Favourite Places: Rishikesh

Rishikesh Lakshman Jhula, Yoga, India

Lakshman Jhula, the quieter footbridge in Rishikesh

Rishikesh, India: Yoga Capital of the world

As an avid India traveller who has covered 14 states in about 14 months of travel (spread over six years), I am often asked, “Where is your favourite place?” I always find it tough to answer as I have a LOT of favourite places. Usually, my answer will depend on my mood. With this series, I am answering the question one favourite place at a time — starting with a small town in north India, scenically located at the spot where the Ganga (Ganges River) spills out of the foothills of the Himalayas and begins her long journey across the plains of India to the Bay of Bengal.

Rishikesh reminds me of Canada. But with holy cows, om symbols and orange-robed sadhus. I love the combination of robust, pristine nature — fresh mountain air, sunrise over the peaks, a torrential river — and the signs and symbols of a sacred India town.  Temple bells ring incessantly, incense wafts on the breeze and yogis are everywhere to be seen.

There is a feeling in Rishikesh unlike anywhere else. The vibe is both relaxed and reverent — and consequently attracts genuine Hindu devotees and gurus as well as western hippies and spiritual dilettantes.

Shiva statue on the Ganga (Ganges) in Rishikesh, India

Shiva statue on the Ganga (Ganges) in Rishikesh, India

While some may ascribe the increasing popularity of Rishikesh to the booming worldwide interest in yoga, in fact people have been gathering at this confluence of nature since the dawn of time to pray, meditate, chant and imbue the peaceful valley with eons of sacred energy. It’s a deceptively powerful place.

My favourite spot in Rishiskesh is at the quiet north end, where the sea-green river spills out of the mountains. White sand beaches line the banks, an occasional cow wanders by, and locals, yoga students and hippies gather in small groups to bathe in the chilly, fresh water of India’s most sacred river.

Just below is the first of two great pedestrian bridges that span the mighty river. Lakshman Jhula is the smaller bridge, but still it teems with foot traffic, scooters and monkeys. Cafes on both sides overlook the river and one of the most scenic spots in town. From here, Rishikesh wends its way along both banks of the river, at the bottom of a narrow valley. The east side is almost free of car traffic, and a walk from end to end takes about an hour, and passes sadhu huts, parks, and scores of small shops and stalls selling cotton clothes, gems, spiritual souvenirs, Hindu religious icons and snacks.

A peaceful vibe and fresh air

By the time you get to the other bridge, the big one, Ram Jhula, you are in the thick of the busiest part of Rishikesh. Sprawling ashrams, bustling restaurants, busy temples and statues depicting scenes from Hindu epics and the Bhagavad Gita abound.

It is at this end, near the huge Parmath Niketan ashram, where the nightly aarti (spiritual ritual) takes place at dusk on the ghats (steps), in front of a massive white statute of Shiva in meditation pose. It is an exciting event to take part in: pandits chant and wave oil lamps as the sun sets, and after dark everyone is invited to release small offerings — little “boats” made of flowers and leaves, containing a candle and incense stick — on the strong currents of the black river.

You can stay in an ashram and study yoga, or stay in a hotel or guesthouse and simply wander the town and the surrounding mountains, enjoying the peaceful vibe and fresh air. All of the food is vegetarian, as Rishikesh is a sacred city, and the shopping is surprisingly good. Best bets are flowing clothes, devotional music, semi-precious gemstone jewelry and books. There are also lots of options for healing treatments, such as Ayurvedic massage, and courses in everything from astrology to sitar.

Rishikesh, India at sunset revealing the other worldly nature of this sacred place

Rishikesh, India at sunset revealing the other worldly nature of this sacred place

Rishikesh is the kind of place that some people end up staying in for long stretches of time, and others return to again and again. And then there are those who really never leave, at least not in spirit.

