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    Rishikesh at its Finest

    Around seven hours North of Delhi lies Rishikesh, a holy city renowned for its relaxation, yoga, meditation, awe-inspiring Himalayan landscape and unmissable centerpiece – the river Ganges.

    Although Rishikesh is a small city in comparison to its humongous, bustling counterparts, there are an abundance of things to see and do to keep you busy…

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Yoga and Meditaton - My Culture Craving

    Stay at a yoga/meditation retreat

    Whether you are an avid yogi looking for an intensive yoga and/or meditation course or, somebody who simply wants to give the spiritual side of India ‘a go’, there are a multitude of ashrams and retreats in Rishikesh, which will cater for whatever it is you are hoping to get out of your stay.

    From ashrams that are so devout you must take a vow of silence for a number of days/weeks to chilled-out huts nestled in leafy hill stations, whichever option you go for, you’re bound to leave a more refreshed and rejuvenated person than you arrived.

    Have a read about my incredible experience at the wonderful Rishikesh Valley here.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Aarti Festival - My Culture Craving

    Attend the Aarti festival 

    The Aarti festival is an unmissable experience bursting with energy, colour, spirituality and song. Every evening at sunset  locals flood to the Parmarth ashram (located alongside the river Ganges) to place offerings to their Gods on the river.

    This festival is a great way to get an insight into the Indian culture and was a huge highlight of my time in India.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - The Ganges - My Culture Craving

    Go white water rafting/bungee jumping

    Rishikesh is like the Queensland of India. With its imposing mountainous landscape, fast paced Ganges and frivolous visitors, it is the perfect place to partake in a spot of adrenaline fueled fun.

    Whether you want to go white water rafting down the rapid Ganges or bungee jump with the Himalayas as your backdrop, Rishikesh is the place to do it.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Sightseeing - My Culture Craving

    Go for a wander

    The centre of Rishikesh is quaint and beautiful. With lots of temples, shops, sights and the famous Lakshman Jhula bridge to keep you busy, it is worth setting aside a day to simple wander and explore.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Waterfall - My Culture Craving

    Visit Neer Garh waterfall

    If you don’t mind a bit of a trek, take the 20 minute hike through Rishikesh’s picturesque scenery to the beautiful Neer Garh waterfall.

    I promise – cooling off in the waterfalls’ refreshing water is well worth the walk!

    Have you ever been to Rishikesh? What would you recommend to see/do whilst there? Please comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know :)!

    The Indian Festival of Light, Aarti in Rishikesh, India

    As I marvelled at the exquisite scenery of Rishikesh and the captivating sight of the Ganges, I spotted a group of local Indians swimming, splashing and cleansing in the water.

    A local who had noticed me staring at the bathers, informed me that Hindus hold the belief that washing in the river Ganges forgives them of their sins.

    I wandered past the energized Indians and noticed one sadhu (holy man), dressed in a striking, marigold sarong cupping and sipping water from the river in his hands. It was this image that crystallized everything I already knew about the Ganges – its role in Hinduism as a cardinal element of religion, life, death, rejuvenation, repentance and spiritual energy.

    As I continued my journey through the hustle and bustle of Rishikesh’s charming streets I stumbled across the electric holy ceremony of Aarti, which is held every night at sunset at Parmarth ashram.

    Hundreds of vibrantly dressed Indians were gathered around the Ganges chanting, singing, clapping, swaying and playing instruments. I took a seat on a marbled step and admired the lively energy, which skipped its way around the service.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Aarti Festival - My Culture Craving

    Aarti Festival, Rishikesh - My Culture Craving

    Aarti Festival, Rishikesh - Sunset - My Culture Craving

    Aarti Festival, Rishikesh - Shiva - My Culture Craving

    As each member of the ashram flooded towards the glowing flame of the candles, I inhaled the fragrance of the burning sandalwood, which swirled its way around the foot of the Ganges – I felt enlightened, tranquil and at peace.

    A kind man taking part in the ceremony explained to me that ‘Aarti’ is a ritual of worship where wicks, which are formally soaked in ghee (purified butter, which most Indians use in their cooking) are lit as an offering to the Gods. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of this important and personal ritual.

    Once the ceremony had come to an end, I caught a glimpse of an assembly of radiant lights bobbing their way along the Ganges. As my eyes focused on the glowing flames I realized that they were what the man had referred to earlier as diyas – tea light candles cradled in small boats made of flower petals. He had explained that each diya is placed on the Ganges as an offering to the Gods or as a wish.

    Aarti Festival, Rishikesh - Diyas - My Culture Craving

    Not only was it fascinating to understand the spiritual and symbolic aspects of diyas, it was also a delight on the eye. As I placed my diya on the river Ganges, I looked out across the cloud of tea lights and thanked any God for such a beautiful sight.

    To read more about my time in Rishikesh, India (as you can probably tell, I LOVE Rishikesh) please click here.

    The Most Unconventional Christmas Day to Date

    Rishikesh, also known as ‘The Gateway to the Himalayas’ is an enchanting city seven hours north of Delhi, which is known for its yoga, ashrams and picturesque setting.

