Spend a little time in Rishikesh and you will get caught up in the devotion of it all. Thousands of Indian pilgrims descend on this little town on the Ganges and it is easy to be swallowed up in the crowds and temple rituals. To the north of Rhamjhula and Swarg Ashram the Ganges bends and the sal forests descend down to the beaches. This is Laxmanjhula, another holy area where the temples are absolutely colossal and a higher narrower suspension bridge crosses the river. This is more of a tourist circus then Rhamjhula but the scenery is more spectacular and step away from the crowds and you have the beaches, ashrams and river all to yourself.
Laksmanjhula is about 2km north of Swarg Ashram along a bend in the Ganges. Auto-rickshaws, canters and yatra buses ply the route but it is an easy walk from Rhamjhula/Swarg along pretty forest trails. If you take this route you might glimpse some of the sadhu's (holy men) who dwell in the caves and troops of exceptionally aggressive monkeys clamber over parked cars. At the start of the Laxmanjhula Bridge (see photo)the road is lined by stallholders selling trinkets, lemonade, incense, offerings etc. What struck me was how middle-class the devotees were with turbans and brightly coloured saris on show. Rishikesh is not just a destination of the poor.
A few steps away is the Laxmanjhula Bridge. I think the view here is more spectacular then at Rhamjhula due to the proximity of the granite cliffs only a little way upstream and the towering Kalinsananda Ashram on the far bank. This monster temple had thirteen levels and devotees could be seen working their way up the stairs and corridors. Each pilgrim tinging a bell as they ascended higher. What with the babble of Hindi and the constant tinging of bells the scene was view exotic and surreal.
The bridge itself sways badly and is more congested then the one downstream. You must twist yourself around to avoid hordes of women, motorbikes and cows. On the eastern side the crowds build up around the a fountain containing a blue statue of Devi (see photo) but the best temple to visit in the area is the Badrinath ashram. This has only seven levels each dedicated to a Hindu god. You must leave your boots with a chowdikar (old man) across the road and enter the ashram with barefeet. Inside were faded sepia pictures of the yogi who founded the ashram and waxworks of Ganesh, Durga and Vishnu. Remember each statue is a living manifestation of the god and so is highly revered.I was bobbing and saying nameste with the rest of the pilgrims.
The view from the top of the ashram is beautiful with the Ganges sparkling in the sunshine and the forests so close (see photo). Then after waiting five minutes to step through the exit (we had to give way to hundreds of Indian women pilgrims stepping through)and back across the Bridge. On the western side of the river is a steep trail inbabited by monkeys that leads down to the grey beaches of the Ganges.Debris gatherers make a living along this stretch and sadhus sit on boulders meditating. We had a little wade in the Ganges and then sat back taking in the view. Yes, I can see why people come to Rishikesh - it is one of the few places in India where you can find calm and relax and never want to leave....