Close your eyes and imagine a place where humans and animals are peacefully coexisting side by side. You see lush, green mountains in the background and a sacred river flowing through the town. Now, open your eyes go online and book a ticket to India because such a place does exist, it’s Rishikesh.
As someone who regularly practices yoga, I had heard Rishikesh mentioned several times before as the supposed “birthplace of yoga.” Whether or not that’s true, I’m not certain, but I do know that there is an incredible spiritual energy to the place. Rishikesh is where The Beatles wrote many of the songs on their White Album in 1968.
What was once a town with nothing more than a few ashrams, Rishikesh has now grown into the yogic hippie backpackers’ Mecca. In just the past two years, the number of yoga schools has grown tremendously and there are now hundreds of different schools to choose from. Here, the physical poses of yoga are taught alongside the Eastern spiritual traditions of the practice. For anyone seeking to deepen their practice and learn the origins of yoga should definitely consider studying at a school in Rishikesh. I can personally recommend Ekam Yogashala. With knowledgeable teachers and a warm and caring staff, I went there as a student and left as family.
For those not ready or interested in doing a teacher training course, there is still so much to discover. Most schools will hold daily drop-in classes for both yoga and meditation so you can remain more flexible and build a schedule that works for you. The spiritual energy of your surroundings is bound to help you dive deeper into your practice.
Rishikesh is located at the foothills of the Himalayas, so everywhere you look you see lush green mountains. There are many treks leaving from town which will take you to see waterfalls and wildlife. Scooter rentals are also very affordable, so one could easily venture out for some solo exploration.
The thing that I found especially beautiful was the peaceful coexistence of humans and non-human animals. In the middle of a busy, chaotic road you see motorbikes carefully making their way around a cow standing there so as not to disturb her. The monkeys, though sometimes naughty, usually just seem to mind their own business while at the same time looking for a snack. Isn’t this how life should be–humans living side by side with our non-human counterparts? We are all connected after all. It’s the physical separation that we experience in the West that keeps us feeling superior to other animals and more likely to use and exploit them. I believe that the closer we can stay with nature, the better our society as a whole will be.
Spirituality can be closely tied to nature, as when one is immersed in nature, it’s easier to become more spiritual. Since the area is deeply rooted in the Hindu religion, alcohol and meat consumption are prohibited in the city limits. Going to any café and knowing that everything on the menu is vegetarian is a dream. While they do still consume milk and dairy, most places are happy to accommodate vegans. Seeing a cow walking next to me in the street as opposed to on someone’s dinner plate is a beautiful thing.
Vibrant, flavorful vegan options are everywhere in Rishikesh.
Running through the town of Rishikesh is the Ganges, a spiritual river which is believed to be the goddess Ganga come to earth to purify sins. Many Hindus come here as a pilgrimage to bathe in her waters. Every evening at sunset, the Ganga arti, a Hindu religious ritual, is held. It’s a beautiful ceremony and everyone is welcome to participate.
It’s clear to see why yogis originally came to study at ashrams here. Being close to both the mighty Ganga and the majestic Himalayas provides a certain energy allowing one to journey inward. Although it’s not nearly as untouched as it once was, Rishikesh still contains a palpable, magical energy giving life to any spiritual practice that one chooses to embark upon here.
Would you visit Rishikesh?
Also by Kathryn: Waterfalls & Wild Monkeys–My Wild Adventures On Malaysian Islands
Thinking About Living Abroad? 4 Questions To Ask Before Taking The Leap
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Photo: Kathryn Farrugia; TripAdvisor