Delhi Airport to Rishikesh: a mini-ADVENTURE
Rishikesh. It’s well worth the long journey from Delhi airport.
So you’re flying into Delhi, and you just want to get to somewhere in Northern India as soon as possible. Same here. So I thought I’d take the liberty to share my travel journey from Delhi Airport to Rishikesh as a solo backpacker to give you some tips on what to expect. I tried to balance cost, time, and comfort….and so the backpacking journey ended up being a mix of subway, train, rickshaw, bus, and even a bit of walking. It was all pretty tame and comfortable up until Haridwar train station. That’s where it starts to get a little dicey.
(If you don’t feel like reading the detailed story, scroll to the TL / DR summary at the end)
: Yes, you can also fly into Dehradun airport
, which is about 20km from Rishikesh. But flights are infrequent and expensive, and the earliest flight out of Delhi was at 3pm (almost 12 hours after I landed). So I figure, why not just travel the “classic” way to get the full experience, rather than rot at the airport?
1) Delhi Airport to New Delhi Train Station (NDLS) (35 min / Rs 60)
Arrived to Delhi airport at 3am, disoriented after a 20 hour journey from Toronto. Luckily I had no problems at customs, despite the loads of electronics I was carrying, and having only a one-way ticket. The officer just gives me a tired look and waves me through. So far so good…
My train to Haridwar (50km outside of Rishikesh) was scheduled to leave from New Delhi train station (NDLS) at 6:45am. NDLS is a good 20km from the airport, and so I inquire at the pre-paid taxi stand for a ride to NDLS. They quote my Rs 500, but were nice enough to suggest that I save a few hundred rupees and grab the Delhi subway
instead, since it goes straight from the airport to the train station. Sure, why not? Mind you, the Delhi subway did not open until 5am, so I hopped into the subway around 5:15am, and took the direct line to the New Delhi Train station.
FYI, the Delhi subway system is only about 5 years old and still runs like a well-oiled machine. It was super fast and super user friendly, and I got to NDLS in about 20 minutes (4 stops away). Chalk one up for India infrastructure.
2) New Delhi Train station (NDLS) to Haridwar Junction Train Station (5 hours / Rs. 1100)
Finally some nice views outside Haridwar
***Note: I bought a 1st class train ticket from a travel agent about 4 weeks in advance, rather than just showing up to the station to get a ticket. My rail car was completely full upon departure, which leads me to believe that the entire train was full. So I’d highly advise that you book something 2-4 weeks in advance through a random travel agent.***
Exiting the Delhi subway, I have to walk a couple of minutes outside to get to the actual as the two stations are not linked underground. This is where I get hit by the usual hassles from people outside the station: offers for taxi rides, help with my ticket, what country are you from?, etc etc. I ignore these people and kept moving.
The NDLS station is typical: super crowded and chaotic. The schedule board displaying arrivals and departures is pretty useless (my train wasn’t even listed?) so instead I just ask the nice people at the ticket counter for help on which platform to goto. I also grab a few odds and ends at the station like a book, some water and snacks, and whatever else while I waited for the train. Note that your ticket should also tell you which compartment you are in, which should then line up to the signs on the platform indicating which platform area is for which compartment. This is important, as the trains are super super long and it can up to 5 minutes to walk from one end of a train to the other. So find your compartment in advance.
The train arrives well in advance and honestly, there isn’t really much to say other than that the entire train ride was pretty good! It’s a fairly quiet ride. They serve two meals, chai, bottled water, snacks, newspapers etc. And the people are lovely. I even manage to catch a couple of zzzs too as the long long journey starts to take its toll. Overall, I’m pretty glad I snob it up and booked the 1st class ticket rather than 2nd class. Or you can go all the way and get a “General Class” ticket for like Rs 50. But, here’s my experience in getting a “General Class”
ticket in the past.
We eventually pull into Haridwar, ahead of schedule.
3) Haridwar Train Station to Haridwar Bus Station (10 min / Rs 10)
And this is where the fun begins. I come out of the Haridwar train station exit as typical foreigner wearing a massive backpack, staring at the scene like a deer in headlights. It’s hot, dusty, and there is chaos everywhere. People calling out at me for taxis to Rishikesh, hotels, and god knows what else. Other people just staring me down, including the army guy behind a machine gun turret which is guarding the station entrance (no joke). My first instinct is that I need to get the hell out of this area before I crack.
