Sunday, April 1, 2018

Enticing Chopta

Enticing Chopta

Panoramic view of Chopta - the so called mini Switzerland 
         After having rested for the night at Syalsaur, I got up early in the morning and was rewarded with a scintillating view of the Kedarnath peaks lit up in the morning sun.  I wandered around a bit, trudging up to the main stream of Mandakini River and saw some fishermen, who had placed nets across the stream at a few places, go waist down in the icy cold water to collect their catch, really some hard work indeed.   After returning back to the TRH and having had a hot cup of tea, I retired back to my room to have a bath, before embarking upon the days scheduled trip to the famed Chopta village.
Glorious view of Kedarnath peaks from Syalsaur early in the morning
Having had a heavy B’fast, as we did not expect to find many eateries on the way, we commenced our journey for Chopta at around 10.00 A.M.  The sky was a clear blue and the sun had made its grand appearance for the day, slowly warming up the environ that was still laden with the cold ground frost permeated air.  We traversed a distance of 14 Kms. along the Mandakini River upto Kund, wherefrom the road crosses over the Mandakini River and heads towards Kedarnath and the other one heads straight on uphill towards Ukhimath.  We traversed on an uphill drive for another 5 Kms. before we reached Ukhimath, which is the famous temple town housing the Kedarnath deity during the winter months and I will describe in detail in the ensuing blog.  We had to travel another 29 Kms. from Ukhimath before we could reach the destination for the day i.e. Chopta.

The signpost near Ukhimath
A deep gorge with a village home perched precariously on way to Chopta
Flock of sheep being herded along the road to Chopta
         From Ukhimath, instead of heading towards the main township, one continues along the main road and crosses small villages en-route namely Karokhi, Mastura, Dihara and Dhankund before one reaches Makku bend, wherefrom one roads heads for Makkumath.  Thereafter, the road gets steeper and more curvaceous and you traverse through some virgin Oak & Rhododendron forests and as you start nearing Chopta, a multitude of sign posts crop up showing presence of resorts etc., until you reach Dugalbitta that has a small hotel and some campsites strewn across and thereafter, one crosses Baniakund before finally reaching Chopta.  Being winter, snowfall had taken place in the region a few days earlier, hence some parts of the road was still covered in ice and there was snow along the sidewalks of the road.  The journey to Chopta appeared to be more tantalizing now.
Going past Baniakun en-route Chopta
As I have described that it was pleasantly warm when we had started our journey in the morning and there was a lot to rumbling & grumbling, when I had instructed the family members to don proper winter clothes that we were carrying.  However, no sooner we had alighted from the Car that a strong gust of icy cold winds hit us with gale force.  Some of us, who were still skeptical about donning the winter clothes, quickly dived back into the Car and piled on the jackets and caps et al.  Chopta is a small nondescript little village that is dotted with a number of eating joints, to ensure some grub for the ever hungry tourists, albeit everything is sold at much above the marked price.  Still it is a luxury to get the goods made available in these hostile environs by the local traders.
Panoramic view from Chopta village
Panoramic view of Chopta - towards Tungnath - from Chopta village
The starting point of trek towards Tungnath from Chopta
       As we had a sumptuous B’fast before commencing with the journey, we started our climb towards Tungnath immediately.  One has to pay a fee of Rs.150/- per person for entry, as this entire place comes under the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and this fee is collected by the forest department.  However, if you are a student and carrying a valid ID, there is a fifty percent discount.  Having procured the tickets, we started trudging towards our next target i.e. Tungnath temple.  Tungnath is the highest Shiva Temple in the world (3680m) and is one among the Paanch Kedar Shrines. It is believed to be more than 1000 years old. The temple is closed during the winters and the deity is shifted to Mukku village. Tungnath temple opens its doors to pilgrims in the summer around the end of April and shuts down in November in winter.  As per the mythology, Lord Shiva had taken the form of a bull in order to avoid the Pandavas, who were seeking his blessings for their sin of having killed their own kin.  However, Bhima spotted him and Lord Shiva in bull form went into the ground to escape the Pandavas, but Bhima caught hold of its tail so that it could not escape. Several parts of the bull then cropped out of the ground at five spots and accordingly the Panch Kedars were formed. Kedarnath temple is dedicated to the hump of Lord Shiva and is the most famous Paanch Kedar shrine. The other Paanch Kedar shrines are at - Tungnath, Madyamaheshwar, Rudranath, and Kalpeshwar.  At Tungnath temple, Lord Shiva’s arms are worshipped.

