Rishikesh is one of the easiest getaways that one can make from the National Capital Region of Delhi. Still, this was my first time to Rishikesh after a childhood trip there (whose memories remain of visiting the holy river of Ganga, where there’s a massive idol of God Shiva installed).
Funnily, the same thing also stood out in this trip and you will read below why.
Why we choose Rishikesh?
My friends decided to go to the place because of what I wrote above about it being an easy getaway. They asked us and we joined.
Why is Rishikesh famous?
Without getting into the historic aspect of it, let me just give you an overview that Rishikesh was quite popular back in the day for saints and other people to find an abode close to the holy river Ganga in the lap of Himalayas. A lot of Hindus continue visiting this city as a holy pilgrimage, also contributed by the fact that its pretty close to the city of Haridwar, which is sort of an official Hindu pilgrimage site for many Hindus. Rishikesh is actually full of temples and ashrams and it sort of acts as one of the main yoga and meditation centers in India.
Aside this, Rishikesh has got a lot of popularity in the last few years for 2 completely different reasons. One, its quite well known for adventure sports like river rafting in the Ganga (the Ganges ;)), bungee jumping and so on. Secondly, Rishikesh has a Beatles connection. I quickly Google-d what exactly it is and, apparently, members of the popular English band Beatles participated in a meditation camp for around 2 months near Rishikesh, where they denounced usage of drugs by being inspired by their Guru’s teachings. All this has added a lot to Rishikesh’s popularity, especially among millennials.
What did we do in Rishikesh?
Honestly, my Rishikesh trip covered very limited aspects. We were there for less than 48 hours and what we mostly did was walk around town in the area we were staying in. All the other members of this trip, i.e. my husband and 2 of our friends, had done white water rafting in the past, hence, it was easy for me to let that one slide. If you don’t know by now, I am very scared to do any adventure sports and never up for it.
The most important thing I was looking forward on this trip was to try out the famous Rishikesh cafes. So, basically, the main area of Rishikesh is split into two sides with the Ganga flowing between them. One of those areas is called Tapovan, which is also more hipster than the other one. I am happy to report that we managed to cover the two famous cafes in Tapovan.
Little Buddha Cafe: This is apparently the most famous cafe in Tapovan and it failed to impress me (or all of us). So, the seating is like a shack but it gets pretty crammed due to its popularity. It gets difficult to find a seat and overall the experience leaves you wanting for more if you don’t get a seat by the Ganga’s view. Everything seems a little unclean because of crammed up spaces BUT I was going to let all that pass if the food was good. Food was very, very average and it’s not like we only tried a thing or two. We ordered their Thukpa, veg momos, a Burrito, a pizza and almost nothing was remarkable.
Freedom Cafe: This is also quite popular and it seemed to me upon visiting that its fairly new compared to Little Buddha. I visited this on the first night and because I liked it so much, I left with high expectations for Little Buddha since that is considered the best. 😀 First thing that stood out for me for Freedom was its setting and ambience. Its rustic enough to give a next-to-the-river vibe but well-designed enough to have good seating and, thankfully, it had a big space. Another great thing was they had a lot of stuff on the menu and while not everything tasted great, it was at least average or above average. What stood out for me was that they had a section in the menu for ‘platters’ and the platters didn’t seem for a particular cuisine. It seemed they have mixed middle Eastern, Western and Indian cuisines to chalk out their own platters and the one we ordered was actually pretty good, it had charred vegetables, rice, some sort of grilled panner and a bechamel-like sauce. The rice and sauce were cooked so deliciously, I could have had them as is!
Chatsang Cafe: Again, it seemed new to me. I only went in for a coffee and my friend ordered crepes with Nutella. Both were quite good. The interiors were quite basic, the only good thing was that the open door offered a view into the street for people watching.
We also ate at a tiny South Indian food stall, which was also quite decent.
We planned this trip very last moment and kind of thought we are compromising on our stay by staying at the Madpackers hostel (I haven’t stayed in a hostel since 2018!). However, it was quite decent and the view from their terrace more than made up for it. The hostel is actually located at the main street in Tapovan and, therefore, gave us opportunity to walk through the main street for everything.
I have to add that I quite liked the vibe of Rishikesh’s hipster shops. The thing is – you get these kind of knick-knacks in all tourist places now in India but there was a certain authenticity to the Rishikesh shops. I cannot say why exactly but there were tiny details that you could sense beyond the typical tourist markets of Goa. Let me try explaining that with examples – where you see handmade soaps, there were also very locally sourced incense sticks! Where you see medical shops, there were also local to Rishikesh teas! Where you see hipster junk jewelry, there were also semi-precious stones in silver jewelry that stood out! If you travel often in India, you would have seen those 100% hemp made bags, but here, I saw a yoga mat holder made that way! I bought one as I found it so cool!
One of the evenings we spent by walking all the way to the most popular spot for Ganga Aarti, only for me to realize that it was that Shiva idol I had visited as a child. I had forgot that it belongs to an Ashram (Parmarth Ashram) in Rishikesh which is actually pretty popular within the city for the ‘best’ Ganga Aartis. To me, the experience felt extremely commercial, I couldn’t enjoy it the way I imagined. I had been to Pushkar once and the Aarti I attended there had felt surreal, which I now think is because it didn’t feel ‘over-produced’ like this Parmarth Ashram one did. The Ashram itself is designed beautifully and offers a lot of events to people who come here to stay for yoga and meditation or religious events.
What did I take away from this trip to Rishikesh?
At the end of my trip, I felt like this is all there is to Rishikesh and considering I have been to so many hill stations and other quick getaways from Delhi, I found it less exciting than some of the other destinations. Then, I read this post from someone I follow. I realized that my opinion is also due to the fact of spending less time here and also spending the said time in a very specific area. I also want to add a cliché but genuine thought – Rishikesh could just be visited for the clean and serene views of the Ganga. In India, most of the popular places from where the Ganga flows get polluted waters due to ceremonious offerings into the waters and industrial reasons. It was not the case with Rishikesh and the water not only looked clean, but also made for great views!