After Haridwar that I didn’t like at all, I had no expectations from our next halt Rishikesh. I was sure that it would be (yet another) dirty, holy, pilgrimage town. A town overrun by tourists searching for either inner peace or adventure. After all, the yoga capital is also a thrill capital and the starting point for many treks into the Himalayas. Boy, was I wrong! Rishikesh was infinitely more charming, chilled and loveable. It’s tough to say what exactly appealed to me about Rishikesh. Maybe the clean waters of the river Ganga that flow through the town, the green hills that surround it, the cleaner air (and town), the lesser crowds, maybe the relaxed time we had there, maybe the peaceful atmosphere. I don’t know. What I do know is that very surprisingly and unconsciously, I fell in love with Rishikesh.
A harrowing drive over craters in the name of a road took us 20 km upstream of Haridwar to Rishikesh. The smart hubby had booked a simple and small hotel nestled amidst the mountains, with comfortable armchairs to enjoy a book and some coffee.
Oh, and a small steep walk to a Baskin Robbins! Yum yum! That’s the first thing I saw while driving out of our hotel to the chaotic area around the Ram Jhula. A winding drive downhill through lush green trees took us to the main market area on either side of the Ganga. Instantly, we headed to the ghat. The first view of the clean flowing waters was mesmerizing.
The water was clean enough to tempt all of us to dip our fingers and toes in it.
We crossed over the pedestrian-only, cow and motorbike-also Ram Jhula.
It surely was a struggle to cross the holy waters, what with cows, throngs of people and trident-weaving sadhus interspersed with motorbikes. Mayhem at its best!
Safe on the other side, we enjoyed walking about the crowded markets, admiring the handicrafts and clothes on display.
Loving the graffiti on the streets.
Drooling over art pieces on display.
And taking in the myriad smells of street food.
Rishikesh has a plethora of vegetarian food options, ranging from enticing-appearing street food like kachoris, jalebis, fried potatoes to river-view cafes with international cuisine to gorgeous riverfront hotels far from the city. Needless to say, we gained a lot of weight on this trip!
As we walked on past the market, we came to the Parmarth Ashram right by the river. Rishikesh is as famous for its ashrams as yoga and Parmarth is one of the “Godliest”, as is the Ramdev Baba ashram outside the city. Though we didn’t stay at any ashram, I think it would add to the experience and would consider it whenever I visit Rishikesh next.
The beautiful serene Ganga flowing through this hilly town created a very soothing feeling. Yet, walking along the Ganga in the cool evening breeze was not the best part of Rishikesh for me, the best bit was the Beatles Ashram.
A ridiculously long walk till the far end from Ram Jhula, and a scramble up a rough pebbled path took us to the now derelict Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, where the Beatles had spent a year meditating and creating outstanding music. Quiet and deserted now, with only a handful of people braving the long walk, the atmosphere was beautiful.
There were many meditation pods, laid out in rows. Somehow, they reminded me of a rishi’s hairdo.
The chirping of birds and crickets was all that broke the silence. Huge lengths of neglected paths stretched out ahead of us. The few buildings were totally run down, broken, almost falling apart. Some were labelled as the kitchen or the post office. A large complex had many photographs of the Beatles and the Maharishi and a small cafeteria looking out to a large green space.
We walked ahead to a huge hall that was now decorated with graffiti on all the walls.
My absolute favorite Beatle is John Lennon and my favorite song is Imagine so imagine my happiness seeing this.
Okay, I’m still singing it.
Our souls sated, the three of us walked back with a spring in our step. I’m so glad that my brother-in-law and the kid came with me to this unique place and loved it like I did and very grateful to my knee for cooperating.
We got back on time for the Ganga Arti at Parmarth Ashram, which was a huge let down. I also think we’d scored a hat trick with the Artis and this had been way too much.
Exhausted by the long day, we crashed into bed and woke up comfortably late the next morning. I lazed about in the garden with a coffee and this great view.
This day was supposed to be river rafting day, but the rafting season hadn’t yet begun, so we just went to the Laxman Jhula area and strolled about. This part had a rocky sand beach along the river.
We settled for lunch at a beautifully located café over the Ganga. Poor service and very average food was the only way I could sum it up coupled with the distinct feeling that they didn’t want Indians.
After a nice afternoon nap, we headed to Triveni ghat, 4 km downstream where three rivers are supposed to join. There’s a grand Arti here too, but we gave this one a miss. Thank
the Lord Ganga Maa, otherwise I could have written a thesis on the Arti.
The little village around the ghat was typically like Haridwar, ridiculously overcrowded, dirty and full of knick-knacks for sale.
We got back quickly from Triveni ghat and went shopping in the dark, literally, as the electric supply had shut down, so a few shops with generator light was all we could shop at. A hurried shopping done, we had a very delicious dinner at Chotiwale by the Ganges and bid adieu to the river. The next day, we would leave for Mussourie.
Rishikesh turned out to be the surprise package of our trip. Somehow, the peacefulness of Rishikesh entered me and stayed there for a long time. Somehow, it calmed me, soothed me.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
John Lennon, Imagine