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9 epic reasons to chill out in Tapovan. RIshikesh. India

Tapovan: 9 epic reasons to visit Rishikesh

Tapovan captures the heart of the spiritual tourism industry, yet provides relief from the relentless hustle-and-bustle of Rajasthan. Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, I found myself on the edges of gorgeous Rishikesh.  The birthplace of yoga and a tranquil getaway just hours away from some of India’s most chaotic stopovers.

Rishikesh came as a breath of fresh air after a number of weeks exploring Rajasthan, the relentless  ‘Golden Triangle’. After two days on busy sleeper trains and grotty transit hotels, I was welcomed into this chilled out pace of life like an old friend. I had picked up a Workaway assignment, so made my way Northeast toward Tapovan to meet my hosts. I was pleased to arrive into a relaxed, leafy village nestled into the banks of the Holy Ganges.

Tapovan is very close to where the Ganges begin

Rishikesh is very close to where the Ganges begin and is a popular spot for swimming, bathing and washing clothes.

Tapovan – The forest of austerities

Note: there are a number of Tapovan’s in India! However, this post is about the one in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

Tapovan in sanskrit means forest of austerities, a fitting name for a leafy quarter overlooked by countless ashrams.  Up on the hills emerald jungles hide secret waterfalls and hiking trails up into the Himalayan foothills. This really is a rather special spot. I recommend Tapovan if you want keep a foot in the tourist-loop, yet relax a little more than other areas.

1 Meditation without the masses

Tapovan, Rishikesh is an excellent place to go for meditation

India provides a feast of meditation options, and is perhaps one of the elements the country is most famed for. Across the sub-continent you can find mind-blowingly large meditation halls swarming with meditators of all experience levels. However, Rishikesh offers smaller, less touristy and cheap (sometimes free) options to dodge the crowds and have a chilled, authentic, meditative experience.

There are plenty to choose from, and in & around the Tapovan area you can expect to pay around 300rs for a session. I opted for the free evening vipassana sessions at Ajatananda Ashram and had a series of excellent experiences. (They also provide free morning hatha yoga and various other fantastic things)

2 Lakshman Jhula bridge

Tapovan: 9 epic reasons to visit. Lakhsman Jhula BridgeOne of the most iconic and beautiful parts of Rishikesh I discovered was Lakshman Jhula, the iron suspension bridge connecting Tapovan village with Jonk village across the river Ganges. During the day this swaying contraption is brimming with selfie-wielding tourists who give ways to scooters, vendors and cows.. All the while monkeys dangle precariously, taking juice boxes from children and adventure-seekers paddle rafts underneath.

This is one of my favourite places to stop and take in the madness that is India – the sights sounds and smells of street food, scooter bustle and local women doing their daily washing in the river below. Unfortunately, this hive of activity is home to pickpockets, so, as with most places in India, keep a close eye on your belongings.

Overlooking Lakshman Jhula on either side are a number of great cafes serving up good food at good prices, as well as great views especially at sunset – I particularly enjoy Cafe De Goa on the Tapovan side for excellent sunset views of the bridge & the aarti.

3 Breathe in the nature

Trayambakeshwar. The marvellous, 13-story temple - one of the most famous in Rishikesh.

Trayambakeshwar. The marvellous, 13-story temple – one of the most famous in Rishikesh.

Rishikesh has an abundance of nature unlike anywhere in nearby Rajasthan. Far from the arid desert-scapes of Jaisalmer or the tireless bustle of Delhi, Rishikesh provides a refreshing burst of green forests and clear running water. It’s an easy stroll down to the river beach, where many take a dip in the refreshing waters. Before you get any visions of burning bodies and mukey, toxic waters, Rishikesh is different. This is where the Himalayas birth the Ganga – fresh and clean, before any of those goings-on.

TIP: There are plenty of great treks in the area that will take you to bubbling waterfalls or the marvelous sunset point. If walking isn’t your thing (but sunsets & waterfalls definitely are), you can always jump in a tuk tuk at the crack of dawn and take a peek before starting your day.

4 Camp on the banks of the Ganges

Does simply the word ‘India’ insite visions of camping? Nope? Me either. But, turns out it’s a thing – and a pretty popular thing at that. Usually bundled in with a rafting package, camping on the riverside provides an entirely new way to see the holy river Ganga.

A simple scan of Tripadvisor will show just how popular Rishikesh camping has become – from the humble, simple tent right through to glamping and river-front ‘camping’ luxury cabins, I reckon you might just find something that will suit your tastes.

5 A welcome break from the crazy

Tapovan: 9 reasons to visit. Free Spirit Cafe

The wonderful Free Spirit Cafe provides wonderful river views and chilled out vibe (with excellent, cheap food too)

I arrived from Jaisalmer, via a stopover in dust, hectic Bikaner. Before that – a whirlwind tour roughly around parts of the Golden Triangle. Crazy is an understatement – honking horns, relentless touts and partying backpackers set the scene for my previous few weeks. Rishikesh, however, is different.

