Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and adjacent to the holy River Ganges, Rishikesh is known as the “Land of God”, the Adventure Capital of India, and the Yoga Capital of the World. With these epithets, there are a wide range of activities that lure travelers to this colorful mountain town. We spent two weeks in Rishikesh after a whirlwind visit to the Taj Mahal. For us this was a much needed respite from the hustle of traveling through India and a quiet oasis for us to recover from our Everest Base Camp hike. Here are 8 Reasons to Visit Rishikesh.
Like the nerve system in a body, two suspension bridges serve as the main connections points in day- to- day life of Rishikesh. These two jhulas (bridges) are Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula.
They connect the four sections of Rishikesh which stretches across both sides of the Gange River: Ram Jhula, Muni Ki Reti, Lakshman Jhula or Tapovan and Swarg Ashram. The bridges are shared by pedestrians, cows, monkeys, and scooters. Commuting on the bridge during rush hour is a true adventure – this alone is a reason to visit Rishikesh!
We stayed in quiet Tapovan home to several Ashrams and tucked away from the bustle of Ram Jula. Regardless of where you stay, here are 8 ways for you to spend your time in Rishikesh:
1. Be a Yogi: Yoga & Meditation / Ashram Stay
Whether you’re an experienced Yogi or not sure of your down dog, yoga is a top reason to visit Rishikesh. Yoga or meditation classes are a must in Rishikesh. You can find wide variety of schools of yoga and options that range from drop in classes to ashram stays. You can read more about our ashram experience here which outlines the perspective of a Yogi (Quan) and a Non-Yogi (Jesse). Many also come here for yoga teaching certification.
2. Be Healed: Ayurveda
Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine. The word ayurveda means “science of life”. Individuals seek ayurveda treatments for ailments that range from high blood pressure to infertility to nasal congestion. Treatments can be used like a tune up for the body. In Rishikesh you can find clinics that offer the full gamut of ayurveda treatments from one time massages to a full treatment plan administered by a doctor. You can read more about our Rishikesh ayurveda experience.
3. Be John Lennon: Visit Beatles Ashram
The Beatles traveled to Rishikesh in 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation with their guru. Though they had a falling out with their guru, they put Rishikesh on the map and towards its current status as the Yoga Capital of the World. The ashram where they stayed is no longer active but is now open to the public.
The crumbling buildings are overrun with plants and wildlife from the adjacent National Park. You are allowed to roam freely visiting the meditation pods where John Lennon reportedly stayed during his time at the Ashrams. There are also beautiful graffiti art throughout the abandoned buildings where fans have left tributes to the Beatles. This is a great place to spend an afternoon wandering, find a quiet spot for meditation, or gather a group of musical friends to jam out on the roofs of the meditation pods.
4. Be Thrilled: Adventure Activities
Rishikesh is a popular spot for white water rafting enthusiasts, both from India and abroad, as it the Ganges have rapids rated class 3 and class 4. As Rishikesh is the Adventure Capital of India, thrill seekers come here to for camping, hiking, bungee jumping, Asia’s longest 1 km long Flying Fox, cliff jumping, trekking, rock climbing and backpacking.
As we were still recovering from our Everest Base Camp Trek, we didn’t partake in these activities. There are tour operators all over town who offer all of these activities making it easy to organize upon arrival.
5. Be Musical: Learn a Musical Instrument
Rishikesh is also a great place to test your musical talents. We took African drum lessons that cost $5 USD / hour with lessons overlooking the Ganges River.
There are music shops all over Rishikesh, here are the lessons they offer:
- Tabla: Indian Drums
- African drums
- Harmonium / Melodeon: an Indian instrument that is part piano/ part accordion
- Indian classical singing
There are also Kirtans almost every evening in Rishikesh. Kirtan is a Sanskrit word that means narrating, reciting, telling, describing” of an idea or story. It’s a call and response style song / chant which tells a story. We participated in several during our time in Rishikesh which were always uplifting evenings.
6. Be An Explorer: Scoot Your Way Around
One of the best ways to explore the surroundings of Rishikesh is by scooter. There are agencies all over town that have rentals. We went on an epic sunset ride to the waterfall just outside of town. This is the best way to get away from the hustle of bustle of Rishikesh. A short fifteen minute ride will take you to quiet winding mountain roads away from the buzz of Rishikesh.
7. Be Caffeinated: Café Hopping in Rishikesh
Last but not least there is an amazing cafe culture in Rishikesh. You can easily spend your days hopping from cafe to cafe where you’ll strike up conversations with fellow travelers while enjoying healthy local drinks.
Besides coffee, also try a lassi, tumeric tea, and anything that includes chia! Many of the cafes offer river wide views of the Ganges. Our two favorite cafes are tucked away in quiet Tapovan, they have the most delicious food and drinks AND owners who we really enjoyed getting to know. Don’t go to Rishikesh without trying Ira’s Kitchen and Tearoom or Sunlight Cafe!
8. Be Blessed: Take part in Puja / Ganja Arti
Rishikesh, nicknamed “the Land of God”, is one of the holiest cities of India. Like most of India, the holy cows roam free here. Meat and alcohol is not sold within the city. Travelers from all over India come to Rishikesh for pilgrimage. It is one of three cities in India that have nightly Ganga Arti (Varanasi and Haridwar are the other two).
The word aarti refers to a Hindu worship ritual. These rituals include the use of fire, usually in the form of lanterns or candles. In Hinduism, fire is sacred. It is a medium through which humans can communicate with the gods. In India, the Ganga is not only a holy river, but also a goddess. The aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering to the Goddess Ganga.It is a beautiful sight to behold as dusk settles over the city. Hundreds (locals and foreigners) gather for these nightly shows by the river.
A more quiet form of worship is the morning puja many locals make to the River Ganga. We joined our ayurveda doctor during one of his morning puja and were able to witness the quiet ritual and devotion to the Goddess Ganga. Upon our departure from Rishikesh many of the local friends we made asked for us to write our full names on a piece of paper so that they could include us on their morning puja.