Rishikesh Is a small pretty town and one of the most holy places for Hindus, in the state of Uttarakhand, North India. It is situated at an altitude of about 1,360 feet above sea level and is located in the lap of the lower Himalayas. The sacred River Ganga (Ganges) flows through Rishikesh. In fact, it is here that the river Ganga leaves the Shivalik mountains in the Himalayas and flows out into the plains of North India. Several temples, ancient as well as modern, can be found along the banks of the River Ganga in Rishikesh.
The city attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year, from within India, as well as from all around the world. Rishikesh is also famous as the, “the world capital of Yoga,” as it has numerous yoga centres. It is believed that meditation in Rishikesh brings one closer to attainment of moksha, as does bathing in the holy River Ganga that flows through it. Rishikesh is also the home to the 120 year old “Kailash Ashram Brahmavidya Peetham,” an institution dedicated to preserve and promote the traditional Vedantic Studies.
In February 1968, the Beatles visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogis Ashram (now closed) in Rishikesh. John Lennon even recorded a song here, titled, “The Happy Rishikesh Song.” The Beatles composed nearly 48 songs during their time at the Maharishi’s ashram, many of which appear on the White Album. Several other artists, including Mike Love, of The Beach Boys, Donovan and Gyp Mills, visited the site to contemplate and meditate. More recently, the place has been visited by Hollywood star Kate Winslet.
Shopping in Rishikesh is a happy and enjoyable experience. One can get many items which are useful for everyday life from the small shops in and around the town. Many religious and temple-related articles like Rudraksha, Ganesha idols, Nataraja statues, religious books and mythological sculptures are available here at moderate rates. Clothes, Kurtaz and Salwar Kumeez (traditional Indian dress), and beautiful knitted garments are a specialty of this area. Handicraft items made of shells, pearls and beads are other attractions in the shops of Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is also acquiring greater significance as a centre for water sports such as white water rafting and kayaking on the river Ganga. Rishikesh also offers challenging spots for trekking, hiking and rock climbing in the beautiful Garhwal Himalayas.
The majestic Himalayas, the holy river Ganga, myths and legends, ancient temples, yoga institutions, meditation centres, water sport activities, rishi and sages make Rishikesh a peaceful destination where the tourist finds peace in mind and soul.
The Triveni Ghat, in the centre of town, is the most prominent bathing ghat in Rishikesh. It is also the most important place for religious ceremonies in Rishikesh. With its modern images of Hindu deities and white sandy beach, the Triveni Ghat is ideal for a bathe in the holy waters of the Ganga. In the morning, pilgrims come to the Ghat for prayers. It is believed that the River Ganga is joined here by the River Yamuna and the Saraswati River (under earth). The evening, arati (worship) with oil lamps on the Triveni Ghat is most impressive. Barefoot devotees sit in rows on the steps of the Ghat. As the sun begins to set, covering the river with gold, bells and gongs ring and chants fill the air. A row of religious celebrants hold plates of flaming ghee (purified butter), moving them in a circular salutation to the Goddess of the River Ganges. Devotees also release flower-filled leaf boats carrying tiny oil lamps and let them float out on the river. It is a ceremony of worship, remembrance and hope. Whatever your religious background, you will find this a moving and emotional experience.
The Bharat temple near Triveni Ghat is reputed to be the oldest temple in Rishikesh. The temple’s presiding deity is a black stone carving of Lord Vishnu, which is believed to have been consecrated by Adi Shankaracharya when he visited Rishikesh in the 9th century.
With its numerous ashrams, food stalls and shops, Swarg Ashram is a haunt for those looking for insights into religious themes. It is a very quiet place on the left bank of the River Ganga. The newly constructed Ram Jhoola (suspension bridge) straddles the Ganga at this point. One can also make a river crossing on the ferries that run during the day. Important shrines and ashrams at Swarg Ashram include Kali Kumbliwale founded by Swami Vishudhananda, Parmarth Niketan with large statues of gods and goddesses and the Gita Bhavan with its Ayurvedic dispensary and shop selling religious books and cotton Khadi clothing.
Lakhsman Jhoola is the old footbridge, named after the brother of Lord Rama. It is a beautiful sight. Until 1889, it was just a hanging rope bridge across the River Ganga, but it was later rebuilt with iron ropes. Here one can enjoy the picturesque surroundings and the cool breeze from the River Ganga while standing on the bridge.
To the northeast is the area of Muni-ki-reti. Along the banks of the river, this area with its secluded white sand beaches is ideal for swimming. Boat rides on the river near Swarg Ashram are a pleasant diversion, and you can feed the fish that cluster around pilgrims throwing balls of wheat flour into the water. There are some good spots for white-water rafting.
The temple of Neelkanth Mahadev is a place associated with Lord Shiva, and is situated at a height of 1700 metres (5,577 feet). It is a 4 hour walk uphill from Rishikesh and is a not-to-be-missed destination away from the crowds. The temple can also be approached by a jeep.
