Pilgrims visit the Himalayan city of Rishikesh while on their way to the Char Dham of Uttarakhand. Many tourists visit to enjoy activities like camping by the Ganges and water adventure sports. And few come to explore the ‘Rishikesh Walking Trails’. They are attracted by the culture of spirituality and meditation that is professionally practiced in countless centers. Rishikesh, nicknamed the “Yoga Capital of the World”, truly presents a kaleidoscope of Indian culture and global diversity.
Rishikesh has Yoga Ashrams at almost every corner of the streets. We reached our hotel in Rishikesh around 3 in the afternoon. We found that our hotel too had a Meditation center, where sessions are held every morning. A little far from the bustling city center, adjacent to a hillock, the property was blissful. One could spend evenings here, lazily resting on the easy chairs. But we had a walking trail in mind. We unpacked our luggage. Put on some light woollens and embarked upon a sightseeing tour of the town.
Tapovan to Jonk
We followed the lanes downhill, as guided by the locals, and reached Sacha Akhileshwar Mahadev Temple. Surprisingly, Wikipedia or even Uttaranchal website does not provide much information about this temple. This temple houses a huge Shiva-Linga, which is almost 15 feet high and about 8 feet in diameter. The imposing stature, coupled with the scent of ghee and dhoop, enunciates deep religious enthusiasm here. Truly a unique experience in Rishikesh Walking Trails.
This was the place where tourists were gathered around local guides who were leading them towards the Laxman Jhula. Laxman Jhula is the most defining image that adorns Rishikesh Walking Trails. It is a 450 feet long iron suspension bridge across the river Ganga, connecting Tapovan on one side and Jonk on the other.
We walked across the bridge and reached the 13-storeyed wedding-cake-like temple of Swarg Niwas and Shri Trayambakeshwar, built by the organization of the Guru Kailashanand. Popularly called Tera Manzil Temple, it has dozens of shrines dedicated to Hindu deities on each level, interspersed with jewelry and textile shops. Ashrams and guesthouses and street-side stalls selling all kinds of things sprawl on both sides of the road. They sell devotional items, dresses and gifts and souvenirs, and a variety of food preparations.
And the Journey Continues…
While at the entrance to the bridge, I got introduced to a girl from Paris. The tattoo on her arms made a street-girl-child very curious. The child’s mother sitting by the stairway on the western side showed the foreigner the shape of a heart inked on her own wrist. The foreigner introduced herself as Margo. She wanted to know if the tattoo was for her husband, but she could not obviously express herself in Hindi; so I played the translator. The woman replied that she had got the tattoo when she was very young and that it actually signified her brother. She further iterated that her husband was long gone, leaving her to fend for her daughter alone. And after I translated all this, I had to convey her want for alms too. Margo obliged and gave the child a 100 rupee note and left with a “Namaste”.
What makes Rishikesh extraordinary is how tourists from all across the world intermingle and blend multiple cultures into a singularity. This girl from France unpretentiously chatting with an urchin, a girl from Chile sipping coconut water, a man from New Zealand walking barefoot while playing his Djembe – all these snapshots offer the rich and multifarious ensemble that Rishikesh symbolizes.
As we followed the Rishikesh Walking trails along the eastern banks of the river Ganga, towards Ramjhula, a dusty road opposite the Laxman Jhula Police Station led us to a white-sand beach. The green waters, the boulders and rocks scattered along the beach, the green forest on the other side – it gave us the best backdrop for a mini photo session. Some people sat on the sand, enjoying the ambiance; few stood on the rocks and posed for the camera. A couple of foreigners were engaged in physical exercises. One must certainly not miss this beach if in Rishikesh!
We had to reach the Parmarth Niketan Ghat to watch the Ganga Aarti, and hence we left the beach and walked ahead.
When we reached the ghat, people – Indian and foreign nationals – had already gathered on the stairs leading up to the riverside. We left our slippers under a bench and made our way downwards, wherefrom we could experience the Ganga Aarti at its glorious best.
Regardless of one’s ability to understand Hindi or Sanskrit, the power of the Aarti fills the hearts of devotees with universal spirituality. Enthusiastic female foreigners, with Diya in their hands, lip-synced to the Sanskrit mantras, while a few others were busy capturing the moments in their camera. I stood there in awe of the proceedings, as the Pujya Swamiji of the Ashram sung prayers in baritone. His students performed Yagna on the ghat, offering their prayers, waving huge lamps to the River. The lamps were intermittently passed towards the crowd behind so that devotees may feel the warmth from the flames with their palms. The purificatory blessings, believed to be conveyed from the deity to the flames, are thus passed on to the devotees.
After the ceremony ended, we explored the area. This is the very place where a couple of Chotiwala restaurants are located. Choti is the Hindi word meaning a tuft of hair kept in the back of the head as per Hindu custom. The person in the logo of “Chotiwala” is a rotund figure, having a long, almost erect Choti, and a saffron napkin on his shoulder.
Taking promotion to a different level altogether, a person dresses up like the cartoon himself. He dons heavy make-up on the face like that of a stage artist. Also, he sits on a throne-like chair right at the entrance. He holds a wire which is connected with a big bell, which he rings as people enter the restaurant. I went forward to seek his permission for a photograph. The “Chotiwala” man didn’t as much as nod his head. Evidently, behind that decorated face lies a person tired of maintaining the same pose all day long, to attract and amuse tourists. This is the most sought-after restaurant for delicious snacks in Rishikesh.
We walked another few meters up to Ram Jhula. Ram Jhula is also an iron suspension bridge, like Laxman Jhula. It connects Muni Ki Reti in Tehri District with Swargashram in Pauri. Ferry service across the bridge is available, but the service continues only till around 5 pm. So we walked the span of the bridge and reached Ram Jhula taxi stand. From the junction, we booked ourselves an auto back to our hotel.
We thus concluded the Rishikesh Walking Trails that enriched us with experiences that were unparalleled. I would never be able to forget the charming and delightful moments that touched the chords of my soul during this adventure.
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of the photograph or literal documentation of the journey.