Quick Facts about Rishikesh, the Yoga Capital of the World
- Rishikesh is about 2 hours from Mussoorie at around 75kms. The nearest Jolly Grant domestic airport is on the outskirts of Dehradun and is about 20 kms from Rishikesh.
- We stayed at Ganga Kinaare, a boutique riverside hotel near Tapovan with awesome views, good food, and good accessibility to nearby attractions.
- Haridwar is just a 30-minute drive from Rishikesh and can be done as a day trip. As a tourist, Rishikesh is the preferred place to stay over Haridwar with a lot more staying options, well-reviewed cafes and things to do.
The Spiritual Journey Began…
Rishikesh was the last on our itinerary from Mussoorie. The roads are nice and wide and traveling to the holy city of Rishikesh from Mussoorie, via Dehradun was a breeze. We soon reached our hotel, Ganga Kinaare, and true to its name the hotel is situated right next to the flowing Ganges. with private access to the river from below the ghat. This hotel has beautiful views of the river and the Garhwal mountains beyond it.
I had seen the holy river after a decade and seeing it in its full glory, hurtling towards the plains below, was an awe-inspiring sight. The wide, turquoise river brimming with crystal clear waters in the verdant backdrop of the Uttarakhand mountains, looked truly impressive. The lockdown due to the pandemic too helped to bring down the pollution in the river, so much so that the flowing water was declared potable in 2020 in Rishikesh – a feat otherwise unattainable in the recent past.
We were put up very close to the Triveni Ghat. It is the largest ghat in Rishikesh and a very popular one known for its evening Ganga aarti. We decided to walk down to the ghat, some 2 or 3 odd kilometers from our hotel to witness the Ganga aarti that evening. The walk along Aastha path was a refreshing one along the river dotted with numerous temples and ghats at small intervals.
I loved the walk so much that it made me envious of the residents there who get to cherish the beautiful view on a daily basis. The path is maintained well and kept very clean. It is also provided with benches at intervals for the weary traveler to rest and find solace enjoying the flowing waters of Ganga.
The Ganga aarti at Triveni Ghat was truly a sublime experience. At about 6pm, a few (9-10) pandits start the aarti on the steps facing the river. The aarti ( a prayer involving lit lamps circumambulated in a clockwise direction accompanying paeans of praises, songs of devotions or mantras with other floral offerings) is conducted every morning and evening without fail, to offer prayers to the goddess Ganga. Come what may – be it the pandemic or the lockdown or any other catastrophe, the aarti never ceases to happen and is a major attraction for all devotees and tourists alike. After the conclusion of the aarti, the devotees cup their palms over the flame and touch it to their forehead – a way of partaking in the blessings of the ritual.
The evening comes alive with the melodious aarti as scores of oil lamps are lit and released into the Ganga as an offering to the river goddess for the generosity she has showered on our lands. As dusk descends on the river, the glittering diyas light up the river,and the chanting of hymns fill up the air, immersing the devotees in an exhilarating spiritual experience.
It was a sight to behold and cherish.
For me this is what spirituality is all about – your entire senses, your whole being comes together in the pious atmosphere and connects you to the almighty nature and the greater divinity. It is a cultural celebration of the river Ganga showing gratitude and prayers for what she has given us lesser mortals.
The Laxman jhula is an iron suspension bridge, 70 feet above the Ganga and about 450 feet long, connecting the two villages of Tapovan and Jonk near Rishikesh. It is built at the same site where Laxman had crossed the Ganga thousands of years ago along with Lord Rama using just a couple of ropes to hold on to. To commemorate this daring crossing, the bridge has been named after him and today, it has become a place of religious and tourist significance in Rishikesh.
Over the years, Laxman jhula has become an iconic landmark of the town flanked by numerous temples (Trymbakeshwar temple, Hanuman temple, Raghunath temple, etc) and bazaars on either side. It has become a popular tourist spot where one can combine temple-hopping with some local shopping and then gorge on the delicious food found in the vicinity. The eastern side of the bridge (Tapovan area )is the hub of all commercial activities with most of the well-known restaurants, resorts, and shopping areas located out there.
We crossed the Laxman jhula to reach the other side of the bridge and explored the enchanting town of Rishikesh by walking across its lanes, taking shortcuts through residential areas, and admiring the serenity of the place. The roads are verdant lined with trees, and the Ganga plays hide and seek from across the town every now and then. Rishikesh has the distinct vibe of being a small spiritual town, dotted with small shops and cafes where the ubiquitous cows make their appearance at every nook and corner of this place.
Muni Ki Reti
Soon we reached Muni ki Reti, literally meaning the Sands of the Sages. It is a beautiful town near Rishikesh and is home to many famous ashrams and temples of the region. There is a sandy beach just before the Ram jhula and is a scenic spot to linger around and relax. There are no vendors or hawkers here -just the locals and tourists who rest here for a while dipping their tired feet in the cool waters of the river. A perfect spot to bring a book here and read or to meditate.
Things to do in Rishikesh
Shopping at Rishikesh
Rishikesh is a fun place for shopping and is especially known for its textiles and handicrafts including religious items like rudraksha, pooja essentials, yoga essentials, etc. The Laxman Jhula market, Ram Jhula market, Swarg ashram market, and the main market near Triveni ghat all lure you with their local handicrafts, gems, books, music DVDs, jewelry, and of course the spiritual wares.
Do visit Scorpion handicrafts on the Laxman Jhula Rd if you are interested in shopping for traditional bedsheets, handbags, ethnic wear and a variety of other clothing. It is a great place for textile shopping at reasonable prices.
Cafes at Rishikesh
Rishikesh is a completely vegetarian city where you can find non-vegetarian food only outside the limits of the town. So non-vegetarian lovers, don’t fret as there are numerous cafes by the river which offer a feast for both your eyes and appetite. The cafes by the Ganga are well-reviewed and offer a variety of Indian and Western food options that will leave one asking for more.
We enjoyed the food at Jal Jalebi and Beyond, Little Buddha Cafe, Sitting Elephant during our stay there. Rishikesh has a lot to offer in terms of variety and its fantastic riverside views.
Yoga Ashrams at Rishikesh
If you are interested in practicing yoga or visiting one of the numerous yoga ashrams that Rishikesh has to offer, then head towards the Swarg ashram area/ Muni ki Reti area on the other side of the river from Tapovan. Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Sivanand Ashram, Swarg Ashram, Beatles Ashram are just a few names out of the many where you can meditate, do yoga, embark on a spiritual exploration, or you can just visit these places to enjoy the aura of these river-side centers.
Adventure Activities at Rishikesh
There is no dearth of adventure activities in Rishikesh – river rafting, paintball, bungee jumping, flying fox, cliff jumping, kayaking – you name it and you have it all! Since we visited Rishikesh amidst the pandemic, adventure activities were off the radar for us. I am sure, they must all have opened up by now and must be attracting tourists in hordes.