Rishikesh – life on the Ganges

If you’re into yoga and enjoy travelling then I’m sure Rishikesh is on your radar. A city in the Uttarakhand area of India, Rishikesh is considered by many as the home of yoga. It has the beautiful position in the foothills of the Himalayas and on the banks of the Ganges. Although (like a lot of India) it is not always the most peaceful of places, what is definitely true is it is full of every sort of yoga you can think of. Rishikesh is also a holy city meaning it is alcohol free and vegetarian.

The main city centre of Rishikesh is slightly down river and is where you will arrive if you travel by bus. The most common places to stay in Rishikesh though are Tapovan, the area around Laxman Jhula and Swarg Ashram. All of these areas are an intoxicating mix of religious Indian city and backpackers village, with yoga added to the mix. All with the added spice of cows, monkeys and the ubiquitous Indian scooter.

Rishikesh is an interesting place that I always feel immediately at home in. It is a melting pot of travellers from all around the world and religious pilgrims all set on the banks of the Ganges. When it comes to yoga, you really can practice every single style available either within an ashram or one of the many drop in classes above shops and in houses.

I’ve written about my favourite ashram in Rishikesh, Anand Prakash in a separate blog post and more about where to find yoga here. I wanted this post to be more about Rishikesh itself.

The Ganges

You can’t really write about Rishikesh and not write about the Ganges. Ma Ganga flows right through the centre of Rishikesh and it’s whole layout is governed by the two bridges that span it’s width. Here the river is running straight from the Himalayas and is cold, wide and quick flowing, cutting through the valley with temples, ghats and beaches lining its edges.

Not only a place for spiritual offerings and bathing but, in another of Rishikesh’s juxtapositions, one of India’s main sites for white water rafting. This means it’s not unusual to sit on the river banks watching a little bird dipping into pools with a couple of sadhus washing near by to then be greeted by the whooping of a white water rafting group. All adding to the rich texture of the place.

The easiest way to explore Rishikesh is on foot and that’s the easiest way to discover new places too. On this visit I discovered this beach on my morning walks and it was the most beautiful place to sit, get some sun and think. Basically take any path or road that’s winding it’s way down towards the river bank and you’re bound to find somewhere to gather your thoughts.

The Beatles Ashram

Rishikesh hit the main stream press back in 1968 when the Beatles travelled to the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although other celebrity travellers had already made their way to Rishikesh it was the arrival of George, Ringo, John and Paul who really put it and transcendental meditation on the map. They stayed for a relatively short amount of time, Ringo left after 10 days, Paul after a month and George and John a couple of weeks later than that but the influence was there and the ruins of the ashram are now known as The Beatles Ashram.

It’s an official tourist destination run by a local wildlife reserve and there is something charming about the tumble down buildings and the paintings adorning their walls. There’s not a huge amount to see or do apart from wander and explore but it’s different scenery and really quiet compared to wandering through the markets.

The Nature

There are two things you are guaranteed to see in Rishikesh – monkeys and cows. There are two main species of monkey, the macaques and the grey langurs. Both deserve to be given a little bit of space as they’re curious and definitely not shy in coming forward! A tiny bit of advice, try not to obviously carry food with you and definitely don’t eat while crossing the bridges. Those bridge monkeys are wily and wise and will definitely have your snack before you know it!

Anyone who has travelled through India will tell you how quickly you get used to cows just being around and Rishikesh is no different. Wherever you are you won’t be far from a cow, whether it’s going for a walk itself, eating some marigolds from a shrine or backing quickly out of a shop followed by an irate shop owner! They’re always there and I find it a little odd when I come home and I’m not surrounded by them anymore.

It’s not just the monkeys and cows though, on this visit I was also on the look for what else I could find and came across a whole variety of birds including this little dude with a quiff!

The Food

We all know eating out in India can be a little hit and miss so I thought I’d list the places I have always had good food in and have had no repurcussions (if you know what I mean…)

Obviously the usual caveats apply. Drink bottled water. Be really careful with and often avoid salad.

Little Buddha Cafe – Situated in the market area on the south side of the river this restaurant is above shops and has a lovely view across the Ganges. It serves food from around the world but when I’m a little sick of dahl this is my go to place for flat bread and baba ganoush

Tat Cafe – On the winding staircase through the market in Tapovan there a lot of little cafe’s but this is hands down my favourite. The view is lovely, suspended over the river, plenty of seating and the food delicious. On my most recent visit I had the most delicious paneer butter masala over looking the twinkling lights in the evening

Riverside Chai – I don’t know the exact name of this cafe as it is little more than a hut and few plastic chairs but it is one of the best chai’s I have ever tasted. In Tapovan if you head down to the river past the German Bakery and above the Sri Sathya Sai Ghaat you will find it and be able to sit with a chai gazing at the river.

Ira’s Kitchen & Tea Room – Also in Tapovan this family run tea room is so friendly and the cake is fresh and delicious.

Cafe Moktan aka the best cake shop – This tiny bakery looks a little bit dubious on the approach as it is literally a room in a wall which seems to be being run by teenage boys but do try it. Located on a little path near the Hotel Aviral Ganga in Tapovan they have the best carrot and ginger sponge cake which is so light.

Jain Spice Shop – not a cafe or restaurant but a great spice shop if you’re looking to bring some spices home. All freshly ground and blended there are blends available for every dish you can think of.

Further Afield

Rishikesh, for me, is primarily a place to go slow, to wander, to read, to centre myself in my practice but sometimes a little adventure further afield is necessary. On my last visit I walked to the Neer Garth waterfall but this time we decided to head to the Maa Kunjapuri Devi Temple about a 45 minute drive away. This temple is sat right on top of a mountain and has the most breathatking views of the foothills of the Himalayas and on a clear day all the way to where the properly big mountains start. We luckily just got there as dusk was falling as we had a delayed journey due to a landslide! It was totally magical and I really recommend it as a trip if you’re in Rishikesh.

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