Rishikesh located in the foot hills of the Himalayan mountains has long been a captivating place for any yoga enthusiast. But Rishikesh is so much more than stretching yogi’s trying to feel the magic of India through Vinyasa moves.
Rishikesh is located along the begining of the River Ganga ( Ganges) , and has more than meets the eye. What everyone refers to when even mentioning the name Rishikesh is actually the little islet reached by a large walking bridge where most of the ashrams are. Rishikesh however, is a lot more than just that. There is the city of Rishikesh with all its splendid chaotic twist and turns of streets and people. It’s where I found the best Lassi on earth. Then there are the surrounding areas like where we stayed at the Atali Ganga located in the Sivalek Mountains, overlooking the beautiful clean and fresh Ganges River. Rishikesh where the outdoor enthusiast can truly enjoy all there is about with nature.
But Rishikesh is still a lot more than what lies in the surface. Rishikesh in antiquity has been considered one of the holiest places for Hindus. Great sages have been coming to Rishikesh for hundreds of years to mediate. It is also a place of great pilgrimage for over a thousand years. This sleepy town nestled in the foothills of the Great Himalayan Mountains also holds one much spiritual Lore for Hindus. It is where the Goddess Ganga first flowed through the matted hair of Lord Shiva.
I was originally led to visit this place by a spiritual advisor whom caught wind of my visit and highly suggested I visit Rishikesh. For it is a city that is filled with healing, meditation, and spiritual wonderment. I was excited to visit this holy city. It would be a very different India, since it is now located higher up in altitude , within a valley, surrounded by mountains and a holy river, and I couldn’t wait. Kelly was equally excited about it. She is an avid Yoga enthusiast and left me a few days before my journey to Rishikesh after Varanasi: The Holiest City of India. She joined an ashram , the most honorable and largest in Rishikesh: Parmarth Niketan Ashram . AT its head is the most venerable swami Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatijis. To whom she actually had the opportunity to meet. The Ashram is a very holy place for meditation, yoga, and also a healing place for the underprivileged. Most of the young priests who live there have devoted themselves to God and all the abundant caring they’ve received from the Ashram , being that most were either homeless, very poor, or came from a not so good household. Now they live in peace and tranquility and transcend their teaching and help they’ve received to the multitudes who visit and to the inhabitants of the holy city. According to her, her stay was wonderful and interesting. It included her daily yoga routines, enjoying some alone time , and a very interesting meeting with a monkey, to whom he thought he could get the better of her who was born the Year of the Monkey. Needless to say, he showed his teeth to her, she showed hers, and he ran for dear life. lol Such an awesome story.
A little bit about Rishikesh:
Rishikesh has been a part of the legendary ‘Kedarkhand’ (the present day Garhwal). Legends state that Lord Ramadid penance here for killing Ravana, the asura king of Lanka; and Lakshmana, his younger brother, crossed the river Ganges, at a point, where the present ‘Lakshman Jhula‘ (लक्ष्मण झूला) bridge stands today, using a jute rope bridge.The ‘Kedarkhand’ of Skanda Purana, also mentions the existence of Indrakund at this very point. The jute-rope bridge was replaced by iron-rope suspension bridge in 1889. After it was washed away in the 1924 floods, it was replaced by the present stronger bridge. Another similar suspension bridge Ram Jhula was built in 1986 at nearby Sivananda Nagar.
The sacred river Ganges flows through Rishikesh. Here the river leaves the Shivalik Hills in the Himalayas and flows into the plains of northern India. Several temples, ancient and new, are along the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. Shatrughna Mandir, Bharat Mandir, Lakshman Mandir are the ancient temples established by Adi Shankaracharya. Shatrughna Temple is near Ram Jhula and Lakshman Mandir is near Lakshman Jhula.
