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15 July, 2016

RISHIKESH - Holy Place of North India

Rishikesh view across Lakshmana Jhula bride over the Ganges
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, Rishikesh

Laxman-Jhoola-Jhula Rishikesh

Shiva's Statue near Paramath Niketan which was washed away by Flood
during 2013 near River Ganga


       Rishikesh, 23 kilometers away from Haridwar, is our next stop.  From Haridwar we can take a bus or get a auto-rickshaw from near Bimagoda Kund on the Eastern side of Har-ki-Pauri.  With a population of around 75,000, it is a smaller, quitter, and fun place to go.  It is a place in which you see the spiritual atmosphere and influence wherever you look.  You will find good food, good water, clean air, a pleasant climate, plenty of temples and many wandering sadhus, sages and pilgrims.  

View of Rishikesh

Why we call the place as Rishikesh?

       The town got its name from the time when Lord Hrishikesh, Vishnu, appeared here to grant darshan to Raibhya Rishi when he was performing austerities.  The demons Madhu and Kaitabha were also killed here by Lord Vishnu.

View of the Rishikesh from Beach

       Legends also mention that the Lord Agni [God of Fire] made penance for Lord Shiva.  According to the legends Lord Shiva consumed poison [Halahal] which was obtained during sea churning (Samudra Manthan) along with the Nectar (Amrit).  The place is now known as Nilkanth Mahadev Temple.

       Kunid was the first one to rule the area.  Later Shak Kings and Naga Kings ruled here.  In 1938 Vatsraj was the king of the area.  Ajaypal was the king during 1493 to 1500.  During the 1804 to 1815 Gorkha Kings rule the whole area.  After 1815 East India Company came here.  After freedom the area is merged in Uttarpradesh.  In November 2000 Uttaranchal became independent from Uttarpradesh.  From January 2007 Uttranchal was named as Uttarkhand.        

Triveni Ghat

       Triveni Ghat is biggest bathing ghat in Rishikesh.  Situated near the main market this ghat has mesmerizing view of mountain and river.  The reason for the nature is it is believed that this is conference of 3 rivers Ganges, Yamuna and legendary Saraswati.  Due to the conference this ghat is great place to take a bath.  Ghat is structure of steps where people can access river for holy bath. 

Ganga aarti [Ganges Ceremony]


       Highly recommended for everyone.  Take a holy dip in the Ganges and enjoy Ceremony in evening.  In evening beautiful Ceremony [Ganga Aarti]  [5 p.m. in winter and 6 p.m. in Summer] is organized at Parmarth Niketan and Triveni Ghat. 


Prince Charles, Camilla participate in
Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh.
   The Brahmin Pandits [priests] performs Ganges Puja [ritual worship] with Vedic hymns, sound of hands clapping and the drums [tabla].  Hundred of people come to witness this Pooja and offer leaf bowls which are filled with flowers and small oil lamps to the goddess.  


Ganga aarti
The small sparkling lights floating lamps, river Ganges and auspicious atmosphere creates such a magnificient view and feeling that can attract anyone to join the prayer even the visitor from outside India who can't understand the vedic songs.  


     This is beautiful place to sit right on the bank of the river and view the mountain and river with the company of cool river breeze.  Triveni Ghat is situated just 100 meter far from the main market. Small Shanti Mandir is also located near Triveni Ghat.


       One of the main temples is the Bharata temple in the central part of town, dedicated to the deity of Lord Narayana.  This temple is only a half kilometre from Triveni Ghat, the main bathing ghat in town.This ghat is said to be where suberranean Yamuna and Sarasvati meet the Ganges.  This is also where shraddha ceremonies are made to forefathers, and where the funeral pyres are made.  

Bharat Temple Rishikesh
Bharat Mandir, Lord Narayana.

Balaji and Chandramouleeswara Temple

       North of the Bharata temple beyond the Chandrabhaga River is the Balaji and Chandramouleeswra temple.  The architecture is in the South Indian style and it is managed by the Board of the famous Tirupati temple in South India.  The Shatrugan temple, dedicated to the younger brother of Lord Rama, is about four-and-a-half kilometres from down town Rishikesh.

Sivanand or Ram Jhula suspension bridge

Sivananda Jhula Bridge across the Ganges at Muni Ki Reti
built in 1980's close to the Kutir of Swami Sivananda
       One of the nicer places to stay is in the Swargashrama area on the east bank of the Ganges across the Sivanand or Ram Jhula suspension bridge.  There are some very pleasant temples, ashramas and guest accommodations here.  

Sivananda Ashram, Divine Life Society

Swamy Sivananda

Sivananda Ashrams_on_the_banks_of_Ganges,_Rishikesh


     The Divine Life Society, or Sivananda Ashrama, is just north of the bridge and offers many facilities for the spiritual aspirants from yoga classes and lectures that anyone can attend, to longer term programmes for which you have to enrol before hand.  By the bridge just after crossing it, is a small temple for Ganga Devi.  You can watch the evening arati to the Ganges River here every evening around 6 to 7 p.m.  

