Rishikesh (near Haridwar, in Uttarakhand state, 200 kilometers northeast of Delhi) is where the Beatles went to learn about yoga and eastern religion. Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges, it is filled with holy men, temples, dharamsalas (religious institutions honoring saints and sages) and ashrams (lodging houses for pilgrims who come to study yoga and other disciplines). The town is named after a holy man named Rishi Rainhya who was said to have had an audience with God after serving many years of penance.

Rishikesh is not far from where the Ganges breaks out the mountains and enters the Ganges Plain. Rishikesh is also a starting point for pilgrimages to the Himalayan shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Barinanth and a center for white water rafting on the Bhilanga, Aknanda and Deopayag rivers.

Rishikesh is the home of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat. Many tourists come see where the Beatles studied meditation but many also come to study yoga and meditation themselves. Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is located on a 1650-meter (5,000-foot) hill about eight kilometers (five miles) from town. This is a popular hiking destination. Other Places of Interest in Rishikesh include the interesting Laman Jhoola on the banks of the Ganges, Bharat Temple, Triveni Ghat, Pushkar Temple, Shartrughna Temple, Barrage Pushulok and the Antibiotics Project.

Rishikesh is one of the most sacred cities in northern India and has traditionally been a home to sages and yoga practitioners. Pilgrims throng to the ghats (stepped banks of a river) and temples. In recent times, it has also become a center point of adventure sports, offering activities like white water rafting, bungee jumping, canoeing and others. Often called the yoga capital of the world, the tranquil forested slopes on the city’s outskirts are dotted with ashrams (places of spirituality and meditation), yoga institutes and luxurious spa resorts. The city sees a flurry of activity during February-March, as it plays host to dignitaries and yoga enthusiasts who come to take part in the International Yoga Week, organised by the State Tourism Department. Rishikesh is also known for its highly-esteemed yoga schools and Ayurveda medicine institutes.

There are many legends regarding the great Hindu saint Raibhya Rishi and his prolonged period penance on the banks of the Ganges. It is said that as a reward for his penance, Lord Vishnu appeared to him in his incarnation of Lord Hrishikesh. Another legend says that Lakshmana, the brother of Lord Rama, crossed the Ganges river here on a bridge he built with jute ropes. It is said the Lakshman Jhula, a famous attraction, stands at the same spot. The city is also the starting point of treks to several Himalayan pilgrimage centers such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.

Getting There: By Air: Jolly Grant Airport is the nearest airport to Rishikesh, situated at a distance of 30 kilometers. Taxis are easily available from Jolly Grant Airport to Rishikesh. Jolly Grant Airport is well connected to Delhi with daily flights. By Road: Rishikesh is well connected by reasonably good roads with major towns in Uttarakhand and other northern states of India. Luxurious and regular buses to Rishikesh are easily available from Delhi, which is 228 kilometers away. It is 18 kilometers away from the sacred town of Haridwar. By Train: Rishikesh is well connected by railway networks with major destinations of India. Trains to Rishikesh Railway station are frequent.


ruined meditation huts at the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram built after The Beatles were there

Rishikesh is in Uttarakhand, a relatively newly-formed state comprised of two regions — the 1) Garhwal Hills, with peaks over 3,000 meters, ski slopes with a 900 meter drop, and treks to the hill station of Mussoorie and the holy cities of Hardwar and Rishikesh; 2) and the Kumaon Hills, with many ancient temples and peaks that challenge the most able mountaineers. Among the destinations are Nainital, Panikhet, Almora, Kausani, and Pithoragarh. State Tourism Website : uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

Uttarakhand state covers square 53,483 kilometers (20,650 square miles), is home to about 10 million people and has a population density of 189 people per square kilometer. About 70 percent of the population live in rural areas. Dehradun is the winter capital and largest city, with about 580,000 people. Gairsain is the summer capital, with about 7,200 people. The highest elevation is 7,816 meter (25,643 foot) Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain in India after Kangchenjunga and the 23rd-highest peak in the world.

Uttarakhand is crossed by the Himalayas and is known for its Hindu pilgrimage sites. Rishikesh, a major center for the study of mediation and yoga, was made famous by the Beatles’ 1968 visit. The city hosts the evening Ganga Aarti, a spiritual gathering on the sacred Ganges River. The state's forested Jim Corbett National Park shelters Bengal tigers and other native wildlife. In the Kheri District, tall green stands of sugar cane alternate with fields of wheat and mustard, perfect tiger habitat that has resulted in many villagees being killed by tigers.

