Wanderlust Diaries

Once the travel bug bites, there is no antidote. I know I shall be happily infected until the end of my life – Michael Palin

Rishikesh is a beautiful holy city located in the state of Uttarakhand. The place is often considered as the birth place of yoga and is a perfect blend of nature, adventure, and spirituality. It is here that the River Ganga after traversing through the mighty Himalayas descends on to the plains.

Reaching there

Rishikesh is located about 250 kms from the Delhi, the national capital of India. Rishikesh is well connected and can be reached easily by different modes – air, bus, train or you can drive on own or through a rented vehicle.

Dehradun, the capital of Uttarkhand is the nearest airport located just 25 kms away. Haridwar, a twin pilgrimage center is the nearest rail head with trains connecting to all the major cities of India. From Haridwar, you can rent a taxi or self-drive vehicle to reach Rishikesh and it should take about 30-45 mins to cover the distance of around 22 kms.

Rafting

Rishikesh is a must visit place for all adventure seekers. It is a base point for various treks in and around Garhwal. You can also indulge in cliff jumping, bungee jumping, Flying Fox, Giant Swing, Kayaking, Rappelling, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing, Camping, Trekking, Body Surfing. and of course the most popular adventure activity here – white water rafting. It is a must indulge, at the least once-in-a-lifetime activity for the adventurous folks.

The white river rafting, paragliding, and other water sports were briefly banned in June 2018 by the Uttarakhand High Court in order to formulate a transparent policy for regulating the water activities. In September 2018, the Uttarakhand High Court lifted this ban and issued a proper set of guidelines under Uttarakhand River Rafting / Kayaking (Amendment) Rules, 2018. Please do check for the latest guidelines on the link – https://uttarakhandtourism.gov.in/policy-and-guidelines/

Back to rafting – Rishikesh is considered as one of the best places in the country for rafting. Although famous for rafting, Rishikesh is actually the end point of the rafting trail. River-rafting in Rishikesh has 4 different stretches with different lengths

  1. Brahmpuri to Rishikesh: This stretch is about 10kms, takes about 1-1.30 hrs and has mostly Grade II rapids.
  2. Shivpuri to Rishikesh: The most commonly traversed and recommended stretch of 16 km. The stretch takes about 2-2.30 hrs and has mostly Grade III rapids.
  3. Byasi/Marine Drive to Rishikesh: A 25km long stretch with mostly grade IV rapids and is generally not a recommended one for first-timers.
  4. Kaudiyala to Rishikesh: An advanced 35km stretch recommended only for the experienced and professionals. This stretch has Grade V rapids, the highest classification and is considered as an extreme adventure.

The grades define the difficulty levels and require specific skills as explained below

  • Grade I: Very small rough areas, might require slight maneuvering. (Skill level: Very basic)
  • Grade II: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, might require some maneuvering. (Skill level: Basic paddling skill)
  • Grade III: Small waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill level: Some experience in rafting)
  • Grade IV: Medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill level: Exceptional rafting experience)
  • Grade V: Large waves, large volume, possibility of large rocks and hazards, possibility of a large drop, requires precise maneuvering. (Skill level: Full mastery of rafting)
  • Grade VI: Considered very dangerous and effectively unnavigable on a reliably safe basis. Characterized by huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, and/or substantial drops that has a dramatically increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or even death. (Skill level: Full mastery of rafting, and even then it may not be safe)

I personally have done rafting from the most common preferred stretch – Shivpuri. I had done this November which is one of the best months. The ideal season spans September till end of June. I recommend November – December as the ideal season as the water has a good enough steady flow and is not extremely cold which it can be during the winter months of Jan and Feb.

Shivpuri to Rishikesh Rafting – Clip from my experience

There are several agencies which organize the rafting and you can book one easily on the spot in Rishikesh. It generally takes about 30-40 mins to reach Shivpuri and another 30 mins for the preparations and basic guidelines to be instructed by the guide. It is recommended always to have 6 members and 1 guide on a raft to provide the ideal balance on the bursting waters. This rafting stretch usually takes about 2 hours to finish. It has about 7 rapids – Roller Coaster, Golf Course, Oh my God, Sweet Sixteen, Cross Fire, Three Blind Mice and The Wall. Some of these rapids are classified as Grade III while few are classified as Grade III+.

