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Home » Rishikesh: A Sacred Sanctuary of Yoga and Spirituality in the Himalayan Foothills

Rishikesh: A Sacred Sanctuary of Yoga and Spirituality in the Himalayan Foothills

Narrow streets are filled with the names of shops, cafes, hotels, and yoga centers. Crowds of people move through them, driven by the honking of motorcycles and cars. In the ashrams, hundreds of foreigners imbibe wisdom from teachers, local pilgrims bathe in the emerald waters of the Ganges, and the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas unfold just a short ascent up the mountain. We tell you more about what to do in Rishikesh in our text.

Rishikesh is located in the northern part of India, in the state of Uttarakhand, 250 kilometers from the capital New Delhi. Rishikesh is known as the Gateway to the Himalayas—it is the starting point for ancient pilgrimage villages in the mountain regions. Nearby, 25 kilometers away, lies another sacred Hindu city—Haridwar. There are many such cities in India, for example, Varanasi, Govardhan, Vrindavan, Mathura—and each is associated with its own legend about a particular deity, recorded in the sacred Indian scriptures—Mahabharata, Ramayana, and others.

It is in the Rishikesh area that the sacred river Ganges emerges from the mountain gorges of the Himalayas and begins its journey across the plains. It flows through the entire city, and along its banks, there are numerous ashrams (abodes of sages and hermits). Among Hindu deities, Shiva is the most revered in Rishikesh, who, along with Brahma and Vishnu, forms the divine triad: together, they embody the cycle of all life in the Universe—creation, preservation, and destruction. There are several temples dedicated to Shiva here, the most famous being Neelkanth Mahadev and Kedarnath.

Among the Hindu deities, Shiva is considered the most revered in Rishikesh, who, along with Brahma and Vishnu, is part of the divine triad: together they embody the cycle of all life in the universe—creation, preservation, and destruction. Photo: Jayanth Muppaneni / Unsplash.com
Among the Hindu deities, Shiva is considered the most revered in Rishikesh, who, along with Brahma and Vishnu, is part of the divine triad: together they embody the cycle of all life in the universe—creation, preservation, and destruction. Photo: Jayanth Muppaneni / Unsplash.com

The name of the city comes from the word “rishi”—a sage, which still reflects its identity. People from all over the world flock here in search of wisdom and answers to their questions, practicing yoga and meditation, pilgrims, ascetics, and just tourists. Rishikesh is known as the yoga capital—since ancient times, sages lived and practiced here. In the first half of the 20th century, millions of pilgrims came here to the yoga masters Swami Sivananda and Swami Omkarananda. In the late 1960s, the city was made famous all over the world by the Beatles—the musicians lived in a local ashram and studied meditation with the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Having gained fame as the world’s yoga capital, Rishikesh began to develop actively, and now it is a popular city among Europeans and Russian speakers, and in taxis, cafes, and shops, they speak English quite well.

What to see

Rishikesh is divided by the Ganges into two parts – the crossing to the center is possible on an ancient boat or via pedestrian bridges and scooter bridges. For cars, there are bridges in the northern part of the city – the Neelkanth Bridge – and in the south – the Ganga Barrage Bridge. The eastern side – from the Laxman Jhula Road to the Ganges – is reserved for pedestrians and scooters, so as not to disturb the solitude of the local ashrams.

The eastern side of Rishikesh - from the Laxman Jhula Road to the Ganges - is meant for pedestrians and scooters, in order not to interrupt the seclusion of the local ashrams. Photo: Instant Manner / Unsplash.com
The eastern side of Rishikesh – from the Laxman Jhula Road to the Ganges – is meant for pedestrians and scooters, in order not to interrupt the seclusion of the local ashrams. Photo: Instant Manner / Unsplash.com

The city consists of very narrow streets where people, cars, scooters, and cows move in a chaotic stream. If one were to describe the atmosphere, it feels as though the entire infrastructure, with an abundance of cafes, hotels, shops, yoga centers, and spas, has simply been superimposed on the stencil of an old city – with its winding streets and ancient, weathered houses. The result is a mix of ancient authenticity and new touristic. This vibe is particularly felt in the central part – at the Market.

Central Rishikesh is a succession of very narrow streets with ancient, weathered houses. Photo: Claudio / Flickr.com
Central Rishikesh is a succession of very narrow streets with ancient, weathered houses. Photo: Claudio / Flickr.com

Bharat Mandir. The main and oldest temple in Rishikesh, built in the 7th century. The temple is dedicated to one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu – Shri Bharat or Hrishikesha. Apart from being a place of worship, the temple also houses an archaeological museum, which collects relics found during excavations. Throughout its history, the building has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, with artifacts remaining buried underground. Inside the temple grows a sacred tree, which is actually an intertwining of three trees – bilva, banyan, and peepal (Bodhi tree). According to legend, sages – rishis – have meditated here since ancient times. Bharat Mandir is featured in the Indian epic Mahabharata and other sacred texts.

Bharat Mandir is the main and oldest temple in Rishikesh, established in the 7th century. The temple is dedicated to one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu - Shri Bharat or Hrishikesha. Photo: Vinayaraj / Wikimedia.org
Bharat Mandir is the main and oldest temple in Rishikesh, established in the 7th century. The temple is dedicated to one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu – Shri Bharat or Hrishikesha. Photo: Vinayaraj / Wikimedia.org

“The Beatles Ashram”. In this ashram in 1968, the Beatles learned meditation with the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles met the guru in the United Kingdom, became impressed with his teachings, and came with their wives to practice. Here they wrote about 40 songs that later featured in the “White Album” and other records. After 15 years, the ashram closed, and now the land belongs to the Rajaji National Park. The ashram is now abandoned, and tourists wander through the empty buildings adorned with graffiti. In one of the buildings, you can view an exhibition with rare photos from the Beatles’ trip to India.

