The name Rishikesh brings a unique set of memories in each of us. Some know it as a place of worship, few find it to be a place for the epitome of adventure and for others, it is a place to be lost and find oneself within. It took me two years to make up my mind and time to be here and get the gist of all. And yes! this is furthest and longest I had been on a solo trip.
While being in solitude was something I was getting addicted to off-late, going somewhere thousands of miles far, all by myself was giving butterflies in the stomach. The added anxiety was to keep my backpack lighter for the Brahmatal Trek and also manage enough energy and time to make the best of the time I had in Rishikesh. Part of it was the day I could manage before leaving for the trek which ideally I should have spent in taking rest. The other was after what’s left of me and the days when I was back from Brahmatal. Haridwar which is an hour away from Rishikesh made it’s place in the list with a squeezed day before I caught my flight. A jam-packed schedule was ready for my first-ever trip to Uttarakhand.
After an extravagant party at Delhi, an early morning alarm woke me up to catch a Shatabdi train to Haridwar. The train was to leave from the NDLS station at 6:30 and drop me off to my destination in just 5.5 hours. I made it to the station 15 minutes before the departure while the day was still early and cold. Finding the train compartment wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be in the capital city and train was probably the quickest mode of transport to reach Rishikesh.
Luckily the sun was up when the journey started and I hadn’t really missed much apart from the apartments for almost an hour. As the train picked up speed stopping at very few stations, the terrain on either side started to change. It was time for some delicious snacks with a cup of coffee which was part of my reservation in Shatabdi. Much needed dose of caffeine to start the day.
As we passed by villages, towns, and cities, the views around became much pleasant. There was a line-up of sugarcane fields and the very iconic sarson ka kheth all throughout. I regret not carrying a book this time, but the rhythmic sound of the train was somehow keeping me occupied. There were many known stations among Meerut and Roorkee. I had even observed many co-passengers with a similar backpack like mine. Probably it was the season for treks in Uttarakhand and a lot of them had similar destinations. The second serving of coffee and breakfast had made me feel full and there was one less thing to worry for a while.
Weather was still surprisingly cold in the mid of the day when the train stopped at Haridwar. Being one of the well-known pilgrimage destinations, there were pilgrims all around. I managed to catch a bus quickly to Rishikesh from the bus stop nearby while looking to catch my first glimpse of Ganga. There she was, flowing since time immemorial making an endless journey to the sea and back. My trips never complete without at least a stretch of a bumpy ride, and route to Rishikesh contributed this time. Took a little longer than I had expected while traveling beside the flowing river, but managed to reach Rishikesh in an hour.
Zostel Rishikesh was home for the day and coincidentally I was put in a dorm room named Ganga. It was surprising to find my trek mates Siddhika, Prashantha, and Aditi as roommates and we could finally map the names to faces after hearing them for almost a month in the trek Whatsapp groups. We clearly had different plans for the day and I had to have a meal before I could explore the town.
Renting a scooter seemed logical to explore Rishikesh in half a day I had. A quick refill of petrol and there was no more unnecessary stopping. The first place to see was Ram Jula, an iconic suspension bridge built across Ganga. And you guessed it right, there was another bridge named Lakshman Jhula about a kilometer away named after God Ram’s brother. Frankly, all I had heard about Rishikesh was about these two bridges since my childhood and I even remember seeing a printed picture of it then. Today was the day I was finally seeing it for real. A moment of satisfaction. Oh, and you can ride your two-wheeler on the bridge to reach the other side. While on it, you can actually feel the bridge suspending a little which it is both thrilling and scary.
A few hundred meters from Ram Jhula was a place named Ganga beach. This was slightly different from the river banks I had seen here. There was clean and soft sand stretching for almost a kilometer length. Kids were even making some sand castles there. I guess that qualifies to call it a beach. Away from the bustling crowd, this place was calm and peaceful with occasional screams from people attempting river rafting. I guess I will have to skip that one in this visit because Water Was So Cold!!!
After setting down my anxiety at Ganga beach, next on the list was the Beatles Ashram. Many decades ago, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a teacher of Transcended Meditation, started an ashram on the banks of Ganga to share his learnings. At the peak of his popularity, the singers from the band Beatles came down to Rishikesh to practice meditation for about a month. In these days they were able to write more than two dozen songs which drew the attention of the world towards the place. This way, the name of Beatles tagged with Rishikesh forever. The ashram is now in ruins yet attracts the crowd towards it. There are 84 meditation rooms built for the practitioners to be in solitude. The arrangement gets its name Chaurasi Kutiya because of the count of these. The meditation hall, guest house, and kitchen take us back in time to give a glimpse of its days. In the recent past, artists from across the world have painted walls here with some impeccable piece of art.