Once set, it is a 2 hour activity of adrenaline on the river. As you wind through the river in the raft, the cliffs provide a serene view and some of the cliffs are also used for cliff-jumping into the river during the right season. Shivpuri Rafting is ideal for non-swimmers. Shivpuri Rafting can be enjoyed by friends, families, college groups, corporate groups and everyone aged 14 years and over.

Cost and Operators

There are about 140 Government authorized tour operators in Rishikesh. The list of operators is available here for reference – https://www.euttaranchal.com/tourism/rafting-booking-operators-rishikesh.php. I highly recommend to check whether your tour operator is authorized or not as there are some unauthorized operators who arrange rafting activity as well.

Approximate Cost for rafting is provided below:

  1. Brahmpuri to Rishikesh: ~INR 600.
  2. Shivpuri to Rishikesh: ~INR 1000.
  3. Byasi/Marine Drive to Rishikesh: ~INR 1500
  4. Kaudiyala to Rishikesh: ~INR 2500

Accommodation

Although Rishikesh has numerous hotels, hostels and guest houses, I personally recommend staying in the river side camps at Shivpuri and other nearby places. There are tons of camps and booking shouldn’t be a problem. You can ask your rafting agency and they will easily arrange one for you or you can book yourself beforehand. Just Google for camping in Rishikesh and you will get plenty of options. Look for the better rated once, contact them personally and book if satisfied.

Camping Tents at the river side

A night stay at the camp is wonderful experience where you get to enjoy the nature at its best with no crowd and disturbance. All you can hear is probably the river water gushing through even as the night sky lights up with the stars. Due to low air and light pollution at the camps, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the milky way galaxy or shooting stars. While camping at Shivpuri, you can also indulge in other activities such as kayaking, hiking on nature trails, beach activities.

Other To-do activities in Rishikesh

Triveni Ghat
Edge of the Ghat

Triveni Ghat is a scared Ghat on the right bank of River Ganges in Rishikesh. A popular belief is that anyone who takes a dip in Triveni Ghat will have a relief from all sins carried out and attain salvation. It is believed that the ghat was visited by Lord Krishna when he got hurt by the arrow of Jara – a hunter. Triveni Ghat is even used by devotees to perform the last rites and rituals of their loved ones. The Ganga Aarti at Triveni Ghat is major highlight and attracts a large number of devotees and visitors. People lit oil diyas, put them on flower-filled leaf boats and release in the holy waters of the river. The sight of thousands of lamps floating on the river is a beautiful sight to see and is certainly not to be missed if you are in Rishikesh.

Parmarth Niketan
Parmarth Niketan, view from across the river

Parmarth Niketan is one of the most famous ashrams situated on the banks of River Ganges in Rishikesh. It is the venue for International Yoga Festival held every year in Rishikesh in the month of February. It is one of the oldest and largest ashrams in Rishikesh. The ashram also provides accommodation facilities to visitors and has over 1000 rooms. There also was a large 14 foot Shiva statue near Parmarth Niketan which was washed away by the devastating 2013 floods.

Lakshman Jhula
Photo Credit: By meg and rahul – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2745866

One of the most iconic structures in Rishikesh is the iron suspension bridge – Lakshman Jhula erected across the river Ganga. The bridge is one of the most easily identified landmark in the city and in the country as well. It is 450 feet long and is situated at a height of 70 feet from the river. The bridge connects the two villages of Tapovan in Tehri Garhwal district, on the west bank of the river, to Jonk in Pauri Garhwal district, on the east bank. It provides a beautiful view of famous temples, ashrams and River Ganga. A 13-storey storey temple, called Terah Manzil, near the Lakshman Jhula is also very popular spot amongst the visitors.

Best time to visit Rishikesh

The period of late September to mid-December is generally considered as the best time to travel Rishikesh. The summer months can get quite hot and humid while the monsoons swell up the river and rafting is closed during this time. Also do note that being a very sacred and holy place, sale of meat and alcohol is banned in Rishikesh as well as its twin city – Haridwar.

Happy adventurous time!!