top of page

Came To Rishikesh For The Yoga, Stayed For The Digital Nomad Hub It Turned Out To Be

Updated: Apr 5

I have vague memories of visiting Rishikesh as a child and the only two visuals my memory could conjure up from the family trip was gingerly walking on the rickety Laxman Jhula and eating the 3-feet long dosa at Chotiwala -- both of which still exist but in a wayyy different form now. But back in the early 90's, there was no way I'd have foreseen that 30 years later I'd call this obscure holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas, home.


Rishikesh the OG yoga hub


Rishikesh is the spiritual hub and Yoga capital of India and arguably the world. According to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, it all started here as rishis and munis (sages and priests) performed rituals, sacred baths and long periods of meditation and yoga on the banks of the mighty Ganga as far back as thousands of years ago. The hallowed Parmarth Niketan Ashram was set up in 1940s, Sivananda Ashram (now Divine Life Society) in the '50s and others around the same time. They still remain relevant amongst those who came to repose and retire by the Ganga’s peaceful embrace. Maharishi Mahesh, the eager disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati started his Transcendental Meditation journey here and set off a chain of events that changed Rishikesh forever.


Rishikesh, the Beatles' home in the '60s


beatles in Rishikesh
Beatles at the Maharishi Ashram

When Beatles, the most popular rock band of the '60s, came to Rishikesh to take a break from their music burnout and practise Transcendental Meditation in the newly-constructed Maharishi Mahesh Ashram,(now colloquially called the 'Beatles Ashram'), the world started noticing Rishikesh as a hub for serenity, meditation and ancient wisdom. Steve Jobs followed the Beatles and soon Rishikesh was a West magnet. Rishikesh came to be to the slightly older free souls, what Thailand was to broke gap year students. Both seeking different adventures in life than the ones their cushioned life back home provided.

Its reputation as a yoga and meditation hub grew and brought many changes.


Rishikesh today and the YTTC effect


Today's Rishikesh though, like most places in India has gone through phases of evolution, development and a slightly concerning shift in energy.

Keen business minds, sensing the opportunity, started opening up Yoga schools all over. The premise of a Yoga Teacher's Training Course (YTTC) was promising -- A stay, 3 meals and all day yoga for 3-5 weeks away from the madness of the city, coliving with a new set of people, along or near the powerful and peaceful waters of the Ganga where it's still clean and pure, and of course with a potential to become a yoga teacher and turn it into a lucrative career elsewhere. Not to mention, weekends promise exciting treks, hikes and excursions to nearby caves, hills and temples. As of 2024, there are over 250 yoga schools in Rishikesh alone and a few others in nearby Haridwar that attract pupils from all over the world.  Along with Yoga schools, there are yoga-adjacent activities like drop-in classes for meditation to breathwork to many variations of yoga itself. (yin yoga, acro yoga, Kundalini-yoga to name a few.) There are also healers and "spiritual gurus" as well as hacks and frauds.


Rishikesh the perfect little haven for western travelers


Ever since the Beatles, Rishikesh has adapted itself for the huge sets of westerners that throng the yoga schools and continue to stay to teach yoga or just rest away in India. Today the Laxman Jhula (the main bridge on the Ganga) has been non-functional for a few years and a new one is all set to come up right next to it (they've been saying that for years.) but Ram Jhula has been successfully filling in, connecting the two sides of Ganga, both of which are flanked by cafes, shops, yoga schools and yoga-adjacent hubs. Think meditation, classical dance, wellness centres, and everything in between across the spiritual-wellness space and Rishikesh has it. More cafes serve Italian, Chinese, continental and Israeli fares than they do Indian cuisine! Most convenience stores stock up ample supplies of  toilet paper, organic breakfast cereal and peanut butter ensuring the firangs' daily needs are met.


Rishikesh white water rafting and weekend crowds


Along with the yoga, Rishikesh is also synonymous with the famous ‘white water rafting’. Since almost at the mouth of Ganga, Rishikesh's clean and emerald green waters along with some rapids indeed make for great rafting and other water sports. Naturally, along with yoga schools, rafting and trek organizers have mushroomed all over Tapovan - the yoga central of Rishikesh where most of the action is. The rafting, the cafes, the 'vibes' and the fact that Rishikesh is only a couple of hours away from the Delhi-NCR region brings scores of weekend tourists along with their SUVs, trash and loud music. It’s not uncommon to see Rishikesh packed WITH the rafters over the weekend. Gripes have come up about the loud music blaring late into the night by the people that wake up in the wee hours of the morning to start their gruelling Yoga schedule. I get it though.


My Rishikesh experience


I came to Rishikesh after a career burnout and loss of one of my dogs. Back in Bangalore, I quit my job, packed my apartment up, and moved bags, barrels and dogs in a train to do an immersive Yoga course and then see what later.

Even though zeroing down on a yoga school in Rishikesh was quite the task given the staggering number of available TTCs, filtering by a non-residential option got me down to 2 options. And so it began.

Every day, I'd wake up at 6, walk the 900 meters to my yoga school, begin the day doing Ashtanga yoga, understanding yoga philosophy and come noon, dozing off through yoga anatomy, and then calling it a day with an energising class of Hatha yoga before heading back home.


