“The planet earth is an island in space. If we pollute an island here on earth, we can always move to a cleaner island, whereas should we pollute planet earth, we cannot just move to another planet.” That was the haunting statement made at the PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference held between 13th – 15th February in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India, reports Declan Hughes.
The conference had the theme ‘Letting Nature Nurture – Rejuvenating My Soul Through Travel’, and the quote above was made by Apoorva Prasad, Founder, Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of the Outdoor Journal & Voyage.
In a world where we are encouraged to eat less meat, this is a perfect time to visit Rishikesh, which is a vegetarian city and is considered a holy city along the fast-moving Ganga (Ganges River), and a gateway to various pilgrimage sites (Haridwar, Badrinath and Kedarnath). Being Holy to Hindus, Rishikesh by law is a purely vegetarian city. No meat, fish or alcohol are allowed in the city – indeed, Uttarakhand’s slogan is ‘Simply Heaven’.
Nestled amid lush greeneries guarded by the breath-taking hills of northern Uttarakhand, every corner of Rishikesh has stories to be told. Beyond its marvellous temples, pilgrimage site and the magnificent Ganges River, the city attracts tourists from all over the world for its numerous adventure sports, including white-water rafting, cliff-jumping, kayaking and camping.
It’s a place where the locals believe that every living animal, every living being has a soul – hence Rishikesh being considered the vegetarian capital of India, if not the world. Doctors are prescribing nature, in order for nature to nurture. Rishikesh has become a sanctuary for those seeking peace and tranquillity from the modern world, in which humans are becoming more like machines and machines are becoming more like humans.
Rishikesh is also the yoga capital of the world, where yoga is the deepest dimension of relaxation. Should you find yourself to have tears in your eyes, a lump in your throat and a sinking heart, Rishikesh is ready to heal you. A place where you will see the lighter side of life. A place that creates magic for your clients, who, in turn, will create magic for you. Rishikesh offers many wellness and soulfulness programmes in its many retreats and ashrams. Combining these with adventure and relaxation is the perfect combination. Many women solo travellers are drawn to this magical place, the vast majority of whom stay for at least 28 days.
India is a land of 600 languages and 200 dialects, therefore it is hard sometimes to speak as one. There are cultural issues involved as tourists are considered foreigners. The government needs to appoint a voice of industry on to its tourism council to improve on its massive potential.
India also has long-standing issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, such as extreme poverty, sanitation, pollution and family planning. There is littering on a grand scale, even here in Rishikesh. They say that if you take a train ride out of Delhi, you will see mountains of rubbish piled high along both sides of the tracks until you finally get out of the huge sprawling metropolis.
That being said, on speaking with the locals here in Rishikesh, there are high hopes for the current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, who seems to be getting things done on a monumental scale. India is primed to become the world’s third largest economy after the USA and China, so the funds should be sufficient enough to propel projects forward.
Nestled amid lush greeneries guarded by the breath-taking hills of northern Uttarakhand, the tranquil city of Rishikesh is often claimed as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’. It gained instant fame when The Beatles came to stay with their guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the 1960s.
Boasting marvellous temples, pilgrimage sites and the magnificent Ganges River, every corner of this legendary place has stories to be told. But Rishikesh is not all spirituality and yoga. Today, the city attracts tourists from all over the world for its numerous adventure sports, such as white-water rafting, cliff-jumping, kayaking and camping. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas’, Rishikesh is also a designated starting point for treks to numerous Himalayan pilgrimage centres and shrines.
Water sports fans can enjoy rafting down the Ganges River amid the Rocky Mountains and natural wood surroundings. Thrill-seekers can choose to dive off a cliff from a dizzying height of 35 metres or face the superb rapids of the Ganges on a kayak. Meanwhile, waterfall trekking offers a gentler opportunity to get close to nature while being accessible to people of all age groups – perfect as a family activity.
Explore the destination where excitement meets tranquillity within the backdrop of tall mountains, amid the gushing sound of crystal-clear waters. This is Rishikesh – land of gods, adventure and peace.
How to Get There
Rishikesh is situated a half-hour drive away from the nearest airport, Jolly Grant (also known as Dehradun Airport), which offers direct flights from international airports in New Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Srinagar through popular carriers such as Air India, Spice Jet and Jet Airways. In addition, the city is connected by a network of buses to key cities such as New Delhi, Haridwar, and Dehradun, and is also accessible by train via Haridwar.
I flew Etihad Airways from Dubin (DUB) to Delhi (DEL) via Abu Dhabi (AUH), where I was hoping to find my expectations would be exceeded, but were not even met, never mind exceeded – possibly in part due to severe cutbacks by the airline due to their current struggling financial difficulties. You can also fly Emirates to Delhi via Dubai (DXB), Turkish Airlines via Istanbul (IST), or Qatar Airways via Doha (DOH).
Domestic flights from Delhi (DEL) to Dehradun Airport (DED) are quite cheap with fares starting from €35 each way on Indigo, Spice Jet or Jet Airways. Bear in mind that the 15kg baggage allowance on the low-cost legs compares to 30kg with Etihad. I strongly advise not to stay in Delhi, even for just one night, due to the severe man-made smog and pollution, particularly for those with respiratory or C.O.P.D. health issues.
When to Go
Or, more importantly, when not to go! April, May and June are the hottest months where temperatures can reach a scorching 45, and the monsoon season is between July and September. I visited in early February when I found the weather was ideal (apart from the unexpected heavy downpour that the locals told me is unusual for that time of year). October through to early March is therefore ideal.
Where to Stay
The Atali Ganga Boutique Hotel, located at Atali Dogu perched atop the valley of the upper Ganges, offers spectacular views with amazing food – which includes meat as it is 30km outside Rishikesh.
The Divine Resort in Rishikesh is quite special in its own right, offering titanic views from sunrise to sunset in its spacious rooms on the banks of the river Ganges. It is run by a very professional team, each with unique, authentic characteristics, who will ensure that you or your clients will have an amazing stay.
What to Do
White Water Rafting: on the mouth of the Ganges, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, where you will find the river in its purest form, clear and clean, from the ice caps of the Himalayas. This involves a 16km stretch covering some of the most enticing Grade III and III+ rapids in a little close to three hours, courtesy of Red Chilli Adventures.
Ganga Aarti: Witnessing the evening spectacle of Ganga Aarti is a blissful experience. The melody of ringing bells along the sparkling Ganga river due to the blessing of almighty with brightly lit lamps culminates to form a mesmerising experience for the spectator. The enchanted devotees offering their prayers to the holy river with such exuberance adds to a euphoric experience that is truly unforgettable.
Beatles Ashram: where the Beatles visited in 1968 to meditate with their guru and where they wrote 40 songs, some of which made it on to the White album.
Hiking: along the foothills of the Himalayas, along the banks of the Ganges, visiting villages along the way. A really great way to lose some weight and get fit while taking in breath-taking views along the route.
High Rope Course: dares you to push limits and face those fears. Turn walking on a rope into an amusing challenge by taking the High Rope Course that includes various modules such as Wave Dance, Zig-Zag Walk, Swing Bridge, and more at Atali Ganga Boutique Hotel, Rishikesh.
Declan Hughes of www.FlyCruiseStay.com attended AT&RTCM 2019 as a guest of the High Commission of India and, as a result, was kindly hosted by the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board.