Rishikesh with kids

Rishikesh with kids: top 5 things to do

Have you considered visiting Rishikesh with kids? Nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya lies the sacred town of Rishikesh, a place where a sense of mystique flows from the River Ganga and where thousands of pilgrims gather to cleanse in its magical waters. The numerous ashrams north of town draw in those hippy backpackers looking for spiritual enlightenment through yoga and meditation classes. There is admittedly a trendy vibe around town and many travellers conform to the unwritten uniform rules: headband, beads and flowing trousers (which personally I love!) Once a state of ultimate relaxation has been achieved, many turn to white-water rafting, bungee jumping or Himalayan treks to get the blood pumping again. Doesn’t quite sound a suitable destination for young kids, does it?

Rishikesh with kids

So it may surprise you to read that for our boys, aged 2 and 3, Rishikesh was their favourite stop on Our Northern India Itinerary. Why? Well there was sand to play in, water to splash in, monkeys to feed, colourful people to meet, a fire ceremony to watch, and chocolate milkshake and banana pancakes served at almost every restaurant.

Here are our top 5 things to do in Rishikesh with kids:

1. Play on the banks of the River Ganges

Sandplay_Ganges

Take an auto to Laxman Jula and cross over the wobbly bridge (avoiding the motorbikes, monkeys and cows). Once across, follow the road to the right for about 200m (browsing the shops as much as you can with young kids in tow) and take one of the narrow passageways down to Manmouji Ghat. Here you will find tactile white sand perfect for sandcastles and steps to stand on for a paddle and splash.

You will also see worshippers bathing in the River Ganges, performing their own individual ceremonies alongside local kids having a playful swim. They will urge you to join them. This may be an unwise choice for young kids due to the fast flowing current and questionable cleanliness, but if Mum or Dad feel the urge – go for it!

There is also a good sandy beach a Gange Beach, just 300m East of Ram Jhula.

2. Watch the Ganga Aarti (river worship ceremony)

Witnessing first-hand the noise, mystique and colour of a Ganga ceremony, and the incredible levels of devotion shown by the pilgrims, is breathtaking.  There is a raw energy that radiates from the hopeful worshippers and our boys loved the theatre of it all; they found the choreography of flames fascinating and clapped along to the fervent chanting mantras.

To watch the ceremony with young kids, I suggest going to the ghats to the left of the ferry crossing at Ram Jhula (see star on map below). It is one of the few quiet spots, where you can sit on the ghats with a clear view, without vying for space. Once the ceremony ends, light a candle in a wreath of flowers, place it in the river, and watch your prayer join the chatter of flickering flames and drift downstream.

3. Rishikesh with kids

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4. Take the boat across the River Ganges and enjoy a chocolate milkshake

Rishikesh with kids

Just to the left of the star on the map above, you can see the ferry terminal. There is a  regular small boat which takes you across the Ganges for a nominal fee (kids are free). Once across, climb the ghats towards Tip Top Restaurant. Here you’ll find breezy views across the Ganges from the high vantage point. There are Indian, Italian and Israeli dishes on offer. Our boys loved their pancakes and chocolate milkshake.

4. Temple hopping

On the southern side of the river, you’ll stumble across many ashrams and temples. Some offer quiet contemplation, whilst others are a noisy celebration with banging drums and fervent chanting. In between you’ll stumble across Hindu monks dressed in bright orange, meandering cows (our boys enjoyed feeding them bananas), and colourful market stalls.

5. Visit Haridwar

Haridwar with kids

An hour auto ride downstream of Rishikesh lies Haridwar (meaning ‘Gateway to the Lord’) . It is believed that Amrit, the elixir of immortality, accidentally spilled here, and it is therefore argued that the city of Haridwar holds more importance to Hindus than Rishikesh.

This is where intrepid families are rewarded with a more authentic experience as tourists seem few and far between. Rise early to beat the crowds and take the cable car (looks like a big bucket) up to Mansa Devi Temple, which celebrates the folk goddess of snakes. The cable car opens at 7am from April to October and 8am at all other times of the year; tickets are Rs84 return (small kids free). Shuffle along shoulder-to-shoulder with devout pilgrims desperate for a glimpse of the sacred shrines.

Spend an afternoon temple hopping along the ghats and if you’re still around by sunset catch another Ganga ceremony. Hari Ki Pauri is the most popular place, however, we enjoyed an intimate ceremony adjacent to Ganga Temple with just a handful of worshippers and one priest performing the evening ritual.