The Beatles at the Rishikesh Ashram

Rishikesh is where the Beatles went to learn about yoga and eastern religion. Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges, it is filled with holy men, temples, dharamsalas (religious institutions honoring saints and sages) and ashrams (lodging houses for pilgrims who come to study yoga and other disciplines). Named after a holy man named Rishi Rainhya who was said to have had an audience with God after serving many years of penance.

Rishikesh is not far from where the Ganges breaks out the mountains and enters the Ganges Plain. Rishikesh is also a starting point for pilgrimages to the Himalayan shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Barinanth. Rishikesh was the home of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat. Many tourists come today to pay tribute to the Beatles. People from all over the world come to study yoga and meditation in Rishikesh.

According to The Beatle Bible website: “ The Maharishi's Academy of Transcendental Meditation in Rishikesh was situated in a guarded compound in the foothills of the Himalayas, 150 feet above the River Ganges, and was surrounded by mountainous jungles on the other three sides. The compound was reached by a suspension bridge which featured a sign declaring 'No camels or elephants', though a ferryboat was the common way of crossing the river. Although The Beatles' presence was much publicised by the world's media, they were part of a much bigger group of fellow meditation students. [Source: beatlesbible.com ^]

Pattie Boyd wrote in her autobiography “Wonderful Today”: “There were probably about sixty of us at the ashram, an interesting collection of people from across the world - Sweden, Britain, America, Germany, Denmark - and everyone was so nice. Despite that, we felt cut off from the rest of the world so it was always exciting when letters came in the post - my mother wrote regularly with news of home - or when others joined us. One of the newcomers was Donovan, with his manager, 'Gipsy Dave'. We had known Donovan for some years. He and the Beatles had recorded together, and he'd contributed to the Yellow Submarine album [sic]. He had fallen in love with Jenny [Boyd] - for whom he wrote Jennifer Juniper. Mike Love, lead singer of the Beach Boys, also turned up, as did the actress Mia Farrow, with her brother Johnny and sister Prudence.” [Source: “Wonderful Today: The Autobiography of Pattie Boyd”, Headline Review, 2007 ^]

sign in Rishikesh

Temples and Bridges in Rishikesh

Ram Jhula is a suspension bridge that crosses the Ganges built in 1986. An iconic landmark in Rishikesh, it is a few kilometers downstream from the popular Lakshman Jhula. The bridge spans 230 meters (750 feet) and is a splendid work of engineering that connects the ashrams situated on both sides of the river. It offers a splendid view of the mighty Ganges where it spills out of the mountains and dense forests of the Himalayas.

The bridge was constructed after Lakshmana (Laxman) Jhula and is quite similar to it in design and steel structure. While walking across the bridge, one can enjoy the picturesque view of the surrounding mountains and feel the gentle breeze on the face. The sounds of River Ganga gushing underneath add to the charm of the environment. There are markets on either side of the bridge selling books on religion and spirituality, incense sticks, idols of gods and goddesses and other knick-knacks. One should not forget to savour the local sweets.

Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is known as Neelkanth, literally meaning the blue-throated one, the temple is a much-visited spot in Rishikesh. It stands at a height of 926 meters on top of a hill across the Ganges and boasts a beautiful architecture. According to Hindu mythology, the place where the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple currently stands is the sacred location where Lord Shiva consumed the poison that originated from the sea, when gods and demons churned the ocean in order to obtain nectar. This poison that emanated during the samudramanthan (churning of the ocean) turned his throat blue. From then on, Lord Shiva began to be worshipped as Neelkanth.

The entrance door of the temple has the event of samudramanthan, between the gods and the demons, sculpted on it, while the walls depict the whole story. Devotees come here to worship a lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva) that lies in the inner complex, and to bathe in the waters of a natural spring, situated within the premises. The temple is a three-hour walk along a forest path from Swarg Ashram.

Yoga, Meditation and Ritual Bathing in Rishikesh

Rishikesh is known all over the world as a yoga and meditation destination and hosts a number of ashrams, which are ideal spots to learn and practice yoga. The International Yoga Festival is also held in Rishikesh, from March 1 to March 7, attracting people from around the globe. Among the many famous yoga ashrams here are Parmarth Niketan, where the International Yoga Festival has been held; Sivananda Ashram also known as Divine Life Society, which provides education on yoga, Hinduism and Vedanta; Omkarananda Ganga Sadan, where one can get knowledge of spiritual, cultural, educational, scientific and social fields, apart from practising yoga.

