Some places hold a special place in our hearts, and each time you visit them, you take a piece of them with you and leave a piece of yours with them. For me, it’s ‘Rishikesh’ – The Yoga Capital of the World. Rishikesh is magic for my soul and I still don’t know whether it is the River Ganges, the sound of bells during the aarti, the chanting of the mantras, the tiny cafes serving delicious food or is it the whole aura of the city that pulls me towards it every time.
My first trip to Rishikesh was in 2012 with my friend, Ankita and that was us being touristy so we went (you know it) – Rafting!!
The gurgling Ganges makes river rafting a must try at least once. You can book your slot online in advance or in person (there are many tourism outlets offering rafting packages)
That was the only time I went rafting. Was it not good – it was amazing! However, there is so much more to Rishikesh than just that.
On my next visit in 2013, I saw a completly different side of Rishikesh. On that pleasant March morning I was introduced to ‘The German Bakery’. It’s an ideal place to meet new people and have spiritual conversations. Next to my table, sat a beautiful Russian lady who was telling an Irish woman how meditation and yoga has helped her mentally and physically. I still can’t forget the glow on her face, the sparkle in her eyes and the black BINDI on her forehead that agreed with her vibe.
I ordered a herbal tea and ate some yak cheese while listening to her talk about the suryanamaskar that she performs every morning, about the famous spiritual teacher mooji’s teachings and about how much Hindi she has picked up in the two months that she had been here.
After about 15 minutes another girl from Portugal joined them and after she ordered her herbal tea, she played her guitar and started chanting Hare Rama Hare Krishna Rama Rama Hare Hare. Everyone in the cafe joined her clapping hands and swaying to the tunes. I did too.. it was pure magic. Starting the day on such a positive note charged me and everything felt so great!
I sat by the banks of River Ganges for hours listening to the sound of water breaking against the rocks and watching the daylight slowly fade away on the mountain tops.
I went to Rishikesh again, last month in December. The Beatles had travelled to Rishikesh in 1968 to attend Transcendental Meditation training at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram, located in Swargashram area. Coincidentally, I got my first training session on meditation back in the year 2004 on my 14th Birthday from one of the ashrams of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and therefore when I first heard about this ashram, I made sure I pay it a visit on my next birthday – and that’s exactly what I did
This is where The Beatles wrote 48 songs, many of which became a part of the White Album
The ashram, now abandoned and in disarray is open to public with an entry fee and is famous as the Beatles Ashram.
The meditation caves are the first structures that I saw as I entered the ashram and it felt like I was about to enter a whole new world. There are about 80 such caves that were built for the residents of the ashram for meditation.
Walking further inside the ashram are living quarters. Lined by beautiful graffiti, these buildings are slowly being taken over by time and nature. Standing here, I realized the inspiration for so many of their songs have connection to this place and its surroundings.
On top of these living quarters are these egg shaped structures which are graffiti-ed water towers, I was instantly attracted to these. Each of these structures has a ladder on the outside, leading to an open hole on the top (of course I climbed it!) Literally felt on ‘top of the world’ on my birthday
The energy of the place stirred in me an odd mood – you have to be there to feel it too. I grew up watching Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ji’s videos on the Maharishi channel on TV – its now available on You tube too. He would say a polite ‘Jai Guru Dev’ often, a standard greeting, which means ‘Hail Divine Teacher’. The picture below is taken inside the ashram which was once a lecture hall, I could imagine him in the 60’s sharing his knowledge from where I stood now. This hall is now known as the Beatles Cathedral.
The walls are now painted with inspirational quotes and pictures. As I walked through the buildings, the songs from The White Album came alive in my mind. Of course some over-ardent Romeos and Juliets have also expressed their love on these walls to immortalize their relationship!
To know that this place was once flooded with the flower power generation and to see Beatles’ fans paying homage to their favorite band who once lived here is an incredible feeling in itself.
The ashram still has the spiritual air and the leaves still rustle telling stories of the long gone era.
Tip: Hire a bike on rent to go here – The ashram is about 10kms from Tapovan. Also, its best not to wander solo, you may lose your way or get attacked by monkeys.
I stayed at the Rishikesh Valley in Tapovan which is about 8kms from Rishikesh and 2kms up the hill from the main road. Now, this can be a great place to stay if you want to be at peace and by that I mean literally ‘at peace’, since you won’t get any mobile network and there is no TV. If you wish to be surrounded by nature, sleep to the sound of a stream and wake up to the chirping of birds, this is the place you want to go to.
The host Anand, gives meditation classes and loves to talk! He sat with us for dinner around the bonfire and talked about spirituality. The two couples from Berlin and London who were also staying at the resort were in awe of him. I, on the other hand liked the food better! 😉 The pumpkin soup was delicious and fresh since the pumpkins were picked up the same day from the neighbor’s farm.
