Rishikesh - A spiritual enclave and nature lovers mountain haven
by Narelle Neville
Rishikesh in the North of India is often referred to as the home of yoga and is renown for authentic ashrams and is a spiritual mecca for many. When traveling to Rishikesh you have a wide choice of ashrams, yoga schools, guest houses and hotels to choose from depending on the kind of experience you want when traveling to Rishikesh. It is not all yoga though, nestled deep in a valley along the River Ganges Rishikesh has a great deal to choose from and offers physical, spiritual pursuits and entertainment and limitless forms.
Getting to Rishikesh
There are two practical and easy options to choose from when deciding how to navigate your way to Rishikesh. Dehradun airport is the closest for air travel and flights can be accessed at reasonable and inexpensive rates and from Dehradun airport, a taxi can deliver you to the gates of your ashram or door of your hotel after a drive for a couple of hours, and a cost of about $40 USD.
Train travel is the other option. Widely used throughout India by all classes of society the train network is far-reaching and well used. It’s cheap and designed for access by all. Because of this and the massive population of India, if you are considering train travel as your primary source of transportation you need to plan ahead, and book your tickets around your itinerary at least several days in advance. And the first time you decide to go online and purchase some rail tickets ensure you have plenty of time and patience. I encountered a clunky website that took some navigating before I got the hang of it. International travelers need to register an international credit card to pay, this is a step that can be tricky to find and set up initially. Once you have logged on and made payment keep the eticket saved on your device and print off a copy to take with you also. Train tickets are cheap and reflect the level of comfort. Once your train arrives at Hardiwar station you can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to Rishikesh. My tuk-tuk was 500 rupee. Book your tickets online at the Indian Railways website www.irctc.co.in
Getting around Rishikesh
Getting around Rishikesh is easy and can be done on foot, or hail a tuk-tuk for no more than 100 rupees will get you anywhere you need to go. If you are plying the road parallel to the Ganga the large blue tuk-tuks can be hailed down and for 10 rupees will pick you up and drop you off at strategic vantage points like main intersections or shopping districts. The guest houses, ashrams and shops line both sides of the River Ganges which can easily be crossed on two of the bridges that provide foot access and a thoroughfare for motorbikes. It may be that when you arrive from the train station or airport your tuk-tuk or taxi can not drive to the door of your hotel or guesthouse, this is quite normal and your driver will explain if you need to walk a little and which bridge to cross if required.
Things to do in Rishikesh
Eating and drinking in Rishikesh
The town of Rishikesh has all of the services you would require for a short to medium stay. If staying in an ashram your meals are provided, if not there are many cafes to choose from. Be aware that meat and alcohol are illegal in this region so expect a sober and herbivore existence but you will enjoy amazing vegetarian meals and not only Indian cuisine, there are a lot of international options. Madras Cafe and Urban Sip offer good coffee and free wifi.
Physical and fun stuff to do in Rishikesh
There is also a lot more than yoga on offer. Trekking and rafting are two of the most popular active pursuits anyone can access. The River Ganges is big and flows fast and there are a number of rafting outfits to choose from that will suit you up with a vest and helmet and twelve other travelers looking for some adrenalin and excitement. These whitewater rafts zig-zag down the Ganga at a great speed much to the delight of the passengers on board
Trekking is also well serviced from Rishikesh as a base. From a fully supported multi-day itinerary or a one day trek depending on your time, ability and fitness level you can find a hike to match. Walking amongst the pure nature of the Himalaya is one of the most invigorating, refreshing and sometimes challenging ways to connect with nature.
For a free and less intensive option take a tuk-tuk to the waterfall near Laxman Jhula which will take you as far as the paved road will allow and it is a walk on foot in from there.
There is yoga, yoga and more yoga in Rishikesh. In every form you can imagine, Traditional Hatha and Iyengar and the more modern slower Yin form. Just to name a few. You can choose to stay in an ashram and fully immerse yourself in the yoga life and philosophy or shop around and find a class close to your guest house or hotel that offers drop in, it is likely that you won’t need to walk more than twenty meters to find a number of options.
Ashrams will offer a program which allows the students to access all of this. A complete program will run from as early as 5:00 am to 10:00 pm include physical yoga, meditation, philosophy and meals. Many ashrams have an expectation that students will participate in as much of the program as they are able while other ashrams are more liberal and students can elect to forgo some classes if they would like a break. I chose to partake in as much of the agenda for the day as possible which can include up to four hours of yoga and three hours of meditation this can be tiring but I found it to be hugely rewarding. Once you have chosen an ashram to stay in simply advise them of your desired dates and arrival time and when you get there payment is required, often in cash.
The nights are lively here and many hours can be filled wandering the streets of Rham Jhula or Laxman Jhula, the two areas Rishikesh is made up of. One of the most memorable experiences I have while in Rishikesh was to enjoy the nightly Aarti ceremony that takes place on the banks of the River Ganges. Parmath Niketan Ashram, the largest in Rishikesh and impossible to miss with its riverfront prominence and imposing steps leading down to an elevated platform over the river does this every day at 6 pm. It is a devotional ritual with fire as an offering supported by song, music, and chanting. The students of the ashram perform and conduct the ceremony ranging from the very young to the much older and young at heart and if the guru happens to be in Rishikesh at the time he will speak at the ceremony.
Walking and watching
The mornings in Rishikesh are clear, quiet and peaceful, the streets are empty aside from a few cows and a haven for solitude and finding a spot beside the Ganges to watch the sunrise. The afternoons get busy and border on hectic, dodging holy men and cow dung as you navigate the street to get a cup of chai for 10 rupees. I enjoyed finding a spot on the steps of the Ghats where Indian women come to do their laundry or families congregate to dip in the river as a part of their annual pilgrimage and receiving a blessing from Mother Ganga.
An interesting walk is to the Beatles Ashram. Made famous by the four English lads who came to Rishikesh for their own spiritual pilgrimage in the ’60s. A great spot to capture photos amongst the now crumbling walls of the abandoned building now adorned with really cool and edgy street art and graffiti.
Rishikesh left me feeling calm and connected and I left Rishikesh with some amazing new yoga and meditation practice. Go to Rishikesh as a part of your Indian itinerary or a destination in its own right. With so much variety and things to do to choose from you will be kept entertained, nurtured and nourished.
Leave a Comment...
January 4, 2019
I am also a local South Aussie and have visited Rishikesh several times over the past 15 years.
You provide an accurate portrayal of this special place and would prove helpful to anyone visiting for the first time.
I really enjoyed reading your article and wish you well on your travelling adventures....? Julie