Each time when I come to India I try to see some new parts of this huge country, so my private India puzzle is growing by another element and the whole picture gets a bit bigger. Recently I went to Rishikesh in Uttarkandh to see some of the local hotels and to visit the place, where the Beatles once spent a famous Indian summer with their Guru Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi (the one with the Rolls Royces) – my generation remembers well the strong influence on their music caused by their Indian experience and encounter with famous Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar – it was the first time that such an exotic instrument like the Sitar was introduced to the West! That was back in the 67-68 years! Happy Hippie days!
I am very interested in Indian spiritual traditions and since long wanted to visit the holy Ganga (Ganges in German) river and the cities along its journey through the country. So I started this time with Rishikesh.
You fly from Delhi about 1 hour to a place called Dehradun, with a tiny airport where you walk from the plane over to the hall. Tropical feeling, very green surroundings. Crossing Rishikesh on the way to my hotel up North about 25 km away from the town, you dip straight into Indian crazyness and miracles – even when sitting in a car, it is overwhelming. So many pilgrims, so many Ashrams – chaotic, hot, not so clean …
Pilgrims on foot, on mopeds and scooters, Sadhus with their bowls that they hope to fill during the day by alms from other people. In between the cows, lots of monkeys, birds. A miracle that no-one gets run over by the mad traffic and even madder driving habits. And steep falls down to a wild river straight from the roads with no safety fences … A wonder that you ever arrive well and in one piece where you are supposed to! I love it! And do feel rather safe – among so many faithful and in such a spiritual aura – why something should happen to me, a humble visitor from Germany!
The holy river Ganga shows its power: with the beginning of Monsoon rains plus snow melting up in the Himalayas it has risen by 3 meters compared to normal level to a brown and fast streaming river, with many currents. This by no means can keep away happy Indian Families to trustfully assemble in rafts and swoosh down for 20 kms – with guides and life-vests and helmets, all of them looking rather doubtful to me… I promised myself (and had to promise to my husband back home) that I am not participating in this particular entertainment.
Having arrived at my little hotel, in around 40 degrees of humid heat, I discover that it is built at the flanks of the mountain slopes along the Ganga, that means you have to climb … whenever you want to move on the grounds, you have to climb. After breakfast – climb. After lunch – climb. If you need WiFi, guess what – climb: in this case far down to the lobby and respectively up again to the little house they gave me. But it is a nice and pleasant resort and the managers are a young couple that I came to know a bit closer – it is always so interesting to find out what brings people to where they presently are. What is their story and their motivation?
So I talked to Shivani Biswas and her husband Manoj – both having worked with one of the best Indian Hotel chains before, the Oberoi Hotels. Shivani is from New Delhi, Manoj comes from Shimla, former capital of the British in India, up in the Himalayas. It is cool there. Much cooler than in the valley where Atali stands – which was a reason for the British to chose the remote place, which is nowadays a famous resort to escape the hot summers in the country.
The couple wanted to be more independent and flexible in how they live and work, this was the reason why they checked different opportunities. As they both love the nature (you have plenty of it around Rishikesh and the hotel property) they fell in love with the resort and since then live and manage the resort. They agree with each other that it is too hot where they are now. Also their dogs, one of them a Huskie, do not really comply with the temperatures, so all of them have to compromise on what and how to do things. So it is not only hot for us!
Manoj is a very knowledgable man – we talked a lot about their location (the state of Uttarkandh is a very new state – it was founded only in 2000 after separating from Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest states in India. And Uttarkandh being the least known “forgotten” corner. So the overall economic situation is not the very best.) We talked about environmental issues – you might have heard that the Ganga river is not only very polluted but practically a dead river further down its way. Nevertheless people take their baths, cremate their dead relatives, throw in everything (don’t want to be too detailed here, those of you who know India know what I mean). So Prime Minister Modi has declared a big national campaign to clean the Ganga river, which seems like an impossible to solve challenge …
Just there, at Rishikesh, most of the Ashrams do not have systems to clean their sewage waters. The Atali tries very hard to educate their guests to safe waters, not throw garbage, not use plastic and many more small concepts – you find little educational tableaus allover the hotel. They do have a waste cleaning system and take care of their organic waste and avoid all unnecessary consumption of non-recycable materials. Nature is the basis for the tourists to come, so it seems logic to protect the nature. We discussed all kinds of possible initiatives and I hope some of them will come to life.
Both Shivani as well as Manoj feel the strong aura of the river on its journey through the valley, onward to Rishikesh and Haridwar (much bigger pilgrim place than Rishikesh). There is a good energy and feel to the Atali place and it can be well related to the presence of a river coming straight from the mountains.
The food they serve in the hotel is simple, like home-cooked. By the way the best kind of Indian food. Most of it vegetarian, just one non-veg dish per meal on the buffet. The food is very good and healthy and makes you feel great. No alcohol is served in the hotel property (so long they did not receive the necessary permission, so it has such practical reasons) but they have my favorite drink in India, Fresh-lime soda sweet! The best thirst – quencher to have when it is hot. They have a meeting room and many Indian corporate come over to have executive meetings and team activities in the hotel!
A propos “team activities”. Of course I had to go with the Indian families to the river and try the kajak exercise. Being the only foreigner around I could not allow myself to n o t enter the boat!! It ended as it must: I was also the only one to fall in the water, a good reason to laugh for all of us! Thanks to all my Indian friends I met in Atali and particularly good luck to Shivani and Manoj! Namaste!!
Another story to come about the famous Ananda in the Himalayas hotel, 50 km away from Atali, which I also had the pleasure to visit!
Here some links for more information:
Tripadvisor: Information on Uttarkhand bit.ly/29YSRdi
Link to hotel website: www.ataliganga.com
On google: rishikesh uttarakhand india
The Beatles: thebeatlesinindia.com