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The International Writers Magazine: India Travel

The Gateway to the Himalaya
Chandan Pathak
To the outside people, this place is known as the land of gods, the world capital of yoga and the gateway to the Himalaya. Located in the foot hills of the Himalaya, this holy city was internationally made famous by The Beatles back in late sixties.


The name “Rishikesh” conjures the image of yogis and saints sitting in deep meditation in quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Rishikesh has got its name from the God Vishnu, who appeared as Lord Rishikesh to Rabhya rishi after his austerities. It is also believed that Lord Rama did penance here on the advice of Sage Vashishtha to kill the demon king Ravana.

Deep in my heart, I have been long nourishing a dream of exploring the Himlayan region and it beauty all the way up to Tapovan which is above Gangotri and Gomukh. I put my first step towards fulfilling the dream by reaching Rishkesh on 15th January afternoon I arrived in this beautiful and scenic town after attending the Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.. Getting down from the bus, then travelling by auto and arrived near the famous Laxman Jhula. Ram’s younger brother Laxman crossed the Ganga river using a jute rope bridge and hence the name Laxman Jhula. The jute-rope bridge was replaced by iron-rope suspension bridge in 1889 which got washed away in the 1924 floods. Then it was replaced by the stronger present bridge.

As I put my foot on the Laxman Jhua, I was wonder struck by the serene beauty of the surrounding and very refreshing cool breeze. As I walked towards the other end, the rhythmic ringing of hundreds of temple bells resonated with the beatings of my heart. The majestic Ganga was flowing gently far down below the bridge. I thanked God for finally making it to such a peaceful place away from the madness of big cities.

Baboons Vashishta Gufa (cave):
My first destination after checking in a small hotel, was Vashishta guha or cave which was about 22 km away from Rishikesh. This is a place huddled in the middle of high range hills all around with mother Ganga flowing to the right of the cave.

There was complete silence interspersed by the small sound of leaves dropping on the ground or the sound of birds. Mythology says the great sage Vashishta did penance here 3,000 years ago. The compound has a temple, small accommodation for the ashram occupants and the cave. The entrance of the cave does not give any hint of what is there inside. So I casually entered through the door and the moment I closed it behind me, I was completely engulfed by darkness not able to see anything around. This sustained for about one minute during which I could feel the presence of some other people inside. As my eyes got adjusted slowly, I started seeing things around. The cave was about 20 ft long, 10 ft wide at the entrance but slowly tapering down and the height was about 7 ft. In other words, this was a huge cave. At the furthest end of the cave, there was a Shiv-ling with an oil lamp nearby. I read in the internet that the cave that stretched quite a way inside the mountain was walled off at this point. Apparently, sages from the remote and higher parts of the Himalaya come down in their astral bodies to that part of the cave for meditation. I sat inside for almost one hour in meditative position enjoying the complete pin drop silence that had prevailed inside. My peace was only disturbed time to time by the snoring of a gentleman sitting next to me. Looked like while meditating he got so much relaxed that he went into slumber.

Coming out of the cave, I walked up to the Ganga river flowing gorgeously just 30-40 steps away. Looking all around, I marveled at the stunning beauty of God’s creation. I took a deep breath and felt the freshness all the way to my heart. One desire that I need to fulfill in the next visit is to meet with the caretaker of the premise sage Chaitanyaji who has been living this premise for last 50 years.

Solitude By The Ganga in Shivpuri
Shivpuri is popularly known as the place with beach camp and white water rafting. This place is located half the way between Rishikesh and Vashishta cave. While returning back from the cave, I made a halt here not for rafting but to spend sometime by the bank of Ganga and to make little acquaintance with her.

I ended up spending two hours all alone, sitting on a smooth rock with water flowing all around. On the other side, the monkeys were doing all sort of funny things jumping from tree to tree and then taking a break to come down to the river to drink refreshing cold water. There were some colorful birds busy searching for food. I talked to myself, talked to the birds, to the gurgling water, gesticulated at the monkeys on the other side. I told the hills to bring me to them again and again. There is some strong connection between me and the Himalayas that I can not explain. Given a chance, I would love to spend the rest of my life living a simple but peaceful life on the lap of the majestic mountain range, drinking the nectar of the natural beauty created by the Almighty!

Ganga Aarti:
One thing I noticed during this trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh was that mother Ganga has a special place in the heart of all the people from this region. While travelling by jeep, I heard the granny sitting behind telling stories of Ganga maiya from Mahabharata to her little grand child who was listening intently and urging his granny to tell more.

In Rishikesh, Ganga aarti is a daily evening ritual performed at the bank of Ganga in front of the stunningly beautiful Shiva statue near Parmarth Niketan Ashram which is close to Ram Jhula.

