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Beyond the Tourist trail: Experiencing the Hidden gems of Rishikesh

As you know by now, Rishikesh and I have a personal connection. So let me take you to the time when I made a solo trip to explore Rishikesh to its full extent. From the last post, you know that I rode all the way to my home on my new bike and now I was quite confident on my bike. And the fear of riding on mountain roads is also gone thanks to the adventures I had with Kanishk's Apache on my trip to Kasauli. So it made sense to go somewhere in the mountains. Moreover, I was bored to death sitting at home and had a long weekend coming. So decided to head out somewhere.

I was looking for someplace where I can get cheap stay options (preferably backpacker hostels) and somewhere that I could reach by morning if I start riding after midnight. Not more than 4 - 5 hours of travel time. This left me with a few locations:

  1. Dehradun: Quite a scenic place and I loved it, but the last time I was there, it was more of a normal city than somewhere in the mountains. I was not too keen to visit this place. I was also a bit doubtful about the road conditions leading to this place.

  2. Mussoorie: 30 km from Dehradun. If I wanted to visit Mussorie, I would have to go to Dehradun and from there on. I kept this as the last option.

  3. Nainital: Haven't been there but seemed like a good option. Wasn't sure about the road conditions leading to that place and moreover google maps showed that it'd take more than 6 hours to reach.

  4. Rishikesh: Been here earlier, loved the place. Yet I knew that this place had more than just rafting and temples. It was quite tempting to visit this place.

There were a few more locations, but all of them could have been done by keeping any of these as a base camp. But I finalized it for Rishikesh as it could have been done over the weekend and I wanted it to be an exploration rather than a sightseeing.

Day of Departure:

I prefer starting early in the morning so that I reach my destination by daybreak. But this was an unknown road for me and I wasn't confident riding in the dark at this stage. I predetermined the route and my place to stay was goSTOPS hostel as it was quite cheap and looked good. At this time, bikes were allowed on the Delhi-Meerut expressway and this was the logical choice. I started around 4:00 am and the road was buttery smooth. It was daylight by the time I was out of the expressway and back onto the national highway. I took a rest stop here and clicked some photos.

From here I expected the road to be quite a bit damaged and under-construction from the last time I was on this road, and I couldn't have been more mistaken.

The road now was 6 lanes wide and smooth. Not a pothole in sight. No construction, just a wide open road.

The route taken by me from Ghaziabad to Rishikesh (highlighted in blue)

Although the road was good and I was enjoying the scenery alongside, I was more interested in reaching the hills and eventually, I reached the outskirts of Rishikesh.

There are two ways to enter the city. One is the plain boring old road that everyone takes.

Another one is a bit longer, diverts from the main road, passes through some jungles and up the hill, and connects to the city near Ram Jhula. This road is usually taken to reach Tehri Dam and the upper regions, but it is a beautiful road nonetheless.

Me riding on the road mentioned above (photo from a later trip wherein a few of my friends were in a car and I was on my bike)

It was the first time I was riding this NS200 in the hills and it was much different than the Apache I rode earlier. This one was more stable and planted around the corners and I could lean it a fair bit. I was enjoying the ride on the curves and as the dumbass I am, I didn't check the map and was more than 30km past my place of stay. I was even out of Rishikesh.

Once I realized it, I stopped and turned around. I was at my hostel at around 12:00 pm.

I kept my belongings in the locker, freshened up, and went off to just explore around on foot with just my camera. I was just walking around and reached a beach on the Ganges. I remembered the beach as a rafting endpoint but now it wasn't that crowded. I sat there on the rocks and clicked a few photos of the rafts that passed by. It was a good afternoon spent. From here, I walked all the way to Ram Jhula and crossed over to the other side.

Rafting in Rishikesh. This is one of the minor rapids at the end of the session.

From there, I saw that the evening aarti was visible on the opposite bank of the river. This is a worship of the river performed with great pomp and show every day at dawn and dusk. This is quite a sight and a must-have experience, but I have seen that before.

But this time, it was quite surreal, to see the shimmering reflection of the lights around. I just sat there for a while and clicked some photos.

From here, I just started walking through the alleyways and along the roads. I was enjoying it and discovered another beauty of Rishikesh. The one that most people miss out on.

