Fashion and faith in India

The Parmouth Ashram (left) and a monument to Lord Shiva outside the ashram gates.
The Parmouth Ashram (left) and a monument to Lord Shiva outside the ashram gates. Gail Forrer-Arnold

I JUST closed my eyes. Squeezed them tight. Let go of fear and felt the wind of calamity and adventure slither down my spine. If it was my time to expire from planet Earth, I would forego the deathly visuals and simply go with a tactile experience.

I was travelling on a motorbike in Rishikesh, North India. I didn't know the driver and I didn't know the street.

I was in India for a spiritual experience, I just didn't think it would manifest like this.

But there you go – anything can happen in India.

Commentary from a friend of mine, a regular traveller/trader in India went like this:

“There's India... and there's the world.”

An apt description.

It was earlier this month, on a Friday night in Rishikesh CBD, when my mind was awakened to the dualities, the ironies and the exoticism of India. Rishy meaning saints and kesh, place. So I was in the place of saints. At the speed I was hurtling down a narrow, dark street of people, carts and cows, it felt like I would soon be connecting on a celestial level with the saints... or perhaps sinners!

It's just then I decide it's best not to meet the locals like this so I opt for sensory experience, minus sight.

With my eyes closed and nerves wide open, I am enveloped in a haze of incense, dust and curry scents. I hear lyrical chants and the rich accent of haggling Indian voices. I wonder how we can keep up this speed in such a crowded place, but we do.

Just as fast, the bike halts and I am delivered opposite the huge Shiva monument, in front of the ashram gates.

After the trip from Brisbane airport, via Singapore, Delhi and Dehradun airport, I arrived in a car at the Pure Inn, Rishikesh.

The Pure Inn was home for the 10 days I attended Vedic meditation classes at the nearby Parmouth Ashram.

It had been about two months since I received a invitation from a friend to join a Vedic meditation group in India. Specifically, the Hindu holy city of Rishikesh. A city where alcohol and meat is banned. An ancient city, located in the foothills of Himalayas, flowing along the misty blue/green waters of Mother Ganges.

In modern history it is best-known through the Beatles 1960s' visit to the Maharishi's ashram to learn meditation. I was a primary school student, flipping through my mother's Women's Weekly when I saw the photo of the Beatles and their guru posing at the Ashram. Dressed in loose white clothing and garlanded with orange flowers, it's one of those pictures imprinted on my mind.

Indian fashion is part of the very, very beautiful, unique style they offer to the world. My favourite shop belonged to Vinoid and Pawan. The two brothers had been in their store since 1966. Plenty of low benches gave a resting place and defined the floor area where the brothers sit and conduct their commercial transactions. Their mantra was quality. And of course you must pay for quality. And then you are repaid with a dialogue of dry humour, a few spiritual insights and great shopping.

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