The Rishikesh Guide: A Spiritual Town in the Mountains
Rishikesh is a busy town nestled on either side of the holy Ganges River which offers a glimpse of the foothills to the Himalayas. A popular place for yoga, rafting, and hiking Rishikesh gives somewhat of a break from the hectic crowds and heat of the larger cities in Northern India. Known as a holy site many are drawn to its spiritual ambience and sacred ceremonies at its famous Ghats.
It is the gateway to the magnificent Himalayas and many stop here before continuing further north or some stay here to absorb a piece of its magic, healthy food, and ancient yogic wisdom embedded in the mountains. For me, Rishikesh was an absolute highlight of our trip to India and the perfect place to stay, pause, and recenter before our long journey home.
Here’s our guide to beautiful Rishikesh;
Getting there and away
Rishikesh does have a small train station which in inconveniently located a few kilometres outside of the central area of Rishikesh and not many trains go all the way to the Rishikesh station either. The easiest way to get to the town by train is by getting one to Haridwar which is approximately 45-60 minutes away (25 km) from Rishikesh. The good thing is that Haridawar is also known for its ceremonies, ghats, and thousands of pilgrims flock here every year to the holy site. It is busier and more chaotic than Rishikesh but it might be what you are looking for.
From Haridwar, you can get a taxi or a Vikram (a large, blue shared auto-rickshaw) from the station or if you arrived late the day before you can always book one for the next day. We ended up using the somewhat helpful app OLA to get to Rishikesh.
Travel tip: The blue little rickshaw-style vehicles that you’ll see whizzing around are Vikrams that have fixed journeys and aim at stuffing more passengers into the back for several drop-offs. Drivers often congregate around the Tapovan area, just before you reach the main road towards the bridges, and prices are low as long as you bargain. They are definitely not comfortable either so you’ll lose the feeling in your butt cheeks, but you will get to your intended destination quickly.
Booking trains down to Delhi or elsewhere is easy enough in Rishikesh as there are many travel agents who will book trains for you with an additional booking fee. The other option is to book an overnight bus to Delhi if all the trains are booked, again this can be booked from many travel agents in the town area.
Travel tip: We used OLA in most cities in India and we found it to be a safe option if we didn’t want to get an auto rickshaw. On OLA you can track and share your journey with friends or family, and the driver cannot start the journey until you give him the 4-digit pin that gets sent to your phone when you book a ride. You can download the OLA app here.
What to do
Visit the Beatles Ashram
Back in the 1960’s Beatlemania descended on Rishikesh as the Fab Four enrolled in the Chaurasi Kutiya Ashram to study meditation with their Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Meditation and love followed although after a few days Ringo Starr called it quits and likened his experience to ‘a Butlins holiday camp’. Drama and accusations ensued and George Harrison was the last Beatle to leave the Maharishi behind.
Thirty songs across two albums came out of their experience in India and not only did it affect their music their visit also left a lasting impression on Rishikesh. In the early 2000’s the Ashram was abandoned and fell into ruin and it has since been made part of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Now empty meditation pods remain and visitors and artists have created some incredible murals that fill the walls of the many abandoned buildings. You can spend a few hours walking around the site, finding the unique artwork, viewing photograph exhibitions of the Beatles, and enjoying the silence. They even have a cafe on site too.
Entrance fee: 600 rupees (£6.50/$8.80) for foreigners. (Student discounts only apply to Indian nationals.)
Find it here.
Witness an Aarti at the Triveni Ghat
Several ghats line the sacred waters of the Ganges so that devotees and pilgrims can receive blessings and pray to Goddess Ganga. If there’s one thing not to miss in Rishikesh it is witnessing an Aarti ceremony at the Triveni Ghat. The ceremony starts as the sun sets so try to get there a little bit early so that you can get a good seat as once people start filing in it fills up quickly.
Everyone is welcome to view the event and if you want to be blessed by the priests you can pay a fee for the blessing which happens before the ceremony starts. It’s without a doubt the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had and everyone surrounding us made us feel part of it and welcomed. After the ceremony is complete crowds form and music is played and the dancing begins…
Entrance fee – Free
Find the Triveni Ghat here.
Take a dip in the Ganges
The beautiful, cool waters of the Ganges attract many people for prayers, blessings, ceremonies and a chance to bathe in it. Life along the Ganges is thriving and its a wonderful place to watch the sunset. Dip your feet (or go in all the way!), cuddle a stray dog, and breathe in the mountain air.
Shopping in the town is easy and the many markets and shops make it as a great place to pick up souvenirs, clothing, hiking gear, jewellery, and yoga books.
The shops are dotted along by the Lakshman Jhula bridge and the Ram Jhula bridge on both sides as well as in the main Lakshman Jhula area across the river. If you are looking for souvenirs to bring back home prices in Rishikesh are very good and a lot cheaper than places like Delhi and Mumbai if you are happy to barter.