I often think of Rishikesh, of the green river singing as it tumbles and surges through town; of the wind that howls from the abode of Shiva at dawn; of practising yoga in the morning and going for long, contented walks in the afternoon. I have many fond memories of Rishikesh, of friends and teachers and peaceful moments. It is one of those places I retreat to in my imagination when I need solace. Perhaps I have fully integrated Rishikesh, perhaps I never need to return. But I hope I do.

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on Travel Wire Asia as Favourite Places in India: Rishikesh.]

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22 Responses to Favourite Places: Rishikesh

  1. Greg Goodman August 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Oh Rishikesh. What an absolutely wonderful place! I had the pleasure of spending a month there this past year and can’t wait until I find an excuse to take another walk over the Laxshman Jhula! Thanks for this great post. Made me homesick for my Indian home away from home 🙂

    Greg Goodman recently posted..Placemat // a Graphic Art Exploration of Food Around the WorldMy Profile

  2. Gurmukh August 14, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    Lucky you. I have never been there.

  3. Abhinav August 14, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    Very happy to see a post on Rishikesh. It is really a great place. I am from the south of India, Kerala.
    Abhinav recently posted..Green DragonflyMy Profile

  4. Tes August 14, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    What a beautiful place! It looks so tranquil and sound peaceful 🙂
    Tes recently posted..Come and Take a Monsoon Ride with UsMy Profile

  5. Mariellen Ward August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Thanks for comments, Rishikesh is a special place. It’s impossible to describe the feeling there; you have to experience it! Deep bliss….
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Is tiger tourism helping or hindering?My Profile

  6. himanshu sharma August 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Yes, its really a wonderful place, i visit Rishikesh quite often as my sister lives there and her husband runs a garment shop in ghatt road . I really enjoy your blog and looking forward to more of your articles.
    himanshu sharma recently posted..Turmeric-Benefits and UsesMy Profile

  7. Ali Cassandra Webster August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    This is not on tiger tourism, sorry. Just amazed and not good at internet. But I am going to Rishikesh to volunteer at Ramana’s Garden and just was so happy to see your words. Thanks so much. Was going to ask about any knowledge about extended Visas (I got 6 months but was interested in longer) but remembered you were Canadian. Just thought I’d say “Thanks” anyway!

  8. Amy Foster August 29, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Must say I really relate to your experience and enjoyed reading about it. I too started traveling to India about 10 years ago after a series of tragedies and continued going as I found my whole experience with the country, in conjunction with a yoga practice I started in midlife, to be very healing. I also have been inspired creatively by India and felt to compelled to write about my experiences. At first I thought I was writing a memoir, then perhaps essays, but finally I decided what I’ve really been writing are fairy tales–tales of goddesses, magical moments, romance in general for a place or a person. And then there is the color component: India turned me into a photographer and re-inspired me to draw again, which I had done a lot of when I was younger. I believe that India cracks open your heart and can heal your soul if you are the least bit open to the energies that are there.

    Also enjoyed Rishikesh and spent about a month there last September. As a child of the sixties I loved exploring the Beatle’s ashram (I was also with a musician who wanted to make a pilgrimage there). A young sadhu showed us around and then took us to his camp for tea. While there he showed us a photo of his guru who had just left. I was struck by the fact that the guru looked just like Jim Morrison and couldn’t help but think what a logical place for Jim to reincarnate . . .

  9. Tom @ Waegook Tom September 1, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Rishikesh sounds like exactly my kind of place – and that first photo is absolutely gorgeous. I want to plunge into the river, but I’m not too sure if my swimming skills would suffice given your description of it as “torrential”! I actually just read about a post on studying yoga in India on another site before coming across your post here as I’m considering it when I visit the subcontinent next year…coincidence?
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..The Best Bites in BritainMy Profile

  10. shooting star September 2, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    i love rishikesh….my second home is in haridwar i come there everytime im in haridwar!!!!

    shooting star recently posted..A day of Wines, food and good company With Four Seasons WinesMy Profile

  11. Tushar October 6, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Rishikesh is one of the favorite destination indeed and the best was learning Yoga by Usha ji.