"The Beatles Ashram" is now abandoned, and tourists stroll through its empty buildings, covered in graffiti. Photo: Nitin Kumar, Shubhashis Roy / Unsplash.com, Wikimedia.org

"The Beatles Ashram" is now abandoned, and tourists stroll through its empty buildings, covered in graffiti. Photo: Nitin Kumar, Shubhashis Roy / Unsplash.com, Wikimedia.org
“The Beatles Ashram” is now abandoned, and tourists stroll through its empty buildings, covered in graffiti. Photo: Nitin Kumar, Shubhashis Roy / Unsplash.com, Wikimedia.org

Parmarth Niketan. If you travel up Badrinath Road, which runs parallel to the Ganges, you will reach the first suspension bridge Ram Jhula with red arches. It was built in 1986 and is one of the iconic landmarks of the city. Across the bridge in the Swarg Ashram area, most of the temples, ashrams, and yoga centers are located, such as Parmarth Niketan, Ved Niketan, the Beatles Ashram, and others.

The Ram Jhula suspension bridge with red arches was built in 1986 and is one of the iconic landmarks of the city
The Ram Jhula suspension bridge with red arches was built in 1986 and is one of the iconic landmarks of the city

Parmarth Niketan was founded by Guru Swami Shukdevanandji more than 70 years ago and has since welcomed pilgrims from all over the world within its walls — it is equipped with 1000 residential rooms. The ashram is surrounded by a picturesque garden with numerous statues of Indian deities.

In Parmarth Niketan ashram, they conduct yoga classes, meditation, satsangs (interactions with a guru), kirtans (collective chanting of the names of God), lectures, and Ayurvedic procedures. Photo: Billjones94 / Wikimedia.org
In Parmarth Niketan ashram, they conduct yoga classes, meditation, satsangs (interactions with a guru), kirtans (collective chanting of the names of God), lectures, and Ayurvedic procedures. Photo: Billjones94 / Wikimedia.org

Here they offer yoga classes, meditation, satsangs (interactions with a guru), kirtans (collective chanting of the names of God), lectures, and Ayurvedic procedures. The ashram also houses charitable institutions—a children’s hostel, a school, and a hospital. You can either come to the ashram to stay for an extended period (enroll) or just visit for a single yoga session or to take a complete course and train as a yoga teacher. Accommodation is available for all those over the age of 21 who share the spiritual values of the ashrams. Contact information can be found on the websites. Here are a few more reputable and popular ashrams where pilgrims are welcome: Sivananda Ashram and Omkarananda Ashram.

Near the ashram, on the banks of the Ganges, stands a huge statue of Hanuman. According to the legends, Hanuman—an ape-like deity, the son of the wind god Vayu—is the protector of Rama (an avatar of the god Vishnu) and Sita (his consort), having placed them in his heart, which is why he is considered an example of absolute devotion.

Near the Parmarth Niketan ashram, on the banks of the Ganges, stands a huge statue of Hanuman. Photo: Rishu Bhosale / Unsplash.com
Near the Parmarth Niketan ashram, on the banks of the Ganges, stands a huge statue of Hanuman. Photo: Rishu Bhosale / Unsplash.com

Triveni Ghat. A place where three sacred rivers converge: the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati. It is a sacred site for Hindus. Although the river Sarasvati no longer exists, legend has it that it once flowed here. Triveni Ghat is mentioned in Hindu mythology, the Puranas, and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. According to legend, when the god Krishna was wounded by an arrow, he visited this place. Pilgrims from all over the world come here for ablution.

Triveni Ghat is a place where three sacred rivers converge: the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati. It is a sacred place for Hindus. Photo: ha11ok / Pixabay.com
Triveni Ghat is a place where three sacred rivers converge: the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati. It is a sacred place for Hindus. Photo: ha11ok / Pixabay.com

At sunset, near Triveni Ghat and next to the Parmarth Niketan ashram, the Ganga Aarti ceremony is performed—a worship of the Ganges River with offerings. The ceremony takes place every evening at dusk, but on weekends it attracts significantly more people than on weekdays. The ceremony is conducted by priests dressed in ornate clothing, accompanied by the ringing of bells, clashing of copper plates, and the chanting of mantras. For the ritual, a five-tiered structure with a statue of the Goddess Ganga, adorned with flowers and incense, is assembled, and hundreds of copper lamps are lit on the ghats—the stone steps by the river used for ritual ablutions and cremation. Everything around is illuminated by light, creating a feeling of sacred mystery. Then all those who wish descend to the river and release offerings of flowers and candles on tree leaves into the water. As the sun sets, the lights on the water become clearer and create a very beautiful spectacle. The ceremony can be observed from the steps on the shore or from boats. The entire event lasts about an hour.

At sunset, near Triveni Ghat and next to the Parmarth Niketan ashram, the Ganga Aarti ceremony is performed—a homage to the Ganges River with offerings. Photo: Dey.sandip / Wikimedia.org
At sunset, near Triveni Ghat and next to the Parmarth Niketan ashram, the Ganga Aarti ceremony is performed—a homage to the Ganges River with offerings. Photo: Dey.sandip / Wikimedia.org

Yoga and other practices

Apart from the holy places in Rishikesh, as the capital of yoga, there are numerous yoga centers of various schools—Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Atma Kriya. Even on the spot, you can choose a studio, come for a class, and try different types of yoga. In the Tapovan area, there are two popular yoga centers—Himalayan Yog Ashram Yoga School and Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram & Retreat Center.

