Let me open this by clearly stating I am in no way claiming to be an expert or know everything about traveling in India. It is an enormous country and we had a very short and fairly direct trip with a specific goal in mind.
Most of the people we met had been traveling for weeks or months, and to get a grip on India, you would need that much time. This blog post is just a summary of my experience, how we did it and what we learned in the event you too are planning a trip to Rishikesh. Enjoy!
Getting to Rishikesh
Well, depending on where you live in the world, it’s probably quite a journey to make it to Rishikesh. But it’s not expensive, and that makes the trip more appealing. I paid less than $500 for my flight from LAX to Delhi using the Hopper app. But let me repeat myself, it’s very far away…
For me, it is directly on the other side of the planet and took over a day to get there. Well, let’s call it 2-3 days total and a day of flight time. I left Tuesday night and checked into our hotel in Rishikesh Friday evening local time. There is a 13.5 hour time change and we did have nearly a full day in Delhi on the way out, but that is a lot of travel.
We flew out of LA to Shanghai (14 hours + 8 hour layover), then to Delhi (7 hours) then to Dehradaun (1 hour) then took a taxi directly to our hotel (about 45 min, 30 with no traffic). The intercontinental flight was pretty cheap too, I think less than $150 and the taxi to the airport was only $20 and that was without haggling.
Getting around Rishikesh
It’s a pretty small town and you can walk across bridges to get to most of the shops, ashrams, and restaurants. You can also rent a scooter for the week and see the entire city, up in the mountains and beyond.
I think it’s maybe $20, but that requires nerves I just don’t have. There are local taxis you can hire to take you when you head farther out of town and the TukTuk’s for short jots around town for like 20 rupees pp (that’s like .30). We used Green Chilly travel for all our bookings and they were great.
The traffic is hilarious. You have to “let go and let god” and somehow trust that it’s just all going to work out. The roads are a mess and you’ll see an intersection with cows, cars, tuk tuks, scooters, construction (like open holes in the road construction) locals and tourists all going in different directions with no rhyme or reason and somehow, it all just works out. Note: they also drive on the other side of the road, making it even more confusing.
Where to stay in Rishikesh
There are plenty of options. We originally booked the Green Hills Cottage just about a 20-30 minute walk Laxman Jhula bridge (kind of town cener-ish). I found it on TripAdvisor and it was highly reviewed and all of $11 per night and had wi-fi and a toilet, the only 2 things I cared about at the time. We checked in and it was even more lovely in person than on the site! We had an amazing dinner at their restaurant (which ended up being one of our favorites of all) and we were so happy!
Then we went to sleep and woke up in the morning and daaaannng! It was COLD!! We traveled in December, winter. I was expecting mid 50’s for the lows and mid 70’s for the highs and that was about right. But the Green Hills Cottage had marble floors, limited area carpets, no heat and spotty hot water which left us frigid in the morning. I was traveling with my 72 year old father, and with 5 more nights ahead of us, we thought better to seek a location with a heater and hot water.
We then checked into the Dewa Retreat, about a 5-10 min walk down towards the town. It was 10x the price and worth every penny. It was still less than I paid for the skunky Motel 6 we stayed at on our way to Mammoth over Thanksgiving and India is a long way to travel to not be comfortable.
Dewa Retreat was amazing. Large, spacious rooms with the most amazing view of the mountains. It has a pool (which is unheated, so we clearly did not use it), onsite yoga, fast wi-fi 2 restaurants, a spa, a hairdryer and most importantly on our journey, hot water and a room heater. It was like heaven. I connected my little Bluetooth speaker and put it on relaxing music when I was in my room and it was probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.
It was nice to experience both sides of the hotel spectrum on our trip. If you were traveling in the summer when it is already hot, I imagine Green Hills would be perfect. It really just depends on the experience you’re looking for: luxury or affordable. Both locations got 5 star reviews from me for different reasons.
What to do in Rishikesh
Holy moly – what not to do! This was in many ways my version of paradise and I could have easily spent at least two weeks here getting into the swing of things. I was quite sad to leave actually, but always excited to come home. Here are a few things we did, and wish I could have done more of:
- EAT! OMG the food is out of this world. Rishikesh is all vegetarian and booze-free. (see my post on Inspired by Rishikesh, India: A Truly Clean Community) The local cuisine is out of this world. You can find some western food as well, but really dig into the local dishes everywhere you can. I haven’t been much of an Indian food fan in the past, so I’m not sure how US Indian restaurants compare, but this was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.
- Paneer Butter Masala from the German Bakery
- Palak Paneer from the Green Hills Cottage
- Malai Kofta from the Little Buddha café
They say Delhi Belly is practically unavoidable when you travel in India so I came prepared with Imodium and heart burn medicine. I didn’t need either of them.
My friend I was traveling with had good advice. He said eat a lot of food, but limit the places you eat to limit food supply sources. We ate at only 4 restaurants the whole time (which was fine, each menu has more than enough options) and limited my street food to popcorn.
2. YOGA: I mean, it is the yoga capital of the world after all. There are ashrams and studios all over the place. This is definitely one thing I wish I was able to do more. We practiced daily at our hotel, Ashtang with our guide “Yogi” and I made it to one other local studio but I would have loved to make it to at least a dozen more places. The studios will have their class schedule out front with the style and the time and the drop fees are like 200-300 rupees ($3-$5)
3. MEDITATION: I saw so many evening mediation classes posted and it was one of the main reasons I took this trip and it didn’t happen. There was too much going on in the evenings and I just never made it to a class. But you should! And you don’t even need a class, just being there along the river is the perfect place to dig in and zen out.
4. SHOP: I am not a shopper. Buying gifts for people is always something I do at the airport as a courtesy to my friends and family. This was not the case in Rishikesh! My dad and I had so much fun searching for treasures and keepsakes to bring back home.
