. I imagine myself instead, standing betwixt the two shores of the river Ganga, suspended forever in a moment of time that I have no photographs of. Somewhere in the middle of that bridge, the past and the future converged to meet in a moment of illusion of an eternal present.

The rain-drenched streets were washed clean. The drizzle clung to my damp hair. I walked and walked, away from the town, into the forested pathways. I stopped for tea at roadside dhabas. I sat reading a book at a restaurant where I waited for a late lunch. I stepped into little shops on the side of the main street to buy an odd item I had forgotten to pack, that suddenly seemed imperative to have. I sat on a culvert on the turn of a road treasuring the moment. Why are they so important? The memories that have so little to do with Rishikesh?

As always on vacation, I read and contemplated, as though the reading would explain those very thoughts that arose in my mind. I stayed awake late into the night, savouring the knowledge that I could wake at noon without the daily chores of living crowding into the luxury of my late morning slumber. Over dinner, I sat in an open-air restaurant far from the crowds of pilgrims and tourists. I looked at the trees in the dark night and wondered what it would be like to find a cottage somewhere and live here. It was an idle thought, not even a dream. But remembering it now, I suddenly long to return to the quiet and solitude at the outskirts of Rishikesh, as though one can ever return and find a moment of time, untarnished.

Several kilometres away from town, I searched for the Vashistha Gufa that had been mentioned as a place worth visiting. Several years ago, I had spent many weeks reading the Yoga Vashistha. One of the books I carried with me to Rishikesh had a reference to the intriguing story of immortal sage Vashistha and his wife, Arundhati, who decided to fall into the cycle of birth and death in order to guide others on the path of spirituality. They had already sought the goddess Saraswati's help to extricate them if they should get ensnared. I was inspired to visit the cave where it is believed that Vashistha had meditated.

It was dark as I entered the cave. From past experience I knew that my eyes would adjust to the darkness within. Instinctively, I knew that if I sat awhile in meditation there, when I emerged from the cave, I would have glimpsed my original self. The sound of Aum reverberated from within the cave itself. When I stood to leave, I knew that some Truths are eternal. I returned to the world of living, renewed by the knowledge of who I am.

I walked down to the banks of the Ganga where it flows swiftly over boulders on the last legs of its journey from the Himalayas before it descends to the plains. There were no questions in my mind, only a deep stillness and a sense of totality. I knew that living in other spaces, I would some day have to remind myself of the reality of what I had known. The waters washed my feet and in that brief moment I glimpsed a sense of freedom.

I returned to complete all the acts of living that I was born to perform. Rishikesh is a distant memory and now I find myself wondering what is the illusion and which was the living? I walk gently where angels fear to tread amidst the dying embers of memories left behind.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.