Rishikesh is a small town right on Himalayan foothills and is the place where the holy river Ganga leaves the mighty Himalayan mountains for the plains of India. Lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of pilgrims, sadhus (ascetics) and tourists visit Rishikesh for different purpose. Some go there to pay their respects to the river, visit temples, ashrams and a lot go there to relax and be close to the nature. Rishikesh is also a great destination for adventure activities, but more on that later. Due to it’s association with Hinduism and resulting importance, Rishikesh has a number of ashrams/retreats which teach meditation, yoga etc.
The town is divided in to two major parts. One is where most of the town’s residents live and the touristy one between iconic Laxman Jhoola and Ram Jhoola. The two Jhoolas are actually 2 small suspension bridges over river Ganga barely wide enough for foot traffic and an occasional 2-wheeled vehicle. Unlike most other touristy areas, this area is the best part of the town where the visitors can truly relax or even do the regular touristy stuff. This part of town is right on banks of river Ganga and has a number of hotels, guest houses, yoga ashrams, restaurants or narrow winding streets where one can take long leisurely walks. Following is a list of a few enjoyable things to do in Rishikesh that appeal to a wide variety of travellers:
1) Relaxing on Ganga river beach
Spending some time on the beach of river, playing with sand, water is one thing that almost everyone likes. The water is cold even in summers and thus a great place to cool off. There are a few good restaurants near the river which offer great ambiance and fairly good food. Unlike most restaurants that we have been to, these places offer leisurely service which is perfect as you sit watching the river, bazar or talk to your friends while relaxing. There also some river side camps upstream outside the town where you can live in the campsite on the beach.
2) Yoga and meditation
Rishikesh is full of ashrams/ retreats offering services such as yoga, meditation, spiritual stuff and so on. A lot of them are good, but you need to be careful while choosing them. There are different practitioners of different schools of thoughts offering different courses in yoga and meditation. Choose one which suits you after giving it some thought. Quite a lot of them are near the river and thus offer very good view and places to relax and meditate.
3) Adventure activities
Rishikesh is one of most developed adventure tourism destinations offering activities such as river rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping, zip lining, hiking, camping, trekking and more. There are a few short hiking trails near the twon, but a number of exciting options are available as one moves further upstream to places like Chopata. While choosing any operator to rent/buy gear from, keep in mind that only a few people over there offer the service. A lot of people work as their agents and act solely as middlemen.
There are only a few good places in Rishikesh which offer good quality food which is safe and good enough for most foreigners to eat. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of restaurants near river bank which cater to mostly western tourists. Although we liked them, the “slow” service, not-that-great western food and comparatively higher prices may be unpalatable for some. There are a couple of places like Chotiwala near Ram Jhoola which serve traditional Indian food. A few people also offer cooking classes, but we haven’t checked them out yet.
5) Places to see
Rishikesh by itself doesn’t have any monuments like Delhi’s India Gate or similar touristy places that one can classify as must visit. The town itself with it’s easy pace, scenic sights, mountains and greenery is the main attraction. There are other places nearby like Rudraprayag where Ganga river gets it’s official name as Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers merge which people visit for pilgrimage and sightseeing. Laxman Jhoola, the bridge mentioned earlier is quite famous though.