Getting there and around

There are direct trains from Delhi. Check the IRCTC website for up-to-date train times. However, with only three slow trains daily, you may find it better to get to Haridwar and then take an auto on to the centre Rishikesh (Rs200). For some reason, you then have to change to a different auto to take you to your hotel. There are also direct buses from Delhi, although we don’t really recommend this with young kids.

Rishikesh with kids

There are no metered autos in Rishikesh and there seems to be a cartel in operation. Very short distances seemed relatively pricey (Rs150 or Rs200 for a 1.5km); although in the grand scheme of things, this is only a couple of quid! Also to get out of Laxman Jhula you have to take a taxi (no autos will stop for you). Prices for taxis are non-negotiable and printed on a big board.

Where to stay

Ideally you want to stay in the more picturesque, less hectic, north of town. We stayed at Bhandari Swiss Cottages. There are great views over the valley and it’s nicely tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Autos wait at the bottom of the hill; although be warned that they are a bit pricier than your standard auto and it cost Rs150 for the 1.5km to Laxman Jhula! Rooms are spacious, but basic and could be cleaner, and there is an onsite restaurant with a fantastic range of food, although bear in mind with your little ones that service is painfully slow.

To read more about travelling India with young kids, head to our India page.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I get a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog. 

Rishikesh with kids

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28 Comments

  1. pigeonpairandme

    The river worship ceremony sounds spellbinding – I bet my two would be captivated by that too. It’s great to know that India is do-able with young children. #familytraveltips

  2. What a fabulous post. Love it when a place that doesn’t appear child friendly actually is. Went to Varanasai years ago and loved the vibe of the Ganges. Would love to explore India with my boys #failytraveltips

    • Varanasi is incredible – we went there pre-kids too. Thought it may be a bit too overwhelming for young kids. But may take them when they’re a bit older.

  3. Your kids are having such a mind-blowing experience. I loved India, I was there for 3 weeks, but I’m not planning a family trip yet. Lovely to see your inspiration though. #citytripping

  4. This is the first post about kids and India which has actually made me think I’d like to take my kids there. I think my boys would love the river ceremony. #Citytripping

  5. I would love to go to the Ganges. Your kids are very lucky!
    #citytripping

  6. This sounds such an amazing experience – India is somewhere I would love to visit but I wouldn’t ìnstantly have considered it with young kids. Love how possible you make it sound and this would be such a fabulous introduction to the culture, so colourful and monkeys and beaches too! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • Rishikesh is magical! I agree, India is not an obvious first choice for family travel, but we’re so pleased we’re having this opportunity to experience this incredible country with our little boys.

  7. It’s always odd what kids like and what they hate. But I can quite see why they’d enjoy this.

  8. Manmohan ghanshyala

    I love my Rishikesh….

  9. What a great guide. I know my girls would love watching candles float down the river and feeding cows bananas. It goes without saying that we’d all love the chocolate milkshakes 🙂 #MondayEscapes

  10. This is such an interesting post, I watched the Sue Perkins programme about the Ganges last week and it put me off visiting ! I love your perspective x

  11. #familytraveltips You’ve made India so enticing with kids. All those colourful festivals and temple hopping plus a boat trip on the Ganges. Who doesn’t love a boat trip? Mine would also be sold on the pancakes for breakfast too.

    • It really is a wonderful adventure for our boys. They see past the dirt and grim, never have to negotiate and haggle with auto drivers (that’s Mum and Dad’s job). Travelling India as a pre-schooler is the best 😉

  12. Wow, what an amazing place! And I would have thought of something totally different if a Ganga ceremony had been mentioned to me in conversation! It’s great to see the best places to take children in India. It’s not top of our list of places to travel, but if we ever do go with the children it will be useful to have advice from someone who has done it. Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips.
    Nat.x

  13. I have thought of India before with our daughter but I was not sure it would be manageable. These are great tips! It seems like it would be very fun for kids. #bebevoyage

  14. A great post about India. You make it seem like travelling in India is a breeze, and seem to adapt so easily to the local lively/choatic/fascinating environment. A friend of mine went to India and she visited a holy site at the Ganges river and she came back very disappointed, she said it was a smelly filthy river and she felt like showering afterwards and could not believe it that so many people happily bath in the river. #bebevoyage

    • Thanks Jules. I think we perhaps find it easier as we live here – so the everyday challenges become the norm. I wonder if your friend went to Varanasi? That city on the Ganges is very confronting and perhaps one of the places we wouldn’t take the kids.

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