The land of Ganga, temples, Yoga, pilgrims and hippies, Rishikesh, is an interesting blend of spirituality, adventure and nature
Distance: 224 km NE of Delhi
When to go: May-August can be humid and rainy but the rest of the year is good. Crowds are thinner in November and February, as there is less water in the river. September-June is rafting season
Tourist Offices: GMVN, Shail Vihar, Bypass Road Rishikesh
Tel: 0135-2431793/ 83, 2435174 Cell: 09412075046
GMVN, 102, Indraprakash Building, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi
Tel: 011-23350481, 23326620
STD code: 0135
Air: Nearest airport is Jolly Grant, Dehradun (18 km/45 mins).
Rail: Rishikesh station and Haridwar Junction
Road: Rishikesh is connected to Delhi by NH58 via Modinagar, Meerut, Khatauli, Muzaffarnagar, Manglaur, Roorkee and Haridwar. NH58 continues to Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Badrinath.
Rishikesh may be known the world over as a temple town, a hippie abode, the place where the Beatles took to spirituality under Mahesh Yogi and as an international hot-spot for yoga, but more than anything else, it is the Ganga that defines the town. The river, whose very name is a prayer, makes the town far more tranquil than its loudspeakers, its chaotic lanes, its sadhus, backpackers and spiritual tourists would otherwise have let it be. Rishikesh has been an abode of ascetics since time immemorial. It is also the gateway to the Garhwal mountains and holy spots within them such as the source of the Ganga, the Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines and more. And now, Rishikesh is also, as Uttarakhand Tourism would have it, the Yoga capital of the worlds.
Things to see and do
Rishikesh lies on both banks of the Ganga. You can easily access the ghats, and the temperature of the water is perfect most of the year. Spirituality is as evident here as the flow of the mighty Ganga. The best way to go around is on foot as the town is hilly and is crisscrossed by narrow lanes.
To cross the river, take a motor ferry from the narrow iron suspension bridge known as Ram Jhula, which is near the Swargashram area, or walk across either Ram Jhula or Lakshman Jhula, 2 km upstream from the former. Autos and noisy tempos are available on the main road and are the best modes of transport. Auto drivers will even take you sightseeing, covering all the major temples in three to four hours.
Lakshman Jhula, the famous 450-ft long suspension bridge, was built in 1939. It is said that Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana crossed the Ganga on a jute rope from here. The Lakshman and Raghunath temples are located here. This part of town is better known for its busy bazaars and cafes.
The 13-storey Trimbakeshwar Mandir near the Lakshman Jhula has many shrines, chambers that house religious and Vedic texts, plus jewellery and gem shops. Nearby is the Swarg Niwas Mandir, a 12-storey temple with various idols of Hindu gods and goddesses on all its floors.
Just 2 km downstream from Lakshman Jhula, at Muni-ki-Reti, is the other suspension bridge, built after Lakshman Jhula’s construction. This is Ram Jhula (or Shivanand Jhula), surrounded by a cluster of ashrams on both sides. It connects Sivananda Ashram on the east bank to Swargashram on the west. The latter is a bustling spiritual hub with many ashrams, temples, bazaars and ghats.
While it has been a centuries-old tradition to worship the river in the morning and evening in small private ceremonies, the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh has converted the evening aarti ritual to a spectacular show. Although many consider it to be a touristy spectacle rather than a spiritual exercise, it would be a shame to miss it. The diyas floating on the Ganga in the dark are a sight to behold.
It is believed that the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati took place here. This ghat is large and clean, and has separate changing rooms for women. Nearby is the Rishikund, or sages’ pond.
Situated in the heart of Rishikesh, this is the town’s oldest temple. It is devoted not to Rama’s youngest brother Bharat, but to Vishnu, who is referred to as Bharat in Kalyug. The temple also has a collection of excavated artefacts dating from the 2nd to 15th centuries CE.
