Where is The Best Yoga in Rishikesh? And Other Explorations in This Indian Himalayan Town.
“Where is the best yoga in Rishikesh?”
I asked 4 Indians this question, and got 4 different and very complex answers. As Rishikesh has a reputation for being the yoga capital of India, this isn’t that surprising. After spending about a week in the town, I’ve realized that everyone will have to search for their own answer to this question - that the only way to find the best yoga is to look yourself. Besides being home to a multitude of ashrams, teacher training courses, and drop-in yoga classes of every type imaginable, Rishikesh has a lot more to satisfy any curious traveler. We discovered sites of historical and spiritual importance, adventures in nature, organic vegan food, and lounging cafes with views of the holy Ganges river. Here is a short recap of our time in this peaceful town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Places of historical and spiritual importance:
The banks of the Ganga River.
Considered the holiest river in Hinduism, the Ganga cuts Rishikesh in two. We spent a few afternoons just sitting on one of the many beaches dotting its banks, listening to the rushing water and greeting wandering Babas with a “Hare Om”. To get down to the river, simply follow paths that descend northward from the Laxsman Jhula bridge, and pick a patch of sand that strikes your fancy.
The former ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, where The Beatles stayed in 1968
This place is so amazing that Donna wrote an entirely separate blog post about it here. Very easy to visit -- just follow the Ganges downstream from the Laxsman Jhula, passing tons of shops selling textiles, statues, copper goods, etc. Although the entrance price is pretty steep for foreigners (600 rupees), it was well worth the cost.
Aarti on the Ganga.
There are numerous ghats (stairways on the riverbanks) where people pray twice a day, at sunset and sunrise. Just walk along the Ganga during these times, and you’re bound to find some brahmin dressed in red robes chanting puja around a holy fire. Its also possible to buy a flower offering, light it with a candle, and release it to float downstream at the end of the ceremony. We went to Parmath Niketan Ghat.
Its a Herculean task to try and sum up all of the yoga offerings in Rishikesh -- after spending even a week in the town, one becomes almost desensitized to it. There is every type of yoga imaginable available, and many kinds you’ve never even thought possible (laughter yoga!?). Every 20 feet there are signs advertising a new ashram or center, with all sorts of teacher training programs, drop in classes, or weekend retreats. I went to a class at Anand Prakash Ashram, and it was pretty good -- but not that different from ones I’ve been to in the U.S., with only some added breathing and chanting exercises.
I’ve realized that the only way to discover the yoga that will work best for you is to research on your own. Talk to people that have experience and seem to be well-grounded. Do some limited searching on the internet (although this can also be overwhelming). And just try out different places until one resonates. With this curious and exploratory attitude, yoga in Rishikesh can move from being overwhelming to full of surprises. Talk to Indians about yoga, and you’re bound to enter into a deep and revealing conversation.
Adventures in Nature
A perfect way to escape the hustle of Rishikesh is to take an afternoon walk 4km to a beautiful pair of waterfalls north of town. It was a clear day for us, so we had to take advantage of the perfect swimming holes and jump in the water (although it was in the middle of January, the Himalayan sun is quite strong).
Reaching the waterfalls is quite simple -- follow the Ganga upstream from Lakshman Jula bridge (make sure you’re on the southern bank of the river). Walk for 3km or so, possibly greeting groups of very friendly wild monkeys on the way. After passing another bridge that hosts some tea stalls and rafting expedition buildings, walk for 50m and look for a path ascending on the right side of the road. Ask any locals around, and they'll also surely be able to point the way. The path is then 1km up to the waterfalls, following a stream that feeds into the Ganges. By this point, all noise from the town will have dissipated, and you're alone with the sound of the water and Himalayan bird chirping. We meditated in nearby caves to take full advantage of this rare isolated nature time.
There are also plenty of companies offering expeditions -- rafting, trekking further up in the mountains, etc. Unfortunately, we weren't able to participate in any of these, as it was raining for most of our visit.
Organic Vegan Food
Food in Rishikesh was really quite tasty, and I don’t think we had a bad dining experience during our entire stay in town. But one place stood out: Ramana’s Cafe. Note: they are closed on Monday and only open 11am-4pm.
The Cafe is located inside an orphanage, which was created by an American follower of Sri Ramana Maharshi in the 1970s (funny coincidence -- see the post about my visit to Ramana’s Ashram in Tiruvannamalai). It doesn’t look like your typical idea of an orphanage, but rather more like a small hobbit village full of geometric stone sculptures. They have a huge organic garden on site, where some of the produce for the restaurant is grown. One of the staff also told us they source from their larger organic farm up in the mountains.
Although Ramana’s Cafe was on the pricier side (250 rupees or $3.50 for a main dish), it was well worth it, knowing we were supporting the orphanage and eating organic food. You could find food not very common in India -- really fresh green salads, lasagna, and desert made daily by a Quebecois volunteer. The atmosphere is tranquil to-the-max with views of the Ganges, and all the volunteers exude a warm welcoming energy. Plus the best part -- almost everything on the menu was vegan. If you want to splurge a little bit at one place in Rishikesh, come here!
It is a bit sad to leave Rishikesh, as I know we only scratched the surface of this town. I can understand why people live here for months at a time. If you visit here and end up finding the best yoga in town, let me know!!