I visited Rishikesh for the first time in early seventies. Rishikesh used to be small sleepy town in the foothills of Garhwal Himalayas. Town was small built around railway station. One could come out of town in five to ten minutes. Once outside, one could see free flowing mother Ganges in all her glory. One could see lush green mountains on either side of the river. Many small or large hermitages / monasteries by the river or overlooking the river. On the other side of river was forest covered mountain. My mother told me this is the path legendary pandavas took for their final journey. Looking at the mountain and river flowing through, I fell in love with the Himalayas, the king of mountains. I felt if I could merge with every dust particle, every molecule and be part of Himalayas. I wished I could be a traveller wandering through the mountain all my life. This is the mountain that has a strange vibe. Accumulated over many years of penance by seekers, that gave up ordinary lives in search of real meaning of life. this is the abode of Bholenath and mother Parvati.
Second time I visited Rishikesh was nearly ten years later. I was in final year of college, four of us friends decided to visit Rishikesh. We took a night bus from ISBT and reached Rishikesh early morning. In early eighties of preliberalisation India, Rishikesh appeared to me have not moved much from ten years before. It was still a sleepy, small and peaceful town. May be I am wrong, but did not know any better. After a quick dip in the Ganges at Rishikesh, we walked towards Lashman Jhoola. It was a beautiful and thrilling experience, no responsibility, no worry simply exploration. We stayed in a dharamshala, from the room we had a glimpse of the mountain. Lakshman Jhoola was not very crowded, there were occassional foreigners, but mostly Indians on low budget. There was a transendental meditation centre of Mahesh Yogi near by in the mountains. Next morning, we got up early and started on our trek to Nilkanth, which had a temple of Mahadev. It was to be three hour trek, through mountain that was deeply forested. There was a path used by villagers and locals. Forest cover was dense enough not to allow sunlight to penetrate. As a result the whole trail was cold and that made out hike comfortable. Every other person coming from the opposite side was greeted with Hard hard Mahadev and Jai Nilkanth Mahadev. At the top of the mountain -after which we started descending towards Nilkanth Mahadev temple, was a small dhaba serving tea and pakora. From top of the mountain we could see a grand vista below with flowing mother Ganges. We reached the small village where temple was. There were a few people low by Indian standard, yet quite a few. We offered prayers, sat in meditation and started on our return trek and back to bus station. It was my initiation to a trek in Himalayas, I fervently anticipated many more. King of mountains, nagadhiraj, did not disappoint me. I had my chances to go deep into the mountains, thereafter my destiny decided my course of life.
I had passed through Rishikesh a couple of times, but never really came out of bus station. Last I visited Lakshman Jhoola was in early 2000. Ten years post economic liberalisation, a lot had changed in Rishikesh. A massive dam in Tehri had curtailed flow of mother Ganges. Mother was not in her full flow. There were plastic bags on the sandy banks, which earlier used to be washed by fast moving water. A motorable road now connects Lakshman Jhoola to Haridwar bypassing Rishikesh. There were many cars going into Lakshman Jhoola. May be good for local economy. I also heard Nilkanth Mahadev is also connected by motorable road. All these are good for local people, local economy. More devotees can visit Shivji. However, the old charm and mystique of Rishikesh is lost to me. The satisfaction and earnestness of visiting lord Mahadev on foot by an arduous trek is different. I also read people are stealing sand and boulders from the heart of mother Ganges. It depressed me.