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Rishikesh: Ten Things To Do In India’s Most Spiritual And Vegan-Friendly City
By Franceska Lynne and Warren Gang

Photo by Sole Mare Images.
Rishikesh, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, is a holy city on the Ganges, and is made up of a cluster of smaller areas: Ram Jhula, Laxman Jhula, Tapovan, Laxman Mandir, and Swarg Ashram (the “main drag”). Although famous for its yoga, meditation, and spirituality, the area around Rishikesh is also a popular site for hiking, trekking, and whitewater rafting the Himalayas. It is also an all-veg city, meaning that it is a vegan paradise!

How to get there – domestic airlines fly to Dehradun from major Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi, or you can take the train to Hardiwar. Taxis are available for the ride to Rishikesh, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

What to expect – India is an intense sensory experience – its sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are truly unique. Rishikesh is an oasis on the banks of India’s most sacred river, the Ganges, known as “Mother Ganga,” the giver of life. Many Indians vacation in Rishikesh, and it is the site of year-round religious pilgrimages. The winters can be quite chilly, as Rishikesh is at the foot of the Himalayas, and like the rest of India, the summers can be sweltering. Monsoon season peaks in September, and the International Yoga Festival is usually at the beginning of March, so mid-March to early April is a great time to visit, as is mid-October to mid-November. Check the average temperatures and rainfall before planning your trip.

All Photographs by Franceska Lynne

What to do when you get there:

1) Traverse the Ram Jhula Bridge

No trip to Rishikesh would be complete without a walk across the bridge that connects Ram Jhula and Swarg Ashram (the “main drag” of Rishikesh). Suspended above Mother Ganga, the bridge is a microcosm of India itself. Pedestrians share the narrow walkway with cows, motorcycles, tourists, panhandlers, babas (Hindu mystics), and tourists. A walk across the bridge is an experience to remember, and you’ll want to do it during the day and at night, camera ready!

 

 

 

2) Take a leisurely boat ride across the river

If bouncy bridges are not your thing, an alternative way to get across Mother Ganga between is on a boat taxi. For just a few rupees, you can catch a ride with some new friends. It’s a great opportunity to take a few selfies with the Ram Jhula bridge and theHimalayas as your backdrop.

 

 

3) Eat at Tip Top Restaurant

There are many delicious places to eat in Rishikesh and the surrounding towns of Laxman Mandir and Tapovan. All are vegan-friendly, but few can come close to Tip Top. Located on the main drag of Swarg Ashram, Tip Top is accessed by climbing a narrow metal staircase and lowering your head to enter what looks like a hut out of “Gilligan’s Island”, but you’ll be glad you did. Tip Top has an extensive menu featuring cuisine from all over the world, including some of the best hummus anywhere. Enjoy Italian pasta dishes, Tibetan dumplings, Asian tofu stir fries, veggie burgers, French fries, and many other incredibly fresh and fabulous dishes. Additionally, you can feel safe eating uncooked fruits and veggies here as everything is prepared with filtered water (try the thick and sweet watermelon juice). Service with a smile and extremely reasonable prices make Tip Top the number one choice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Cash only.

4) Visit the “Beatles” Ashram – it’s the 50th Anniversary!

On the banks of Mother Ganga in the Swarg Ashram area (follow the main drag as far as it will go and it ends here), this former ashram of famed guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the father of Transcendental Meditation (TM), is now part of the national Rajaji Tiger Preserve. After closing for a couple of years, it is once again open to the public, complete with vividly-painted murals by artists from all over the world. Take a walk through the stone huts where the likes of the Beatles, Donovan, Mia Farrow, and many others spent hours meditating during that magical year, 1968. The lecture and dining halls have long been in disrepair, but the spirit of flower power is very much alive – after all, this is where many of the songs that make up the White Album were composed. For fans of the Beatles, TM, and Indian spirituality, this is hallowed ground and a must-see while in Rishikesh. There is a cash entrance fee of about $9 US in rupees.

5) Practice yoga and meditation

Yoga and meditation abounds in Rishikesh. One cannot walk more than a few feet without running into an ashram class or a yoga school. Each year in March, the International Yoga Festival is held in Rishikesh, headquartered at Parmarth Niketan ashram but happening all over the area. Hundreds of yogis and yoginis descend on Rishikesh, and thousands of devotees attend each year. Book very early if you want to visit during this time –  rooms all over the region fill up very quickly and very far in advance.

