Tucked away in the lower Himalayas of India, Rishikesh is a town situated on both sides of the river Ganges, or Ganga, surrounded by hills on three sides. Known as the “yoga capital of the world,” this quaint town is home to hundreds of meditation and yoga ashrams. It’s a sought-after destination filled with temples, hermitages, and the consistent rhythm of chantings, and both Indians and foreign nationals tend to visit Rishikesh on their quest for spirituality. Being a holy town, serving alcohol or meat is banned in Rishikesh, so restaurants here only offer vegetarian food. Due to the influx of tourists, most restaurants now have vegan options too.
Rishikesh is among the top holy places for the Hindus in India and the word “Rishikesh” itself means “the hair of the sage.” It’s the entrance to the four famous pilgrimage sites of the higher Himalayas, and its particular geography makes it easy to access the remote valleys and mountains in the area. The best time to visit Rishikesh is between February and April; and from September to November, when the weather is usually pleasant. It is better avoided in the monsoon months of July to August, and winter months between December to January, when the weather is extremely cold. Just 250 kilometers from the capital of Delhi, you can expect to see city dwellers hanging out here during their weekend getaways.
Due to the growing number of tourists from all across the world, the town not only has an international feel but is also becoming a top travel destination for digital nomads, as well as adventure-seekers looking for white water rafting, kayaking, and hiking. It may be a small city, but it has a big personality and nothing in Rishikesh is too far away. You can always walk or rent a scooter to get around and find the best places to eat, work, and meditate.
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Spread across a large area starting from the main Badrinath Road to far up to the last waterfall on the left, the upper Tapovan is famous among travelers who, over the years, have formed communities to barter food and share knowledge. Places like Devi Music Ashram hold weekly musical evenings for Sitar and Tabla for those who wish to acquaint themselves with Indian Classical music and Secret Garden offers various teachings such as healing and mantra chanting sessions. Up the road, you can unwind and cool down in one of the three waterfalls that can be reached from this long stretch of road. They are just a short hike away from many guest houses, so try to visit on a weekday when things are quieter with fewer weekend travelers.
The area is most sought after among tourists young and old. One can stay at Ira’s Kitchen for around 18,000 rupees or $225 USD a month, in one of its eight big-sized rooms for long-stay travelers equipped with refrigerators, good WiFi, and a beautiful garden cafe that offers a mix of Indian and western cuisine. The owner, Gautami, and her lovely daughter, Ira, give this place a very home-like feeling. All the staff and the guests make one little family, eating together on most nights. One can also stay at the Nishant Garden at a lower rate of around $150 USD a month, which houses the famous secret garden cafe run by an Indian-Austrian couple. Nishant Garden is popular among western tourists and offers a quiet stay among nature, away from the otherwise hustle-bustle of the town. The cafe and the surrounding lawns offer a perfect place for remote workers, who like to work out in the open.
As you enter Rishikesh via the Badrinath Road, the one-kilometer area from the main road to the River Ganges on the right forms the lower Tapovan. All the roads in lower Tapovan lead to the river, which is the main attraction in Rishikesh. Here, you can expect many guesthouses, small hotels, a few shops, and a small market—plus the general stores on the main road where you can buy all kinds of groceries. Above this is Tattva Restaurant, a good spot to work and eat while looking out at the hustle-bustle of the main road. The windows are big, the staff is polite, and it has high-speed internet.
A little down towards the Laxman Jhula, a suspension bridge on the River Ganges, you’ll find the Sweven Hotel which is run by a young couple from Delhi. Sweven offers everything one looks for in Rishikesh: a perfect cafe on the ground floor with good WiFi and board games; clean, spacious, and reasonable rooms; and a glass-walled terrace with a lovely view of the river. The couple, Manish and Saumya, also organize book reading sessions, yoga classes, and movie screenings on weekends.On a free day, one can also plan to visit the nearby Vashisht cave in the Shivpuri area situated 20 kilometers from Rishikesh. Revered by spiritual seekers, the cave was once known to have been occupied by Sage Vashisht, one of the first sages of Hinduism.
Beyond the Laxman Jhula Bridge, on the other side of the river, lies a busy street with a market and a large number of budget hotels and guesthouses. Just like lower Tapovan, this Laxman Jhula area is situated right on the banks of the river Ganges and attracts both Indian and foreign tourists alike.
With popular cafes like Little Buddha Cafe and Freedom Cafe, the area buzzes with both weekenders and long-stay travelers. There is plenty to do here, from perusing the bookshops like Banyan Tree to the Ayurvedic organic shops, where you can get your herbal teas, organic honey, and homemade pickles, and shops selling Tibetan goods like incense, good luck charms, and silver jewelry. To get some work done, there’s a German Bakery called Pumpernickel, which serves great coffee and a stunning sunset view of the Ganges.
Known for the oldest guest house in Rishikesh "Mama's Cottage", this lane towards the by-pass road has budget homestays overlooking the hills, with good WiFi. The cottage is named after the old lady who runs it. The “aunty”, as everyone calls her, is a warm person who prepares home-cooked Indian food for her guests. The rooms here costing $9/night or $120-150 a month are clean and spacious, and one gets access to a wide-open terrace surrounded by hills on all sides. Just before Mama’s Cottage is the Bhandari Swiss Cottage which offers clean, budget rooms with a restaurant that serves hygienically prepared good food and high-speed internet.
Away from the main tourist town, this area on a small dead-end street is lined with homestays, good cafes, and the Yoga Vidya Mandiram school on the far end. Bistro Nirvana here offers a wide range of food including Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Tibetan cuisines. With a stable internet connection, one can work from the restaurant while enjoying delicious food. From the bypass road, one can plan to visit Kunjapuri temple, which is one of the 52 goddess-focused (shakti-peeth) temples across the country. Situated on a hilltop around 26 kilometers from main Rishikesh, the temple is known for its sunrise and sunset views. It’s also possible to hike there from Rishikesh, which takes about six hours.
Rishikesh’s most-coveted area, Swargashram sits right on the Ganges and is packed with spiritual and yoga ashrams. It’s the best place to stay if you wouldn’t mind filling your free time with long lazy walks along the river. Lined up on the river bank, the area’s three most well-known ashrams are Swargashram, Geeta Bhawan, and Vanaprastha ashram. The famous evening Ganga prayers (Ganga Aarti) on the river, are offered here at the Parmarth Niketan ashram. You must also at some point pay a visit to the world-renowned Beatles Ashram, a short walk away from Parmarth Niketan. The small dome-shaped cottages here were once occupied by the world-famous band, who visited Rishikesh in 1968 to attend a meditation course.
You’ll find plenty of cafes here with western food menus and quiet places to work, but if you like mango samosas, the best place to go is The Office, which also serves health muesli bowls on a small balcony overlooking the river. The usually quiet cafe is run by a father-daughter duo and has some desks where one can work peacefully. You could also visit one of the many Ayurvedic massage centers here, the best being “Kalptaru Ayurvedshala”, where the masseuse Geeta customizes massage as per your body. Just behind Swargashram street is Jonk Village, where there is an unconventional vibe. Mostly foreigners live here long-term as the village offers lots of budget guesthouses, cafes that serve home-cooked Indian meals, and yoga ashrams.