Sitting tranquil on the shores of the holy Ganga, nestled ever so comfortably in the lower Himalayas, is the city of Rishikesh. Mystical magic floats through the mountain air, through the valley, through the streets, the temples, the sadhus – it’s palpable. And as this spiritual breeze flows through the temple town, the river flows equally as fast; acting as a backdrop for some of the most exhilarating experiences in the country. You get the best of everything in Rishikesh. A definite itinerary wouldn’t do justice to a place like this, so here is a list of 5 things you must try and incorporate in your day at Rishikesh!
Getting in and around
The nearest airport to Rishikesh is Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport, with flights to and from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Patna, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. It is about 40 minutes (Rs. 1000 by taxi) from Rishikesh. Haridwar railway station is closest one that connects the region to the rest of the country. From there, one can either take a passenger train (Rs. 5 per ticket), bus (Rs. 20) or taxi (Rs. 650) to Rishikesh. A bus from Delhi to Rishikesh takes roughly 6 hours (Rs. 200 Non-AC, Rs. 500 AC), and a taxi would cost about Rs. 6000.
Getting around Rishikesh would mainly be on foot, however certain longer distances could be covered by auto-rickshaws (locally known as vikrams).
Budget: Zostel Rishikesh, Kunwar Residency
Mid-range: Divine Resort & Spa, EllBee Ganga View, Yoga Niketan By Sanskriti, Hotel Kamakshi Residency By Royal Collection Hotels, Dewa Retreat - A Himalayan Boutique Hotel
Luxury: Aloha On The Ganges, Namami Ganges
Camping: Aspen Adventures Camp, Camp AquaForest Rishikesh
The mighty river Ganga, that divides the town of Rishikesh into two, is one of the most sacred water bodies to Hindus. Devotees bathe in the holy water, offer flowers, and even take back some of it back home. However, the Ganga also attracts numerous travellers to its shores in Rishikesh every year due to its white-water rapids, that prove to be some of the best for river rafting in India. One can find rapids of various difficulty levels from 1 to 5. There are multiple routes you can take that cover different stretches of the river, all with varying rapid levels. The best routes for beginners for all age groups are Brahmpuri to Rishikesh (9 kilometres, 2 hours, Grade I, upto Rs. 450) and Shivpuri to Brahmpuri (11 kilometres, 2½ hours, Grade I and II, Rs. 550).
To book river rafting, it’s best to visit the reception of your accommodation and ask them to arrange it for you. Or, you could go directly to any of the vendors near Ram and Lakshman Jhula. Make sure they are licensed by the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board and do not over charge you. You can find a list of all the vendors here. The rafting season is from October to June, as it is shut during the monsoon months. In January, however, the water becomes rather cold. Make sure to wear water resistant material (swimming shorts and t-shirts are appropriate for summer months), sports shoes or river sandals, and carry an extra pair of clothes.
Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula
Both suspension bridges (2 kilometres apart) span across the Ganga, connecting the two sides of Rishikesh. Not only do you get wonderful views of the river and the town of Rishikesh itself, with the temples and ashrams; the area around the bridges is filled with little shops and stalls from where you can purchase little trinkets, souvenirs, food items, as well as religious and spiritual articles.
The bridges itself sometimes sway with the wind, and also are brimming with pedestrians as well as pesky scooters; but walking across them is an experience to remember!
The Ganga Aarti is a ritual that takes place every evening before sunset at several locations across the river. It is the worshipping of the river Ganga, and her human embodiment the goddess Ganga. It includes the chanting of bhajans, mantras, and offerings to the river in the form of tiny floating lamps and flower petals.
A sight to behold is when the poojaris light huge, multi-layered lamps and perform the ritual. Whether you’re a Hindu or not, or even religious or not; this ethereal aarti will leave you with a transcendental feeling in your soul. The best places to view the Ganga Aarti are Triveni Ghat and Parmarth Niketan Ghat.
A great expedition to make from Rishikesh, is the hike to the hidden waterfalls in the hills around Rishikesh. From east side of Laxman Jhula, follow the Neelkanth Temple Road along the Ganga until you reach the trail up to the Garud Chitti Waterfall and then the Patna Waterfall. It is the perfect way to get away from the bustle of Rishikesh, and during the off-peak season it can be your own private waterfall and natural pool for frolicking in the cool, crystal clear water! The trek to the falls can take approximately 1½ to 2 hours one-way from Laxman Jhula. A lot of the trek is through the forest on an unmarked trail, where you have to make your way on rocks, following the running streams.
The food scene is Rishikesh is very diverse, being influenced by Indian, Tibetan and even Continental cuisines as people from all over the world come to Rishikesh and open cafés to feed and meet travellers. Almost all the eateries here have healthy, vegan, and gluten-free options. Here are some places that you must try: