Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a holy town in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is one of the holiest places (or so I’ve read) for the Hindus and is the starting point for the “Chota Char Dham” pilgrimage circuit.
My main reason for coming to Rishikesh was that I desperately needed a break from traveling and I wanted to spend this break meditating, doing yoga and studying. I could have easily done this in Thailand but I would need to do a visa run so I decided to head to Motherland instead. After spending 4 days in Delhi I took the overnight bus to Rishikesh.
After just a couple of days in Rishikesh I realized why a lot of travelers end up extending their stay here. For some it’s the spirituality that this place exudes, for some it’s the prospect of learning or improving their yoga and for me, it’s the tranquility this place has to offer. I felt none of the spirituality or the holiness but I was super happy to spend my days just sitting in a café sipping chai while looking at a gorgeous view of the Ganges, the Laxman Jhula (the main suspension bridge in Rishikesh) and the mountains beyond.
The town itself has a very chilled out vibe and it’s always a joy to walk along the tiny streets (while trying to avoid the dogs, the monkeys, the cows and cow shit) looking at all the options for window shopping. If I’d been a shopper I would have seriously depleted my travel money here! You’ll find a lot of shops selling pretty Indian clothes and countless other jewelry shops selling gemstones and silver jewelry. There’s also a lot of street food here from delicious fresh samosas to jalebis, pakoras, parathas, fried slices of toasty bread (which I promise I didn’t eat, who needs fried carbs!), delicious chole bhature (ok so I did eat bhature which is an Indian style fried bread :-O ) and momos. There are some no-pretense restaurants that offer delicious thalis for less than a dollar! There’s only one (secret) place in town where you can get beer and chicken but generally meat (or fish) and alcohol are not allowed in Rishikesh but there’s a lot of yummy veggie food to make up for that.
One very pleasant surprise for me was how clean the river Ganga is (its probably coz it’s a fast flowing river) and for this, one of my favourite places to do yoga was by the river. Imagine being in an asana and being able to see the mountains (sometimes upside down coz of the pose you are in) while listening to the flow of the water and feeling the cool breeze on your body!
In Rishikesh I found what I was looking for, a total break from uncertainty and constant travel (and travel research). I was also staying at an amazing guesthouse (called Shiv Shakti Guesthouse which I totally recommend by the way) with really friendly staff who treated me like a friend. I’ve spent a good few hours with them everyday while I helped at the reception due to staff holiday or while sharing a homemade lunch with them.
While in Rishikesh, I had a chance to visit the Garud Chatti waterfall. It’s a small and relatively unknown waterfall but it will always remain special to me coz it’s the first time that I stepped into a fall! It wasn’t something I thought I would do (and so I wasn’t wearing my bathing suit) so I jumped in fully clothed! The cold water and the strong fall gave me a good back massage.
I also visited the Beatles Ashram which has been shut for the last 18-20yrs.
The architecture is still beautifully intact and walking in the forest is a bit spooky in a fun way. The fun aspect started ebbing away after I was told about the elephants and tiger spotting (the Ashram falls within the Rajaji National Park). Infact, there was an injured leopard that was found inside one of the caves in the ashram! I am glad I visited but even more glad that I didn’t get eaten alive.
Another major attraction here is the Ganga arti at Parmath Niketan Ashram. It was a wonderful experience to join in the bhajans (devotional songs) and the aarti which happened right next to the river. I felt no spirituality in this process but the devotion/enthusiasm of the attendees was definitely infectious.
After almost 3 weeks of being here I am ready to move on. My mind and body are relaxed enough but I need some physical activity. I could still do treks and walks around here but due to the pilgrimage that’s currently going on there are so many people that even locals usually avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary. So my next stop going to be the Valley of Flowers. The trip to the valley and back will take me 8 days and will involve a lot of uphill climbing. After the inactivity of last month I am sure it’s going to be very tough but it will be worth it in the end (I hope!)