The walk from my hotel near Laxman Jhula to this place is through two rows of ashrams and yoga centres set up in the serene, green and quiet surrounding in between the hills on one side and mother Ganga on the other side. Beautiful birds, big langurs are abundant in this area. I was tempted to click a big langur’s photo but restrained myself for the fear of my camera getting snatched away by it.

The aarti performed and its impact can not be written in words. One has to experience it to feel what is does. The spiritual environment created by this clubbed with positive energy emitted by the devotees, the peaceful surrounding created magical effect on my mind. I felt like being there, be a part of the proceedings for eternity. I did not want the aarti to be over at all. I was also amazed at the participation of foreign tourists during this prayer session. Being from different faith did not deter these lovely people and they joined in whole heartedly either in singing the prayers, clapping with hands or capturing the moments in their camera or videos.
After the busy but highly satisfying day, I fell on the bed dead tired after dinner. The night was very cold with temperature hovering around 4 deg C. Two blankets provided by the hotel was not enough to protect myself and I woke up many times during the night. Being a small town, everything had shut down by 10pm but in the middle of the night I heard the rhythmic sound of the hooves of galloping horses repeatedly. Next day when I inquired at the reception, I was told that these were police forces providing extra patrolling in the night as special security measure for ongoing Kumbh mela in Haridwar. How tough must have been for these policemen on duty to brave the extreme cold of the night whereas even with two blankets I was complaining inside the comfort of the hotel room!!

Neel Kanth Mahadev Temple:
Neel Kanth Mahadev Temple is a very famous temple situated at around 1,275 meters altitude and is about 20 km uphill journey from Rishikesh. I left for this temple at 8:30 in the morning in an open jeep along with fellow passengers a small family from a nearby village. In biting cold, travelling in this open jeep was challenging for me but it was fun also. After so many years I sat in a vehicle with one leg kept on the foot board outside the vehicle.

Neel Kanth Mahadev temple is one of the most important temples around Rishikesh. According to the mythology, after the great "Sagar Manthan", the churning of the sea by Gods and demons to receive the treasures hidden underwater, Lord Shiva drank all the oozing venom which came out and apparently the act was performed at this place. The poison turned his throat blue, hence the name Neel Kanth. Talking to a priest, he said that reference of this temple can be found in one of the Puranas also which made me marvel at some of the truths that mythology carries along with time. When we ponder about various mythologies worldwide, we come across that in many cases such mythological incidents are proven to have occurred or existed. Perhaps this story is also true, who know?

While returning back we were surrounded by the money brigade at one place when the jeep stopped, demanding for food. What I noticed about them is, they would position themselves strategically in some particular spots where from it is easy for them to either snatch things or perhaps these are the spots where tourists invariably feed them with eatables. The entire journey as usual, was scenic and I stopped the jeep at number of places, to the irritation of the fellow passengers to click photos.

Kunjapuri Temple:
Kunjapuri temple is another famous temple in Rishikesh and is one of the 52 shakti peeth. This is where one of the body part of Sati mata was cut by lord Vishnu with his Sudarsan chakra while her dead body was being carried by angry Shiva all over the country. About 35 km away and uphill from Rishikesh, the journey was fantastic through some very high quality roads built by BRO. At 1676 m altitude the car stops and there were steps to climb to reach the temple. For some reason I decided to counts the steps from the start. Little did I realize what lied ahead, I kept on climbing and counting the steps stopping for breath in between but I did not seem to reach the end yet. Finally it got over after climbing 293 steps which was a very tough challenge for me considering that I have back pain and little knee pain as well.

One thing interesting I found in the temple was, the priests were old ladies which I did not find in any other temple that I had visited in the past. After the prayer and darshan, I began to gulp down what I had mainly come for and had been patiently waiting for, till the darsan was over. It was the stunning panoramic beauty of the Himalayan range in all directions, simply breath taking! The blanket of fog spread over the entire range, with the peaks peeping out here and there was just so heavenly! Sitting there for almost two hours, I immersed myself in this surrounding. I developed a strong desire to spend the night there, perhaps sharing the room of the cook or so. I thought how clear the sky will be at night, millions of bright stars would be winking at me, there will falling stars giving me the opportunity to spell my wishes for fulfillment. But the sad part was, it was my last day in Rishikesh and in the evening I had to return to New Delhi.

Rish India, our mother land is so beautiful, colorful and rich-cultured, I feel one life time is too short to experience all these. Rishikesh is now ticked off, there are many other places to go but at one corner of my heart I feel I need to revisit the place again. 

The land of gods or the gateway to the Himalayas has some special affection and attraction for tourists from all over the world. This is what the Australian tourist told me who I met, explaining the reason for his 3rd visit to Rishikesh!!
© Chandan Pathak March 2010
Mumbai, India
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