Almost 1,000 kilometres or 600 miles up-river from Varanasi is Rishikesh, the gateway to the Indian Himalaya.
Here, the Ganges runs clean and clear. Some consider the small town that lines the riverbank the birthplace of yoga – others know it for its association with the Beatles or for its proximity to the holy city of Haridwar.
Whatever the reason for your visit to Rishikesh, it is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.
Taking the train is one of the joys of travelling in India, and one thing I love about the Indian Railway are the train names. Each have a name evocative of the journey – in this instance, I took the Doon Express from Varanasi Cantt to Haridwar Junction.
Departing Varanasi at 10am, I arrived in Haridwar at 4 the following morning. There was no way I was leaving the train station in the dark, so I sat on my pack for four hours, drifting in and out of sleep until the sun came up.
Just under an hour from Haridwar by bus, Rishikesh is hippy-central and a tourist draw-card. It was full of tourists from all over the world – backpackers, wealthy Europeans, honeymooning Indians and families on pilgrimage thronged the narrow streets.
It’s a vastly different experience to Varanasi. The air is bright and crisp, and the water so clean it’s possible to go white-water rafting without risking death by coliform bacteria.
My intention was to spend a couple of weeks in Rishikesh on yet another yoga retreat. However, it wasn’t to be – I found myself rebelling against the spiritual atmosphere of Rishikesh and decided to get moving up to Amritsar, on the Indo-Pakistan border, as soon as possible.
So I booked a ticket on the Dehradun-Amritsar Express and spent my few days in Rishikesh mostly trying on outfits at the local FabIndia outlet and reading books at a cafe overlooking the Ganges. I didn’t even make it out to the ruins of the ashram where, in 1968, the Beatles came and wrote most of the White Album.
Oh, and in Rishikesh I was introduced to the joys of fresh lime sodas.
But aside from that…there is little else to report apart from sunny photos and laidback days a world apart from the frenzy of Varanasi. Because sometimes? You just need to do a whole lotta nothing.