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. This is the main place people come to for yoga retreats and yoga teacher training. Click this link for information on YTT and this link for retreat information. These sites are the best out there to compare classes and rates as well as read reviews.
- 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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Rishikesh looks amazing, I would love to visit one day soon! My brother does laughter yoga and has taught it in the past too – its awesome :) Can’t wait to hear more about your experience at an Ashram.
I’d love to try it! I don’t know if I’d be any good at it though!
Didn’t all spirituality start and end at the prasad I.e. drugs, isn’t that why everyone flocks to these hippie hangouts. We have a yoga course booked for October in Uttarkashi but personally feel its all these plants making you crazy.
* should stop reading castneda books and start listening to beatles :)*
haha ! what yoga course are you guys doing? I want to do the vipassana some time this monsoon but not sure I could last 10 days… still thinking about it.
It’s definitely not my kind of a destination, but I like your take on it. Interesting.
Oh you didn’t like rishikesh? ashley abroad was just there and didn’t like it that much either- it’s one of those love it or leave it places I think.
It sounds like an amazing experience and I would love, love to experience Rishikesh. I know very little about this pilgrimage. So I really enjoyed learning a little bit about it. I am also obsessed with the Beatles, so it’s really cool that you threw a little bit of Beatles history in there :)
Thanks, I read so much about the beatles I almost did a whole post on it but refrained lol
This is so helpful! I have been day dreaming about India a lot recently and your posts have been so inspiring! Lovely photos too!
Great post! I’d love to visit one day, it’s been on my list for so long.
Oh really!? It’s not on many people’s lists so that’s really cool.
I am quite a newbie about all those spiritual things but very curious about them. The ashram experience seems like a lot of fun :)
I am planning to take on some yoga classes in September to learn about this lifestyle. I am so looking forward to it!
I have a question though : As you said “People come to India to find themselves…”..so is it working? Did you “find yourself”?:)
Cheers from Sweden!
haha I think I’m still working on finding myself lol but India certainly was a wake- up call!
Intially it was one in parmarth niketan, but we backed out last minute. Have another one lined up in Uttarkashi for October.
Go ahead and do the vipassana, you will easily be able to last, we did that in Jan 2013, and it was a lot of fun
It looks awesome; I’d love to go there and do yoga. And I love that the Ganga Aarti is taken so seriously, even with backpackers and tourists floating around. It would be really sad to see that reduced to just another tourist attraction.
Hopefully it stays serious, I think it will because it’s a big destination for people all over India.
Great post, Rachel! Your photos make Rishikesh look so pretty and clean. I actually wish I had done yoga somewhere else as I found Rishikesh to be touristy, dirty and had really bad food :(. Also I used to swim in the Ganga until I saw a mottled blue and white corpse drift by- that ended my swimming days!
ohhh the food was bad!! and i can’t wait to hear more about your time there!! anyone who asks me about yoga in that area I will be sending your way so you can tell them what it was like.
Looks like an interesting place! Might have to add it to the list of places to visit when I come to India.
Such an informative post! Thanks, Rachel! I had heard snout this place in reference to yoga and The Beatles, but not read that much about it before. It’s definitely somewhere I would consider as I’m trying to improve my yoga practise this year!
I bet you could get a decent priced flight over here as well! Something to consider :)
Good overview post. Do you think it would still be as popular if the Beatles and other famous people hadn’t spent time there, though?
That’s a good question. I think it would be as popular. It was a main stopover point on the Hippie trail through Europe down to Goa, and that was even before the Beatles were there.. it was chosen because it is one of the most spiritual places in India for Hindus and the hippies were trying to learn and emulate what other cultures were doing! :)
I’ve always wanted to go to India and, I’ll admit, a lot of my curiosity of Rishikesh stems from being a huge Beatles fan. More than that though, I’ve always wanted to go someplace to study a bit of yoga and really look at the different ways we can connect with our spiritual selves. I think I’d still visit it; I’d probably think about heading somewhere a little less crowded though if I was to stay at an ashram. It sounds a little full there. :)
Yeah I mean rishikesh is very touristy now and not the best place to really do the ashram thing but most “great” ashrams are well known and you face the same problems. It’s quite a populated country lol
Thanks for writing such a bomb diggity article, it is so helpful for me as i plan my trip~heather!
happy to help!
Thanks for this post – was really helpful as I’m in Rishikesh at the moment…about to start yoga teacher training for a month and trying to find good food options! There doesn’t seem to be too many though!
Hi Lauren, I hope you enjoy your time in Rishikesh! :)
Hey Rachel! Great post! I love it when people from west try to know about our culture and actually enjoy it.
Will catch up in Goa someday!
Or come up north sometime!
– Right from the capital
I’ll be there in 2 1/2 weeks. Can’t wait!
I see that you recommend to go March to October, is that an error? Or your personal opinion? Everything I’ve read says October to March :)
Yes, error! wrote that a bit dyslexic – should have been backwards October to March!
Hi Rachel! So amazing to come across your blog. I’m been roaming on here all day from article to article. Thank you for all your thoughts and information.
I leave for Risihikesh in a week. My first trip to India has got me pretty excited.!! I’m a big Bollywood fan and India has always been my dream!! Finally I get to go. On a 30 day yoga teacher training course! Even though its for April I hope for the best. I am a blogger as well and I hope we can connect sometime because I am pretty sure this will be the first of many trip to this amazing country.
I hope you have a great time at the YTT course! It’ll be hot! Enjoy :)
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Thank you for writing this blog. I was looking for non-commercial and real picture of the place and your blog was just about that. I am planning on back-packing panch Kedar trek and will come to Rishikesh to start my journey.