Authentic Indian ashram, Rishikesh
For two days, I patrolled Rishikesh, visiting the sites and stuffing myself with tasty food. Laxsman Jhula footbridge, built in the 1930s, is packed with pedestrians, scooters, monkeys and even Brahma bulls. Across the bridge is Tera Manzil, a 13-storey Hindu temple. Each level is packed with shrines to gods and goddesses, souvenir shops selling icons, alcoves housing astrologers and priests. Kirtan is sung in the evening beside the Ganges and pilgrims float ganga aarti—candles burning in paper bowls with flowers—as a blessing.
At Rishikesh’s tidy Anand Prakesh Ashram the daily routine was relaxed. Yogrishi Vishvketu, its founder, was friendly and hip. We visited briefly before he hopped a flight to Beijing to lead two yoga classes, then fly back to India. Vishvi-ji summers in Canada giving classes and workshops.
The Truth About Ashrams
I discovered the truth about ashrams at Parmath Niketan Ashram, across the Ganges from Rishikesh. Inside, I freely wandered the luxurious grounds, studded with statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. At the reception desk I met Indu, who told me that for a $40 CDN daily donation I was very welcome to a room overlooking the Ganges. The price included three daily meals plus snacks in a very nice dining hall with granite-topped tables, comfy chairs and not a tin plate in site; two hours of yoga per day; 15 minutes of meditation; 30 minutes of aarti/fire puja; an hour of satsang; plus lots of free time to wander the grounds, bathe in the Ganges, chat and enjoy the lively streets of Rishi. She smiled when I explained the daily routine at the Western ashrams I had been staying at. My tales of endless routines, silence and deprivation seemed foreign to her. Would I like to book in now, she asked, so I could experience a real Indian ashram? I reluctantly declined her offer.
Next stop was Auro Valley Ashram near Haridwar, founded by Swami Brahmdev in 1985 in memory of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The two venerated yogic philosophers lived and worked for many decades in Pondicherry. Swami Brahmdev has a large following in South America and Russia, and though the ashram was mostly deserted when I arrived, its stunning circular, marble-capped buildings and gardens conveyed a sense of peacefulness. Located just outside the southern edge of the Rajaji Tiger Preserve, the immaculate grounds occasionally experienced intrusions from elephants, deer, peacocks and even the odd tiger. Wildlife and farm animals could be glimpsed from the rooftop terrace of the egg-shaped dormitory building, where a giant painting of The Mother’s eyes watched over guests.
The circular library hosted morning satsang with Swami Brahmdev while evening meditation took place in a special meditation hall with a glowing green and crystal sculpture at its centre. In another marbled yoga hall, Shri Yogi Sachidanandaji taught us that all life is yoga, and that yoga is the basis of love. That night, I fell asleep listening to the catcalls of wild peacocks. An elephant trumpeted somewhere near the banks of the Ganges, and I dreamed of a warm, green glow.
If You Go