Rishikesh is known for its spiritual aspects. Ganges, Aarti, Hindu, temples, yoga, and meditation. But we were surprised to learn that it’s also amazing for many types of outdoor adventures. Located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, it boasts of both the religious and nature aspects of India.
We had expected to visit Haridwar and Rishikesh at the same time, but didn’t have sufficient time (we drove through Haridwar on our way; it’s about 25km from Rishikesh). While we didn’t make it to Haridwar, we would definitely suggest going. However, if you don’t have enough time for both, we really think that Rishikesh is still worth the out-of-the-way trip.
What to expect:
You’ll see it called both Ganga and Ganges
It’s the most sacred river to Hindus. Called the Ganges River, it is worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism.
It’s a holy town (predominantly dry and vegetarian)
While there are nearby towns where we heard you could get a drink or meat, we were content to eat vegetarian and skip the alcohol. We did find food options limited when we were hungry to early for dinner. Several places only served snacks (and not great ones, at that).
It’s the yoga capital, but also much more
There are yoga, meditation and ashrams a-plenty, but there are also many other options for adventurer-types: rafting on the Ganges, bungee jumping, a safari, trekking and much more.
It’s a long journey by car from Delhi
Dehradun (DED) is the nearest airport to Rishikesh ( ~35 kilometres away). Local carriers (Air India, Spice Jet and Jet Airways) generally offer daily flights from New Delhi for $30-60 USD per person. If you want to spend the money, you can easily get transportation from the airport to Rishikesh (check out Kayak for flight options).
We determined that this option would ultimately cost us more (since we would also need transportation to tour Rishikesh and to get back to Delhi), so we pre-booked car transportation through a tour company (the same company that provided our Golden Triangle tour after Rishikesh). The driver picked us up in Delhi (at the airport), then took us straight to Rishikesh. (After Rishikesh, we drove back to Delhi where we picked up the tour guide). The drive was approximately 6 hours. (We made a stop on the way back for a beer, which resulted in an urgent stop to pee at a really rundown gas station.)
There is also a bus option: see more at https://www.makemytrip.com/travel-guide/rishikesh/how-to-reach.html
Have tip money
When participating in the Aarti, visiting the temples and otherwise touring the sites, there are often shoe checking stands or other ceremonial services (musicians, guides, selling of candles, incense, flowers, etc.) where tips are appropriate. Always carry plenty small bills. You may also want to purchase snacks, water, etc. and find that locals don’t have much change.
What not to miss:
Our participation in the Aarti included a gorgeous river walk to the Triveni Ghat (the stairs or paths used to navigate to the Ganges are called ghats). At Triveni Ghat, we participated in the beautiful Ganga Aarti, a lovely Hindu ceremony on the Ganges. While Aarti is a religious ceremony that can be performed anywhere, the Ganga ceremony is performed daily at dusk in the three holy cities: Rishikesh, Haridwar, and Varanasi. Our hotel offered this tour for free (we had a great tour guide – recommended below). A tour is recommended as you learn about the history and traditions, and are guided through the process of participating. Be prepared with a nice tip for your guide, as well as smaller tips for the shoe check service and ceremony items.
Yogi Maharishi Mahesh taught the Beatles Transcendental Meditation at his ashram in 1968. They studied there for 6 weeks, writing many songs (18 of them were recorded on the White album). The ashram has since been referred to as the Beatles Ashram, but is no longer operating as an ashram. It is situated in a Tiger Reserve – as such, visitors are prohibited at night. On a side note, the drive to the ashram was via narrow roads, including some through markets where it seemed a car shouldn’t fit – yet somehow, at one point, we passed another car. The driving here is incredible.
Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula
We walked across two suspension bridges (jhulas) over the Ganges: Lakshman Jhula and Ram Juhla. There were produce carts, monkeys running around (and fighting! 🙈), motorcycles and vespas navigating between the people, and an incredible view.
Rafting or boat ride on the Ganges
It provides a completely different view of the river and the Himalays.
Take a dip in the Ganges
Many people are worried about getting in the water (India’s water has different bacteria than the states, so dipping in it could potentially make you sick). We had no problems, but you can optionally just dip your feet or whatever else meets your level of comfort.
You’re in the yoga capital of the world. Not much more needs to be said.
If you still have time:
- Take a tour of the temples
- Visit an Ashram
- Visit Haridwar
- Check out Himalayan Trekking
- Bungee Jump
- Take some Ayurveda classes
- We would recommend a stay at Hotel Ganga Kinare: It wasn’t perfect, but it’s reasonable, accessible and they provide some great free services: yoga class, a free tour to the Ganga Aarti, and they have a private ghat to take a dip in the Ganges.
- We would also recommend the local tour guide we used. Raj can help you with packages and is very knowledgeable about the region and culture. Check out Adventure in Uttarakhand.