Saturday, 23 June 2012

Rishikesh – Breathe in the Land of the Sages

Rishikesh - MeditationAptly known as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh, a holy city for Hindus is located on the banks of the river Ganges in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. This holy city is dotted with many a Hindu shrine and yoga centre and one cannot fail to notice the charm of a whole different world that prevails here.
For most Indians, a visit to Rishikesh is often a part of their pilgrimage to the nearby city of Haridwar which also happens to be the venue of the famous Kumbh Mela. Right from the moment you enter Rishikesh, a strong sense of belonging is formed towards the culture and you know you want to keep coming back.
Rishikesh - AartiThe never ending sound of cymbals clinking at every nook and corner of the city coupled with the perfectly timed percussions that go with the temple band invite you to explore the city throughout the day and when your exhausted mind and body want a place to relax and rejuvenate, the evening aarti (prayer) at all the local shrines are just the perfect choice for that!
Homestay in RishikeshFinding accommodation in Rishikesh is never a problem. There is many an option for a lodge, backpacker hostel and home stay strewn all over the city. Most accommodations come with the view of the river cementing your connection with the mysticism.
Rishikesh, being a Hindu holy city, is an alcohol-free and meat-free city by law. Meat-lovers can find this to be an oddity but if we look at it as a chance to try something new or leave our temptation behind (just for a while), there are many options for you to indulge in.
One can either choose to eat at the local Dhabas (simple food stalls) that serve simple, yet a variety of Indian dishes within minutes of you ordering or one can choose to eat at high end restaurants that are scattered all over the place. We’d suggest trying out local cuisines in small outlets as they taste nothing short of brilliant and are easy on your pocket. The high end restaurants are great too, but dipping in the culture of the land you are in is an integral part of the travel experience.
Restaurant in RishikeshOnce you are done with your lunch or dinner, one can savour local desserts like kulfi (Indian version of an ice cream) or lassi (thick sweetened milk that is served in large dollops) or choose to go for a much desi option –PaanPaanwhich literally means a leaf in hindi is actually tobacco and a couple of other ingredients wrapped in a beetle leaf laced with Choona.
It’s mostly chewed on for a while after dinner and later spat out in a spittoon.
If you yearn for the less messy form of dessert, one can always spot a sweet dish vendor in every nook and cranny. If you choose to go for a simple fare, a warm glass of masala milk served in a small earthen pot will do the trick just right.
Rafting in RishikeshOnce in Rishikesh, take your time and soak yourself in the refreshing aura of the Ganges before you proceed to exploring the city. Walk up to the riverbank and step into the pristine waters of the holy river that hurtles gracefully from its Himalayan source as it travels towards its destination at the Bay of Bengal. Hurtling and grace might seem like rather unrelated terms to one’s mind till you stand in the ankle deep water at the stone steps on her banks. Do this early in the morning with your eyes closed and you will experience the force of the river water as you simultaneously sense the calm settling in your heart.
As magical as it sounds, the temple chimes clinking at perfect intervals will transport your mind and soul to Shangri-La.
Watching the sun rise over the Ganges on a cold winter morning pulling a cozy blanket of warmth over this mystical city is every bit indulging in. Almost like a drug, you will want to stand in the icy waters of the river once everyday before you retire.
Couple this with the numerous forms of yoga that many gurus preach in the city and bad health will be a thing of history.
Ram JhoolaOne can spend a day walking around the sleepy town of Muni Ki Reti which is a suburb of Rishikesh. Ram Jhoola, one of the two most important bridges that connect the banks of the Ganges to each other is just a 5 minute walk from here. Cross over from Muni Ki Reti through Ram Jhoola and once you get to the other side, walk down to the now defunct Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram which played host to the Beatles during their stay in 1968.
The meditation caves located here were once homes to The Beatles and many other artistes who came to India to indulge in transcendental meditation. Most of the songs on The Beatles’ White Album were given birth to in those caves. Spend some time in these caves and let your mind be taken over by the nostalgia of the charismatic past that once lived there.
There is nothing in the world that can get you the sense of thrill that nostalgia can.
Ram Jhoola
RishikeshAmong the places you absolutely shouldn’t miss are Lakshman Jhoola (The legendary iron suspension bridge that was the first construction that facilitated the commute between the two banks for those on foot), Sivananda Ashram, Parmarth Ashram (Home to the floating Shiva statue that drowned in the Ganges flood in 2009) and most of all the ghats (steps at the river bank). Pilgrims from all over the country come to take a dip in the river to cleanse their sins at the ghats and the best part is – the water does great things to your skin.
RishikeshIf you are interested in Vedic literature, you should include a trip to the century old Kailas Ashram Brahmavidyapeetham in your planner. This institution has dedicated itself to the preservation and spread of Vedic Studies and has been tirelessly working towards its goal for the past 120 years. Its alumni include Swami Vivekananda, Swami Shivananda, Swami Ram Tirtha and many more.
Let the Vedic inside of you breathe in its home environment. Explore the ashram to your heart’s content!
Kumbh MelaThe evening aarti (prayer service) at TriveniGhat is worth a visit. If you want to see the expression of faith belonging to a thousand year old culture come alive, the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar is the place to be, but if you happen to visit during the non-Kumbh Mela years, visit TriveniGhat at sunset for the evening aarti (Prayer Service). A sense of belongingness that comes alive during the session will de-stress you for months to come.
In case you are in for some action, you won’t be disappointed for Rishikesh happens to be a popular white water rafting spot for adventure sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Touted as one of the best routes to raft through, the coyness of the gentle Ganga will soon forgotten once you witness the jaw dropping rapids the river goddess throws at us!
Rafting in RishikeshOne can choose from an array of tour conductors and distance limits to go rafting. Although one can start at a point 50 kilometers from Rishikesh and raft up to the city or go for the 19 kilometer route, the route that keeps you engaged the best is the 30 kilometer stretch.
Vashishta Gufa (Cave)As you raft down the jolly Ganges, you can spot mystics meditating the crevices of huge boulders in the desolate river banks. Your rafting guide will make a pit stop at Vashisht Gufa (The cave that is believed to be where the revered Sage Vashisht used to meditate) and explore the surroundings a little. Once you proceed from there, the rapids become more and more violent and the adrenalin rush is incomparable!
Rafting in RishikeshRafting is open throughout the year except monsoons as the Ganges in full flow is nothing short of perilous making it impossible to enter the waters.
If you do not want to get too drenched and want a quick rush of adrenalin, you can opt for Bungee jumping which has recently been introduced to the city by a group of professionals from New Zealand who swear by living life on the edge.
Want to take a bit of India back home with you? Rishikesh offers a unique range of souvenirs for you to take back. Apart from the superbly Indian memorabilia like clothes, dolls, pots and pans, this city has many an institute that teaches Indian music. What better way to dip in the Indianness than by learning to play the Sitar or Tabla on a rooftop by the Ganges?
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