Once known as just a holy city beside the Ganga, Rishikesh has now become a one-stop destination for meditation and Yoga as well as adventure junkies and pilgrims, writes Rakesh Kumar.

As the sun was all set to dip into the river Ganga and dusk was darkening the sky, the ghaat (riverbank) gradually became more scenic. Devotional songs in the background were setting a divine mood and the air felt fresh. The whole ghaat was soon teeming with people, many of them jostling for a vantage point on the stairs. None wanted to miss the popular Ganga Aarti, which was about to start in a while.

A row of priests, clad in saffron kurta and dhoti, faced the river and began the aarti, moving the huge lamps in a clockwise manner, in tune with chants and songs dedicated to the sacred river Ganga. This was a sight to behold and an enchanting experience.

There is a popular belief among the locals and devotees that goddess Ganga showers her blessings on all those who are part of the entire ritual. Perhaps, this is the reason people from all over the world come to Rishikesh to witness its famous Ganga Aarti.

About the town

Located in the foothills of Himalayan, Rishikesh, till a few years ago, was only known as a holy city because of the river Ganga. Now it has become a one-stop destination for meditation and Yoga as well as adventure junkies and pilgrims. In fact, now it is called the world’s Capital for Yoga and spirituality. How come a little town has garnered so many titles and beckons celebrities like the Beatles? To find out more, a visit to the holy town became mandatory.

Thus began a six-hour train journey from Delhi to Haridwar, from where we took a car to Rishikesh. As we hit the road, we initially experienced light traffic. Soon, tThanks to development work, at many places the roads were in a sorry state or diversions set up, enhancing the travel time. However, cool weather placated us and the beautiful sight of the mountains kept up engaged throughout our journey. As the beautiful expansive River Ganga unfolded in front of us, we were awestruck. The flowing white water and temples on its banks made the site more colourful. And small shops, hermits in saffron ~ walking or sitting ~ invited everyone to know more about the city.

At the resort

However, our first task was to leave our luggage in the hotel. After 20 minutes our car stopped outside the beautiful and newly-built luxury resort, The Roseate Ganges. Located on the banks of the Ganga, this is one of the best spa resorts in Rishikesh that redefines opulence through impeccable design, architecture and hospitality. Just  a 45-minute drive from Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun, the resort houses 16 luxurious villas. Each is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, luxurious beds and perfectly-appointed bathrooms.

But the best part is its private balconies that are really very spacious and offer a spectacular panoramic view of the Himalayan outdoors. In fact, one could look at the mountains from the rooms too. It made us really close to nature.

As we were running short of time, we gulped down some food and headed directly to the main city to witness its famous Ganga Aarti. The bazaar around the Ganga river was full of life: the eatery shops were crowded with people ~ some were buying souvenirs, some trying to buy clothes printed with the words Rishikesh or God Shankar.

There were two cows fighting and a group of hermits laughing after seeing something on their mobile phones. But there was a beeline of people heading towards the Parmarth Niketan or Triveni Ghaat, to experience the grandest affair. Surprisingly, among the crowd, foreigners attended in a large numbers.

After the aarti was over, we visited the Laxman Jhoola, where we came across a troupe of monkeys at the entrance. As we came back to the resort, there was pin-drop silence. The only sound was coming from insects, which reminded us that we were sharing their home. It was soon time for a hearty dinner. The resort has a signature dining option ~ the local cuisine. In fact, their menu has only local pahadi cuisine and it was mouthwatering.

Rishikesh is also known for Yoga. Therefore, the next morning the resort organised a Yoga lesson for us in front of their swimming pool overlooking the green Himalayas. The light rain, green mountain and Yoga ~ it was like a scene from some fairy tale book.

Inside the town

Then, it was time to explore the city. The whole town is full of temples and ashrams, many of them centuries old. In fact, these temples and ashrams are full of back-packers. But the most popular was the Beatle Ashram. This is where the group is said to have written several chartbusters. Once inside, one will be transported to a different world altogether.

The whole campus is like a hostel, comprising different rooms, including a meditation room, but all in dilapidated condition. The walls are painted with colourful graffiti and the names of the Beatles remind the visitors of their presence. It is so peaceful that one could spend months here doing nothing.

The next day, we set off for the Rajaji National Park, which is famous for wild elephants. However, most of the time we could see no wild creature except for a few beautiful deers.