Filled with yoga mats, organic cafes, Ayurveda doctors and ashrams on every corner, Rishikesh definitely lives up to its hippy stereotype. However, this does not detract from the place at all – what you expect is, inevitably, what you get and it is hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere of the place.
After spending the past month here, I thought I would compile a list of the top 10 things I think are worthwhile doing whilst here.
- Take part in the Ganga Aarti
The Ganga Aarti is a religious ceremony which takes place every evening at 5pm. Locals and tourists gather at the river edge, surrounding a beautiful decorated flowered canopy which houses a fire pit. A small traditional band sings and chants numerous mantras and spiritual songs throughout the ceremony. As the sun sets (it is also a great opportunity to watch the sunset from the river Ganga) things really begin to get going. The fire is lit, flowers are thrown into the flames as offerings and everyone communally chants and claps. Then, when darkness falls, small golden candelabras are lit and handed round the crowd. Upon taking the fire, you can wave it around in a circular motion, hold your hand over the flame and then rub your heated hand over your head to receive blessing. The whole purpose of this ceremony is to give thanks to the Mother Ganga through fire. It is also seen as a way to give some light back to the sun. Little bouquets of flowers and candles called Diya are also placed into the Ganga as an offering.
As a free event, you really shouldn’t miss it. It is a chance to really get involved in the traditions and energy of the area and it is a beautiful experience.
2. Have a Chai
This is a must wherever you go in India but there is something so comforting about sitting back in one the relaxed Rishikesh cafes and having a delicious chai. My personal favourite cafe is the Aelis Rooftop Café in Ram Jhula – the staff are so friendly and pretty much make the place, plus the food is delicious and it is opposite a German bakery which is always a win if you fancy a chocolate ball to accompany your chai.
Also, don’t feel you have to stick with the classic Chai Masala! Oh no. Get one with almond milk, coconut milk, extra ginger, spices – whatever you fancy! The possibilities are endless and it makes for great tasting!
Finally, you must get one off a street vendor. At 10 rupees for a little cup these are by far the tastiest chai’s around.
- White Water Rafting
I was lucky enough to have this all organised and booked for me through Rishikesh Yog Peeth and it is an activity I have wanted to do for quite some time! The white water rapids found along the Ganga are not too hectic and they give you a fun thrill but don’t leave you feeling terrified and wanting to get off. However, the main reason I recommend doing this is because of the view you get of the surrounding mountains, the peaceful water and to see Rishikesh from another angle. You get a chance to bathe in the Ganga as well (even if it is freezing) which is a must do in itself!
- Rishikesh Market
Hopping on the back of a moped, getting in a tuk-tuk or even just making the walk up to Rishikesh market is well worth it. This is where all the locals go for buying absolutely anything and everything! Situated down a crisscross of little streets the shops here sell anything from spices and chutney, to oven tops and wedding hats. Even if you don’t buy anything here it is good to see and experience and is a welcome change from the very tourist based, consumer shops around all the ashrams and hotels. If you do decide to buy however, it is significantly cheaper than main Rishikesh. So, for material and spices, this is the place to head.
- Watch the Sunrise
This sounds like a very stereotypical thing to do; ‘Travel, see the sunrise.’ Yet, there is something special about watching the sunrise over the Himalayas. Rishikesh is eerily quiet in the mornings and so taking the time to get up early is incredibly peaceful in itself and worth doing – you see the silent and still side of the otherwise bustling town. If you then want to go that little bit further, I definitely recommend hiring yourself a moped or hopping on one of the tours which take you up into the mountains to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. These are the proper Himalayas as well, not just the foot hills.
- Do some Yoga
If you take the time to visit Rishikesh then it would be rude not to do some yoga. Known as the birthplace of Hatha yoga and completely filled to the brim with yoga schools and ashrams, you have no excuse to miss it. Rishikesh has a huge variety of yoga styles to choose from: traditional Hatha; Shivananda; Ashtanga; Vinyasa; and Laughing Yoga – to name but a few. Have a look around and try some drop in classes, stay in an ashram and live the Yogic lifestyle for a few days. Whatever, you fancy, there is an option.
- Have an Ayurvedic Consultation
Due to Ayurveda being another popular feature of Rishikesh, you will find numerous options for this suggestion. Before you go waltzing into the first clinic you see however, shop around and ask for recommendations off locals/hotels. Costing around 300 rupees for a 45-minute session (around £3.50) it is well worth the money. Even if you aren’t a great believer in all these ‘natural healers’ it is a small enough amount that you can experience it, still disagree with it, but not feel you have wasted any money on it! Personally, I (and the numerous people I met who had a consultation) found it very beneficial and somewhat amazing! I was asked no questions upon arrival but was prodded, poked, pulled and stretched in complete silence as he made notes after each action. He then sat me down and told me what he had discovered and some of the things he told me were uncannily accurate!
- Visit the German Bakery
Yes, a German Bakery. You may be in India and feel you should try the various curries, dals and naans on offer but these German Bakeries are dotted throughout Rishikesh and if you haven’t tried one of their Reese’s Balls or chocolate brownies then you honestly haven’t lived.
- Go on a Trek
Rishikesh is based in the foothills of the Himalayas and so there is a vast array of walks and treks to undertake. The scenery surrounding Rishikesh is stunning with lots of forests and wildlife to see. Even just wandering up the banks of the Ganga will lead you off into more unchartered territory and new discoveries. You can book treks through one of the various travel agencies or just head off by yourself. Either way, make sure you take some money and some water just in case you fancy a chai or don’t find anywhere to buy some water!
- Book Buy!
Granted, I am slightly book mad but the books are so cheap here, most struggle to resist. The shops predominantly sell books on yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, philosophy, anatomy etc. but there are also other novels you can find here. Just make sure you have factored in extra luggage allowance for your return journey – or you can post them back home for around £15 a parcel!