Even within India, one of the most religiously devoted countries on earth, Rishikesh is known as a hub for spirituality and mystical intrigue. The city has been a sacred place for Hindus since before they had an organized religion – the Ganges being considered a goddess in both Indian paganism and modern religious disciplines. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, a visitor to Rishikesh will be fairly likely to see Sadhus covered with ash and vermillion, chanting their mantras and practicing their meditations. It’s no wonder that The Beatles visited here in the height of their spiritual phase, and that the city has become such a famous location in the decades since.
Tips on traveling
If you’re making plans to finally visit this incredible part of Asia for yourself, whether for spiritual reasons or just the experience, here’s the thing you need – Rishikesh: the complete travel guide!
When to Travel
If you’re worried about visiting Rishikesh at the wrong time of year and missing the spirit of the place, don’t be. The city is one of those rare tourist destinations that can really be visited and soaked in at any time of the year. The landscapes change their tone and hue with each season, but the potent, spiritual aura of the place never really disappears. While the nights are cold in winter, the days remain fairly warm, making it a good time for exploring the local area and taking treks to tranquil rural regions. The monsoon season, due to its heavy storms, is probably the trickiest time to visit. However, there’s nothing quite like Rishikesh when it’s covered in luscious green fauna. Here’s a little more detail about visiting at different times of the year.
Spring (February to March)
Spring in Rishikesh is ideal for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. The surrounding valleys will be alive with blossom, and the weather will be the stuff of dreams. Late February up to the middle of March is a favourite time to visit for many white water rafters, as the snow of the Himalayas melts away and drains into the Ganges. If you’re not all that keen on high-adrenaline trips, another big reason to visit Rishikesh in the spring is its international Yoga festival. If you can’t stand missing your class at the local gym, then this is certainly something to behold! Aside from that, the Hindu festivals of Holi and Basant Panchmi are also held in the spring.
Summer (April to June)
If you’ve come to Rishikesh for the rafting rather than the spirituality, but you’re not all that experienced with the sport, then the summer is probably the best time for you to visit. From May to June, the Ganges goes through a period of low tides. This is great for inexperienced travellers to get a taste for water sports in one of the most popular places for it on earth. However, if you’re planning your trip to Rishikesh for purely spiritual reasons, going in the summer may not be the best decision. While there will certainly be yogis and sadhus here and there, you’ll be missing out on any big festivals or pilgrimages.
Monsoon Season (June to August)
The heavy rains of the monsoon season mean that travel can be a little tricky, but it also means that the whole landscape looks fresh, green and vibrant. Pilgrimages to some prominent religious shrines, such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, and Hemkund Sahib, are often carried out at this time of the year. You can also take part in the world-famous trek to the Valley of Flowers at this time of year, as it stays closed for the rest.
Autumn (September to October)
Autumn is by far the most popular time to visit Rishikesh for white water rafters. The season practically has its own rafting festival, with all the temporary camp sites which spring up along the river. If you live and breathe white water rafting, then autumn may be the best time for your trip. The monsoon season will have raised the tide of the Ganges, and you’ll have the opportunity to meet other rafting enthusiasts from all over the world.
Winter (November to February)
Winter is the ideal time to visit for people who prefer to take things nice and easy. There’s generally a lot less tourism, and although the weather can get cold at night it’s very pleasant during the day. If you’re particularly into wildlife, then winter may be the time for you too. This is the best time to spot the range of rare bird species which migrate to Rishikesh in the colder months, including Koklas, Khalij and Monal. Winter’s also a great time in general to get out into nature and simply soak it all in. The famous Rajaji National Park opens in the winter, and stays open through to June. Here, you can find royal Bengal tigers, Indian elephants, leopards and various other beautiful species of animal.
From luxurious country resorts to simple camping spots in the woods, there’s a wide range of options for accommodation when you’re staying in Rishikesh. Whether the city is just a stop and you need nothing more than four walls and a roof, or you want to pamper yourself a little and have a more luxurious experience, you’re sure to find some accommodation which is perfect for your needs.
The cottages in Rishikesh are hugely popular with visiting tourists. This is mainly due to their quiet, picturesque locations, and the freedom you’ll have to manage the cottage yourself, without having to worry about housekeeping and meal times like you would at a hotel. While some of them may be a little far away from any stores or facilities, it’s not too big of a difference, and many of the cottages nestled in the higher foothills will give you a wonderful view of the Himalayas. If you want to fill your visit with all the adrenaline and adventure you possibly can, then you may be more interested in cottages on the banks of the Ganges or the nearby beaches. Staying in one of these will mean that you don’t have to spend any time navigating India’s often chaotic travel system. If you really fall in love with the place, there are many cottages which you can rent and come back to again and again.
