Rishikesh Essential Travel Guide: The Birthplace of Yoga

What to Know Before You Go

Rishikesh.

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Rishikesh, as the birthplace of yoga, attracts spiritual-seekers who come to meditate, do yoga, and learn about other aspects of Hinduism. The whole town is considered to be sacred and it’s believed that meditation there leads to salvation. Despite the growing number of visitors, the town’s lanes and alleys retain an old-world charm, and it remains a wonderful place to relax and unwind among nature. It has a distinctively peaceful, uplifting and international feel. Plan your trip with this Rishikesh travel guide.

Location

Rishikesh is situated on the banks of the Ganges River, surrounded by hills on three sides, not far from Haridwar in Uttarakhand.

How to Get There

The nearest airport is Dehradun's Jolly Grant Airport, 35 kilometers (22 miles away). The airport is actually closer to Rishikesh than it is to Dehradun! Expect to pay 1,500 rupees upwards for a taxi to Rishikesh from the airport. Shubh Yatra Travels offers a reliable service.

However, if you're on a budget, it's cheaper to travel to Rishikesh by road from Haridwar.

When to Go

As Rishikesh is at the foothills of the Himalayas, it provides a cool escape during the hotter months. Therefore, the best time to visit is between March and April, and September to October. Temperatures soar in May. Rishikesh is best avoided during the monsoon months from July to August, as it receives heavy rainfall. Rafting is also closed during this time. Winters, from November until February, are cold but generally pleasant. So, bring woolens. Many people consider the couple of months just after the monsoon to be the best time to visit, as the landscape is alive, green, and soothing.

Those who are interested in yoga shouldn't miss the International Yoga Festival, held in Rishikesh in March each year. The week-long festival is one of the biggest annual yoga gatherings in the world. Attendees get to take part in a comprehensive program of yoga classes, and evening discussions with some of India's leading spiritual leaders. There are also vegetarian cooking classes and the Yoga Aid Challenge charity fundraiser.

Aarti in Rishikesh.
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What to See and Do

Rishikesh is one of the most popular destinations for yoga in India. There are numerous ashrams, and styles of yoga and meditation, to choose from. Hence, it's important to investigate which best meets your needs. Check out these out these top Rishikesh ashrams for yoga and meditation to get an idea of what's available. The main spiritual district is known as Swarg Ashram, and you'll also find plenty of ashrams there. Plus, food stalls and shops.

Rishikesh is an ideal place to wander around and explore on foot, although auto-rickshaws are readily available to provide transport. Make sure you watch out for the plentiful monkeys that are quite a menace, particularly on the bridges. Unfortunately, the iconic Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge was closed in 2019 because it had become old and unsafe. There are plans to build a new glass-floored bridge next to it. Venture down to the ghats lining the river and relax for a while amid the daily goings-on. You can also take a boat across the river near Ram Jhula as an alternative to walking across the bridge.

Every evening, people gather at Parmarth Niketan ashram (in the Swag Ashram area), to experience the Ganga Aarti (worship ritual with fire).

If you're interested in learning about Indian cuisine and how to make it, don't miss the classes offered by Cooking Masala.

You may have heard that the famous English band The Beatles visited the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s to learn meditation. They also wrote about 40 songs there. The ashram is located within Rajaji National Park, and it recently re-opened for tourists after three decades. Its remaining walls have been decorated with amazing graffiti artwork by artists from around the world under The Beatles Cathedral Gallery community project. The entry cost is 150 rupees for Indians and 600 rupees for foreigners. Students pay 50 rupees.

Egg houses in The Beatles Ashram, Rishikesh
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Ayurveda is popular in Rishikesh. You'll be able to feast on delicious Ayurvedic, organic, and health food. Head to Ayurpak (which also provides homestay accommodations and these jungle cottages), Ramana's Organic Cafe, or Pure Soul Organic Cafe & Kitchen. In addition, Nature Care Village is a wonderful organic farm specializing in raw food, yoga, and meditation retreats. You can learn about the properties of various medicinal plants and their uses from experts there too. (Read reviews of Nature Care Village and book on Tripadvisor). If you're keen on getting a professional Ayurvedic treatment, Hemadri Ayurveda Center is recommended. Vedic Ayurved also gives some of the best Ayurvedic massages in Rishikesh.

Rishikesh is a great place to shop for religious items, books, clothes, jewelry, and handicrafts. The main market areas are around Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula.

Where to Eat and Drink

Do note that because Rishikesh is a holy town, eggs, meat and alcohol are difficult to find there.

However, Rishikesh does have some groovy cafes to hang out in. The Little Buddha Cafe is a delightfully laid-back tree-house cafe at Lakshman Jhula, providing views of the Ganges River and fabulous international food. Cafe de Goa, near Lakshman Jhula bridge, also looks out over the Ganges River and serves a wide variety of dishes including Continental cuisine. The 60's cafe (Beatles Cafe) in the Laxman Jhula area has a Beatles theme and music to go with it. Bistro Nirvana is recommended for its rustic setting featuring bamboo and clay furnishings. Head to The Sitting Elephant on the rooftop of Hotel EllBee or Jal & Jalebi at Hotel Ganga Kinare for upmarket and fine dining. On the other side of the river, Chatsang Cafe ("where food meets the soul") offers healthy and contemporary food with a twist.

Where to Stay

Substantial discounts are usually possible at hotels during non-peak times, so do ask! For smaller hotels, it's best to just turn up. If you prefer to book in advance and stay somewhere reputable, here are the best Rishikesh hotels and guesthouses for all budgets. The article also contains information about the various areas in Rishikesh, to help you choose where will suit you best. If you're looking for inexpensive accommodations, there are a number of groovy backpacker hostels that have opened up in the area. Zostel and Bunk Stay are popular.

What Else to Do Nearby

Shivpuri is a highly recommended side trip, especially if you're into adventure. Located 22 kilometers (14 miles) upstream, it's a place of mesmerizing natural beauty. You'll find excellent white water rafting there, with Grade 3 and 4 rapids. Tented accommodations with attached bathrooms, such as those provided by Camp AquaForest and Camp Ganga Riviera, add to the uniqueness of the setting in the middle of white sand beach and jungle. There's also an excellent bungee jump zone and Asia's longest zip-line on the road to Neelkanth at Mohanchatti village (about 20 minutes from Rishikesh). Mini-bus transport is provided from Rishikesh.

A side trip to Haridwar is also worthwhile to experience the very different atmosphere and evening Ganga Aarti there as well.

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