rishikesh & haridwar
Dates: Jan 13-14, 2018
Route: Flew from Mumbai to Dehradun and then drove to Rishikesh and Haridwar.
Labeled the ‘Yoga capital of the world’, Rishikesh has always been high on our list of places to visit in India. It is a place of healing, both for the body and mind, and thus offers yoga retreats, yoga teacher training courses, meditation sessions, Ayurveda lessons, ashrams to find inner peace and Reiki healing. Even the Beatles came here in the 60s and 70s and spent a lot of time at a local ashram. Though there is the main town of Rishikesh, the area that most people go to is between two bridges, Laxman Jhoola and Ram Jhoola that span the emerald waters of the Ganges. It is here you find the ghats (steps leading to the river), temples and main markets that are teeming with people from all walks of life and each on their unique journeys. If you are looking for solitude or a place for reflection, you are going to have to go to one of the retreats outside of town. That being said, people here are chilled and we experienced no hassles in the 3 days we spent here.
The Ganges (Ganga) is the focus of the town and many of the ashrams and temples pay homages along its waters. While there are numerous classes, prayers and sessions during the day, all of it culminates in the Ganga Aarti which is a prayer to the river at sunset. Like in Varanasi, massive crowds gather to watch the ceremony which is as beautiful as it is reverent. We chose to go to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram which is one of the best known and largest ashrams in Rishikesh. They have the Aarti at the ghat which also has a beautiful, massive stature of Lord Shiva on the banks of the Ganges. The place can hold about 2,000 people and is usually full for the evening ceremonies. Despite the crowd, we found a surreal sense of calm and spiritual well-being watching the hypnotic prayer chants. This is a must-do experience in Rishikesh. Walking along the ghats between the bridges is an visual experience with a delicious cocktail of temples, religious men, animals, boats and people watching.
The other thing one must do is bathe in the Ganges as it is very clean here and many places to do it. Hindus believe that one can rid themselves of their sins and potentially break the cycle of death and re-birth by bathing in the Ganges. For us, the glacial water was like a shock to the system and we felt very refreshed afterwards. Just jump in and don’t try to tiptoe in as you will not make it :-) We just used the cordoned area at our hotel as they provided towels and very few people present.
One final place to visit is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram where the he taught students transcendental meditation and connecting the body, mind and soul. The Beatles, led by George Harrison, arrived here in 1968 after attending a seminar by the Maharishi in Wales. Though they stayed in the ashram, they had much better quarters that included running water, toilets and heaters. Harrison was looking for inner peace and was quoted as saying “We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But, it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?” Their time there ended up being one of their most creative with about 40 songs which were featured on Abbey Road and The White Album. We went late in the afternoon and only got to see a few buildings. Most of the Beatles accommodations are in near ruin and full of graffiti.
Overall, Rishikesh was an amazing place with a profound sense of spirituality and general goodwill. This is a place we will come back to but for meditation and yoga.
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We hired a car and went to visit Haridwar for a day. This city is the more rustic and smaller version of Rishikesh and without much of the tourist stardom. Like Rishikesh, there are many ghats, temples and hotels that line the Ganges. We started near the Ganga Darshan ghat and walked to the Raja Birla clock tower. This area is filled with hundreds of people bathing along with all the other things that come with it such as vendors, sadhus (religious men), buskers, food stalls and of course, cows and dogs. Its an experience to just watch the sea of humanity and all that is going on around you. After this, we went to the Gullies (side lanes) inside town and explored on foot. There were so many small shops selling all manner of religious items such as pictures, flowers, candles, tea, samosas and almost every other thing that makes India so exciting. We ended up at the beautiful heritage Hotel Devnadi for a late lunch and a tour of the authentic rooms and facilities. Afterwards, we went to look at some of the beautiful Dharamshalas, buildings devoted to religious or charitable purposes, usually a rest house. The ones in Hardiwar are especially noteworthy given their beauty and intricate design. You can spend an entire day in this city and we plan to come stay a night next time.
(Click on gallery images below for details)