The city has something special and interesting for each visitor, regardless of their expectations, goals, or tastes: nature, culture, and spirituality, the city has it all. Below are the six experiences you should not miss in Rishikesh!
1. Have a coffee and croissants with spectacular views
If you have been traveling in India for a while, this will taste like blessed glory: good coffee, croissants with jam and butter or chocolate cakes, and savor all this on a quiet terrace with breathtaking views. Yes, friend: it is possible in one of my favorite coffee shops in Rishikesh: “Pumpernickel German Bakery”.
On the other hand, if you just start your adventures in the country, I recommend breakfast or snack here because then you will not taste those flavors again until you leave the country or until you return to your home – wherever you live.
This was the first thing I did after leaving my things at the hotel: sitting down for breakfast on the terrace of this cafeteria and seeing how the city woke up. From there, I could see people rafting on the Ganges River, tourists taking pictures with the monkeys – who monopolize the bridges – and try to steal their food. If you want to meet other travelers on your journey, this is a good place to meet.
2. Sit for a while in the Ghats
As in most Indian cities, the best is outdoors. It is the day today, the co-existence of local people that enriches the destiny. Rishikesh is no different in this regard: the best is in its streets and, especially, in its Ghats (which are the esplanades or stairs on the riverbank).
This is where the rituals are carried out – of which I will speak later -, where people, monkeys, dogs, and cows walk, where people sit to meditate, children play, women gossip, people, practice yoga or gurus impart wisdom to your students.
3. Take a walk between Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula
As I mentioned, much of the area’s window is in the streets, especially along the banks of the Ganges River, especially between the suspension bridges called Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula. I made this path more than once, going from one river bank, crossing a bridge, and returning along the other bank.
You will be able to find street food stands, several animals, especially cows (I have seen one knocking on the door of a house with the nose to feed it) and a lot of incessant activity throughout the day.
On that walk, which I recommend you do at a slow pace and soaking up everything that happens around you, you can cross the emblematic suspension bridges. Both are very long (Laxman Jhula is 450 meters long, and Ram Jhula is just under 230 meters long), and they are very narrow (about 2 meters nothing more).
It is assumed that no motor vehicle can cross them, but you will have to get around many motorcycles, in addition to bicycles, cows, monkeys, and tourists. You have to take care of the monkeys; they are very agile and seem harmless, but they are not. They want to coax you to steal your food (or anything that catches their attention).
4. Attend the “Ganga Aarti” ceremony
One of the spiritual experiences that you can experience in Rishikesh is to attend one of the ceremonies in honor of the goddess Ganga, my favorite is the one that takes place in front of the Ashram Parmath Niketan every afternoon at 5.30 pm in winter or at 7.00 pm in summer (it is at sunset time, confirm the exact time when you arrive).
Under the watchful eye of the gigantic statue of Shiva, religious chants called bhajans begin as well as different mantras while the gurus and devotees light candles in a ritual of purification and thanks to the goddess Ma Ganga.
The truth is that a very beautiful energy is created, a very special environment where everyone sings. Even those who are not religious, find the experience worth going.
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5. Visit the many temples of the city
Like almost all Indian cities, Rishikesh has several temples dedicated to their deities. “Shri Trayanbakshwar” is the most impressive and important temple in the city – you don’t need a map to find it, it has 13 floors and is orange, so you will see it easily.
It is located right next to the Laxman Jhula Bridge, and admission is free. The devotees must climb the 13 floors, following the clockwise direction, to the top stopping at each of the small altars with statues that follow each other along the ascent to leave their offerings and ring the bells ( hence they sound all day).
In addition to this immense temple, there are other smaller ones, but no less interesting as the one known as “White Temple” or Govindji Temple located in the downtown area, near the bus station and the train terminal. In addition to being a temple, there is also a hotel and a restaurant inside.
It is also worth a visit – although it is 15 kilometers from Rishikesh on a hill – the temple “Kunjapuri” dedicated to the goddess Durga (I tell you more about this goddess in this article about the festivities of Calcutta) and that the Hinduists venerate with special devotion. In addition to seeing the temple, take the time to admire the views from there that are impressive! You see the city, the valleys, and even the Himalayan peaks.
Another of the temples that I recommend, even if it is not in the center of the city, is “Neelkanth Mahadev” which is dedicated to the god Shiva and is located almost 1000 meters high and to get there, you will have to make a beautiful hiking trail, surrounded by greenery.
Legend has it that the name of the temple comes from the story about Shiva taking poison in this place, and his throat turned blue (“Neel-Kanth”). On the walls of the temple, you will see drawings that tell this same legend. You can get beautiful views of the city, the river, and bridges from the temple walls.
6. Sign up for a Kirtan session
There are many little temples scattered throughout the city, and, during the day, they host religious songs called “Kirtan.”
It is difficult to know in which time they can be seen because they are usually improvised by the devotees who are there. If you are fortunate to attend one, you will surely enjoy it as a little girl, because it is pure magic and energy.
To enter to participate in one, you will have to take off your shoes, enter the temple, and, if you feel like it, you can join in singing and even playing some instrument. In the rooms, there are usually many instruments, and they are free to use. I was lucky to see two of them in two different temples, and the experience is sensational.