Rishikesh: The Full Experience Beyond Yoga
Known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, Rishikesh is a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas at the start of the Ganges River. Rishikesh translates to ‘Lord of the Senses’. It became a popular destination for Westerners interested in yoga. This is largely due to The Beatles visiting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in 1968, which is now closed.
In addition to being a world-renowned yoga centre, filled with yoga retreats and yoga teacher trainings, Rishikesh also has so much more to offer. From its temples to its fantastic outdoor activities. In fact, it is one of the only spots in all of India where you can enjoy history, religion, outdoor sports and yoga all in one.
It is a serene town in Northern India in the in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand that is surrounded by the magnificent mountains. It is a great place to practice yoga, do yoga teacher training and enjoy the outdoors.
The Ganges is a 2,525 kilometre (1,569 mile) river that flows from Rishikesh south through the Gangetic Plain, West Bengal and into the Bay of Bengal. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge. Millions of people live along the banks of it, relying on its water for their daily needs.
It is one of the most sacred rivers in the world to Hindus. Many bathe in the water to pay homage to their ancestors and gods. This is done by cupping the water in their hands and letting it pour over them and back into the river. Many visitors also practice this ritual with their guru while here.
This annual Hindu festival celebrates the descent of the Ganges. It starts on Dashami (10th day) of the waxing moon of the Hindu calendar month Jyeshtha. It is believed that on this day the Ganges descended from heaven to earth. Ganga Dussehra lasts for 10 days and is celebrated in many places in India that sit along the river. Rishikesh is one of the main locations of the festival.
Hindus believe that taking a dip in the river on the first day of the festival is a way to cleanse themselves and heal any ailments that they may have. It also symbolises the start of the summer season.
This sacred ghat is one of the biggest and most famous in all of Rishikesh. It is believed that people that bathe in this ghat wash all of their sins away, attaining salvation after death. It is at its busiest in the early morning and in the evening when Ganga Aarti takes place –a ritual worshiping the river.
Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat is known as Maha Aarti, and it takes place every day at dusk. It starts with chanting of bhajan (religious or spiritual songs), the beating of drums, bells and diyas (oil lamps) offerings. A priest holds a large bowl of fire and bells start ringing, lighting up the sky and carrying the sound along the river. This marks the start of Ganga Aarti. To participate in an evening ritual, contact Ganga Seva Nidhi.
This 137 metre (450 feet) long iron suspension bridge crosses over the Ganges River. The bridge was built by the British in 1939 at the spot where Lakshman (Lord Rama’s brother) crossed over the sacred river on a jute rope. The area surrounding the bridge is extremely vibrant with its bathing Ghats, temples, bazaars and cafés. A great experience to enjoy while crossing the bridge are the wonderful panoramic views of Rishikesh, and the boats and rafts that pass under it.
Ram Jhula is often pegged as Shivananda Jhula, as it connects Sivananda Ashram on the west banks with Swargashram on the east banks. The pedestrian bridge is a famous landmark in the town, crossing over the Ganges and offering spectacular views.
There are many temples in Rishikesh that are open to the public. There are also some that aren’t, so be sure to check before entering.
Also known as Tera Manzil Temple, Triambakeshwar Temple is one of Rishikesh’s most famous temples thanks to its 13-story shrine and location along the banks of the Ganges River. The temple was built for Lord Shiva, although many deities are worshipped here. In fact, each of the 13 levels of the shrine has idols for several Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The temple is quite impressive and a great spot for a memorable photo.
This ancient temple is named after Bharat, the second brother of Lord Rama. It sits right in the middle of Rishikesh and is one of the most sacred temples in the city. It is around 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) away from the bus terminal. It is actually believed that the 8th century philosopher Adi Shankara laid the foundation of the temple in 789 AD. The temple is known for its ancient entangled trees and its newly built museum, which displays sculptures and pottery.
Located at Triveni Ghat, Raghunath Temple is one of the most important temples in Rishikesh. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and his wife Sita, and is where the daily Maha Aarti takes place.
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is not actually in Rishikesh but 32 kilometres (19 miles) away. Still, it is well worth making the trip to visit this temple that is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple sits at 1330 metres (4363.5 feet) above sea level in the Pauri Garhwal district. It is surrounded by dense forests and mountain ranges. It is not only a beautiful temple but the surrounding scenery is also stunning.
The temple is decorated with sculptures of Devas (Gods) and Asuras (demons) depicting the Samudramanthan (Hindu-mythology) where Lord Shiva consumes poison that made his throat turn blue. There is also a natural spring onsite.
This ancient temple sits on the banks of the river near Lakshman Jhula. It is known for its amazing wall paintings and ancient scriptures.
ACTIVITIES IN RISHIKESH
Rishikesh is a haven for outdoor lovers, offering plenty of activities for people to enjoy. Whether you like rafting, bungee jumping or rock climbing, you will be inspired here.
