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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Rishikesh with Ravers

Driving through the mountains, I looked out eagerly for my first glimpse of the river. A sharp turn, and the bluish green waters came into sight. I asked the driver to stop, and he did, a little later, at a convenient spot. I just had to get off, and stare at her. Unbidden, tears sprang into my eyes, and I brushed them away hastily. It was an emotional moment, after all, I was setting eyes on the Ganges in Rishikesh, after a gap of over 25 years!

I was a teenager when I last visited Rishikesh, with my grandfather and his friends. It had then been a pilgrimage, to the holy sites of Badri and Kedar, apart from numerous other temples. Tears welled up again, as memories came flooding back, and I thought of how different it was, this time. Now, I was a mother, with an almost-teenage son in tow, and we had no intention of visiting any temples! Above all, I was here on an invite, to experience camping by the river, and try our hand at some adventure sports!

I had been invited by Abhay Sharma of Ravers’ Expeditions and Pahadi House to come and experience another aspect of Rishikesh. This, the first half of our stay was all about the river. We were to camp on the banks of the Ganga, at the Ravers’ Beach Camp. The second half would be the experience of a homestay, in a village. But, more of that later. Let me get back to our journey…..

Our drive to the beach camp took us along winding roads, the river always just within our sight. A few camps appeared now and then, but we drove on… I was surprised to see so many ‘beach camps’ along the Ganga. Evidently, adventure sports and camping were a lot more in demand than I had imagined! Eventually, we drove down a rocky path and came to a standstill at the riverbank. But where was the camp?

Our driver pointed to a plank over a rivulet, and asked us to go on. With a sense of adventure, of walking down an unknown path, we followed the trail, our driver following us with our luggage. We seemed to have left the sounds of the highway behind. There were no vehicles, and no human voices. The only audible sounds were the river gurgling and the birds chirping. For once, I did not need to tell Samhith to be silent. He sensed the peace, and responded instinctively, as children do, running ahead, looking around in wonder, and of course, picking up stones!

A few minutes’ walk brought us to the camp – a collection of tents, some looking over the river, some around a clearing. It was a weekday, and we were thrilled to see that we were the only guests! Choosing one of the tents by the river, we settled down to enjoy ourselves, in complete solitude!

Before I go further, I must admit, that I am not really an adventurous person, (as those of you who read my blog regularly will already know). Plus, I have never really gone camping. That is to say, I have stayed in a tent, but those were almost rooms by themselves, with attached toilets and all. The tent we stayed in this time, had three beds, but the toilets were in a separate enclosure. It was a new experience for me, but not for Samhith, who has camped with school before. I wondered briefly how I would manage, but as it turned out, our excitement overcame any and all worries we had. The resort being empty helped too, and we proceeded to have the most fun we had on our #summertrip so far!

So, what did we do? Well, with the river so close, what do you think we did?

The view from our tent!!

We spent almost all our time at the resort, in the river, or on her banks. While Samhith swam and played happily, sometimes with the young boys of the staff for company, I enjoyed the experience of being by the Ganga, and seeing her so pristine and clean. I can’t swim, so I stayed well near the shore, while he indulged himself, spending hours in the water, refusing to come out even for meals!!!!

This is one of my favourite photos from the trip.... his immense happiness and satisfaction is obvious, isn't it?
And P.S. he is wearing the life jacket though he knows to swim well because the staff insisted he be careful, just the same.  I appreciated their insistence on following the rules. 

The staff rustled up simple but delicious meals for us, which we polished away happily, hungry as we were, after so much time in the water. And then, while not in the river, this is what Samhith did….

Though this photo is of Samhith, this is where I spent most of my time :D A hammock, a view like this and a book, are all I need for a perfect holiday! 

The hammocks were a big hit, and with a book in hand, what more did we need?

At other times, he ran around, trying to count the butterflies…

Or search for spiders (his favourite creatures to spot!)

And frogs…..

They surely would have been irritated with him, for rousing them from their comfortable, camouflaged existence!

A common area, for meals, bonfires, etc. 

Samhith was very excited at the prospect of trying out some adventure sports, especially since it happened to be his birthday the next day. We were, unfortunately told, that he could only try River Rafting, since he was too young for the other activities. Plus, since I was too scared to try it, he had to join another group. Of course, he had no issues with that, so off he went, with a family group, for his first River Rafting experience, on his 12th birthday!

Samhith (centre) with the group, in the raft

The rafting experience, from the camp to Lakshman Jhoola, was apparently great, though I have no photographs. For the rest of the day, we all heard stories of how he jumped off the raft and swam alongside it for a while, and how well he managed to stay afloat in spite of the current…. And so on … and so forth…. And, now that he has tasted the adrenaline rush of adventure sports, he wants more of it! He has already tried to excite his cousins into joining him for another trip soon, to Rishikesh, so they can all go rafting, together!