We also stumbled on a few health food shops in the Tapovan area with one being under the Tattv Cafe. They sell a lot of imports as well, so they can be a bit pricey depending on what you are shopping for, but some of the food products that they sell are organic and GMO-free. They also sell natural toiletries and small gifts. Find Tattv Cafe and it’s organic shop here.
Check out the Lakshman Jhula and the Ram Jhula Bridges
These two iconic bridges are famous landmarks joining the winding streets of Rishikesh together and life on and around these sites is bustling. The bridges offer stunning views of sapphire, blue glistening waters of the Ganges as it flows quickly further downstream. You’ll just have to put up with cows, dogs, people, and motorbikes clogging up the bridges all at once before you make it to the other side.
Rishikesh is also known as the Yoga Capital of the World and is bursting at the seams with yoga shalas, studios and schools. Many practitioners come here to stay in a simple ashram to get a deeper understanding of the ancient practice.
I will admit that even as a yoga teacher and as a student I didn’t actually attend a single class during my time in Rishikesh as I was more than happy with my morning self-practice. But there are so many classes and courses that cover an extensive range of yoga styles and traditions so it pays to get some recommendations of where to study and to do some research before you visit.
It does depend on what time of the year you decide to visit Rishikesh too as when I arrived in April and the peak tourist season for yoga was over, so finding an Ashtanga class wasn’t as easy as I first thought. I will say that practising in Rishikesh on our balcony was really magical as the area has such a soothing energy to it.
For anyone that is interested in practising Ashtanga Yoga in Rishikesh, I was given the recommendation, several times, to study with authorized Ashtanga teacher Louise Ellis.
Travel tip: Getting around Rishikesh is quite easy, depending on where you are staying, most places are within walking distance. If you are staying outside the main area its possible to book a motorbike – just watch out for huge trucks hurtling up and down the mountain roads.
Where to eat
The food in Rishikesh blew my mind and we actually ran out of time to try every place that had been recommended to us. The options for all dietary requirements are endless and many places included a vegan and vegetarian section in their menus.
I found it too easy to find vegan cakes and desserts!
I loved it so much that I wrote a detailed Vegan Food Guide for Rishikesh. But if you don’t have time to read it here are our top picks:
Travel tip: No meat and no alcohol is permitted in Rishikesh due to its religious importance, although we were offered beer very quietly several times…
60’s Cafe/ Beatles Cafe
Think all things Beatles, epic views of the Ganges, a toe-tapping playlist, and delicious vegan and vegetarian food that are all clearly labelled.
Find them here.
Little Buddha restaurant has an extensive menu inspired by cuisines from around the world a well as huge portion sizes. Geared towards healthier food options that aren’t lacking in flavour. A great place to waste a few hours and to hang out at.
Find them here.
Pure Soul Cafe and Organic Kitchen
Part of a boutique hotel this restaurant is usually very busy but its got lots of options for seating inside and outside paired with stunning mountain views. Another place designed with health in mind so you can choose from smoothie bowls, fresh salads, and tasty main meals. If you are in need of a decent wifi connection they are a good place to visit too.
Find them here.
Where to stay
Green Hills Cottage
We stayed at Green Hills Cottage for twelve days and absolutely loved our time there. Our double room with a private bathroom was cosy, comfortable, and it also came with a kettle, tea, and coffee. A T.V is provided – and it works, as well as continuous hot water in the shower. Each room has a balcony which has enough space to hang out your washing or to practice yoga on. It gave us a stunning view of the foothills of the Himalayas too.
The highlight of our stay was their restaurant- The Eat Story which was situated in a beautiful garden full of flowers, tall trees, and butterflies – although the road right next to the hotel is very noisy for the majority of the day. We loved this place so much that we ate there several times but there’s more about that on our Vegan and Vegetarian Guide to Rishikesh, all I will say is: vegan pancakes! The restaurant has a good wifi connection too.
Prices start from around 1,355 rupees (£15/$20) per night, prices are also dependent on what time of room you get, we had a budget double room.
Book a room with them here.
When to go
Rishikesh is a destination that can be visited throughout the year. If you arrive between April and mid-June, like we did, the roads will be packed on the weekends with tourists going rafting in the Ganges. Visiting between these times will also mean lots of sunshine and no snow on the closest mountain ranges, you’d have to travel higher up to see it.
February to March is an ideal time to visit Rishikesh to go camping or hiking, and the Monsoon season runs from mid-June until August. September to October is known for it’s tougher water-rafting experiences, and November through to mid-February is when it is winter in Rishikesh.
We hoped you found our guide to Rishikesh helpful. If you have any tips, hacks, or comments to add please so do below!
Peace + plane tickets ✈