  12. Anubhav Roy February 3, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Needless to say Rishikesh has tranquility like no other place… The north-end, the silver sand beach near the Laxman Jhula happens to be my favorite place too.. 🙂
    Very beautiful pictures specially the one with the sunset… fascinating.

  13. M April 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Love this place! I recently visited India for the first time and this is one of the places I went with my Indian OH and his family. It reminded me a lot of the Mediterranean. We crossed that bridge in the pitch black darkness – cows coming one way, monkeys jumping overhead, and motorbikes all around us. Never a dull moment in India! 🙂
    M recently posted..Incredible India: Wedding PlanningMy Profile

  14. bheemtal August 13, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    No doubt about the beauty of Rishikesh .it is also is a hub of many temples like Neelkanth Temple where Lord Shiva after drinking poison was placed and being worshipped; Kailash Niketan Temple having scluptrus of all gods and goddesses is a 13 storied structure; Kunjapuri Temple with the beautiful view of snow clad Himalayan peaks is dedicated for the worship of goddess Durga.

  15. Jane August 15, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    Oh yes! Rishikesh! My “other” home part of each year since 2007. (Before that I had been living in Dharamsala part of every year since 2001). I can never get enough of this place and love the way you describe it here. It has become a true home for me in every way. I am truly blessed to have found my way there.

    You might like to check out some of my favorite photos over the years at this link:

    and of course my daily posts over the years on my blog: http://janesindiajournals.wordpress.com.

    Nothing compared to your fabulous blog, more of a “letter to friends” kind of feeling but some nice stories and photos.
    I am soooooooo enjoying exploring here. So glad I found you!
    with love light and JOY

  16. Vikram Anand November 29, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    While everyone seems attracted to the place, I am awestruck by the Shiva statue. If only I can remain in meditation in that perfect posture long enough to get the ultimate prize of life! Thanks for including that picture, Mariellen!

  17. mayank bisht January 8, 2014 at 4:55 am #

    Rishikesh is the place to find your soul . being a local guy and a guide i believe that everyday there is something new to see and experience . recently i explored a place which very few people who have been to rishikesh would have seen by the name of jhilmil gufa (cave). i got a chance to visit chaurasia kuttia(small ashram) where beattles stayed and wrote many songs . this place is banned as now it is in the area of forest department but if any one plans to be there do let me know .

  18. Arjun Singh June 4, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Rishikesh is one of the best adventure spot in nor-than India. Now this is Adventure City too. Camping and rafting many point of attraction of rishikesh adventure- http://riverraftingatrishikesh.in/ we are here welcome to all travels to enjoy rafting and camping.

  19. OfTravelsandGreatPlaces December 19, 2014 at 5:12 am #

    Like your write-up Mariellen Ward. Hardiwar and Rishikesh are the ultimate pilgrimage sites for every believer. Whether you are a religious believer or not, it really does not matter for the beauty of nature at her very best in these parts of the world, will make a believer of you.

    OfTravelsandGreatPlaces recently posted..Aloha on the Ganges – An abode in the ‘Place of Sagas’My Profile

  20. jayant April 23, 2015 at 4:29 am #

    does anyone know a nice place to set up camp in rishikesh for a couple of days. Am on a shoe string budget and cannot afford to stay in any camps or hotels there. please advise.

  21. rupal June 1, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

    Just spent a month in Rishikesh and fell in love with the place. Not a day has passed when I did not think about Rishikesh since I have been back. You have to experience the feeling for yourself, it can’t be described or explained. Everything seemed to work itself out in this spiritual place. The simple peaceful life and nice and simple people. The beautiful music as you walk the streets near both jhulas. It’s indeed a very peaceful place. Can’t wait to return, maybe as early as next year.

  22. Jennifer Martin February 24, 2016 at 4:40 am #

    I have been to Rishikesh last week. I must say that this is the best place to visit If you are planning for a week trip as there is much to see & explore around the place that 1-2 day won’t be enough for it. I have also done zip lining in Rishikesh.

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