Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Ashram Stay at Rishikesh

For many many years now, I've wanted to experience staying at an ashram. It sounded like a great way to escape from the daily drudgery and to get some time to think. Maybe the desire started when I read that the Beatles had stayed in an ashram back in the 60's.

In Rishikesh, we had our chance. Rishikesh is less than 25 kms from Haridwar, which is only a few hours out of Delhi. After the bustle, the noise and the frenzy of Haridwar, Rishikesh is a refreshing change. Lots of people have noticed this, for I later learned that Rishikesh has become an extremely popular retirement community.

There are lots of ashrams catering to curious visitors like us, but they weren’t easy to find initially. And everyone we asked was directing us to regular hotels. The guidebook referred to an area 3 kms up the river and across the Ganges called the "Swarag Ashram" area and that was the place we should have come to right away. (The Beatles stayed in Mahesh Yogi's ashram, but we are not sure if it is still around.)

With our backpacks, we took a ferry ride across the river. In the place we wished to stay – Paramarth Niketan, there was one small problem. The receptionist wouldn't let us see the room before we paid. In India, we have been to too many places where the reception lobby is beautifully done, but the rooms are quite bad. In Parmarth, we were worried about the cleanliness, but the receptionist assured us that it would be fine.

It was past 2pm and we really wanted to experience an ashram stay, and so we decided to take the chance. If the room turned out to be really bad, we'd walk away and treat it as a donation to the ashram.

Once we paid up, we were taken to a separate area meant for foreigners and NRI's (Indians living abroad). The room was simply decorated but very clean, with hot water and there was an air cooler instead of an A/C. It was definitely adequate.

We would be given 3 meals a day, could participate in all the ashram activities as we chose to. For those who were interested, there was Yoga, evening meditation, early morning prayer and another meditation assembly. We were also free to wander in and out of the ashram to take in Rishikesh's sights.

Daily, at 5pm there was a daily Yoga/guided meditation class for the ashram residents. So we went. Around 20 people showed up, wearing mostly white clothes. Mats were provided and it was a very relaxing type of yoga, not the strenuous kind. The lady who guided us had a very soothing voice and I fell asleep trying to follow her directions.

Up and down the Ganges, the evening aarthi is performed in a grand manner right around sunset. The residents of Paramarth Niketan are given preferred seating for the Ganga Aarthi.

After the aarthi, we noticed the others residents practically rushing to the dining area. The meal times are fixed and there is only 45 minutes given for dinner, hence the rush. A few foreigners struggled with sitting cross-legged on the mats. For lunch and dinner, the food was hearty and wholesome- chappatis, rice, dal and veggies. Toasts, fruit and tea and coffee were included for breakfast, which the westerners enjoyed quite a bit.

This particular ashram has clearly adapted things to cater to the foreign visitors. The ambience is very good, with careful landscaping and places to walk by the fast-flowing river. Once we paid the room rent, there was never any pressure to give money anywhere else. We were free to donate more if we so desired, or to leave our email addresses if we wanted to be part of their distribution list.

Overall, our ashram stay was a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of days, though it might get repetitive beyond say two days. I would unhesitatingly recommend this to anyone visiting Rishikesh.

13 comments:

  1. Hello Ram, thank you for this wonderful update on Rishikesh. Visiting Rishikesh and staying in an ashram has been a long pending desire. WOuld it be possible for you to tell me the daily charges at the Paramarth Niketan? I am an avid follower of both your blogs. Do keep writing more often.

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  2. Hi Ram,
    Nice post....its definitely worth a try and even I will like to do it sometime - a few days at an Ashram...will like to know how was the overall experience for you though.

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  3. @Janit Thanks, Janit. Overall, Rishikesh is a delightful place. We ended up going to Gangothri and Yamunothri. However, even if I had gone no further than Rishikesh, I would have been very satisfied.

    @Prashant
    The room we got was around Rs 600-650 per day. They also had better rooms for slightly more (but under Rs 1000, I think) but they were all booked up. If you call them ahead, you can get the rooms reserved, I am sure.

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  8. Rishikesh Ashram is one of the most widespread way fare centers and gateway to the Himalayan Tabernacles of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh has heightened the implication of the place. From this point on, the prodigious Ganges leaves overdue her mountain home and enters the massive plains of Northern India.

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