Besides the holy sites in Rishikesh, as the capital of yoga, there is an abundance of yoga centers of various directions—Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Atma Kriya. Photo: AYMYogaSchool / Pixabay.com
Besides the holy sites in Rishikesh, as the capital of yoga, there is an abundance of yoga centers of various directions—Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Atma Kriya. Photo: AYMYogaSchool / Pixabay.com

There are also sound healing studios. In the sessions, participants are immersed in a meditative state with the sounds of various instruments—Tibetan bowls, gongs, and hang drums. At the beginning of the session, the sound healing master explains how to play the Tibetan bowls. It turns out that the sound can be masculine or feminine: the first is when you strike the edge of the bowl with a special stick, and the second is when you slowly guide it around the entire circumference. The masculine sound is more abrupt and ringing, while the feminine sound is soft and prolonged. The master also demonstrates how to make the water in the bowl “dance”—the bowl is placed on the floor and the mallet is moved around its circumference, causing the water to vibrate and splash upwards. This is indeed a very soothing activity. In the second part of the session, participants lie on their backs in Shavasana on yoga mats, while the master walks around and creates a meditative atmosphere using various instruments. The bowls can be placed on the head and body centers (chakras), and then gently struck, so that the vibration of the sound is felt in the body—this is also very relaxing.

In Rishikesh, there are studios for sound healing. During sessions, participants are immersed in a meditative state with the sounds of various instruments — Tibetan bowls, gongs, and hang drums. Photo: Himalayan Academy of Sound Healing
In Rishikesh, there are studios for sound healing. During sessions, participants are immersed in a meditative state with the sounds of various instruments — Tibetan bowls, gongs, and hang drums. Photo: Himalayan Academy of Sound Healing

You can also attend an evening of chanting mantras — singing sacred words in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Mantras are usually chanted 108 times or, for example, three to five rounds of 108 times each. Even the simplest mantra, Om, has a powerful effect — no esotericism, the mind simply switches to the melodic repetition of the sound and relaxes. It is believed that the sound of Om is the primal sound of the creation of the Universe, carrying harmony. There are also mantras like Ong So Hung, which translates to “I am infinity,” Aham Prema — “I am love,” and mantras dedicated to a specific deity — for example, Om Aim Sarasvati Namaha or Om Namah Shivaya.

At the Himalayan Academy of Sound Healing, a sound healing session for a group of seven people costs 5,000 rupees (56.21 euros). You can order a session even with a trip to the hotel. You can sing mantras in the same center of sound healing or in other similar places: Maayaa International Healing School, Shree Mahesh Heritage Meditation School, and Tanmatra Tibetan Sound Healing.

Surroundings

Vashistha Cave

20 kilometers from Rishikesh

This cave is believed to be around 3,000 years old. According to legend, Vashistha, the son of the god Brahma and one of the seven immortal sages, meditated here for several thousand years and attained enlightenment. After that, the cave became a place for practicing mind-calming and other sacred practices.

According to legend, Vashistha, the son of the god Brahma and one of the seven immortal sages, meditated for several thousand years in the Vashistha cave and attained enlightenment
According to legend, Vashistha, the son of the god Brahma and one of the seven immortal sages, meditated for several thousand years in the Vashistha cave and attained enlightenment

There are certain rules for visiting — one should wear a long skirt, enter the cave barefoot, and maintain silence. Inside the cave, there is an altar, and candles are lit. Local sadhus (ascetics, saints, yogis) regularly practice here. Exiting the cave, one can descend to the bank of the Ganges — here is another cave with a view of the river — Arundhati Gufa, where the wives of the sage Vashistha meditated.

Sadhus — in Hinduism, this is how ascetics, saints, and yogis are referred to, who no longer aspire to the three goals of life in Hinduism: kama (sensual pleasures), artha (material development), and dharma (duty). Photo: Claudio / Flickr.com
Sadhus — in Hinduism, this is how ascetics, saints, and yogis are referred to, who no longer aspire to the three goals of life in Hinduism: kama (sensual pleasures), artha (material development), and dharma (duty). Photo: Claudio / Flickr.com

How to get there. The cave is located to the north of Rishikesh, next to the village of Gular Dogi, before the Sirasu Suspension Bridge. The journey there is on the Haridwar — Rishikesh — Badrinath road. Buses and shared taxis depart from the Main Bus Stand, Yatra Bus Stand, and Private Bus Stand.

Kunjapuri Devi Temple

25 kilometers from Rishikesh

Kunjapuri is a temple of the goddess Durga and is one of the thirteen Shakti Peethas or places of power on the Shivalik ridge. There are a total of 52 such places in India and Nepal, where, according to legend, parts of the body of the goddess Sati (Shiva’s wife) fell to the earth when she was cut up by the god Vishnu — specifically so that she could be reborn. Yes, Hinduism is not straightforward.

Kunjapuri is a temple dedicated to the goddess Durga, and it is one of the thirteen places of power on the Shivalik ridge. Photo: Michael Sotnikov / Flickr.com
Kunjapuri is a temple dedicated to the goddess Durga, and it is one of the thirteen places of power on the Shivalik ridge. Photo: Michael Sotnikov / Flickr.com

The temple is located on the top of a mountain at an altitude of 1645 meters. It is open from six in the morning until seven in the evening. Many people often come here to watch the sunrise — from the observation deck near the temple, there is a view of the Himalayan panorama, with peaks of Gangotri, Swarga Rohini, and Chaukhamba visible. The northern part of the city of Rishikesh, as well as the neighboring holy city of Haridwar and the Doon Valley, can also be seen.

