Today was my last full day staying in the area so I wanted to make sure to visit a recommended site by some friends from the States, called Vasishta’s cave. I invited my friend Shivani and her husband, as well as the woman from Switzerland, Letizia. I’d already worked out the rented taxi a few days prior, which would cost us 920 rupees ($14 total) to visit the cave and have our driver wait two hours while we meditated there. It was a 45-minute drive away into a pretty mountainous and forested area.
According to Hindu mythology, Vasishta is one of the Saptarishis (or Rishis for short), the seven immortal sages. He and his wife Arundhati did penance in their respective caves for many years. It is said that due to the tapasya of great beings like them, visitors often feel a sense of peace while in the caves.
My friends and I met for breakfast at the same cafe I ate in with my friends on my very first day before heading to the Himalayas. This time I felt super comfortable and even knew what much of the menu had to offer. Interesting what a difference a couple weeks can make. After breakfast, we drove to the cave as it closed from 12-3p which worked just fine for us. Letizia had to catch a 14-hour bus that afternoon to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives when in residence.
Although there are signs posted that we were entering an area of silence, there was a man at the entrance of Vasishta’s cave who was chanting non-stop the entire time we were there. I led the way for the four of us into the cave, but it was virtually pitch black. As I walked through the entrance, I kept lightly kicking a person’s legs and could not tell at all where people were sitting or if there was even any space. Eventually the person shifted their legs and my eyes adjusted to the dark enough to see there was enough space for all of us to sit at the very front, despite others also being seated in silent meditation.
I did immediately feel a sense of peace upon sitting despite the background chanting which was still distracting. Partially I think it’s because aside from the chanting, the cave was by far the quietest place I had been since landing in India. After a short amount of time, I also felt a large amount of energy in my heart chakra which was interesting. It stayed there for some time but eventually dissipated. There was a photo on a small table in the cave, I am guessing of the swami who took residence in the cave in 1928 (and died in 1961 although I am not certain if it was in the cave or not).
There was also an elevated place to sit at the front of the cave with flowers, water, bells and offerings. While there, a woman entered and sat in the space, rang the bells, poured the water and made her own offerings. It was a nice thing to witness before deciding it was time to visit Arundhati’s cave in hopes that it might truly be a silent place to meditate.
It almost was. After a short but nice walk on a sandy beach along the Ganga, we approached her cave. Again, there was a man sitting near the front of the cave but this man was praying quietly with his mala beads. Give thanks! Unlike Vasishta’s cave which was relatively deep and super dark, hers was much smaller and not what I’d even call a cave at all. More like a nook with shadows created from the rocks but anyone walking by would still have a view of you. The cave still had a small offering area and covering on the ground to sit upon so we enjoyed a mediation there as well. After the chanting in the other cave, I actually enjoyed this one better.
The periods of quiet were unfortunately interrupted on occasion by shouts from passersby on river rafts in the Ganga. Apparently, in recent years middle-class Indian people have turned this area of the Ganga into a place to enjoy water sports of all kinds including bungee jumping, believe it or not. It feels completely out of place and disrespectful of the sacred water that so many other Indian people believe the Ganga to be. Leave it to humans to disrespect the sanctity of Mother Nature. Is nothing sacred anymore? Fortunately, those shouts kept floating by and there were some sweet welcome moments of silence for us to enjoy.
We had the taxi drop us off at the entrance to Laxman Jhula, the popular shopping area, so Letizia and I could have lunch and shop a bit before her bus. Our other friends took off to run errands because her husband only gets one day per week off from work. He had been recruited while living in Vegas to run a popular spa about 40 mins from Rishikesh. According to him, time will tell how long his future with the spa will be as the last five months had most certainly had its challenges.
I bought the last two items I had my eyes on before taking off and felt very content and felt complete to leave this crazy area the following day. There was SO much noise and congestion in that part of town. It’s the one small area where cars actually are allowed to pass through amidst all the other scooters, people, cows and monkeys on the street. I chose my small singing bowl from Nepal which I couldn’t resist since I have a collection of real bowls from Nepal at home and wouldn’t be making it all the way there on this trip. There was an amazing selection and great prices since Rishikesh is relatively close. And also found the chywanaprash from Organic India I had been looking for. The label calls it a Rejuvenating Immunity Boost. And is made from wild forest antioxidant rich fruits including Amalki and 36 healing herbs using the traditional Ayurvedic recipe. It supports digestion, absorption of nutrients and is so abundant in nutritional properties, it’s known as the “Elixer of Life”. And yes, you can find it in the U.S. or order it: www.organicindia.com. It is made somewhat sweet as is part of the traditional recipe so I’ve been eating it daily sandwiched between little crackers, kind of like an uber healthy Oreo. Much better than succumbing to milk chocolate bars (dark is pretty hard to find) or the Indian other sweets you find everywhere!
After enjoying one last Aarti that evening, I went to sleep looking forward to the next leg of my journey! Feeling like it was time. Yes, I was ready to move on…