Note: in these situations in India, always show that you’re in control (especially when this isnt the case). Sunglasses help too. Once you have them on, you can make eye contact with whoever you want without inviting a response.
And so I walk past the rabble and onto the busy main street, and hail down the first rickshaw I see.
But it’s already occupied, with four women in full-on head-to-toe burquas. The driver signals for me to get in, and we have a brief stare-down.
I hesitate, remind myself that “This is India”, and then motion to these ladies that I’m getting on board. They cram to one side of the rickshaw as I climb in to take the other half (to be fair, my backpacks also took some room). And so we ride off to the bus station in total silence, as the driver weavs in and out of traffic, yelling, spitting and blaring his horn. I can feel these women totally starting me down from behind the veils. This is also my first time in the back of the rickshaw in a very long time, and it actually feels pretty awesome (despite the awkwardness). Ten minutes and 10 rupees later, I wave goodbye to the women and hop to enter the bus station. They did not wave back.
A packed bus is pulling out of the station right as I enter. The driver stops and yells at me “RISHIKESH! RISHIKESH!” (add in a thick local accent). I just nod my head and jump on board. Rishikesh here we come!
Alternatively, as I mentioned, there are loads of rickshaw drivers at Haridwar train station that are willing to take you straight to Rishikesh for about Rs 1000. If you are short on time or energy, this is a pretty good option.
4) Haridwar Bus Station to Rishikesh Bus Station (1 hour / Rs 60)
So it turns out that bus I grabbed was a local government bus, which comes with just about everything you would expect: the slowest route possible, people getting on and off every 3 minutes, no traces of shocks or suspension on the bus, and a super super low price. In this case, Rs 30 for a 1 hour journey.
More yelling, more horns blaring, more traffic. This is where the long long journey really starts to take it toll (recall: I had already been flying for 20 hours even before arriving to Delhi). At this point I just want to get to the guest house and lay down.
I was kind of hoping for a nice chill scenic ride up to the hills of Rishikesh, but this is definitely not the case. Construction trucks and traffic jams are everywhere. So I just plug in my headphones, close my eyes and drown everything out.
5) Rishikesh Bus Station to Guest House (15 min / Rs 150)
Arriving at Rishikesh bus station, there were a few tuk-tuk drivers hanging out asking me if I needed a ride. Mind you, it was much more chill than the scene above at Haridwar train station. The drivers all quoted the same: Rs 150 for a short ride to the Ganges river. I tried to bargain with 3 different drivers, and none of them budged. I’ve seen this sort of “cartel” approach before in touristic areas, and so I just gave in and paid the man. Expect to pay upwards of Rs 250 to get even deeper into the core tourist area of Rishikesh.
We drive along the Ganges for about 10 min, and he lets me off at the edge of a rocky dirt path and says “You walk the rest of the way”. I just shake my head, give him the cash, throw my massive backpack back on again for the 5th time that day. Hot, sweaty, exhausted, I see the hotel. I finally made it….7 hours from Delhi, and 30 hours from Toronto.
I check into the hotel, and briefly soak in the amazing scene from the balcony of Ganges river flowing through the hills. I nod and think to myself that yes, this was worth it. Then I have a sudden urge to brush my teeth and take a 20 minute shower.
Finally made it to Rishikesh after a 30 hour journey from Toronto
This is where I pass out on my bed. The end.
Total Time: 7 hours
Total Cost: Rs. 1300 (but much less if you grab a 2nd class train ticket to Haridwar)
TL/DR Summary: Took the Delhi subway from the airport to the New Delhi train station (35 min – Rs. 60). Hopped a train from New Delhi to Haridwar (5 hours – 1st class ticket was Rs 1100). Grabbed a shared rickshaw from Haridwar train station to Haridwar bus station (10 min – Rs 10). Took a government bus to Rishikesh centre (1 hour – Rs 60). Took another rickshaw close to my guest house near Ram Jhula bridge (10 min – Rs 150). Walked 1 km to my guest house. Checked in, threw backpacks on floor, took 20 minute shower. Passed out on bed.