“ Hotel in central Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org „
I've been rude in the past about the DVD and TV series 'India with Sanjeev Bhaskar' but despite my reservations about the show it did introduce one useful and interesting idea - that we should take a trip to the city of Rishikesh. Prior to watching his show I hadn't heard of the place at all even though it's probably most famous as the city where the Beatles hung out during their mystical Eastern phase with their Yogi. Doing my research when planning our recent trip, I discovered it was a bit of a cult destination - much loved by locals as a place of religious pilgrimage and ritual cleansing and by foreign tourists of a particularly hippy yoga-loving bent. If you want to go and spruce up your yoga skills or find a guru, chances are you'll head to Rishikesh, a sublime place nestling in the crook of a bend in the Ganges. Rishikesh is actually less 'holy' than it's sister city, Haridwar, but it's a lot cleaner, prettier and more manageable if you're not ready for full on lepers, beggars and weird chaps covered in ash with beards down to their bellies. In terms of all-out holiness, Rishikesh is 'Haridwar Light'.
We travelled to the city by car from the noisy and unholy mess of Dehradun and we were less in search of enlightenment and much more in search of peace and quiet. Our journey was a bit of an adventure but not for the normal 'pot hole/police roadblock/land slide/monkey mugging' sort of reasons. Instead we had a driver under extreme stress. As our bags were being loaded into the lovely big four wheel drive jeepy-thing that the Doon Castle hotel in Dehradun had arranged for us, my husband spotted that the driver wasn't happy. He kept moving the bags around and Tony assumed that he didn't like the way the bags were loaded. He helped the driver rearrange the bags and we all hopped in to set off. The driver turned to Tony and started jabbering away in who-knows-what language. We all shouted at Tony to not agree or nod or appear to go along with anything since he hadn't the first idea what was going on. After a stop at a petrol station to find someone who could translate, it turned out that the driver had lost his driving license and was scared about getting arrested. The man in the garage told him to get a grip and if he was too worried he'd better take us back to the hotel and find someone else to drive us. Yes, we were all very relaxed after that!
The roads were excellent by Indian standards and we were there in less than an hour, even allowing for the driver getting lost and having to ask for help. We paid around £20 for the journey in a luxurious air con vehicle that didn't look as if it would fall apart in a strong breeze but if you're watching your pennies there are public bus services available if you can be bothered. With four of us in the car it wasn't a major expense.
I had been a bit worried about access to the hotel after reading some reviews that said the only way to get there was by walking up a steep hill for 15 to 20 minutes but we didn't need to worry, you just need to get across the river at the right point. However if you arrived by train and had no transport and were too mean to pay for an auto-rickshaw you would indeed have a lung-busting walk. Fortunately we were dropped right outside the reception and arrived without raising a sweat.
The hotel is clean, old and a bit worn and much as I liked it, it's only fair to say that it looks nothing like the pictures on the website, especially the rooms. Admittedly we booked 'deluxe' rooms which are the cheapest grade, but there was absolutely no similarity between our rather charming and slightly shabby rooms and the elegant rooms on the website. We didn't mind as we liked the rooms we were given but if you're inclined to gripe about anything that's not 100% as promised, it could well wind you up. It's also misleadingly far from the main suspension bridge and the website is very evasive about how to actually find it. I can imagine that anyone rolling up on the train and thinking it was 'just the other side of the bridge' might be justifiably peeved to find it's rather a long up-hill walk after crossing a pedestrian bridge. The staff on the front desk were helpful and spoke good English and were happy to offer advice on what to see and do and they also let us keep one of the rooms for a couple of extra hours without charging for the late check-out. They also arranged a car to take us on to Haridwar the next day so we were more than happy with their quiet, unpushy efficiency. Getting advice on what to see anywhere in India is always tricky as most people seem extremely reluctant to recommend things, perhaps for fear that you'll hate them. The receptionist said we absolutely had to go the Aarti ceremony and that was recommendation enough for us.
~Room to Unwind~
We had two rooms off a small balcony that wasn't on the way to anywhere so it was very private. The rooms were quite old fashioned but rather endearingly so. Aside from the slippery cream tiled floors that were deadly when wet, we liked our rooms but mostly for the fabulous views and the quietness of the location. It's great to have the background noise of the mighty river Ganges and the occasional sounds of a temple next door instead of non-stop road noise.