The trudge towards Tungnath begins in the right earnest
Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath
Sign of life on a dead looking tree - a single flower
Due to the snow and extreme cold conditions, the snowfall that had occurred a few days earlier had failed to melt away, instead a thick coat of black ice now covered the road at many points and was quite treacherous.  We trudged along cautiously, stopping over here and there to catch our breaths, in the rarified air.  After trudging for about two hours or so, we reached a point where there was a meadow, with a small makeshift house cum tea stall, but due to snow it was closed.  We frolicked in the snow and enjoyed some quality time, trying to rejuvenate our slackening energy levels for further climb upwards.  However, I suddenly spotted ominous looking cloud tantalizing closing over the nearby peak and in no time at all the entire valley started to be enveloped by it.  As such the road was treacherous at many parts because of the black ice and even a slight drizzle would have rendered it unusable and could have resulted in really nasty fall and consequent damage to limbs.  So with a sense of despair, I decided to trudge back, better be safe than never and bid adieu to Tungnath with a small resolve of returning back in near future.  But a word of caution, Chopta is fast becoming a commercial destination and there were hordes of visitors, creating a cacophony of noises, shouting at top of their voices, this does not augur well for a designated ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’, therefore, the issuance of permits is required to be restricted and may be issued online for specific number of persons only and they should also be made to give an undertaking of good behavior, once inside the sanctuary or else in a few years it will lose its charm & charisma.  I could not spot a single exotic bird during the entire trek.

Snow covered slopes all across 
Fresh snow scattered all around - on way to Tungnath
Ominous clouds surrounding the peak en-route Tungnath
The clouds enveloping the entire valley - an ominous sign indeed
        However, for the readers I have made some research on the internet to gouge out some information about Tungnath, so that they do not have to refer to other blogs for information.  The trekking distance between Chopta to Tungnath is 4 kms and usually takes around 2 and a half hours to cover for a young personAround ten minutes before you reach Tungnath, there is a small detour to a peak called Ravanshila. It is said to be the place where the demon king Ravana meditated to please Lord Shiva.  The path to Chandrashila starts from Tungnath temple itself. It is clearly marked and cannot be missed. Distance of Chandrashila Peak Top from Tungnath is approx. 1.5 kms and even though it’s a steep climb, the distance can be easily covered in 1 hour. There is a small temple at Chandrashila and from the top one can savor grand 360 degree panoramic views of the Kumaon & Garhwal ranges.  According to a mythological legend, Chandrashila is the place where Lord Rama performed penance after killing Ravana, so as to absolve himself of the sin having killed a Bramhin.
My watch altimeter showing the altitutde at Chopta village
Photographing myself
As the sun sets - view of Guptkashi - across the valley
By the time we reached back down at Chopta about three & half-hour’ time had elapsed since we had started our ascent and we were a famished lot.  Cold winds had gathered speed and it was bone chilling, we ordered some hot cups of tea/coffee to one’s liking and we had some Maggi tossed in with eggs and fried in butter, but the driver, who too had trudged alongwith us, preferred a ‘thali’ i.e. a complete meal.  I placed my watch on the table and set up the altimeter, which showed that we were perched at an altitude of 2820 meters, the warmth of my hands showed the temperature at 25 degrees Celsius and time 3.38 P.M.   By the time we finished our meals, it was almost 4.00 P.M and the temperature had started plummeting and as we retraced our steps back to Syalsaur, I took a few photographs of valleys and Guptkashi, the sister town of Ukhimath perched just across the valley traversed by Mandakini River.  Thus, ended the day late in the evening, as we gorged in some more ‘pakoras’ (chickpea flour based fried food) and tea on returning back to Syalsaur.

