Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat
Rajaji National Park houses several rare species of flora and fauna, including the likes of Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, etc
Lakshman Jhoola, a suspension bridge across the River Ganga
Little Buddha Café for its delicious Navratan Korma and Malai Kofta
“The Beatles” visited Rishikesh in February 1968, where they composed approximately 48 songs, one of which was the Happy Rishikesh Song
Wall paintings, wooden furniture and colourful beads and trinkets
It was yet another lazy Friday afternoon at work. Most of my colleagues had already abandoned all pretence of being occupied to excitedly share weekend plans. Since my weekend involved being propped on the bed watching Breaking Bad reruns and basically being dead to the world at large, I didn’t join in the discussions. “Another mind-numbing weekend awaits,” I sighed.
Ten hours later, a rickety bus grinded to a halt at the bus stand, bringing a sleep-deprived me to Rishikesh.
What happened in between is of no consequence. Boredom breeds arbitrary desires. Sometimes you end up acting on them.
It’s what happened next that was worth recording.
3.00 AM: Touch down at Rishikesh bus stand. Gulp down a glass of chai, mostly to keep hands from entering hypothermic state.This was mid-November, didn’t I mention?
3.15 AM: Take a treacherous Vikram (like an autorickshaw, only bigger and louder) to Tapovan, an area about seven kilometres above the main town.
Where not to stay: I wouldn’t recommend staying in the main town, unless waking up to the cacophony of bus horns, temple bells and vendors yelling “Cheez Bargar le lo!” is your idea of finding inner peace. Head up to Tapovan, beyond the Ram and Lakshman Jhoolas. It’s greener, hillier and quieter.
3.30 AM: Reach Om Blessed Cottages, a familiar lodge in Tapovan. The management (?) is closeted within the tiny reception, sleeping peacefully.
3.31 AM: Pause to consider options. Then commence Operation Relentless-Door-Banging.
3.34 AM: Squint-eyed, yawning and visibly-annoyed man lets me inside my room. Telling me to settle the rent at a respectable hour in the morning and cursing me, tourists in general, and neighbour’s dog for no particular reason, he leaves. Time to pass out.
Backpacker-friendly: First-timers to Rishikesh can find decent lodgings anywhere around Rs. 800-1000 a night. Establish a rapport with the owner/receptionist and smile as the price goes down to Rs.500 the next time you arrive. Also, Tapovan is extremely backpacker-friendly. I’ve stayed in rooms costing Rs.150 per night. Go figure.
7.30 AM: Wake up extremely early by my standards. Decide to try a little yoga. Decide to start with the padmasana. Funny optical illusions: legs don’t seem to want to cooperate with each other. Decide I’m quite comfortable with my rigid, inflexible body structure. Decide to order a cold coffee and watch nearby white folks doing yoga instead.
If you wake up early: Most of Rishikesh doesn’t open shop till 10 AM. To bide your time, take a walk down towards Lakshman Jhoola or spend a few hours with civilization if you’ve brought your laptop with you.
10.00 AM: We’re in business. Time to arrange for the two items on to-do list – a) rent a motorbike, b) rafting. A short walk down the Badrinath road should sort me out.
For Budget Adventure: Your hotel staff will probably offer to arrange adventure activities and bike rentals for you. But if you want cheaper prices, I suggest taking a quick walk down the Badrinath road. There are plenty of adventure shops offering trekking, rafting, kayaking and bungee-jumping. They’ll even arrange bike rentals for you.
10.30 AM: Rafting begins in half an hour. Now for a set of wheels.
Get on that bike: If you want the best of what Rishikesh has to offer, hunt for garages that are solely engaged in bike rentals. Better still, make friends with the Israelis – they’re usually up-to-speed on where to head for bikes.
Now, let’s talk prices. Last I checked (2012), a Scooty cost Rs.300, a Pulsar cost Rs.500 and an Avenger would set you back about Rs. 600. The McDaddy of cruising, the Royal Enfield sits on a cool Rs. 800 per night price tag. But obviously.
11.00 AM: Sitting in a car currently winding its way to Shivpuri, the launch site for river rafting. Got a nice mix of companions – an Irish lady, a German lady, a French couple and a young, bearded Israeli fellow who seems mildly bored at the prospect of battling with the Ganga river.
Rafting Lengths: There are basically three rafting lengths – 16 kilometres, 24 kilometres and 30 kilometres. There may be extended periods where you’re padding furiously, so do not opt for the longer lengths if you feel it’s too strenuous.
11.30 AM: Rafting begins.
3.00 PM: Rafting ends.
Rafting Tips: No, I won’t describe how it went. There are plenty of articles on the web waxing eloquent on the Rishikesh rafting experience so I suggest you read those. What I’d like to do is to share a few pointers instead:
Do make sure you get the right fit for a life jacket and not one that is strapped tighter than a Victorian corset.
Do pay attention to the instructor’s introductory guidelines.
Do paddle in sync with the person sitting beside you.
Do listen to instructor’s commands at all times.
If it is a milder rapid, do ask instructor if you can ‘ride the rapids’. That is, getting off the raft and plunging into the rapids while holding the raft rope. Or, for the daredevils among you, riding the rapids on your own, with no raft rope for support (It’s awesome, trust me).
Do try the cliff jump, at least once.
Do not hesitate on top of the cliff while doing the jump. You’ll be pushed (seriously).
Do not ask the instructor if you can click a photo of the approaching rapid. You’ll probably end up losing your phone/camera. Along with your dignity.
Do not change your mind about rafting midway. That’s just not cool.
3.30 PM: Venture towards the other side of Lakshman Jhoola to find a nice café for lunch. The crowded market street is filled with shops selling trinkets, amulets and ‘spiritual materials’. Plenty of yoga ashrams as well. I park my bike outside a little alley and head towards the ghats in search of a café.
Café Culture: The café culture in Rishikesh is still going strong. Some of the popular ones include Little Buddha Café, Ganga Street View Café and Chillout Café. They generally serve an all-vegetarian fare and their tropical drinks are a must-try.
5.00 PM: The evening aarti is almost about to begin. Head to the Triveni Ghat to attend it. The place is full of aarti attendees, wandering sadhus and tourists doing very obviously touristy things like getting themselves clicked with aforementioned sadhus or in front of the enormous Shiva statue (this was before the floods hit).
6.00 PM: The Ganga is set alight as hundreds of diyas commence their long journey down the waters, accompanied by hymns and chants. Hundreds converge along the ghats to witness the spectacle. Several devotees – some with little children on their shoulders – wade into the waters to perform ablutions. Religious or not, the evening aarti is quite a stirring experience.
7.30 PM: Head back to the lodge. A bunch of Danish backpackers have laid a spread in the garden and are singing Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb to the strumming of a guitar. The night looks promising already.
8.30 PM: Grab the bike keys and set off.
Cruise Along: There’s a reason why you must rent a bike if you have the budget. The winding road from Tapovan to Shivpuri makes for excellent nighttime cruising. Definitely an experience to remember.
10.00 PM: It’s been a long and tiring day. Have a light dinner, thank Rishikesh for all the memories and crash.
That's 24 hours in Rishikesh for you. Tomorrow’s another day.
Note: Dehradun is the closest airport to Rishikesh