rishikesh, india: of snake charmers & gurus

This is a part 3 of the story of our challenging time traveling from Varanasi to Rishikesh, started in the posts:

part 1: varanasi, india: of ghats & gurus
part 2: on journey: chandigarh >> to delhi (???) >> to rishikesh….14 grueling hours

We went to feel the spiritual pulse of India. Our quest took us through the frenzied streets and ghats of Varanasi, over dangerously chaotic Indian roads, and finally, sweet relief, to Rishikesh, the land of serenity and ohm. Never could we have imagined how different two of India’s most spiritual places could be. And never could we have imagined the future of our lives, as told to us by gurus at either end.

Wednesday:  The Ganges River in Rishikesh is hemmed in by mountains and is utopian-lovely. A cool breeze rinsed over us as we ventured out into the peaceful town.

We walked down Lakshman Jhula Road for quite a distance, then crossed the Ganges on a pedestrian-only bridge called Ram Jhula (suspension bridge).  Somehow no one else seemed to know it was pedestrian-only as numerous motorcycles roared by, nearly knocking us over.  On the east side of the bridge was Swarg Ashram, the traffic-free “spiritual center” of Rishikesh, where we encountered cows on the street (surprise!), a man pushing a cart of red carrots which didn’t seem to be carrots at all but some unidentified vegetable, and guys selling glittery gold jewelry from their motorcycles.

We walked along an asphalt path along inviting sandy beaches, closed gates overgrown with weeds and dilapidated ashrams.  Cute shops offered up colorful textiles and beautiful jewelry.  We came across a large temple on the riverbank that looked like a 13-story orange-iced wedding cake, Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple.

Back across the bridge, we stopped for a cappuccino and an apple lassi at the Devraj Coffee Corner, perched high above the bridge and looking back at the wedding cake temple.  This was a German bakery (ubiquitous in India) serving breakfast, fresh breads and cheeses, apple strudel and croissants, as well as the usual luncheon fare of soups, pizzas and enchiladas.

On the steps outside the coffee shop sat a bearded and turbaned fellow playing some kind of colorful bulbous musical instrument and charming a snake.

After our break, we happened upon the Divine Ayurvedic Therapy Centre & Massage School.  Since it was a school, we got cheap 45-minute foot and leg massages which felt amazing after being cramped in the car all day yesterday.

Feeling relaxed, we stumbled another guru’s shop, the Ganga Astrology and Palmistry Centre.  We wanted to check out the Varanasi guru’s prediction against that of another guru, a kind of check and balance.  We wandered in and watched the guy, Astrologer (ex-Scientist) B.P. Uniyal, in action with another group.  He asked his customers all kinds of probing questions and entered the information on his computer.  He asked us to come back in an hour. We liked what we heard and decided we’d wander around and return to get another, possibly truer, reading.

Wandering into temples, we saw relief sculptures of elephants dancing and Indian dancers with red dots on their foreheads.  As always, little shrines sat happily in their nooks, overflowing with brightly colored paintings of octopus-armed gods, flowers, leis, masks, feathers, ceramic tiger-lions, pitchforks, 6-handed goddesses, swatches of jewel-colored textiles and colorful baubles.

Back at the guru’s office, we gave Mr. Uniyal the requested information.  He fed all the information into a computer program and then printed out a multiple-paged document, after which he proceeded to read my future… as well as my palm.

This guru told me:  I will live until I’m about 85.  He didn’t say how I will die.  I will have a lover after July, and he will be someone I know. I had problems when I was 52, and that was about right because I think that was the worst year of my life. I will be okay as far as property and I will own my own house.  I will work two jobs, one in education and the other a creative endeavor, possibly writing.  I will have a peaceful later life and good health, except for a little trouble with my eyes in 2021 and again in 2032.  After 2023, I will have some trouble with my blood pressure.  I’ll experience some nervousness, but he doesn’t say when.  My financial position will be good (he didn’t say when).  My children are supportive to me and they will do well in business or service.  I will live a long life.

He continues to say I will have a friend in life from June onwards (Hmm, is this the same person as the lover I will have after July, whom I already know?).  I will do some side business after 2017, related to writing or teaching.  I will be active in my work until 2028!  Long awaited work will come in 2020 and 2028 related to children and other purposes.  I will have a few downhill periods in 2030, 2032 and 2037 and will be governed by old age factors after 2041 (At this time I will be 86.  Of course I will already be dead by then as he said I will die at 85).  I will have a period of strong spiritual growth from 2028 onwards to 2037.