The Kunjapuri Temple is located on the top of a mountain at an altitude of 1645 meters. From the observation deck near the temple, there is a view of the Himalayan panorama. Photo: deepgoswami / Flickr.com
The Kunjapuri Temple is located on the top of a mountain at an altitude of 1645 meters. From the observation deck near the temple, there is a view of the Himalayan panorama. Photo: deepgoswami / Flickr.com

Getting there: A taxi to the temple costs around 4000 rupees (44.97 euros). You can rent a motorcycle for the day for about 500 rupees (5.62 euros). If you go by yourself, make sure to return before it gets dark to avoid getting lost on the serpentine roads. Buses and minibuses depart from the Main Bus Stand, Yatra Bus Stand, and Private Bus Stand.

Neelkanth Mahadev Temple

30 kilometers from Rishikesh

Shiva is the most venerated deity in Rishikesh — it is here that his two main temples are located.

Neelkanth Mahadev, or the Blue-Throated Shiva Temple, is at an altitude of 1330 meters. According to legend, Shiva decided to swallow poison that had emerged during the churning of the cosmic ocean. His consort, Parvati, fearing the poison would kill Shiva, squeezed his throat with her hands. Thus, the poison was neutralized, the world was saved, and Shiva’s throat turned blue.

Neelkanth Mahadev is a colorful, pyramidal temple adorned with carvings and figures of gods
Neelkanth Mahadev is a colorful, pyramidal temple adorned with carvings and figures of gods

Neelkanth Mahadev is a colorful, pyramidal temple adorned with carvings and figures of gods. A long alley lined with souvenir shops leads to the entrance, where visitors should buy an offering tray — an icon, a flower, rose water, threads. The place is always crowded with pilgrims.

Getting there: A taxi to the temple will cost about 3000 rupees (33.73 euros), but many pilgrims prefer walking to the temple from Rishikesh.

The Birthplace of the Ganges

70 kilometers from Rishikesh

Devprayag (‘Divine Confluence’) is a sacred site where two rivers of different colors — the emerald Bhagirathi and the blue Alaknanda — meet, along with the Saraswati, which flows on an energetic level. In reality, the Saraswati River does not exist. This confluence is considered the birthplace of the Ganges. Thanks to the different shades of water in the rivers and their clarity, it is a spot for very beautiful photographs.

Devprayag ('Divine Confluence') is a sacred place where two rivers of different colors meet—the emerald Bhagirathi and the blue Alaknanda, along with the Saraswati River which flows on an energetic level
Devprayag (‘Divine Confluence’) is a sacred place where two rivers of different colors meet—the emerald Bhagirathi and the blue Alaknanda, along with the Saraswati River which flows on an energetic level

Pilgrims descend the stone steps to the rivers and immerse themselves three times. Legend has it that this can wash away the heavy ancestral karma. On a tiny patch, usually, dozens of people immerse themselves. Everyone tries to be very polite and not to disturb each other. You can change clothes in booths near a small temple.

Here, you can also make an offering to the river and feed the fish with raw dough. Since the fish are mute, it is believed that this offering goes to the one who is mute and cannot say that they are hungry and ask for food. Such an action is also believed to improve karma.

How to get there: There are buses from Rishikesh and Haridwar, but they are likely not air-conditioned and will be fully packed, plus the journey involves serpentine roads. Buses and shared taxis depart from the Main Bus Stand, Yatra Bus Stand, and Private Bus Stand. A round-trip taxi will cost about 8000–10,000 rupees (89.94 euros – 112.43 euros).

Buses from Rishikesh and Haridwar go to Devprayag—the road constantly climbs upwards, winding along serpentine paths
Buses from Rishikesh and Haridwar go to Devprayag—the road constantly climbs upwards, winding along serpentine paths

The Kedarnath Temple

105 kilometers from Rishikesh

Kedarnath is an inaccessible temple in the eponymous village at an altitude of over 3,500 meters. It is the second important temple of the god Shiva. The ancient settlement was founded about 3,000 years BC and is mentioned in the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata. Kedarnath is the abode of Shiva. According to legend, it was here that he transformed into a bull and went underground, leaving only his hump on the surface. Since then, the place where Shiva’s hump rose from the ground has been revered as sacred. Now here stands the dome of the main temple.

Kedarnath is an inaccessible temple located in the village of the same name at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and is the abode of Shiva. Photo: Shikhar Sharma / Unsplash.com
Kedarnath is an inaccessible temple located in the village of the same name at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and is the abode of Shiva. Photo: Shikhar Sharma / Unsplash.com

How to get there. Public transport can only take you halfway – to Sonprayag, then there’s a chance to travel another five kilometers by jeep to Gaurikund, and from there you have to climb up the mountain on foot or on horseback about 15 kilometers (five to six hours on foot). So you should allocate a whole day for visiting the temple. You can buy a helicopter tour with departures from Phata, Sersi, Dehradun, Sitapur, and Guptkashi. The temple is best visited from May to October, as during the other half of the year, there is a lot of snow and the main shrine is moved to another location. Also, to visit the temple, you must register at the Rishikesh bus station or in Sonprayag.

Trekking to the Waterfalls

The paths to the waterfalls pass through the jungle. Sometimes you have to walk right through the streams, so choose closed, non-slip shoes.

One of the popular treks around Rishikesh is to the Garud Chatti cascade waterfall. The ascent to it is made by a path from the eponymous temple near the Neelkanth motor bridge. It takes about 20 minutes to climb up, and you can bathe in the waterfall itself. Further, three kilometers away, there is another waterfall, the path to which is difficult and very slippery.

You can choose a simpler route, for example, a three-kilometer trek from Laxman Jhula to the Neergarh waterfall. It is located on the other side from the Neelkanth bridge. There is also a small natural pool where you can take a dip.

