Rock bottom in Rishikesh

“I Hate Joni Mitchell” and other classics

This is it, I thought. My absolute lowest point.

I was sitting cross legged on the floor of a Hindu temple, banging a tambourine above my head and shouting “HARE HARE HARE HARE!” with the vacant eyes of a woman possessed.

Around me, a dozen smiling white haired men and one woman — my friend Sev — are lost in their own percursive ecstasy, our chorus led by a bearded man in a smock playing the same three notes over and over on an organ.

How the fuck did this happen?

Rishikesh is to India what Joni Mitchell is to music, and I’d promised myself I wouldn’t come. But with train problems, a monsoon and projectile vomiting overshadowing my visit to the Taj Mahal, I’d conceded defeat and set off up north. So began the series of events that would lead me to this permanently scarring moment.

Also headed north was Severine, a softly spoken Parisian in search of spiritual awakening. I just wanted to go kayaking, but our brief union worked all the same. On this particular day we’d set out in search of the famous ashram where the White Album was written. Instead, we’d stumbled into a festival where thousands of people dressed in orange were taking holy water from the Ganges. We stroll around the grounds observing the ancient practice and all its attendant festivities (including a sermon delivered in a dark room by a shaman in sunglasses) when I suddenly become aware of the sound of chanting and drums.

My stomach lurches as I spot the tiny temple which is the source of the noise — Sev’s eyes light up, and I know instinctively we’re going inside.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” She chirps, one sandal already tossed off a meter behind her.

“Oh no of course not!” I say through gritted teeth. I’m already ticking off the seconds until either the ground mercifully swallows me up, or we can leave.

Inside the shrine, we’re welcomed by the smiling congregation and presented with our tambourines, and I realize there is literally no way out. Plus they probably won’t let me leave until I look like I’m converted. I plant myself down and just start banging.

“HARE HARE HARE!!”

And that’s how I ended up here. Here, on the floor of this fucking temple, smelling like a sack of shit and looking like an extra from The Young Ones; here, waving my hands in the air, thinking about vibrations and energy waves and fucking quinoa.

I feel the self loathing rise up and let it consume me, as I continue spouting my tuneless jibberish.

“But look at me,” I console myself, “I’m having a real life spiritual experience.”

Yes — and ten bonus points for not feeling a fucking thing.