This is a Hindu Holy city where meat and alcohol are strictly banned. Instead of bars and tandoori joints, Rishikesh is home to health-food shops, delish veggie cafes and juice bars that have found their niche with the health-conscious yoga crowds here. Whether this is to your taste or not, there’s no arguing that this city with a holy focus is a little more chilled out than it’s clambering neighbors.

Tapovan is the perfect village to kick back and watch the world (and the Ganges) go by with a thali plate packed full of veg curries + a masala chai. Check out the Free Spirit Cafe or Beatles Cafe for a relaxed, booze-free spot (with exceptional food) to enjoy the ambiance.

6 Don’t just feed your belly – feed your soul

Tapovan provides plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty and give back to the community, especially if you are planning to stick around for a few weeks or months.

Ramana’s Garden Children’s Home is perfect if you are looking for a longer-term volunteer plan & want to work with children. “Ramana’s Garden Children’s Home in Rishikesh, India is home to over 60 at risk children and a free English medium school for over 160 students from Ramana’s Garden and local underprivileged families.”  You will need to commit for a minimum of three months, but if you have the time & love to spare it is a magical place and a wonderful cause to get involved in. Click here for a link to their ‘about volunteering’ page for more info.

Can’t stay this long? Or perhaps a children’s home is not quite up your alley? There are a number of Workaway hosts who will provide accommodation and food in exchange for voluntary work. In the region you can Teach English to young Tibetan monks, help out at a shelter for distressed women and children, teach in a charitable school, or perhaps work in healthcare with a women’s support NGO.

7 Explore the markets

Market culture is a way of life here. Like all Indian villages, the local market is the solid foundation underlying the community, Rishikesh is no different. If you explore either side of Lakshman Jhula you’ll find sari’s, jewels, and fragrant offerings of sandalwood, marigolds and roses. Receive a massage, have your astrology charts read or stock up on mangoes and holy Ganga water while you’re here.

The touts and shop owners are much less aggressive here than in cities further south, and although they seem a little less open to heavy bargaining, the experience of window shopping is considerably more pleasant than in Jaipur or Agra.

You will find more spiritual sellers on the Tapovan side peddling sandalwood jewelry, joss sticks and shiva statues. The Jonk side hosts a larger selection of cafes, restaurants and vendors selling clothing, jewellry and souvenirs.

8 Ganga Aarti, but not like you know it

Rishikesh is one of 3 holy cities India to host the spiritual power and incredible atmosphere of the Ganga Aarti.  The other two, Haridwar & Varinasi, tend to be massive affairs packed full of worshippers and onlookers. Each and every dusk the lamps are lit, the bells are rung and the mesmerising chants begin. Although not in Tapovan, Parmarth Niketan is your closest stop to soak up this massive spiritual spectacle, of if you feel like heading further into central Rishikesh then Triveni Ghat is the other breathtaking place to go.

For a slightly smaller affair, park up near Lakshman Jhula around dusk for a smaller (but still breathtaking) Aarti, you can watch from either sides of the banks or perch yourself atop one of the restaurant balcony areas.

How my travel insurance saved the day

Have you ever made any totally irresponsible decisions? You know, the kind that seem like no-big-deal at the time, but in retrospect were a terrible idea? Mine was traveling without travel insurance. Not purposefully, mind you. But it’s still not very smart, to say the least.

Luckily, this isn’t a horror story. Those few times when my insurance lapsed, where long-term travel got the better of me and I forgot to renew it, in those moments I got lucky and nothing too bad happened. When I did get struck down by illness in India, thankfully I was covered – albeit by a travel insurance company I had never tested before, one of which has mixed reviews online. So, what happened?

Choosing the Right Travel Insurance Company

Selecting travel insurance can prove a challenge. It’s one of those things that you (hopefully) rarely need to use, and sits as a safety net in the background while you travel. However, when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. In fact, over on the World Nomads blog they’ve got an awesome selection of customer disaster stories, if you’re in the mood for a good tale!

Everybody has different priorities when it comes to insurance, but long-term travelers face different needs and challenges from your regular holiday makers. Continue reading

Travelling Sleeper Class in Rajasthan

How do you prepare for travelling sleeper class in an exotic country? Chances are you might not have laid eyes upon something as well-run and efficient, yet so insane and chaotic, as the Indian railways.  In true Indian style their railways, like everything else, are a land of contrasts.
As dusk started to take hold we were barreling out through the outskirts of the New Delhi slums. The evening breeze coming in through the windows cooled the muggy carriage air and the elderly Indian lady began reading my book along with me over my shoulder. Life is for sharing in India, and time spent on the trains highlights exactly that. Young men played cards on the higher berths, leaning over my head to pass playing cards to one another and high-school kids jostled to get selfies taken with me – something I got told later they would probably use to prove to their friends they now had a wealthy Westerner friend or girlfriend.

During my time in Northern India I spent around 40 hours navigating the overnight Rajasthan railway systems, and I can happily report I had (mostly) wonderful experiences, and it was the best way to really experience Indian culture and life. The key is to be well prepared in advance, and know what to expect. It makes all the difference, and seriously arms you for an enjoyable rail journey around the state of Rajasthan (or anywhere in India, for that matter!) 

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