At the Neergarh waterfall, there is a small natural pool where you can take a dip. Photo: rishikesh.app
At the Neergarh waterfall, there is a small natural pool where you can take a dip. Photo: rishikesh.app

Another popular waterfall is Patna, the climb to which is the most challenging of all – it will take about an hour to climb the mountain. The trek starts on the road to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and goes through the Rajaji forest, but along the way, you can enjoy the wild nature, fresh moist air, and the singing of exotic birds. Here you can have a picnic, and starting from April, you can swim in the waterfall’s pool.

Rafting

The Ganges River is not only suitable for ritual ablutions but also for rafting. Hence, rafting is very popular in Rishikesh. There are plenty of spots around the city where you can buy a tour, and there are routes of varying difficulty:

Brahmpuri (easy) — a nine-kilometer stretch, the time to pass — one and a half hours. Cost — seven dollars.

The Ganges River is well-suited not only for ritual ablutions but also for rafting. Therefore, rafting is very popular in Rishikesh. Photo: Narinder Pal / Unsplash.com
The Ganges River is well-suited not only for ritual ablutions but also for rafting. Therefore, rafting is very popular in Rishikesh. Photo: Narinder Pal / Unsplash.com

Shivpuri (intermediate) — 16 kilometers, in terms of time — three and a half hours, and in terms of cost — ten dollars.

Kaudiyala (difficult) — is among the top longest, most dangerous, and challenging routes in all of India, and one of its rapids, “The Wall,” is considered one of the most difficult to navigate in the world. The length of the section is 34 kilometers, the time to complete is eight hours, and the price is 26 dollars.

The best months for rafting in Rishikesh are considered to be October and March when it is not too hot. Most tourists raft in April, May, and June, except for the rainy season — from July to September when rafting on the Ganges is closed. The rafting school is Thrillophilia.

Food

The first rule for a European tourist in India is always to say “no spicy,” and… they will still bring you “spicy,” just not as much as it could have been had you not warned. Indians cannot understand how one can eat bland food at all.

In Indian cuisine, there are many vegetarian dishes; people here eat a lot of potatoes, beans, dough, and, of course, rice. It is prepared here in various styles, with different spices — khichdi, biryani, and other variations, and, of course, the famous Indian curry. Thus, the local cuisine consists of carbohydrates and starch, which is not suitable for everyone. In two weeks in India, while looping around the sights, one might not lose weight but gain some due to the unusual abundance of carbohydrates. Therefore, it is worth alternating local cuisine with the usual European one.

There is a notion that India has terrible sanitation and all tourists are bound to get food poisoning during their vacation. Everyone’s sensitivity is different, but no one from our group got poisoned. And generally, if you do not drink tap water and do not buy food from street stalls that are uncovered and where insects crawl over the food, you are not threatened by poisoning at every step. And it’s better to wash fruits with bottled water.

If you don't drink water from the tap and don't buy food from street stalls that are not covered and where insects crawl over the food, you are not at risk of poisoning at every step. Photo: Atarin Michaeli / Unsplash.com
If you don’t drink water from the tap and don’t buy food from street stalls that are not covered and where insects crawl over the food, you are not at risk of poisoning at every step. Photo: Atarin Michaeli / Unsplash.com

Here are some popular Indian dishes:

    • Palak Paneer — cheese (similar to Adyghe cheese), stewed with spices in a vegetable gravy.
    • Aloo Gobi — potatoes with cauliflower.
    • Paratha — flatbreads stuffed with potatoes and cheese.
    • Thali — rice and a mix of different sides: dal (lentils), chickpeas, vegetables, yogurt, chapati (flatbread).
Si vous ne buvez pas d'eau du robinet et n'achetez pas de nourriture dans les étals de rue qui ne sont pas couverts et où les insectes rampent sur la nourriture, vous n'êtes pas à risque d'empoisonnement à chaque étape. Photo : Atarin Michaeli / Unsplash.com
Si vous ne buvez pas d’eau du robinet et n’achetez pas de nourriture dans les étals de rue qui ne sont pas couverts et où les insectes rampent sur la nourriture, vous n’êtes pas à risque d’empoisonnement à chaque étape. Photo : Atarin Michaeli / Unsplash.com
    • Chapati — unleavened flatbreads. They are eaten everywhere and are commonly used instead of a spoon and a napkin.
    • Dal Fry — a thick lentil soup.
    • Pani Puri — dough balls fried in oil, filled with broth.
    • Samosa — fried triangular pastries stuffed with potatoes, onions, or beans.
    • Masala Dosa — a traditional South Indian dish that can also be found in the North: crepes made from rice and legumes with a spicy potato filling.
    • Rasgulla and Gulab Jamun — sweet balls in syrup made from paneer and dried milk.
Masala dosa is a traditional South Indian dish that can also be found in the north: pancakes made from rice and legumes with a spicy potato filling
Masala dosa is a traditional South Indian dish that can also be found in the north: pancakes made from rice and legumes with a spicy potato filling

Additionally, there are very tasty fruit salads made of mango, papaya, pineapple here. But the situation with vegetables is worse — the usual tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots are watery and tasteless.

Among Indian beverages, you should definitely try masala chai — it is traditionally made with fatty buffalo milk and spices, resulting in a very rich flavor that can well substitute for a dessert. In India, lassi — a yogurt-based cooling drink, like a thick yogurt — is also widely served. It can be classic or with fruits — especially delicious and popular is the mango lassi. There is also bamboo juice produced here — special mills are set up on the streets that process sugarcane and extract the liquid from it.

