Rishikesh, the city of the Rishis, sometimes called the world capital of yoga, is a tourist town where many Westerners come to take instruction. But it is a very pleasant place, steeped in the mystic atmosphere that so many sages and ascetics have come seeking over the centuries.
Rishikesh is undeniably a spiritually uplifting place. Through the town flows one of India’s most sacred rivers, if not THE most sacred: the Ganges.
The presence of the Ganges and the verdant surroundings have long since made Rishikesh a favoured place for establishing ashrams and hermitages. Indeed its name comes from a Rishi (sage) who is said to have spent many years meditating here to attain unity with the divine.
Another legend says that the Hindu god Rama performed penances in Rishikesh before leaving for Sri Lanka to find his consort Sita, who had been kidnapped by the demon king Ravana.
Rishikesh is divided between the lower town with the unattractive town centre, and the upper town around the river, roughly from Ram Jhula to Lakshman Jhula, where most of the visitor accommodation and activities are – and the visitors too, of course.
Festival not to miss
International Yoga Festival
The annual International Yoga Festival is organized by Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India. The International Yoga Festival is truly grounded in the authentic origin of Yoga.
Practise and learn from masters from the Traditional Yoga Lineages from India, as well as masters of International well known yoga schools and styles. During this one-week Festival, you will have the opportunity to participate in over 60 hours of Yoga classes from world-class Yoga teachers practicing multiple styles of Yoga including Kundalini Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Kriya Yoga.
Trayambakeshwar means “abode of the three-eyed”, meaning Shiva, the temple’s deity.
The pyramid-shaped, 13-storey temple contains a multitude of smaller temples to different Hindu deities.
Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula
Lakshman Jhula is the name of the main suspension bridge across the Ganges.
Jhula means “to swing”. It is said that Rama’s younger brother Lakshman crossed the Ganges at the site of today’s suspension bridge.
Rama Jhula is Rishikesh’s other suspension bridge, 2km downstream of Lakshman Jhula.
Ashram Parmarth Niketan
Ashram Parmarth Niketan was founded in 1942 by Pujya Swami Shukdevanandji (1901-1965). Since 1986, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji has been its chairman and spiritual head.
The ashram is located beside the Ganges a little way beyond the Ram Jhula bridge. It has 1000 guestrooms and daily activities such as yoga, universal prayers, meditation instruction, devotional kirtan singing and satsangs (spiritual talks).
The ashram is known for its arti (flame offering) ceremony, which takes place each evening at sunset. Tourists flock to watch the ceremony.
Hindus believe that the three holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati meet here.
Triveni Ghat is the most revered place in Rishikesh for ritual ablutions and is a pleasant, peaceful place.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram (The Beatles ashram)
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram, now largely in ruins, stands beside the Ganges near the Triveni Ghat.
This is where the Beatles famously stayed in 1968 for their month of “transcendental meditation” with the yogi. Eighteen of the songs on the White Album were written during that month.
The ashram was abandoned 20 years ago. Since then it has been invaded by vegetation and the graffiti left by innumerable Beatles fans. Here and there you can still find traces of the buildings and the famous meditation huts. A curiosity to visit for its historical side!
Neer Garh falls (15km)
A fine example of what this forested mountain region has to offer.
Off the road to Shivpur a few kilometres north of Rishikesh, a 30-minute climb from the road will take you to a group of waterfalls.
Sublime panoramic views and cool, limpid water.
Kanjapuri Devi Temple (15km)
An absolute must-see! Tucked away in the mountains 1600m above sea level and 15km north of Rishikesh, this temple to the Hindu goddess Durga offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Himalayas.
It is also considered a very holy place as it is one of the 52 Shakti Peethas.
The best moment to be there is just before sunrise. There are about 1000 steps to climb. The temple is only open from 6am to 8am.
Vashishta’s cave (25km)
Vashishta’s cave (gufa), on the banks of the Ganges 25km from Rishikesh, is one of the most peaceful places for meditating.
Swami Purushot Tamanandaji of the Ramakrishna Mission settled here in 1928. It is now the Purushot Tamanandaji Mission that looks after the place. The cave contains a small Shiva lingam.