ALRIGHT, you all want to get all spiritual in India. I know this because you e-mail me about it.
There are stories galore about the Beatles in Rishikesh, because along with some other serious celebrities, they helped bring Transcending Meditation (TM) to the West. Some were actually only there a couple weeks and were scared away by bugs. But ever since, Rishikesh has been the place in India people flock to to “find themselves” and for good reason.
lots of monkeys
I headed here right after my killer time in McLeod Ganj. I LOVED it.
So, what’s Rishikesh all about?
- Named after Lord Vishnu, it’s a pilgrimage for Hindu’s (and a playground for western hippies)
- The birthplace and capital of YOGA
- A major stopping point for Europeans along the infamous “Hippie Trail” in the 1960’s
- Where the Beatles spent the late 1960’s writing 48 songs, mostly on the White Album at the now famous ashram of Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh. They used psychedelic drugs during their six weeks of transcending meditation, although they announced publicly they were giving up drugs. Many famous people were there at that time. Dear Prudence was written about Prudence Farrow, about trying to get her out of his intense meditation “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out and play?”. Lennon brought his wife, but walked to the post office every day checking for telegrams from Yoko Ono. They left after finding out Maharishi made a pass a Mia Farrow on multiple occasions. He also asked the Beatles to put 25% of their next album profit into his Swiss bank account. Luckily Lennon could see through that and wrote Sexy Sadie about Maharishi. Later, they all made up.
- The place where you can get in the clean, cold Ganges, and therefore one step closer to moksha (or enlightenment). You can also raft it, because, why not?
- An absolute ABUNDANCE of ashrams to choose from.
- Yoga all day, every day. Learn to teach it if you want like Ashley Abroad did here.
- Get Healed! Crystal therapy, reflexology, light-healing therapy, massages…
- Where you’ll see the new-age travelers sitting on the Ganges playing their sitars or doing yoga outside on the Ganga like these guys (who are a little hard to see) below
- Sadhus (Holy men) invite you to chill with them for the day.
- Laughing therapy! Really. It’s called Hasya yoga.
- End your day with the Ganga Aarti. Listen to the holy man, His Highness, sing and place a lit diya in the river. Actually, this ceremony is performed at dusk in Haridwar and Varanasi as well. The tiny candles on leaves that float down the river are a gift to the goddess Maa River, the goddess of the Ganges. The ritual in Rishikesh is the more spiritual and relexed of all places, and is held at Parmath Niketan Ashram directly on the stairs to the river across from the giant Shiva statue. The people at that ashram lead the night’s songs with the head of the Ashram singing into a microphone. These helpers of his are mostly western women (at least when I was there) and they are SERIOUS about it. I mean, I couldn’t even focus on what what happening because watching them was like they were in a trance. To be honest, they seemed a little too over the top…Details: Arrive early before sunset, keep your shoes with security, pay for a diya full of flowers from a cute kiddo on the street, and remember to bring matches. It will go on rain or shine.
- Meditate with the pro’s while they gong their bells and make their bowls sing!
- Eat veggie… it’s your only option & enjoy the families that are there on pilgrimage. Be respectful because this isn’t just a place to take acid and become seriously enlightened like John Lennon, but this is a place that is imbedded deep into Hinduism and is important to the local’s religion. I’ve explained how some drugs are okay in their culture, like bhang lassi & general smoking of hash, but there’s a fine line of what’s okay and what’s not in India. Use common sense people!
So, is it your next Dream Destination? Duh.
Sound like somewhere you want to go? Of course you do! It’s incredible.
Is it like it was for the Beatles? Not even close. It’s crowded, full of sham places, and a little overpriced at many ashrams and yoga shops (that you won’t even be able to tell if they are legitimate or not). The shopping is fairly lame but the streets have no car horns because cars aren’t allowed! Half the people are serious about spirituality, and half are either faking or just there out of curiosity.
You can rock up with no plans, like I did, and stay at whatever ashram you can afford, or you can plan ahead of time and get the most of your experience. I definitely want a re-do. My spirituality was on already on E even after being filled up to high and exploding due to so much soul-searching in Udaipur, hanging with the Dalai Lama, becoming a masseuse, and getting into the Buddhist lifestyle with the monks and Tibetans in Mcleod Ganj.
By the time I plopped down on my hard-ass bed in Rishikesh, I thought, “I don’t want to do yoga, I don’t want to wake up at 5 and I definitely don’t want to be told what to eat”.
But, when traveling, you have to remind yourself you can sleep when you’re dead. Go big or go home.
So, I booked my stay at an ashram
I had my ashram experience (see here for post on details and costs) which included early morning wake ups, intense yoga all day, practicing massage on the Ganges riverbanks with Chloe, and being yelled at by a tiny little Indian man to suck in my belly and point my “feets” to the sky during a 3-minute head stand.
Important Details for Rishikesh
Rishikesh is in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, surrounded by forest with the flowing Ganga racing through.
Rishikesh is 25 km North of Haridwar (this is probably where your bus ticket will be to). You’ll take a local bus or rickshaw up to Rishikesh (and hitchhike back down when it’st time to leave, like we did).
No one stays in Rishikesh city center. From there, you’ll go 2 km north to Shivananda Nagar or Swarg Ashram (a small section on the Eastern bank is the “spiritual center”).
Head to suspension bridges, Ram Jhula & Lakshman Jhula. The bridges over the Ganges are pedestrians only, so you better be able to carry your backpack for a while! The two jhules lead to the “temple sections”. This is where most backpackers stay.
Across RAM jhula it is LESS touristy, but more busy and crowded, than across LAKSHMAN jhula.
When to go? October to March
Sleeping: We stayed one night up in the High Banks at New Bhandari Swiss Cottage. I don’t recommend it. They guy did not pick us up at the bus stop as we pre-arranged and was actually really rude. It was a 45 minute walk to Ram Jhula where we found our ashram to finish out our stay in Rishikesh. I actually don’t recommend the High Bank area at all.
Need Wi-Fi? Only place we found with it was Hotel Nirvana Palace. But the service was… questionable.
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