Parmath temple

Shiva's Statue near Paramath Niketan
which was washed away by Flood
during 2013 near River Ganga 

       Another nice temple is the Parmath temple.  It is near the clock tower and has many diorama exhibits of the different incarnations of Krishna and Puranic legends.  It has a lecture hall for Vedic discourse, spoken mostly in Hindi, and a variety of programs are held here attracting many pilgrims. It is headed by Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji Maharaja, who is a prominent gurus in the area.  It also has a nice central temple with a large deity of Visvarupa, Lord Krishna's universal form, which is one of the few I have seen in India.  It also has 300 rooms for pilgrims.  The kitchen also provides good and reasonably priced meals for those who sign up for them.  They also have their own Ganga puja, which includes many nice devotional bhajans, and is attended by many people.

International Vishwaguru Yoga Vedanta Academy

Sri Ved Niketan
       Beyond the Parmath temple going downstream along the Ganga you can find the International Vishwaguru Yoga Vedanta Academy or the Sri Ved Niketan Dham.  It is a two-storey orange and yellow building in a courtyard surrounded by the ashrama room where you can stay.  It offers a place for tourists on a low-budget, but also training in the practice of yoga if you are interested.  The resident guru is Sri Vishwaguruji Mharaja Mahamandaleshwar, but most of the classes are given by Swami Dharmananda.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram

       Also in the downstream area is the Maharishi Yogi Ashrama where the Beatles stayed for some time.  However, it seems that if you don't have previous arrangements for visiting, the guard at the gate will not let you in.  It is mostly for Indian pilgrims these days.

Bhutana Kailashanand Shiva temple

       High on the side of a hill behind the Swargashrama area is the Bhutana Kailashanand Shiva temple, which has shrines on each of its several floors.  You climb up the stairway to see them all, and from where you an get some nice views over the town of Rishikesh.  The Tut Walla Baba Ashrama is beyond this temple.  

Sri Tat Walle Baba 

Sri Tat Walle Baba 

      Continue going up the hill past a large ashrama on the left.  After a bit you will come to a small bridge going over a stream, continue another 350 yards, until you see a small stone gravel path on your left.  Climb the stone steps to a brick and tin-roofed building.  This covers the entrance to a cave.  Here Swami Shankardas, a humble bearded sage, gives inform teachings in yoga and meditation.

Swami Dayananda Ashram, Rishikesh

       Dayananda Ashram Rishikesh is situated on the banks of the Holy Ganga, away from the major tourist attractions.  It is a unique centre for the study of Vedanta and Sanskrit; unique in the sense that the classes are conducted in English yet the adherence and reverence to the ancient tradition of teaching (Sampradaya) is total.

Temple of Lord Gangadhareswar

       There is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva as Gangadharesvara facing the Ganga.  The main lecture hall also face the Ganga.  There is a library with more than 5,000 title on various subjects i.e., Vedanta, Sanskrit Grammar, Indian and Western Philosophies, Religion and Yoga.  There is also a Yoga studio where regular Iyengar Yoga camps are conducted.

Daily Schedule - Morning Puja

5.00 a.m. - 6.00 a.m. - Puja Abhishekam and Alankaram
6.00 a.m. - 6.30 a.m. - Arati and Prasadam
6.30 a.m.                   -  Ganga Puja

After Noon Naivedya - 11.00 a.m.

Evening Puja

Winter     - October to March              -  Summer: April to September
5.30 p.m. -Ganga Puja                             - 6.00 p.m. - Ganga Puja
6.00 p.m. -7.15 p.m.- Arati & Prasadam - 6.30 p.m. - 7.30 p.m. - Aarti & Prasadam

Monthly Pujas

1.  Pradosha Puja or Trayodashi Puja of Lord Gangadhareswar
     [every 13th Monday]
2.  Sankata Chaturthi Puja of Lord Mahaganapati [4th Monday of Krsnapaksha]
3.  Masa Shivaratri, Chaturdashi Puja of Jyotirlingam
     [14th Monday of Krisnapaksha]

       The ashram was established during the 1960s by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who is an internationally recognized teacher of Vedanta and foremost scholar of Sanskrit.  Swamiji and his disciples conduct regular residential courses at the ashram with the focus on Bhagavad Gita and ten principal Upanishads as commented upon by Adi Shankaracharya.  These and selected ancillary texts are analysed and taught along with Sanskrit Grammar in the Paninian style.  Vedic chanting is also taught during courses.

      In addition, throughout the year, a resident acharya holds daily courses on the Upanishads, incorporating analytical examination of Adi Shankaracharya's commentaries.

       Dayananda Ashram is the parent Vedanta Institute of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam group, established by Swmi Dayananda, known as Arsha Vidya Pitham it means a centre of learning based on the teaching of the ancient rishis.

Neem Karoli Baba


       Another ashrama on the way to Rishikesh from Haridwar, just before we get to town, is that of a Neem Karoli Baba.  It is located under the forty-foot image of Hanuman.  Although there are no accommodations, you can visit.

