As soon as we stepped off the bus at 3AM, we felt like we were in a whole new country. The air was freezing and clean, but it was a very welcome break from the heavy smog and dust of New Delhi. During our time in Rishikesh (India), we saw our first Indian sunset over the Ganga River; ate fresh fruit for breakfast every day; wrapped ourselves in blankets and sat drinking chai tea on the rooftop of our hostel; and met some of the most beautiful people. It’s the true backpacker heart of India; away from the hustle and bustle of the cities below, its tranquillity and generosity leaves most who visit the Himalayan city staying far longer than they expected.
1. Spirituality is a way of life in Rishikesh
It may be a cliché, but Rishikesh truly is a place like no other. You’ll meet all sorts of interesting people just walking round, from crystal healers to laughter therapists, and even the regular locals have a special, otherworldly vibe about them. One evening on our way back to our hostel, we stumbled across crowds of people dancing to a band playing on the water’s edge as the sun was setting behind them. It’s such a contrast to the majority of India; so calm and friendly in a different way. Slow moving and laid back, it’s spiritual, but not just in the traditional sense of the word. No matter who or what you believe in, and even if you’re not spiritual in the slightest, you’ll still feel the magic of the place.
2. The Ganges is so clean you can swim in it
Flowing down through the Himalayas, the Ganga River here is a very different sight compared to further South. It’s clear and blue and beautiful, clean enough to swim and even bathe in. White water rafting is one of the most popular activities in Rishikesh, and at only a couple of hundred rupees, it definitely shouldn’t be missed. I’d suggest booking to go around 3PM so you get to see the sun starting to set as you’re jumping off the cliffs and drinking 10 rupees chai tea before your last rapid. By far the best and most magical thing we did whilst in India; really, words can’t even come close to describing it. If you head back into town along the banks of the Ganges afterwards, you’ll also get to witness Ghat rituals at sunset.
3. Yoga is like a religion in India
The yoga capital of India certainly lives up to its name. Everywhere you go you’ll see adverts for classes, especially in the morning, and if I wasn’t so ridiculously inflexible you can bet I’d have been there every day. If you’re a real yoga lover, book yourself into the Parmarth Niketan Ashram for a few nights and attend as many classes as your heart desires. Or if you’re like me and prefer to sit back and appreciate the beauty of it, take a trip up to the Beatles ashram! They were still doing it up whilst we were there but it’s now open to the public for a small entrance fee. Take a walk around the grounds admiring the murals that have been painted on the walls and simply enjoy the sheer tranquility of the place.
4. The sunsets in Rishikesh are intense
The air is clear of smog, it’s situated in the Himalayas and the sky reflects over the river. What more could you want from a sunset?! We’d grab some chai tea and head to the river banks to watch the sun go down most evenings, or you can watch from one of the restaurants overlooking the river. You could even do as we did and watch it go down whilst white water rafting! Wherever you are, sunsets in Rishikesh are unforgettable.
5. Rishikesh is a foodie paradise
The food we had here was vastly different to what we ate in other parts of the country. Breakfast consisted of sitting in one of the cafés on the edge of the river drinking fresh watermelon juice and eating bowls of fruit (everything’s washed with filtered water here & you can even ask to watch if you’re unsure). Head out of town to find restaurants on stilts hidden between the trees for lunch; think guacamole with chips and iced coffee! And, it wouldn’t be right to not finish the day with Indian street food. Check out the stalls by the end of the Laxman Jhula bridge on the east side and the nearby restaurants for authentic and beautiful dishes. Sit on the side of the road and join in with the locals or take it back to the rooftop of your hostel.
6. Rishikesh is jam-packed with secret beaches
Perhaps Rishikesh’s best kept secret as you’ll need to rent a scooter and head down little paths to access these, but all the way along the banks of the Ganges are gorgeous secluded beaches! Grab some friends, some food and your helmets and head off on a mini adventure, spending the day sat in the sand with your toes in the water’s edge — just watch out for the currents!
7. The happy people of Rishikesh
There’s something incredibly special about Rishikesh, and the people there are undoubtedly a major part of that. We stopped by a small art shop on our way down to the bridge one evening just to quickly look around, and stayed for nearly an hour. Every day after we stopped by at least twice a day to drink chai and chat with the owner, Ajay. Never have I met such a positive, beautiful little bundle of sunshine. He welcomed us with open arms every morning, invited us over for dinner and made us all want to be a little more like him. And he wasn’t the only one. It’s worlds away from the streets of cities like Delhi and Jaipur; the locals aren’t constantly pushing you into their shops, or calling out to you as you walk past, and there’s no feeling of discomfort. From the hostel staff to those we met whilst white water rafting, everyone is so open and welcoming. When you’re in Rishikesh, it’s pretty hard to be anything other than ridiculously happy.
8. The local shops are a treasure trove of handmade goodies
Probably every third thing I saw in India, I was tempted to buy, but the stalls in Rishikesh? They’re something else. Rows of shops selling gorgeous jewellery handmade by Tibetan refugees, traditional Madhubani artwork, fabric journals, sequined tapestries and cushion covers and so much more. Definitely leave some extra space in your backpack and a whole day to walk around. Chat to all the owners, find out about their products, buy them chai tea (if they don’t get there first) and marvel at their skill and craftsmanship.
10. The Himalayas are all around you
No matter what direction you turn, you’ll always see the Himalayas out of the corner of your eye, and boy, what a sight they are. Set aside an hour or two, take a small hike up to some of the waterfalls and look out to the rolling green mountains surrounding you. It’s not the India you typically see in pictures, bustling with people or the white sand beaches of Goa, but it’s right at the heart of it all. The calm before the storm. Where it all begins. Even just crossing the bridge you’re in the middle of the mountains, standing over the Ganges. It’s the centre of everything.
India as a whole is an incredibly special place to me, it’s somewhere I constantly yearn to be, and Rishikesh is at the very heart of that. Nowhere has ever made me feel so alive, so content, so at home as Rishikesh did. It’s beauty, it’s people and it’s spirit make it what it is. If it was up to me, I’d never have left.
So what are you waiting for? Book an awesome hostel in Rishikesh now!
About the author
Emma and Georgia are two globetrotting teens, who met whilst volunteering in India and have travelled the world together ever since. Follow their adventures at @ourbroketravels.