The waters are blue and clear, the air is crisp and nippy. I am sitting on the promenade facing the clear waters, the sound of the gurgling Ganges is soothing to the ears. Thick jungles dot the other side of Ganges. I ask a local native about the same, and he says it’s the boundary of Rajaji National Park. Oh my Rajaji National Park is just across the shore, I wonder. I am in Rishikesh, the town synonymous with the whole idea of white water rafting in north India.
Soak in some fresh air
This is not my first visit to Rishikesh. But whenever I come here, the spiritual town seems new and unexplored. To me, Rishikesh has always been that magical land where adventure and spiritualism walk hand in hand. Situated in Uttarakhand, Rishikesh can be approached by road and by rail via Haridwar.
Here I am, by the banks – five months pregnant
Biding goodbye to Delhi on weekends is a good idea, and the roughly five hour drive to Rishikesh is not very tiring. On a Friday morning, I began my sojourn to Rishikesh, this time with an idea to just relax and soak in the freshness the land boasts. Enjoying the breakfast aboard the Dehradun Shatabdi, I charted out my plan to explore Rishikesh. By the time the train reached Haridwar – the nearest railhead for Rishikesh – my itinerary was set. The half an hour drive from Haridwar was scenic and minus the otherwise traffic struck roads. This time, we had taken the route that connects Rajaji National Park to Rishikesh. Thick blanket of jungle was running on both my sides and a shy animal doing a peek a boo enroute. The route is clear and is not known to many. The best part of approaching Rishikesh via this route is that it connects you with the wildlife and gives you a good chance to spot exotic birds.
After a while, I reached my place of stay for this trip. On the banks of the awe inspiring, tranquil Ganges lies a delightful retreat named Ganga Kinare. This hotel has majesty in a land where spirituality and nature are perfectly blended. There is hardly any need to freshen up when in Rishikesh, the fresh air breeze coming from the hills is enough to fill your lungs with eternal calm. A quick lunch at the café and I was ready to explore the riverside boutique hotel which boasts of a waterside esplanade. I was taking a quite stroll alongside the sinuous river on the other side of the shore I spotted a baby elephant. The elephant was approaching the river, perhaps to satiate its thirst, but this sight gave my camera a good exercise. I was busy clicking the images when I spotted a bigger elephant at a distance, and this one was indulging in a sand play. After a while the two animals slowly ventured inside the jungle.
It’s a sin to not indulge in some yoga when you are in Rishikesh, often touted as ‘the world capital of Yoga’. And I was at the hotel that has played host to the coveted ‘International Yoga Week’ nine times in recent years, and continues to be a pivotal space for Yogic gurus to impart their teachings. Dusk was still an hour away when I began my yoga session with the instructors at the resort. The session was conducted on the corridor overlooking the magnificent Ganges and I don’t know why but the same pranayam felt different and did some magic to my senses. The exclusive river ghat owned by the hotel allowed me to take a dip in the holy waters. The rooms at the resort are a sheer bliss for those looking for peace serenity and beauty. Since every room in the hotel offers a panoramic view of the river and mountains, it feels good to sit back and enjoy the scenery from the comforts of your room.
Evenings are incomplete without attending the Ganga Aarti and when in Rishikesh, it becomes mandatory to go to Parmarth Niketan to attend the grand aarti. Here, children from the Parmarth gurukul dress up in yellow and saffron dhoti kurtas and herald the aarti by singing Hanuman Chalisa. People from all walks of life – locals and foreigners – sing along with the kids and light diyas on the ghats. To reach Parmarth, you have to hire a boat that takes you across the Ganges.
The promenade that leads to Parmarth is dotted with curio shops that sell anything and everything you may wish to take home from this holy abode. You can buy some nice junk jewellery or rudrakh beads or simply indulge in some window shopping. After some retail therapy, you must and definitely must try the traditional Indian food, cooked in pure desi ghee at the Chotiwala restaurant. The delicious vegetarian Indian food, cooked with much love by the cooks at the Chotiwala will surely tantalize your palate.
Time for adventure
Early morning is the best time to visit Neelkanth Mahadev, one of the venerated temples in the holy city of Rishikesh. A 45 minute drive on the curvaceous ghat road will take you to Neelkanth Mahadev which stands tall between the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot. Surrounded by thick woods and two gurgling rivers – Pankaja and Madhumati – the temple attracts Shiva devotees from far and wide. Apart from devotees, the 12 km long stretch from Swarg Ashram to the temple is also thronged by trekkers and adventure enthusiasts. The picturesque landscape of the area lures one and all and the twitter of birds just adds more life to the serene calmness. If you are lucky, you may even find a shallow waterfall on your walk in the woods.
After your tryst with spiritualism, it’s time to don your adventure cap and enroll for adventure sports of your choice. Many consider Rishikesh as a haven for white water rafting which shuts only during monsoon months. But since summer is harsh in this region, the next two months are perfect to indulge in the sport. Here in Rishikesh, you can of course opt for white water rafting and choose the distance as per your preference and expertise. Apart from white water rafting, you can also go for bungee jumping, surfing, kayaking, cliff jumping, rock climbing, rapelling and mountaineering. There are a lot of adventure sporting companies that organize jungle camping, and beach games by the riverside.
Rishikesh has all the elements to make your weekend getaway a relaxed one. This fall, if you are looking to rejuvenate yourself, we advise hit the accelerator and go for a road trip to Rishikesh.
Photo copyright: Nitika Bajpayee Jha