Rishikesh and Haridwar: Spiritually blissful locations
Rishikesh is situated at the top of the Ganges and is a very sacred, holy place. It is a completely vegetarian and dry (no alcohol) town, and is well known as an incredibly spiritual place full of meditation and yoga. If you want to have an absolutely blissful and spiritual filled experience, Rishikesh is your jam. It is also known for the Sivandanda Divine Life Society Ashram and, what really drew me, the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram. I will start this blog with a story first, and then get down to the nitty gritty details of what to do/where to go in Rishikesh.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram
As I am hiking through the deep beautiful forest in the heart of the Himilayas, following an older, crippled Indian man towards what I am hoping will be the entrance to Maharishi Ashram, I can’t help but picture what this amazing and untapped town must have been like in the 60’s and 70’s. The man keeps stopping us, showing my mother and I fresh elephant droppings… without the advantage of a common language we quickly understand that we need to be careful, wild elephants are within close proximity and shouldn’t be reckoned with!
For those of you who don’t know what an Ashram is, it is a place of sacred worship where people go and learn teachings from a Guru, in this case, the Maharishi. Gurus in India are as common as DJ’s in Generation Y, and with that it is hard to know if the guru is respectable or not. The Maharishi was one of the most inspiring and reputable spiritual leaders to India and the world. He is well known for his teachings, especially of Transcendental Meditation and was followed by the likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I must admit that going to this Ashram was really the only reason I wanted to come to Rishikesh. What I didn’t apprehend was just how much I would fall in love with this unique town…
So, after following a beautifully spirited Indian man through the dense and wild elephant filled forest, we arrive at a spectacular iron gate, covered in vine and bush, surrounded by beautiful stone architecture. WE MADE IT! Upon entering, it was evident the amount of good energy this place had and still has. From meditation pods that look out over the whole city of Rishikesh, gorgeous mosaics, to a room filled of Beatles and spiritual leader graffiti, this centre has everything you need to get your fix of nature, history and spirituality.
When I went there in 2014 the Indian Government was going to seize the property and bulldoze it. But I know now that it is completely open to the public – as it should be! Whether you are a Beatles or Maharishi follower or just someone who enjoys being around nature and spiritual places, this is a MUST DO in Rishikesh.
Other things to do
There are two main bridges that go across the Ganges: the Lakshman Jhula and the Ram Jhula Bridge. I would suggest walking around Rishikesh as much as possible on both the Eastern and Western sides, each has a different feel than the other. Get lost in the markets that sell jewellery, peace flags and all things Indian paraphernalia. Stop at one of the many Ayurveda and natural health centres; maybe even do an Ayurveda treatment while you’re there!
Because Rishikesh is known for its yoga and meditation, it is rife with yoga centres and retreats. You can stay in a retreat for as long as you want or stay in a hotel/hostel and do daily yoga classes – whatever it is you are after!
I won’t suggest any specific hostels or hotels, but from my experience as long as you are near either the Ram Jhula or Lakshman Jhula Bridge you will be in complete bliss.
I am a complete fanatic for all foods flavoursome and vegetarian so it won’t come as a shock that India is my complete food oasis, especially Rishikesh. Vegetarian or not, prepare yourself for some of the most flavorsome dishes your taste buds have ever had. Some of my favorite places to eat were the two Chotiwala restaurants that are side by side and easily as good as the other, the German Bakery Devraj, and honestly others that I can’t remember the names of but are beautifully situated next to the Ganges, most with comfy floor cushions and window that span the entire walls – enjoy the incredible scenery!
Best time to go
People say the best time to travel to Rishikesh is November – January (when most Westerners go), because it is at its coolest. I went in the middle of July and although I was sweating profusely, I had the absolute time of my life. It really depends on what you are into climate-wise.
Sivandanda Divine Life Society Ashram
This Ashram is truly, as its name alludes, DE-VINE and takes over a large part of Rishikesh. Even though we didn’t stay in the Ashram we were most welcome to walk around and enjoy the breathtaking grounds, bookshops, and botanical gardens. We were even embraced in joining in on a meditation circle! Needless to say it is a very welcoming and open centre, unlike some others throughout India. Situated on the SIDE right along the Ganges, it is rather hard to miss, however if you happen to get lost you can ask anyone walking along the street where it is.
Haridwar is a town situated about 20/30 minutes away via taxi and I would say is a must whilst spending time in Rishikesh. What to do there? Go to the nightly ‘Aarti’, which is a spiritual event held each night around 5pm along the Ganges. It isn’t necessary that you stay there overnight, but I would definitely suggest going there for Aarti. Rishikesh also has Aarti every night but not nearly the capacity of Haridwar. According to Hindus, Haridwar is one of the 7 holiest places in India and you can definitely feel it when you arrive. Hindu legend says that some of the liquid from the pitcher of the ‘elixir of eternal life’ was spilled in Haridwar. This place is pure magic!
Peace and bliss out!