Ram jhula in Rishikesh at night

Triveni ghat aarti as viewed from the other side of the river using a telephoto lens

Tapovan area as seen at night from the ghats near marine drive at Rishikesh

I reached my hostel at night, tired and weary. Oh, by this time, I made a friend, Rishabh (insta: @_rishabh_ranu_333), and was sitting with him at the rooftop cafe having some snacks.

I was actually waiting for the travel desk guy to connect me with some people for a sunrise hike. Later, he informed me that the people had backed out and now there was one girl who was going to that sunrise spot and he suggested we go together, as I had the bike. He didn't have her bed number or any other details, so I informed him that I'll be at the cafeteria till closing time and left my number at the travel desk in case someone wants to join and particularly for that girl to contact me. The desk guy said that if he meets her, he will share my number and ask her to meet me at the cafeteria.

Now, at the cafeteria, I was enjoying the live music by a guitarist and had some conversations with a girl who was also traveling solo. (Some things to note: I am shit, I can't even remember her name or her profession. I tried to go through my insta chats to find her profile, but couldn't find it. I am soooo sorry if you are reading this, but I will keep finding you and once I find you, I'll update them here.) She mentioned that she will be leaving for Kedarnath the next morning. I later came to know that it was the same girl that I was looking for, but by then it was too late. We were sitting there for hours and didn't realize it at that time 😭(insert sad noises here).

Next day:

To reach the sunrise spot, you have to take a vehicle for around 30kms and then you can hike/drive back down either by the tarmac road that passes through the forest or take the old walking trail that I was informed earlier is in not-so-good condition. I was free today, so decided to explore a bit more of Rishikesh and ride to the sunrise spot. Rishabh went for a rafting session today, although I decided against joining as I was on a budget and had done rafting a few times before.

I inquired at the travel desk and the guy suggested me a few places that are not visited by tourists that much in exchange for a few photos of them with my camera. Fair deal.

He said that since I am a biker, I can visit a nearby town called Narendranagar as the road to that town is quite good and curvy. I was also informed that Kunjapuri temple (the sunrise spot) was a few km from Narendranagar on that same road. I was also informed about a not-so-well-known waterfall, conveniently named "Secret Waterfall" and a few well-known waterfalls around the town. He also guided me to some viewpoints across the city that are popular with tourists and a few eateries.

I decided to visit the market and then head off to Narendranagar. It was noon by the time I started the ride uphill. As soon as I was out of the city, it was an uphill road with a lot of curves and scenic views all while passing through some dense forests. I was enjoying the ride to my fullest and eventually found a random location from where the whole of Rishikesh was visible. I stopped there for a while for some photos and then moved on.

Curvy roads leading to Narendranagar

Me watching the beautiful views of Rishikesh completely unaware of a location a few meters ahead that is much better.

The location from where the whole of Rishikesh is visible. It is a construction site, but beautiful nonetheless.

After some good leaning along the roads, I reached Narendranagr. It was a small town, barely compared to a small-sized gated society in the cities. But the layout and the same-looking shops were just mind-blowing. I then moved off to Kunjapuri temple.

Viewpoints/Rest areas like these are common near Narendranagar as they provide great views of Rishikesh

View from a location after crossing the town. The small cluster of houses you are seeing is the town of Narendranagar.

The shops in the town. In person, this looks much better.

At one point, google maps guided me to leave the main road and enter a small narrow road through the forest. As soon as I left the main road, I had to stop as the maps was showing that there was one single road, but in front of me, the road diverged into two. I stopped for a while and walked back a couple of meters back to a shop selling vegetables to know the route and if vehicles could reach the top.

Once I was aware of the route, I started riding up. It was a steep - narrow road through the forest and there was a deep cliff on one side along most of it. I reached the base of the temple and saw a long flight of stairs (200+) that had to be taken to reach the main premises. I spent a while at the temple and reached Rishikesh in the afternoon.

Now, it was time to visit the so-called secret waterfall. The road to here was the steepest I have ever rode on, so steep that unless you are quite experienced, you won't be able to ride up it, and was equally narrow. Google Maps was useless here and I had to ask the locals for directions and reached the fall after a while of going back and forth. The place had a few campsites but was devoid of tourists. The only people there were a few foreigners who were there for yoga, meditation, and other wellness retreats. I spent a while there and wanted to click some specific photos, but couldn't do that as I was not carrying my tripod today and it was really needed for those shots. So I just had some food there and left for my hostel.