Here is the link to a short video of the destination -

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Syalsaur – the non-existent village

Syalsaur – the non-existent village
(A photo blog)
As the morning sun lights up the Kedarnath peaks - view from Syalsaur
After spending some quality time at Devprayag we headed toward the final destination of the day i.e. Syalsaur.  From Devprayag, the road runs along the right bank of the river Alaknanda for a distance of 29 km up to a small township Kirtinagar, which was founded by one of the former Maharajas of Tehri Garhwal named Kirti Shah. Here Alaknanda is crossed over on a bridge to its left bank and then after traversing a further distance of 6 km comes the town of Srinagar. The road from Devprayag to Srinagar is all level driving without much of climbs or downhill runs.  The road traverses through some small villages namely Bagwan, Maletha and Kirti Nagar.  After crossing Srinagar, which is also a significant and historically important seat of modern learning, associated with the Garhwal University established here by the British in late 1920’s, is still known to be a seat of learning, where NIIT and other modern teaching establishments flourish.  The township of Srinagar is also known for the holy temple dedicated to Goddess Dhari Devi.  The statue inside the temple is said to change its colour in the reflection during various phases of the day.  Despite protest by locals for not disturbing the temple, which was to be relocated from original position due to construction of dam downstream, the relocation was undertaken on 10th June, 2013 and within three days the devastation in form of unprecedented floods shook the entire region on 13th June, 2013 wherein thousands of human lives and livestock perished and caused irreparable loss to property.  The devastation that took place is still attributed by the local people to the wrath of Goddess Dhari Devi. 
As River Alaknanda meanders beyond Devprayag

Green terraced fields on the road side
Approaching Srinagar town
The River Alaknanda widens as we near Srinagar town
Traversing a further distance of 33 Kms. alongside the Alaknanda River, we reached Rudra prayag, which is another confluence on the holy Ganga River.  This confluence is that of Alaknanda River with Mandakini River flowing in from Kedarnath.  I will provide you all with a brief detail about this destination in one of my ensuing blogs, as due to paucity of time, we did not have a stop over here during our journey, so as to reach Syalsaur in time i.e. before the evening set in.  From Rudraprayag, the road again bifurcates, the road that runs along Alaknanda River heads towards Badrinath and the other one that crosses the Alaknanda River heads towards Kedarnath and this road runs along the mesmerizing Mandakini River.   Having gone past small, but well known townships of Tilwara and Agast Muni and after having traversed a distance of 28 Kms. from Rudraprayag we finally reached Syalsaur, which is actually a non-existent village, with only wilderness and a single house and a silk breeding center, parked in between the villages of Chandrapuri and Banswara of Rudraprayag district of the Uttarakhand State.  Having covered a distance of 165 odd kilometres during the entire day, that included a small stop over after Dev Prayag in a small home run café of sorts, where we had some really nice noodles & Coffee, we reached Syalsaur late in the afternoon and as the lunch hour was over, we ordered some pakodas etc. being famished and tired.  Being the only occupants of the TRH, the entire staff was ready to receive and provide for us and we enjoyed our grand stay.
The gate leading upto Dhari Devi temple near Srinagar
Distant view of Dhari Devi temple 
Headed towards Rudraprayag
Going past Tilwara
Going past Agast Muni
Reached Syalsaur finally
This nondescript little destination i.e. Syalsaur, which houses the Tourist Rest House run by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (GMVN) is perched at an altitude of about 870 meters above mean sea lever (MSL) and provides for accommodation in bamboo cottages that are speckled alongside the pristine Mandakini River, with its turquoise water spluttering on the rocks and the distant Kedarnath peaks looming over the valley.  It is a very beautiful location, calmness and serenity personified and for the tormented souls, to spend a few days in bliss, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Pilgrims to Kedarnath can stay here, the holy place is about 55 km from Syalsaur.  Being a virgin destination, Syalsaur itself was home to about thirteen odd hotels, constructed in a row facing the serene Mandakini River.   All of them, including the GMVN run one, were destroyed during the ravaging floods of 2013 and I have garnered some photographs from the internet showing the location of the GMVN run TRH then and you can compare the same with my present video.  The only hotel that withstood the ravage and remained standing was built away from the river. 
The Kedarnath peaks - early morning view from Syalsaur
Photo sourced from internet to show the pre-2013 position of TRH at Syalsaur
Photo (2) sourced from internet to show the pre-2013 position of TRH at Syalsaur
Here is the link to the video for the destination

