Day 1 – First view of the Ganges, a glimpse of Lakshman Jhula and Aarti at Har-ki-pauri
A long weekend should never be wasted sitting at home. So we packed our bags and as true travelers headed out to Rishikesh, a center of activity, be it the buzz of temples or the roar of the rapids. We managed to get out by 6am and after a stop for breakfast at Moolchand Resorts, where we spent more time photographing the garden than eating, we reached Rishikesh at around 1. We had accomodation at the Janki Devi Somany Bhawan, a guest house owned by the Somany family, and it turned out to be a very comfortable property on the banks of the Ganga.
We took a quick shower, headed down for our first view of the Ganges, a stroll on the banks and a quick dip of our tired feet in the freezing waters. We then drove down into Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. A lot of meditation and massage centers dot the small temple town and it also serves as the base for exploring the ‘Char Dham’, the four Hindu places of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Rishikesh is fast developing into an adventurous town, with lots of tourist operators offering river rafting and para-gliding in the area. We stopped at ‘Lakshman Jhula’ where now, instead of the jute ropes that Lakshman, from the Mahabharat myth, used to cross the Ganges, stands an iron suspension bridge that was built in 1939. The air is frigid as you cross the bridge, and the bridge itself sways quite a bit when a scooter or motorbike passes across.
We had our lunch at a local dhaba, which though advertised for masala dosa, didn’t whet our city-bred, hygiene conscious appetite. We settled for the safe roti and daal and continued on to Haridwar.
We reached Har-ki-pauri the main ghat of the Ganges at Haridwar. This ghat, constructed by King Vikramaditya, is one of the most sacred spots to bathe in the Ganges. At 5:30 in the evening there was a solemn aarti (prayer ceremony) and hundreds of little boats made of leaves float down the river, carrying flowers and diyas and making the whole ceremony almost magical. We saw people bathe and absolve their sins and we saw people release their boats with a smile on their lips and hope in their hearts. Everyone wished for something and it is believed that all wishes are granted at this sacred spot.
We headed back to Rishikesh, to the ‘Ram Jhula’ another suspension bridge similar to the Lakshman Jhula and had our dinner at the Chotiwalah Restaurant, another very famous must do activity at Rishikesh. However, the food was ordinary. We returned to our rooms and slept peacefully.
Day 2 – Rajaji National Park, Lonely walks by the Ganges and the Ram Jhula
Breakfast at Somany Bhawan is at 8. It might have been later than we’d wanted it, but we were glad we stayed. We ate awesome gobi parathas and even more sinful Jalebis. My mouth still waters at the thought. We left after two helpings and proceeded to Rajaji National Park.
From Rishikesh, the road to the National Park winds its way by a man made canal and then literally across a tributary’s almost dry river bed and into the Chila entrance of the park. We really wished we had had a four wheel drive. The park is well protected and stretches for miles and miles. We rented a safari jeep and eagerly entered the park hoping to see some wild animals. The park is known for its elephants, deer, leopards and many species of birds. Our first spotting was a Langur along with a herd of deer. To see any animal in the wild is an experience that is unforgettable. We rode on for 35km and 3 hours, through forests, grasslands, mountains, streams and dirt tracks. We saw different deer, wild boars, peacocks, kites, leopard tracks and elephant droppings. We were unlucky not to spot the elephants or leopard though. Or maybe we were lucky given our worn down completely exposed jeep.
We left the park at 1 and proceeded back to Rishikesh, stopping at the Glass house on the Ganges, a tourist resort, for a break. They have a white sand, private beach by the river and it served as perfect spot to relax after our jungle ride. The Ganges is being promoted as a center for wild water sports and we could see many huts and camps on the banks. Shivpuri is the biggest center.
We went back to Rishikesh to the Ram Jhula and got great views of the temple town in the dusk. As the sun wore down, we saw the lights fade, the reflections get sharper and we knew this was a day well spent. We returned to the hotel, and lounged in our private ghat by the river and did nothing but stare at the stars as the gentle sounds of the River Ganga filled the air.
Day 3 – Kunjapuri Devi temple, Mansa Devi temple, return to Gurgaon
Sunday morning, and we were up at the crack of dawn. We had read about the Kunjapuri temple, nestled high in the hills, and offering great views of the Himalayas including the peaks of Banderpunch (6316 Mts), Swarga Rohini (6252 Mts), Gangotri (6672 mts), and Chaukhamba (7138 mts).
We left the hotel at 6:30am and proceeded towards the temple. It is approximately 35 kilometers from Rishikesh, past the famed ‘Ananda – in the Himalayas’, voted as the world’s best spa. Driving on a narrow mountain road and the crisp early morning air gave us the chills but once we reached the temple, our goosebumps of fear turned to goosebumps of awe. We had to climb 100 odd steep steps to reach the top but the view was magnificent. The white snow capped peaks were breathtaking and the small temple atmosphere was extremely calming. We took our photos, offered our prayers and drank our chai from the local chai wallah and continued back to our hotel.
Along the way, we stopped at Ananda, to see if it was really all that it was supposed to be. It was more. A beautiful haveli, high in the Himalayas, with views of folding mountains, a calm pond feeding a fast water stream, a 6 hole golf course, and the world’s best spa treatments, make this retreat, worth an exorbitant 300$ a night minimum, worth every penny. We saw people meditating and practicing yoga in the quietest of places and we knew one day when we could afford it, we would be back.
We made an half hour stop back at the hotel and proceeded to Haridwar. Having visited the aarti at Har-Ki-pauri earlier in our trip we decided to make a cable car ride up to the top of the Bilwa Parwat hill home to the Mansa Devi temple. From here we could see panoramic views of Haridwar and the Ganges. The three-headed Goddess herself had a very powerful aura about her. The temple however is too commercialized with the priests pointing to their pile of money more often than to the idols.
We left Haridwar at 1:30pm, hoping to exit out of the state of Uttar Pradesh before dark and we were glad we did. The traffic on the UP highway is nothing short of a mass movement of people, animals and sugar cane. This part of UP being the sugar cane belt of india, we did make a stop to purchase some good ‘gud’ or ‘vellam’ or, in English, jaggery.
We saw how gud is manufactured and after a lesson or two in sugarcane processing, we returned to Delhi. It took us almost 2 hours inside the city to reach our home in Gurgaon, and as always we were glad to rest our feet on our own sweet bed. We did rate the trip on a scale of one to ten and all four of us managed to reach a consensus of 7 to 7.5. In all, another great trip.