Rishikesh

Rishikesh wasn’t on our to-do-list initially. The destructive flooding in Uttarkhand state in the month or so before we left New Zealand was a deterrent, and we assumed it was going to be an entirely tourist town because of it being a yoga hub. I’m so glad we changed our minds. It was a bit of a toss up between Shimla and Rishikesh when we were planning our next move from Manali. And in fact, it was the higher prices of accommodation in Shimla that lead to our decision to come to Rishikesh. 

There are the regular tourist shops, all selling the same garments, jewellery, crystals and collectables. And there is a row of tourist cafes, all selling the same international menus, though strictly vegetarian and no alcohol (on the menus anyway). And yet, despite this familiar travellers fare, Rishikesh has not been consumed by it, and the city has an energy that the other places we’ve visited have not.

The sadhus, the pilgrims, the songs that reverberate into the streets from the temples, the sunset puja and of course, the river - the fast paced, powerful and yet seductive Mother Ganga. The river that captivated us, like so many others, and pulled us in with her life and spirit. 

Rishikesh is centered on this holy body of water, and people are drawn here for the spiritual practices and lifestyle that the mother goddess has engendered. There is a yoga studio and/or ashram every couple of buildings, and the sadhus line the road between the two major bridges, Laxman and Ram Jhula(s).

The monsoon meant the air has been thick, as the clouds hang heavily on the mountains. But the rain brings such a calm, and the evening breeze that comes down the river brings such good air.

 

Photos by Ben Journee

The Ganges just before sunset

The Ganges just before sunset

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Laxman Jhula bridge 

Laxman Jhula bridge 

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Mikayla made a friend at the ghats

Mikayla made a friend at the ghats

A woman with her prayer book on the ghats

A woman with her prayer book on the ghats

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Krishna Cafe, over looking the Ganges - a typical evening in Rishikesh

Krishna Cafe, over looking the Ganges - a typical evening in Rishikesh

The four main cafes, which all overlook the Ganga

The four main cafes, which all overlook the Ganga

A man meditates in the evening by the river

A man meditates in the evening by the river

Images from our 6 hour walk through rural Rishikesh, crossing through bush, rice paddies and waterfalls. It was a beautiful time spent in the Himalayan foothills.

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Moshmi (large, sweet lime)

Moshmi (large, sweet lime)

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Walking around the totally abandoned ashram where the Beatles spent time in 1968 was like walking through time. The forest is claiming back the impressive and beautifully detailed structures of the ashram.

There are enormous meditation domes with incredible acoustics, overgrown paths and living spaces, and an impressive collection of images and words in the Beatles Cathedral Gallery. These walls are evidence of a community of visitors, both passers by and sincere seekers of life’s meaning, who have left their marks and thoughts in pens and paint, and filled the deserted environment with a sense of spirit. 

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In sanskrit, the word aarti means complete love, and thus the Ganga Aarti is the expression of devotion towards God in the form of puja, or religious worship. More specifically, the ritual involves circulating an ‘aarti lamp’ around a person (or deity, depending on the version), and in an act of purification or blessing, one’s down-turned hands are held over the flames of the lamp before pressing the transferred heat and energy to one’s forehead.

The Aarti is accompanied with songs of praise each evening with the setting of the sun, on the edge of the Ganga, and worshippers face, what was once, the massive statue of Shiva. During the destructive floods in June this year, the goddess Ganga took Shiva back, and so all that remains is the massive plinth that once supported the deity figure.

The Ganga Aarti signs off each day with an sense of community, giving thanks and liberation, with the waters of Mother Ganga feeding people’s hearts and souls with a divine energy.

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On the ghats at Parmath Niketan ashram, awaiting the start of the Aarti

On the ghats at Parmath Niketan ashram, awaiting the start of the Aarti

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Aarti lamp

Aarti lamp

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Mother and daughter drinking the purifying waters of the Ganga

Mother and daughter drinking the purifying waters of the Ganga

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