Saturday, November 28, 2009

Welcome to the Land of the Sages... Rishikesh

"I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."   - Robert Frost

    Although Rishikesh is dotted with a number of temples (Pawan dham, Bharat mata, etc), nothing is more sacred than the river itself, Ma Ganga. We longed to get a glimpse of the Ganges and finally succeeded after reaching this beautiful ashram in Rishikesh, Dayananda ashram.
[Dayananda Ashram]

The ashram exhibited a marvelous canvas of natural grandeur. We had prebooked our room so getting accommodation was not difficult. The ashram houses a huge garden, a library, a temple facing the river Ganga and a large dining hall. The rooms are clean and spacious. The food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is very saatvic (pure) and home-like. 
[Ghat at Dayananda Ashram]

It has its own ghat which the visitors staying there can use to take a holy dip/bathe in the river. The atmosphere here was very peaceful which provided us the perfect ambience for our stay here -- A far cry from the Mumbai concrete jungles...

[Ram Jhula]

After making ourselves comfortable here, in the evening we set out to explore the city. A five minutes walk from the ashram to the main road and then a rickshaw (Rs. 5/person) to Ram Jhula. One can either take a boat or utilize the Ram Jhula to reach the other side of the river. We took a boat (runs every half hour, Rs. 10/person) as Parmarth Niketan ashram was on the opposite side of the river. 5 minutes walk and we reached the Parmarth ashram.

[Parmarth Niketan ashram]

The place was abuzz with activity and lots of people. Small Parmath Niketan students dressed in yellow dhotis were running around as if little yellow flowers swaying in the gentle breeze of the holy river. We realized we were just in time for the famed ashram Aarti and took a seat on the flight of stairs. The atmosphere was truly enchanting and spiritual. Words fail to express the serenity and the divinity that one experiences amidst the ringing temple bells, the chanting of the mantras, and the innumerable diyas enlightening the entire place as well as (to some extent) your inner soul. I felt a oneness with the surrounding which energized my spirit and cleansed my mind. It was something I won’t forget in a long time. After reconnecting with ourselves, it was dark and time to return to the ashram. The boat service was closed now and we crossed the Ram Jhula on foot this time. The entire stretch of the bridge gives you a marvelous view of this exotic city. I longed the stretch to be a little longer cause the view from up there was amazing.
[Triveni Ghat]

We started the next day with a holy dip at the most revered ghat- Triveni Ghat. After the Ram Jhula, I definitely was waiting for our trip to Laxman Jhula which is older and bigger. After crossing the Laxman Jhula, we walked to Ram Jhula up to the Parmarth ashram, on the way feeding many langoors (monkeys) and cows with bananas which we had bought quite cheap. Slightly ahead of Parmarth Niketan is Gita Bhavan where many prominent saints like Swami Ramsukhdasji used to give pravachans (preachings) in front of packed crowds.

 By this time the sun had started to set, a blazing orange circle slipping into a soft delightful sleep after a long and a weary day. We retired in our rooms and packed our bags as the beautiful journey had neared its end.

I closed my eyes And thanked this enthralling city for rejuvenating and replenishing my soul for the life ahead....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome to the Land Of The Gods...Haridwar

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
There is something about the holidays which have a divine connection!!
All journeys to the spiritual destination of Uttaranchal start from Haridwar which literally means 'Gateway to God'.

I along with my family reached Haridwar on the 17th oct by the Shatabdi Exp.(leaves from Ajmeri gate side) from Delhi by 12 noon. There are plentyful of dharmshalas/ashrams and hotels in Haridwar. So to find one wont be difficult, but to find a good & clean one can be.
[View from hotel room]

We hired a rickshaw and after checking out a few ashrams, we finally checked into hotel Suvidha(Rs. 800/day). The room was clean and gave a view of the Mansa Devi temple. In the evening, we took a walk from the hotel to Har ki Pauri. The distance between my hotel and Har ki Pauri is about 1.5 kms though you wont realise it. The best way to explore Haridwar is on foot. Saffron clad sadhus, guides, cows, beggers, babas, the tourist crowd make it quite a culturally colourful sight. Unfortunately the holiest river of India,The Ganga, was conspicuous by its absence which dampened our moods. Its route had been diverted for some cleaning purposes. My evening meal consisted of a variety of chaats which included pani puris, dahi pattice, kanji vadas, papri chaat (outside Jaipuriya dharmshala on the Raj ghat)... I couldnt ask for more. After satisfying our taste buds we called it a day.

[Daksh Prajapati temple]

The next morning, we had a packed schedule in Kankhal starting with a trip to Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Yog Peeth. It is spread in many acres of land and includes a restaurant where we had our breakfast. We then moved to Avdheshanand Ashram which was nearby in the rickshaw (Rs.300 to Kankhal and back to Haridwar) we had hired from Haridwar. On its entrance was a large rudraksh tree followed by a mercury shivling temple. After taking the blessings, we had a taste of the refreshing jaljeera being sold outside the ashram premises. The natural coolant worked wonders and gave us a much needed lease of energy in the scorching heat. Our Kankhal trip concluded with a visit to the famed Daksh Prajapati temple.

[View from the cable car- Mansa Devi]

In the evening, we visited the very ancient Mansa Devi temple from which we get some splendid views of the city. One can climb up on foot but we preferred to take the ropeway (Rs.48/person to & fro).

[Bhagwati Chole Bhandar]

After descending ,we ate at a popular local joint ,Bhagwati Chole Bhandar located on the upper road. I would rate their buns as the best item here but their bhatures, kulches and even chaval (rice) ,each served with hot and yummy chole, are equally mouth watering. Also do not miss the special tari which is actually the gravy that floats atop the chole but be sure to come here before 6 p.m. or the joint will be closed.

[Moti bazaar market]

We spent the rest of the evening shopping in the Moti bazaar market. One can get great bargains on crockery items, handmade jholas, beads, woolen clothes, wooden articles and much more. After buying a few items,we headed towards our room. On our way back, we had special fruit chaat outside Bhatinda dharmshala opposite hotel Shivalik. It was a nice healthy end to a very hectic day.

I waited anxiously for the next day as our next destination was equally enchanting and fascinating...
Land of the Sages Rishikesh.