As with Haridwar about an hour south, Rishikesh is considered by Hindus to be a holy city and is vegetarian by law. Meat and alcohol are not served in the city. Cows roam freely in the streets and always have the right of way if they stop traffic. Courtesy of wikipedia.com
After my stays in Bodhgaya: A Commotion of Emotional Enlightenment and back for a night in Varanasi: The Holiest City of India, I flew to New Delhi to spend a night. I didn’t do much except just relax at the hotel. New Delhi was gigantic from the plane. I landed around noon at the domestic side of Indira Ghandi New Delhi Airport. My flight on local carrier Indigo Airlines was uneventful, and as was to be expected, I had to pay extra for my over weight bag. My bag was 23 Kilos of the allowed 18 . Oh boy …
I spent the night at the Radisson Blu Plaza New Delhi as it was close to the airport. It was a weird part of my itinerary. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just fly from Varanasi straight to Rishikesh, alas, just go with it… The hotel was really lovely. I was so surprised as i was thinking that an airport hotel would leave not much to be desired. It was clean with friendly employees who great you with the typical Namaskar greeting. They had a lovely buffet and a fabulous pool side lounge area. My room was really lovely and very comfortable with a ll the modern amenities one could come to expect from leading modern hotels around the world. I’m now in Modern India, In New Delhi. I spent my time just relaxing, eating, and enjoying my smokes and wine at pool side. For dinner I went to their very expensive Buffet. Expensive because this is India and I didn’t expect to pay $20 ( I know it’s not much but I could eat for $5 like a queen in India) for the buffet. It was a good buffet but what made it more special was seeing all the beautiful sari dressed upper crust Indians meeting their friends for a meal , laughing, all the while draped in exquisite jewels. I was told once that the best restaurants are not stand alone, but in the 5 star hotels. Now this was only a 4 at best, but it did have a drop dead gorgeous atmosphere. You can read my review on the hotel On Trip Advisor or by clicking Here
My flight the next day was at a decent 10 am in the morning so I left the hotel at 8 am which meant I was up by 6 to enjoy a fabulous included morning buffet breakfast. This time I was to fly to Dehradun in the State of Uttarakhand via Spice Jet , another small local carrier. Yes I experienced the exact same drama with my luggage, but this time I truly didn’t fret since I already knew what to expect.
Flying over the mountains going north was just spectacular. The views of dried out rivers ( it was summer) and some full etching their way through mountains and valleys was spectacular. Most of my journey through India included deserts and some flat lands but to see higher mountains was just wonderful.
I landed at Dehradun Airport to a very quiet hum. There weren’t too many people here as it is a smaller city and smaller populated state. Rishikesh ranks number 7 in the state for population with only 110,000 people. I was so used to the multi million people cities. My Drivers picked me up , yes drivers ( 2 young gentlemen) and told me that it will be about a good 2 hour drive to Atali Ganga Hotel. They informed my that my friend Kelly is already there and checked in. I couldn’t wait to see her.
The drive was so beautiful . The hillsides, and forests, just gave a total different view of India. I felt at peace and at ease. As we started our first decent into a valley, Rishikesh was in sight. I could see the river Ganga flowing through a very sleep city. I got so excited. The car turned and we started to go up again following the River Ganga. Another 40 minutes and I reached Atali Ganga Hotel. Waiting for me outside was Kelly. We hugged and laughed and couldn’t wait to catch each other up.
Atali Ganga Hotel: is an Eco Friendly, Eco Sensitive, and Eco Absolutely Wonderful Hotel. I was so pleasantly surprised by everything this hotel offers. Most local Indians come to this hotel for good ole Fashioned out doors fun. The hotel offers, hiking, camping, white water river rafting, rope courses, kayaking, Zip Lining, etc. etc. I chose this hotel because it was something completely different than anything we’ve stayed at or experienced thus far in India. It also sits peacefully on a ridge in the Sivalek Mountains over looking the ever rushing Ganga River. It’s quiet and peaceful, and all meals are included. The meals are vegetarian as is the law as meat is not permitted within a certain Radius of Haridwar and Rishikesh. The food is definitely made from love and very comforting. You can read my review of this lovely Hotel Here: Atali Ganga
We met with one of our “guides” for the hotel who informed us of all the activities available. We opted for Yoga later on in the day, White Water Rafting the next morning, followed by a late afternoon hike through the forests. Our room was about 100 yards up the hill from the main building and cafeteria. It was a hike up but the view was spectacular. The room was a private cabin with a washroom and toilet, two double beds pushed together, huge windowed front walls, and just peaceful and quiet . No tv, no telephone, no nothing. Just nature and the peacefulness of our thoughts. The view as previously mentioned was AMAZING.
Later that evening we called our driver, and headed out for the 40 minute drive into Rishikesh. Kelly was so excited to show me the Ashram she stayed at and informed me that like Varanasi, they do an evening Aarti to Mother Ganga ( Ganges River) When we arrived close to the city we were let out and walked down a few steps into a covered market place. It was colorful and full of scents. They were selling everything from Godly images, to dvd’s of the latest pirated movies. After a short walk we came across the famous bridge Ram Jhulah that connects you to the ashrams across the river. Everyone was on it even the cows and mopeds. As usual everyone went on their merry way on their own agenda, in their own direction and section. I’m so used to uniformed ways of doing things that it caught me off guard a bit especially with a moped almost hitting us . It was hilarious.
The Ashram areas was full of people all heading to Parmath Nikitan Ashram for the evening Aarti. When we got there, Kelly’s newly made friend and one of the most kindest person I’ve met on my trip was there waiting for her. We walked through the Ashram, as she pointed this and that out to me. Walked around more by the riverside of the Ashram where there are beautiful statues dedicated to the Gods and especially one that was so beautiful depicting Hanuman with Lord Brama and Sittah in his heart as he was the most loyal to Lord Brama .
We then found a seat on the step of the banks of the river so that we could have a good view and great listening position for the ceremony. There were people gathering and sitting and some closer to the river doing a fire prayer. Soon there were a multitude of people and we were so glad to have found a seat, even though my legs were hurting from sitting in such a small and confined space. The Aarti started, and the bells, the Chanting, and the dancing processions were just so beautiful, It’s so easy to feel connected to the spirit there.
Here’s a few videos of the beautiful Aarti Ceremony:
We woke the next morning and took breakfast early. We then headed out to the river with a group of people. There were 2 boats total ready to brave the mighty river. The Water was fresh and cold and instantly woke me up. After a few lessons on what to do ( pay attention please ) we boarded our boat and set off to conquer the river. There were 2 men and 4 ladies on the boat. There was this nice lady from Germany who has been camping out for a few months here as her husband is our safety kayaker hired incase one of us fell over. AT our first and smallest turbulent falls or whatever it is you call it, I can’t remember, the mighty men in our group chickened out. When you hit the first tide you’re supposed to duck down and go through it . Well our Brilliant macho men freaked out and didn’t listen to what our guide was yelling at us to do. Because of this everyone on my side went into the water. I was fighting from falling in, but just gave in and threw myself over board. FREEEEEZING water! Well ok not that dramatic. But it did feel good. I floated down the river until I was rescued . I felt at home in the water, being a Local Hawaiian girl. After we yelled and scolded the men we made it through the rest of the tides easily. Kelly and I was ripping them to shreds saying let us take the lead , you obviously don’t have the balls to handle it like we can . Oh my it was a rush. This was first time ever white water rafting. The next up tide was even rougher but we managed to survive it since everyone listened. It was really funny. After the last tied we asked if we could jump in and swim. OMG it felt so refreshing to be in the water and to connect with mother Ganga. I must admit I did swallow a bit of the water ( it tasted delicious) but unfortunately later I did have a tiny bit stomach problem for about an hour and it quickly dissipated. After our white water rafting experience, we changed our clothes in a tent provided all while being surrounded by local men having a good time on the banks of the river. When we immersed, everyone wanted to take pictures with the two Goddesses. We were both amused and annoyed.
White water rafting can take a lot of you so we decided to take a nice healthy nap after a filling lunch back at the hotel. Later that afternoon we were up for a nice nature hike. We started behind our hotel and headed up and up and up. Our guide seemed a bit worried and I was wondering why the hell was that so. He explained to us that just recently there was a spotting of a tiger in the neighboring mountain who killed a man. WHAT? THERE IS A TIGER IN THE AREA? Are you F’n crazy for taking us on a hike or what? We moved swiftly through the woods and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. Every little sound we heard we freaked out. Ok I freaked out. And the forest was noisy. There were birds, monkeys, and what not going about their daily lives. OMG I was terrified . I guess it added to the intrigue of the hike. After about an hour we finally came across a clearing and a small little village. The locals there knew our guide and we sat down at one of the homes to sip some generously offered chai and enjoy the view of the valley. The family was really sweet and the children were so cute and curious. I made best friends with a goat. The sun was setting and we decided to head back to the hotel. Our car met us in the village and brought us back . This was a very interesting experience and one I will never forget and am so glad I did.
That evening after dinner, we sat and talked stories with the local families who joined us on the rafting expedition. We all laughed while the wives made fun of their husbands. They seemed a bit affluent and just drove up from New Delhi ( an 11 hour drive) for a weekend getaway in the mountains with their children. As they enjoyed their scotch, I enjoyed watching the families solidify their bonds . It was a great day and a beautiful night. We also met a young woman who just recently left her job at BBC and decided to travel with her father. Her and her father were very nice and we talked the night and next day away learning about each other’s lives. That is one of the true gems about travel, is meeting people.
Our final full day and night was spent relaxing during the day, around the hotel, enjoying the views, catching up on my journal, and just enjoying quality time with my sister Kelly. Later on in the day we decided to return to Rishikesh, but this time go into the actual city . We met her friend and we took a rickshaw into the city. There were people and cars everywhere, completely different from the calm and tranquility of our hotel. We walked around, and he explained the importance of certain places to which i’ve already forgot. You would think, I can remember my daily activities but names and sometimes certain things just elude me. I’ll probably remember all the names and places once I’ve published this blog. He did take us to this amazing place that sells Lassi and it is super famous for it. We enjoyed our Lassi drinks while sitting and watching life pass us by. Later as the sun started to set, we headed towards the river banks to enjoy the promenade of godly statues and people praying, begging, and having a grand ole time.
The next morning we were saddened to be faced with the reality that we would be leaving this peaceful , tranquil and beautifully spiritual . There is only one stop left for our journey before it comes to an end. New Delhi …. We are both excited to go and saddened to leave both Rishikesh and eventually , India…
Thank you Rishikesh …..