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Rishikesh

Rishikesh is really a collection of districts in India, which became famous as a spiritual centre because of its position on the banks of the Ganges, where the mountains majestically rise out of the scenic plains. Many years ago, it was rural and peaceful, and its heady mix of Himalayan highlands and holy river water attracted ascetics, gurus and yogis who set up ashrams.

By the time The Beatles arrived in the 1960s it was already more or less commercialised; the hippies have now metamorphosed into New Agers and yoga devotees. Don't expect tranquillity, but do expect some fine ashrams and temples, walks and people-watching.

Tourists come from all over the globe to experience the ‘Yoga capital of the world’ and Rishikesh has been home to several famous spiritual leaders, such as Swami Sivananda and Swami Ram, who taught at institutions like ‘The Divine Life Society’, which now has branches all over the world. For more active experiences, there are plenty of walking trails to be found here, as well as rafting opportunities.

In accordance with the religious significance of Rishikesh, only vegetarian food is permitted here, and alcohol is prohibited at this spiritual centre. Many visitors enjoy spending time in an ashram and exploring the lush green Ganges-fed forests which have long captivated those seeking spiritual enlightenment.

A particularly memorable and meditative event called the ‘Ganga Aarti’ takes place every evening on the ‘ghats’ of the river. As dusk descends, offerings are made in the form of tiny flickering lanterns surrounded by flowers which float beautifully down the river. As incense swirls over the water and sadhus (holy men) chant and chime bells, visitors can expect to be moved by this hypnotic spectacle. This intoxicating, almost magical, experience is bound to leave you wanting to explore India more, as well as return to the wonderful country again and again.

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