Ganga Arti is a ritual of worshipping River Ganga that is held on a grand scale in the city. Lots of people are in attendance during the arti which takes places every evening. Visitors can take part in the ritual and soak in the spiritual vibes along with enjoying the view of a hundred lit diyas (earthen lamps) floating on the river. Parmarth Niketan Ashram is the most famous venue of Ganga arti. It is led and organised by a Vedic priest and starts with the chanting of mantras and singing of bhajans (devotional songs). Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh is a spot that is famous for the Ganga arti, called 'Maha arti'. The ghat is lit up every evening at the time of arti.

Triveni Ghat is situated at the confluence of three sacred rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati (that legends say once flowed here), Triveni Ghat is the most popular bathing ghat in Rishikesh. Before visiting the various temples, most pilgrims take a holy dip here. At dawn, the ghat is bustling with devotees offering prayers and bathing in the river, which according to Hindu mythology, washes away the sins of a person.

Evenings are stunning, with the spectacular arti (a ritual in which lamps are lit and prayers are offered to the river) called the 'Maha arti' being carried out at the ghat. This is accompanied by prayers and chantings. A multitude of lamps floating in the river during the arti present a spectacular view, leaving one in awe of the time-honoured traditions. There is a popular legend attached to Triveni Ghat and it is said that Lord Krishna visited this spot when he was hurt by an arrow shot by a hunter. On either side of Triveni Ghat, popular temples of Gita Mandir and Lakshminarayan are situated. Ceremonies of 'Pinda Shraddha' done for ancestors are also carried out here.

Trying to Chill at a Rishikesh Area Yoga-Ayurvedic Spa

Reporting from Ananda Spa in Narendra Nagar, near Rishikesh in northern India, Amanda Jones wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Iam a dharma disaster, a chakra calamity. I cannot meditate. My inner hamster is a maniac, and my legs refuse to cross for that long. So when the saried woman with the serene kohled eyes tells me that I have a private meditation session scheduled, I inform her that I would prefer another herbal bundle massage — my third for the week. She laughs. "You are a vata dosha," she says in her lilting Indian accent. "We know you do not like sitting still. This is a lying-down meditation. Your job is only to be guided by the instructor's voice and remain in the state between sleep and wakefulness." This I think I can do. [Source: Amanda Jones, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2013 ^^^]

“Iam in the foothills of the Himalayas in India's northern Uttarakhand state at the remote Ananda Spa. Ananda is a retreat based on ayurvedic medicine, therapies and cuisine, as well as various styles of meditation and yoga. It has been voted the world's best destination spa several times by readers of Condé Nast Traveler and won favor with the celeb set the world over. But I'm the least likely person to come here, which is why I need it, according to my friend Susan Burks, who decades ago lived in ashrams and consulted gurus and has accompanied me here. ^^^

“Ananda is perched 11 miles above the holy town of Rishikesh, apparently the birthplace of yoga and the town in which the Beatles famously spent time dressed in kurta pajamas studying transcendental meditation and writing music. After a 45-minute plane ride from Delhi and a one-hour drive from the Dehradun airport, through Rishikesh, over the rushing waters of the Ganges River and up through the forests, we arrived at the 4,500-foot elevation and Ananda in the Himalayas. Outside, a phalanx of beautifully turbaned staff greeted us with namaskar. ^^^

“I'll admit to a flash of disappointment when we pulled into the driveway. The Narendra Palace, the grounds of which host the spa, looked dilapidated and abandoned. The spa's reception area, in the viceroy's mansion behind the palace, was a throwback to 1930s Raj, almost shabby when my expectation was the wow of the world's best spa. My room in the guest building down the hill, although comfortable and elegant with a 180-degree view of the Ganges, was simple by design. (There are, however, five luxury suites and three private multiroom villas available.) A week later I was ashamed of my superficial original impressions. Ananda is not about materialism. It is a spiritual and physical retreat, a place to be nurtured and reminded that balance, gratitude and wellness are tantamount. It's not about the design of the sofa but about how at peace you are while sitting on it. ^^^

Treatment at a Rishikesh Area Yoga-Ayurvedic Spa

On her regimen at Ananda Spa, Jones wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Ananda has some sort of crazy magic like no other place I've been. Before arriving, I received a questionnaire with program options: ayurvedic rejuvenation, weight management, detox, yogic or stress management. I chose the ayurvedic, imagining it would involve prone positions and warm oil treatments. Before the warm oil flowed, however, I was required to consult the resident ayurvedic doctor, trained in the many-thousand-year-old art of Indian natural medicine using herbal compounds, oils, special diets, meditation and exercise suited specifically to a body type. [Source: Amanda Jones, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2013 ^^^]

