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The yoga capital of India! The place The Beatles sought spirituality and serenity. At the foothills of the Himalayas, where the Ganges River flows through the massive mountains, you will find Rishikesh. We decided to visit Rishikesh in order to join meditation and yoga retreat at an Ashram (school) for a few days to get a glimpse of what it’s like. 🕉

Unintended, we were visiting Rishikesh during International Yoga Festival (runs from 1stof March to 7thof March). This made finding an accommodation inside an ashram very difficult. It seemed like every yogi in the world was heading to Rishikesh for the festival. We soon found out that in order to join the full program at an ashram you don’t have to stay there, but can just join on any given day and purchase a day pass. This counts for most of the ashrams you can find in Rishikesh. We booked a hotel near Anand Parkash Ashram so that we could make it for the morning meditation session at 5.20. 

Our program was as follows:

5.20 – 5.50
Guided meditation
6.00 – 7.30Akhanda Yoga with Yogrishi Vishvketu
7.50 – 8.20Fire Pooja
8.30 – 9.00 Breakfast
12.30 – 13.00Lunch
16.00 – 17.30Evening Yoga
18.00 – 18.30 Dinner

At the ashram, there is silence time between 21.00 – 9.00, so when we arrived in the morning, we were mutely directed to the meditation hall. The guided meditation was held in a big hall on the top floor of the building with wooden floor and ceiling. As the room was filling up with the burning scent sticks smoke and all the yogi’s wearing white, carefully placing their mats facing the front of the room, we could feel the mystical vibrations in the air. 

Rishikesh Anand Parkash Ashram

The guided meditation was 10 minutes of introduction into the meditation and breathing technique, and then 20 minutes of sitting silently cross-legged. It was quite an experience to sit in a hall with about a hundred people in complete silence for 30 minutes! 🧘‍♂🧘‍♀ We subsequently moved on to the Akhanda Yoga that was held in the same room. We started off with some breathing techniques and went on to do various exercises for every one of the seven Chakras. We liked this part very much as it was quite relaxed for the morning and Yogrishi Vishvketu was explaining everything about how the exercises were impacting our Chakras. We started from the lowest chakras and built our way up from there, finishing off with some chants involving all seven Chakras. 

After the Akhanda Yoga session, we went downstairs to the platform where the Fire Pooja was taking place. 🔥 Arriving everyone received a yellow dot on their third eye and sat on a pillow around the fire with Yogrishi Vishvketu in the front as the leader of the ceremony. The ceremony involved chanting (in Hindi) to a drumbeat and giving offerings to the fire. It was amazing for us to see how the Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) students knew all the chanting by heart, although they did not speak Hindi. The Fire Pooja closed off with the calling of several main Hindu gods and the passing around of a bowl of warmed up nutty oil that everyone rubbed in their hands. It was quite an experience! And we were left amazed by the beauty of the ceremony. 

Rishikesh Laxman Jhula bridge crossing over the Ganges River

Later we accidently joined the YTT students for an outing as part of their course to go bathe in the Ganges River. It was only 8.30, the sun was still low, and the morning chills were very present. We walked for 30 minutes to a small beach by the river, we sat down around Yogrishi Vishvketu and he explained the importance of the Ganges on both a spiritual as well as a habitual level. After some more chanting for Mama Ganges, the group was ready to take a dip in the icy Himalayan water. The students were yelling from the shocking cold and feeling liberated to perform such an out of-the-ordinary act that early in the morning. 

In the time between the morning sessions and the evening sessions, the YTT students were all over the ashram practicing their yoga and studying the philosophy behind it. The afternoon yoga session was given by one of the YTT students in a smaller hall with a group of about 15 people. It was not the Yoga we are used to, as it involved much more focus on the breathing and meditative part of yoga, which we found very refreshing. 

At the end of day 1 at the ashram Tomer unfortunately became ill with a stomach flew that he probably got from someone at the ashram. The next 2 days were spent meditating in our hotel bed and going out for small meals from time to time. That is the thing when getting sick on travel. The simple things you need to survive and get better become huge chores. Grabbing some food requires walking to restaurants, waiting for a table, sitting in a noisy place, which is all very tiring for a sick man! At those moments we would much prefer being at home where we could cook our meals and tea without too much hassle.

TIP: If you are wondering what to wear for the ashram, bring comfortable yoga clothes. The clothes should be loose and ideally light in color to adhere to the suggested dress code of the ashrams. One tip, if you have the chance, buy your yoga outfit in other places in India, for example in the Main Bazar in New Delhi, since the shops in Rishikesh are taking advantage of their reputation and are offering same stuff at higher prices. 

Rishikesh sun dawn view of the Ganges River from the 60’s Beatles Cafe

Besides a lot of ashrams and yoga centers, Rishikesh has a lot of other activities to offer. You can go hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, rafting in the Ganges, and enjoy spectacular mountain views. Unfortunately due to the circumstances, we only enjoyed the last one. Nonetheless, it is totally worth it to visit even if you are not so adventures. The vibe is great! The diversity of Westerners that are seeking more spiritual meaning or the ones that have already transcended give the place a distinct atmosphere. Hang around the Laxman Jhula area and you are sure to find yourself busy either shopping for souvenirs or gawking at a monkey peeling an orange on a roof top. Rishikesh has cafes and restaurants with mouthwatering food and breathtaking views. Read our top 3 restaurants in Rishikesh article for more info [coming soon!]. 

Should you visit Rishikesh?

  • If you like yoga? Most definitely!
  • If you are interested in expanding your spirituality? Plan enough time!
  • If you like adventurous activities? They got it all!
  • If you can sit and stare at views for ages? The Ganges is mesmerizing!
  • If you need fresh air? Bring on the Himalayan breeze!

We really enjoyed Rishikesh even with the circumstances, and we hope that you will too! 🙂

Safe journey!