Rishikesh has always been THE place for spiritual seekers and yoga enthusiasts, with masses of ashrams and all kinds of meditation classes. But today, this religious town on the fast-flowing Ganges, surrounded by forested hills, is conducive to a lot more than just limb-twisting and praying.
Rishikesh has slowly emerged as a hub for white-water rafting, backpacking and a revered gateway to treks in the mighty Himalayas.
This town is divided into two main areas - the crowded downtown with the bus and train stations and the Triveni Ghat, a popular bathing ghat and place of prayer; and the riverside habitat around Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, where most of the accommodation, ashrams, restaurants and travellers are lodged. The two marvels of architecture, the jhulas, that cross the river are pedestrian-only, but you can usually find two-wheelers freely using them.
In the evening, the breeze carries whispers of love, longing and prayer that sets bells ringing in temples, while the chants of sadhus, as they prepare for their nightly arti, lends the town an ethereal charm.
While Rishikesh has no dearth of budget accommodations, Zostel takes the prize in not only being super economical, but also delivering the best in that bracket. Zostel is located in Tapovan and is a mere 10 mins walk away from Lakshman Jhula. Apart from helping you meet like-minded travelers, this place has a lit up terrace and a hangout area replete with mattresses, cushions, games and a TV. Prices? In any other hotel, you'd be paying anything between Rs 2,000-3,000 for all the facilities that Zostel provides. While here, you'll need to spend Rs 990. And this is Zostel's most expensive option. Yup, you are welcome!
If you're looking for a great riverside location with a spacious terrace and big menu, look no further than Ganga View Restaurant. This place has a brilliant vantage point from which to take in the Ganges. There are few better places in Rishikesh to enjoy your meal on windy nights as you soak in the view of the Lakshman Jhula and the river. A big plus of this place is that it doesn't solely rely on its location to attract tourists. The food is as good as the scenery, with crepes and ice-cold lassis as cheap as Rs. 120.
Until some time ago, the abandoned Beatles Ashram was just a ruin. But finally, after being ignored for years, the ashram has finally been converted into an eco-friendly tourism destination. Nature walks in the lush green cover and a visit to the ashram can be done with an entry fee of Rs 150. Even though the ashram has been given a facelift, the artwork on the walls have remained untouched. The location of the ashram within the Rajaji National park and the Ganges flowing quietly behind it makes you realize why, for the world's biggest band, this was the most creative period in the life. The aura of the ashram evokes the magic of the Beatles’ music and words.
Just 19 km from Rishikesh lies the tranquil Shivpuri, much popular with tourists for its temples, yoga camps and adventure sports activities. Indulge in jungle walks, experience the thrill of river rafting in the foaming Ganga, camp in the pristine white beaches, sit aroud campfires for a night of storytelling, or just climb mountains. Take your pick.
How to reach
Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun is the nearest airport to Rishikesh which is approximately 35kms by road. Being a popular tourist destination, Rishikesh has a good network of buses and trains connecting it with important places such as Haridwar, Dehradun and New Delhi.
Best time to visit
Despite the chill in the air, October to February constitute the most fun season for rafting. March to May boasts of a pleasant weather and also gives you the chance to be a part of the famous International Yoga festival.