Rishikesh is a great place to sit back and acclimatize to India. Set up for the multitude of western tourists it hosts great accomadation, WiFi, cafes and a programme of activities to ensure you are never bored.
1) Yoga – Hatha, Kundalini, Bhakti, Ashtanga, Yin, Vinyasa, Iyengar and a 101 spin offs. There is something for everyone. A Mecca for yogis and place of pilgrimage for spiritual seekers, Rishikesh offers training, short courses and drop-in classes that make it the number one destination for the yoga traveller. I can’t help but plug my own teachers center, the Atri Yoga Centre for great drop-in classes and thorough teacher training. Also, I would highly recommend classes by Surinder Singh and the Om Shanti yoga school. Google will tell you all you need to know.
2) Mama’s Chai – I am trying to work out the UK equivalent of the Indian Chai stall. Its not Costa, Starbucks or Wetherspoons. I think the nearest match would be the working men’s clubs of the English working classes where gents gather to exchange news gossip and discuss the day to day challenges they are facing. Mama’s chai stand became a daily institution; offering spicy refreshments at only 10p a cup. No other chai comes close. You have to put up with a swarm of flies, gnarled Indian workers and the odd stoned Baba but I repeat, nothing comes close. Mama’s chai stall, Laxman Jula Square, Rishikesh. Be there or be thirsty.
3) The Waterfall – follow the path up to Tapovan and ask a local for directions. A well worn path that follows a stream will lead you to an amazing waterfall. It is a 40 minute walk at a leisurely pace but be sure to take some drinking water with you. Ice cold and straight off the glacier it is a welcome break from the Rishikesh summer (40 degrees). Be mindful of Indian modesty and keep your clothes on but by all means have dip. If you find yourself there leave an offering at the small Shiva temple next to it.
4) The Caves – We set off early on a hike to a temple of Parvati located on top of a mountain outside Rishikesh. The local advice was “stay on the path and you can’t go wrong). IT WENT WRONG! 3 hours later not on any known path and fighting our way through some badass bush we stumbled across some amazing caves. Clearly a sight of pilgrimage we rummaged through decayed offerings of fruit, insence and coloured ribbon. I left my own offering of a banana peel and a couple of rupees. No idea how to get there. Go east from the waterfall and climb for two hours.
5) The Beatles Ashram ( Maharishi yogi ashram) – now derelict this was once a place to practice Transcendental Meditation. I felt a feeling of awe as I sat in the place George Harrison once did and recited the Hari Krishna mantra. If you want to get in for free walk past the ashram along the river and climb a cliff. George, if you can hear me thank you! Hari Krishna Hari Krishna krishna krishna Hari Hari, Hari Rama Hari Rama, Rama Rama Hari Hari.
6) Oreo Milkshakes – we have all heard of the equation E=Mc 2, one of the many contributions Albert Einstein made to physics that won him a Nobel Prize. Mother Teresa, Watson and Crick and Marie Curie have also been recognized by this global institution. However there is one formula that I believe is worthy of standing alongside these historical giants. Oreos plus ice-cream = the Oreo Shake. Who would have thought blending these simple chocolate biscuits with vanilla ice-cream could contribute to world peace. I do! If you find yourself in Rishikesh, go to the Buddha cafe, order an Oreo shake, kick back and relax. I plan to forward this recipe to Hamas as a non-violent solution to their struggle. How many lives could have been saved during apartheid if they only had access to this glorious beverage I wonder.
7) Rafting – some people take to swimming like a duck to water and I swear many of my friends are part fish. However, whether due to something biological or another condidtion I take to water like a two tonne block of lead. So rafting down the Ganges on a 26km route through grade 5 Rapids was, lets just say, a brown trousers ( or trunks) experience. No regrets though, my lack of natural buoyancy was respected and I felt safe at all times. Amazing views, massive adrenaline rush and I made some great friends on the way. Next challenge: learn to swim.
8) La Seeds Of Life Cafe – big shout out to these boys. Friendly staff and great organic locally sourced food. La Seeds of liffe cafe, Laxman Jhula Square.
9) Aarti – Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. A heart opening practice that connects you to the supreme power. There are countless names, Krishna, Shiva, Kali, Durga, Allah, Jesus to name but a few. Aarti the ritual of offering light to that supreme power is offered morning and evening on the banks of the Ganges. Look for the gee lamps burning in the dark, listen for the chanting, call to mind a power greater than yourself and join them. Whatever your creed, colour or theological outlook this ancient ritual is not to be missed and maybe, just maybe, it will spark a light in you.
10) Papue Lassi – when people talk about Rishikesh they usually mean the towns of Tapovan, Laxman Jhula or Ram Jhula. Rishikesh City proper is about a mile east, an urban sprawl, made up of winding streets, markets and countless mobile phone dealers. It is a place you can buy absolutely anything from saris to iphones. In my opinion there is only one thing worth buying, the mighty Papue Lassi. Flavoured with the most aromatic rose water, chilled to perfection and topped with the most flavoursome toasted almonds. 30p for the Lassie, 20p for the TucTuc. I made that journey a number of times.
Aum Rishikesh namaha
Ps …if any one knows how to make photos smaller in tumblr drop me a note. I am learning as I go along.