Rishikesh Travel Guide: The Yoga Capital of the World
Travel Guide to Rishikesh, India: Itinerary, Places to Stay, Things to Do, and more
Known as the “Yoga Capital of the World” and “Gateway to the Himalayas”, Rishikesh is considered as one of the holiest places to Hindus. As a pilgrimage site, it is dotted with centuries-old temples. The sacred River Ganges starts flowing in the state of Uttarakhand, where Rishikesh is located—making the city more revered by the Hindus.
Rishikesh became popular when the Beatles came to visit in the winter of 1968. Since then, the city has now become a melting pot of culture where people from all over the world come to find spirituality, enjoy tranquility, adventure, philosophy, feast on delicious food and then some. To help you plan a trip to Rishikesh soon, here is a travel guide you can bookmark for reference.
When is the best time to visit Rishikesh?
This writer visited Rishikesh in January and found the weather pleasantly cool with a temperature high of 20°C during the day and 8°C at night. The best months to visit Rishikesh are in the months of January, February, March, April, and August to October. The months of May, June and July ushers in a torching temperature of 39°C.
You can experience River Rafting in Rishikesh even in the tail-end winter months of January and February but the best months to do it is on the months of September and October and March to April.
Despite the hot weather of July, a festival worth witnessing called the “Savan” is held during this month.
How to get to Rishikesh?
There are no direct flights from Manila to Rishikesh or even its nearest airport. However, you can still reach Rishikesh by air by taking a domestic flight from some of the big cities in India. The other ways to reach Rishikesh are by bus, rented car and by train coming from different cities in India.
You can reach Rishikesh by plane via flights flying to Jolly Grant airport which is located at Dehradun—35 kilometers from Rishikesh. Leading Indian airlines like IndiGo, Spice Jet, Jet Airways and Air India flies to Dehradun daily from New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Lucknow, and Hyderabad. From Jolly Airport, you can easily reach Rishikesh by riding a taxi or taking a public bus.
You can reach Rishikesh by train via the train station located in its neighboring city of Haridwar, which is only 25 kilometers away. The train station at Haridwar is connected to major Indian cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Varanasi and Lucknow. Leading train lines such as Mussorie Express, AC Special Express, Shatabadi Express, and Jan Shatabdi Express have daily trips passing by Haridwar station. It is advisable to take the train to Haridwar and then hire a taxi or board a bus to Rishikesh. Travel time from Haridwar to Rishikesh is 45 minutes.
You can also easily reach Rishikesh by taking a bus. The most convenient and fastest major city to reach Rishikesh is from New Delhi—which is 5-7 hours away. For cities in farther locations, sleeper buses are available with travel time varying from 7-24 hours. This writer arrived in Rishikesh from Jaipur by taking a night sleeper bus (9pm-6am).
Distances to Rishikesh from nearby (Indian standard of “nearby”) major cities.
- Haridwar (24kms.)
- Dehradun (43kms.)
- Delhi (225kms)
- Mussoorie (77kms.)
- Kedarnath (227kms.)
- Yamunotri (234kms.)
- Uttrakashi (154 kms.)
- Gangotri (248kms.)
- Nainital (260kms.)
- Shimla (262kms.)
- Govindghat (275kms.)
- Badrinath (300kms.)
- Agra (398kms.)
- Lucknow (555kms.)
By Rented Car
Travelers from New Delhi sometimes chooses to rent a car going to Rishikesh. Travel time is around 6-7 hours and the rate ranges from 3,000-5,000 Indian Rupees (one-way). Riding apps like Uber and OLA can also be used when traveling from New Delhi to Rishikesh and vice versa.
Tip: It is cheaper to book in Uber or OLA (3,000 INR) than booking a car from a hotel (5,000 INR).
Best places to stay in Rishikesh
Accommodations in Rishikesh centers on the area surrounding Lakshman Jhula. This area is popular with backpackers as many hostels are situated here. There are also mid-range and luxury hotel alternatives located in secluded spots just within the outskirts of the city. Here are a few popular accommodation choices in Rishikesh
Address: Hotel Akash Continental, Badrinath Rd, Tapovan, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
GoStops is one of the big three hostel chains in India—together with Zostel and Moustache—and their Rishikesh property lives up to its brand name. Designed in Bohemian style, GoStops has a wide garden which doubles as a common area for travelers at night, a shared lounge each floor and a restaurant and cafe on the rooftop. Bunk beds and private rooms are offered at backpacker-friendly rates.
