Howling for Rishikesh

Inspired by Ginsberg, writer Akanksha Singh visits India’s meditation capital.

Rishikesh is many things to many people. It is where the Ganges is, in some sense, the purest – having just slowed its path from the meltwaters of the Gangotri. To Hindus, Rishikesh is a site of pilgrimage. To aspiring yogis, it is the world’s yoga capital. And to some, like me, it is just a small town in the Himalayan foothills where one goes to escape the mindless buzz of the city, to smoke weed, while emphatically not looking to find oneself. To the American Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, Rishikesh was a stop in his year-long trip through India between 1962 and 1963. In 1956, after he’d published “Howl,” the poem that catapulted him to the forefront of the Beat movement, Ginsberg came to India “looking for the sacred … which had disappeared in the US,” posts his biographer Deborah Baker. He and his partner, fellow Beat poet Peter Orlovsky set out via sea, and by the time they reached Bombay, all they had was a dollar between them.

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