Living in an Ashram in Rishikesh for a Week

I spent a week at the the Pamarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh there was no WiFi, so I’m posting one longer post for this city. First this was my favorite city in India and could’ve stayed here for much much longer and would love to come back and visit. It’s filled with nature being at the foot of the Himalayas and along the Ganges river. The locals come to this city to go rafting down the Ganges, go on nature hikes, and take a bath in the Ganges. The city is small and walkable, the only two bridges are Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula.

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The city is known as the yoga capital of the world and the place where yoga was created. The city is completely filled with yoga ashrams (most are near Lakshman Jhula) and you meet a ton of international people, coming from around the world for yoga teacher training.

Side note: In all of India I was surprised to not see chain stores such as, Starbucks, Mcdonald, etc. however I did pass by two KFC which is odd in a predominantly vegetarian country. So if you do wish to visit India, expect to eat a ton of Indian food, drink a lot of masala tea, and if you get bored with that, most places surprisingly serve Chinese food.

We arrived at our Ashram on a Wednesday afternoon and we are definitely at the largest ashram here, (This is where they host the International Yoga Festival) there’s over a 100 rooms, multiple large buildings, large halls, giant statues, and have a large footprint in front of the Ganges.

We were shown our very simple and modest room on the third floor, there are no elevators, no tv, and no reception here. Our room has an open window covered by a grate, so we are able to hear everything happening outside including the 4am prayers, kitchen staff cleaning up late into the night and the hourly gongs. The sleeper sheet, shower slippers, and ear plugs were very important here.

The meals are included with the stay and are vegetarian (the holy cities in India ban meat and alcohol). The vegetarian food is specifically called a Sattvic diet,a regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods, fruits, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins. They also sell additional food items, such as really good samosas for 10rps or 15cents and gulab jamun (tasty dessert) for 15rps or  20cents.

The ashram also created a few non profit programs: clean toilets for the poor, education for girls, and they have adopted orphan boys to learn in the ashram.

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The ashram is at the footsteps of the Ganges and that’s where the nightly Ganges Aarti is performed. We also went to Trivini Ghat which had another more local Ganga Aarti, it was a 20 minute walk and a rickshaw ride away. This was a fairly different ceremony with smoke and followed with dancing afterwards. Both of these was completely amazing and was better then the packed hoards of people at Hardiwar. It was a lot smaller, intimate, and you can feel the spirituality radiating around you. There wasn’t anyone trying to sell you thing or pressuring for donations.

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The Ganges Aarti begins with the young orphans singing, burning of seeds during the yagna, then elders coming in to sing, then the passing around the fire for everyone to hold,  afterwards everyone goes to the giant fire pit to put their palms over the leftover warmth, then if you have a dia (offering) you can light it and float it down the river.

After the aarti you are invited to join a satsang (live q&a) in English with Sahtvi Bhagawati Saraswati. She’s an American women from Los Angeles, that graduated with A PHD for Stanford. At the age of 25 she visited this ashram and decided to stay, she has called this her home for the last 22 years. We opened up with some sing along mantras then she took about 4 questions from the room, the satsang happen nightly.

The daily schedule at the ashram:

4:45-5:00am Mangla Aarti

5:00-6:00am Morning Prayers

6:30-7:30am Yoga Class

4:00-5:00pm Yoga Class

5:15-5:45pm Ganga Aarti

6:45-7:15pm Satsang (Q&A with swami)

The next few days we started getting more familiar with the ashrams campus, learning different pranayama (breath work), and taking yoga classes. We attended an acro yoga class that was taught and attended by foreigners, left us sore, and wanting more.

We also tried to attend a kundalini class that ended up being canceled to be a Indian New Year ceremony. This included a spiritual leader chanting and performing an interactive ritual.

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We visited the on site Ayurvedic center and both received a consultation for $12. By reading our eyes, tongue, pulse, nails and body type what of the 3 doshas (bio-elements) we were. I was pitta / vatta, which I already knew... but it was good to hear what kind of foods and lifestyle I should have. We signed up for their full treatment pack (abhayanga, shirodhara, and steam) whole body oil massage with Himalayan herbs to relax, heal, and rejuvenate the body. Herbal oil drops on the third eye for insomnia, focus, relax mind, and connects body, mind and soul. Steam to purify the body with herbal sweating. This was a two hour treatment for $40 that left us relaxed and super oily.

We visited the abandoned Ashram of Mariheshi Mahesh and this site is famed to be the “Beatles Ashram” the location in which the Beatles wrote their White Album. Mariheshi Mahesh is said to be the one who brought meditation to the western world and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine, science journals and even a huge study was done at the White House.

His practice was called Transcendental Meditation technique and it was introduced to the world in 1955. He took the Indian Vedic tradition and simplified it. Mariheshi has brought enlightenment to over seven million people from all cultures, religions, educational backgrounds have learned the Transcendental Meditational program and its techniques.

Example of the Songs inspired by the Mariheshi:

TM song - Beach Boys

Across the Universe - Beatles

Donovan Happiness Runs - Donovan

Jesus Children of America - Stevie Wonder

Hurdy Gurdy Man - Donovan

Pablo Ji Planetary Soul - Facebook

Look for book “the Beatles in India”

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We met a world famous musician Suhev Guru Ji, who is the son of the all time most famous classical Indian violinist in Varanasi and heard him play beautiful music at a concert at Rishul Yogshala. He was traveling with his students that we also ended up spending time with: a women named Kartinka an English women who was a vivacious 60 year old, who can still do the splits, accordion player, and was in a traveling circus as a giant puppet master. Pablo Ji a Chilean world traveler and has been traveling for the last 5 years, knows 6 languages, violinist and is planning to a sail across all the oceans.