We flew to into Mumbai, India 3 days before our Vipassana meditation course started to make sure we didn’t miss the start. We spent a day exploring Mumbai, trying to find some last-minute items we wanted to bring with us. Mumbai is a tropical city with a super edgy feel. Danielle was nervous to eat street food in India, so we opted to have McDonalds for lunch. Daniel tried to order a quarter pounder and they’d never heard of it. Chicken masala sandwiches, however, were in ready supply. Having recently watched The Founder, we wondered whether Ray Kroc would be OK with this. Michael Keaton certainly would not have been.
We left later that day to head to Igatpuri where our Vipassana Center was located. Along the way, we got our first real taste of driving in India. There was traffic on the other side of the road, so some clever drivers decided to cross over to the other side of the median and drive on our side of the road! This type of driving would never fly in the US but it actually kind of made sense and improved the flow of traffic - we didn’t need that much road anyways.
We stayed overnight in Igatpuri, savoring our last night with a real bed and air conditioning. The next day, we checked into Dhamma Giri for our 10-day silent Vipassana course (it was officially Day 0). Check out Daniel’s article about his experience there. After a brief goodbye, we went to our respective gender's checkin area. We didn’t see each other again until Day 10, after ~105 hours of meditation. It was a magical and brutal experience. If you are thinking about taking a Vipassana course, we definitely recommend that you do a course in the US (where you will be able to recognize all of the foods). Once we were reunited, we were relieved and so excited to get out of there!
After escaping the fanfare of the meditation retreat (turns out there is a lot of attention when you are one of the only Americans in a group of 500+ people), our first mission was to find a real meal. After 10 days of mild fasting (almost inedible breakfast and bananas for dinner), we were all STARVING! We convinced our cab driver to stop at a roadside restaurant so that we could indulge in the most American meal we could find - pizza and burgers. To be fair, it was a chicken burger. Beef is almost impossible to find in India. The majority of the country identifies as Hindu and in Hinduism cows are revered as a symbol of life and may never be killed.
Our next stop was Rishikesh, a holy city in the foothills of the Himalayas that gained fame after the Beatles made a pilgrimage there in 1968. They spent several weeks in an ashram along the Ganges river studying transcendental meditation, during which they wrote most of the White Album. As the yoga capital of the world, we thought that Rishikesh would be a good place to relax and integrate after 10 days of silence and solitude. The city was much bigger than we expected. And, as we quickly realized was a norm in many cities in India, the traffic was chaotic. However, in Rishikesh, there was the added obstacle of cows freely roaming the streets.
On our first full day in Rishikesh, we rented scooters and rode to the top of the closest mountain, hoping to get a view of the Himalayan Mountains. Although the clouds blocked our view from the top, the ride was epic - small winding roads, rewarding us with panoramic landscape views and several monkey sightings. Our hotel was right on the Ganges River, providing us the most amazing view of the sunrise. The Ganges River is one of the most sacred sites for Hindus. The ritual of bathing in the Ganges River is meant to cleanse you of your sins and provide good luck. The current is really strong and it is really cold - The water flows from the snow caps of the Himalayan mountains after all! We each went for a quick dip and it felt magical (perhaps it was just the frigid temperature). It was a quick visit to Rishikesh but we will definitely be back someday for longer - maybe when the internet quality has improved ;)
New Delhi, India
After Rishikesh, we spent one day in New Delhi. The first thing we noticed was how much cleaner and more westernized it was compared to the other cities in India that we visited. There was also more of a western price tag, with meal prices comparable to NYC! We hired a tuk tuk for the day so that we could get a better flavor of the city. We were struck by the massive wealth disparity in New Delhi. Just a short ride from a restaurant serving $16 cocktails, we were in Old Delhi, a walled section of the city crowded with markets and wholesalers. We took a quick walk through one of the markets, winding deeper into the narrow maze of streets. Our tuk tuk driver had warned us about the risk of pick pockets, so we were more aware of the eyes that followed Danielle’s cross-body bag. That night, we parted ways with Daniel’s father, Michael, heading to our next stop: Koh Phangan, Thailand.