Omkarananda Ashram, Rishikesh

      The Omkarananda Ashrama near the Rishikesh taxi stand can also provide course in yoga students.  Aside by these ashramas are many others that you find out by asking around.  So there are plenty of places where you can learn about yoga or the Vedic culture of India.  There are also traditional and orthodox schools that are only for the serious minded students, such as Kailash Ashrama, which is a traditional institution strictly for sanyasis in the line of Shankaracharya.

Kailash Ashram, Rishikesh.

Beaches in Rishikesh

Beaches in Rishikesh

      The area around Ganges River has got some nice sandy beaches for swims in the cold river.  Large builders are scattered along the shore on which you can sit and be warmed by the sun, to sit in meditation in the evening, which many people do.  It can be very mystical experience to sit near the flowing Ganges in these Himalayan foothills, under the stars and moon, especially as you see other sages also meditating in the twilight.

Rafting in Rishikesh

       Brahmapuri, Shivpuri and Kaudiyala are small villages from where people can start their rafting to Rishikesh.  Small rafting can be done from Brahmapuri [11 kms.].  18 Kms. rafting can be done from Shivpuri and 25 kms long rafting can be done from kaudiyala.  During monsoon, rafting is not possible due to heavy rain.  October to June is general season for Rafting.

River rafting at Rishikesh

Chotiwala Restaurant

Chotiwala Restaurant, Rishikesh

     There are also lots of nearby woods that you can walk through, past ashramas and residencies of the local monks and renunciant.  And the days are warm and nights are cool.  The best place to eat is the open air Chotiwala Restaurant.  However, it may be really crowded around moon, so nearby restaurants are also good.  Wandering cows will walk by looking for a little food.  You can see the children on the bridge throwing bits of food into the river feeding the schools of larger fish, which you can see when the water is clear.

Chit chat at bank of River Ganga, Rishikesh

Chit chat at bank of River Ganga, Rishikesh

       There are rows of holy beggars along some of the lanes, and foreigners and tourists are quite common.  In the evening you can see some of the wandering mendicants who make a little cooking fire after they have taken whatever money they have received from their begging and purchased vegetables to cook for their meals. Later, they will be rolled up in their cloth bedding to take rest for the night along the Ganges or on the steps near the temples or shops.  You can also walk along and see old sadhus in their rooms near the Ganges around Ved Niketan, may be visiting on their small bed, with pictures of the deities on the wall, a few clothes hanging on a line, while they chant or read sacred books.  Some of these old sages live permanently in Rishkesh, while others stay for a short while before continuing up into the mountains or elsewhere.

Ram Jhula 

     Suspension bridge similar to the Lakshman Jhula between Sivananda Ashram and Swarg Ashram is known as Ram Jhula or Sivananda Jhula.  Boat is also available here on sharing basis to cross the river.  So many shops are available on the both side of bridge for shopping.  Sivananda Ashram, Yoga Niketan Ashram and Omkarananda Ashram is located at one end of the bridge and the other end has Swarg Ashram, Gita Bhawan and Parmath Niketan Ashram.  Ram Jhula is pedestrian bridge but it is also used for bikes.

Ram Jhula, Rishikesh

Lakshmana Jhula

       Big iron suspension bridge on the river Ganges which is 4.5 kms far from Rishikesh.  It is believed that Lakshman [brother of Lord Ram] crossed the river here by jute rope.  Current bridge is built in 1929 in when the old bridge (1989 built) was damaged in flood.  

Rishikesh view across Lakshmana Jhula bride over the Ganges
Laxman-Jhoola-Jhula Rishikesh
     Lakshman Jhula is popular in tourist for shopping and other activities such as rafting.  Both sides of the bride has so many different shops with interesting things to buy.  Lakshman temple and Tera Manzil Temple is also situated here.  From the bridge you can have spectacular view of river and the city.  Lakshman Jhula is pedestrain bridge but it is also used for bikes.

Lakshmann Jhula Rishikesh

       The Lakshmana Jhula area is only three kilometers upstream from Rishikesh, a pleasant walk away.  This is where Lord Rama's brother, Lakshmana, performed penance, commemorated by the Lakshmana temple.  And Rishi Kund is said to be where Lord Rama and Lakshmana took bath to purify themselves after killing the demon Ravana, who was also a brahmana.  There are some small old temples as well as large modern ones in this area.  Also, you will not want to miss the seven storied temple with diorama exhibits.

Neel Kandha Mahadev Temple

Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, Rishikesh

       Up in the hills about 12 kilometers away from the Lakshmana Jhula bridge is the Neela Kandha Mahadeva temple.  It's a four hour walk or a jeep ride up the hill.  This is where Lord Shiva is supposed to have meditated after swallowing the poison that was manifested when the demigods and demons churned the ocean of milk in pursuit of the nectar that gave immortality.

       So there is a lot to see and be a part of the Rishikesh area that is certainly a part of the traditional culture of India.

Source: Excerpts from the book "Spiritual India Handbook" by Sephen Knapp


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