The Enlightenment Industry

Karma I realized I probably wasn’t going to find enlightenment in India about four days into my trip. I was drinking chai in the restaurant of the Shiva Hotel before a yoga class, talking with Iryse, a snarky Belgian woman … Read More

By / April 29, 2007

Karma I realized I probably wasn’t going to find enlightenment in India about four days into my trip. I was drinking chai in the restaurant of the Shiva Hotel before a yoga class, talking with Iryse, a snarky Belgian woman who I’d just met. We chatted briefly about the weather, where we came from, and real estate prices in our respective cities, and then she asked me if I believed in Karma.

Hmm. “I don’t not believe in Karma,” I said. “But I can’t say I believe in it either.” Iryse told me that she was in a car accident months back. Part of the reason she came to the holy city of Rishikesh was to figure out if there were healing Karmic forces at work. I cringed. I won’t hide anything. I live in Los Angeles and I went to India for the enlightenment too. Sort of. Ostensibly I was there for a friend’s wedding, but I got the invite after about six months of practicing yoga. Like most 30-year-olds (or so I like to think), I was unsure about nearly everything in my life. What better place to find answers than magical spiritual Incredible India!® I decided to spend my first week in the northern city of Rishikesh. If you recognize the name, it might be because that’s where The Beatles studied with the Maharashi Mahesh and allegedly wrote much of The White Album. The song “Sexy Sadie” is actually about the Maharishi himself, written after the falling out. Apparently he made a fool of everyone. Fate would have it that another wedding guest, a San Franciscan I didn’t know named Jeff, also decided to spend several weeks before the nuptials in Rishikesh. Soon after arriving, he emailed to stop me from signing up for a $600 tour package. Indeed, I spent under $300 during my entire stay in India, with about $100 going to room, food, and yoga in Rishikesh. Most of it went toward the taxi from the airport.
Upon arriving in Delhi, I got directly in a taxi for the five-hour ride to Rishikesh. I’d flown four hours from Los Angeles and another fifteen from Chicago, and it was now midnight. A cab ride after all that may seem a little crazy, sure, but I hadn’t heard much good about the big city, and I had less than three weeks to reach a place of peacefulness. There was no time to waste in a Delhi hotel. The first hitch was that the taxi driver dropped me off across the Ganges River from my hotel. He pointed into the predawn darkness and motioned for me to get out of the cab. Outside a man cooked up something in a cart while a few others huddled on the floor next to him. There were sleeping bodies wrapped in blankets all around the taxi stand. The cab driver motioned to a footbridge that disappeared out of sight, which is when I realized how good I had it in that cab. After some confusion and pleading on my part, it was clear that this car was going no further. I put on my backpack and blinked into the shadows. A Clean and Sober Life As an introduction to India, predawn Rishikesh could have been worse. It was more peaceful than any other time I would spend in the country. I had the name of my hotel wrong, but that didn’t deter anyone I asked. “Ten minutes this way,” one said pointing south. I trudged 15 minutes south. Nothing. “Ten minutes this way,” said the owner of grocery store pointing north. Everyone was extremely helpful. I walked across the footbridge over the Ganges five times before the sun rose.
I plodded this way and that, threading through beggars lined up to get food at temples. I called Jeff at the hotel every half hour. No answer. Finally around 7 am, the sun came out, and the town came alive. And best of all, he answered the phone. Oh, the name was the Shiva Hotel, not the Yog Peeth. When Jeff came to greet me on the footbridge at around 7:30 am, it was the first time we had ever met. For a dude who had already been in India for two weeks, he looked clean and perky. I had been in the country for eight hours and it looked like someone had punched me. It was probably all the sobriety, yoga, and naps. Rishikesh is a holy city, so there is no meat or alcohol in the whole town. Some places catering to foreigners have paid off the authorities and will sell you a beer or a plate of chicken at ridiculously inflated prices. But I’m too cheap for a $10 beer in SoHo, much less India. By the end of the week I hadn’t touched alcohol or meat, and more importantly I had consumed just two cups of mediocre coffee. I hadn’t been this sober since I was 17. I was sleeping better, but still no enlightenment. Next: Neille discovers the yoga apartheid of Rishikesh.

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