One of the many rafts on the Ganga, at Lakshman Jhoola

So much for inciting a love for adventure sports. That was the main idea of the trip, and once completed, we felt a little more inclined to look around, and do the usual things everyone does, at Rishikesh. While I decided to leave the temples for another visit, we wandered around a bit, taking in the sights at the Ram and Lakshman Jhoolas, where the vistas seemed to be very different from those I remembered!!!

Grafitti near Lakshman Jhoola

Another aspect of Rishikesh that I enjoyed seeing, were all the cafés that had sprouted. Yes, yes, I know they have been around for long, but remember, I haven’t been there since I was a kid! Considering that we only spent a few hours in the town, there wasn’t time to try much, but we had a pleasant surprise when we entered the Café Karma for lunch, and saw this….

A library in a café! That too in an old fridge! That was enough for me to fall in love with the place! The library, as always, was a conversation starter, and I had a great time chatting with the owner, who happened to be there, working. As for Samhith, he gorged on their awesome pancakes, and his day was made! Is it any wonder, that he has been recommending Rishikesh to everyone since then?

Moving on with our trip, on the advice of our guide, we did go attend the Ganga Aarti. This was a new experience for me, since it wasn’t so prevalent when I had visited last. We found ourselves a place on the steps of the Parmarth Niketan Ghat, and settled down to see what it was like.

Ganga Aarti... prayers before the actual aarti

One of the few lamps lit in the river

The Aarti itself wasn’t a great experience. It did not inspire any spirituality in me. However, what did impress me, is this young man, whose job it was, to stand looking at the river, and, with his long pole, collect any trash floating in her. In the hour and half we sat there, he spent almost the entire time turned away from the aarti and the puja, instead, bringing in bottles and waste thrown into the river upstream. This, I think is true reverence for  the river, keeping her clean and pure, as she is meant to be.

The portion of the aarti that I actually appreciated. Apologies for the photo quality. The poor light and the constant movement resulted in all my photos of this young man turning out blurred :(

On that note, we left the river behind, and moved to our next halt at Rishikesh – Pahadi House. Look out for the next post for more! 

  • The Beach Camps on the Ganga are located on the sandy banks of the river, all along her course near Rishikesh. These are seasonal camps, which are inaccessible during the rains.
  • The activities depend on the water level in the river, so might not always be possible. Besides, certain areas may be off limits suddenly due to increased force in the river. Be prepared for sudden changes in plans.
  • The activities are age as well as skill dependent. For example, river rafting is possible for all, though kids between 10 and 15 are allowed only in some portions of the river. Kayaking also is not for all. Activities like zip lining and rappelling are also out of bounds for children.
  • Please remember that all activities have a certain amount of danger involved. That is the reason there are rules and regulations. They are meant for your own safety, so please follow the rules, and have a great time, and stay safe. 
  • We stayed at the Ravers Beach Camp, and all arrangements were made by Abhay Sharma of Pahadi House. You can contact him for further details, information and booking.

This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here.  

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  1. I love everything about Rishikesh. It is one of those places, I go back time and again. The frogs images are lovely :)

    1. Thank you, Amrita. I will show Samhith your comment. He will be thrilled and say "I told you so", cause he pestered me till I clicked some decent images of the frogs!!!

  2. I love every aspect of rishikesh...and since i have second home in haridwar, always make it point to visit rishikesh from haridwar during breaks...this time around loved the stay at The Glasshouse on the Ganges :)

    your rafting narration is interesting....wil try that in a few years (when my toddler is grown up a bit!!)...

    1. Lucky you, having a second home at Haridwar!! I remember when I was in college, and an uncle was posted there for a short while, I enjoyed a long, peaceful holiday there. Havent stayed at the Glasshouse yet,... though have seen it from afar :) it has so far been a pilgrimage every time! I am sure your kid will love the rafting experience too, when old enough, of course!

  3. I have rafted and kayaked rivers in the States. It is a lot of fun, and the easier rapids are fine for any age. However, it would be difficult to extract myself from that wonderful-looking hammock in order to climb in a raft! :) Great pics of a wonderful river experience. I also love the shared bookshelf; my kind of cafe'!

    1. I completely agree with you.. who wants a raft when there is a hammock around, and books? But you really should come to India... and soon! Am sure there is so much you will enjoy!

  4. Camping by the ganges is exciting. Nice narration of your experiences and memories.

  5. Nice post.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us. Loved your blog!


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