    Having already visited Rishikesh during my first trip to India, I knew that I had to show my Mum this stunning, spiritual and enlightening place – there is something about Rishikesh which is special. It tugs at your heart-strings for no apparent reason and you leave a more revived and content person than you arrived.

    Therefore, on my second visit I was keen to get more involved in the yoga and meditation side of the city, which led my mother and I to Rishikesh Valley

    After a ten kilometer taxi ride (approximately half an hour) along the tortuous, rough roads of the Himalayas, we were relieved to reach our destination in one piece – especially as it was Christmas Day!

    Rishikesh Valley, India - View - My Culture Craving

    Set amidst the adventurous side of the area (white water rafting, bungee jumping etc.), Rishikesh Valley is simplicity at its very finest.

    As we entered the adorable village, we admired the area, which we would be calling home (and boy did it end up feeling like home) for the next four days.

    The rustic huts, made from jungle grass, mud and clay were sprinkled throughout the village. The yoga and meditation room, which had a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and contained yoga mats, a Buddha’s head (I’m a sucker for a good Buddha’s head), a music player and colourful sheer fabric draped across the room, was situated in the middle of the complex. And the outdoor communal area consisting of a charming, rickety tree house (for the owner’s daughter) and a cute swinging chair, lay adjacent to the river Ganges.

    Rishikesh Valley, India - Tree House - My Culture Craving

    After being shown around by our high-spirited and welcoming host, Anand (this man has the friendliest smile I have ever seen) and having followed the pebble lined path to our hut, we entered our room. In front of us lay a charismatic four-poster bed draped in vibrant, Indian fabric, creating our very own cosy den, a couple of cupboards and an en suite (of the bucket for a shower variety). The room even had its own private, quirky stone terrace, surrounded by jungle-like foliage and the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas – it was basic bliss.

    Rishikesh Valley, India - My Culture Craving

    Rishikesh Valley, India - Room - My Culture Craving

    Rishikesh Valley, India - Toilet - My Culture Craving

    Once we had settled, we ventured to the communal area to indulge in our Indian Christmas lunch.

    As Rishikesh Valley is a little out in the sticks, when you book your stay you are offered a choice of packages, all of which include three organic and vegetarian meals a day (get ready to eat till your heart’s content!). Check out their website for more information about the different packages they offer.

    Far from our usual conventional Christmas lunch, we wolfed down a heavenly mixture of freshly made dal, Indian spiced vegetables, rice, salad and chapati – they don’t let you go hungry at Rishikesh Valley!

    Rishikesh Valley, India - Food - My Culture Craving

    Shortly after our chapati food baby had dispersed, Anand’s beautiful wife came over to talk to us about the package we had booked and told us a little bit about the area (we opted for the four days, three nights yoga and meditation package, which included accommodation, three meals a day, yoga at sunrise, meditation at sunset and an Ayurvedic Massage all for an unbelievable 8500 rupees per person, approximately £25 per person a day!).

    The amazing thing about this place is that there is no pressure, no plans, no internet – you are at one with nature and it is just incredible! Therefore, it was entirely up to us when we had our massage or ate our food…

    After an afternoon of relaxing, reading and reluctantly writing an essay for Uni (I couldn’t complain though – my surroundings were a far cry from the depressing four walls of the library), we cocooned ourselves in the snug blankets left in our room (be warned – December in Rishikesh is COLD at night) and waddled to the yoga and meditation room for our first taste of meditation.

    Rishikesh at its Finest - Yoga and Meditaton - My Culture Craving

    Neither of us had ever properly meditated before therefore, we were very curious to see what it had to offer.

    Anand led both the yoga and meditation classes and he was amazing. He explained the advantages and the importance of each posture or sequence we were doing, he pushed us as far as we needed to be pushed but never too far and he had a passion and enthusiasm for spirituality, which was enlightening. By the end of our four day stay my Mum could stand on one foot without wobbling (don’t laugh, it was a proud moment for her…) and I could do some weird move that resulted in my legs being hung around my head (an undignified yet proud moment for myself).

    In both cases, we had progressed in both meditation and yoga and we only had Anand’s tough love to thank for that!

    We ended Christmas Day wrapped up like pigs in blankets (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), huddled around a fire, eating a scrumptious dinner and enjoying the company of the other guests and Anand and his wife. After an hour or so of exchanging travelling stories and learning about Rishikesh Valley, my mother and I called it a night and toddled back to our hut.

    Rishikesh Valley, India - Fire - My Culture Craving

    To our surprise, five minutes later there was a knock at our door and there, stood on our porch, was one of the young boys who worked at Rishikesh Valley smiling and holding two hot water bottles in his hand – hospitality at its very very best!

    We ended Christmas Day spooning our hot water bottles feeling toasty, joyful and blessed to be staying in such an extraordinary place.

    It is hard to put into words how hospitable, friendly and caring the people at Rishikesh Valley are. In just four days we were made to feel as though we were a part of the family and I genuinely couldn’t recommend this place enough!!

    When we eventually had to leave our new-found home I was overwhelmed by emotion and once again, I didn’t know why… was it Anand and his families kindness? Was it the spiritual bliss of the yoga, meditation and scenery?

    Or, was it simply, the power of Rishikesh?

    Rishikesh at its Finest - My Culture Craving