Pages from a traveler’s diary- Rishikesh

Nestled scenically in the laps of Sivalik Range in Himalayas; is a spiritual town of Rishikesh. Located in Dehradun district in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the holy city is a revered pilgrimage center among the Hindus. Burgeoned in natural splendor the city is a Gateway to Himalayas and an origination point for the “Char Dham” pilgrimage; one of the most sacred pilgrimage tours — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Flourished at the foothills of Himalayas this sanctified city gets its name “Rishikesh” after Lord “Vishnu” which means ‘lord of the senses’.

The city comprises of the main town of Rishikesh along with few distinct sections encompassing hamlets and settlements on both the banks of the river Ganges. Primarily the main town Rishikesh comprises of an expansive commune known as “Muni-ki-Reti” meaning “sands of the sages” and the home of Sivananda Ashram; The Divine Life Society founded by Swami Sivananda popularly known as Sivananda Nagar. The north of Rishikesh comprises of the temple section of Lakshman Jhula, and a little further north are the assorted Ashrams around Swarg Ashram on the east bank.

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The sacred river representing country’s piousness, the Ganges flows through Rishikesh. Shredding her teen image of playful rivulet flowing from the Shivalik Ranges of the Himalayas, here she grows into a blooming young river commencing her journey further into the plains of northern India. Her turquoise hued clear water gushing swiftly with expeditious currents paints a devastatingly exquisite scene. Thousands of devotees, pilgrims and tourist throng the city each year from India and overseas. The feeling of divinity captivates one’s senses even whilst staring the banks of Ganges adorned with delicate flowers, and a converting of solitary Saints, Monks, priest and spiritually awakened individuals passing by.

Rishikesh, ever so often tagged as “the world capital of Yoga”, houses numerous yoga centers those are much older than any other yoga organizations in the world. One of the oldest yoga establishments is Kailas Ashram Brahmavidyapeetham; an institution dedicated to preserve and promote the traditional Vedantic Studies has been a part of this institution for more than 120 years. Legendary personas such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramanand Tirtha and Swami Shivananda were alumni of this institution prior commencing their noteworthy journeys. The tinsel town has been a silent observer of lives of several yogis and Sages having lived and practiced penance here. It is said and well – believed that meditation in Rishikesh brings one closer to self – realization and “Moksha” and so does a dip in the divine river that flows throughout.

The town awakens at the early hours to the bellowing of conches and the “Vedic” chants. Blossoming with fragrant lilacs, roses, gerberas and holy basil which is considered of prime significance in offerings among the Hindu Gods the spirituality then emanates in the air. Most of the congregations of worshippers take a dip in the river as a part of a ritual and then proceeding ahead to perform “Pujas” in the temple.  Later the Gods are bejeweled in the colorful garlands, vermilion, turmeric and are ornamented in silk attire. Array of colognes emanate off the incense sticks followed by rhythmic chanting of prayers or “Vedas” in the temples mesmerizing one’s curiosity.

The bridge that bridges the banks of River Ganges is popularly termed as “Laxman Jhula” and is a well-known landmark in the city. The existence of this bridge dates back to the mythological era of “Ramayana” and is believed that “Laxmana” the brother of Hindu deity Lord Rama, crossed river Ganga on jute rope where the present bridge stands today. The 450 feet long jute-rope Bridge was replaced by iron-rope suspension bridge in 1889 by a British Officer but unfortunately it was washed away in the 1924 floods and afterwards was then replaced by a stronger present bridge. To the west of the bridge stands a temple devoted to “Laxmana”; the brother of Lord “Rama”.  “Laxman Jhula” offers an astonishing view of ravishing beauty of River Ganges. Watching the mountains roofed in green belt with turquoise hued Ganges flowing by and chilly breeze swirling around, crafts the bridge as a great place to be at. The river here abounds of fishes and often pilgrims are seen feeding a stream of fishes from the bridge or at a place where the fishes gather while the pilgrims drop food for them. A boat ride down the river is recommended as it offers a panoramic view of the bridge. The background colored with lush green mountain ranges and an unblemished steely grey Lakshman Jhula in the foreground seems like a portrait in itself autographed by Mother Nature.

