The city of Rishikesh is one of India’s most popular spiritual centers, where people from all over the world come to seek enlightenment (religious, philosophical or otherwise) at its many ashrams and schools. Although it has been an important Hindu center for many centuries, it is only in the last few decades that Rishikesh has soared into the international spotlight. Among its most prominent visitors have been the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Many yoga enthusiasts from around the world now regard it as the world capital of their studies.
The history of Rishikesh has its roots in ancient Hindu stories. The main tradition revolves around the deity Rama. Rama, after killing the demon known as Ravanna, came to this place by the banks of the Ganges due repent for his actions. While here, Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana famously crossed the Ganges in order to aid Rama. The crossing place would later become one of Rishikesh’s most popular spiritual sites.
At some point in centuries past, a rope bridge was erected that spanned the Ganges River. This allowed pilgrims to honor the loyalty of Lakshmana by making a similar crossing. Huge numbers of visitors began coming to ritually cross the bridge, and many temples and ashrams grew up around the site. Rishikesh became known as a place of study and meditation, especially during the years of the British occupation.
Rishikesh was not truly ‘discovered’ by the world at large until 1968, when the Beatles visited the city in order to rest and recuperate and otherwise meditate on their meteoric careers. Their stay inspired several songs, and musicians, entertainers and artists would soon be following the Beatle’s pilgrimage in droves.
By the late 20th century, Rishikesh had developed a reputation as a spiritual seeker’s paradise on Earth. This included it becoming a mecca for the study and practice of yoga. Thanks to the abundance of outdoor activities, it also became a center for outdoor recreation, making the city a place for the enrichment of both mind and body. When one thinks of modern Hinduism and spirituality in India, Rishikesh is the place they are thinking of.
The entire city of Rishikesh is considered by many to be one great sacred site. Its best known structure hands down is the footbridge which crosses the Ganges. The current bridge is an iron structure built in the 1980s and replaces a series of several earlier bridges. Crossing it is still considered a quintessential experience in Rishikesh.
There are many ashrams in Rishikesh where spiritual seekers come to learn and meditate. The most famous and most visited by far is the Kailash Ashram Brahmavidyapitham. Founded in the late 19th century, it is the city’s primary destination for Yoga enthusiasts, and many prominent teachers and students have trained here. Also popular is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram where the Beatles famously spent time in the 1960s.
Rishikesh and its spiritual sites are spread out along the Ganges River in a valley in the middle of Rajaji National Park, a little less than a hundred miles north of New Delhi. The city and bridge are open sites, while the various ashrams keep their own hours and have their own admission charges. Web: www.rishikeshtourism.in (official website).
The entire of city of Rishikesh is itself one big spiritual destination. However, for a more specific palce to go, try the Swarga Niwas Ashram whose main tower offers a magnificent view of the city and valley. Also of interest is the Lakshman Temple.