Sun sets early in the winters and I didn’t want to miss Ganga Arti at Triveni Ghat. A quick ride back from the same route and exit via Ram Jhula took me closer to the Ghat. I was half an hour early and managed to find a seat in the front. It was a long pending wish to see Ganga Arti from close. When the clock hit 6 PM, the chants began. 12 priests with a uniform maroon kurta stood on the pedestals placed at the banks of the river and first lit some Dhoop (incense) which filled the air with a mellow fragrance. As the sky turned dark, chants became lauder and each of them held huge aarti and started waving in an orderly fashion. It was the moment of goosebumps. Us standing at the front row we were given a tiny aarti to wave at the same time and I couldn’t be happier.
I had mostly seen the places that I had in mind and it was time to call it a day. The next couple of days were going to be longer and exciting.
Day 2 of Rishikesh was after my 6 days of the trek at Brahmatal (feel free to click on the link to keep track of the timeline 😛 ). While the places that are far were covered, I was yet to explore the markets and see if I could buy some souvenirs. In fact, the main reason to stroll was to go to the Beatles Cafe near Lakshman Jhula and sip a cup of tea. The cafe wouldn’t open until 12 PM so there was more time to kill exploring the streets.
My trek-mates Sudeep, Uday, and Ritesh asked to meet for a quick breakfast at a German bakery/cafe right next to Lakshman Jhula. Sipping on a hot cup of coffee (it was so good, I had two 😛 ) and feasting on a plate of English Breakfast(veg) was a perfect start to the day. The huge window next to the table was giving us a view of all that the Rishikesh is famous for, Ganga, the iconic Trayambakeshwar temple, Lakshman Jhula and the slowly waking up streets. Indeed a hidden gem in the heart of the town.
I bid adieu to fellow mates and continue with walk further. First, one to see was the Trayambakeshwar temple I had just noticed from across. One has to cross Lakshman Jhula on foot to reach the temple. I stood in the middle of the bridge admiring the calmness of the river only to be distracted by the mild swings of it. The Trayambakeshwar temple is a 13 storied building. There are small temples dedicated to many gods and goddesses in each floor with sanctum sanctorum of God Trayambakeshwar on the topmost floor. The view of the Lakshman Jhula and the hazy town of Rishikesh from the 13th floor was picturesque.
Probably the town wakes up much later. I could hardly spot people on the streets and shops were still opening. Due to the town’s popularity about Yoga, almost every other shop was selling Yoga-mats and attire. Not something I was looking for. Then there were other artifacts used for worship, but something that immediately caught my attention was a shop that was selling home decors made using upcycled materials. It was almost time for Beatles Cafe to open and I decided it would be convenient to have my lunch there. The cafe had an extended balcony with a view of the river. A cup of tea in my hand and the endless soft music of the flowing river filled my ears. I could never get tired of this view.
I rushed to Zostel to checkout and headed to Haridwar, one last place to touch up before I catch my flight the next day. Compared to Rishikesh, Haridwar is a much bigger city. With countless temples and ashrams hosting lakhs of pilgrims, this was one of the ancient cities in the banks of Ganga. I had opted to stay at Vyas Ashram much away from the heart of the city, which added a travel time in visiting the places around.
While mainly I was looking for a glimpse of Ganga Arti at Har Ki Pauri, there was some extra time in hand to explore other places around. There was Saptrishi Ahsram at a walkable distance which was dedicated to 7 sages. Another place to visit nearby was Bharat Mata Mandir. A 7 storied temple with each floor dedicated to freedom fighters, some of the well-known women who worked for the upbringing of the society, well know teachers of various faith and gods and goddesses worshipped at various parts of the country.
Though I was half an hour early to Har Ki Pauri (translates to feet of Vishnu), the place was already crowded. The huge river was flowing as different streams with bridges connecting to each section. I opted to be on the opposite side of the Arti stage to get a better view. I had found Rishikesh more peaceful and easier to explore. Nonetheless, each place has its unique features. The endless chatter from people around lulled at the sounds of the bell. With people singing prayers in unison and priests waving huge flamed aarti, it seemed like a scene straight out of a mythological movie. Probably there was more to explore in Haridwar, but I was already content with the trip. A perfect end to a year and a decade.
1. It’s ok if some plan doesn’t work out. Probably it is destined at a different timeline.
2. Not all trips need to be thrilling and adventurous. Some are for you to relax and discover the peace within.
3. When the time in hand is short and there are more places to explore, it is ok to reserve some for the next visit. A place reveals itself differently every time.
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