Nestled in the rolling emerald foothills of the mighty Himalayas lies Rishikesh; the birthplace of yoga, home to meditation, kale smoothies and a haven for many Western yogis and hippies who make it their life mission to embrace all things spiritual about life within this holy Indian town. With Mama Ganga flowing powerfully through, it is definitely the perfect place to channel peace and love and gain knowledge about Hinduism.
In Hinduism, the river Ganges is considered sacred and is associated with the goddess, Gaṅgā. She is worshiped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river will wash away their sins and will bring Moksha, which is the liberation from the cycle of life and death. It’s said that the water of the Ganges is considered very pure, therefore being one of the most sacred rivers in the world. Even if you aren’t religious, spiritual, or a believer in any of the hype, it’s a really eye opening moment as a traveller to witness people of another culture celebrating their own beliefs within their daily lives.
Rishikesh has somewhat become a right of passage for those wanting to gain knowledge about yoga, meditation, Hinduism, or just a place to cross off their travel bucket list. Surrounded on three sides by beautiful mountains, it was by far, my favourite area that I stayed in within the whole trip.
If you are planning a trip to India in the near future, I highly suggest going north and making your way to Rishikesh and staying for at least a week in order to explore the surrounding area. Even a week is not enough time, as I could’ve easily stayed there an entire month and explored more of the northern parts of the Himalayas to see the famous snow capped peaks. Something about seeing the mountains every morning out of my window just made me a happy girl.
I’ve compiled a list of what to do, where to stay and what to know before you go to Rishikesh in order to provide you guys with the essential travel guide to this Himalayan gem of a town.
The closest airport is Dehradun Airport (DED) and is also known as Jolly Grant Airport. Dehradun is a tiny domestic airport, which is located about 16 kms away from Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. There is no direct public transport to Rishikesh, so if you aren’t part of an organized tour with planned transportation, don’t fret, as you can take a cab for a very reasonable price. If you are looking for a reliable cab service, visit Rome2Rio for all your transport needs. I find that they are the best site to obtain all transport options, whether it be a cab, bus, or private car to hire. Even though the distance to Rishikesh is small, remember that you are in India and it will more than likely take just over an hour to reach your destination. 😉 Pro tip: Plan ahead!
Read more: How I Spent Two Weeks Travelling In India
When To Visit
The temperatures in Rishikesh can get hot even if it is located in the foothills of the Himalayas…it is India afterall. The best time to visit Rishikesh would be March to April and September to October. Due to Rishikesh’s location in the mountains, it’s best to avoid this area during India’s monsoon season, which runs from July to August and receives quite a lot of rainfall. Winters run from November to February and are pleasant in temps, but you may need to bring some long sleeved woolen shirts and a light jacket in case temperatures drop more than you’re used to. I was travelling in Rishikesh during mid-March and found that the temperature during the day to be quite warm, but not scorching hot, except for a few days here and there. In the evenings, the temperature would drop to the mid to high teens, but I was comfortable in a light long sleeved linen top and leggings and sometimes paired with a pashmina, or kimono. The mornings were cool and breezy, so pack a lightweight jacket, or light sweater if you are going out early in the morning. March is also a great time of year to visit because you can celebrate the Holi Festival, which is an experience unlike any other and is a time for great celebration and happiness within the entire country and also when the International Yoga Festival happens.
What To Do
Rishikesh is a town that is great to explore on foot. Walking through the markets and many shopping laneways is a great way to immerse yourself with the locals and really feel the vibe of the place. Although Rishikesh is touted as the “Yoga Capital of the World,” there are many other activities and excursions to enjoy while visiting this laidback town. Make your way to Haridwar and visit Har Ki Pauri, which is a famous area on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar. This place is the major landmark of the holy city of Haridwar and where you can enter the Ganges if you wish to do so. There are a ton of people visiting daily, locals and tourists from India and across the globe. Back in Rishikesh, take a stroll across Laxman Jhula (iron suspension bridge) and take a relaxing river cruise within an old traditional wooden boat. To cap off the night, you can attend the Ganga River Aarti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, which is a daily ritual that uses fire as an offering. If you are seeking some adrenaline after days of peaceful yoga and meditation, you can also do white water rafting, take a 4×4 jeep jungle safari, rock climbing and rappelling, cliff jumping, kayaking down the Ganges and if you’re feeling really brave, you can even go bungee jumping. As with any country you visit, do extensive research and make sure that you are taking part in these excursions with reputable tour companies and always make sure you have fully covered travel insurance! If you love classic rock and are a fan of The Beatles, visit The Beatles Ashram, otherwise known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Here in the 1960’s, The Beatles came to learn meditation and they also wrote around 40 songs there. The ashram is located within Rajaji National Park, and it recently was bought by the government and re-opened for tourists after three decades. The entry cost is approximately 600 rupees per person (foreigners), but we were able to haggle that down due to the amount of people we had, so we negotiated a group rate. 😉 The grounds are eerily beautiful with abandoned buildings covered in thick vines and decorated with stunning graffiti art. Even if you aren’t a Beatles fan, it’s a really cool place to see and learn the history of. For those looking to have the ultimate zen experience, try getting an Ayurvedic treatment of traditional Shirodhara and Potli massages consisting of warm oil running on your forehead and massaged into your hair and being slightly beaten with a hot bag of herbs. Warning: you WILL need to be fully naked for one of them.