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Divinity of Devprayag

Divinity of Devprayag

Dev prayag - close up of Alaknanda & Bhagirati confluence - where from holy River Ganga flows
             Having enjoyed the serene Ganga aarti on the banks of the holy River in Rishikesh the night before, we were all geared up for our day’s journey heading for our next destination i.e. Syalsaur, which was to remain our base camp of sort for exploring some destinations nearby.
Beyond Rishikesh - view of Ganga River valley - shot in 2001 (using Yaschica FX2000 SLR)
Beyond Rishikesh - view of Ganga River valley - shot in 2018 (using Nikon D5300 DSLR)
            We commenced with our journey at around 8.00 A.M in the morning after partaking our Breakfast.  The weather was clear and the winter sun was bright, its warmth was cushioning in the cold morning air.  The journey towards the destination runs along the holy River Ganga and its scenic beauty can mesmerize and rejuvenate any tormented soul.  Although the road requires some repairs, but apparently the tree cutting spree all along the road i.e. National Highway 58 indicates that it will be done alongwith the proposed widening, for construction of all-weather road in the region, for connecting the Chardham destinations.  I was traversing this road almost after ten long years and there has been a tremendous increase in building activity all along the road, but it still retains it old charm of being a picturesque valley.
Rafting in Ganga River 
Close up of  Ganga River 
             Devprayag is situated at a distance of 70 odd kilometres from Rishikesh and as I had instructed the driver to keep a steady pace, so that we could imbue the scenic fragrance of the hills, we expected to reach the destination in about two hours’ time.  Devprayag is a small town snuggled amidst three mountains, whose peaks are considered sacred, named Giddhanchal Parvat, Dashrathanchal Parvat, and Narsinghancal Parvat. Giddhanchal Parvat is on top of Raghunnath Ji temple. Narsinghanchal Parvat is in front of Giddhanchal Parvat and Dashrathanchal Parvat is on top right side of "Sangam".  Devprayag is one of the five prayags that dot the holy River Ganga and the first one while headings from the plains towards the mountains. Perched at an altitude of about 472 meters, Devprayag is a small but religiously significant township in the Tehri District of Uttarakhand. Devprayag, as the name suggests and literal translation would be ‘God’s confluence’, is the site of the confluence of the two rivers - Bhagirathi and Alakananda and from thence it flows out of as the sacred river Ganga.  The Alaknanda flows from the left, and is an eye-catching shade of light blue or a powder blue from Badrinath side; whereas the Bhagirathi is of a light shade of green that flows in from Gangotri. However, the colours change with the change of weather and the colours seem to alternate. 
Meandering in the upper reaches - Ganga River 
Panoramic view of the Ganga River valley
           Devprayag is also otherwise a significant township, as all the pandas of Sri Badrinath temple hail from this town.  Most of the pandas are Bramhins and are scholars in Vedic scriptures.  Their knowledge of Sanskrit comes as a family inheritance from times immemorial. A local pandit called Sri Chakradhar Joshi had established an elaborate observatory known as Vidya Mandir. This institute is considered to be the seat for astronomical and astrological learning in this area. The observatory has a library with a collection of large number of ancient texts and books and hand written manuscripts dealing with subjects of ancient learnings.   This observatory is open to visitors during particular timings during the day, but is at end of a steep climb upwards and hence not for the faint hearted souls.  Devprayag is 47 Kms from Pauri, 74 Kms from Rishikesh, 80 Kms from New Tehri, 93 Kms from Haridwar, 112 Kms from Dehradun, 150 Kms from Kotdwara, 230 Kms from Ranikhet, 303 Kms from Nainital,322 Kms from Kathgodam
A village perched atop a hill side 
Devprayag finds mention in mythological texts also and according to the Ramayana, Lord Rama and King Dasharatha did penance at Devpraryag, to relieve themselves of their sins of Brahmahatya. It is also believed that the Pandavas also performed ablutions at Devprayag before visiting Badrinath to attain salvation, during their journey towards heaver through Swargarohini valley.  The religious significance of Devprayag is further enhanced, as according to the Vaishnavism, Devprayag is one among the 108 Divya Desams or the sacred abodes of Lord Vishnu. Devprayag holds the fifth place among the five sacred river confluences or the Panch Prayag, the other four being Vishnu Prayag, Nand Prayag, Karn Prayag and Rudra Prayag. The piousness of Devprayag is considered equivalent to the Triveni Sangam located at Allahabad.
Panoramic view of Devprayag - shot in 2001 (using Yaschica FX2000 SLR)
Panoramic view of Devprayag - shot in 2018 (using Nikon D5300 DSLR)
          Devprayag houses many temples within its precincts and the temple of Raghunathji is dedicated to lord Rama. The temple is claimed to be 10,000 years old. It is one of the oldest existing temples of India. Raghunathji temple is built of huge stones, meticulously placed one over the other, in a pyramid shape. The temple was destroyed during an earthquake in 1803, and was later rebuilt by Daulat Rao Scindia. The temple compound also hosts Annapurna Devi temple, Hanuman temple, Shankaracharya temple and Garud temple.  Another temple is of Chandrabadani, which is dedicated to the Goddess of power. As per legends, Sati, a consort of Shiva, who had committed suicide due to insults heaped on Lord Shiva by her father and Lord Shiva had picked up her body and started the tandava, the dance of destruction.  Finding no other way to stop Lord Shiva, the Gods decided to decimate the body of Sati into pieces, as the Gods cut off her body parts, her torso fell at this place. Her weapons got scattered in the locality. There are some old statues and lots of iron trishuls (tridents) outside the temple. A fine view of the Sirkanda, Kedarnath and Badrinath peaks can be enjoyed from here.  The other main temple is that of Dashrathshila, which is supposed to be the place where Dashrath, father of lord Rama, performed penance. A small water stream, Shanta, is named after the daughter of Dashratha. The seat of Dashrath is one a small hillock called Dashrathachal Peak.  Besides these temples, there are many other smaller temples, like the Baital Kund, Brahm Kund, Surya Kund, Vashisth Kund, the Indradyumna Tirth, Pushyamal Tirth, Varah Tirth, Pushpavatika, Baitalshila, Varahishila, the shrines of Bhairava, Bhushandi, Durga and Vishveshvara, and a temple dedicated to Bharata. A bath at Baithalshila is claimed to cure leprosy. 
Here is a short video of the destination -