6) Experience whitewater rafting on the Ganges

See Mother Ganga as nature intended in a raft on the rapids with Paddle India, located in Laxman Jhula. There are many companies offering rafting excursions, but Paddle India has the most experienced guides to provide you with an exhilarating yet safe ride, complete with beautiful views of the Himalayan foothills. Owner Mukesh Joshi and the rest of Paddle India’s friendly and accommodating staff are dedicated to river preservation, and a portion of their profits go toward keeping Ganga clean.

7) Stay and volunteer at Parmarth Niketan Ashram

Parmarth is the largest ashram in Rishikesh, and the site of a world-famous sunset aarti (Hindu fire ceremony) on the banks of Mother Ganga. You can book rooms on the website, parmarth.com, and there is a canteen with Indian veggie food (check to confirm what’s vegan and what’s lacto – there are no eggs used). Ashram living is very basic, but accommodations are clean and inexpensive. There are at least two yoga classes per day and opportunities to sit in on an evening satsang (Q and A session) with Pujya Swamiji Chidanand Saraswati, the spiritual head of the ashram and a world-renowned author and humanitarian, when he is in town. His insight into human nature and his love for Mother Ganga, our planet, and all who share it are inspiring. Volunteer opportunities abound at Parmarth, and the staff is always grateful to those who wish to perform seva (service) while in Rishikesh. This can be arranged in advance through the website.

8) Shop at Ganpati Gems

Sunil Agarwhal’s shop is adjacent to Parmarth, and it is the best place to shop for beautiful one-of-a-kind jewelry and Indian handicrafts, including incredible statuary that can be shipped anywhere in the world. Sunil’s family owns Hotel Nirvana Palace, and if you need anything, Sunil can get it for you. He can even have some jewelry custom-made during your stay. His prices are reasonable and he will always give you the best deal possible. Credit cards accepted.

9) Rejuvenate at Hotel Nirvana Palace

Located just behind Parmarth, this hotel provides very comfortable rooms at very reasonable prices. There are two yoga halls on the top floor and breakfast is included. There is a gift shop with traditional Indian clothing and crafts, but what sets Hotel Nirvana Palace apart is the ayurvedic medicine and massage clinic run by Dr. Pooja Gangwar, a lovely young woman with extensive knowledge of traditional Indian healing. A one-hour consultation with her is a must-do while in Rishikesh. The massage therapists on staff are amazing (in India, only same-sex massages are allowed), and the price is always right. The hotel staff can book transport to and from Dehradun airport as well as provide money exchange should you run low on rupees (credit cards are accepted at some shops and most hotels, but many businesses are cash only). Credit cards accepted; tipping in cash is appreciated.

10) Study classical Indian music and dance

Just as there are countless opportunities to practice yoga and meditation, Rishikesh has a thriving arts community, with several schools of music and dance. You can also find exquisite locally-made instruments, like the sitar, made world-famous by Ravi Shankar and introduced to western culture by Beatle George Harrison, at rock-bottom prices.

What you won’t find in Rishikesh:

Non-veg food (Rishikesh proper is an all-veg zone)
Alcohol (it’s a dry city)
Drugs (everyone here is high on life)
Lots of ATMs (only a few are around, and there are only a couple of banks, so change money at the airport) 

What you will find in Rishikesh:

Incredible vegan food at ridiculously low prices
Mother Ganga
Cows and monkeys (and their poop – watch your step!)
Inexpensive souvenir shopping (especially in Tapovan and Laxman Mandir)
Walking, hiking, rafting, and all-around communing with nature
A magical, mystical, spiritual, and unforgettable experience

Franceska and Warren BIO:

Franceska and Warren are the Co-owners and Chefs of Twilight & Lemongrass Vegan Comfort Food. They founded Twilight & Lemongrass in 2017. They are both Atlanta natives, and were best friends in high school and at the beginning of college but lost touch for many years. After re-connecting on social media in 2014, they got married in July of 2015 in Blue Ridge, GA. Their wedding colors were twilight blue and lemongrass green.

After entering the first annual ATL Vegan MacDown in 2016, where they created a vegan mac & cheez recipe for the event, they decided to give it a try professionally. A vegan for 30 years, Franceska has created and modified dozens of recipes, mostly veganized versions of the Southern comfort foods she loved as a child. Her mother, aunts, and grandmothers (from West Virginia, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama), are spectacular cooks, and are the inspiration behind many of her dishes.

Franceska and Warren also have a nonprofit organization, the Plant Fund, and a portion of all profits from Twilight & Lemongrass go to this charity. For more information, please visit www.vegoutcomfort.com or  @vegoutcomfort on Facebook, or   www.plantfund.org or @plantfund on Facebook.

They last visited Rishikesh in March of 2017.

Back to May 2018 Issue

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