A Journey through spiritualism — Rishikesh
Rishikesh has been a magnet for spiritual seekers. The Gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas and Yoga Capital of the World.
High above the silvery flow of the Ganges River, on a swaying suspension bridge, I realize how far I’ve strayed from my quest. I had come to the remote town of Rishikesh, India — a gateway to the Himalayas — with a vision of deep silence and lots of focused yoga. Yet something, karmic vibrations perhaps, lured me astray. Rishikesh is a shopping mall for spirituality straddling the Ganges northeast of New Delhi. For those seeking enlightenment or adventurous escape — hippies, spiritual tourists, religious pilgrims, river rats — the healing power of the Ganges is a strong magnet, attracting hundreds of thousands each year. As a result, Rishikesh and its neighboring big brother, Haridwar, are hot spots teeming with ashrams, yoga schools, white-water rafting companies, and vegan restaurants (by law, the region is vegetarian and alcohol free). In 1968, the Beatles came to this corner of India to study transcendental meditation. Ringo left early, but John, Paul, and George stayed for weeks at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram — and wrote some 40 songs. Many of the songs found their way onto the 1968 White Album. Prepared to contort body and mind, I set off to find my inner om.
Sprawling ashrams, bustling restaurants, busy temples and statues depicting scenes from Hindu epics and the Bhagavad Gita abound. Despite the growing number of visitors, the town’s lanes and alleys retain a old-world charm, and it remains a wonderful place to relax and unwind amongst nature. . Trust me there would be nothing as great as rejuvenating your body and soul with yoga and feeling the adrenaline rush through adventure sports all together in one single trip.
It is believed that meditation in Rishikesh brings one closer to attainment of moksha, as does a dip in the holy river that flows through it. Stories of yore and the millions of pilgrimages, all contribute to enriching the enchanting place that Rishikesh is. Whether you are a religious believer or not, it really does not matter for the beauty of nature at her very best in these parts of the world, will make a believer of you. The emerald green water, the equally green hills and the shimmering white sand.
Prince Charles said: “I am amazed by the experience of sitting on the bank of one of the ancients rivers of the world. It is the right time for us to rediscover our connection with nature. It is famous to be ideal starting point for all explorations and adventures in the Himalayas. Romance of man with river is unbeatable, and when the combination involves grandeur of Hindu holiness, Himalayan mysticism and enthralment at its zenith, it’ll sure have a lot of torque.
Rishikesh is relatively small compared to some of the other cities I have been, but the selection of colorful clothing, singing bowls, soft sarongs, yoga accessories and silver charms make shopping accidentally easy. Cafes on both sides overlook the river and one of the most scenic spots in town. From here, Rishikesh wends its way along both banks of the river, at the bottom of a narrow valley. The east side is almost free of car traffic, and a walk from end to end takes about an hour, and passes sadhu huts, parks, and scores of small shops and stalls selling cotton clothes, gems, spiritual souvenirs, Hindu religious icons and snacks.
Today it styles itself as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, with masses of ashrams and all kinds of yoga and meditation classes. Most of this action is north of the main town, where the exquisite setting on the fast-flowing Ganges, surrounded by forested hills, is conducive to meditation and mind expansion. I woke up late in the morning around 0730, if that what you call late here because people usually get up at sharp 0600 and started doing yoga on the banks of Ganges. It is such a yoga city of the world. Last night when I was capturing the night landscapes on the terrace around 2330, I saw a foreigner doing yoga on her hostel’s terrace. The fascinating thing was no one explained her the meaning of Surya Namaskara as she kept doing it in the dark night. Yoga is not only a spiritual offering here, but also a business, and those in the tourism industry are capitalizing on the city’s reputation. Whether you want to stay in an ashram, do a teacher training, or find a guru, Rishikesh has it all.
In the evening, an almost supernatural breeze blows down the valley, setting temple bells ringing as sadhus (spiritual men), pilgrims and tourists prepare for the nightly Ganga aarti (a fire offering or ritual performed on the Ganges). From the US, Europe and China and Australia, serious yoga students come to learn asanas and kriyas that will help them lead a healthy life.
Just below is the first of two great pedestrian bridges that span the mighty river. Lakshman Jhula is the smaller bridge, but still it teems with foot traffic, scooters and monkeys. The shopping mile after the Lakshman Jhula Bridge is really nice and you can get a lot of gifts, for example handcrafts, bags, clothes, cards and many more presents. If you are lucky you can take some pictures with monkeys, walk through the famous suspension bridges- Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula, admire the beauty from the ghats and attend the calming Ganga aarti. The jute-rope bridge was replaced by iron-rope suspension bridge in 1889, and after it was washed away in the 1924 floods, it was replaced by a stronger present bridge. I glide through dense traffic on the swaying suspension bridge. Pedestrians — some barefoot, others ornate with painted sandals and jewelled toes beneath softly swishing wraps. Rhesus monkeys, hanging from steel cables above, study every move of every passer by, looking to snatch food and shiny objects.
Rishikesh is the kind of place that some people end up staying in for long stretches of time, and others return to again and again. And then there are those who really never leave, at least not in spirit. On most evenings I would venture back out to ghats and explore, shop, read, eat and chill. The mornings are frigid cool. I miss the music initially but quickly become aware of the Himalayan rhythms all around us, the scurrying of monkeys on the roof and the clanking of the studio’s wooden shutters by glacial wind gusts. I swerve past cows, their calves, street vendors, sadhus, hippies, and healers. I continue maintaining a laser awareness of my surroundings and my existence at this exact time in space. This precious present moment.
