I consider Haridwar and Rishikesh as twin cities because I think almost everyone who visits one city goes to the other also or at least I had done so. I have been to Haridwar and Rishikesh many times with family or friends. These places are in my memories since I went with my parents as a small kid. Haridwar is a Hindu religious city, whereas Rishikesh is a spiritual city though there are numerous Hindu temples.
Taking a dip in Ganga’s ghats is one of the most favorite activity for most Indian. It is considered auspicious so elder takes dip keeping this in mind whereas for kids it is fun and enjoyment in running water. Thankfully Ganga river is clean in Haridwar despite tourist rush though it gets muddy in rainy season but none the less clean. River Ganga is much cleaner in Rishikesh for people like us, who are little skeptical about the cleanness of water.
There are many places to visit in Rishikesh and Haridwar. Some places are important for religious purpose but there are many other places for a traveler with interest in art, culture, tradition, and spirituality.
One can spend end number of days in Rishikesh but here I am putting together 3 days itinerary to experience the essence of India’s religious and spiritual twin cities.
It is one of the seven holiest sites in Hinduism and its literal meaning is Gateway to Lord. It is one of the four sites where the elixir of immortality (Amrit) accidentally spilled over from the pitcher while being carried by the Garuda and that’s why Kumbha Mela is celebrated here every 12 years.
Places to visit in Haridwar and Things to do in Haridwar
Har Ki Pauri and evening Aarti
This is the most sacred Ghat in Haridwar. Har ki Pauri was constructed by King Vikramaditya in 1st Century BC. Hundreds of people take bath here in Ganga river and on special occasions, the number goes into thousands. There are markets, stalls, bazaars, small/big hotels and restaurants near ghats to cater to the thousands of people visiting.
Even if one doesn’t want to take a dip in Ganga at Har ki Pauri then sitting and watching people doing different activities is a unique experience. I have come across many interesting things while walking on the Har Ki Pauri and surrounding ghats.
Every evening after sunset the priest performs an Aarti of Ganga river. The Ganga Aarti is performed at Brahmakund ghat, the place where the drops of elixir of immortality fallen. People start coming at least an hour before the Aarti time to sit in a good location to be part of this aarti. A large number of people gather on the Har ki Pauri and on the ghat across the river to attend and see this activity. The priests perform the aarti tall Diyas filled with sacred fire and the bells, gongs, elaborate chanting by people create an atmosphere. After aarti people float diyas and offer flowers to the Ganga river for peace & prosperity. Ganga Aarti is one of the must-do experience if in Haridwar.
Mansa Devi Temple
This temple is located on a small hill known as Bilwa Parvat. Mansa Devi temple is dedicated to Goddess Mansa, which literally mean the one who fulfills the desire. It is a popular temple among locals as well as tourists.
A cable car goes to the temple and due to this, it is popular among tourists. There is always a queue for the cable car and depending upon crowd it can vary from 15 minutes to 1 hour. One can see the overview of Haridwar from the hilltop.
Chandi Devi Temple
This temple located on the top of another hill called Neel Parvat. According to legends, demon Kings Shumbha and Nishumbha were killed here by goddess Chandi. There is a 3 km trek and ropeway to reach to the top of the hill.
Other Important Temple
Kankhal temple, Maya Devi temple, Bharat Mata Mandir and many more other temples. There is a small or big temple in every part of Haridwar and temple hopping is a popular activity for religious people.
Hindu Genealogy Registers
This is something very unique in Haridwar. The Pandits (Priests) which are popularly known as Panda’s in the Hindi language maintain these registers. These Pandas double up as genealogists and have the family history of people for more than seven generations.
These registers are known as “Bahis” and are passed on from generation to generation of Pandits. The registers were an important source for locating lost relatives in earlier days. Many people who lost or missed their relatives during India Pakistan partition have located their relatives through these registers.
Haridwar is considered the holiest site to immerse the ashes after last rites. So when people visit Haridwar to perform these “Puja”, they use to go to their designated Pandit. This Pandit used to update the family’s genealogical with details of all marriages, births, and deaths with current address. That’s how these registered were maintained from generation to generation.
These registers are a subject of research by many universities due to its unique system of tracking a family tree.
P.S. I have personally witnessed these registers, they have the precise and detailed history of the family tree.
Haridwar being a religious town hence only vegetarian food options. There are many shops with no sign boards but very popular for their food. The aloo puri, samosa, kachori with Sabji, Kulhar milk, Jalebi, and sweets are the most popular items to eat in Haridwar.
Some famous shops of Haridwar are Mathura Walo Ki Pracheen Dukan, Kashyap Kachori Bhandar, Mohan Ji Puri Wale, and Pandit Sevaram Sharma Doodh Wale.
Haridwar to Rishikesh is only 20 Km. The Ganga river is cleaner in Rishikesh and there are many activities for everyone other than visiting religious places. Rishikesh is more spiritual than religious, there are many ashrams for meditation and Yoga.
