2018 started on a good note. In January I was in Amritsar for my 30th birthday. In February, I was in Rishikesh.
A lot of foreigners find their way to Rishikesh at the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s one hippie town. Not to forget, Rishikesh brought the Beatles to India in search of spirituality, and Beatles brought more foreigners.
Indians visit Rishikesh for an altogether different reason, vastly opposite from that of spirituality. We come here for the adventure sports. Rishikesh has recently gained popularity not just as the yoga capital but the adventure capital of India. My bucket list had bungee jumping waiting to be ticked since 2016. Thought it was about time!
Bunjee Jumping in Rishikesh
I still can’t forget that walk on the railing towards my jump instructor. I said bye to the group of four waiting after me to jump. On the radio played ‘London thumakda’ and I moved my hands to the beats to calm my nerves. I tried to make conversation with one of the Indian jump instructors to distract myself. He looked like the skinnier version of Randeep Hooda. Rob, the instructor from New Zealand then called my name for the jump. I looked in the camera a couple of times, waved, smiled and was all cheery. At the back of my mind, I knew this was going to be a memory so I played it cool.
The guy before me had quit. He didn’t jump. But the instructor told me to not look down. I was an obedient student that day, or a typical Indian who had to jump because the money was non refundable. Across the hill was a target that I kept staring at. I took a step towards the edge and at the count of three, I jumped. I was bouncing in the air and screaming like a maniac until my lungs were tired. Lasted about 30 seconds before the staff brought me down by my head, but I was grinning all through the experience. I then sat across the river for a while, watching others jump and scream in what was possibly one of the best moments of their life too!
Where: Jumpin Heights organises Bungee jumping, Swing and Flying Fox in a village named Mohanchatti, 15 km from Rishikesh. You can arrange your own transport or hop on the Jumpin Heights bus at Tapovan where their office is located. Buses leave every three hours. The jump cost Rs. 3550 inclusive of tax. An additional Rs. 100 is charged as entry fee at the site and an optional Rs. 750 for a video of your jump. It is advised to book at least a day prior. The best time to jump is between 9am and 12.30pm. Tuesdays they are closed.
River Rafting in Rishikesh
It was never my plan to go river rafting in Rishikesh. I met this group of seven (Nikita, Neha, Ujjawala, Jharna, Ajit, Chida and Jigar) at the Bungee Jump site earlier that day. A bunch of Chartered Accountants and Bank Managers returning from a trek to Kedarnath. Before parting ways with the group at the jump site, I told them to give me a call in case they plan to go river rafting. To my surprise, they called me within an hour. So here I was, with a group of strangers ready to hit the Ganga.
I’ve never seen a river beach before 😉
The Ganga is hailed as the queen of white water rafting, which I had come to believe that day. Although most of us had already done the river rafting in Kolad, one can’t compare the experience with Rishikesh. There were about 10 rapids, each better than the other, sure to give you an adrenaline rush. After battling all 10 rapids, we jumped into the river and floated away watching the blue sky above us stretch into infinity. There’s also one surprising pit stop along the Ganga on the Shivpuri route, where rafters stop for a Maggie, chai or smoke break. Clearly, this happens only in India!
Where: The best stretch for river rafting is the 16km Shivpuri route. River rafting is so popular in Rishikesh that every second shop can organise this for as cheap as Rs. 400 including the jeep ride to the rafting site and back.
River Rafting in the Ganga
What to see in Rishikesh
The Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula are clear attractions that connect the east side of the town with the west separated by the Ganga. Just taking a walk on these jhulas was pure bliss. Head to the Triveni Ghat by 5.30 in the evening for the Ganga Aarti, and make some time to check out the Beatles Ashram too. This is one point I regret not visiting due to paucity of time. The ashram is in shambles but I believe local artists have done some really cool graffiti work to lift the place.
Triyambakeshwar temple from Laxman Jhula
Where to stay in Rishikesh?
I stayed for two nights at this really cool boutique property Raga on the Ganges close to a village named Byasi in Upper Rishikesh. The room was spacious and tastefully designed with a balcony that opened to the view of the Ganga. Although the property was on the outskirts of Rishikesh, one of the advantages was the availability of chicken and fish meals which otherwise is ban in Rishikesh (and Haridwar) because of the town’s holy nature.
For cheaper options, consider Zostel Rishikesh or Hotel Ananta Inn. If you get a chance, reserve a stay at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. They are almost always booked, but I’ve had folks tell me the place is worth it!
Breakfast with a view at Raga on the Ganges
Travelling in Rishikesh
The Uttarakhand travel desk at the Dehradun airport put me through a local cabbie and set me up with a fellow traveller heading towards Rishikesh. The deal fell far cheaper at Rs. 350 compared to paying Rs. 1000. On the last day, I used the same contact to return to the airport.
Road conditions on the Rishikesh-Kedarnath route
Internal travel in Rishikesh can be tricky. Vikrams are these huge sharing rickshaws that can take you from one point to another for dirt cheap prices. The disadvantage is that these only ply within the city and cannot go beyond Rishikesh in the north, because of the mountainous terrain. Bus journeys are stomach churning and can end up giving you a headache. I tried one such bus journey and felt nauseated. Private cabs are extremely expensive and I really would NOT recommend this unless you’re a group of four or more.
What remains then as the best option is to rent a two wheeler. I rented an Activa for Rs. 400 per day. It was an outstanding experience, probably because I love road trips and I got to tick NH 58 (Rishikesh-Kedarnath). But take extreme precaution and avoid speeding because the roads really suck. Also note that night riding is a different ball game altogether. And I was literally scared at one point, riding on the highway in pitch dark. Definitely one of the most challenging rides I’ve done, but also one of the most thrilling.
(L) Sharing rickshaw in Rishikesh also called Vikram; (R) Road trippin on my Activa
Food in Rishikesh
The local food scene in Rishikesh was a disappointment. A vast majority of restaurants dish out Continental, Russian and Israeli food. I ate the worst Biryani of my life at the Ganga beach cafe near Laxman Jhula. For its quirkiness and sheer popularity, I’d recommend the Chotiwala restaurant near Ram Jhula.
Rishikesh to Haridwar getaway
I spent a night in Haridwar since the distance wasn’t much at 25km, although you can also do a day trip. The vibe of the city was amazing, but the less said about the road conditions, the better. In Haridwar, you have to visit the Har Ki Pauri which is where all the pilgrim action is. I’m not really religious, but I love watching people, and Har Ki Pauri was a perfect setting for that.
Where to stay in Haridwar?
I stayed at this lovely heritage property Devnadi, which was once the holiday home of a Nepali queen, and later to Ramanand Sagar – the creative head of the legendary TV serial Ramayana. The eight room haveli is more home than hotel with most of its interiors still intact. It opened its doors to visitors in 2016. The highlight of the hotel is the private ghat with the Ganga flowing in its backyard. Highly recommend this place!
(L) Devnadi Heritage hotel in Haridwar; (R) Private Ganga Ghat
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