Sanskriti — A Ganga View Cafe. The cafe offers picturesque views of the Ganges and the Himalayas. There is a summer terrace and an air-conditioned hall. The interior is simple and unpretentious, the cuisine — local and European. There are vegetarian bowls, paneer cheese, rice, and among the drinks — tasty smoothies, lassis, and lemonades. They also serve simple European sandwiches and salads.

Om Freedom Cafe. A spacious outdoor establishment with a view of the river. Inside, the decor is boho-style with palm trees and an abundance of greenery. They serve delicious paneer cheese, spicy rice, traditional flatbreads, ice cream. The portions of vegetable salads are huge, but not very tasty.

Chatsang. A small open cafe on a noisy street. Many Europeans like to work here: the cafe has fast Wi-Fi. The menu is small with simple dishes — sandwiches, rice, potatoes, pink tea, which is also called Himalayan amrita, and lemonades.

Honey Hut. A small coffee shop in the Tapovan shopping quarter. They make very tasty lemonades, such as rose-lychee, sandwiches, and desserts — liked the chocolate cake, drenched in chocolate. There is also a shop with tea, soap, and natural cosmetics. The soap is very pleasant not only in smell but also on the skin — soft, delicately cleanses, and costs only 100 rupees (1.12 euros). Herbal tea with rose petals — 200–300 rupees (2.25 – 3.37 euros). A good option to grab a bite and stock up on souvenirs.

Honey Hut - A small coffee shop in the Tapovan shopping district. They prepare very tasty lemonades, for example, rose-lychee, sandwiches, and desserts. Photo: Honey Hut
Honey Hut – A small coffee shop in the Tapovan shopping district. They prepare very tasty lemonades, for example, rose-lychee, sandwiches, and desserts. Photo: Honey Hut

Among other places recommended by locals that we didn’t manage to visit are Little Buddha, named after the movie starring Keanu Reeves, Free Spirit on Laxman Jhula Road, and for music lovers – Beatles Cafe in the Tapovan area.

A three-course meal in a cafe will cost 500–800 rupees (5.62 – 8.99 Euro). Dinner is about 500 (5.62 euros), and breakfast is 300 (3.37 euros).

Where to Stay

In the noisy center, where the railway station and bus stations are located, there are inexpensive accommodation options, but it’s better not to stay there, but to choose, for example, Tapovan or hotels on the eastern side, where it will be quieter. In Rishikesh, there are many hotels with yoga halls and spas, there are both budget guesthouses and luxury options. A room in a guesthouse will cost 855–2500 rupees (9.61 – 28.11 euros). And a cool hotel on the riverbank with a view of the mountains can cost 12000–18000 rupees (134.91 – 202.37 euros) per night.

Hotels are mainly located on the western side and in the Tapovan area, while on the eastern side, where the ashrams are, there are much fewer. For example, in Tapovan, a room in the Arogyadham Retreat Luxury with a pool and spa will cost about 3800 rupees (42.72 euros), and in the center, in The Sweven Rishikesh — 4400 (49.47 euros). On the eastern bank in Hotel Shiva Yog Sthal — 2800 (31.48 euros). And if you want peace and solitude and plan to travel by car, then you should consider options outside the city.

Hotels are mainly located on the western side and in the Tapovan area, while on the eastern side, where the ashrams are, there are significantly fewer. One of the good hotels on the eastern bank is Hotel Shiva Yog Sthal. A night there will cost 2800 rupees
Hotels are mainly located on the western side and in the Tapovan area, while on the eastern side, where the ashrams are, there are significantly fewer. One of the good hotels on the eastern bank is Hotel Shiva Yog Sthal. A night there will cost 2800 rupees

Rainforest. It’s a 15-20 minute drive from the city. This is an authentic place on the banks of the Ganges with a spacious yoga hall and ethnic design – massive doors, a simple interior with plenty of natural shades and wood. In the main building, there are just eight rooms with balconies, offering a view of the river – here it is turquoise and very clean. On the side, a small waterfall of a grayish hue murmurs over large boulders. In the courtyard, there are a couple more rooms and a place for meditation with a Buddha statue. In the morning here, you wake up to the singing of birds and the cries of macaques, which leap through the branches right up to the balconies (that’s why there are barred doors here), and in the evening, the lighting is turned on, creating a very atmospheric setting.

In Rainforest, they serve very tasty but simple and healthy European breakfasts – oatmeal, muesli, fruit salad, toast, and the famous masala tea. For lunch and dinner, they serve a vegetarian menu – vegetables, cereals, flatbreads. The only downside to this place is that you’ll have to walk down a gravel path for about 100 meters from the main road, so comfortable footwear is a must here. Hotel staff help with luggage. The rooms here range from 4900 to 6400 rupees (55.09 – 71.95 euros).

Rishis – an even more secluded place in the mountains on the road to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. It takes about 40 minutes to get here from the city. This spot is not easy to find – from the highway, you need to go up the stairs, and then walk through a local village for about 400 meters. But it is definitely worth it – there’s a bamboo forest around, a mountain stream murmuring, a lot of greenery, statues of Buddha and Ganesha, a pond with lotuses, flowers. On the top floor is a spacious yoga hall with white walls and a view of the mountains. Here they conduct yoga and tantra retreats, and the owner of the villa, a very heartfelt, wise woman named Shtutti, gives tours around her village and talks about life in India. The rooms here range from 5400 to 7200 rupees (60.71 – 80.95 euros).

Transportation

In Rishikesh, there are several bus stations – the main ones, where most of the buses and shared taxis stop, are Main, Yatra, and Private.

Auto-rickshaws ply on Badrinath Road on the right bank of the Ganges, and the fare around the city costs between 100–200 rupees (1.12 – 2.25 euros). Bicycle, scooter, and motorcycle rental points are widespread around Laxman Jhula at hotels, travel agencies, and shops. Bicycle rentals start from 100 rupees (111.8 rubles) per day, scooters from 300 (3.37 euros), and motorcycles from 500 (5.62 euros).

