After being in Delhi since February we were keen to go somewhere less busy and chaotic, and preferably with more nature. We were also very curious about visiting the Ganges river with its many rituals and spiritual people, so we therefore decided to go north to Haridwar and Rishikesh, where the Himalayas begin.
We boarded the train at Ghaziabad on a Thursday morning around 6.30am. The view from the train window was again different than on our other journeys: it was very green and we saw many fields with sugar canes and yellow-gold wheat which was being harvested in the early morning.
After 6.5 hours we arrived in Haridwar. Our first impression was that this city was not too big, relatively busy, but also colourful! Like Varanasi, Haridwar is one of the bigger pilgrimage destinations for Hindu’s, who come here to worship the holy Ganges river. After checking into our hotel and having a bit of rest, we went out to explore the city. We were – of course – most curious about the Ganges river! The Ganges is considered as the Divine Mother of India. It is believed that the water washes your sins away when you take a dip there, and that when the ashes of a deceased relative are offered to the Ganges this person gets ‘Moksha’, which means liberation of the cycle of death and rebirth.
In Haridwar the river has been split and a canal has been made where big ‘ghats’ (stairs leading to the river) are created where people can take their bath and perform rituals. We walked along the ‘boulevard’ of ghats and the atmosphere was very nice! Along these ghats many families and Sadhu’s were relaxing, taking a nap, or cooking food. In most touristic places people approach us often because we are foreigners, but probably because this city is not dependent on foreign tourists but on local tourists instead, this did not happen. There was only one man who approached us and asked if we wanted to buy marihuana – no thanks 😉
Every morning and evening a ‘Ganga Aarti’ is organized at Har-Ki-Pauri, whereby the Goddess Ganga is being worshipped. We went early, as we knew it would be busy (approximately 3.000-30.000 people attend this Aarti every day!) and we wanted to have a good seat. There were indeed thousands of people (though not 30,000 thankfully) and we were glad to have found the perfect spot. It was a very impressive ritual to be part of, whereby thousands of people were singing Sanskrit chants for almost an hour, and performing rituals like praying, smoking incense, bathing, and lightning and offering candles and flowers. In the end the fires were lit and for another 15 minutes the people were chanting and clapping, while the fires lit their faces in the dark. Even though Hinduism is a difficult religion to understand as an outsider, it was very special to attend this ritual and see the devotion and the sense of harmony among all these people.
The next day we headed towards Rishikesh. Our hotel arranged a taxi, who picked us up around noon. The drive was interesting. Apparently, the main road towards Rishikesh had turned into one big traffic jam, as many people wanted to visit Rishikesh for the weekend (it was Easter weekend). Therefore, we took the ‘bush’ road, which leads through Rajaji national park. We drove through the hills, whereby the driver had to be careful for the dozens of put holes and other cars who suddenly appeared on high speed from around the corner. We also drove through an empty riverbed of the Ganges (the monsoon starts in July, so nowadays the rivers are relatively dry), and we passed many monkeys which our taxi driver fed a hands full of biscuits from the car window.
After 1.5 hour, we arrived at our hotel in Rishikesh (or Tapovan to be precise), which was a very nice oasis in this small but busy town. Our room was on the top floor and we had a lovely view on the mountains! In the afternoon we explored the town a little bit. Tapovan is relatively small, but busy town. It is the place to practice yoga and meditation, take yoga (teacher) courses, and go rafting. Especially rafting is big business here, as every day more than 1,000 rafting boats go down the Ganges river! We did not go rafting, but sat down along the Ganges, with our feet in the cold water, and just enjoyed the view and our surroundings.
The next morning started with a yoga class. We never practiced yoga before, but we thought now that we are here – in a place which some even call the yoga capital of the world – we had to give it a try! And we liked it! The yoga class took place on the rooftop of our hotel, with our faces towards the sun, singing birds around us, and with a beautiful view on the mountains around us. The class was tough (especially since we didn’t exercise in the last couple of months) but relaxing at the same time.
During breakfast we were invited by two ladies to join them to a waterfall nearby. Even though it was busy over there, it was nice to visit. It is possible to climb all the way up the mountain, however due to the heat we didn’t do that but instead took a break somewhere halfway to cool down with our feet in the cold water.
In the afternoon we wandered around town, had nice food, and visited a small and quiet beach. From there we watched the hundreds of rafting boats passing by, whereby all Indians in these boats stopped rowing and stare at the beach where several other foreign people were swimming in their bathing suit. That’s something Indians are not used to, and they gazed at them like they saw something from another planet.
The following morning we got up at 4AM, because we had arranged a taxi for 4.30 who would bring us to the Kunjapur Devi Temple. This temple is located in the mountains and we planned to watch the sunrise there and walk back down to Rishikesh. Unfortunately, our driver didn’t show up, and after waiting for him for more than 30 minutes we decided to go back to bed. The hotel owner found out later in the morning that the driver overslept, and he arranged another taxi for us for the following morning.
After breakfast we decided to cross the bridge over the Ganges and walk towards Rishikesh. We found a small road which was relatively quiet as cars could not come there. We made a stop at a lovely beach, to cool down and watch some people swim in the water (swimming is officially not allowed here, because of the strong current). When we arrived at the centre of Rishikesh it became busy though, so after a drink with a beautiful view on the river, we headed back to Tapovan.
Unfortunately, in the evening Heleen became ill. So ill, that we had to cancel the sunrise trip that we planned for the next morning. Instead, Stephan took his second yoga class that morning (addict!), and around noon we headed back to Haridwar as we had to go back to Delhi!
We have visited several busy and touristic cities in India, among which Rishikesh can be counted as well, but the place nevertheless felt very relaxed! We met a lot of friendly and open people who invited us to join them and vice versa, and we very much enjoyed walking along the beautiful Ganges. We had a nice weekend at Rishikesh, and we would have loved to stay longer!
Where to stay in Haridwar?
In Haridwar we stayed at Hotel Krishna Ji, which was very clean and had a good bed! It is centrally located, in between the train station and the Ganges.
Where to stay in Rishikesh?
In Rishikesh we stayed at hotel Seventh-Heaven Inn. It is one of the best places where we have stayed in India. The owners and staff are very friendly and caring, and they cooked good food! The room was big, clean, and had a great view. Very much recommended!