Hotels, Motels, and Resorts
Whether you want to stay in the bustling heart of the city or a little closer to nature, you’ll never be short of hotels and resorts to stay in Rishikesh and the surrounding area. Most of them are spread out along the banks of the Ganges, most notably in the Lakshman Jhula area. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, then the eastern coast of the Ganges is your best bet. Just remember that it isn’t all that easy to access with vehicles, so you may have to make other arrangements for luggage.
If you’re looking for adventure, then there are many different camping spots along the Ganges, allowing you to save a lot of money and get a more intimate feel for the land around you. You’ll find that large majority of the tents to be spacious, clean and comfortable. Most sites have a bonfire every night, and hot food prepared in the camp’s own kitchen. You’ll be able to wake up every day to fresh country air and the beautiful clear waters of the Ganges gliding peacefully past you, making for one of the fullest and most genuine experiences of the area you can have.
Things to See and Do
There’s simply not enough space here to list all the intriguing things there are to see and do in Rishikesh. However, here are a few of the real gems of the area.
The Beatles’ Ashram
Though the site has a certain significance for Hindus and other Dharmic pilgrims, many music lovers come to this Ashram on a different kind of pilgrimage. The Beatles visited this holy site in 1968 for sessions of transcendental meditation under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh, the world-famous yogi. The band wrote several songs during this visit, and the media coverage they received sparked a worldwide interest in Eastern spirituality. This one visit is now so famous that the site is commonly referred to as the “Beatles’ Ashram”, and is a highly popular stop for countless western tourists.
Neelkantha Mahadev Temple
Over 1,600 metres up a hill above the famous Swarg Ashram, Neelkantha Mahadev is one of the most prominent shrines to Lord Shiva in the whole country. According to Hindu mythology, it’s situated where Shiva drank Halahala (“the Venom”) in order to obtain Amrita (“the Elixir of Life”). Though it can be quite a trek to reach, the beautifully detailed architecture and religious iconography is truly a sight to behold.
If you ever get fed up with all the rush and noise of central Rishikesh, then take a short trip to the town of Shivpuri. Compared to the bustling city centre, this place is a paradise. It’s based on the banks of the Ganges, but in a much more rural, tranquil area. The riverbanks near Shivpuri are dotted with lovely permanent camps where visitors can take some time to relax. There are also a lot of opportunities for outdoor activities, including volleyball, trekking and of course white-water rafting. A couple of days in Shivpuri is definitely worth the journey!
Another site of that’s hugely significant among Hindus and spiritualists, Triveni Ghat is one of the many ghats (stairs leading down to a river) which hug the edge of the Ganges. Walk past it, and you’re sure to see many pilgrims bathing and worshipping on it. However, if you really want to get a taste for the spiritual nature of the place, you really have to visit during the evening aarti. Here, you’ll be dazzled by the amazing sight of myriad floating lamps, and the potent vocalisations of the religious rites that are performed there. Even if you’re not all that spiritual, the acts of worship at Triveni Ghat are certainly something to see!
Rishikesh is known internationally to be a great spot for white water rafting. However, if you want your trip to be even more adrenaline-charged, then make sure you schedule a day at Jumpin Heights. This center offers bungee jumping, giant swings and ziplining which will take you soaring high above the picturesque rural landscape. Definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Another site of spiritual intrigue, this is the oldest Ashram in the whole of India. Situated between Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula, and built in remembrance of the influential yogi Swami Vishudhanand, this Ashram is brimming with Hindu history and culture. Due to it being on an isolated riverbank, this is a popular place for meditation, or simply kicking back and taking in the beauty of nature.
Neer Garh Waterfall
A short trek from Laxman Jhula, this is a truly unique place of natural beauty. Most visitors will find it easy to trek the secluded footpaths that weave around the tranquil waterfall, and take some pictures that will make your whole friends list jealous! If the chaos of the inner city ever gets too much for you, then this is the one sure place to unwind and get away from it all.
I hope Rishikesh: the complete travel guide will help you plan a truly incredible trip to Rishikesh. Enjoy the cozy resorts and comfortable cottages at amazingly affordable prices with OYO Rooms Coupons.
Whether you’re attracted by the potent spirituality or the simple promise of adventure, you won’t forget Rishikesh easily. Of course, there’s only so much you can learn about the city by reading, so my final piece of advice is to jump in and see it yourself!