Where To Stay
Rishikesh is home to an abundance of places to stay, which range from comfortable guest houses to budget backpacker style hostels and luxury resort hotels to relaxing and peaceful Ashrams. No matter what your travel style is, you’ll have no issues finding places to stay in Rishikesh. Travelling during off season may be a bit more beneficial for your wallet and options, so keep that in mind when booking your trip. Most visitors to Rishikesh opt to stay in yoga retreats and Ashrams. An Ashram is essentially a place for practicing yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices to evolve and grow spiritually. Traditional Ashrams tend to consist of only basic living facilities with living quarters, dining hall, yoga area, library and usually have gorgeous gardens surrounding the premises. An Ashram is supposed to be an oasis of serenity and calmness and is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life these days. Most will have no WiFi, so just keep that in mind as well. I stayed at Parmarth Niketan, which is one of the number one Ashrams in India. It’s surrounded by beautiful, lush green gardens and is located in the lap of the stunning Himalayan Mountains and along the banks of Ganges River. Every night there is the Ganga Aarti down at the river in front of Parmarth Niketan, which draws crowds from all over Rishikesh. People even travel from all corners of the world to be a part of their famous Ganga Aarti celebrations.
Where & What To Eat
Since Rishikesh is a mecca for health nuts, yogis, marijuana and spiritual healing, you won’t fall short on options of places to grab some munchies, or grab a quiet moment with a coffee, a book and a Ganga view. If you are staying in an Ashram, your meals will be included, but telling you from experience, you may get sick and tired of the same thing, day in and day out. I know I did. During some of my free time, I wandered the streets and found a cute and delicious café hidden away from the busy streets below called Urban Sip. As a die hard coffee fanatic, I will tell you that I was dying to get my hands on a decent cup of coffee in India. Urban Sip definitely delivered when it came to tasty coffee. I ran away many times to this café to indulge in many cappuccinos, flat whites, turmeric lattes and macchiatos. They have a great menu as well that isn’t Indian food, so if you feel like getting a grilled cheese, go for it. Keep in mind Rishikesh is strictly vegetarian, so you won’t find meat on any of the menus in town. Oh, and alcohol is illegal, so you won’t find that on the menus either. Other great places we went to grab some grub were The Royal Cafe, which has an extensive and delicious menus with yummy smoothies and an epic view of the Ganges River from an equally epic terrace and Harry Cafe, which is located off the main street Lakshman Jhula Road along the banks of the Ganges River. The service is slow when it’s busy, but the food and smoothies are great and the laid back hippie vibe of the interior is relaxing and a great place to waste some time and just chill out. If you want to hang with the locals, just gather around the numerous food stands along the streets that sell coconuts, samosas, sweets and everything in between.
Helpful Tips For Rishikesh
- Meat, fish and eggs will be hard to come by, as the town of Rishikesh is vegetarian, so just keep that in mind
- Try to carry cash with you to last the duration of your stay. It’s easier to use in the small market shops and a lot of the ATM’s may not always work.
- Watch out for horned cows in the streets. They will ram you if they feel like it (I speak from experience during Holi Festival and had the bruise to prove it).
- Cover up and dress appropriately. Yes it’s India and yes it’ll be hot, but it’s a holy town, so show respect.
- Keep your eyes peeled for crazy monkeys that like to hang around on the bridges and jump on people. You’ve been warned.
- There is NO BOOZE allowed in Rishikesh.
- Be safe when booking adventure excursions. Do research, read reviews and check sites like Trip Advisor.
- If you’re staying at an Ashram, there is usually no WiFi. Get a SIM card for India, or just visit one of the many cafés that will more than likely have WiFi available…it will be slow and cut out a lot. Just a heads up!
- Bring hand sanitizer and Kleenex in your bag if you are venturing out on day trips, as most washrooms will not have soap, or toilet paper.
- DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER. Bring a Life Straw water bottle that filters water, or buy some Invigorated Water pouches to filter water anywhere. In restaurants, ask for bottled water (make sure the seal isn’t broken), or if they have it, drink RO (Reverse Osmosis) water. Got it? Good!
- Bring a reusable bag. Rishikesh is a “no plastic bag” town.
- Bring layers, such as long sleeved lightweight tops, yoga pants, socks etc. You are at the foothills of the Himalayas, it does get cooler.
Even if you aren’t a spiritual person, believe in Hinduism, or aren’t a die-hard yogi, Rishikesh is a great place to visit and an even better playground to learn about culture. India is a land of contrasts and visiting Rishikesh after spending time in any of India’s major cities will prove that to you in many ways. Rishikesh, for me, proved to be a place where I felt chilled out, got lots of sleep, fell in love with the mountain scenery around me and experienced Holi Festival in the best way possible. It was a place where I didn’t feel rushed and stressed out and I highly suggest every traveller that makes their way to India, to make the trip up north to Rishikesh for at least a week to fully decompress and soak it all in.
I’d definitely return, that’s for sure!
Have any of you guys been to Rishikesh? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person, a yogi, or a person in need for some soul searching? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. xo
I travelled to India with Vivid Life Journeys in partnership with Toerboer based in South Africa and Ashoka Holidays based in Jaipur, India.