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rejuvenating in Rishikesh

Rejuvenating in Rishikesh
Ganga aarti being performed at Rishikesh
         I had last visited the Garhwal region, especially the Chardham route way back in 2007 and thereafter have been busy visiting other regions.  I had briefly visited the Garhwal region during my trip to Chakrata in January, 2011 and thereafter visited Lansdowne and Khirsu in January, 2012.  Whereas, the first trip was from Dehradun side, the other one was through Kotdwar side and only during the return trip from Khirsu, I traversed briefly through Rishikesh while returning back to Delhi.  So in effect, it was a journey to this part almost after 10 long years, especially after the tragedy that befell this region in the summers of 2013.  During this trip, I found that the region was much changed, as expected, but a journey to the hills of Uttarakhand is always welcome, as it provides solace to the tormented souls.  Thus, begins my first blog for the New Year, with a visit to the Dev Bhoomi or Land of Gods.  We started from Delhi on 30th December, 2017 for the brief tour that included visit to Chopta and the first halt was at Rishikesh, about 241 odd kilometers from Delhi.  The journey, to begin with, was not without a bit of drama, as near Meerut a Roadways bus overtaking our car from the left hand side pushed it towards the main road and as is in vogue in the state of Uttar Pradesh (I sometimes jovially refer to it as ‘ulta’ - meaning opposite in English - Pradesh) wherein all kinds of vehicles ride on the National Highways, a small truck like vehicle with heavy metal girders built around its front side scrapped past the front mudguard of our car, thereby dislodging it in its entirety.  We had to spend more than an hour to find a suitable mechanic to repair it.
Ganga aarti that was performed way back in 2008
Offering prayers after completion of Ganga aarti
Rishikesh  is situated 27 Kms. upstream from Haridwar on the foothills of Shivalik hills where the holy River Ganga makes her first footfall, just before entering the great plains in India.   Rishikesh township is also the entry point for three districts of Uttarakhand State of India, namely Dehradun, Tehri Garhwal and Pauri Garhwal. It is also the gateway to the famed Chardham Yatra The town is located at an average elevation of 372 meters from sea level. Rishikesh and the nearby town of Haridwar are well-connected through road and rail with many North Indian cities including Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Amritsar, etc. The place is associated with lord Ram who is said to have done penance here on advice of sage Vashistha before embarking on his mission to kill Ravana.  There are several other mythological beliefs associated with this ancient place, the other one being that after long penance by sage Rabiya Rishi, god named Hrishikesh (another incarnation of Lord Vishnu) appeared before him and the place derives the name from and gradually it became Risikesh.  Another mythological event associated with this destination is that Bharat brother of Lord Ram also performed penance and hence a temple dedicated to him stands in this township.  However, the visit by the famed Adi Shankracharya during the 9th century AD gave fame and name to destination as a spiritual doorway to the kingdom of the Gods and it is the entry point for the famed Chardham Yatra that attracts lakhs of tourists from all over India and the world.
Parmarth Niketan Ashram across the River Ganga that holds elaborate Ganga aarti
Ganga River upstream of Rishikesh
Panoramic view of Rishikesh
The other attractions of Rishikesh, apart from the mythological importance are the existence of many temples, ashrams etc. in and around it and to detail some –
Neelkanth Mahadev temple
Neelkanth Mahadev - is 32 Kms from Rishikesh and is connected by Taxis which run on shared basis as well as can be hired individually.  The place derives its name from the mytholigical event of Samudra Manthan wherein the venom/vish generated during the manthan / churningwas gulped down by Lord Shiva and held in his throat (Kanth in hindi) because of which his body turned blue (Neel in hindi) and hence the place is known as Neelkanth.  The temple situated here boasts of South India style architecture and has a huge silver Shivling situated inside.

