Peacefully flowing, the Ganges winds its way through the Himalayas. Rishikesh is the first major place it crosses on its pilgrimage through India. For thousands of years Rishikesh has been considered a spiritual center, a magnet for ascetics and prophets. In the caves behind Rishikesh hermits still practice meditation and abstinence, the city itself is considered the Yoga capital of the world. It is therefore an interesting mix of people that comes to Rishikesh.
The Spiritual Rishikesh
Rishikesh means “Place of the Wise” or “Place of the Seers”. Rishikesh is mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts. The Hindu god Rama and his brother Laxmana are said to have spent time here. The two suspension bridges connecting the banks of the Ganges are named after them: the Laxman Jhula and the Ram Jhula are among the most famous sights in Rishikesh. The river banks are lined by numerous ashrams and temples. Rishikesh has a long tradition as a holy place and retreat for sadhus and yogis who have renounced the world. Among the best knwon people who have lived in Rishikesh are the world famous yoga master Swami Sivananada and Adi Shankara, who was one of the most important Hindu philosophers in India. He lived in the eighth and ninth centuries after Christ.
The Beatles in Rishikesh
Everywhere present in Rishikesh: The Beatles. Their music is played in cafés, their shirts are sold on the streets. In 1968, at the height of their success, the world stars came here to learn meditation. They stayed two months in the ashram of the Maharishi, a famous guru. In Rishikesh, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Ringo wrote more than 40 songs. Most of them were published on the famous White Album. The so-called Beatles Ashram is now abandoned and is slowly being reconquered by the jungle. You can visit the hall where the Beatles and other disciples of Maharishi meditated, and you can sit in the small stone rooms where they once lived.
With their visit, the Beatles made India a Mecca for all Hippies. So if thousands of young people from Europe, America and all over the world still come to India today, this is largely thanks to the band from Liverpool. George Harrrison, by the way, was the Beatle who was most interested in meditation, yoga and Indian spirituality. He became a follower of the Hare Krishna movement and remained a devout Hindu all his life.
Rishikesh, the Capital of Yoga
The Beatles were followed by thousands of dropouts and people seeking meaning in India. Rishikesh became the yoga capital of the world because of the Beatles – and also because many famous Indian yogis and gurus lived and taught here. Those who want to learn yoga in Rishikesh are spoilt for choice: Hatha, Vinyasa and Iyengar are just a few of the types taught in Rishikesh. Of course, yoga in Rishikesh is highly commercialized, but if you look in the right corners (and have a bit of luck) you will find some “real” yogis. They mostly live in small huts or caves outside the city.
But Rishkesh is more than just Yoga. The city also offers hiking (for example to the Neer waterfall) and rafting. In the many trendy cafes and restaurants you can find Indian curry, Israeli falafels and stone oven pizza. The best breakfast is found at the German Bakery, delicious European dishes and a beautiful view is promised by Little Buddha. Despite the many tourists, the place has kept the typical Indian flair: Cows block the way for adventurous motorcyclists, monkeys steal bananas from amazed tourists. Every evening the Aarti, a centuries-old Hindu ceremony, resounds on the banks of the Ganges. The river is worshipped as the goddess Ma Ganga, i.e. the mother of the Ganges.
For those who want more India and less tourism, a day trip to Haridwar is recommended. In this pilgrimage city – which is one of the holiest places in India – millions of Hindus bathe and pray. Every twelve years the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival on the planet, takes place there. In 2002, 40 million believers came to Haridwar.
The Best Hostels in Rishikesh
Sihv Shakti Hostel
This centrally located hostel is only three minutes away from the Laxman Jhula. It has three very clean and spacious dormitories and some double rooms. Every Thursday guests and staff gather for the homemade family dinner. Further plus points: Organized day trips to Haridwar, free Chai and a roof terrace with a beautiful view of the Ganges! The Shiv Shakti is therefore the best hostel in Rishikesh!
Moustache Hostel Rishkesh
This hostel is part of the Moustache chain, which is represented throughout India. It is located near the Ram Jhula and organizes rafting, yoga classes and day trips to Haridwar. The large common area is a good place to meet new people. One of the nicest hostels in India!
Sleeping in an Ashram
If you are looking for a little more peace and a spiritual atmosphere, you can also stay in one of the many ashrams. The Sivananda Ashram and the Parmath Niketan are among the largest in the city, and offer relatively cheap but spartanic accommodation. Classes in Yoga, Sanskrit and Ayurveda are also offered.
The Best Cafés and Restaurants in Rishikesh
Pumpernickel German Bakery
This café is also a first class restaurant. Here you can enjoy homemade and vegan cakes, Indian and Israeli specialties, and excellent coffee – and be enchanted by the wonderful view of the Ganges.
A popular meeting place for all backpackers in Rishikesh. The Little Buddha also offers a beautiful view of the Ganges. However, there is no alcohol here (and in Rishikesh in general) – after all Rishikesh is a holy city. Meat is also forbidden.