While in the guru’s office, a dreadlocked man covered in caked dust and wearing a loincloth wandered in and touched Jayne on her head.  Jayne cringed and backed off, telling the guru, “Tell him not to touch me!!”  I found myself trying not to look at him in the hope that I’d remain incognito. He carried all kinds of paraphernalia, none of which was remotely identifiable.

The guru told us the strange fellow was an Aghori ascetic, a type of sadhu.  Sadhu is a common term for a mystic, or ascetic, a practitioner of yoga and/or a wandering monk.  He usually wears ochre-colored clothing to symbolize renunciation.

Since sadhus in India are common attractions, we weren’t sure if the guy was a poser, a guy looking to make a buck by posing for pictures with tourists.  The guru said something to this effect, but I wasn’t sure I understood him properly.

We left clutching our computer printouts and notes. Now that we had our future in our pockets, we headed for lunch at the Buddha German Bakery, where Bob Marley sang “Buffalo Soldier” over the sound system:

Dreadie, woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!

We ate Tibetan spinach cheese momos, ricotta cheese and spinach filled dumplings served with spiced sesame seed sauce.  A breeze whispered through the restaurant as we lazily watched rafters negotiate the rapids on the river.   I felt peaceful in India for the first time.

Meanwhile, Singh arranged a new hotel for tonight, the Narayana Palace Hotel, so we could stay in Rishikesh an additional night. He was trying to make it up to us for yesterday, and we couldn’t help but soften toward him, as he was so contrite and apologetic.  Our room, in British Colonial style, had a parquet floor and paneled ceiling, beautiful woodwork, sage green curtains, and ample space.  The pool nestled in a lush tropical setting with a backdrop of coral-colored buildings and ruffled mountains.  We moved our stuff into the room and then lay out by the pool for an hour or two, napping and reading and chilling.

It has been Jayne’s wish to do yoga in Rishikesh, so we arranged a yoga session with Rajkumari Chauhan, a serene Indian lady.  In a common room at the hotel, she gave us mats and we stretched and chanted, jumped up and down yelping.  She chanted more and we relaxed into our poses.  “It’s all about breathing and peaceful mind,” she said.

After yoga, we ventured to the Ganga Beach Cafe & Restaurant, with a riverside location, a spacious terrace, and a cushioned chill-out area.  Mellow hippie music, stuff of acoustic guitars and mandolins and sitars, permeated the cafe.  That interspersed with classic rock and roll.  We sat on cushions at low wooden tables and ordered pomegranate juice, mint raita, vegetable biryani and vegetable Jhal frezi, accompanied by butter naan.  Around us sat dreadlocked Westerners with scarves wrapped jauntily around their necks and wearing colorful Himalayan patchwork jackets.  Like every restaurant in Rishikesh, it was all vegetarian and no alcohol was served.  The mood was chill and even otherworldly, and the food burst with Indian flavors of coriander and cumin.  This spot was a sliver of heaven, offering hard-earned serenity after the chaotic experience of Varanasi and the Indian roads. We wished we could have stayed in this peaceful place until our guru-predicted ages of 85.



building in Rishikesh




saris in Rishikesh


Jayne and me with Indian women


Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple


the Ganges in Rishikesh


Devraj Coffee Corner


Jayne & me at Devraj Coffee Corner


snake charmer

Guru B.P. Uniyal of the Ganga Astrology and Palmistry Centre:


me with Guru B.P. Uniyal of the Ganga Astrology and Palmistry Centre

*Wednesday, March 9, 2011*


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.

In this case, my intention was to capture my trip through India using my five senses, and to try to capture as vividly as possible my experience there.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose & poetry.  (This page is a work in process.) You can also include photos, of course.

While I’m in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago from August 31 – October 25, and then in Portugal from October 26 – November 6, I kindly request that if you write a prose piece, please simply link it to the appropriate post, this one or my next one as soon as it publishes.  I will try my best to read your posts while I’m on my journey, but I won’t have a computer or the time or ability to add links to my posts.

My next scheduled prose post will be on Tuesday, October 9.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!  See below in the comments for any links. 🙂

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself.  🙂