Since coming home from Africa in 2012, the background on my phone has been an outline of the continent with the words, “I left my heart in Africa” written inside. It always starts a conversation and has been an ongoing joke between me and my friend, Craig, for the past few years about when I plan on going back to the continent to retrieve it. This is long overdue, but India was calling me, and I just had to prioritize a visit there, as it was the last of my top three.
Since that trip to Southern Africa, nowhere else has quite made an impact on me, at least not until I arrived in India. On both trips I was alone, at least initially, and each time, upon arrival I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to me. Maybe it’s because I was always drawn to those destinations, but I knew I was where I belonged, at least at that moment.
This feeling was especially strong as soon as I arrived in Rishikesh, a special town in Northwest India, known to most as the world capital of yoga. It’s a holy city for Hindus and because of that there is no meat or alcohol served in Rishikesh. The foothills of the Himalayas are dotted with ashrams and the turquoise blue Ganges River flows from the mountains into the middle of the city. Because of this, there are two foot bridges, that are also used by motorbikes, cows, and monkeys to get from one side to the other. I often joked that the bridge was everything India was in one small stretch; that being said, the bridge made me quite a bit anxious with it’s claustrophobic-inducing chaos hanging high above the holy river.
Even so, the town has an energy about it, one that’s hard to explain anyone who hasn’t been there. People from all around the world come to Rishikesh for yoga, meditation, emotional blockage treatment, reiki, and healing. It seems that a certain kind of person is drawn there, which was part of what I enjoyed most. It’s the kind of place people visit to seek answers or heal from past experiences; it has a transformative power and maybe that’s why so many people make their way there.
Never before have I been able to connect so quickly with people I have met while traveling, especially because we were all so similar. It was as if we were all brought together for a reason. Many of our past experiences were the same and we could relate to what we had all been to and what brought us to Rishikesh. We also seemed to understand each other, something we found that wasn’t always easy for everyone back home in our lives. All of this caused us to bond rather quickly and form lasting relationships with one another.
I can’t entirely explain why I feel the way I do about Rishikesh, but it just nestled its way into my heart. Part of it, I believe, is the way I was transformed during my trip. I opened up in a way I hadn’t in a long time and released many blockages that were holding me back, yoga allows us to do that, so it makes sense that this happened to me. It wasn’t my plan, in fact, I had no idea I was blocking out certain things in my life, but as soon as I was unblocked, I immediately realized it.
Also, it was the longest I had ever spent in one place, and I really got to know the ins and outs of the town, watching life go on from up above from the yoga studio and while meandering along the streets. Normally, I hop around from place to place so quickly, I barely get to know and understand a city, but with this trip, I had the time, and it really made the difference.
But, I believe that what really helped get Rishikesh into my heart must have been my experience in my teacher training program. Had that not been as wonderful as it was, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed my month in Rishikesh as much. Our teachers made us feel as if we were part of their family, celebrating Diwali with us and bringing us to a family wedding. That was what truly made me feel as if I had my very own home in Rishikesh and what made leaving that much more difficult.
So while even though part of my heart is certainly in Southern Africa, without a doubt I left another piece of it in Rishikesh. One day, I’ll return, but it won’t be to retrieve it. Instead, it’ll be to experience it in a whole new way and leave another part of my heart there. I want to spend time in town discovering new spots and learning new skills, aside from yoga. Of course, I’ll take a yoga class every day, maybe even twice a day, but I’d also love to take a variety of other classes that are offered in town. From dancing to astrology, music and dancing, or jewelry making. It would be so nice to spend my days as I did on Sundays, just relaxing in a cafe overlooking the Ganga with a chai and some friends. One day, I’ll get back there, I just know it.
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What country or city holds your heart and keeps calling you back to it?