Known commonly as the “yoga capital of the world,” Rishikesh sits on the banks of the Ganges river surrounded by forested hills that lead up to the snow-shrouded Himalayas. Considering that it’s a quick flight from New Delhi, any spiritual seeker or outdoor adventurer should consider adding the town to their broader India itinerary. Here’s why:
1. It’s accessible. Rishikesh lies just 30 minutes from the closest airport, Dehradun, which itself is about a 40-minute flight from New Delhi. The town is divided into two main areas: downtown (where you’ll find the train and bus stations) and the riverside area, where most travelers tend to stay, as most of the ashrams, accommodation, and restaurants are there. This area is also where the two pedestrian bridges, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jula, are located. Be prepared, however, to share the traffic-filled roads with zooming motorcycles, scooters and, of course, cows.
2. It’s got ashrams galore. In the late 1960s, the Beatles hung out here at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While the ashram is now in ruins, there are plenty of places to meditate and do yoga. Start with a look at the Parmarth Niketan ashram, the biggest ashram in the area. Right on the banks of the Ganges, this 1,000-room ashram includes yoga classes and meals along with housing, which start on a donation basis of less than $10 per day, depending on the type of room, and the location. Or, choose the modern-style Sanskriti Yogpeeth, with 21 rooms and daily yoga classes, for approximately $400 per week.
3. Sunsets are a major event. Evening activities center on the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony, the sunset celebration and prayer for the day, which draws crowds that sit at the edge of the river and watch. It’s right in front of Parmarth Niketan, so if you stay there, you essentially have a front-row seat.
4. Daytrips are easy. If the noisy city wears thin, you can head to the hills for Ananda in the Himalayas (from $400 per night), a destination spa and wellness center with views of Rishikesh. Ananda is peaceful (except for the occasional outburst by the resident peacocks), and a packed schedule of yoga and wellness programs means you can spend your day relaxing. From Ananda, it’s a short hike to nearby Shri Kunjapuri Temple, where you can trek into the mountains, whitewater raft down the Ganges, or immerse yourself in local culture beyond the ashram. Just don’t forget to snap lots of photos of the blinding white Himalayas.