“I have never been attached to just one place. I don’t feel like that my home is the city where I was born.”
Richikesh has many Babas (or Sadhus), wandering Hindu monks who have no home and no past (obviously they have a past, but they live as if they have none). They do not live within society as most of us do, they have no processions, no family, and no job, and instead live their life in a spiritual manner. They often live in forests, caves, or temples, and sometimes, like in Richikesh, just on the street. There are 4-5 million today in India, and they are mostly respected by the rest of society. They receive donations from people as much of the community believes they help to burn off bad karma. Not everyone respects them though, there are many beggars, especially in holy pilgrimage sites, who now pose as Babas in order to be given money or a meal. Something I found surprising was the fact that these holy men smoke a lot of weed (called charrus here), since they believe Shiva, their God, adored the leaves of the plant. Another interesting thing I read is that Sadhus are legally considered dead in India, some of whom even attended their own funeral.
I spoke one night with a very thoughtful and intelligent Baba who was open to sharing his story (unfortunately no photo though). Though he looked to be in his sixties, with a large white beard and a sort of salmon colored cloth over his shoulder and around his waist, he was only forty-five. His parents died when he was young, and since then, he has been on the move. He wanders throughout India and Nepal, staying in places he likes for months at a time, then moving on when he feels ready. He walks or takes the train (if I understood correctly, holy men get to ride for free), and sleeps in ashrams or on the street. He speaks multiple languages fluently, and enjoys speaking with people from all over. He was an interesting fellow, the kind of guy you want to listen to for hours over a cup of tea.
I talked with a few other Babas, including this man who took me to puja, or the daily prayer, with him, as he took a liking to me after we figured out that both of our names mean “sweet.” Puja happens everyday in Rishikesh by the river, and it includes chanting, instruments, and praying. At the end people light little flower pieces that then float down the Ganga.