Since travelling to India for the first time back in 2013, Lynette had always told me about a place she calls her ‘spiritual home,’ complete with her Indian family at their homestay that she always stays at when she’s there. Now, finally, it was my turn to see Rishikesh for myself; I instantly felt the incredible energy and connected with the place.
Arriving in Rishikesh
We arrived in Rishikesh town at around 7:30am after an uncomfortable but relatively easy night bus from Dharamsala. This was Lynette’s territory as she hasn’t yet been to India without visiting Rishikesh, so I let her lead the way.
After a tuk tuk to Lakshman Jhula and a short walk we found where we were looking for; Lynette walked straight into the warm and welcoming arms of Mr and Mrs Kothari. We were shown to a nice room with ample yoga space; she wouldn’t, however, be practicing in our room this time as there was a whole yoga shala upstairs at her disposal!
Once we’d freshened up, we sat in the warmth of the garden and were given chai and some amazing biscuits, which is my idea of a good way to start the day! Then we headed out to explore Rishikesh!
There is the main town area of Rishikesh but there isn’t really much need to go there. The area around Lakshman Jhula is near the riverside ghats and is much nicer. Rishikesh, a real traveller enclave and ‘yoga capital of the world’ is a food lover’s heaven with street food galore and an abundance of German Bakeries and restaurants. There are local joints offering North and South Indian fare, as well as multi-cuisine Western-style restaurants.
Rishikesh is also a good place for shopping with lots of little boutique shops selling jewellery, handicrafts and clothes. You could easily spend a good few days just browsing and inevitably purchasing!
Rishikesh truly lives up to its nickname of ‘yoga capital of the world.’ In fact, it is more likely the yoga capital of the entire universe! There are signs and posters at every turn, offering yoga classes and yoga teacher training courses. It’s also the location of the annual International Yoga Festival, which is held at Parmarth Niketan ashram. I’ve never fully tried my hand at yoga or thought about adding a yoga TTC to my CV but if I did, this would be the place to do it!
Although there are activities to do and sights to see, one doesn’t really come to Rishikesh for that. The main reason travellers flock to this humble abode on the Ganges is to do a yoga course or TTC, stay in one of the many ashrams or just soak up the spiritual atmosphere.
Indian pilgrims also flock here in their droves because, as well as being a holy town, Rishikesh is also the main starting point for the annual Char Dham Yatra to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in the Garhwal Himalayas.
To find out all about Badrinath and Gangotri check out our post: The Best of Uttarakhand and India’s Char Dham!
Impressions of Rishikesh
I found visiting Rishikesh a wonderful experience; I’d heard so much about it from Lynette that it was somewhere I just had to see for myself. Unfortunately, Rishikesh has changed in many ways. Sure, new restaurants and shops have appeared but things have also been destroyed or changed by Mother Nature or man’s intervention.
An area that was a lovely sandy beach two years ago is now full of rocks and rubbish. An abandoned ashram (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram) that is famous for having been where The Beatles stayed in the ’60s was once free to visit. Lynette had visited on each previous trip, for free, and I was ecstatic to see it for myself. But now, under control of the forestry department of the Indian government, admission costs 150 rupees for an Indian and a whopping 600 rupees for a foreigner. A bit of a difference I’m sure you’ll agree!
The popularity of Rishikesh has also steadily increased with both domestic and international tourists alike, so much so that this holy town is now very commercialised. We were there in late October, during the lead-up to Diwali (the Indian festival of light), which is one reason why Rishikesh was so busy during our visit. Nevertheless, visitor numbers are high year-round, which, combined with the constant traffic zipping through the narrow streets, doesn’t make walking around particularly easy or pleasant.
The best thing about my first trip to Rishikesh was definitely Ganga Aarti, the nightly fire ritual held at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, right on the ghats of the Ganges at sunset. It’s a spectacle of prayer, chanting, music and fire, free and open to all. I highly recommend you to attend at least one of these heart-warming ceremonies whilst you’re in Rishikesh!
Before and during Ganga Aarti, many people choose to light a flame inside a small flower-filled banana leaf and set it adrift down the Ganges. This act is meant to symbolise washing away sin, regret or anything else that person wants to be free of, allowing them to ‘let go and be free’ of something negative. It’s a beautiful sight to see the river full of these small floating bundles. Ganga Aarti is an experience that I will always remember and I hope, one day, to witness it again.
Rishikesh is a beautiful place with amazing views and a tangible spiritual energy. One could very easily get stuck here doing yoga, relaxing in a cafe or on the banks of the Ganges and watching as the days slip by. Alas, as we had very little time in India this trip, we left after a few days to see a little more of the country that we love so much. Will we return? Yes. For sure.
If you’re heading further north into Himachal Pradesh, don’t miss a visit to Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.