Victoria Adams is a yoga teacher and nutritionist who fell in love with India. She tells Voice of Calm why being in the alcohol free environment of Rishikesh heightened her senses to the peace and joy of this chaotic place.
Alcohol Free India: Peace Amid Chaos
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about India it’s that, truly, nothing is in control. Things run late, if the man says tomorrow, it probably means next week. If you order your supper, your dessert may arrive 1 hour before your meal. You might go crazy at the sound of the beeping horns and scooters and then calm at the sight of the soothing Maa Ganga, her turquoise waters surging peacefully southward. It’s true, nothing is in control: including how it might make you feel. Being in a the alcohol free zone of Rishikesh heightens your senses to everything this wonderful country has to offer. This is India. And I love it.
India From The Back Of A Scooter
It is two months now since my extraordinary month in Northern India, and the words I use still do not quite live up to describing the experience. Colourful, fragrant, chaotic, calming. On my first visit to Rishikesh – the “yoga capital of the world” – a city which is totally vegetarian and alcohol-free, I had spent my time closeted high up above the River Ganges (the Maa Ganga). I was closeted away with my teacher, Maa, listening and studying from the comfort of her wooden cabin high above the sounds, smells and stereotypes of the buzzing Indian Holy city below.
I had spent a hair-raising afternoon on the back of my indian friend’s Triumph motorbike. Jag drove us through the bottlenecked and bejewelled market streets of Rishikesh. Meandering across cliffside motorways with a jaw-dropping close-up view of the River Ganga below we raced on to the wide-empty countryside roads bordered by the greenest rice-paddy fields I have ever seen.
The Warmth Of The Indian People
This was India. So many different “zones” for the western eye to richly feast on. In most places it was poverty on paper; and yet you would be amazed at how the Indian people show gratitude for their rich lives. A beaming toothless smile from the woman propping up her roadside tarpaulin home was one of the many testaments to that. We tunnelled forwards and through the traffic, arriving at Jag’s farmhouse at dusk with a hot cup of his mother’s masala chai waiting for us.
My trip to this place has never left me: driving there, being there, not even my departure has left me. I remember how Jag’s mother’s orange sari burned just as bright and clear as the sun setting over their green, green fields, one arm resting in her son’s arm and the other waving goodbye until we were both well out of each other’s sight. Though my hair was a sight after the motorbike journey, my heart and belly were full. Besides, the hair was no bother: all I could see was a country and people with whom I have fallen in love.
The Chaos Without And The Peace Within
There is something about India that seems to bring us closer to our own hearts and to each other. There is something about the way it stirs us. It can challenge us. Then it brings us to a place where the dust settles and we realise that there was nothing waiting to be settled all along.
You might have noticed that I mentioned Rishikesh is a vegetarian and alcohol-free zone. Yes that’s right, no beef (cows are sacred in India), no lamb, no chicken and no fish. Selling alcohol is banned and inappropriate given that Rishikesh is a holy city. There are ways of getting round this, sure. It involves throwing diners out of your restaurant early to have a lock-in with your staff and curried lamb. That’s another story.
The Joy Of Alcohol Free Rishikesh
Life does go on without alcohol. The locals and visitors to Rishikesh are testament to that. For some it is liberating to be in a place – a whole city – where evening plans are limitless despite alcohol being off the menu. There is a sort of acceptance that alcohol is not available here so that there is not even the question “do I miss alcohol?” The joy emanating from the city is palpable. As well as the peace and the spirituality and the chaos. Without alcohol we are present enough to notice.
Many people go to India for some sort of spiritual awakening; to “find themselves”. I’ve learnt that you don’t have to travel half way across the world to find your ‘Self’. But for me there is a peace in India that I am able to find by ducking and diving through the chaos of scooters, sitting with the uncertainty of events which are beyond the control of me or my mind and timekeeping that always keeps me on my toes. No matter what life has or hasn’t thrown at you, how much you’ve read or how long you’ve held tree pose, India really does offer you the chance of enlightenment. It offers you, amidst all of the challenges, the chance to lighten up in the face of them all.