We should have learnt our lesson from McLeod Ganj when it comes to spiritual places in India but we had both set the bar high for our next spiritual encounter. Set on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh is a very holy place for Indians with hundreds of thousands coming each year to swim in the Ganges and or lay their loved ones’ ashes or bones to rest in the river. It’s also the yoga capital of the world.
We arrived late afternoon after an uneventful 9 hour drive from Shimla and dropped off our bags and went for a walk for some food. The tourist town is situated on both sides of the river with two pedestrian bridges, one in the north and one in the south. We started walking from the hotel and past several yoga schools and then hit the main hustle near the river. It was nothing like we expected. I don’t want to be rude but Rishikesh was the most disgustingly dirty place we have visited. It was gross and so busy!
We found out that the weekend we arrived was a festival weekend so the crowds were bigger than normal. We found a restaurant overlooking the river and decided to have some food and then head back to our hotel to start the experience of Rishikesh anew after a good nights sleep.
I had researched some ashrams further along the river for me to do some yoga and had visions of peace and quiet and lush gardens and forest walks. So we headed out in the morning to go and check them out. As we eased closer towards the “spiritual center” things didn’t improve cleanliness wise, in fact I think it got dirtier. By this stage my vision of spending the next week in yoga bliss was being quickly dashed. We arrived at the ashram and it was nothing like we expected. It was packed full of people walking in and out and the rooms were more like a boarding school than a retreat. But we pushed on to the reception to see if we could have a look at the place to see if we wanted to stay. Before we even got that far we were told that there was no availability for weeks so that quashed that idea.
Thoroughly dejected by this stage we walked back to our accommodation along the river, stopping off at other ashrams that quite frankly were shitholes. I even asked a group of western girls along the way where they were doing their yoga and were told they also hadn’t found a suitable place. There was a definite feeling of disappointment from everyone.
Late afternoon we headed back towards the ashram to view the Ganga aarti which is a ceremony where offerings of flowers are floated down the river. The ceremony itself was very busy and we were viewing it from a balcony above. After about 45 mins we got so sick of Indians pushing into us to get a better view that we decided we had seen enough and headed further upstream to send off our flower offering we had purchased.
We found a relatively calm space to sit with our feet in the Ganges and for the first time we felt the real magic of Rishikesh. There was a cool breeze blowing and across the river a ceremony with drums and chanting was taking place. As we sat watching the river, flower offerings were floating past and the people around us where performing their own little ceremonies and prayers. It was really quite wonderful. The family beside us asked us if we were on a holy holiday and we looked a little confused and told them we had been in India for a while and we wanted to see the Ganges. We found out he and his wife come here for 10 days every year for their holy holiday to pay their respects to the gods. After spending sometime down by the river we headed back to our accommodation feeling we had slightly glimpsed the spirituality of the Ganges. S
The Lakshmi Jhula hanging bridge. Slightly busier than we expected.
Footbridge you say. Surely that means it’s okay for scooters and cows.
The mighty Ganges!
All along the river there were stairs leading down for people to bathe.
The Ashram. In the photo it looks a lot more tranquil that it actually was.
More scenes of people washing in the Ganges. We knew the Indians had cast iron stomachs but when you see them drink the Ganges water you really know they do, or the reason why they have cast iron stomachs.
Ram Jhula footbridge.
Tim tentatively taking a dip. The temp was freezing! Which we should of realised considering it comes from the Himalayas but when your sweating in 40 degrees you automaticly think the water will be bath water.
Ladies selling some fruit I couldn’t place. Very similar to a fig I think.
The streets of Rishikesh.
The Ganga aarti ceremony.
Ready to launch our offering.