Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh, known as the ‘Valley of Saints’, is a town in the northern state of Uttarakhand. Along with the pilgrimage town of Haridwar and the state capital Dehradun, it forms the nerve-centre of the booming tourism industry in the state. In fact, the geographical proximity of these three towns plays a significant role in attracting tourists from India as well as all over the world.
Rishikesh attained international fame when the famous band Beatles arrived there in the 1960s to attend a session of Advanced Transcendental Meditation at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Since then, it has become something like the yoga capital of the world, and is visited by thousands of foreign tourists seeking spiritual guidance and enlightenment. There are hundreds of ashrams and yoga classes and meditation centres that have sprung up all over this little town. This has led to rapid commercialization of this once quiet region as the supporting infrastructure in the form of hotels, restaurants, clinics, photo-studios, etc. has also come up rapidly. Rishikesh is well connected by rail and road, and people find no difficulty in reaching it directly or commuting from the nearby towns of Haridwar and Dehradun, as there is a frequent bus-service between them.
Some of the most prominent landmarks of Rishikesh include the Laxman Jhoola and the Ram Jhoola. In this context, jhoola essentially refers to a suspension bridge which connects one side of the town with the other, as the holy Ganges flows serenely beneath. Cars and big automobiles are not allowed on these jhoolas, though one often shares space with other pedestrians, scooters, cycles and even cows! The jhoola offers a panoramic view of the river, the green forests and especially some of the ghats. Canoes, rafts and kayaks are a common sight! Crossing over the jhoola is akin to stepping into a different world. It is this part of town that is famous for little restaurants right on the banks of the Ganges and the ghats, serving all sorts of delicacies and at times, allowing the customers to discreetly smoke the widely popular and widely sold marijuana. Even though marijuana is illegal in India, it is still available, especially in ‘spiritual’ towns like Rishikesh, Haridwar, etc. This has led to the creation of a very mixed group of tourists, ranging from devout Hindus who worship the Holy Ganges or pray to the deities in the countless temples everywhere; the hippie crowd that stays on for months to meditate, learn yoga and indulge in smoking up; to the young students from towns and cities as distant as Delhi looking for a weekend away from their university.
The small shops in the bazaar sell all items of utility along with all sorts of souvenirs. However, owing to its religious importance, alcohol and non-vegetarian food are legally banned in this area. There is no shortage of accommodation as it ranges from hostels and dormitories to luxury hotels and camp-sites. Depending upon one’s budget, a very comfortable and economical trip can easily be planned. Apart from the jhoolas, the most prominent tourist-attractions are the giant statue of Lord Shiva on the banks of the Ganges, and the soothing and vibrant Ganga-aarti performed by the sadhus at sunset, every single day, drawing thousands of spectators to this beautiful spiritual spectacle. Owing to it natural beauty, Rishikesh is a haven for photography-enthusiasts too!
In the past decade or so, Rishikesh has also become a favourite hotspot for adventure-lovers from India and abroad. It is famous for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, trekking, the flying fox and hiking, to name a few! At 83 meters, the bungee-jump in Rishikesh is the highest in India. The flying-fox arrangement has the distinction of being the longest one in the continent of Asia! Rishikesh is also the point of origin for a number of treks and hikes into the forests and mountains of the state of Uttarakhand, which is home to the ‘Valley of Flowers’, the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers (from where the rivers Ganges and Yamuna originate respectively), and the holy shrines of Badrinath, Hemakunth Sahib, Devaprayag, Gaurikund, Rudraprayag, to name a few. This is the common path tread by pilgrims and trekkers alike.
Another supremely popular provider of adrenaline-rush is white-water rafting, as the Ganges provides rapids rated as Class 3 and 4. A Class 5 rapid is also present, though rafting from there is strictly regulated, unlike the others which are very popular with the tourists. One of the most common routes for rafting is the Marine Drive, a stretch of 24 kilometres from the higher reaches of the valley to the town of Rishikesh. One can indulge in jumping off from cliffs upto 60 feet en route Rishikesh while rafting! Shops providing the necessary equipment as well as guides and services can easily be found. For instance, the operator you choose for rafting will provide you a raft, helmets, life-jackets, the raft-guide and the conveyance to the origin of rafting. What makes Rishikesh’s tourism industry balloon are the nominal rates for most of such services, and the opportunity to bargain away to glory! Services are generally affordable and good.
Rishikesh has managed to retain its spiritual pull inspite of the changes the region has undergone in the past few decades. It provides you with a heady mix of spirituality and adrenaline, depending upon what you seek. And chances are, you will probably find what you seek.