Everything was about 75% less we would pay in the US, and that was without haggling. I’m sure you could get it to 90%, but really, what’s the point. I was happy to trade my funds with the kind local merchants into the local economy and I’m happily returning with my loot of yoga tops, pants and other tokens that make me smile.
5. WHITE WATER RAFTING: This is a MUST do, especially if it’s hot in the summer. Even in the frigid cold it was a blast and I’d do it all over again. It was ridiculously cheap, 500 rupees ($8) and took the entire afternoon to get up the river and ride down. It was about 16k down the river. A combination of calm water and drenching rapids. Seriously, so much fun!
6. SAFARI: The Rajaji National Park is there and full of wild animals like tigers, elephants, leopards, deer, boar, peacocks, monkeys and more. We didn’t see any elephants or tigers, we did see plenty of their foot prints. This would have broken my dad’s heart had the ride not been so beautiful. We were picked up before sunrise and driven out along the river and entered the park just after dawn. It was beautiful. This trip was much more expensive, 3400 rupees PP, but a unique adventure for sure.
7. THE BEATLES ASHRAM: It’s abandoned and about a 8k (there and back) walk outside of town. The Ashram lovely, along the river. The fee is 600 rupees ($10) for tourists and takes about an hour to walk through. I didn’t go in, I zenned out on a log by the river, but my dad said it was spooky-spectacular.
8. SPA DAY: I hesitated to add this in here because, well, it’s a little overpriced (not by US standards) and wonky. But the end result was amazing and I learned so much about how you can use food not only to help you glow from the inside, but also the outside. See my post A Clean and Colorful Ayurvedic Facial.
9. NOTHING: You don’t really have to do anything in Rishikesh. Just being there and being present is amazing enough. Walk the streets, see the people, the animals, enjoy the crisp mountain air. Don’t get I a hurry and trust that it will all work out just fine.
What we weren’t expecting in Rishikesh
- It was just dang cold! I bought a really nice knock off North Face puffy coat from a vendor for $50 and it saved my life. Had I had it one day earlier, our safari would have been a much more enjoyable experience for me. The temperature was never lower than 50 and it warmed up to 70s mid-day, but it just felt really cold.
2. Print your flight itinerary. This is just minor detail, but not something I’ve seen before. Generally when you go to the airport, you go to check in and print your boarding pass. You can’t actually get into the airport at all without a copy of your ticket confirmation and passport. Not really a big deal, but just easier to have that printed and ready. They do also take screen shots on your phone.
What I was glad I packed
Here are the 5 things I did right when packing for this trip and are good tips for any and all International journeys:
- Turkish Towel: This is a this thin, striped blanket that I always bring with me on trips and it has come in handy for so many different things, I know consider it a must have on all trips. I use it as a scarf when it’s cold, blanket for the park, yoga mat cover, for beachy vacations, it’s a great towel or sarong. It takes up hardly any space and has worn well over the years. Everybody who travels needs one.
2. Eye mask: This is a must for long flights. It takes up hardly any space and helps knock you out when you need to sleep on a plane or in any odd environment.
3. Travel Speaker: This was a new on for me. I don’t usually remember to pack it but it was so nice to have my peaceful music with me during downtime in my room. This tiny speaker came as a gift from my gal pal Tansy and is tiny with a mighty sound. It stayed in my back backpack and took up hardly any room at all. Was well worth the space.
4. Power source: Check where you’re going and get a converter plug. Bring 2, for some reason you’ll want more than one. And a power pack for long days out taking photos is essential to recharge on the go.
5. Pack light! I left with a suitcase that was literally half full. I did run out of clothes, which was fine. I could have easily done laundry, but I just chose to buy more while I was there. My suitcase is now packed to the brim with my treasures and gifts and I can’t wait to unpack them at home!
What I didn’t need in Rishikesh
I took a lot of advice as I packed up for my India adventure as I literally had no idea what to expect. And it’s not to say these things aren’t needed on anybody else’s journey, I’m just saying I didn’t need them over my 10 day adventure.
- Bug vest/spray: I was warned that bugs would be almost unmanageable and this was anything but the case. We have more mosquitos in San Diego than I saw the entire time I was in India. But it is still always a good idea to travel with bug spray, but the vest/jacket thing was ridiculous overkill.
2. Toilet paper: I was also warned toilet paper would be in short supply. And I’m sure it is in some places and I did in fact need it once at the national park. But other than that, the toilets were pretty well stocked and normal where I was. I chose to surrender my US roll of TP I’d packed for more suitcase real estate on the return.
3. Medicine: I didn’t need any medicine other than 3 Advil after our long flight there (I’ll admit, we did knock back a few beers in the lounge in shanghai and I had some wine on the plane). I was grateful to not need the Imodium, Pepcid, Tylenol PM or spare anti-anxiety medicine I’d packed just in case things got a little wonky while I was away. It’s nice to just feel good.
Safety and the people
I can’t right about my trip through Delhi and Rishikesh without mentioning the people. Everybody we encountered from Dehli to Rishikesh and back were nothing but patient, helpful and gracious. Maybe we were lucky or maybe it’s just a thing, but I always felt safe and like I could trust who we were with. For example…
- I was spaced out and tired I left my phone and passport on the airplane and it was returned to me before I knew it was gone.
- Our friend left his debit card at the hotel and they literally stopped our car and ran a guy out there to return it to us our way to the airport.
- All our guides showed up when they said they would on verbal agreements.
- Haggling with merchants seemed silly because prices were already so fair I just couldn’t do it.
There was just a certain level of trust that existed. It was comforting.
That’s it! Just a quick review of my last international adventure! Tell me about yours! Where have you been recently? What trip are you planning now or where do you want to go?
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