Rishikesh, India: Yoga Capital of the World

Rishikesh attracts a certain type of traveler. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas along the northern banks of the Ganges River, Rishikesh has been a site of pilgrimage for Hindus venturing north into the “Land of the Gods” since the ninth century. Appropriately, many of the town’s non-Indian visitors are also on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, one which usually involves a lot of yoga and meditation.

Touted as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh began to gain popularity with western travelers in the early 1970s, when the Beatles left England behind for the Rishikesh ashram of their then guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the Beatles stint in Rishikesh only spanned a few weeks, the legacy that their voyage left behind lives to this day.

Travelers of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds can be found in Rishikesh, although most are united by their desire to take advantage of the community’s many ashrams and yoga schools. Yoga courses in a number of different traditions are available to students of all levels at a price that even the most prudent of budget travelers can afford.

There two most common ways to engage in a yoga course in Rishikesh are by staying in a hotel and taking lessons at a nearby centre or by plunging into the full-yoga experience by staying in an ashram. The former is the best idea for travelers who wish to dabble in yoga without having to regiment themselves to the strict routine of ashram life. Ashram stays are ideal for yoga students who have a little more time (many ashrams enforce minimum required stays, usually of no less than two weeks).

Although yoga courses are the major pull for many travelers, Rishikesh certainly has a lot more to offer. Meditation courses and lectures are abundant, and often come as part of packaged yoga classes. Courses in cooking, Hindi, traditional Indian dance (Kathak), music, and Reiki healing are also popular.

Don’t feel like turning your holiday into a study session? No worries, there’s still plenty to do. You can take a rafting trip, trek to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges, relax with an Ayurvedic massage or head down to one of the sandy beaches on the banks of the Ganges (the water is clean enough for swimming). However, if yoga just isn’t your thing, then you may want to limit your stay in Rishikesh to a couple of days.

Residential Ashrams
Yoga Niketan Ashram. Tel: 0135 2430227. E-mail: info @yoganiketan.org

  • 15-day minimum stay, although a 10-day stay may be permitted on a case-by-case basis.
  • The Ashram enforces strict rules; the consumption of meat, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, garlic and onions in prohibited, as is playing musical instruments and listening to CDs.
  • Keep your windows closed at night and carry a big stick: one long-term participant I spoke to reported that students have been attacked by errant monkeys in the past.

Parmath Yoga and Meditation Center. Tel: 0135 2434300-05

  • Offers 4-week yoga intensive courses and 9-week yoga teacher training programs.
  • Non-resident students may attend lessons on a donation-basis. Please check with instructor prior to class for permission.
  • Parmath Ashram puts on a daily sunset aarti (Hindu candle lighting ceremony) on the banks of the Ganges. The aarti is open to the general public.

Non-residential Yoga Programs
Trika Yoga and Meditation Tel: 0989 7371217

  • Intensive, one-month, multidisciplinary program.
  • Participating in only part of the program (usually one week) is possible with instructor permission.
  • First lesson is free, with no commitment to continue.

Yoga at the Green Hotel

  • Morning and evening courses in Iyengar yoga offered here.
  • Conveniently located in a backpacker hotel for those who want convenience without the strict rules of an ashram.

Alternatives to Yoga
Om Rudra Tel: 0135 2434425. E-mail: rudradance@rediffmail.com
Courses in:

  • Kathak/Folk dance
  • Hindi language
  • Music (voice, tabla, flute,etc.)

The Welcome Centre Tel: 0135 2442337. E-mail: thewelcomecentre@yahoo.com
Courses in:

  • Reiki
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM)
  • Ayurvedic Cooking

Baba Massage. Tel: 0135 243 3339

  • Established in 1961
  • Male and female practitioners available
  • Ayurvedic massage starting at 300 rupees/session

*Like everything in India, the above information is subject to change. Please call ahead for the latest information

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