North of Rishikesh are some good places for white-water rafting, including Shivpuri 18 kms upstream and Kaudiyala 38 kms upstream. Both the sites are served by professional organizers who provide all the appropriate equipment.
Haridwar, literally Gateway to God, is one of the Hindu holy places in North India and has been a centre of Hindu religion and mysticism for centuries. Located on the banks of the River Ganga (Ganges), Haridwar is situated at a height of 250 mtrs (820 ft) above sea level, between Shivalik Hills and is 25 kms from Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand.
Haridwar attracts a large number of Hindu pilgrims from all over the world and presents a kaleidoscope of Indian culture and civilization. It is believed to be as old as Varanasi (the oldest holy town in India). Being one of the oldest living cities, Haridwar is mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures and has a history stretching back from the period of the Buddha, to the more recent times of the British rule in India. Haridwar has a rich and ancient religious and cultural heritage. It still has many old havelis (traditional houses) and mansions bearing exquisite murals and intricate stonework. The Ganges, considered as the holiest river in India, is the star attraction of Haridwar. Pilgrims take back the water from the River Ganga, which is believed to remain fresh forever.
Being a place of intense religious significance, Haridwar also hosts several religious festivals throughout the year; popular among them are the Kavad Mela, Somvati Amavasya Mela, Ganga Dashara, Gughal Mela, in which around 20-25 lacs (2-2.5 million) people take part. Apart from this, there is the Kumbh Mela which takes place once in every twelve years, when the planet Jupiter (Brihaspati) comes into the sign Aquarius (Kumbha). First written evidence of the Kumbh Mela can be found in the accounts of the Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 – 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 AD. The 1998 Maha Kumbh Mela saw over 80 million pilgrims visiting this city, to bathe in the holy river Ganga.
To the north of the centre, this is Haridwar’s focal point, where devotees gather to bathe and worship on the River Goddess Ganga. According to legend, this is where a drop of nectar fell from the churning of the oceans when the world was created, and a stone wall has an imprint of Lord Vishnu’s footprint. Each evening around 7 p.m., thousands of people gather and worship the river Goddess by putting Diyas (floating oil lamps) in the river. Temple bells and gongs ring and chants fill the air.
On the top of a hill near the centre of town is the Mansa Devi temple. It can be reached by cable car or by a road that gently winds uphill. The views of the valley and town are magnificent from the temple.
The Rajaji National Park is a forest reserve area some 208 kms from Delhi and 9 kms from Haridwar, and lies in the Shivaliks hills close to the foothills of the Himalayas. It is spread over 820 sq kms. 23 different species of animals and reptiles – including tigers, leopards, elephants, deer, jungle cat, wild boar and sloth bear Pythons, King Cobra, Common Krait, Indian Cobra and the Monitor Lizard, and 315 species of birds are to be found in the Park. The most prominent avian species include pea fowl, woodpeckers, pheasants, kingfishers and barbets, and these are supplemented by a number of migratory species during the winter months. Besides that, the rivers which flow through the park harbour fish such as trout and mahseer.
The park has the largest population of Asian Elephants in Uttarakhand. It also has a number of Bengal Tigers and Leopards. Rajaji Park, which has several entry gates, is accessible from Dehradun, Kotdwar,and Haridwar: the Ramgarh Gate and Mohand Gate are within 25 kms of Dehradun; the Motichur, Ranipur and Chilla Gates are about 9 kms from Haridwar; and Kunao Gate is 6 kms from Rishikesh.
The national park is open from November to June, seven days a week. The weather is pleasant from December to March. Park timings are:
The weather is cool in winter and hot in summer. During the summer the temperature usually averages around 40 degrees but winter sees the mercury dipping as low as six degrees. The best time to visit this area is from September to June.
Rishikesh is about 225 kms and Haridwar is about 200 kms from New Delhi, the capital of India, and is well connected by road and rail network from all other parts of India.
By road: Rishikesh and Haridwar are easily accessible from all parts of the country. By road these places are very well connected to Chandigarh (200 kms), Shimla (210 kms), Manali (390 kms), Dharamshala (385 kms) in Himachal Pradesh.
By Train: Haridwar Railway Station is well connected by train to all the major parts of country including. Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, Amritsar. Shatabdi Express train between New Delhi and Haridwar is best available to access Haridwar from New Delhi. Rishikesh is further 25 kms from Haridwar.
By Air:Jolly Grant Airport also known as Dehradun Airport is an airport serving Dehradun the capital city of, Uttarakhand state in North India. The airport is located close to the holy city of Rishikesh, the gateway to the Himalayas. It takes about 20 minutes drive from the airport through picturesque terrain to get to the town of Rishikesh. Kingfisher airlines operate daily flights to and from New Delhi.