This photo was taken of the waterfall on the first day. It was already evening and I had to crank up the ISO a lot to get the photo to even show up. This photo has been enhanced later. But you can see that it doesn't look that good. Look at the image from the next day to understand what I am saying.

I had some time to play with this boi. It was fun.

At the hostel, I again met with Rishabh and one more friend and decided that we will visit Kunjapuri temple the next morning. We gossiped for a while, had dinner and then we went to a ghat at night. It was just surreal. The river and the ghats are completely different during the day and night. Once we returned to the hostel, Rishabh and I decided to spend the night awake sitting in the courtyard and gossiping and the third friend went to sleep asking us to wake him up when we leave.

The next day: I and Rishabh spent the night sitting under the open sky in chilling cold winds and waited till 4:00 am when we were supposed to leave. We rang the other friend's phone, but it wasn't received; probably was in silent mode. We didn't know his exact bed and so couldn't find him. It was a mixed dorm so we couldn't just look on all the beds searching for him as that could have been bad.

So we decided to leave him and go ourselves. The initial route through the forest was much more beautiful now in the dark. Here I came to a realization, my bike's stock headlamp was nowhere close to providing enough illumination or spread to ride on dark hilly roads. It was a bit tricky, but we eventually reached the spot from where the whole city was visible. We stopped for a while there and let me tell you, the view was something else. See for yourself.

The view of Rishikesh from the construction site. It was dark, early dawn, and in a forest area. I was a bit afraid of staying longer in this area due to the wildlife around. I could have kept leopards at bay by keeping my bike turned on, but I wouldn't take any chances. Moreover, at this point, my bike was pretty much stock and had no floodlights to light up the area around (which I have now)

This photo of me was captured by Rishabh while going towards Kunjapuri temple in the super early morning hours in winter

After that we moved on and reached the base of the temple, it was quite empty so I parked my bike at a corner and started going up the stairs. When you reach halfway across the stairs, there is a small shop selling eatables and we decided to halt there for some time and have tea and biscuits. From here, we suddenly saw that the sky was turning a bit lighter and a lunar eclipse was taking place. We decided to gun it to the top and capture the scenes.

From here, I witnessed one of the best sunrises of my life.

The moon set in and then the sky started turning lighter and lighter with all sorts of colors. If you were present there, you'd have mistaken it for some artist's canvas. The view changed every minute and we were spellbound by the scenes.

Here are a few of the pics clicked that day.

Lights of Rishikesh as seen from somewhere along the road to Kunjapuri

That's Rishikesh from midway to the temple. You can see the faint haze in the valley.

Colors of sunrise from Kunjapuri

Rishabh took a snap of the sunrise on his mobile

Colors of sunrise from Kunjapuri

Just a random person watching the sunrise

The moon just before the sun starts to rise

Someone taking a photo

While going up and coming down, we saw some wildlife (foxes and rabbits and a barking deer) which are not usually seen. I dropped off Rishabh at the hostel as he needed some sleep after staying awake the whole night and I decided to leave for some photos at the Secret waterfall; this time, carrying my tripod with me.

Here are the pictures from that place.

That's me 😊

That's also meee 😁

Future me here: When I visited this place the first time, it was quite the place, and was mostly left alone. During my subsequent visits, I saw this place getting destroyed by an influx of careless tourists. Now, it is not the place that I saw the first time.

After returning from the waterfall, I decided to revisit the market to get some clothes as the jeans I was wearing were wet now. I spent the remaining day in the narrow lanes of Rishikesh and returned at night for some sleep as I had to depart the next day back home.

On this trip, I managed to see a version of Rishikesh that is not known to many. Most people come here for Rafting, camping, and a few adventure activities.

This trip enabled me to realize that instead of just traveling like general tourists, I like more of the exploration stuff. So what do you love more? I'd love to hear from you.


Hi, I am Chandan

I am a traveller, photographer and a tech-savvy person. 

Through this blog, I will help you find unexplored destinations all around India.

Also, sometimes, I will share information about travel and photography tips. 

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