We left Delhi and travelled North via train to a small hippy town at the bottom of the Himalayas called Rishikesh. This was probably the best decision we could have made and honestly turned our time around in India. WE LOVED RISHIKESH.
We stayed at two different hostels during our time here and both were good, but Zostel has to be the best, we continued to stay in ‘Zostel’s’ throughout our time in India and they are honestly some of the best hostels we stayed in during the whole 5 months of travels! (If you haven’t noticed I definitely recommend staying in a Zostel if you plan on travelling India or Nepal).
The people you interact with and meet whilst travelling have such a massive impact on how much you enjoy a place and the time that you spend there. This was especially true in India when we encountered Saschi who works at the Zostel in Rishikesh. He was so friendly and helpful, took us hiking one day for no charge and invited us for a meal with him on our final night in Rishikesh. He is one of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.
The Ganges is the third largest river in the world and one of the most sacred to Hindus worldwide. The Ganges flows through Rishikesh from higher up in the Himalayas and at this point is some of the cleanest water in the world, however, by the time the river flows down to Varanasi it becomes some of the dirtiest. Open sewage flows into it, deceased people are cremated along the sides of it, and yet millions of Indian people live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. By all means go swimming in the Ganges, but do it at its source, definitely not at its end!
During our time here we sweated it out in a few intense yoga classes (Rishikesh is the birthplace of yoga and some of the best yoga teachers in the world live here), went sunrise trekking in the Himalayas, swimming in natural waterfalls and rafting in the River Ganges.
We met some incredible people in India, and it seems like because there were a few tough times, it brought us all closer together and we really appreciated the good.
Something I was slightly disappointed by was the food in India. I was so looking forward to my fair share of tasty, spicy Indian curry but it was very different to what I had in mind. Being Hindu, the majority of Indian people don’t eat meat, so replace this aspect in their food with Paneer (a type of fresh cheese), they literally put paneer in EVERYTHING. Paneer wraps in McDonalds are actually a massive thing. And obviously, being vegan this was kind of an issue. There were loads of veggie options, but none of the ingredients were particularly fresh in comparison to Thai and Vietnamese food.
That being said, I did have my best curry of India in Rishikesh, at a local restaurant in town for the equivalent of only £1…
Vegetable Jalfrezi, Chana Masala and Veg Masala with garlic roti’s, naan’s and a tonne of rice. Extremely spicy and SO TASTY.
The rest of the food was kind of similar, and very very oily which I didn’t really expect. One thing they do have down in India is the breads though, not many people seemed to eat curry with rice it was mainly breads like roti’s and naan’s, which I am so okay with. (If I haven’t mentioned before…I love bread).
A fire ceremony takes place in Rishikesh every night at the Ashram along the river, which includes chanting and singing after sunset. The ceremony is dedicated to the sun and people buy small flower baskets lit with candles and incense to float down the river. It’s a very cultural experience and was beautiful to see all the fire surrounded by a setting sun and the towering mountains of the Himalayas!
Down by the river it is very busy and there is lots going on. We joined some of the guys from our hostel on a food walk where we sampled some of the street food on offer. It’s best to do this with a guide or someone from your hostel as they know the clean places to eat, you don’t want to be eating from anywhere on the side of the road in India…(see New Delhi & Agra post for more on that…)
The food was actually really good – lots of chickpeas and beans, potato crisp-like things with yogurt and curry, spicy sauces, dhal and big bhaji like things made from chickpeas and potato.
We spent a lot of the time wandering the streets of Rishikesh in the daytime too and came across all sorts of weird sights. (Cows everywhere).
One thing India is definitely a master of is Tea. Everywhere you go people are drinking Chai. Being a little hippy town, Rishikesh even had vegan Chai (soya milk with a mixture of spices and black tea), sooo tasty.
We spent about 5 days in Rishikesh and even ended up extending our stay because we loved it so much. The clean mountain air, the friendly people and being surrounded by nature made this my favourite place in Northern India.
Rishikesh brought us back to life after struggling to come to grips with India in New Delhi and I cannot recommend it enough. This is the India I loved.