June 07, 2014

Shoes off and feet freezing, I fidget cross-legged in front of the first swami I've ever met.

He's draped in saffron robes, serene and still. His eyes are shut, his mind taking him to places I can't know. Vines climb the thatch wall of bamboo behind him.

Around me, as the courtyard fills, women weep. The swami's eyes open and are as gentle as his smile. I feel the warmth, but I don't understand the tears.

I'm in Rishikesh, a spiritual hot spot nestled in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, where ashrams dot the landscape and the sacred river Ganges flows toward the plains. Hindus have long made pilgrimages to this holy place, where saints and sages are said to have meditated for thousands of years. But ever since the Beatles came here in 1968, Westerners have made it their spiritual Disneyland. They roam the streets, dotted with shops, seers and more yoga classes than any yogi can possibly take, looking for enlightenment.

 



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