Rafting: Shivpuri and Kaudiyala
The Rishikesh region offers white water rafting from September-May. The Ganga comes rushing down the mountains, through Kaudiyala (40 km) and Shivpuri (16 km), before it reaches Rishikesh. Here, it slows down, before transforming into white water rapids as it descends into the plains. Many rafting operators have riverside camps between Rishikesh and Kaudiyala. All the necessary rafting equipment, meals, games like volleyball or water polo and bonfires are part of the package.
The GMVNL Tourist and Rafters Camp (Kaudiyala Tel: 01378-262911, Cell: 09568006671; Tariff: 2D/ 1N INR 1,430 per person with meals and 12 km rafting) offers courses in trekking, rafting and water-skiing. Some good private camps include Camp Panther and Beach Tented Camp (Delhi Reservations: 0124-4592000; Tariff: Camp Panther INR 7,500-8,500 with meals and at Beach Tented Camp INR 6,000-7,500), run by Snow Leopard Adventures at Shivpuri.
Aquaterra Adventures’ Camp Silver Sands (Delhi Tel: 011-29212641/ 760, 41636101; Tariff: 2D/ 1N INR 5,900) lies on a sandy river beach and a portion of riverside forest.
Himalayan River Runners (Delhi Tel: 011-26852602/ 26968169; Tariff: INR 3,650 per person) operates a riverside camp on a white beach surrounded by sal forests, 17 km north-east of Rishikesh.
Where to stay
Rishikesh has a wide range of hotels, ashrams and dharamshalas. A peaceful hotel with spacious rooms facing the river, Hotel Ganga Kinare (Tel: 0135-2435243, Cell: 09015544000; Tariff: INR 5,500-12,000; www.gangakinare.com) is an upmarket establishment with a private ghat.
Ganga Beach Resort (Tel: 2442018, Cell: 09999200619; Tariff: INR 4,000-10,000; www.gangabeachresort.com), situated in Tapovan, 3 km from Rishikesh, is a luxury hotel on the riverbank. Hotel The Great Ganga (Tel: 2442243/ 2438252; Tariff: INR 3,600-9,720; www.thegreatganga.com), is above the Badrinath Road in Muni-ki-Reti and offers views of the Ganga. An excellent budget option is Green Hotel (Tel: 2431242, 2434948; Tariff: INR 800-3,600; www.hotelgreen.com), famous for the delicious meals served at its Little Italy restaurant.
GMVNL has three guesthouses. Bharat Bhoomi Tourist Complex (Tel: 2433002; Tariff: INR 540-2,200) is close to the Bus Stand. Its restaurant serves good Indian and Continental food. Rishilok Tourist Complex (Tel: 2430373; Tariff: INR 580-2,090) at Muni-ki-Reti, across the road from the riverbank, has similar facilities. Ganga Resort Tourist Complex (Tel: 2438651, 2122098; Tariff: INR 2,300-4,200), in Sheesham Jhadi, has the best location, on the banks of the Ganga.
Neemrana’s The Glasshouse on the Ganges (Cell: 09412076420, 09917191115; Tariff: INR 5,000-15,000; glasshouse-on-the-ganges.neemranahotels.com), in Gular Dogi village on the Rishikesh-Badrinath Road, is the most luxurious option here. Run by the Group, it has 16 tasteful rooms and a spa, all set in an orchard along the Ganga.
Where to eat
Almost all eateries and restaurants in Rishikesh serve vegetarian food, mostly without onion or garlic. It is against the law to carry nonvegetarian food or alcohol into Haridwar. The landmark, legendary Choti-wala Restaurant near Shivananda Jhula has great thalis. The Great Ganga’s restaurant serves great baked beans with cheese. Madras Cafe opposite the Sivananda Ashram, has fairly decent South Indian staples and some Continental options. The food at Bharat Bhoomi ranges from Indian to Continental.
The German Bakery at Lakshman Jhula has interesting dishes, including yak cheese sandwiches and fruit pancake. It has a small open-air seating area overlooking the Lakshman Jhula. Green Hotel’s Green Italian Restaurant is worth a visit.