“Half an hour later, I left with my world rocked, categorized as a vata dosha, which dictated my physical and behavioral self. Reading the vata characteristics was uncanny — typically thin, not much muscle, dry skin, creative, cold hands and feet, restless, active, quick learner but forgets easily, insomniac tendencies, variable appetite, thrives on irregular routines, speaks quickly and gesticulates, becomes "spaced-out" frequently — and on it went, describing, well, me. ^^^

“Drifting through the marigold-decorated hallways of the calming 24,000-square-foot Ananda Spa, I was greeted by a glowing woman who handed me my daily schedule of treatments, sessions and optional classes. One of the beautiful things about Ananda is that the price (less than most American high-end spas) includes at least three treatments a day, and you can always add from the menu of more than 80 Eastern- and Western-style healings. They put together a spa program that they think is best for you and your dosha — vata, pitta or kapha — and recommend you stick to it, although you can switch. This is not a place of privation or austerity. If you really must eat the dessert, OK, eat it. If you really need that glass of wine, you can order it (go ahead, pollute your body, no judgment), and if you really don't want liquid ghee poured in your eyes, well, they won't make you.” ^^^

Food And Shopping in Rishikesh

Rishikesh in famous for its chocolate samosas. A samosa is a fried or baked dish that is filled with a savoury filling. However, Rishikesh is known for its oozing chocolate filling that gives samosa a sweet and rich flavor. It can be eaten both as a dessert and as a snack. Banana Curry is a fruity recipe that has the sweetness of banana and apple. An element of crunch is added with cashew nuts. Sprigs of coriander are used to garnish the dish.

Dal Makhani is an Indian favorite and this rich lentil curry has lots of cream. It is eaten with butter roti (Indian flatbread drenched in butter) and is a culinary indulgence one would be hard pressed to forget. Just like its non-vegetarian counterpart, butter chicken, dal makhani is a much-loved preparation and incidentally, both of these have been concocted by the same man. It is said that Kundan Lal Gujral, who is the founder of the Moti Mahal chain of restaurants, changed the way black lentil dal is made.

The turning point in the recipe came when Gujral mixed cream and tomatoes as a souring agent to the dal. This concept seems to have cropped up when Gujral needed to preserve leftover chicken. To do so, he decided to simmer it in a luscious gravy with cream, butter, tomatoes and spices to help retain the moisture. The same trick seems to have been applied to dal makhani as well.

Pasta Arrabiata tossed in spicy and tangy red sauce and garnished with a host of vegetables should be had piping hot while visiting the cool climes of Rishikesh. Moong Dal pancakes are a healthy protein-rich breakfast item that is made of Indian lentils. These pancakes are served with applesauce and rose milk and make for a sumptuous spread.

Rishikesh offers many opportunities for shoppers. At Swarg Ashram, one can find many bookshops and buy books on yoga, meditation, Vedanta etc. Moreover, one can get good bragains on Ayurvedic medicines, clothing, handicrafts and trinkets such as jewelry and Tibetan singing bowls. You can head to Lakshman Jhula for souvenir shopping. A must-buy is the rudraksh mala, a string of beads made from the nuts of the rudraksh tree, which is said to have originally grown where Lord Shiva shed a single tear, following a particularly long and satisfying period of meditation. These beaded garlands are said to bestow blessings on the wearer. The Ram Jhula is another popular spot to hit, where you can find a variety of local spices and handmade jewelry.

Trekking, Whitewater Rafting and Skiing in Rishikesh

Rishikesh is an adventure enthusiast's magnet. Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, it boasts many trekking trails that invite both experts and beginners. One can lavish in the lap of verdant landscapes while trekking and get mesmerising views of valleys and waterfalls. Many of these trails lead to popular pilgrimage places as well. October to March is the best time for hiking.

Rishikesh offers one of the most thrilling whitewater rafting opportunities in India. From challenging courses for professionals to beginners' experiences, there is a lot on offer here. There are several certified rafting operators, whose safety arrangements are well in place, and there are customised packages for camping and rafting as well. Rafting season is from mid-September to April. Rafting stretches in Rishikesh are of four types: Brahmpuri Rafting Season is a 9 kilometers basic stretch and mostly has grade II rapids; Shivpuri Rafting Season is a 16 kilometers stretch with grade III rapids; Marine Drive Rafting Season mostly invites thrill seekers and this 25-kilometer-long stretch has grade IV rapids; Kaudiyala Rafting Season is an advanced stretch and is not recommended for beginners as it has grade V rapids.

Kayaking is also done on the Ganges and other rivers in the Rishikesh area. The. River Ganga in Rishikesh offers a number of challenging rapids for good kayaking opportunities. Beginners can choose rapids that fit their skill and meet their comfort level. While kayaking, one an explore the Himalayan caves and the high mountain waterfalls along with the cooling waters of the Ganges.

