Things to Do in Rishikesh, India: The Yoga Capital of the World

Rishikesh, also known as the "Gateway to the Himalayas" and the "Yoga Capital of the World," is one of Hindus' holiest places. It is a pilgrimage site dotted with centuries-old temples. The River Ganges, which is considered sacred in India, begins to flow in the state of Uttarakhand, where Rishikesh is located. Rishikesh, made famous when the Beatles visited in the winter of 1968, has now become a place where one can find spirituality, tranquillity, adventure, culture, good food, and more. Here are some things to do and places to see in Rishikesh to learn more about it.

Things to do in Rishikesh in India
Lakshman Jhula Bridge

Witness the Ganga Aarti

Each time dusk descends, a devotional ritual called the "Ganga Aarti" is performed at the banks of the Ganges River in the three sacred cities of Varanasi, Haridwar and Rishikesh. Instead of the "pandits" (Hindu Priests), the ceremony here is officiated by the young ashram residents studying the Vedas at Parmath Niketan Ashram. The Ganga Aartis starts off with chanting of devotional songs (bhajans) accompanied by prayers and a purifying ritual called "hawan".

Things to do in Rishikesh in India

Afterwards, the final act of the "aarti" takes place—where the ashram residents and the spectators makes an offering to the Ganges in the form of a small diya (cup made of leaves) filled with flowers and a lighted lamp.

Visit the Beatles Ashram

The ruins of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Ashram in Rishikesh are now dominated by a riot of arresting street art. In the winter of 1968, the Beatles sought spirituality within these walls. The band experienced a creative high during their transcendental meditation sessions with the Maharishi, writing a staggering 48 songs, the majority of which ended up on their double album "White Album."

Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh India

Other notable personalities who spent time in this former ashram were the Beach Boys, Donovan, Stevie Wonder, and Mia Farrow. Today, the ashram is where you can find a wonderful set of mural essay created by street artists forming the 'Beatles Ashram Mural Project'—which was founded in 2012. Aside from the mural paintings, lyrical lines such as "with every mistake we must surely be learning" from a George Harrison-penned song, can be read scribbled on random walls.

Cross the iconic Lakshman Jhula Bridge

Built in 1927, this iron suspension bridge across the Ganges River, connects the towns of Tapovan and Jonk. Mahatma Gandhi once crossed this bridge after he was told by his friends in Haridwar "not to leave Haridwar without having gone as far as the bridge". 

Lakshman Jhula Bridge in Rishikesh India

At that time, Gandhi found the iron bridge "out of place in such surrounding" and would have preferred the rope bridge from before it was swept by flood in early 1920s. Today, the bridge is filled with pedestrian crossing over to the other side where the 13-storey Shiva Temple towers beautifully over the Ganges River.

Get wet on a wild river rafting ride

Even if you've done river rafting before, there's no better adrenaline rush than experiencing it in the holy waters of the Ganges River in the Himalayan foothills. The months of October to June are ideal for river rafting in Rishikesh, with a total river length of 36 kilometers and 13 major rapids.

Study a Yoga course or attend a session

You cannot visit Rishikesh without immersing in yoga and meditation. Yoga schools and meditation centers are located all over Rishikesh. You can either walk-in for a yoga session or enroll to study a yoga course where you can choose from 200, 400 and 600 hours of yoga training. 

Most yoga students stay for a month to learn the minimum 200-hour yoga courses. So yes, when in Rishikesh, it is best for you to embrace a Zen state of mind through yoga.

Bungee Jumping

Surrounded by the hills that rises up to the Himalayas mountain range, Rishikesh is a perfect jump-off point for a lot of adventure activities such as bungee jumping. The popular site is the "Jumping Heights" in Mohanchatti which is less than an hour from Rishikesh. Here, you can experience the pull of gravity from a height of more than 80 meters from the ground.

Café hopping and food-tripping

One of the best part of traveling to a new place is trying out the local cuisine. Rishikesh dishes one of the best gastronomical scene in India. Varied and sumptuous, the food culture in Rishikesh is very rich and gives you plenty of options to satisfy your appetite. 

Popular cafes and restaurants includes The Little Buddha Cafe, The Sitting Elephant, Bistro Nirvana, The Beatles Cafe, Freedom Cafe, Madras Cafe, German Bakery, Ayurpak, Chotiwala, Cafe Karma and many more.

Pray at the many holy temples of Rishikesh

Rishikesh can be a one-stop "Eat, Pray and Love" destination because you can do a lot here including finding love in different forms and praying at the many holy temples. 

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Even if you don't share the same faith as the Hindus, it is still a wonderful experience to visit the many temples in the city. Aside from having intricate architectural designs, these places of worships (some are even thousand years old) brings forth a soulful experience—especially if you witness a religious activity inside.

Shop at the bazaars of Rishikesh

Like most cities in India, the bazaar scene in Rishikesh is so colorful and filled with delightful souvenir items, traditional clothing, silverware and jewelries, antique items, organic products, spices and even branded jackets imported from Nepal. The streets lining up both sides of the Ganges River are filled with bazaars and markets that will surely gift you with amazing shopping finds.

These are just some of the many wonderful activities one can do in Rishikesh. Other things you can do include: hiking and camping, cycling, kayaking, wildlife sighting, hot-air ballooning and more.

Check out the map guide below:

Map created using Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android