Laxman Jhula -There are many mythological tales associated with this bridge. According to myths, the bridge got its name from Hindu Lord Rama’s brother Laxman, who crossed the river Ganga at the same site with jute ropes.  Situated about 4 Km from the main Rishikesh town, Laxman Jhula, a 450 feet long hanging bridge across the river Ganga at a height of 70 feet, is one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in Uttarakhand. 
Panoramic view of Ram Jhula
Ram Jhula - Yet another suspended bridge in Rishikesh is the Ram Jhula. The bridge serves as the connection between the Shivanand Ashram and Swarg Ashram. It is dedicated to Ram, Lakshmana's elder brother.
Trimbakeshwar temple alongwith Laxman Jhula
Trimbakeshwar Temple - is among the spectacular temples situated in Rishikesh. Also known Tera-Manzil temple, it has built up 13 stories and is the largest temple of Rishikesh. Its ornate and symmetric architecture, nearness to Lakshman Jhula, and panoramic view one gets from temple’s top, make it extremely popular among tourists. Tera-Manzil is also famous amongst the tourists for its beautifully crafted idols of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses, coupled with its collection of various traditional artifacts. While devotees are driven by their devotion enthusiastically climb up the 13 storey, whereas the other not so religiously committed tourists take up the challenge, so as to relish the scenic view of the town and the majestic Himalayas from the 13th floor, especially at sunset.

