Rishikesh is like no other city: It’s the World capital of yoga and the Gateway to the Himalayas and it’s purely vegetarian and alcohol-free (yesss, the entire city). The population of 60.000 seems tiny compared to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year, but no wonder they’re all coming – it’s a widely accepted fact that meditating in Rishikesh brings you closer to liberation than anywhere else on this planet. If you practice yoga in Rishi, as the locals call it, you’re in good company, as prominent personalities such as Swami Sivananda and Swami Vivekananda studied here.
In terms of etymology, “Hṛṣīkeśa” is one of the many names of Vishnu, meaning ‘lord of the senses’. The root words Hrishik and ish join together to make Hrishikesh. Hrishik means Senses and ish means master or Lord. Hence the word means Lord of Senses or Lord Vishnu. The place gets its name after Lord Vishnu who appeared to ‘Raibhya Rishi’ as a result of his tapasya (austerities), as Lord Hrishikesh. Traditionally, Rishikesh is regarded as the seat of the Rishis, the seers, to whom the Vedic scriptures were revealed through states of higher consciousness. (Source: Wikipedia)
In more recent times, Rishikesh became famous because the Beatles elected to stay here, at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram, which is now closed and merely a tourist spot, attracting devout Beatles’ fans from all over the world. During their stay the Beatles composed almost 50 songs, many of which can be found on the White Album. Even though this has been described as incredibly creative period, a number of controversies leaked through to the press at the time (a summary can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_at_Rishikesh).
Bottom line: Rishi is a place that won’t leave you unmoved. I really hated it initially but loved it when coming back to it. It’s so soaked in holiness that it’s dropping down at the corners, so full of sadhus (wandering monks), priests, ashrams, shops selling yoga music, yoga clothes, yoga mats and yoga books (no other topic seems relevant here anyway), cows and cow shit that you don’t even know what to look at. It’s mind-boggling in any sense. Enjoy the change that happens to you!