There is a feeling in Rishikesh unlike anywhere else. The vibe is both relaxed and reverent — and consequently attracts genuine Hindu devotees and gurus as well as western hippies and spiritual dilettantes. It is surrounded by scenic beauty of the hills on three sides with Holy Ganga flowing. There are some vegan bakeries and amazing cafes in Rishikesh that are overly inviting, and often times I ended up spending hours of my day drowning in oversized floor cushions without noticing a minute had passed.
Triveni Ghat, a popular and auspicious bathing ghat and place of prayer on the Ganges. Daily in the morning and evening there are thousands pilgrims who take bath here and enjoy the Maha Aarti being performed.
I often think of Rishikesh, of the green river singing as it tumbles and surges through town; of the wind that howls from the abode of Shiva at dawn; of practising yoga in the morning and going for long, contented walks in the afternoon. It is very soothing to sit on the banks of the river and enjoy the cool breeze from the river. The either side of the river is lined up with oak, pine and fir trees, and dotted terraced fields and occasional villages, and hence provides scintillating natural beauty to explore.
Feel your heart pumping as you head out for an early morning trek. Over the next few days, I drift through a pattern of waking to the ashram’s 5 a.m. meditative mantra chants, I also begin leaving the sprawling hostel on exploratory sorties around Rishikesh and neighboring Haridwar. Other variable activities thrown into my days included yoga on the beach, hikes up to see the sunrise over the mountains.
Stories of yore and the millions of pilgrimages, all contribute to enriching the enchanting place that Rishikesh is. While sitting in The Little Buddha cafe overlooking the speedy Ganges, I began writing my travel diaries. Cafe hopping is one of my favorite activities in general, so I’m always looking to practice it whenever I travel. Rishikesh has all sorts of cafes set along the river, so you could hop around to several different ones and sample the varying drinks and views of the Ganges. Most of them even have free wifi, which was perfect for getting work done.
It is known as the pilgrimage town and regarded as one of the holiest places to Hindus. Hindu sages and saints have visited Rishikesh since ancient times to meditate in search of higher knowledge. India is known as the country where Yoga and Meditation are a way of life. Meditation and Yoga are synonymous with India and the attainment of spirituality.
For a typical experience, check in to one of the numerous ashrams or be a little off beat and live in one of the camp sites although they have been closed recently due to heavy pollution. While the ashrams will be basic, the campsites often provide relaxing bonfires and other sources of entertainment. Be sure to take in Rishikesh’s fresh aura and feel peaceful, calm and relaxed. scenic beauty of Himalayan hills is exclusive to Rishikesh. Surrounding forests are dense, well-preserved, pristine, and are packed of exotic flora & fauna. Modern amenities are mushrooming swiftly, making it as tourism-friendly as possible.
The world offers to every artist a plain slate to paint and varied hues of nature to inspire. The streets of Rishikesh became alive with the paint dripping from the brushes of graffiti artists who come to participate in the festival from across the globe. With a backdrop as scenic and mesmerising as Rishikesh, no painter/artist had to go far for inspirations. An artist paints the walls of a store with ideas directly drawn from the beauty of Mother Nature.
The Char Dham Yatra (Four Shrines Sacred Journey) ideally begins from Rishikesh. Most of Rishikesh consists of narrow lanes and thus, is best enjoyed on foot. Go through various lanes and discover great shopping opportunities for religious items as well as other exciting bargains. A small temple glows on the banks of the Ganges, one of the sacred cities of India, which attracts hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims every year.
The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus and is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism everyday.
The Ganga Aarti is a pleasant ritual of worshiping the Ganga river. Every evening you can watch near Ram Jhula at Parmarth Niketan is organized and performed by ashram residents, particularly the children who are studying the Vedas there.
The ceremony commences with the singing of Bhajans, prayers, and a purifying and sacred ritual that takes place around a fire, with the offerings made to Agni, the fire god. The lamps are lit and the aarti takes place as the final part of the ceremony. The children sing along with the spiritual head of the ashram, in sweet, haunting voices.
People gather on the steps and sing, pray, and chant together. Then right around sunset, some people light a candle and set it down the river as an offering on a little cardboard boat filled with flower petals. It’s best to get there 30–45 minutes before sunset to witness this Indian tradition.
Ashram residents, many of whom are children studying the Vedas, present the Ganga Aarti, which means worship with fire. Many prefer the Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan to those at Haridwar and Varanasi because it’s more relaxed and spiritual. All are welcome to attend, so arrive early to get a close seat on the steps.
After dark everyone is invited to release small offerings — little “boats” made of flowers and leaves, containing a candle and incense stick — on the strong currents of the holy river. During sunsets, I enjoy the singing at aarti — the Hindu “happy hour” — a daily ceremony on the banks of the Ganges. Scores of Indians and a sprinkling of curious travelers sing Hindu hymns and swirl lanterns to seal prayers before splashing Ganges water on their feet. Some offer their prayers via candles that they float downstream in miniature boats made of leaves as a white statue of Shiva, the all-powerful Hindu yogi deity, looks on.
And that’s how my journey ended in the dip of holy city where I had find my true conscience. I've been in residence here for three days and am in the groove — feeling squarely centred in the present moment. If you want a truly blissful and spiritual experience then come to Rishikesh. Do contact me for any more information..