During the recent years Yoga has made a mark on the World map, but Rishikesh has been the Yoga capital for many years now.  The self-styled yoga capital of the world surely lives up to its name. Unlike what many believe, Rishikesh didn’t step up on the yoga pedestal when the Beatles arrived here. In fact, Rishikesh, often referred to as the Gateway to Himalayas, has been the base camp for ascetics and sages travelling to and from the Himalayas, after having spent years learning yoga and meditation from their gurus in the white wilderness. However, the coming of Beatles sure put Rishikesh on the international map.  Rishikesh is home to - numerous ashrams that offer yoga classes and lodging at a nominal fee, yoga teacher training retreats which are thronged by international yoga practitioners who want to advance their practice and become certified teachers, and luxury yoga and Ayurveda resorts that offer extended wellness holidays interspersed with yoga , organic diets and high-end spa treatments.  Almost all ashrams in and around Rishikesh have been built by some religious guru or his foundation. Most ashrams offer classes on classic yoga and meditation. They even offer lodging and satvic food to travelers.  Nestled away from the chaotic mundane life, premium yoga resorts offer not just change of scenery but a luxurious wellness holiday - where yoga meets 5 star ambience, Ayurvedic massages, and therapeutic and beauty spas. Guests get an opportunity to unwind, detoxify and explore the surroundings. These resorts are a perfect getaway for those looking for a healthy and rejuvenating holiday; and for those wanting to experience yoga. The town is peppered with a number of ashrams, world renowned centers for spiritual studies and lessons on meditation. Some of the most popular and much visited ashrams in Rishikesh include Paremarth Niketan, Sivanand Ashram, Yoga Niketan, Omkaranand Ashram, Vanprastha Ashram, Shankaracharya Nagar Transcendental Meditation Centre, Vithal Ashram and Yoga Study Centre. 
Commencing with the rituals of Ganga aarti at Shatrughan ghat in Rishikesh
Ganga Aarti – Another aspect that has now made an impact on Rishikesh is the performance of Ganga aarti at various ghats & ashrams across the township situated along the banks of holy River Ganga.  Earthen and dough lamps floating in small leaf boats on the river banks, coupled with the chanting of sacred hymns reverberating in your ears and flickering flames emanating from the hand held brass lamps inspire a feeling of awe and reverence stirring ones’ heart & soul.  With the mighty Sun taking the final bow for the day, as it appears to dip into the holy Ganga River – it is a site to behold, which is both invigorating as it is soothing. Spiritually inclined or not, attending the Ganga aarti at Rishikesh is a memory that is etched in the hearts of the onlookers for a lifetime.  As the sun sets, priests start chanting sacred hymns while rotating huge oil lamps burning bright with large flames. The devotees can be seen putting earthen lamps wrapped in leaves in the holy river. Mirroring the night sky littered with sparkling stars, the entire bank is lit up with earthen lamps, where somewhere in the background music can be heard playing as the priests and devotees sing Sanskrit hymns in praise of their dear Goddess, in a mellifluous chorus.  The Ganga aarti can be witnessed at the Triveni Ghats and at Parmarth Niketan Ashram every day at dusk. Everyone is welcome to attend the aarti. However, visitors are expected to respect the sanctity of the ritual and the place. At the Triveni ghats, local priests conduct the aarti. The aarti at Parmarth Niketan is slightly different, as ashram residents, especially children who come there to learn the vedas, conduct it. A havan and hymn singing precede the aarti. Visitors looking to experience the aarti should arrive at the chosen venue an hour before dusk to book a spot from where they can witness the spectacular ritual with ease.  A surreal experience, the Ganga aarti evokes different emotions in different people. And irrespective of the visitors’ background and knowledge, its power is universal. 
One of the many adventure sports offered in & around Rishikesh - Rafting
Rafting – Taking advantage of its’ unique position, being situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, as the Ganges snakes down the Himalayas into the Indian planes, it offers perfect white rapids for rafting. Flanked by snow and tree covered mountains, the rapids are of varying intensity; perfect for novices as well as rafting pros.  Plunging from the Himalayan glaciers, the River Ganga promises adrenalin-gushing adventure and complements it with a superb view.  River Rafting in Rishikesh is for everyone. From short rafting tours to rafting journeys laced with activities like mountaineering, rappelling, and camping, Rishikesh has something to offer to all adventure seekers desire. Tourists looking for a thrill in their holiday can take a half-day rafting tour at rapids of grade level I & II, while the pros can spend an entire weekend camping and exploring each of the 16 rapids. Tour operators offer all-inclusive packages for adventure seekers including rafting, camping, mountaineering and more in a 3-night stretch. Most tour operators can be found online and offer good deals.  Rapid is most tame at Brahmpuri that has Grade II rapids.  The stretch between Kaudilya and Rishikesh at about 36 kms is the longest stretch and is home to grade IV & V level rapids, making it the most difficult stretch in the entire rafting route.   Each rapid has a unique and interesting name. There are the benign ones like Sweet Sixteen and Double Trouble, which can be enjoyed by the entire family. Then there are the likes of adrenalin pumping Golf Course, The Wall, and Roller Coaster, traversed by rafting junkies. Amongst these, the Wall, which falls in the Kaudilya-Rishikesh stretch of the rafting zone, is considered the most dangerous and challenging rapid. 

Here is the link to the video of performance of Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh -