Living in the city and being caught up with material concerns such as earning money, buying a new car, inventing ideas to get the much coveted promotion become our central priorities. I too am no different. A trip to Rishikesh made me at least think about some of these things, even if it did not really set me on a saintly meditative path.
The holy city is a six-hour drive from the capital city of New Delhi. The roads are smooth and the drive is a treat. The air is fresh, the vegetation lush green and the experience worth a lifetime. The cool breeze and the smell and sound of the river Ganges give you a hint of you being in the city which is also known as "The Gateway to the Himalayas". The morning silence, ringing of bells and chanting of prayers transports you to another world, one where there is calmness, peace and luxury. I don't know if I am a follower of god but coming to Rishikesh made me realise the power of 'ME'.
If there is a list of ten best places in India where you can rediscover your inner self, Rishikesh will have to be one of them. As you take in the motley collection of Sadhus, Indian and foreigners and the boatmen who are the only link to transport people from one end of the Ganges to the other, the life of the children in the ashrams who dream of following the path laid down by their gurus, and the comings and goings of the thousands of people who visit the place each day to attain purity of mind and soul, you realise the different kind of appeal that the city holds for different people.
Sacred for those inclined towards religion and spirituality
Most people come to Rishikesh for the religious attachment they have with the various customs and traditions that the place symbolises for those who follow the Hindu faith. Dotted with temples and places of worship, each has a story or legend behind it, adding to the reverence devotees have. The Ram Jhula and Lakhsman Jhula are the two sacred bridges which dates back in time and are like a visual testimony of this little township which is forever humming with activity. It is said that Lakshman crossed the bridge using jute ropes and the very sight of the entire scene inspires awe and wonder even today. The jute ropes have since been replaced by an iron and metal bridge. The Ganga Aarti performed at dusk at the Triveni Ghat is popular with visitors is a not-to-be-missed event and one that is likely to stay with
you till much later.
Mecca of adventure sports and camping
The different moods that you are likely to experience on its sparkling, twinkling expansive white sands is akin to any that you may see and witness in the Mediterranean. Spending the night on the banks of the river with your feet in the water is a most relaxing, soothing and sacred experience. A plethora of adventurous activities are here for the asking, literally laid out for you on a red carpet. It's one of the few places in India that give you the ultimate joy with a pinch of divinity. Rafting, bungee jumping, cliff jumping, kayaking and rock climbing are the activities that can be enjoyed in Rishikesh throughout the year. Though for rafting, there is a time period that is followed.
Plunging yourself in the raft and sailing in the hide tide waters from one end to the other is electrifying. The cliff jumping is a must try. From rock climbing to rappelling, Rishikesh is a one-stop destination for all adventure lovers. Many adventure companies have set up base here. While it is advisable to make prior reservations, you can even come here and find something that fits your style, taste and budget. Most of the good companies follow international standards, be it for tenting, river-side facilities, food and other beach activities.
Yoga is on offer everywhere, and most styles are represented. Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world and yoga training is provided at several places like Rishikesh Yog Peeth, Yoga Study Centre and Ved Niketan Ashram
Talking of food, there are plenty of options here. From Dosa's. to Chinese, Punjabi daal, puri sabzi and gol gappas, there are dhabas and small restaurants dotting the city. The German bakery at Lakhman Jhula is a well known landmark and a must-visit. Offering continental fare and arrange of milk shakes, it is fresh, clean and affordable. Non-vegetarian food has been banned in the city for many years. North and south Indian food is widely available, and there's no shortage of multi-cuisine cafes, especially around Lakshman Jhula. What excites many foreigners is the delicious Ayurvedic and health food restaurants, perfect for an after-yoga meal.
Rishikesh is blessed with untamed rivers originating from some of the high altitude Himalayan glaciers, serene jungles around the small hillocks and the toughest pilgrimage roots. With an immaculate green cover abundant and a rich bio-diversity, its defining feature is its all prevailing air of mysticism that gets heightened with temple bells and gongs that seem to ring and echo from different parts of the city. Somehow, when you leave the place, you get a feeling that this is not the last time you are going to be here. In the not so distant future, you will return and relive these memories and find yet another dimension of serenity.
How to get there: Rishikesh is well connected by road and is a 6-hour drive from New Delhi. Volvo busses run every day from the Anand Vihar bus depot. You can also fly till Dehradun and continue by bus or private taxis. Trains are convenient too.
Where to stay: There are many ashrams, camps alongside the banks of the Ganges and some luxury hotels.
What to avoid: Protect yourself from fake touts pretending to be guides, sadhus and pujaris. If you want to get a puja done, go to a genuine ashram and ask for a poojari, certified to perform such rituals. In most places, the fee would be the same and you are not likely to be fleeced.
What to carry: Rishikesh is a walking city, so don't forget to take your sports shoes along. Major attractions like the Ram Jhula and Lakhsman Jhula have parking a km or two away and you will have to walk till the location and then back to your cars. Basic medicines, some dry eats, loose cotton casuals, some head gear for the temples and sun and flit flops or comfortable slippers
What to see: Bharat Mandir, Rishikund. Triveni Ghat (bathing ghat), Gita Bhavan (popular among Hindu Brahmins), Swarag Ashram (here children are imparted vedic education), Neelkanth Mahadev Mela and Trayambakeshwar Temple. Shivpuri is 10 km away and is the hub for adventure sports like river rafting, camping and trekking. Rajaji National Park is another must visit and is a 20 minutes drive.
Nikita Tuli is a Delhi-based writer who loves to experience traditions, cultures and people as she traces the country's development story. You can follow her at http://nikita-tuli.blogspot.in/ .