Address: NH58 Rishikesh-Badrinath Highway, Tapovan, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Probably the most popular hostel chain in India, Zostel’s Rishikesh branch is another backpacker favorite—thanks to its homey interior, spacious lounge area, and affordable dorm room beds. Zostel Rishikesh is a great place to stay for cheap and meet fellow travelers.
Address: 1 36, Near Inter college Tapovan, VPO – Tapovan, Tehri Garhwal, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Another big player in the hostel industry in India, Moustache’s property in Rishikesh is a favorite place among yoga students to hang out after a day of yoga sessions. Staying here will immerse you to its culture of oneness among different cultures of traveler guests from all over the world.
Amritara Raga on the Ganges
Address: 35th, Milestone Village-Singthali, Post Byasi, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Located a few steps from Raghunathji Temple, Raga on the Ganges is another luxury resort that offers elegantly-designed cottages and rooms. Part of its amenities includes outdoor yoga, spa, and wellness treatments.
Ananda in the Himalayas
Address: The Palace Estate, Narendra Nagar, Uttarakhand 249175, India
This hotel set in a former palatial retreat is famous for its royal-themed rooms adorned with cream-colored interior—with each having its own balconies. Ananda in the Himalayas is also renowned for its spa and ayurvedic treatments. A little far from the main activity area, it has its own charming seclusion vibe.
Address: Near 23rd Milestone, Rishikesh-Badrinath Road, Tehri Garhwal District, Gular Dogi, Uttarakhand, India
A part of the Neemrana—a renowned heritage hotel brand in India—Glasshouse on the Ganges sits on property enclosed by a mango orchard and right on the banks of the River Ganges. The rooms are designed with traditional Indian architecture filled with antique and wooden items. A must-stay place for escapists.
Address: Neelkanth Mandir Road, Ghattugad, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, this rustic camp provides air-conditioned tents close to nature as possible. Homey and secluded, this is a good option for those wanting a place to stay a little bit farther from the center of activities and closer to nature in Rishikesh.
Getting around Rishikesh
The main transportation in Rishikesh are the auto-rickshaws (vikram) and motorcycle taxis. If you cross the Laxman Jhula or Ram Jhula bridge to the other side of the Ganges, you can only take a motorcycle taxi or rent a motorcycle to pass through the single-lane road along the Ghats. In the main road going to the whole city, public buses, rickshaws, 4×4 jeeps are available to take you outside the outskirts of the city to other natural attractions like waterfalls and hiking jump-off trails.
Where to Eat in Rishikesh
The local gastronomic scene of Rishikesh is varied and sumptuous—offering you plenty of choices. It is regarded as one of the best cities in India with the best food culture. Because of the religious significance of Rishikesh, the food here is vegetarian while alcoholic drinks are prohibited. Fret not, because dotter all over the city are cafes and restaurants that serves the best vegetarian foods, masala tea, fruit shakes, and coffee. Popular cafes and restaurants include:
The Little Buddha Café
A tree-house cafe that dishes a wonderful view of the Ganges River. Popular for its menu consisting of Indian and Nepali food plus it’s an array of breakfast dishes like the ‘yogi breakfast’—which cost only 240 Rupees and comes with fresh fruits, muesli, peanut butter, toasted bread, chai tea, and green juice.
The Sitting Elephant
A little far from the center of activities in Lakshman Jhula, the Sitting Elephant is blessed though with an amazing location encircled by the lush hills of Rishikesh and the River Ganges. Diners here will enjoy an array of multi-cultural cuisines from the different states of India. It is said that when you sit at the roof-top dining place, you will picture a sitting elephant depicted by the shape of the surrounding hills.
Aptly named as such because it instantly brings bliss to any diner who come here. Bistro Nirvana serves an irresistible list of mouth-watering dishes like chicken tikka masala, organic pizzas, waffles, pitta falafel platters, and more—in a space enclosed by a rustic vibe of bamboo, clay and mud furnishings.
Ganges Beach Café
Because it’s found at the foot of Lakshman Jhula Bridge, you’ll get the best view of the Ganges River and the people crossing the bridge from this Cafe. The meals here are as good as its colorful interior filled with a pile of comfy seating cushions and low tables. Don’t leave without partnering your meal with their selection of cold lassis drinks.
