Until about a decade ago, Rishikesh was just a small hill town nestled on the foothills of the Shivalik Range, best known for camping and river rafting opportunities it offered to youngsters and corporate employees of New Delhi and surrounding areas. But, it changed. It is quite difficult to say exactly when the sudden shift took event, but it is safe to say that much credit goes to the increasing popularity of Yoga in the area. So much so, that it is also known as the ‘world capital of yoga’.
Now, it would be unfair to compare the old and the new canvas, but if you are planning your first trip to the magical, mystical spiritual town of Rishikesh, this is what you can expect:
Yoga Schools – lots and lots of them
Around 5,000 years ago, Yoga was discovered in northern India, that was the Indus Sarasvati civilization at the time. It’s quite difficult to quote an exact spot but after all those years, Rishikesh has come to be known as ‘yoga capital of the world’. Keeping up with that recognition, the small town in swarming with yoga schools of all kinds, wherever your feet goes. There are traditional ashrams, contemporary certified yoga schools, drop-in classes, yogic cafes, and even yoga camps. If time is on your side, it may be good idea to indulge in a retreat program with one of the popular associations here – after all, its only about a few postures and mindful breathing.
Sages and Sadhus
It is fair to say that other than Varanasi and perhaps Pushkar (during Kumbh Mela), Rishikesh is the only other city in India which is all covered with the colour saffron and fragrance of incense sticks in the air. While most of these self-proclaimed sages can’t be trusted much, there are some, like the baba at the Mouni Baba Cave who are not only popular but have a huge following. Sadhus are simple looking bearded men with rugged features, saffron attire, and a peaceful expression plastered on the face. You would find a lot of them by the banks of River Ganges and around temples. (Psst! They are almost always up for a few photos, if you are into photography.)
Bookstores and Juice Cafes
Practicing a transcendent lifestyle is not only about adapting to the practices of minimalist living, it requires a lot of reading – mostly philosophies and biographies of great men and women in history who have travelled the world learning and exploring the life of yoga and spirituality. The bookstores around Laxman Jhula are quite famous and have a huge stock if you are a bibliophile. Try the one adjacent to the German bakery.
Fresh, Vegetarian Food (and Momos)
The location of Rishikesh amongst the foothills of the Shivalik range and lush green surroundings allow for a daily fresh produce of fruits and vegetables brought into the city by restaurant owners and street vendors. Travellers who spend a bit of time here can definitely name one or two eateries as their favourite and it won’t be long before you have developed feelings for a specific eating joint too.
Fair warning: The usual time between your order and the food delivered to your table ranges between 20-40 minutes. It is because most restaurants prepare their foo fresh. But, the quality and taste of food will almost always be worth the wait.
Waterfalls and Hiking Trails
It is obvious for a city surrounded by hills and mountains to offer splendid opportunities for hikes and treks and thus, true to its nature, Rishikesh provides you with ample choices. Additionally, the state of Uttarakhand (which is where Rishikesh is) happened to be one of the few states in India that is referred to as a ‘paradise’ for outdoor lovers. Mesmerizing waterfalls, simple to rigorously challenging trails, mountain camps, rock climbing, bungee jumping, and most famously river rafting– this quintessential town can offer you all of that and much more.
Now that you know what to expect out of Rishikesh, and we are most certain that at least one, if not all of the above-mentioned factors, have intrigued your interest, start planning your trip to the ‘Land of Gods’ – and don’t worry if you have no travel companion, go for it on your own and you never know when you may end up discovering your innerself. Happy travelling!