Rishikesh – A spiritual enclave and nature lovers mountain haven

Rishikesh in the North of India is often referred to as the home of yoga and is renown for authentic ashrams and is a spiritual mecca for many. Travellers to Rishikesh have a huge selection of ashrams, yoga schools, guest houses and hotels to choose from depending on the kind of experience you are looking for. It is not all yoga though. Nestled deep in a valley along the River Ganges, Rishikesh has a great deal of variety offers physical, cultural and spiritual pursuits and entertainment in limitless forms.

Getting to Rishikesh

There are two practical and easy options to choose from when deciding how to navigate your way to Rishikesh. Dehradun airport is the closest for air travel and flights can be accessed at reasonable and inexpensive rates. From Dehradun airport, a taxi can deliver you to the gates of your ashram or door of your hotel after a drive of a couple of hours, and a cost of about $40 USD.

Train travel is the other option. Widely used throughout India by all classes of society the train network is far-reaching and well used. It is cheap and designed for access by all. Because of this and the massive population of India if you are considering train travel as your primary source of transportation you need to plan ahead. Book your tickets around your itinerary at least a several days in advance, and the first time you decide to go online and purchase some rail tickets ensure you have plenty of time and patience. My experience was a clunky website that took some navigating before I got the hang of it. International travelers need to register an international credit card to pay, this is a step that can be tricky to find and set up initially. Once you have logged on and made payment keep the eticket saved on your device and print off a copy to take with you also. Train tickets are cheap and reflect the level of comfort. Once your train arrives at Hardiwar station you can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to Rishikesh. My tuk-tuk was 500 rupee. Book your tickets online at the Indian Railways website www.irctc.co.in

Getting around Rishikesh

Getting around Rishikesh is easy and can be done on foot, or hail a tuk-tuk and for no more than 100 rupees it will get you anywhere you need to go. If you are plying the road parallel to the Ganga the large blue tuk-tuks can be hailed down, and for 10 rupees they will pick you up and drop you off at strategic vantage points like main intersections or shopping districts. The guest houses, ashrams and shops line both sides of the River Ganges which can easily be crossed on two of the bridges that provide foot access and a thoroughfare for motorbikes. It may be that when you arrive from the train station or airport your tuk-tuk or taxi can not drive to the door of your hotel or guesthouse. This is quite normal and your driver will explain if you need to walk a little and which bridge to cross if required.

Crossing the Ganga on the footbridge
near Laxman Jhula

Things to do in Rishikesh

Eating and drinking in Rishikesh
The town of Rishikesh has all of the services you would require for a short to medium stay. If staying in an ashram your meals are provided, if not there are many cafes to choose from. Be aware that meat and alcohol are illegal in this region so expect a sober and herbivore existence. You will enjoy amazing vegetarian meals and not only Indian cuisine, but there are also a lot of international options too. Madras Cafe and Urban Sip offer good coffee and free wifi.

Physical and fun stuff to do in Rishikesh
There is also a lot more than yoga on offer. Trekking and rafting are two of the most popular active pursuits everyone can access. The River Ganges is big and flows fast and there are a number of rafting outfits to choose from that will suit you up with a vest and helmet and twelve other travellers looking for some adrenalin and excitement. These whitewater rafts zig-zag down the Ganga at a great speed, much to the delight of the passengers on board.

Trekking is also well serviced from Rishikesh as a base. Choose from a fully supported multi-day itinerary or a one day trek. Depending on your time, ability and fitness level you can find a hike to match. Walking amongst the pure nature of the Himalaya is one of the most invigorating, refreshing and sometimes challenging ways to connect with nature.

There is yoga, yoga and more yoga in Rishikesh. In every form you can imagine, Traditional Hatha and Iyengar and the more modern slower Yin form, just to name a few. You can choose to stay in an ashram and fully immerse yourself in the yoga life and philosophy or shop around and find a class close to your guest house or hotel that offers drop in. It is likely that you won’t need to walk more than twenty meters to find a number of options.

The nights are lively here and many hours can be filled wandering the streets of Rham Jhula or Laxman Jhula, the two areas Rishikesh is made up of. One of the most memorable experiences I have was enjoying the nightly Aarti ceremony that takes place on the banks of the River Ganges. Parmath Niketan Ashram, the largest in Rishikesh and impossible to miss with its riverfront prominence and imposing steps leading down to an elevated platform over the river does this every day at 6 pm. It is a devotional ritual with fire as an offering supported by song, music, and chanting. The students of the ashram perform and conduct the ceremony from the very young to the much older and young at heart, and if the guru happens to be in Rishikesh at the time he will speak at the ceremony.

Crowd watching the Aarti ceremony on the
steps of Parmath Niketan Ashram

Walking and watching
The mornings in Rishikesh are clear, quiet and peaceful, the streets are empty aside from a few cows and it is a haven for solitude. It’s nice to find a rock to rest on besides the Ganges to watch the sunrise. The afternoons get busy and border on hectic, dodging holy men and cow dung as you navigate the street to get a cup of chai for 10 rupees. I spent hours in the afternoons on the steps of the Ghats where Indian women would come to do their laundry or families congregate to dip in the river as a part of their annual pilgrimage and receive a blessing from Mother Ganga.

Walking the quiet and peaceful streets
behind Rham Jhula

Rishikesh left me feeling calm and connected, and I left Rishikesh with some amazing new yoga and meditation practice. Go to Rishikesh as a part of your larger Indian itinerary or as a destination in its own right. With so much variety and things to do to choose from you will be kept entertained, nurtured and nourished.

For more information on specific hikes and choosing an ashram go to the complete article published on travelista.com

Check out the entire gallery of my favorite images from Rishikesh

Check out the video of my favorite memories from Rishikesh

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