If serenity is what you seek, if tranquility is what you are of bereft.
Come to Rishikesh and let the Lord of Senses guide you in your quest.
A 5-hour night journey took me from the Capital to the Yoga Capital. I was lucky enough to reach just before dawn. The sun rays slowly illuminating the Himalayan foothills were a sight for sore eyes. The way leading up the city from where the bus dropped me was a narrow road and the cold, morning breeze blowing in my face as I traveled in an over-crowded auto-rickshaw. The sweet vapors of the Ganges are present in the air throughout the city, giving it a dewy touch and taste. With the start this good, my hopes were bound to rise!
Rishikesh is one of the few places with diverse living arrangements available. You can hole up in a small tent with the most basic facilities (a bed and a blanket) or you could stay in one of the high-end resorts. The tents always have safety issues and the resorts are above the budget of most of the travelers. If one is looking for a place where one could meet fellow travelers, hang out with them, and have some companions for rafting, a new, recently opened backpackers’ hostel, Zostel, is the place to be. Located fairly near the banks of Ganga, the place is frequently visited by all sorts of travelers and is a favorite already with the travelers from outside India.
I found my rafting companions in Zostel in just a couple of hours. I had never set foot in a raft before and had heard rumors of people drowning frequently in the unsparing river. Going rafting with experienced people did at least a little to boost my confidence.
The moment I set foot on the raft, it wobbled dangerously and I almost withdrew. Almost, as I knew I would regret it forever if I back out now. As if to peak my fears, I was made to sit right in front. Holding one of the oars, I took a deep breath and was ready for the inevitable ordeal. The river roared as we set sail. The water was bashing upon our raft from the sides as we made our way with the flow. I was scared as I had never been before. However, the adrenaline flowed slowly and gradually, leaving no place for the fear. The thrilling ride had me getting drenched by the waves several times, shouting at the top of my voice, challenging the river by jumping into a Rapid in between. I came out brimming with confidence for another ride but thanking my stars that I was still alive.
Had Rishikesh been allowed to have a flag, I am sure Laxman Jhoola would have a prominent place on it. It is an iron suspension bridge over the river Ganges and is named after a Hindu God, Laxman, who is believed to have crossed the river with the help of jute ropes. It had originally been a jute rope bridge and was later replaced by the current, sturdier version. The bridge is filled with tourists who are keen to get good photographs with Ganges in the background. The bridge is always swaying ever so slightly; making skeptics like me fear the walk across it.
It would be wise to say the city of Rishikesh is inhabited with the Laxman Jhoola at its heart. The main market lies on one of the ends and is a good place to do all your shopping. The artifacts and accessories are cheap and bargaining, although not appreciated, has an informal presence.
The best eating places are also situated near Laxman Jhoola, inside the main market. A renowned dhaba, Chotiwala, although not the most hygienic place you would see, serves the piping hotaloo paranthas with a thick blob of butter, and could be arguably called the best in the city.
My trip to Rishikesh was going quite well up to this point. However, the essence of the trip was still missing. The purpose was unfulfilled. The tranquility that lured me to the place was present all around but not inside me. I knew the way of redemption and headed straight to Mahatma Yoga Ashram. The serene ambiance of the place and the Ganges flowing by presents an idyllic setting for Yoga. Every breath of air detoxifies your senses. Rishikesh is called the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ for a reason. The fact that The Beatles stayed here for quite a while was exhilarating as well as motivating for me to keep on practicing Yoga.
At the Ashram, I met a kid, not older than 12 or 13. He was doing chores for the Ashram. I saw him several times, running from one place to the other and he had a permanent, mystifying smile. He had a glow emanating from his face like it hid a tiny sun inside. It didn’t matter the work he was doing. Be it lifting anything which required a lot of effort or getting his hands dirty, the smile never faded. I called him and asked him the reason. His smile widened and he ran off after saying a single word, “Yoga”.
I am sure every traveler who comes to Rishikesh falls in love with the place. If rafting isn’t what you are here for, if yoga isn’t something that excites every breathing cell in you, you can always go to the banks of Ganga late after dusk, sit on a slippery rock with your feet in the river that never sleeps, cold water gently slapping your ankles, the moonlight illuminating everything in the vicinity; and introspect.
The next time you are in Rishikesh, wake up to the sound of music and let your heart whisper the words of wisdom- let it be.