Rishikesh is, according to almost everyone you will meet there, the yoga capital of the world. There are many yoga Ashramas here that welcome visitors from around the world, with all the major schools of thought in regards to Yoga represented. Rishikesh is where John Lennon came when he went to India. The city is nestled in a Himalayan canyon, on the banks of the Ganga river, which runs swift, cold, and clean here. Although there are many travelers and yogis from around the world, the town is more likely to be overrun by Indian pilgrims on their way to the Char Dam temples; the four holy temples scattered in the mountains above Rishikesh. Many students of Yoga come here to stay significant lengths of time. However, there are plenty of visitors who come for a short time, and the city is studded with guesthouses and hotels, restaurants that serve both Indian and Western food, and handicraft sellers.
The relaxed atmosphere of Rishikesh is prime for lounging near the river, yoga, or meditating either in structured classes or alone in the mountains. In the dry season, there’s a beach area along the river from which you can take cleansing dips and swims in privacy.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take some yoga classes; most of them are very cheap or free for beginners. Ask around town to find the right ashrama for your interests. There are also many wonderful schools of the esoteric arts of Hinduism: in Rishikesh, Ayurveda Training is available from teachers who will reveal the depths of the ancient teaching.
Every evening, the town assembles at the Swarg Ashram along the river for the evening Ganga Aarti, the ceremony at which the river Ganga is put to sleep for the night. The Aarti at Rishikesh is musical and spiritual, as opposed to the festive atmosphere down the river in the city of Haridwar. It features the truly gorgeous chanting of the monks of the Ramakrishna ashram, accompanied by tabla and harmonium. Come early for the best seats, or come later and line up along the river.
There are fantastic trips, treks, and adventures you can take that start in Rishikesh. Contact Garhwal Adventures Rishikesh
or a private trekking company in the area. You can go to Gangotri, the head of the Ganga river (highly recommended), to Yamanotri, the head of the Yamuna river, or to Badrinath or Kedarnath, temples high in the Himalayas made sacred by the great saints and yogis who practiced there. You can go white-water rafting down the Ganga, skiing, hiking, or take a multi-day, self-sufficient mountain wilderness trek.
Many travelers stay on the High Bank, a 20 minute walk uphill from the downtown section. It is a good place to hang out with mountain Langur monkeys. Otherwise, stay in an Ashram or in one of the guest houses along the river.
Bhandari Swiss Cottage
—On High Bank, with charming and well maintained cottages that range up the hillside, a true Rishikesh favorite.
High Bank Peasants Cottage—despite the name, this is High Bank’s most upmarket option.
—a good location near the bridge, but an uninspiring hotel
You won’t find cosmopolitan luxury in Rishikesh