Yoga TTC Rishikesh India


Yoga student by day, Digital Nomad by evening


I also freelanced a digital marketing job at the same time so used the evenings to work away, essentially living my first stint as a digital nomad.

This life was quite perfect really. Waking up early, eating wholesome, nutritious food and doing a good 3-4 hours of yoga everyday, and working and spending time with family. (which was my 2 dogs and partner.) On weekends, we'd go check out a new cafe, attend an event, or simply travel out of Rishikesh since so many great places within a bus ride away. (I traveled to Manali, Dharamkot, and the Valley Of Flowers while in Rishikesh.)


Everyday life in Rishikesh


If you're considering a longer stay in Rishikesh, you've heard of Deecon Valley - the only large-scale apartment complex in Tapovan. The best part about Deecon Valley is that it has all the amenities and conveniences of an apartment like a gym, in-house cafe, security, but also conveniently located on Tapovan main road where all the action is. After Deecon Valley, we moved to another place which didn't only have the Himalayas for a view but also a sliver of the Ganga  visible from our bedroom and a terrace that seemed nestled amongst the mountains all around it.


We met new people, attended Kirtans, I even hosted a vegan brunch, made day trips out of the Chilla dam, the aforementioned Beatles Ashram, ambled into random streams and quaint cafes as we walked around endlessly. There was never a need of a vehicle -- what a contrast from our life in Bangalore where hailing auto rikshaws, Ubers and buses was the order of the day.  Rishikesh is also where humans across a spectrum of classes, regions and religions regularly intermingle with cows, monkeys, dogs and all other living beings, I hope in some spirit of universal consciousness and oneness, making it an inclusive, evolved place.

I remember someone I met at an event saying "There's a different level of powerful energy in Rishikesh", and her words have stuck with me ever since.


Is Rishikesh for digital nomads?


Rishikesh sounds like a perfect place for the spiritually minded who may need a bit of escape into the mountains and the rivers but is it somewhere you can stay longer and work from?

This is where it gets interesting. Nobody really thinks of Rishikesh as a Digital Nomad Hub but our stay which has involved running full or part-time remote jobs would testify’s Rishikesh suitability as one.


digital nomad in Rishikesh India


What makes Rishikesh a perfect digital nomad hub:


  • Good internet - Rishikesh is nestled amongst the hills but not high enough that it doesn't have service. Most of residences have strong broadband internet (We had a 50mbps fibre connection at home.) connection and most cafes have Wifi. Although powercuts during the summer are common, but even then one can simply use their cheap 4G mobile data pack and use hotspot to work quite comfortably. (After all, Internet is one of the cheapest commodities in India.)

  • International community - While Rishikesh has a staggering international presence, most come for the yoga and yoga-adjacent activities.

  • Good number of treks - Since Rishikesh is at the foothills of the Himalayas, it's home to a large number of treks and hikes and a base point for some of the best treks in Uttarakhand like the Kedarnath pilgrimage, Valley Of Flowers, Hemkunt Sahib, Nanda Devi trek and more.

  • Cafes with wifi - There are SO many wonderful cafes that one can go to a new one every week for a year! As a non-drinking vegan, Rishikesh has personally been a perfect paradise for me. Here's a list of my favourite 25 cafes in Rishikesh with great food, ambience and work ability.

  • Affordability - While Rishikesh comes with a bit of a "White Hype Premium", it's still an affordable digital nomad destination in India depending on what your reference point is. One can rent a basic 1bhk or a studio apartment for about $250 and a nice one for around $350 a month. A cappuccino at a Ganga view cafe is about $1.5 and whole meal with beverage is about $10. I wouldn't gloss over it though. Rishikesh is getting more expensive with each passing year and in season (Feb-May), everything is on a premium.

  • Networking and startup events? - This is where Rishikesh lacks as a potential digital nomad destination. Most events in Rishikesh are oriented towards spirituality and wellness so it may not have an intense population of engineers and C-suits. But hey who says you can't meet a fellow entrepreneur at an ecstatic dance or crush your OKRs while aligning your chakras.

All in all, Rishikesh personally fulfilled most of my requirements as a contender for a place to settle down and live a location-independent lifestyle in India. Although I'm not batting for Rishikesh to become the next Bali because the last thing we want is more traffic, more mindless development, and more honking and psy-trance in a place where once ragas, mantras, Oms and the waves of the river were the only sounds. In fact a part of me wants to gatekeep Rishikesh. As if it's only a place I know all the hidden gems in, a place I get to call home, and a place I get to host you as a guest in.

But a bigger part of me wants people to see Rishikesh as more than just a Yoga Capital (which it is) or a weekend party hub (which it shouldn't be). But rather, Rishikesh is the perfect bridge between the spiritually-oriented and those who like nature and slow living while having a remote job. It's not a party town, it's not even for the crazy capitalistic or the ones that dream of a "quiet place by the hills". What Rishikesh needs is people who love it back, take care of it, and help preserve its glorious and unique legacy. I know George Harrison would’ve liked that.



 

Check out Shanti Spaces, a website I created to curate yoga schools, retreats and other spiritual and wellness events and courses across India.

Comments


Get toknowme

 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

Connect with me on the following channels to get more real-time content that I'm too lazy to blog about.

  • X
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
bottom of page