Belinda Merhab travels to an ashram in Northern India to find herself, but discovers something else entirely.
Bleary-eyed and hungover with an hour's sleep under my belt is not how I'd imagined starting my journey of spiritual development.
Travelling to an ashram in Rishikesh for a week of silence, meditation and yoga straight from a four-day bender in Goa was clearly an oversight in my itinerary planning.
The grounds of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram are a gorgeous maze of gardens and statues of Hindu deities.
My room is austere but quaint: a timber bed with a blanket for a mattress, a "shower" - otherwise known as a cold water tap - and a squat toilet.
Living in silence, alone with nothing but my thoughts for a week seemed like a great idea three months ago, from the adventure-craving, soul-searching comfort of my work desk.
But I quickly learn that sitting alone in silence does not magically transport you to a higher state of consciousness. So I decide to get out and explore.
Rishikesh is in the foothills of the Himalayas in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand, which is bordered by Nepal and Tibet.
The Beatles put this city on the map in 1968 when they stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, where they are said to have written most of the White Album.
Abandoned decades ago, the crumbling ashram is covered by overgrown jungle and thought-provoking artworks.
Since then, Rishikesh has attracted travellers from around the world seeking enlightenment.
The place is dotted with ashrams and you can spend your days perusing spiritual bookshops, doing all sorts of yoga, meditation and healing classes, or attending satsang (spiritual discussion) with a guru.
Hindus flock there to wash their sins away by bathing in the holy river Ganga (Ganges), which runs through the city.
The Ganga at Rishikesh is breathtakingly beautiful, flowing fresh and fast from the Himalayas. It bears no resemblance to the Ganga I bathed in at Varanasi where e-coli levels are 3000 times higher than the safe amount.
The streets of Rishikesh are lined with sadhus (holy men) in orange robes, mischievous monkeys and roaming cows.
Vendors greet those passing by with "namaste" and hawk street foods, from steaming masala chai (spiced milk tea) to pani puri (hollow puffs filled with chickpeas and spicy water) and murri mixture, a delicious crunchy and tangy mix of nuts, noodles, onions, tomatoes, coriander and lemon juice, served in pages torn from school books.
Come sunset, it's time to give thanks to Mother Ganga at the evening Ganga Aarti ceremony, at the Parmarth Niketan ashram.
I buy an offering for the river -- a basket made of leaves, filled with marigolds and roses, an incense stick and a candle made of clarified butter, then take off my shoes and walk down to the ghat (steps), where hundreds have gathered, sitting side by side, awaiting the arrival of Pujya Swamiji, the spiritual head of the ashram.
Some are clapping along to the music of the rishikumars (orphan boys taken in as students by the ashram), and others set offerings adrift, watching their candles and roses float out of sight. At the end of the ceremony, the rishikumars light aarti lamps to pass around.
An Indian man with a kind smile passes me a lamp and I'm suddenly surrounded by pilgrims who cup their hands over the flames and raise their palms to their faces, receiving the blessing of the fire. He grabs my arms and shows me how to rotate the lamp clockwise, nodding in approval as I get the hang of it.
My spiritual journey doesn't end up going to plan in Rishikesh - I never do learn how to meditate. But what I end up with is even better.
Getting there: You can get to Rishikesh by road, rail and air. By air, You'll need to fly from Delhi to Dehradun's Jolly Grant Airport and then get a taxi to Rishikesh (there's a pre-paid taxi stand at the airport). Or from Delhi, you can get a taxi (seven hours), train or bus.
Where to stay: Parmarth Niketan Ashram.