Rishikesh is where you brush shoulders with weed smoking ascetics, backpackers, hippies, yogis and adventurists as you stroll through its alleys and while crossing bridges across the Ganga. Until 1960s the place was always referred as a holy town and with Haridwar located a short distance away, Rishikesh attracted numerous pilgrims from across the country during Kumbh mela. However, after the popular Beatles band visited Rishikesh and stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in 60s, Rishikesh has changed into a melting pot of bohemian travellers, spiritual seekers, adventure enthusiasts and yoga practitioners. Its location by the river Ganga further accentuates its charm. The once holy town has now transformed into a land which has an eclectic mix of visitors from world over. Rishikesh seems more or less like a blend of Varanasi and Mcleodganj as it offers mysticism of the former and vibrancy of the latter.
Often referred as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh has innumerable yoga centres and practitioners who offer short and long term courses in yoga. Apart from yoga, there are wellness centres, massage centres, meditation classes and many such healing centres and ashrams that have popped up across the town. It is advised to join a reputable place or a recommended one for these courses. An international yoga festival is held here every year in the month of March by the Uttaarakhand tourism board and Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
Though there are numerous ashrams that have mushroomed in Rishikesh over the years, Sivananda Ashram, Swargananda ashram and Geetha Bhavan are some of the well recommended ones. With meditation rooms and shrouded with greenery, these are ideal if you are looking for a relaxed and secluded pilgrim vacation in Rishikesh. The most popular Ashram in Rishikesh is Parmarth Niketan which is located by the Ganga and is known for its Ganga arti everyday in the evening. Bhajans, music and arti are followed by visitor’s homage to Ganga by floating flowers and incense sticks as the sun sets across the river. Most of the ashrams are located near Ram Jhula.
Jhulas or bridges are synonymous with Rishikesh, especially Lakshman Jhula. The suspended iron bridges- Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula connect both the banks of Ganga and are 2 Kms apart. Lakshman Jhula is the more popular of the two as all the cafes and shops are centred around this. The 450 metre long Lakshman jhula was built in 1939 and gets its name from Lord Rama’s brother Lakshman who is believed to have crossed the river here using a jute rope. Apart from walkers, motorcyclists too can be spotted traversing the bridges. One can also opt for a boat service near Ram Jhula to ferry across. While Lakshman jhula is favoured mostly by the backpackers and foreign tourists, Ram jhula has more pilgrims visiting it because of the small temples such as Prachin Rameshwar temple located near it.
Next to Lakshman Jhula is the thirteen storeyed Tryambakeshwar temple which has numerous shrines and offers magnificent aerial views of Ganga. Arti is performed at the ghat here too every evening but on a much smaller scale and is devoid of commercialization, unlike the one at Parmarth Niketan. Swarg Nivas temple nearby is another popular place of visit.
Triveni ghat located a few kilomteres away on the way to Haridwar is believed to be the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. A popular bathing ghat for pilgrims, the belief is that one gets purified from all the sins after taking a dip here. There are quite a few popular temples here such as Shani temple, Durga temple and Bharat temple. Rishikund, a small pond near the ghat was a place for sages in ancient times to perform various rituals. The ghat holds a significant place in Hindu mythology and Ganga Arti is conducted here every evening.
30 Kms away from Rishikesh is the popular Kunjapuri Devi temple which is one of the 52 sidhapeths established by Shankaracharya in this region. Dedicated to Kunjapuri Devi, a form of Sati- the consort of Shiva, the temple receives numerous visitors during Dussehra. The temple also offers wonderful views of the ranges of Himalayas and Bagirathi valley.
Beyond the temples and yoga, what brings people to this lovely town is adventure. Known for white water rafting on the Ganges, Rishikesh offers some of the best rapids and stretches for rafting in India. Shivpuri and Kaudiyala are the places for rafting in Rishikesh. The stretch from Shivupri to Nim Beach is a popular 16 Kms stretch which offers a few of 3.5+ grade rapids. There are also shorter (Club house to Nim beach- 10 Kms) and longer stretches (Marine Drive to Nim beach- 24 Kms) on offer at Shivpuri. The rafting season is from September to May and is not offered during the monsoon season. There are many operators in Rishikesh who offer white water rafting.
As you walk further ahead of Tapovan, there a few vantage points that offer magnificent views of the Ganges.
The alleys near Lakshman jhula have many shops and bazaars selling a plethora of items from junk jewellery to clothing to books. There are also numerous cafes that serve cuisines from world over.
Rishikesh is a place that offers something for all kind of travellers and definitely a charmer with its mysticism.
Rishikesh is located in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand and is located 20 Kms from Haridwar. The nearest airport is Jolly Grant at Dehradun, 46 Kms away and the closest railhead is at Haridwar. There are regular buses from New Delhi to Rishikesh. It is also well connected to places such as Badrinath, Yamunotri, Devaprayag etc. by bus.
There are a wide range of cafes along the Ganges that serve a variety of international cuisines. There are also restaurants that serve both North Indian and South Indian fare. Being a holy town, meat and alcohol are not available across Rishikesh.