RISHIKESH & Rajaji national park
Initially a popular pilgrimage destination, Rishikesh quickly gained a reputation as a spiritual centre of India, partly because of its mystical surroundings. Perched on the Ganges riverbanks, the mountains rise from the green plains below, and all around, there is a peaceful lull. Yogis, gurus, and ascetics established ashrams and the sixties brought with it the Beatles and a New Age feel. More recently, Rishikesh is becoming known as an up-and-coming adventure destination. Mountain trekking, white water rafting, kayaking, and camping: the town and surroundings have plenty to offer. The nearby Rajaji National Park is home to over 500 wild elephants amongst tigers, panthers, monkeys, sambhar and deer, as well as over 400 bird species (although please note that the standard of naturalists is not quite as good as those in Corbett or the parks of Madhya Pradesh and sightings are not as frequent).
In the evenings, the Aarti takes place on the banks of the Ganges, and this spectacle is a must-see. Devotees gather before the sun goes down to give prayers, and the worship ritual is a veritable feast of sound and colour. Get a spot on the ghats and enjoy the view.
Please note it is an alcohol-free and vegetarian destination. We would be delighted to help you find a comfortable hotel or an opportunity to camp on the river beach, whichever suits your sense of adventure.
Just a 40-minute drive from Rishikesh lies the holy city of Haridwar. Situated along the River Ganges whilst also descending from the Himalayas, this chaotic town is one of the most populous cities and some say the most holy in the Uttarakhand region.
The sacred Har Ki Pauri Ghat, thought to be built in the 1st century BC, is the most well-known in the area, where you’ll find hundreds of locals gathering daily to take a dip. It’s a great place to see the Ganga Aarti ceremony in the evenings without the busyness of Varanasi. Taking place around 6 pm every day as a means of worshipping Ganga, the Ghat lights up as people float offerings with flowers down the river: a truly beautiful and spiritual experience.
Many religious festivals take place here in Haridwar, but the Purna Kumbh Mela is the most well-known, dating back over 2,000 years. It is known as the ‘world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims and the largest festival gathering known to humanity. Every three years, four destinations take turns hosting the event, meaning Haridwar sees the thousands of Hindus gather every 12 years. It expects approximately a staggering 100 million people to participate as they bathe in the holy river Ganga and pay their respects across the 55 days.