Haridwar, Rishikesh and around

The sacred cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh abound in Hindu religious history and seethe with modern- day pilgrims. Yet, although only a few kilometres apart, they share little in tempo or atmosphere. One of the oldest cities in the world, dilapidated, heady Haridwar, fabled for holding Vishnu's footprint and the site of numerous scenes from the Mahabharata, is one of Hinduism's seven holiest cities and correspondingly overrun with Indian pilgrims - between February and June 2010 an estimated 10 million devotees will arrive as the city plays host to the epic Kumbh Mela festival. Meanwhile, ashram and swarmi-full Rishikesh, upriver, is much more geared towards Western spiritual seekers: a place one writer summed up as a hybrid of Blackpool and Lourdes. Along with an array of sound hatha yoga and vedanta classes come all the accoutrements of international budget travel: internet caf├ęs, self-help bookshops, clothes and mantra CD shops. Further upstream, the sacred Ganga has a new following, hungry for adventure not enlightenment: they are drawn to Shivpuri in its role as India's unofficial whitewater rafting capital. The Char Dham pilgrimage route begins at Rishikesh, and the town makes a good base from which to arrange treks in the Garhwal Himalaya or elephant-spotting trips into the nearby Rajaji National Park.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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