Whitewater rafting and some waterfalls in Rishikesh are definitely worth your time if you come to visit this internationally-known yoga haven.
The Ganges River runs through the Tehri Garhwal region of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, and Rishikesh is also a popular destination for Indian tourists seeking escape from mega-cities like Delhi — especially on weekends, so weekday outings are quieter.
The river in Rishikesh is not nearly as polluted as it is around Delhi and Varanassi. The Ganges looks clear north of the Tapovan neighborhood — but I wouldn’t dip myself in the water downriver of the waste water treatment plant on the northern edge of Tapovan.
The riverbed is white sand. It’s beautiful, it’s fierce, it’s cold, it’s spiritual.
Whitewater rafting on the Ganges (also referred to as Ganga, the female name of the river as a deity) draws tourists from all over India. Aside from the Hindu spiritual beliefs about the Ganga, it’s simply downright fun!
Tour operators are all over the place – from Rishikesh’s city center, to both banks of the river in the Tapovan and Laxmi neighborhoods, and also for several more miles north.
Wherever your tour office is located is likely the where your group will end the whitewater rafting trip, unless you make other arrangements. For this reason, husband Theo picked a tour company close to the Janki Setu Bridge, because he wanted to float down to that ghat (a gateway to a river; steps leading down to holy water).
We chose the 16 kilometer route, which featured about 10 rapids, up to class 3. That was enough – we were soaked!
2 Tips & the price
Theo and I also floated in the Ganges alongside the raft for several minutes. That was amazing! We did this well north of the city center, and north of the wastewater treatment plant. At one spot, the depth at a class 2 rapids was 150 feet, so Theo bobbed through the rapids! I was too cold to try that. Next time, I’ll be ready.
And that brings me to the biggest tip I have: prepare yourself to be cold, but you can minimize the shivers. Go on a sunny day. Go at midday when it’s hottest. I wore tight polyester clothing that dried fast and hugged my skin.
For more money, some tour companies rent wet suits, if that’s your wish. But there’s something so cool about being in water so cold…
We used Himgiri Adventure, just off the main road on the way to the Janki Bridge. It cost 800 rupees each ($9.65), and we sprung for Mom Diane’s trip as part of her birthday gift. It would have cost more with fewer people in the raft, but we opted to wait for a small group of four Indian tourists to be paired with us. We waited about 45 minutes.
Second tip: arrive early if you want to share the cost. You don’t want to be waiting for a larger group as the afternoon passes by because the sun won’t be as warm.
Our guide Santosh was great – I would seek him out when we go again.
Waterfalls in Rishikesh
Sometimes Google maps lead me astray. Finding this waterfall was one of those times. Patna Waterfall is located about 2 kilometers down the two-lane road from the Neelkanth Bridge, on the Laxman side of the river. From the Laxman neighborhood, it’s about 5 kilometers upriver. You will see a sign – and you will see stands on the road selling snacks and drinks.
The sign at the road says ‘tourists prohibited’. But what we think it really meant was tourists prohibited onto the trail that diverges from the waterfall to a mountain village. We saw women walking with large tree branches stacked on their heads, most likely to construct a roof, as we have seen so many times in the Philippines and other places.
The Patna Waterfall trail is steep but well maintained – and worth the sweat to get there!
There are public benches on the top to sit and rest, and there also are a few private stands with seating that sell drinks and snacks. The trash is minimal at the top, but more frequent off the road at the start of the trail.
Patna Waterfall is unique — it looks like a fan-style waterfall. The last time I saw one that looked like this was in Tuxtla, Chiapas, Mexico. And we seek out waterfalls all over Earth.
Related: Thrilling waterfalls and cliff jumps on Bali Island
Garud Chatti Waterfall
This waterfall is closer to the Neer Bridge. The trail starts across from the beer and liquor store tucked around the corner from the bridge.
The trek was easier than Patna, but the waterfalls were just as cool. We saw two – one near the trees torn out by a wild elephant, and the other through a cave with amazing rock formations.
Yep. You read that right. This is wild elephant territory. Keep reading for more on this craziness.
Wild elephant territory
We were lucky to have met a professional elephant tracker near the start of the trail. The Garud Chatti and Patna waterfalls are on the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. (So is the Neelkanth path I took with Mom Diane, and so is the ‘Beatles Ashram’.) The reserve’s website says the park is more than 1,000 square kilometers and has endangered Asian elephants and tigers, Himalayan bears, and dozens of other mammals pushed into corners of Earth by us humans.
The tracker told us a horny, wild, aggressive male elephant was stomping through the area near Garud Chatti at certain times of the day. Yet he felt it was safe to trek in the middle of the day, when the elephant hid from the hot sun. But the tracker asked us not to go too deep into the reserve, and to leave in 90 minutes. We agreed. We saw a lot of elephant dung on the trail.
Ironically, and sadly, the tracker confirmed this is the same wild elephant that killed a man during our month-long Rishikesh stay.
Perhaps this is why these waterfalls and soaking pools are not as popular as the Patna Waterfall. There were hardly any people here, and no snack stands at the top. Or it could be because the Garud falls aren’t as high as Patna or as cool as the next one I’ll tell you about.
Still, I found the experience here enjoyable, if not a tad unsettling.
Related: Why we support humane elephant camps
The trek to Neer Waterfalls can be easy and short if you get a ride up to the entrance. However, Mom Diane and I walked from Tapovan, so it was quite a long trek.
Google maps are spot on for this waterfall. Neer is the only one out of these three Rishikesh waterfalls that charges admission – 50 rupees ($.60).
This site has several waterfalls and soaking pools. The largest waterfall is on the top, with the largest soaking pool and a makeshift changing room.
There are several places to buy snacks and drinks along the way.
This waterfall area had more people than the previous two I mentioned, and I’m betting the pools will attract even more people in summer months.
Adventure seekers have even more options
If you need more adventure than these easy treks and rapids, there are longer, more intense treks and rapids up the holy Ganga.
You can tailor your experience to include a mix of driving and hiking and camping. Just watch out for those wild elephants if you go it alone.