Wash away your sins as you go rafting

Go rafting in Rishikesh
Go rafting in Rishikesh

Words: Ambica Gulati

It’s one of my favourite places. The breeze sprinkles with chants, prayers for the holy Ganga are done through the day, diyas and flowers float constantly, foreigners rush around with rudraksha malas in a quest for the unknown, yoga camps are held everywhere, sadhus with their kamandals walk around—Rishikesh is where the quest for inner bliss is constant.

Known as the world capital of yoga, it’s where everyone comes to be away from the madding crowd. But in this quest, they end up meeting another crowd. Avoiding the main town, I always stay at Muni ki Reti, literally translated as the sand of the sages. It’s said to be the place where the sages meditated. Rishikesh is the land of Vishnu, the god of senses. It’s where Shiva came to wash out the effects of the poison he had drunk during amrit manthan. Rishikesh is the land where mythical tales live on.

The two banks of the holy Ganga host many renowned ashrams such as Gita Bhavan, Parmarth Niketan, Sivananda Ashram and more. You have a choice to stay on the side of the mountains or near the bank. Over many weekends I have stayed in a guest house as well as in an ashram. The ashram is more a cross between home and spirituality. But the guest house offers a little more freedom. You can walk about around the dead town at midnight too.

Some take a joy ride on the jhula in Rishikesh
Some prefer a joy ride on the jhula in Rishikesh

And you have a choice of crossing the river on foot by walking over the swinging Lakshman and Ram jhulas or take the less than five minute ferry ride. I have done both, but the walk over the jhulas is the more exciting prospect. If the breeze is strong, the jhula swings, giving your body a shake and you need to hold on tight.
The locals are so adept that they take their scooters and motorcycles over it. And what you need to watch out for are the monkeys. One snatched my friend’s sunglasses and swung away faster than lightning.

The ferry has its own slow pace, you can run your hand in the holy river, watch the flowers and other offerings flow by. There is even an aate kee goli seller near the ticket counter. This is for feeding the fish, though I have never seen the fish. It’s fun to see them go down in the water nevertheless. The ferry boatmen are quick to move out of the way of the river rafters coming down.

A little up, in Shivpuri, there are many river rafting camps. You can do a day’s trip. All you need–a strong pair of arms. There is special gear and there are places where the rafters stop in the middle to jump into the waters. There is an expert to take care of you during this session. I have not been brave enough to try the steering but my brother found it thrilling, going through the waves, over the rocks and keeping the balance. This is one of the more exciting parts of the holy land. Adventure and spiritual thrills.

Bollywood is not immune to prayers--Deepika Padukone with Swami Chidanand saraswati doing Ganga arti on the Parmarth Niketan ghat
Bollywood is not immune to prayers–Deepika Padukone with Swami Chidanand saraswati doing Ganga arti on the Parmarth Niketan ghat

I have always found the evening times the most fascinating near the river. The bathers finally let the water flow freely. People gather around drinking tea or simply watching the sun set. But the maximum crowd gathers at the steps of Parmarth Niketan. The half an hour Ganga aarti is a spectacle of reverence. The moment it ended, we, along with a zillion others, floated diyas and flowers. The little diyas soon found their way into the river, giving an indication that prayers have been immersed and accepted.

And then time for some food. The most famous eating place here which offers a delectable thali is the Chotiwala restaurant. But even along the ghats there are numerous eating joints and most of them have fresh and well-cooked food. I even found a place to charge my mobile.

For me, a visit to Rishikesh is never complete without a trip to the Neelkanth temple, about 28km up in the mountains. You have the choice of trekking up through the forest which is what I plan to do next. I have to see Vashishtha guha, Cave of Sage Vashishtha too.

What more to see and do
A yoga festival is held every year in March. You can explore the many temples in the area. A walk through the lanes of Muni ki Reti will introduce you to shops selling cotton clothes, a bakery, cheap jewellery and lots of religious items. It is the home of the 133-year-old Kailash Ashram Brahmavidyapitham, an institution which preserves and promotes traditional Vedantic studies.

There is a centre for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, rappelling and kayaking. Sometimes camps for bungee jumping and fox climbing are also introduced. There is mountain biking at Mohanchatti, near Lakshman jhula.

What you will relish
The fresh gulkand and rhododendron squash. I always carry some back.

How to reach
Air: The Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun is approx 35km away. Daily flights with Air India, Spice Jet and Jet Airways from Delhi and Lucknow. From there, one can take a taxi or bus.

Road: It is well connected with Haridwar, Dehradun and Delhi. Buses operate from the Kashmere Gate ISBT in Delhi. A drive on NH58 from Delhi would be around 7 hours.

Train: The railway station is at Haridwar, approx 25km away. Popular trains are Shatabadi Express, Jan Shatabadi, AC Special Express and Mussoorie Express.