Taxis can be found through reviews on Google Maps; we traveled with Sharma Travelers (+91 99973 17849). There are also taxi order points with a Taxi sign.

Scooter rental prices in Rishikesh start from 300 rupees per day
Scooter rental prices in Rishikesh start from 300 rupees per day

What to bring home

In the trading rows of Rishikesh, there are many shops with local souvenirs, books, cosmetics, and art objects. Prices in local shops are reasonable, and the sellers are amiable and willing to haggle. They don’t try to overcharge or blatantly deceive.

Here’s what you can bring from Rishikesh as a gift:

Spices and teas: herbal, detox mixes, black, green teas, and blends for masala tea — you can buy, for example, at the shop opposite Triveni Ghat. Teas cost between 100–300 rupees (1.12 – 3.37 euros). The Jain Spice Shop in Tapovan has a large selection of spices.

In the Jain Spice Shop in Tapovan, there is a wide selection of spices. Prices in the local shops are not high, and the sellers are good-natured and willing to bargain
In the Jain Spice Shop in Tapovan, there is a wide selection of spices. Prices in the local shops are not high, and the sellers are good-natured and willing to bargain

Stones and costume jewelry: bracelets made of natural stones, rings, pendants are sold in the Sivanda Shop (on Ram Jhula), but there are also many other shops. The prices for costume jewelry start from 100 rupees (1.12 euros), and for pendants and rings with precious stones, from 1000 rupees (11.24 euros).

Musical instruments: Tibetan bowls and harmoniums — a rare instrument, they are authentic here. There is a good selection in the Ganesha store, and there are several more shops nearby. Bowls cost from 2000 rupees (22.49 euros), and harmoniums are around 13,000–15,000 rupees (146.15 – 168.64 euros).

Figurines, boxes, and products made of cow leather are sold in the antique shop on Laxman Jhula on the way to the Parmarth Niketan ashram.

Paintings on banyan leaves — further down the same road, Laxman Jhula, a local artist sits on the steps, who has been engaged in this exotic art all his life. Author’s works cost from 400–500 rupees (4.50 – 5.62 euros).

Aromatic and edible oils, candles, Ayurvedic ointments, menthol ointments for headaches, for muscle and joint pain, natural cosmetics based on local Himalayan clay, oil perfumes — all this can be found in the Organic shop in Tapovan. Prices start from 200 rupees (2.25 euros) for ointments and candles, and oils from 400 rupees (4.50 euros).

Sandalwood, Palo Santo, incense sticks — are sold everywhere. Prices start from 100 rupees (1.12 euros) for sticks, and for wood from 300 rupees (3.37 euros).

Souvenirs: yantras, Ganesha elephants, Buddha, Shiva, Shakti statuettes.

Tips

“India is chaos, but it’s orderly chaos,” Salman Rushdie wrote. Therefore, there is no point in being surprised by the dirt on the streets, the chaotic traffic, the noise, and the shouts.

People will often ask to take a photo with you, as in many countries of Asia. Usually very friendly, although there are exceptions when people simply approach silently and take a selfie with you. For locals, meeting a white person and taking a photo with them is considered a good omen.

Be wary of offers from strangers, such as to put a dot on your forehead or to accept an offering during rituals on the Ganges — this is a way of extorting money from tourists, where under the guise of a traditional ritual, you are sold unnecessary goods or services — naturally, they will tell you about the payment only after the ritual is “performed”.

In Rishikesh, there are many macaques, and they can be aggressive and thieving (and specially trained), so it’s not worth joking with them, trying to play or pet them.

In Rishikesh, there are many macaques and they can be aggressive, so trying to pet them is not a good idea. Photo: Abhishek Dabur / Unsplash.com
In Rishikesh, there are many macaques and they can be aggressive, so trying to pet them is not a good idea. Photo: Abhishek Dabur / Unsplash.com

The sewage in Rishikesh is open, dirty water simply flows down the street gutters, and you have to be careful not to step into this muck.

Besides the noisy streets in the city, you should be prepared for the winding roads in the surrounding areas, which often cause motion sickness. Menthol mini-inhalers or mint lozenges, which are sold in almost every shop, can help with motion sickness.

One euro is equal to 89 Indian rupees. There are currency exchangers who give out cash rupees in exchange for transfers in euros. Photo: Ayaneshu Bhardwaj / Unsplash.com
One euro is equal to 89 Indian rupees. There are currency exchangers who give out cash rupees in exchange for transfers in euros. Photo: Ayaneshu Bhardwaj / Unsplash.com

If you are traveling during the warm season, take the most comfortable and breathable clothing with you — cotton, linen clothes are best. The best shoes for India are Crocs or similar sandals. Don’t forget a hat or a cap, and of course, it is best to constantly use sunscreen.

It’s worth packing something for the stomach in case of indigestion or poisoning, like enterosgel, smecta, or no-spa. Also, take painkillers and tablets for motion sickness.

Connectivity

If you only need the internet, you can register an eSIM through an app (for example, Airalo), but it can only be paid for with dollars or euros.

An Airtel SIM card can be obtained right at Delhi airport. In the official stores (except for the airport), they won’t register a SIM card for you because the rules require an Indian national who already has a SIM card. However, hotels or unofficial shops often help with the registration for a small fee of 300-500 rupees (3.37 – 5.62 euros). You can top it up through the “Amazon” app with any foreign card. You can’t top up through the Airtel app itself — an Indian bank card is a must. The connection is good, and the rates are not very expensive.

