Our last week was bittersweet….we traveled from Agra to Rishikesh with a pit stop at the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal was absolutely beautiful and we probably took around 1000 pictures between all eleven of us. We visited Agra Fort as well which was equally if not more beautiful. We met a guide who took us around the place and apparently he met Oprah once? Super cool. The stories we heard that day about the history behind the Taj Mahal were really special. Love, death, and wealth were all expressed in the white marble and an abundance of details, such as flowers carved out of stone and into the walls and Arabic engraved into columns that framed the front doors. The beauty and opulence was almost overwhelming, not to mention the mass amount of tourists, but it was a really special day for our group to experience what’s become a huge piece of Indian history and culture.
In Agra, we said goodbye to our elephant and bear friends and made our way to Rishikesh at 4:30 in the morning. We made it by the afternoon and settled into our rooms at the ashram, Parmarth Niketan. First things first, the ashram was crazy beautiful. We came full circle to see our old stomping grounds, the Himalayas, just from the other side this time around. At Parmarth Niketan, we practiced yoga twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Our teachers were incredible and taught us a couple new chants we’re bringing home.
Every night in Parmarth, there was an Aarti down by the Ganga where there were offerings of song, fire, rice, oil and chanting. Our second night, we had the privilege of participating in the offering ceremony and it was breathtaking. We all sat around a fire by the Ganga and made different offerings, while a giant crowd of people watched and chanted around us. At the end, the guru and president of the ashram, Pujya Swamiji, who may or may not be considered God, came down and joined us for the remainder of the ceremony. The ceremony left each of us speechless and grateful.
After the Aartis, there was a satsang where an American devotee of Puyjs Swamiji named Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati answered questions about life, spirituality, and India. Saraswati’s intellectual and spiritual balance was inspiring. The only word that fully captures the essence of her and the satsangs she shared with us is grace.
Other than cool yoga classes, Aartis by the Ganga, and insightful spiritual talks, this week was about wrapping up curriculum. We created checklists each day for which assignments, papers, and projects needed to be completed. Woo college!
We also battled groups of monkeys on multiple occasions. Rumor has it a group of monkeys stole two pairs of Sarah’s pants…
Another totally fun thing about this week was our Secret Santa. The group participated in a Secret Santa in honor of December where we drew each other’s names out of a hat and had a special person that we showed appreciation for throughout the week. Leilah got a giant Cadbury chocolate bar that could last well into January and Ann got warm, fuzzy pajamas from Ricky that she can’t wait to rock back at Maacama.
Towards the end of the week, we celebrated Brendan’s 31st and got him a cool green scarf. First, we celebrated at the end of a satsang where Saraswati led two Happy Birthday songs, one in English and one in Sanskrit. We then moved the party all the way to a pizza place called Namaste Italiano that we each agree was the best restaurant we ate at the whole trip. Eating pizza around a fire while Mikaela sang and played guitar for us was a highlight to our stay in Rishikesh and the trip as a whole. We tuk tuk’d home with full bellies and hearts that night, ready to get some sleep for our early wake up call the next morning.
What felt like a couple hours later, we woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise from Kanjapuri Temple in the mountains for our last day of the trip. We watched the deep colors of an early morning sky almost fade and melt into the blue color above the peaks. The sun peered behind and out of a cloud, then rose high above the purple and pink colors that lingered in the clouds. The air chilled our faces, fingers, and toes, but we wrapped our scarfs and each other tighter. After the sunrise, the group hiked down back to the ashram, stopping at a picturesque waterfall where people swam for the first time in India.
In the afternoon, we headed back to the Ganga and found a tiny beach to celebrate our experience together as a group for the last time before heading back to Maacama.
There were so many beautiful moments on this trip that we’ll each carry with us long after we return home with bigger backpacks and hearts. We’ve grown as individuals and as a group through lice, monkey bites, stomach bugs, hours on buses, the Indian Money Crisis 2016, Trump’s election, joyously dancing with groups of kids in the plains of Nepal, getting to know our host families, fire dancing, trekking for days together, and gratitude circles. Every experience, good, bad, or ugly, made this trip into what it beautifully came together to become. Our gratitude for our teachers, mentors, homestay families, and friends we made here is endless, along with our families and friends at home we’re all excited to head home to with heavier hearts. Thank you for reading along and sharing this experience with us.
Namaste and see you soon!
LeapYear North India Fall 2016 “Dhal Baht Power 24 Hour!”