Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures

By Sarah Strauss | Go to book overview
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3
Balancing Acts: Doing Yoga in Rishikesh

Rishikesh - January, 1992

The scooterwala dropped us off at the junction of the Railway Road and the Hardwar
Road, and there we stood, again surrounded by luggage. Three hotels were visible.
My task was to find a temporary place to stay while beginning fieldwork, because
had not decided whether to look for a permanent room with a family, a place in an
ashram, or some arrangement or combination as yet unimagined. After checking in
at the closest hotel, my husband Carrick and I set out to explore. I was very glad for
Carrick's presence and assistance as I settled in for fieldwork in Rishikesh. He left
after two weeks to go back to his job in Switzerland, and did not return to India until
the final three weeks of my research year.

Here, on the Hardwar Road in the heart of Rishikesh town, we were surrounded
by the everyday clatter and bustle of streets lined with busy people, vegetable carts
and popcorn vendors, travel agents and tour guides, hotels and restaurants and
shops with textiles and cookware, flowers, incense, and party supplies for pujas
(acts of spiritual devotion) and weddings, punctuated by the occasional doctor's
office, motor parts shop, or pharmacy. The cloistered ashrams and peaceful Ganga
of Lakshman Jhula (the northernmost section of “greater Rishikesh”), where we had
been deposited by the bus upon arrival from Delhi, seemed impossibly far away. This
very workaday “downtown” area also stood in contrast to what we had seen at
Swaragashram on the east bank of the river, where blaring loudspeakers chanting
prayers and brightly colored temples demanding to be noticed were the norm. The
people strolling along the street and in the shops were a mixed bag: there were small
clusters of orange-robed sannyasins (Figure 6); occasional white-clad Jains with long
dusters to brush the bugs away lest they be trod upon and killed (violating their vow
of non-violence toward all creatures); mountain villagers in colorful saris come down
to town for supplies; uniformed schoolchildren; housewives whose critical eyes
scoured the vegetable tables; and businessmen on their way to the local Rotary
meeting at one of the fancier hotels. We encountered scattered pockets of well-
dressed families on deluxe bus tour/pilgrimages from the cities, as well as the odd
foreigner, often dressed in orange or disciple's white, or bearing the standard
backpack and searching look. The town itself seemed to be growing at a pheno-
menal rate, with new construction springing up everywhere. Many of the new
residences were for retirees from the cities; rather than renouncing worldly life, these
older people were just bringing it up here to the banks of the Ganga.

-53-

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