I’ve solely been within the raft a couple of minutes, bobbling down a placid stretch of India’s holy Ganges River, earlier than my information, Kalyan Singh Bhandari, places his paddle down and sings a haunting Garhwali people tune typical of those Himalayan foothills. The warbling tune is, he says, meant to deliver us good luck as we navigate the category Three and three+ rapids forward.
Rishikesh map
Glistening in toothpaste blue, the Ganges winds its method from its supply on the Gangotri glacier, up close to the Tibetan border, by way of the northern state of Uttarakhand to the religious metropolis of Rishikesh (it lastly empties into the Bay of Bengal, hundreds of kilometres away). Paddling simply upstream from Rishikesh alongside a 16km route of rapids, I watch as orange-robed sadhus (Hindu ascetics) bathe on the river’s edge. Pink-faced rhesus macaques are swinging by way of the evergreen timber that rise out of the steep valley.
About 30 minutes into the journey, a Class 3+ speedy named Golf Course seems on the horizon, wanting like a wall of white in entrance of our purple raft. We collide with it head on and swirl round by way of 180 levels. By the point we realign the raft and paddle onward into extra Class Three rapids I’m drenched, and slapped foolish by the skin-stinging river water.
Hindus consider bathing within the Ganges washes away sins, so Kalyan jokes that I ought to really feel rather a lot lighter now. Electrical with the adrenaline of journey, I inform him I most actually do.

Rafts and dinghies cross an ashram coming from the rapids of the Ganges at Rishikesh. {Photograph}: Getty Pictures
We crash over extra rapids earlier than reaching a lazy stretch close to the Osho Gangadham, an ashram arrange by followers of the guru Osho, better-known within the 1980s as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose controversial group within the Oregon desert was the main focus of a Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Nation. A western girl in a scarlet frock sits on the riverbank strumming a sitar. For a fleeting second, I’m provided a imaginative and prescient of the Rishikesh of yore.
In 1968 the Beatles washed up in Rishikesh, on the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, for a coaching course in transcendental meditation that will without end alter the lifetime of this holy Himalayan metropolis. Quick-forward to 2019, and Rishikesh is not only a place for seekers of Indian spirituality: it has made a reputation for itself in an altogether totally different method as the journey capital of India.

The Beatles with mates, household and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in Rishikesh, in 1968. {Photograph}: Hulton Archive/Getty Pictures
I’ve come to see how this metropolis remodeled from an incubator of 1960s counterculture right into a 21st-century Gore-Tex mecca. I’ve booked a three-day keep at Leopard Heights, a zip-in, zip-out retreat 40km upstream from Rishikesh, accessed by way of a hair-raising zipwire journey throughout the Ganges (or by boat and uphill hike).
The five-acre camp – whose all-inclusive journey programme (from £72 a day) contains river rafting – is an actual back-to-nature expertise. Its 16 safari-style tents have hooked up loos with contemporary spring water however there’s no electrical energy. Nights are lit by roaring campfires and the dim glow of a solar-powered lantern.
The camp’s house owners, Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj, are outside fanatics who grew to become the primary Indian father-daughter duo to summit Everest final Could. Ajeet was additionally instrumental in drawing up India’s new security tips for journey tourism, which have been launched in 2018 and lay out the essential minimal requirements all operators should abide by.

Camp at Leopard Heights
“We have to have these requirements and a few type of unifying system, in order that journey has a platform to take off from in India,” Deeya tells me over the campfire on my first evening. “Now we have this unbelievable mix of nature, tradition and journey right here however we’re solely now starting to harness its potential in a delicate and sustainable method.”
The subsequent morning, I set off early on a hike by way of the terraced fields of mustard and turmeric north of Leopard Heights. I observe stone-hewn aqueducts from village to village, winding down dust paths carved into the contours of the decrease Himalaya. There are wizened silk-cotton timber and rows of untamed curry crops as I climb greater alongside the sting of the verdant valley.
Within the afternoon I hop on an open-air safari jeep and set off on a 36km circuit by way of Rajaji nationwide park, south of Rishikesh. This huge reserve of thick sal forest and wide-open savanna is a part of an vital wildlife hall main so far as Myanmar, hundreds of kilometres to the east, and residential to greater than 400 wild elephants, an estimated 32 tigers and 3 times as many leopards.

Sambar deer, Rajaji nationwide park, Uttarakhand. {Photograph}: Marc Guitard/Getty Pictures
Someplace on this dense wilderness lurks a infamous leopard with a penchant for human flesh whose rein of terror fuelled weeks of hyperbolic headlines final summer season, although he, like many of the massive fauna, stays elusive this sunny winter afternoon. As a substitute, I spot wild boar, goat-like goral, and sambar and noticed deer. The deer’s bleating calls point out {that a} massive cat is prowling within the brush simply out of sight.
Again at camp, over a meal of curried greens and rice, Deeya jogs my memory that India’s Ministry of Tourism hopes to double the journey journey market over the following two years.
A brand new report from Thrillophilia (India’s largest on-line journey platform) discovered a 178% progress in journey actions and outside experiences nationwide over the previous three years. Deeya says Rishikesh epitomises the brand new face India desires to indicate to the world.
“The kind of individuals who got here right here previously have been in search of some type of religious enlightenment however I feel the notion has modified,” she says. “Guests see that there’s a lot extra to Rishikesh – and actually to the entire of India – than a religious awakening.”
• The journey was offered by Snow Leopard Adventures, which gives a three-night, four-day all-inclusive journey package deal at Leopard Heights for £215pp