Rishikesh is situated at the foothills of the Shivalik Ranges of the mighty Himalayas. The river Ganges that touches the plains for the very first time here splits the pilgrim town in to two parts.
The Beatles 1968 trek to India to seek out the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with Mia Farrow and her song-inspiring sister Prudence brought Rishikesh in the tourist map of the world.
It was an extended weekend for us in the heat of mid summer and we were itching to getaway to some nearby destination. I have been to almost all the tourist hill stations near Delhi. When the boys came up with the idea of White Water Rafting I was a game for it. Any adventure trip is always a welcome sign little did we know that we had chosen a wrong time of the season to visit this Holy town.
We loaded our rucksacks and covered the bumpy stretch of 230Km in seven hours by car. The humid heat and traffic jams were a put off and by the time we reached Haridwar, we were beginning to realize our mistake. Though the cool waters of the mighty Ganges were a refreshing site, the dirt and the crowd were unexpected.
It was the time of a pilgrimage and hundreds of saffron clad people had descended on the narrow roads to Rishikesh edging their way through the vehicular traffic. The honking and the noise marred the usually calm environs of the place.
We decided to leave the madding crowd behind and find a decent hotel a little ahead of the town. Tired and hungry we unpacked, washed and looked for our first proper meal. To our horror, we found that the hotel kitchen was closed so it was time to get dressed and search for a good reasonable eating joint. The tempers were rising and no one wanted to venture out in the dust and heat again. We managed to order some light food and thanked God for small mercies.
The next day the boys were out of bed right at the first light of the morning to head for the river rafting and some scenic photography. On inquiring, we found that the rapids were dangerously high and the currents were so strong that there was not going to be any rafting for some days. This was an unexpected turn of the events and a blow to all of us.
Left with limited choices and little time we drove upstream and found some amazingly beautiful locations. The river Ganges flowed like a serpent among the lush green forests on both sides. It was a beautiful sight to watch the thundering river that turns calm and gentle the moment in touches the main Rishikesh town.
Summer is no time for nature lovers in this part of the country. There were hardly flowers and the Rajaji National Park which is 20 Km away also did not offer any special treat.
We hardly had time to explore Shivpuri, the adventure town known for rafting, camping, trekking, rappelling and other activities. Most of the camps were full and we had no choice but to explore the Ghats of the Ganges, the temples and the ashrams that dotted the little town.
We decided to make the best of the last day of our stay and had fun on the river beach. It sure took all the strain off us and like little kids, we ran the length of the beautiful sand beach, climbing on the boulders and posing for pictures. The boys had a dip in the cool waters and forgot the hurt of their rafting misadventure.
Rishikesh is known for some famous food joints like “Chotiwala” and we discovered many more of small eateries that churned out lip smacking dishes.
I was sure of some adventure awaiting us and tagged along my elder son to explore the narrow by lanes of the market leading to Lakshman jhoola, the suspension footbridge.
‘German Bakery’, the board said and it instantly brought a grin on our faces. We ran to the place and to our delight, discovered a snake charmer too. Our day was made. The sadhu (holy man) was sitting with his Been (the musical instrument) and two large baskets that indicated the presence of some big snakes.
On seeing our interest he began to play the most melodious music, I had heard in a long time and exposed a six foot mighty Python and a King Cobra. I was thrilled at the sight of those magnificent creatures and decided to hold them. I managed to gather a huge crowd as the python coiled around me and the black beautiful Cobra wrapped itself on my arm and gazed in to my eyes. My son, another snake lover, could not stop clicking pictures and was getting impatient to hold them.
It was such a memorable experience and both of us forgot everything else that had bothered us throughout our stay. The python seemed to like me and refused to let go. I could feel its growing pressure around my waist and neck as the sadhu tried in vain to pull it away.
Realizing that some help was needed my son and a foreign tourist stepped in and helped to uncoil the serpent. After a little struggle, the magnificent creature was put away in the basket.
It amused the sadhu that I did not feel a bit scared and a young lad could handle the snake so well. It gave him another reason to sing songs of the snakes that are revered in Hindu religion. The crown began to melt and some spectators gave him money for the performance that we had put.
The evening was setting in and we decided to invade the German Bakery. Looking at the beautiful Ganges and the slightly swaying bridge, we enjoyed chilled lemon sodas and apple pies along with some foreign tourist.
The time of the “Ganga Aarti” at Parmarth Ghat, a pleasant ritual of worshiping the Ganga, was getting closer and we were suppose to meet the other half of the family at the banks of the river to watch the religious ceremony. It was an awesome sight. Hundreds of “deeps” (flower bowl with a wick lamp) floated down the river during the Aarti after prayers.
Thousands of people attend the aarti that starts at around 5:30 in the evening. Most remarkable is the presence of small children with shaved heads and saffron robes who sing the religious mantras. The devotional energy that is poured into this river every day builds an atmosphere of peace and reverence about the Ganges like no other river.
We headed back to Dehradun on the next morning for a day’s stay and some more sight seeing.
Though the Rishikesh trip did not turn out exactly the way we wanted but it sure taught us a few lessons in life, and I in particular, was able to do some soul searching and left all my past hurts, pains and worries with the ever flowing Ganges to start afresh a new chapter of my life.