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Blending its modern appearance with inner enlightenment the 13 storey Kailash Niketan Temple is the next stop post crossing Laxman Jhula. The Temple houses several sculptures of Gods and Goddesses and is a pure example of contemporary manifestation enlightened with the rays of serenity and spirituality.  The experience of spiritually is not only limited to the plains of Rishikesh but is also felt at an altitudes. Commanding an extravagant view of the region, situated on the altitudes of 5500 feet, abiding in equanimity is the legendary temple of Nilkanth Mahdeo. Encircled by serenity of the forests the temple is situated on a hilltop above “Swarg Ashram”. Legend goes that in the mythological era when the ocean was being churned for ‘Amrit’ (Potion for immortality), first venom oozed out and this was the place where lord Shiva had drunk the venom to save the mankind. After consuming it, his neck had turned blue with the poison and hence he was called ‘Neelkanth’, the one with blue neck. Every year in the months of monsoon – mid July to August – fairs are held where thousands of devotees visit temple, taking a holy dip in the fresh water spring within temple complex pilgrims proceed to pay visit to the lord. Scorched eyes long to have a view of the Lord Shiva who has been marking his presence since ages and eras, in a serene pose yet so very powerful and commanding by nature, the deity welcomes and blesses one and all.

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To the east of the Ganges is a place bustling with activities all the times, better known as “Swarg Asharm”.  Ashrams, temples, restaurants, shops, eating joints are well developed in this area. Founded by Swami Vishuddhananda fondly known as “Kaali Kamli Wale”, the ashram is one of oldest in Rishikesh and is adorned by many statues. The spiritual air of the spiritual soul pacifies one and all. Crossing over the “Ram Jhula” towards the western bank of Ganges is Shivanand Ashram: The Divine Life Society: One of the oldest and most active ashrams in the area. A doctor by profession, Swami Shivanand renounced his life in Delhi and came to Rishikesh in the year of 1924 and set up Divine Life Society in 1936. He authored approximately 200 books on yoga, health and spiritual life prior his death in 1963. The ashram organizes regular yoga classes, meditation courses and performs and promotes studies in texts like Upanishads and Gita very often. Spiritual and activities related with Hinduism are the practiced every day. The ashram runs a biggest charitable hospital from which hundreds of localities avail the facilities of free of charge medical services.

Located in the heart of the ancient town of Rishikesh near Triveni Ghat on the banks of River Ganges, abiding in silence since centuries is an aesthetic “Bharat Mandir”. “Adiguru Shankara Charya” built the temple; a renowned saint who lived in the 12th century. The internal chamber of the temple houses an idol of Lord Vishnu, which is carved out of a single rock of “Saligram”; a rock that possess divine powers. An awning of “Shree Yantra” shelters from above the idol. The temple also houses several other old statues, coins, pots and other things of historical significance.

Nothing seems phenomenal as the “Ganga Aarti” of “Triveni Ghat”.  The ghat is a foremost place where pilgrims crowd to take a holy dip and a spectacular “Ganga Arati” is performed regularly in the dusk. Being a principle place for taking a holy dip in, the Ghat derives its name due to confluence of three rivers namely, Ganga, Yamuna & Sarawati.  The most enthralling and eye – catching event at the dusk being “Ganga Arati” scores of devotees throng the steps of ghat at the dusk for performing Arati. The priest and saints carry out the ritual, while the fiery orange fuelled with multiple hued golden flames transpire out of massive pure ghee lamp being rotated in the circular motions brightly lighting up the whole place. The Triveni Ghat then witnesses the illuminated statue of Lord Shiva amidst the river and Vedic chants fill the atmosphere in the praise of the river Ganges.  The bellowing conches and religious songs spiritually awaken the atmosphere with divinity blending in air mesmerizing one to the tunes of the songs sung in devotion. It is here at dusk, that scenario quenches one’s thirst for peace and the soul entwines into the feeling of oneness connecting itself with the universe. It is then when the whole cosmos conspires together to gift mankind the tranquility and inner joy beyond expression or one’s imagination. Later devotees float their respective leaf bowls filled with flowers and an oil lamp into the river. The reflection of lamps enamels the water with golden ripples. The radiance emitting out of the statue of Lord Shiva amidst the river soothes the tired souls and eyes follow the lamps till they disappear. The ceremony symbolizes a revival of hope, remembrance of the kind deeds of the river since ages and praying for the betterment of the mankind.

Rishikesh is one of the holiest communes in India and every corner of the city is considered as sanctified one. The city possesses the magic of a casting spell to transform and balance the inward journey with an outward adventure. Dwelling on the laps of lower Himalayas, surrounded by untouched countryside with panoramic views, numerous village treks, jungle walks in rhododendron forests, with the banks of Ganges that is dotted with numerous ancient temples transforms the holy town into a heaven making one say “Come home to Rishikesh”

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