48 hours in Rishikesh

In March of 2012, when I was in Rishikesh for the Annual International Yoga Festival, I took an opportunity to visit Vashishta Cave, uphill from Rishikesh, with a German friend.  He was as much a soul searcher as I was and we meditated our brains out that day.  By the end of the afternoon, I was so overwhelmed that I felt compelled to let go of a lot of feelings I was holding on to back then.  Marcus suggested that as a gesture of letting-go, I should leave something behind at the cave.  The idea sounded cheesy to me at first, but as I mocked him about his corniness, I had already decided what I was going to leave behind – my favorite blue polka dot scarf.  In keeping with the spiritual melodrama of the day, I went ahead and tied my scarf to the branch of a tall deodar tree.  Marcus did not leave the opportunity to take a dig at my own cliched act.  The drive back into Rishikesh passed in silence, as did our dinner and evening stroll at the ghat.  I boarded my train to leave Rishikesh the next day, not knowing then that it would be my last trip there in the half decade to come.

I moved to Pune that year, and life moved south.  In desperate attempts to overcome life situations, I planned several trips to Rishikesh every time I visited my parents in Delhi.  But none panned out.  On occasions, I caught myself fantasizing about meditating at the Vashishta Cave overlooking the river; I dreamt about the white walls of my ashram room, of sunny days spent reading books at quaint little yoga cafes, of evenings spent walking along the ghats, watching the reflection of light from temples glowing on the river at night, the background score of prayer bells in the distance mingled with the sound of Ganges flowing perpetually.  I found myself craving to visit Rishikesh; and why not, it had been my second home for the better part of my twenties.  I was frequently exploring the coasts of West and South India now, but from time to time I would pause to fondly remember the Himalayas and the Ganges in general and Rishikesh in particular.

This year end, I managed to squeeze in 48 hours of Rishikesh into a two week long travel.  As I boarded Dehradun Shatabdi from New Delhi, my mind was mildly misgiving about visiting Rishikesh after so many years.  What if there were no connection anymore?  It was the apprehension of the awkwardness you feel when you have not spoken to your old friend in a long time and then you suddenly run into them.  But as it turned out, Rishikesh and I met as if we had never parted, as if it had thought of me as much as I had thought of it – no small talks, just our usual catching up.  But sadly, before we could go into our usual deeper conversations, it was time to leave, only now I know that the ice is broken and we will bond again.

In the past, it was my ritual to attend the Yoga Festival held here in March.  I would stay there for two to three weeks and honed my yogasana practice and delved deeper into my meditation practice.  Other than those introspective trips, I would often take impulsive road trips every time my senses craved the vibe of Rishikesh or the going got rough.  I have rafted on the Ganges, nearly died in the Ganges, hurt my lower lip while rafting – a souvenir I still carry, I have lived on budget in Rishikesh and I have taken luxury trips.  All of these trips gave me a leverage in spending a weekend, not exploring, not discovering, but just loitering and revisiting my favorites; and that’s all I wanted to do.  Here are some tips for an easy, semi-luxury weekend stay in Rishikesh.

  1. Stay at Divine Resorts near Lakshman Jhula
    Over years, I have stayed in almost all types of accommodation in Rishikesh – homestays, ashrams, camps and hotels.  During my longer stays, I preferred a basic ashram room since it was cost effective as well as austere and thus favorable to my prime purpose of yoga. But for my shorter trips, when I did not mind splurging a bit, my favorite hotel back in the day was Divine Resort in Tapovan.  And still is.  It is situated on the banks of Ganges, right where the river bends; and due to the accumulation of rocks in the area, you can hear the most beautiful sound of river rolling.  The price is a bit steep, but I think it is value for money since the hotel is quite luxurious and swanky by small town standards.  Ask for a river view room and you’ll know what I’m talking about.


    View from the room balcony


    Private riverbank of the hotel adjacent to the pool

  2. Hog food at Swargashram
    There is no dearth of health food in Rishikesh, what with the year-round Yoga classes in the area.  But if detox or yoga friendly diet is not your thing, there is a mass of food options along the swargashram lane.  This lane leads you to the famous Parmarth Niketan and has tiny food joints dotted along.  My favorites are “The Office” and “The Tip Top Cafe”.  The Office is mostly packed in the mornings for it serves yoga friendly breakfast – think fruit bowls, think green teas, think muesli, think oatmeal and porridge.  If you’re in a mood for something innovative, you should try their banana samosa – it’s like your regular samosa except it is stuffed with chocolate glazed bananas. Not a samosa fan per say, yet I find the brazenness pretty interesting and the stuffing pretty delicious.  Or if you’re in mood for some counterfeit albeit very delicious vegetarian version of English Breakfast, you can try one at the tip top cafe.  Then there are a a bunch of places that serve Italian food as well, along with some Indian.  If you’re in mood for some scrumptious Indian Thaalis, try the famous Chotiwala Restaurant.  


    The Chotiwala Mascot

  3. Imbibe in the divine surroundings:
    While there is a whole range of activities for the adventure seekers – starting from river rafting, bungee jumping, camping, jungle safari, trekking etc, and there are available means to find trance, the ONE thing that is the essence of Rishikesh is the divinity in the air, if you’re one to feel it.  Ditch the religion and embrace the spirituality while you’re in Rishikesh; and if you look closely, it is all around you.  It is there in the sound of the river, it is there in the evening breeze, it is there in the distant temple bells, in the twilight and in the lush of the hills.


    Evening scenes at Rishikesh

  4. Indulge in an Ayurvedic spa:
    Whether you have a sore back after a taxing yogasana class or you just want to indulge in some luxury, an ayurvedic massage is never a bad idea.  There are a bunch of luxury spas in Rishikesh; my favorites are at Divine Resorts and Sanskriti.  Their spa zones are hygienic and well maintained.  Although, if you need an ailment specific massage, I would recommend visiting a Panchkarma doctor in Tapovan and get advised on which treatment would suit you the most.  As for me, I have a serious addiction of Abhyangam and Shirodhara.
  5. Easy evenings near Lakshman Jhula:
    Take a walk along the ghats of Ganga and then pick your corner in any cafe near Lakshman Jhula area.  Try vegetarian puffs or dry cakes at German Bakery.  Many cafes here have a bohemian vibe and are the best place to have a cosy meal.  I recently visited 90s Beatles Cafe and loved the whole metal music lingering in the air.  Next I hopped to Cafe Shambala, which was a contrast to Beatles Cafe, what with its floor seating, thatched roof, people sharing their yoga experiences, their life stories, playing guitar, and singing the night away over ginger lemon water and easy peasy food.  End your night with a sleep induced by tranquility.


    Another cafe near Lakshman Jhula


    Night vibe at Cafe Shambala

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