This is one of the most popular activities to do in Rishikesh, especially from September to December and March to May. Rafting is done right along the Ganges, going for several miles into rapids that range from Level 1 to 5 in difficulty. There are a number of companies in the town that offer rafting trips.
Thrill seekers can get their adrenaline going by bungee jumping over the Ganges or a rocky cliff. Most bungee jumping takes place outside of the city. Operators including transfer to and from Rishikesh to the jumping platform.
If bungee jumping wasn’t enough, you can also dive from a rock boulder right into the water. The biggest thrill is that the water is absolutely freezing, as you are in the mountains. You will be wearing a lifejacket and a helmet when you make the jump for safety measures. It doesn’t take away from the excitement though.
Like rafting, kayaking is done along the river, paddling through rapids of various levels of difficulty. It is extreme kayaking with numerous portages. You can also just kayak on flat water, which is not as exhilarating but definitely scenic.
There are some spectacular hidden waterfalls around Rishikesh. They are well preserved and are a great way to get out of the town to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the fresh air. All of these are best done just after the monsoon as this is when the waterfalls are at their most beautiful.
It is a 3 kilometre (1.86 mile) trek from Lakshman Jhula to this waterfall, which is the easiest and most popular of all of the waterfall treks. The water cascades over a mountain into a small pool where people are welcome to bathe.
Garud Chatti Waterfall
The Gard Chatti Waterfall is a little bit further, being around 5 kilometres (3 miles) away from Lakshman Jhula on the road to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It is a popular trek, as well as a popular waterfall, cascading at different levels.
Pool Chatti Waterfall
This waterfall is along the same route as Garud Chatti Waterfall, but 3 kilometres (1.86 miles) further. The path is not as busy so it can get slippery.
The trek to Patna Waterfall is difficult, trekking for around one hour uphill. The trek starts on the road to Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and continues on through the Rajaji Forest.
This ancient cave is where the Sage Vashistha meditated. He is one of seven great sages in Hindu culture and achieved the highest divinity. According to Hindu mythology, he was the human son of Lord Brahma. The cave is roughly 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) outside of Rishikesh along the Rishikesh Badrinath Highway, where you then do a 150 metre (492 feet) walk downhill.
Muni Ki Reti
This small town is known for being home to the Divine Life Society that was founded by Swami Sivananda in 1936. Muni Ki Reti literally translates to ‘Sand of the sages’. This is because it is a sacred place where sages used to meditate.
Kunjapuri Devi Temple
This sacred temple sits on a hill at an elevation of 1,676 metres (2,217 feet) above sea level. It is an important temple that receives devotees from all over the country, especially during the Navratri and Dussehra festivals. The temple is located 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) from Rishikesh and accessible by walking up 80 steps.
Rishikesh sits at an elevation of 382 metres (1,220 feet) and has a humid tropical climate, which means it is pleasant throughout the entire year.
There are three main seasons in Rishikesh, though the yearly average is 32°C/89°F and an average low of 23°C/74°F. In the summer (March to June), it can get as hot as 39°C/102°F with intense humidity.
The monsoon season starts in Rishikesh in July and ends in October. July and August experience the most rainfall. Although it’s still hot so it can be pretty uncomfortable.
Winter is from November to February, though it is far from cold. Still, it can get as low as 5°C/41°F in January, though can also be as warm as 17°C/62°F. Evenings are cool, so be sure to pack something warm if visiting Rishikesh in the winter.
The most popular time to visit is around March to July, which boasts the nicest weather.
Rishikesh is a year-round destination, although July and August are less popular dues to the rain and May due to the heat. It is a personal choice when to visit, though you can enjoy yourself whenever you decide to go.
You will have no trouble making your way to Rishikesh as it is accessible by air, train and bus. You can even drive yourself there!
The airport closest to Rishikesh is 20 kilometres (12 miles) away in Dehradun. Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Bangalore, Chennai, Jaipur, Mumbai and many other locations are connected to Jolly Grant Airport (also known as Dehradun Airport). Airlines that take you there include; Alliance Air, IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.
Rishikesh is also connected to Delhi, Hardiwar, Jammu and Bandikui by train. You can book a seat and see train schedules here.
If you arrive to India via Delhi, it is well connected to Rishikesh by bus and the journey takes around seven hours. See bus options here.
Finally, you can hire a car and drive yourself to Rishikesh, though this isn’t recommended unless you have driven in India before. You can also get a taxi from the Delhi airport to Rishikesh for anywhere from $115 to S$175.
Rishikesh is not only an easy place to visit, but also a fantastic experience that will leave you with lasting memories. It is the perfect place to join a yoga Ashram or do Yoga teacher training. With its Hindu spirituality and history, and its fantastic outdoor activities, it’s no wonder why it is such a popular destination for those wanting to do yoga or learn how to teach it.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).