In May I went on a 3 day solo trip (sans kids) to Rishikesh, a small city located in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. Rishikesh is scenically located where the Ganges River comes down from the Himalayas -- so the views are absolutely breathtaking. Many people visit this holy city to bathe in the Ganges River, the most sacred river to Hindus. Many temples, ancient as well as new, can be found along the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh.
This was the view of the Ganges and Himalayan foothills from my car window as I was driving from the airport.
I stayed at the Ananda Resort, a spa nestled in the Himalayan mountains surrounded by Sal forests and overlooking the Ganga River as it meanders in the distance. The Spa is concealed by the facade of the royal palace of the Maharaja (King) of the local area (shown below).
I got a royal welcome when I arrived.
This was the view from my balcony. It was pretty amazing waking up to this view of the Ganges.
The Ananda is a retreat that focuses on bringing Yoga, Ayurvedic and Vedanta practices into your lifestyle. This is combined with international spa therapies. This amphitheatre is where I did yoga every morning.
I got all types of spa treatments during my visit -- Swedish massage, salt scrub, reflexology, and a Himalayan facial. I also went to Meditation sessions, tried Yoga Nidra (Yogic sleep) and took classes on Vedanta teachings. The whole experience was pretty amazing.
The day before I left I ventured out of the Spa to see a bit of Rishikesh. That morning I left the spa at 5 am to visit the Kunjapuri Temple-- the holy shrine dedicated to Goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva. It is located 14 km north of the Ananda spa at 1645 meters above sea level. It is the highest peak in the nearby vicinity and offers a spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the Ganges and Himalayan foothills to the North and Rishikesh, Haridwar and Doon valley to the South.
Once you get there by car it takes another 306 steps to reach the temple.
I was very keen to get to the temple in time to see the sun rise over the Himalayan foothills and I arrived just in time. As soon as I set up my camera and tripod the sun started peaking through.
I tried to capture the sun rising at three minute increments....
Watching the sun rise from such a peaceful and holy venue was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. It's almost indescribable.
Once the sun rose these are some of the views of the foothills on the other side of the temple's balcony.
Once I got all the picture taking out of the way I visited the temple and attended the morning puja.
On my way down from the temple I still caught some amazing views of the sun shining over the foothills.
That evening I traveled to the Parmath Niketan Ashram (shown below) situated on the banks of the Ganges to attend the Ganga Aarti.
To get to the Ashram you can either walk across the bridge below (which I did on the return trip) or take a boat ride, which I opted for on the way there.
White Water rafting is very popular on the Ganges, and apparently very challenging (level 5). I was told that recently Brad Pitt jetted into Rishikesh with his entourage for some serious whitewater rafting on the Ganges.
As I waited for the boat I was entertained by some interesting characters. This monkey literally posed for me while I took his picture.
A cute woman selling offering for the Aarti.
Rishikesh is known as the the World Capital of Yoga and the Ashram I visited happened to be the location of the annual International Yoga festival in March. What a view the yogis had!!!
When I arrived the Aarti had already begun. The Ganga Aarti is a very auspicious Hindu ritual where prayers are offered to God. It is done daily at this Ashram and visitors come from all over the world to take part in the spiritual ceremony.
This is the spiritual leader (Guru) of this ashram. The Guru with his devotees sing the prayers welcoming and thanking the River Ganga for being the source of life and prosperity for this region.
During the Aarti a holy fire is lit called the "Yagna" (offering of a mixture of different herbs with clarified butter to the fire while chanting the prayers or Mantra in order to purify the surrounding environment and to invite the holy vibrations).
The experience, the view and the positive vibrations of the Aarti were so inspirational that it is difficult to put into worlds. It is something I will never forget.
The evening ended with watching the sun set over the Ganges. All in all, it was a pretty incredible day watching the sun rise over the Himalayan foothills and set over the Ganges River. An amazing ending to my quick getaway to Rishikesh!