Rishikesh is also an adventure sport hub of India. India's first fixed platform for bungee jumping is located at Mohan Chutti, a pristine location in the Shivalik range of the Himalayas about 20 kilometers by road from Rishikesh. There also great opportunities to engage in rock climbing and rappelling.

Auli (250 kilometers from Rishikesh) is a skiing site. It can be accessed by a 3.5-kilometer-long cable car ride in Joshimath. While travelling, one can get panoramic views of the Nanda Devi peak. Auli's 3,000-meter-high slopes have a drop of 500 meters, are ideal for skiing. January to April is the best time to ski.

Rajaji National Park

Rajaji National Park (20 kilometers south of Rishikesh) consists of three sanctuaries: Rajaji Sanctuary, Morichur Sanctuary and Chilla Sanctuary. In the forests and grasslands are tigers, elephants, leopards, sloth bears, striped hyenas, spotted deer, wild boar, barking deer and a variety of birds. The park was established in the year 1983 and is named after the famous freedom fighter Sri C Rajgopalachari, popularly called Rajaji.

Rajaji National Park is situated in the hills and foothills of Shivalik ranges in the Himalayan foothills. Spread over 820 square kilometers, it combines three sanctuaries, namely Chilla, Motichur and Rajaji. A special feature of the park is that it is the North Western Limit of Asian elephants and has the highest number of elephants in Uttarakhand. It comprises several zones and forest types like riverine forests, sal forests, board,leaved mixed forests, making it a good place for wildlife to flourish.

Among the many faunae one can spot here are leopards, deer, tigers and ghorals. The park is popular among birdwatchers as it is home to around 400 species of birds. Some of the famous birds one can spot here include gulls, mallards, pochards, teals, parakeets, thrushes, woodpeckers, kingfishers and shellducks. The Great Pied hornbill can also be found here.

Corbett National Park

Corbett National Park(80 kilometers southeast of Rishikesh, 163 kilometers from Dehradun) covers 520 square kilometers (200 square miles) and is one of India's most famous tiger and wildlife viewing areas. In the 1970s Corbett had an over-population of tigers; the animals began wandering outside the park boundaries and eating people. Now there are something like 215 tigers in the park, but people on safaris rarely see them; some complain they don't see many other animals either.

Located in the Patlidun valley at the base of the Himalayas, Corbett was established in 1936 as India's first national park. Situated on a former hunting reserve, the park is named after Jim Corbett, a famous big game hunter who turned conservationists. The park embraces large lakes, grasslands, marshy depressions, hills and riverine belts. The variety of vegetation makes Corbett an ideal habitat for tigers and other animals. It was also the first sanctuary to come under Project Tiger.

Corbett National Park is to 650 species of native and migratory birds, along with over 50 species of raptors, 33 species of reptiles, seven species of amphibians, seven species of fish and 36 species of dragonflies. Among the animals seen here are leopards, elephants, sloth bear, leopard cat, jungle cat, fishing cat, dhole, yellow-throated marten, Himalayan palm civet, mongoose, otter, porcupine, chital, sambar, barking deer, ghoral, wild boar, langur, grey lag goose, barheaded goose, great crested grebe, snipe, darter, commorant, egret, heron, black-necked stork, crested serpent eagle, kalij pheasant, red jungle fowl, owl, Ondian python, viper, cobra, krait, king cobra, gharial and mugger crocodile,

A wildlife safari are conducted in open jeeps and on the backs of elephants. Corbett is one of the few parks in the country that allow visitors to stay overnight in the park, The park is divided into five zones: 1) Birjani, the popular open grassland; 2) Jhirna, open throughout the year; 3) Dhela, a new eco-tourism zone; 4), Dhikala the largest zone of Corbett; and Durga Devi, which provides a good sighting of birds. ; Sitabani Buffer that doesn't fall under the Corbett Tiger Reserve area.

Kalagarh Tiger Reserve (near Corbett National Park) covers of 300 square kilometers (115 square miles) is home to a large population of tigers and is regarded as a relatively good place to spot one. Other wildlife that can be spotted here includes goral, sambar, barking deer, porcupine and hog deer. If you are lucky, you can spot a herd of elephants. There are more than 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles like the king cobra, crocodiles, rock pythons and monitor lizards, along with hundred types of plants and insects. The place also shelters many trees like sheesham, sal, haladu, bakli, semal, sal, bamboo, fig and sain as well as several medicinal plants. One can undertake a jungle safari to explore these riches of the forest. When Jim Corbett National Park was set up in 1974, its northern part was named as Kalagarh Tiger Reserve.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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