Each room had a double bed that was less rock-hard than in most Indian hotels. At some point between check in and going to sleep our two pillows on the bed underwent some miraculous transformation into four pillows. That's the magical mystical power of Rishikesh. The bed had clean white sheets and a thick warm blanket which came in handy despite the high temperatures and humidity since we needed air-con in order to get to sleep. I seriously underestimated how hot the foothills of the Himalaya could be in the second half of October.
The walls were painted cream and showed signs of water leaks or mould in the past but whatever the problem had once been it had long been solved and we couldn't smell anything so it wasn't a problem. There was a lot of lighting both over the bed and on the walls. Brown curtains pulled back to show a large picture window that was filled with tree-covered mountain sides. I could have happily just sat and looked all day - and there were a couple of chairs out on the balcony so we could do just that.
There was a wooden wall-mounted platform with the TV on it that seemed to be leaning slightly to one side. The small fridge underneath was stocked with water, red bull and lychee juice drink. To the side of the bed were two comfy arm chairs and a large glass coffee table jammed up against a large old wardobe in the corner. Bedside tables were found on each side of the bed.
The bathroom was a bit old and unloved but was clean. It was just a bit scruffy and horribly badly grouted especially around the bath which was full length with a powerful shower over it and no problems with hot water supply. There was no shower curtain but surprisingly it didn't spray much and I didn't flood the room. The loo was unique and seemed to have been designed so that you could use it as both a western or a squat toilet if you preferred. The sink had no surround unit so everything had to be squeezed into a small space.
The Divine has a number of additional facilities available. There's a small bakery cafe on the front of the hotel with donuts, strudels and cheap savoury snacks. However, this is a bit wasted since the best part of the hotel is the view from the back and sitting next to a scruffy road seems a waste of a good view. The main restaurant is downstairs and has picture windows offering spectacular views over the Ganges and towards the suspension bridge. As a final option, you can eat outside on the main level or upstairs on a higher platform, but that seemed a bit cruel after we watched a waiter attempt to negotiate the circular staircase one-handed without dropping his pizzas.
We had breakfast in the main restaurant which was a buffet arrangement and was - sorry to say - distinctly uninteresting. The coffee was cold and the choice was omelette or omelette (or porridge which in a high temperature/high humidity setting seems a bit incongruous) Thank goodness the review compensated for the food. On the evening we arrived we ate down in the city but went to the hotel restaurant for lassi and banana pancakes on our return. Yes, Rishikesh is a bit of a banana pancake type of place - if you've done your share of backpacking, you'll know what I mean by that.
Massage and beauty treatments are available in a rather scruffy treatment centre which seemed to double up as a staff dorm based on the number of people we saw flaked out in there. There's a small internet cafe in an annexe building but no wi-fi inside the hotel. The travel agency next door can arrange rafting, trekking and visits to wildlife parks but we were there for such a short time that our options were very limited. The main lower bridge is a pleasant walk down the hill and an inexpensive auto-rickshaw ride back up. The other bridge across the Ganges is even closer - turn left out of the hotel and past the temple - but if you want to see the Aarti (the nightly worship at the river) you'll need to go down the hill to the main bridge.
I believe we paid about £35 per room for this hotel - I got a discount of 300 rupees because I booked it through the same website as our train tickets and received a couple of vouchers. This caused some complications since I wanted to book two rooms and I had two vouchers but didn't want to risk making two separate bookings and then having the hotel cancel one of them thinking it was a mistake. Consequently one room was booked in my room and the other in my husband's and the hotel didn't mind at all how we then distributed the four of us between the two rooms.
Of all the hotels on our trip this was everyone's stand-out favourite. The location was idyllic and it was so quiet and peaceful that it was hard to believe you were actually in India. This was the place that my sister and her girlfriend most wanted to go back to. The next hotel in Haridwar didn't really stand a chance of shining when we practically had to drag them away.
I couldn't give a hoot for yoga and meditation but I still really enjoyed our 24 hour visit to Rishikesh. We loved being out of the centre in such a quiet hillside position and were glad we'd chosen the Divine. I'd originally selected a much cheaper and more central hotel that wanted payment by an expensive money transfer system which meant it was just too much trouble. The Divine isn't as plush as it would like to imply but it's beautifully calm and relaxing with the best views in the city.
Laxman Jhula Divine Resort
Tapovan Laxman Jhula