Visa

European citizens planning to travel to India typically require a visa. India offers various types of visas depending on the purpose of the visit, including tourist visas, business visas, medical visas, and more. You can apply for a visa by filling out an application at indianvisaonline.gov.in. Decisions take two to three days. There is an option for a one-month visa (with double entry), for one year and five years with multiple entries. If applying for a one-month visa, documents should not be submitted earlier than two weeks before entry. The fee can be paid online. The electronic visa must be printed out.

The monthly visa costs $10 (9.37 euros) in the low season from April to June and $25 (23.43 euros) in the high season, the annual one is $40 (37.49 euros), and the five-year one is $80 (74.97 euros).

European citizens planning to travel to India typically require a visa. India offers various types of visas depending on the purpose of the visit, including tourist visas, business visas, medical visas, and more
European citizens planning to travel to India typically require a visa. India offers various types of visas depending on the purpose of the visit, including tourist visas, business visas, medical visas, and more. Photo: Shruti Singh / Unsplash.com

How to get there

By plane. To reach Rishikesh by air from major European cities, travelers will typically fly into Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, as Rishikesh does not have a direct international airport. Several European airlines offer flights to New Delhi, including Lufthansa from Frankfurt or Munich, British Airways from London, Air France from Paris, and KLM from Amsterdam.

After arriving in New Delhi, passengers can either take a domestic flight to Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, the closest airport to Rishikesh, with airlines like IndiGo or Air India, or opt for a taxi or bus for the remaining journey. They usually run at intervals of up to 30 minutes, and a ticket costs 5-10 dollars (4.69 – 9.37 euros) depending on the carrier. The journey takes one to one and a half hours. Local taxis can be found via Google, and you can rely on reviews – they really care about their reputation here, drivers always ask to leave a review about the trip. Contact details of the carrier company we used: Sharma Travelers (+91 99973 17849). A taxi from the airport to Rishikesh will cost from 2000 rupees (22.49 euros).

Bus. Dozens of buses travel from Delhi to Rishikesh every day. Most buses start from the Kashmir Gate bus station next to the metro station of the same name. The station is very crowded, and it can be difficult to find the right bus as the signs in Hindi are not always duplicated in English.

Tickets for the next bus can be bought on the spot from the conductor. The trip on a regular bus (local bus) will cost 300–400 rupees (3.37 – 4.50 euros), and the journey takes 5–6 hours with one stop for lunch. There are sleeper buses with beds – a ride on such will cost 800–1000 rupees (8.99 – 11.24 euros). Online tickets are sold on redbus.in.

Please note that buses for which Rishikesh is not the final stop (for example, those going to Dehradun) drop off passengers at the turn in the village of Nepali Farm. A shared rickshaw from Nepali Farm to the area near Ram Jhula or Tapovan will cost 100–200 rupees (1.12 – 2.25 euros) per person.

Train. Every day at 05:05, from the Old Delhi railway station, train number 19031 (Yoga Express) heads to Rishikesh (Yog Nagari Rishikesh station). Ticket prices start from 190 rupees (2.14 euros) for a sleeper class (SL) ticket – a compartment with six berths and fans, to 1200 rupees (13.49 euros) for a spot in the first class AC (1A) – a compartment with two berths and air conditioning. The journey takes about seven hours.

Apart from the Yoga Express, at 03:25 on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, train number 19609 departs from Old Delhi, and from the Hazrat Nizamuddin station, train number 18477 runs daily at 13:20. The prices are comparable to Yoga Express, but there is no 1A class.

Tickets can be purchased in advance on the Indian Railways website, and an international card is required for payment.

Several different types of trains run from Delhi to Rishikesh. Photo: Yash Bhagat / Unsplash.com
Several different types of trains run from Delhi to Rishikesh. Photo: Yash Bhagat / Unsplash.com

Train tickets go on sale 120 days before departure. For popular destinations such as Rishikesh, buying a ticket just a few days before travel is almost impossible, but there are tourist quota tickets available for foreigners—these are a few reserved spots on each train specifically for tourists. The Rail Reservation Centre for tourist quota tickets is located 400 meters from the main New Delhi station in a separate building. To purchase a ticket, you need the original passport and visa, and a pen to fill out the form. Tourist tickets are sold at counter number 124, operating hours: 8:00–20:00 from Monday to Saturday and 10:00–16:00 on Sundays and holidays. Be vigilant—supposedly random passersby on the way to the reservation center may tell you that the center is closed today and offer to buy tickets somewhere else—they’re trying to deceive you and take you to an agency where the ticket will be sold with a high markup.

If there are no tickets to Rishikesh even under the tourist quota, you can take a ticket to Haridwar—a major station 25 kilometers from Rishikesh. From Haridwar to Rishikesh, you can travel by rickshaw for 700–1000 rupees (7.87 – 11.24 euros), or by shared rickshaw for 70 rupees (0.79 euros) per person. The rickshaw stand is located here.

When to visit

They say it’s best to visit India in the winter to avoid the heat — at that time, the usual temperature in Rishikesh ranges from plus 5 to plus 25 degrees Celsius. We went in May, and it was about plus 30–40 degrees, which is quite tolerable and, overall, normal weather for the south of Russia, for example. From July to September is the rainy season here.

They say it's best to visit India in the winter to avoid the heat — at that time, the usual temperature in Rishikesh ranges from plus 5 to plus 25 degrees Celsius
They say it’s best to visit India in the winter to avoid the heat — at that time, the usual temperature in Rishikesh ranges from plus 5 to plus 25 degrees Celsius. Photo: Sahil Yadav / Unsplash.com
Text: Arina Larina

Cover: Naitek Bhardwaj

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