I have visited Rishikesh about three to four times over the last few years as a weekend destination from New Delhi. Always, the agenda has been quite simple. Check-in to a camp site, head out for a thrilling rafting expedition and after an exhilarating few hours in the river head back to the camp site. Ending the day with a usually quite and relaxed evening on the banks of the Ganges.
The plan does vary person to person, group to group, but if I may allow myself to generalise a little, the itinerary pretty much remains the same for people looking for a weekend getaway in Rishikesh. Of course let’s not forget that Rishikesh is also famously known for it being a Yoga and mediation destination. Ashrams can be seen at every corner but then a trip like this would require much more time than a just weekend.
Coming back to just having one night and 2 days in Rishikesh, I once again visited this buzzing town with western hippies and spiritual enthusiasts a few weeks ago. But this time around, it was different, unlike my prior visits. One of the reasons being that I managed to be attend the evening arti on the banks of the holy Ganges which for me was a delightful experience. I am not a religious person, but just the energy, enthusiasm and the sounds of the temple bells reverberating through the valley made the evening special.
To attend the arti, you would need to reach the Parmath Niketan ashram. If you are staying towards main Rishikesh town you can walk across the Laxman Jhula and simply take a local cab (if you are not up to a 40 minutes walk) or hire a boat across the river to the Ashram. The arti takes place twice a day at dawn and dusk on the ghats in front of a massive white statute of Shiva in meditation pose. Hundreds of people gather to attend this daily ritual. Children studying the Vedas at the ashram perform the prayers along with the ashram residents and devotees. The lit diyas and the lamps with the mountain and the river in the backdrop makes the entire area explode with bright colours.
The Laxman Jhula is an iron suspension bridge erected over the Ganges river and is a landmark of this spiritual town. It is said that Lakshmana crossed Ganges on jute ropes between the place where this bridge is built. If you are standing at the foot of the stairs towards the Laxman Jhula, you can see a signboard of German Bakery on the left. There is nothing German about the bakery but as they serve some great food, they can get away with the name. This tiny little restaurant commands an amazing view of the Jhula, the river and the temples. Like all cafes and restaurants in Rishikesh, the food is all vegetarian but delicious.
The 60s cafe, a cozy 60s-themed set-up with Beatles photos at the entrance and a terrace with a dramatic view is also called Cafe Delmar and Beatles Cafe. Not sure why it has three names but leaving that aside I would recommend that you get here just before sun set to really enjoy the view and carry on enjoying the ambience in to the evening. Located near the parking of the Laxman Jhula, you will need to walk up a tiny alley-way through colourful jewelry and souvenir shops to reach this popular eating joint.
A 40 minutes drive from town, located in the Rajaji National Park, The Chaurasi Kutiya Ashram, stands in all its grandeur amidst the dense forest area. As you take a walk though the man-made caves, the ruins of the Ashram,dark corridors and the surprisingly cheerful and colourful graffiti walls you can only imagine what this Ashram must have been like when filled with the energy of disciples and residents practicing transcendental meditation introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s. Now popularly known as the Beatles Ashram, the Beatles lived here for 3 months in 1968 and have said to have written 48 songs from this location. If you have access to a car, this makes for an enjoyable half-day expedition.
Rishikesh is a spiritual town with a unique kind of energy and culture. It opens its arms to anyone and everyone who is ready to accept the good and bad, the pious and the quirky, the energy and the silence. All you have to do is go with the flow, open your mind and you will enjoy the experience all through the way.