The Beatles Café
Originally named as the 60’s Cafe Delmar but has since became known as the Beatles Cafe. Beatles photographs graces the walls of this homey cafe that opens to a balcony overlooking the wide River Ganges. This writer ordered an Aloo Gobi and Chapatis. It was great. According to reviews, the veggie burgers and vegan pizzas are also must-tries.
An open-air restaurant that opens to the magnificent view of the Ganges River, German Bakery serves a fusion of Indian and Western food, deserts, sizzlers, baked cookies and a variety of bread choices. Top favorite includes their own version of fruit pancake and yak cheese sandwich.
An in-house restaurant of a family-owned small hotel, Ayurpark serves fresh organic vegetable dishes sourced from their own garden. Each dish is meticulously prepared and takes half an hour to be served. All that waiting time is worth it once you dig your hands at Ayurpark’s soul food.
Situated near Swarg Ashram, Chotiwala is considered as a foodie institution in Rishikesh having started operation in 1958. An old-school restaurant relying on no fancy-design but on its sumptuous servings of Thali meals in five different combos’. A simple Thali meal starts at 120 Rupees.
This is where this writer first went to eat in Rishikesh during the first walk around town. The café’s interior filled with vintage items and antique wooden furniture is enough to draw you inside and enjoy a hot masala tea over some of its offerings of tasty vegetarian Indian food. Plus, the owner and chef is a generous travel tipster, so you get to receive local recommendations for things to do and places to see in Rishikesh.
Other notable mentions include Madras Café, Freedom Café, Shambala, The Treehouse, Café Power of Thoughts, Shanti Shanti and many more.
Best things to do in Rishikesh
Witness the Ganga Aarti
A religious devotional ritual is held every dusk at the banks of the Ganges River in the three sacred cities of Rishikesh, Varanasi, and Haridwar. This is called the “Ganga Aarti”. Unlike in both Varanasi and Haridwar (where the “pandits” or Hindu Priests led the ceremony), the Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh is performed by young ashram students of the Vedas at the Parmath Niketan Ashram. The Ganga Aartis is a ceremony held at the Ghat in front of Parmath Niketan Ashram and starts off with chanting of devotional songs (bhajans) accompanied by prayers and a purifying ritual called “hawan”. Concluding the ceremony is the act of the “aarti”—where the ashram residents and the spectators sends an offering to the Ganges by floating a small diya (a cup made from leaves) laden with flowers and a lighted lamp, into the Ganges River.
Visit the Beatles Ashram
Rishikesh first came to the consciousness of the rest of the world when the Beatles came here during the winter of 1968. They stayed at the then Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram to study yoga, meditation and search for spirituality. During their transcendental meditation sessions with the Maharishi, the band reached creative high writing astounding 48 songs, most of which were included on their double album “White Album”.
Today, a riot of arresting mural art now plasters the peeled-off walls of the Ashram’s ruins. These wonderful mural essays were created by street artists forming the ‘Beatles Ashram Mural Project’—founded in 2012. Apart from the mural paintings, lyrical lines such as “with every mistake, we must surely be learning” from a George Harrison-penned song, can be read scrawled on random walls.
Entry fee: 600 Indian Rupees for foreigners
Cross the iconic Lakshman Jhula Bridge
Built in 1927, Lakshman Jhula Bridge is an iron suspension bridge cutting across the Ganges River to connects the towns of Jonk and Tapovan. It has become the iconic landmark of Rishikesh and is always filled with pedestrian walking over to the other side where a 13-storey Trayambakeshwar Shiva Temple towers beautifully over the Ganges River.
Tip: Do not cross the bridge bringing a bag of fruits like apple, oranges, and bananas because the mischievous monkeys hanging at the iron railings will snatch it.
Get wet on a wild river rafting ride
There’s no better adrenaline rush than experiencing a wild river rafting ride in the holy waters of the Ganges River piercing to several rapids in the foothills of the Himalayas. The months of September-October and March-April are the perfect time for river rafting in Rishikesh. The average distance of the rafting route is 36 kilometers with 13 major rapids.
Rate: 1,500 Indian Rupees per person
Study Yoga in an Ashram or attend a session
Because it’s known as the “Yoga capital of the world”, you cannot leave Rishikesh without submerging in the yoga and meditation culture of the city. Meditation centers and Yoga schools are found all over Rishikesh. You can either walk-in to join a yoga session or study thoroughly by enrolling in a yoga course. The length of yoga courses varies from 200, 400 and 600 hours of yoga training. Many students stay in Rishikesh for over a month taking the minimum 200-hour yoga course.