If you want to enjoy the trippy jam sessions in the cafes of Rishikesh, you might want to look for a place that is closer to the main road, because there is no way you can walk up that secluded spooky hill in the wee hours of the night nor is there a proper road from the main street to the Rishikesh Valley Resort if you plan to drive at night.
Where to eat:
Little Buddha Café – This tree house styled cafe’s food menu is known to satisfy food cravings and therefore this was next on my itinerary.
Since the entire city only serves vegan, I ordered a veg pizza with pineapple toppings and a large glass of watermelon juice. Sipping on the juice I enjoyed the view.
Do try the oreo ice cream that is served with pineapples and apples topped with chocolate sauce or the Mediterranean Pasta Salad which is a specialty here.
Freedom Café – Famous for Chinese and Italian cuisine, the café gives a perfect view of the river with yogi style cushion and communal seating space. It becomes a trippy place to be after hours.
Bistro Nirava – If at any point of your stay at Rishikesh, you miss meat, this is where you go. Made of bamboo, mud and clay, this one has a rustic ambiance to it. Do try the pita-falafel platters, pancakes, waffles and a range of soups.
Things to Do:
Yoga and meditation – This one is my favorite and so it tops the list. You’ll find various ashrams and guest houses that conduct these classes
Parmarth Niketen is one of the largest ashrams here, located 500mts from Ram Jhula. Sitting in the lap of the majestic Himalayan ranges an extremely peaceful oasis, it welcomes tourists from all over the world.
This picture below is from Jai Uttal’s (an American musician) recent kirtan concert in Parmarth Niketan Ashram
The ashram has been hosting the International Yoga Festival every year since 1999. If interested, you can register for this year’s festival which starts March 1st and goes on until March 7th on the official website – http://www.internationalyogafestival.org/register/
Aarti at Triveni Ghat – Do attend the evening ‘Maha Aarti’ at Triveni Ghat. An impressive view of earthen lamps floating in the river is pleasing to the eyes after the sunset.
A small tip: Make sure you know the aarti time beforehand so you don’t miss it!
Spa – Ananda Spa is a luxury spa that offers a wide menu of over 80 body treatments through Ayurveda with a Western spa approach. Ananda is the Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’ and this magnificent retreat certainly lives up to its name.
Trek to Kunjapuri Temple – a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Sati (the wife of lord Shiva, before she took birth as Goddess Parvati). If you are a lover of Sunrise, Kunjapuri Temple is where you need to go. Located at a height of 1645 mts offering a panoramic sight of the Himalayan peaks. A long trek up and down the hill from the Tapovan area in Rishikesh and after climbing about 300 stairs you can reach the temple
Mountain Biking – You can avail bikes on rent from various bike renting companies or travel agents in Rishikesh. Peddle through the rocky terrains, mud and wood and let the adrenaline flow
River Rafting – One of the most common sports here, rafting goes on for several kilometers along the river and the path is interspersed with rapids
Bungee Jumping – If you want to feel your heart pound losing yourself in the air from a height of more than 83 meters above the ground, then you need to go to Jumping Heights, Mohanchatti and try the Bungee Jump
Giant Swing – Jumping Heights also offers Giant Swing from the same Bungee platform. I had to bring myself to jump for that first second, after which the ropes smoothly swung me like a pendulum – definitely something one must try!
Flying Fox – You can opt for Flying Fox which is a zipline activity over the white water of the Ganges offering a beautiful view of the foothills of Himalayas.
My favorite part of Rishikesh is sitting on the banks of the Ganges immersing my feet in the river, gazing at the beautiful night sky while temple bells and people chanting mantras sooth my ears.
If you wish to travel up the mountains and explore a beautiful hill station while you’re here, you must visit Landour which is about 80 km from Rishikesh. Read my blog on it here
How to Reach Rishikesh
By Air – Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun is the nearest airport to Rishikesh which is approximately 35 kilometres away. Hire a cab from there.
By Bus – Buses depart in the morning and late evening from the Kashmere Gate ISBT, New Delhi for Rishikesh every day. You can choose from a regular, deluxe or a luxurious coach.
By Train – The nearest railhead to Rishikesh is in Haridwar which is approximately 25 kilometres away. Take a bus or hire a cab from there.
By Road/Self Drive – If you like road trips, you can opt for this too, as it is connected to other cities via the National Highway 58. The drive from Delhi to Rishikesh would take approximately 6 to 7 hours.
If you know more places that are a must-see in Rishikesh, do lets me know!
Thanks for stopping by