Imagine an entire community of people where no alcohol is consumed and no animals are eaten…Just for a moment, can you even picture it? I really couldn’t which is why I had to fly clear across the planet to see and experience complete vegetarian and sober community for myself.
This clean lifestyle is not for detox or for a retreat. It’s just a legit, real way of living. Rishikesh is a community in Northern India with a population of about 102,000 people. And is known as the yoga capital of the world. India, traditionally known for being “dirty” and “crazy” is home to one of the cleanest and most peaceful lifestyles imaginable.
My initial curiosities…
I was so excited to see what it looked like and more importantly, how it felt to exist in this clean society. I’m not a very big meat eater, and I’ve called myself a flexitarian for years -eating meat only if a vegetarian dish is not available or if it would be rude to exclude myself from a meal. I was also looking forward to seeing the menu options, how the community physically looked, acted and treated its animals.
But the booze on the other hand, that’s a different story! I am a social and casual drinker. Generally, my vacations are beach-baked-booze-fests or metropolitan dining adventures always involving local beer, wine and spirits. An entire 10 days without alcohol in vacation mode, I simply didn’t know what to expect.
My experience in Rishikesh…
What a wonderful trip!
Rishikesh warmed my heart and filled me with not only love and joy, but also hope. The city is not physically clean, I mean, it’s India.
You may walk over the occasional open sewer line. Streets are anything but perfectly paved. Dust, rocks and decrepit buildings are all around. But after 10 days in India, even with the massive amounts of time spend in the air and in transit, I return home feeling cleaned up inside and out and more optimistic than ever.
Inspired, optimistic and filled with hope.
I don’t know why we have to eat so many animals. The food I enjoyed this past week was some of the most flavor dense, natural, whole, unprocessed, real food that I’ve eaten on vacation ever.
Delicious, rich sauces, crispy, garlicky naan, fluffy rice and fresh vegetables were all I ate. I tried a different Indian dish every place we ate and each time bellowed “this is the BEST thing I’ve EVER eaten.” And I meant it.
The local cuisine…ummm….the food!
I had to use google to help translate the menus because I had no idea what the words kofta, paneer, palak, kadhai, korma, pakora, parantha, matar and on-and-on-and-on meant. To be honest, I still don’t. But I can tell you it was all delicious and hands down some of the most delicious meals I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime.
The diet is super rich in carbs (breads, rice, potatoes are staples in each meal) and lower in protein. You’d be hard pressed to follow a paleo or Atkins diet in Rishikesh – ha!
But even as a flexitarian, I tend to steer clear of that many carbs on a daily basis. But you know what, all the grains are whole and unprocessed. And are an incredibly environmentally and fiscally responsible food source and as a whole. In general, the people in Rishikesh are not overweight.
We eat too much protein in the US anyway. The 2015-2020 DGA state that nearly 60% of our population is at or above intake for protein foods. While close to 90% fail to meet the vegetable recommendation and 70% miss fruit. I may be loosening my personal reins on protein intake when I get back home.
The animals! Oh the animals…
In Rishikesh, they don’t eat the cows (obviously). But what is so great is that they live in harmony with them. They line the streets, are fed by street merchants, and keep the streets “clean” by picking up trash. They are hysterical and very much a loved part of the community.
Stray dogs are everywhere too. But they are only kind-of-sort-of stray, I noticed the shop owners toss out kibble onto their porches to feed the pooches in the evenings. There were two tiny kitties at our hotel. I worry for them as cats are legit carnivores and need animal protein to survive. The restaurant owner says they feed them milk, but I imagine they are munching on rodents at nightfall.
Oh, and the monkeys! These guys are all over the place and what a trip! The little brown ones, not so bad. It was fun to watch the little babies run around.
I’m not sure who’s feeding the monkeys or what they eat, but the big grey ones look like bandits. They would literally stand up and rob you of your snacks, so I steered clear of them. Regardless, these critters are very much a part of Rishikesh’s animal loving culture.
It was like an animal lover’s wonderland of natural human beauty.
How did this booze loving blond not miss the alcohol?
Honestly, this was the most shocking part. After I got over the first “oh, I’m not ordering wine with dinner” I never missed it again.
Out of sight, out of mind. But I also didn’t miss it because the beverage menus were so abundant! Every restaurant menu was loaded with fresh, cold pressed juices, smoothies, lemon soda (soda water with lemon juice with or without honey) and hot teas.
My new favorite night cap is ginger lemon tea (hot water, fresh shredded ginger, lemon juice and a tiny bit of honey).
In the US, I feel like we are punished for not drinking alcohol and are left with non-alcoholic options like diet or regular soda, juice (like orange or cranberry), plain water or iced tea.
None of those are my favorite or very interesting or in any way intriguing. No wonder we drink so much booze…
How much of Rishikesh will return home with me?
This remains to be seen. I am on the plane now and just passed on free wine for the first time in probably a decade (or maybe ever) and it wasn’t even hard.
I also skipped dinner because there was no vegetarian option. I’m coming home feeling better than I have in months. I naturally feel asleep and woke up early (even with the whacky 13.5 hour time change).
My skin feels clean even with all that carby, delicious Indian food I stuffed my face with all week long. I feel cleaned out and slimmed down just a bit. Oh – and I totally avoided Dehli Belly and had zero GI distress on my entire India Adventure (I didn’t want to say that and curse myself until I was safely out of the country).
I also traveled with my 72 year old father on this trip who struggles with insomnia in the US and he slept like a baby all week long.
We chatted in the airport about how long we think our Rishikesh habits will stick. Time will tell, but what a treat to have experienced a small slice of such a pure, clean and beautiful community. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience, and do hope it inspires you to take a little Rishikesh into your heart and lifestyle as well.
How do you think you would feel after 10 days with no alcohol or animal flesh protein? What would be the hardest part for you? What might be a benefit? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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