Places to visit in Rishikesh and Things to do in Rishikesh
Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula
These two iron suspension bridges are located outside the main town of Rishikesh. The Laxman Jhula was constructed in 1929 while Ram Jhula was built in 1986.
Laxman Jhula connects Tapovan to Jonk on the west bank of the river, whereas Ram Jhula connects Sivananda Nagar area of Muni Ki Reti to Swargashram. These bridges are located 2 km apart on Ganga river and are the popular tourist attractions.
Beatles Ashram or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram
The ashram is located just outside Raja Ji National Park on the banks of Ganga River. The ashram remained abandoned for many years after the death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This Ashram got the world’s attention when it housed the band members of famous Beatles band in 1968.
In recent years Uttarakhand’s Forest Department has converted the ashram into an eco-friendly tourism destination. They organize Nature walks, bird watching, visit the place where Beatle band’s members stayed. There is an entry ticket of Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 600 for foreigners.
This is the most popular ashram in Rishikesh for people looking for a peaceful stay or yoga or meditation activities.
The ashram is located on the banks of Ganga, there is a huge statue of Lord Mahadev on the ghat of the river. In Ashram they organize Yoga and meditation retreats for the different duration and one can register accordingly on their website. Satsang and Prayers held throughout the day, everyone can participate in these activities.
Every evening they perform a Beautiful Ganga Aarti on the banks of the river Ganga with big stands of oil lamp Diyas. During the aarti, the students and disciples of Parmarth Niketan sing in chorus with the sound of bells & gongs. People staying outside the ashram can also attend this aarti and it is the highlight of this ashram.
Triveni Ghat and Boat Ride
This is another popular place/ghat to attend Ganga Aarti. The ghat is maintained by Ganga Seva Samiti and they conduct the evening aarti here. Anyone can attend the aarti.
Triveni ghat is popular among people for taking holy dip and bathing in Ganga river. The Narayan Mission Society runs a boat service on Ganga river. They ride in the Ganga river is available at a fixed fee.
River Rafting in Ganga
The river rafting is done a few km upstream in the Ganga river from a place called Shivpuri. The rafting in Ganga is considered one of the best whitewater river rafting in the world. Earlier there were many camps on the banks of Ganga river, where people can stay during their rafting trips. These camps offered accommodation with all basic facilities. But in recent times the camps are banned by National Green Tribunal for violating the natural resources.
These camps are closed but most of the hotels in Rishikesh offer the rafting in the Ganga river. There are many types of rafting expeditions, vary from 4 Km to 14 Km with different level of difficulty. The rafting is a must do when in Rishikesh.
Everyone is given a life jacket and after the end of rafting, they encourage people to jump in the Ganga river to enjoy the water. If you want to do some adventure activity then most of the rafting trips offer to jump into the river from 12-15 feet high rocks. It is important to follow the instructions while performing the jump to remain safe.
This is India’s first Extreme Adventure zone. If you are an adventure lover then this is the place to visit in Rishikesh. Here they have trained professional and you can do Bungee Jumping, Flying Fox, and get on a giant swing. This place is 20 Km ahead of Rishikesh and set up in hills and deep valleys.
Yoga and Meditation Retreats
There are many ashrams in Rishikesh and one can choose a place according to their liking or from a recommendation by friends or family.
Rishikesh’s food culture is diverse and totally different from the neighboring city of Haridwar. In Haridwar, you will mostly get Uttar Pradesh food or Indian food whereas Rishikesh offers a wide variety of cuisines from all over the world. There are numerous cafes in Tapovan area, near Ram Jhula, and near Triveni Ghat. These restaurants and cafes serve food from different parts of India as well as continental cuisine, Italian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Chinese and other Asian cuisines.
One of the oldest restaurants in Rishikesh is Chotiwala, they serve vegetarian Punjabi thali and Marwari thali. There are 2-3 Chotiwala restaurants in a row with a man sitting outside the gate on an elevated chair claiming to be “Original”. This restaurant is for the first-time traveler for the experience, the food is average. There are many better places in Rishikesh for a good meal.
The twin cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh can be visited in 3 days time. If you want to relax or do a course in Yoga or meditation than stay in Rishikesh for the longer duration.
How to Travel to Haridwar and Rishikesh –
There are many trains between Delhi to Haridwar.
The bus service between Delhi and Haridwar is quite good, there is a basic or Volvo bus every hour.
The road condition is good and driving is another good option.
Haridwar and Rishikesh are connected with the local bus service.
Things to remember –
Dress conservatively because Haridwar is a religious city.
In Rishikesh, you can wear all sort of clothes just be conservative while visiting temples of ghats.
Non-vegetarian food is prohibited in Haridwar and Rishikesh.
The hash is available in Rishikesh, don’t try to buy it because it is illegal in India and can land you in trouble.