Rishikesh is a small town, perched on the edge of the mighty Ganga, not too far from it’s source in the state of Uttrakhand. It is believed that the river ganges was crossed here by Lakshmana using jute rope thus giving the name Laksman Jhula to the settlement on the right bank, facing north, a little further up the river than Rishikesh proper. Rishikesh has long been a spiritual place, one of the holiest spots in India for Hindus as it is the ‘Gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas and so marks the start for many of the pilgrimage to the holy sites of Chota Char Dham: Kedarthath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Rishikesh is also called the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ where many serious enthusiasts come to perfect their ‘asanas’ and ‘kriyas’ in order to become professional yogis or just to attain better health and posture. Rishikesh is also famous as a centre of ‘Ayurveda’, with many ayurvedic treatments available at the number of centres run by legitimate Ayurvedic doctors. Despite the total pollution of the Ganges river, the stretch along Rishikesh is relatively unaffected due to its proximity to the source and that the main pollutions zones are further downstream in Uttar Pradesh. Many pilgrims and spiritualists come to this stretch to ceremoniously dip their head in the water helping to bring one closer to ‘Moksha’. The name Rishikesh is loosely applied here, bear in mind that the town itself is not super attractive and that the hamlets of Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula are much more desirable for western tourists although the name Rishikesh encompasses these two villages, adding to the confusion.
As Rishikesh has long been a place of learning, peace and spirituality, we must ask travellers to be respectfull of the local customs and refrain from eating meat, drinking alcohol and being uncovered while staying here. For many years the locals have complained about the ‘western’ tourists who come here and break all the rules, focused on hedonism. There is some action for those feeling restless after all that yoga and meditation however, the town has established itself as a local hub for adventure sports, offering a range of activities for all tastes. So check out our guide to Rishikesh and look out for an in-depth article of ‘Yoga in Rishikesh’ in the near future.
Accomodation is plentiful and of mostly rudimentary standards. There is not much deviation from this norm here as most hotels cater to the ultra budget ‘Yoga’ traveller. Expect to pay from 100rs to 700rs a night for pretty much the same room. Try Yogi Dilip’s place, Ganga Cottage for decent rooms available long and short term for 150rs a night. Ganga cottage is across the Laxman Jhula bridge and about 300 metres down the road on the right, tucked in a small lane on the left before the ‘white ashram’.
Rishikesh is the perfect place to learn yoga and meditation. There are dozens of courses on every day offering a range of activities following the different schools of yoga and different approaches towards meditation. For the best results, do not book in advance. Simply arrive, go to a local restaurant for lunch or dinner and ask the nearest travellers about their experiences. As there are many scams and pervert yogis around, it is best to get the most up-to-date recommendations from a traveller currently enrolled in a course.
Sunrise on Ganges is a magical experience. Cross over to the Rishikesh side of the river and head down to the small ghat next to Ram Jhula bridge for a perfect spot to enjoy this breathtaking view.
The Beatles ashram as it is called is an old abandoned ashram in the woods a little down the road from Laxman Jhula. Follow the main road in Laxman Jhula for about 3 kilometres down the river and look out for a small path into the jungle after a large carpark. It is one of the only ways to get in to this area. Ignore the locals saying it’s illegal to go in, maybe give them 50rs and head on in to explore these vast ruins housing lots of history and beautiful surprises. One of these is the Beatles Cathedral. Once the old yoga hall, now it is a shrine in honour of peace and the Beatles, with lots of art and paintings on the walls. There is much to do and see in this ashram however do not even think of staying overnight or even in the dark at all. There are tigers amongst other dangerous things. If the police come to check you out, say you were lost and pay the fine of 100rs. Totally worth it to meditate in the same rooms the Beatles did and do some of the most enchantingly beautiful urban exploring in the area
Further along the same road to the Beatle’s ashram is short circuit of about four kilometres. It is accessed by continuing up the hill from the ashram and taking a left at the first turn. From there the road winds all the way back along the mountain above the town all the way past the first suspension bridge. There are loads of monkeys, birds and other beautiful animals along this quiet stretch of road and it is well worth taking the detour home from the Beatle’s ashram along this road for the views of Rishikesh alone.
Go rafting by booking a trip with one of the local travel agents. 18Km trips cost 800rs and a 9km trip is 600. Both feature a range of rapids, from grades one through to three, with the occasional ambiguous three which could be a four. There current is strong and fast, so don’t fall out, though one of the expert Nepali guides will save you if you do. The rafting is amazing fun itself, as a team activity or with randoms, it is along one of the most scenic stretches of the Ganga with beautiful views of the hills towering above and the rapids, roiling below.
These are the main activities I would recommend in Rishikesh. However, the brave can try out bungie jumping at the centre, 15km away north. The Kiwis that run it offer Bungee jumps, a Rope Swing and a Flying Fox. However, jumping here is no different to anywhere else and though a lot of fun, I would recommend sticking to the unique activities related to the Ganges and Rishikesh. Regarding evening activities Ana Cafe at night time in Laxman Jhula is the place to be, featuring regular drum circles and music nights, serving as the local international traveller’s hub. A good place to meet people and have some fun in the evening. It is located in the back streets down an unnamed alley in Laxman Jhula. Ask around for directions there, though most people unconsciously gravitate there with the crowds.
Using our brief guide, we hope you can enjoy this sacred place to the fullest and truly get a glimpse of the amazing tranquility and peace which resides in this area. Be sure to check out our coming posts about the northern areas of Uttrakhand, allowing you to penetrate far into the Garhwali Himalayas, as far as the source of the Ganges.