In Rishikesh, nobody takes the baba's name in vain. They can hear you. They are everywhere. Many of them know how to greet people in at least five different languages. Religion is in the air. Cows on the streets. Yoga inside the rooms. And Israelis.
Foreign tourists on budget like having yogi tea. For ten rupees a cup, it fetches them five hours worth of cane chair real estate, a thing of disappointment to the person behind the cash counter.
The highlight of the hill town, cut in half by the river Ganga, is the feel of freedom in a religious place, a balance that's partly supported by good sense and partly by business-sense. The river is quite clean since it's closer to its source.
Two suspension bridges connect both sides of the river. One is the Ram jhula and the other Laxman jhula, both are about two kilometres apart. The river bank is dotted with yoga ashrams. Some are doing well, others not so good.
Many foreign tourists are at the yoga ashrams for the long haul, from three to six months and even a year. Some of them say it's similar to investing in good education. They come to Rishikesh to learn the art properly, return home and open certified yoga shops. It brings good money back home. A lot of people from China are in Rishikesh learning yoga.
The reputation of yoga ashrams usually spread by word of mouth, though some run brand-building campaigns.
One of the best places to stay in Rishikesh is a small touristy village on the top of a hill, simply known as Swiss Cottage. The name of every restaurant and hotel here starts with the word 'Swiss'. There's a sort of a garden in the centre of the village where people can warm their bones later at night after a heavy yoga class.
You might forget you are in Rishikesh while reading the food menu. Until the quietness is stirred by the raw laughter of some men who came from Delhi, discussing gym and property over a plate of chilli chicken.
Beedi, chai and cricket.
Also see: If god was a banker (Jaisalmer)