Rishikesh is arguably the reigning guru among gurus. Located where the Ganges River flows from the Himalayas, Rishikesh is one of India's most aesthetically brilliant cities. Even the bustle in the city's busier areas has a certain seductive energy about it. Then, there are the foothills themselves. Save for the rustle of monkeys jumping from treetops and cows treading gravel roads, this portion of the Himalayas may be one of the most serene settings on the entire subcontinent.
But Rishikesh is not simply a pretty spot. One of the holiest cities for Hindus, Rishikesh is the launching point for a pilgrimage track that all Hindus are supposed to complete in their lifetimes, called Char Dham. In Rishikesh's history as a spiritually charged destination, the arrival of a widespread physical yoga practice is relatively new. In fact, the word Rishi even means "sage" or "saint" in Sanskrit.
The gateway to the Garhwal Himalaya located 110 mi/180 km northeast of Delhi, Rishikesh, India, has attracted poets, artists and mystics for thousands of years.
Rishikesh is one of the holiest towns in India, and Hindus regard it as highly as Muslims regard Mecca. Meat and alcohol are forbidden in Rishikesh, and the inhabitants display a public air of sanctimony. It is also there that the Ganges starts its somewhat steady flow through the plains of India after crashing furiously through the Himalaya.
The Beatles went to Rishikesh in the 1960s and sat at the feet of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru whose Transcendental Meditation Center still markets his spiritual programs with jarring capitalist enterprise each year. Now abandoned with old song lyrics scribbled onto the walls, the increasingly derelict property can be toured with a former ashramite (or just offer the bored-looking guard 50 rupees to unlock the gate).
Pilgrims clad in loincloths tread the town's dusty streets or pitch camp on the banks of the sacred Ganges, which sweeps majestically through the town and out into the great Indian plains. Head for Triveni Ghat to watch pilgrims participate in the daily worship ritual known as Aarti and ritual bathing.
Rishikesh is touted as the Yoga Capital of the World, and it hosts an international yoga festival each year. Nearby waterfalls make for an easy day hike. And the splendid rapids that are caused by the bends and creases and rocks in the river make for some superb river rafting.
About 20 mi/30 km outside of Rishikesh is Ananda, a luxurious Western-style spa housed in what was once a British viceroy's hilltop estate.