“A journey may be long or short,
But it must start at the very spot where one finds oneself.”
A certain image comes to mind when we talk about Indian spiritual towns. Saffron-clad sages, pundits, beggars and a bustling crowd. No doubt they make for a culturally colourful sight, but they somehow tend to dilute the sense of peace and calm, in search of which you had actually set out for! What if I told you there is one town in India where all these preconceived notions will take a severe beating…
Welcome to Rishikesh, a ‘spiritual’ town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas with the holy river Ganga gently flowing besides it, a gateway to heaven on earth. Renowned all over the world as the capital of yoga, this is the land of the sages, the land where the Beatles found music for their soul. Having heard a lot about the city, I was eagerly looking forward to embarking on this spiritual odyssey.
My first day in Rishikesh took me to Laxman Jhula, an iron-rope swing bridge across the river Ganga which sways a bit when one walks on it. The majestic hills, the river Ganga flowing out from the mountains, the fluffy clouds and the far-off peaks, the picturesque scenery – a magnificent splendor of nature speckled beautifully on the canvas of the horizon coupled with the whistling breeze… ahh! I was so caught up in the expansive views that I didn’t realise that I’d reached the other end of the bridge. I was literally transported to a different world!
Laxman Jhula has a few temples and ashrams located around it, including the 13-floored Kailash Niketan Temple which was very beautiful. Apart from this, the Parmarth Niketan ashram, Swarg ashram and the Gita Bhawan are also very famous and worth visiting.
Although Rishikesh was dotted with a number of temples, the major lure for me was the river itself, The Ganga. After walking through some of the ghats, I took a few moments out and sat on the banks of the river. She had mellowed considerably since her fierce beginnings in the matted locks of Lord Shiva, i.e. from far and high in the Himalayas, as if in a mark of respect to the numerous sages who have performed austerities and penance on her banks, in search of self-realization. How lovely and pleasing the Ganga was as she flowed by!
There were people all around, yet the air was seized with stillness. As the afternoon glow turned to somber dusk, I lowered my hands into the holy waters of the Ganga and felt a unique oneness, a kind of association that one experiences when a mother tenderly clasps the hands of her little ones. I was almost caught in a magical time warp; I felt like I was drifting into a space and time where the soul would be uplifted. A strange sense of peace and equanimity filled my soul… I closed my eyes… I was just still, full of peace and tranquility, lost in myself. What is there in the river, to have such an effect, I wondered? But then, she is ageless, flowing without end, she is a mother — it definitely will take more than a lifetime to contemplate this holy river.
Later in the evening, I wandered down the meandering lanes of the city. The shops here were laden with handicrafts and local articles for the travelers who like to take souvenirs back home. I didn’t feel the urge to buy anything since I had already found the thing I had come searching for.
With a rejuvenated mind and an energized spirit, I headed back home the next day. As my flight soared high in the bright blue skies, a subtle smile crossed my lips — my journey had just begun.