Enclosed by a set of rolling hills that rises to the Himalayas mountain range, Rishikesh provides many mountain-based sets of adventure activities. One of which is bungee jumping. A popular site called “Jumping Heights” is located an hour away in Mohanchatti. Here, you can experience bungee jumping from a height of more than 80 meters from the ground. Other mountain activities include camping, rock climbing, rappelling, and hiking.
Rate: 3,550 Indian Rupees per person
Pray at the many holy temples
Even if you don’t share the same faith as the Hindus, it is still a delightful experience to pay a visit at the many temples found in Rishikesh. Aside from regaling at the elaborate architectural designs, these temples (many are thousand years old) ushers in a soulful experience—especially if you chance upon an on-going religious activity inside the temple. Main temples to see are: Neelkanth Mahadev Mela, Shatrughan Mandir, and Trayambakeshwar Temple.
Best Places to shop in Rishikesh
Like what’s seen in most cities in India, the market scene in Rishikesh is so vibrant and filled with bazaars selling colorful items such as traditional clothing, antique items, silverware and jewelries, organic products, spices and even branded jackets imported from Nepal. Here are where you can find unique finds when you go shopping in Rishikesh.
Lakshman Jhula Market
Located by the Ghats when you cross the Lakshman Jhula Bridge, this market is filled with bazaar stalls selling clothes, precious stones, books, spiritual items and many more.
Ram Jhula Market
Situated straight up the road from Lakshman Jula Market, Ram Jhula is also a shopping haven dotted with a vibrant bazaar scene.
Rishikesh Main Market
This is where locals buy their daily food like fruits and vegetables. Located near Triveni Ghat.
Rishikesh is also known as one of the best places in India to buy musical instruments such as sitar, tabla, guitars and many more. Some music stores also offer music courses where you can study playing the instruments they sell, learn mantra chanting and improve your vocal skills.
Rishikesh additional travel tips
Plan your trip ahead of time
Book flights to India—preferably Jaipur or New Delhi because of its proximity to Rishikesh—ahead of time to avail of lower airfare costs. Be on the look-out also for seat-sales and other airline promos. Take note of the best months to visit Rishikesh and anticipate room rates to increase during these time, so make sure to also book ahead and reserve online. Rishikesh is a walking-friendly city so, it is best advised to prepare for such undertaking by making sure you’re in great physical shape.
Choosing a yoga school
Rishikesh is a place where you can learn the “hatha yoga”, classical and traditional yoga practices. So, if you desire to master the other aspects of yoga other than ashtanga, then you must learn yoga in Rishikesh. Since there are now countless Yoga schools in Rishikesh, it is best to read reviews of the schools you’re looking to enroll in. After that, make a drop-in visit to the shortlist you selected and converse with a Yoga teacher to get a better feel of what is the best yoga school to fit yourself.
Nearby side trip destinations
If you’re spending a long time in Rishikesh, you can make weekend side trips to these places of interest.
- Mussorie (77km away) – a hill station in India surrounded by lush green mountains rich in biodiversity. Called as “queen of the hills”, visitors can also experience snow here during winter.
- Dhanaulti (84km away) – a place brimming with tranquility and uncrowded streets.
- Rajaji National Park (20mins away) – A wildlife sighting location near Rishikesh, this national park comprises of three sanctuaries: Chilla, Rajaji and Motichur.
- Shivpuri (10km away) – Most of Rishikesh’ adventure tour offerings happens in this town. Rafting, camping, and rock climbing are the leading adventure activities here.
Do not let your guard down despite Rishikesh being a sacred city. Scammers exist in every part of the world so be wary of these modus operandi:
- “Sadhus” offering a private tutoring
- A tourist tout who will approach you of bringing a fake gemstone to your country for a non-existent buyer. Doing so, you will make the payment first.
- Avoid bringing food exposed in the open. Monkeys may tend to snatch that from you.
There are several ATM’s and Money Changers located in Rishikesh so getting money won’t be a problem. Most restaurants and bazaar stalls accept Mastercard and Visa credit cards and debit cards.
These are just some of the many wonderful activities one can do in Rishikesh. Other things you can do include: hiking and camping, cycling, kayaking, wildlife sighting, hot-air ballooning and more.
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