11Rishikesh a holy city which somehow makes you feel that you are close to the abode of the(remove) Gods. It lies in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. It is the starting point for the Char Dham pilgrimage (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath). It is not only a city where people throng to cleanse themselves but is also world famous for the different types of water sports it offers. It is now a popular white-water rafting centre, backpacker hang-out, and gateway to treks in the Himalayas. Temples and ashrams which are centres for spiritual studies line the eastern bank. This little town, amidst the Shivalik range of the Himalayas, is a traffic-free, alcohol-free and a totally vegetarian community.

There are two distinctive parts of the city: the crowded, mundane downtown and the riverside communities which is the traveller’s abode. You’ll find the bus and train stations as well as the Triveni Ghat, which is a popular and auspicious bathing ghat and place for prayer on the Ganges. The popular bridges of Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, are populated with most of the accommodations, ashrams, restaurants and travellers.3 The two jhulas that cross the river are purely walking zones – though scooters and motorcycles freely use them. Swarg Ashram, situated on the eastern bank, is the noise – free, traffic-free ‘spiritual centre’ of Rishikesh.

Lakshman Jhoola defining image of Rishikesh is the view across the Lakshman Jhula hanging bridge. It is a bridge which leads to the huge, multi-storied temples of Swarg Niwas and Shri Trayanbakeshwar. They have dozens of shrines dedicated to Hindu deities on each level. It’s a shopper’s haven with numerous jewelry and textile shops scattered around in between thin lanes. Needless to say, sunset is a photographic delight. 4This section has everything – the temples, the bell-clanging, chanting of devotees, markets, restaurants and guesthouses which make it the heart of the city.

Swargashram or Heavenly Adobe, as the name suggests, is a beautiful place situated in picturesque surroundings at the foot of Himalayas, 2km south of Laxmanjhula. It is the spiritual community of Rishikesh, filled with a concentration of ashrams, temples and bathing Ghats. The area is known for its healthy living environment. This has been the place for meditation since eons. The holy books also mention this spot to be pure and divine.

From times immemorial, Triveni Ghatt he three rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswathy, have held the holiest place in our scriptures. The water of these rivers are revered by most Indians. The Triveni Ghat is the confluence of these rivers5 and it is said that anyone who takes a dip in them will be cleansed of all sins. Every morning and evening, thousands of people take bath here and perform the Maha Aarti. It is very soothing to sit on the banks of the river and enjoy the cool breeze.

The ashram, made popular by the Beatles, lies just south of Swarg Ashram. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram was uninhabited since 1997 which was taken over by the forest department. One can now see remains of many buildings, meditation cells, including Maharishi’s house and the house where the Beatles penned most of the White Album. The once-striking art installation called ‘The Beatles Cathedral Gallery’ has now become a graffiti free-for-all, but it’s still worth seeing.6

A 7km, three-hour walk along a forest path from Swarg Ashram, takes you to the famous and holy, Neelkanth Mahadeo Temple. Sitting on top of a hill, at a height of around 1675 m, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was here that Lord Shiva had drunk the venom, which oozed out during the ‘Samudra Manthan’, giving him the blue throat.

In the evening, the sounds of the temple bells ringing, create an electrifying atmosphere where the pilgrims and tourists prepare for the nightly ritual of the Ganga aarti. There is a lot to learn here -play the sitar or tabla, try Hasya yoga (laughter therapy), practise humming or gong meditation, or just listen to the stories about this mesmerising city.