Tag: Rishikesh


There is a delicate balance to be struck when taking photos of locals and their ceremonies.  On one hand, you really want to get those amazing shots.  But on the other, you HAVE to be respectful of the subjects of your photography.  This dude was way out of line at the Ganga Aarti ceremony in Rishikesh.  Don’t be that guy.

All You Need is Love…and a Guide Named Raju Baba

As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Beatles came to Rishikesh in the late 1960s where they studied at the the Maharishi Mahesh Ashram and composed much of their famous White Album. Maharishi Mahesh is just down the road from where we were staying, so we had to go take a look. The ashram was up and running until as recently as the late 1990s (we even have a friend who has studied there!). However, due to its Beatles-infused popularity and the types of people (folks with significant drug use/abuse issues) it attracted, the city decided to shut it down.

That is a big shame as it is located on one of the most beautiful spots in the valley, overlooking both the river and the town itself. Though it’s only been 15 years or so, the buildings are in complete decay and it has quite a ghostly feel.

Decay and overgrowth have taken over the ashram

Ashram gate

Meditation caves

Technically the ashram is off-limits to visitors, however, it is a well-known “secret” that the guy who guards the gate will happily let you in for a few rupees. So that is how we found ourselves wandering through the ghost town that was once the famous and revered Maharishi Mahesh Ashram.

We wandered aimlessly, trying to determine what was what, when we ran into Miguel, a nice Spanish man who was wandering the premises with a guide. This “guide’s” name was Raju Baba (or so we were told) – a crazy old man decked out in the traditional orange guru robe worn by many spiritual pilgrams found throughout Rishikesh. I’m pretty sure he lives on the streets of Rishikesh and makes an odd dollar from tourists here and there – he may or may not be enlightened.  Needless to say he was a total character and we were quite amused to follow him around as he pointed out John and Yoko’s bungalow, the Beatles meditation room, and the best rooftop views of the complex. Who knew if what he was saying was true, however, we were thoroughly entertained and I would argue that our small tip for his services was well worth it.

Raju Baba

Cool stonework and architecture

Lecture and meditation hall

Sarah, Miguel, and Raju Baba

It was a very unique day, to say the least, and we can only hope that the city finds the right project to bring the beautiful setting back to life.

The Vibe of Rishikesh

Rishikesh vista

Rishikesh is special and fascinating for a number of reasons. First, its location at the foothills of the Himalaya and the headwaters of the Ganges (or Ganga, as they call it here) sets a beautiful backdrop. Flatness to the south, mountains (similar in size and feel to the Flatirons coming out of Boulder) cut majestically up from the wide and pale green Ganga (also a very holy body of water to the Hindus). The river here is relatively clean, and swimming in it is a common (and cold) activity. 2nd, its location away from normal Indian craziness (but it’s all relative). Rishikesh is actually the main city across the water and to the south a bit, and it’s regular old Indian mayham. The 3 main areas where travelers and pilgrams hang out are separate communities north of the main town and across the river – Ram Jhula, Lachsman Jhula, and High Bank. In all 3 of these, there is very limited traffic – mainly only scooters and motos, and then a jeep service between Ram an Lachsman. This is a very important factor in the development of the spiritual center this place has become. Most importantly though, this place is special for it’s spirituality, and the people that it draws in the pursuit of it.  Yoga capital of the world, the region is dotted with Ashrams where pilgrams come for serious study. Ashrams range in their price and focus, but most require adherence to a schedule of study, a dress code, a conduct code, and that participants be serious in their dedication. We considered staying in one of the lite Ashrams for a couple days, but decided that we could get the yoga/meditation we wanted just by dropping in.

The entrance to Parmarth Ashram

There is a lot of focused brain power and spiritual energy in this place. A LOT. For all of the reasons above, Rishikesh is the perfect storm of elements to create probably one of the world’s most significant hubs of people energy. And you can feel it. Lots of Boulder people would dig the vibe here. Sarah gets a bit annoyed by all the travelers dressing the part (lots of people here wearing hippie clothes that wouldn’t be caught dead in them back home), but I think it’s just people getting away from their lives and getting into the vibe here.

Students of the ashram

The streets are lined with these unique beggars. Dressed largely in orange, this skinny old dudes with huge beards and long hair would very unobtrusively ask you for a donation as you walked by. As many people come to Rishikesh to cleanse and build up their karma, it’s a good place to be a(n apparently spiritual) beggar.

Rishikesh Beggar

There is NO alcohol in this city. None. Can’t have a beer with dinner, no wine, no hard stuff. There is one restaurant up in High Bank that has beer, supposively. Good for the budget though. Oh yeah, and no meat either. It’s so easy to eat vegitarian when meat is not an option. Haven’t missed it once since we’ve been here. Nobody offers it, nobody eats it, and the food is delicious.

Sunset on the Ganga

A Yogi’s Dream

Our next stop was Rishikesh, a hippie/yoga enclave in the northern state of Uttarakhand. Rishikesh made headlines in the late 1960s when the Beatles spent time in an ashram here writing their famous White Album. The Beatles ashram is now out of commission, but there are many others that are going strong. Thousands of Westerners and Indians visit Rishikesh every year to live the ashram lifestyle (à la Eat Pray Love), dedicate themselves to yogic study, and/or take in the beautiful scenery of the Ganga (Ganges) River flowing through town. It is a very spiritual place full of hippies and wannabe hippies, as well as true Indian gurus and wannabe gurus.


We spent a week in Rishikesh, relishing the relaxed vibe and relative peace and quiet that seems impossible to find in other parts of India. Though we considered staying at an ashram, we decided that we’d prefer the flexibility of making our own schedule so we opted for a guesthouse instead. That’s not to say we didn’t go with the flow and dive into what Rishikesh has to offer.

Parmarth - the most popular ashram in Rishikesh

Ted and I found ourselves doing yoga on several occasions – which were Ted’s first yoga classes ever and my first since college. We were entertained by our various teachers, each with their own style and expertise. One class had over 30 people in it as apparently our instructor was a renowned yogi – what did we know? Our second class was led by a rather feminine man with an adorable lisp and I could barely contain myself from giggling as he commanded us to relax our right nostril and our left nostril while focusing in savasana at the end of class. Another teacher was particularly into using breath when moving through the poses – he had us nearly hyper-ventilating. Needless to say, we learned that each yoga class is very different depending on who is running the show!

Prayer at the banks of the Ganga

We spent a few evenings doing guided meditation at an ashram which was a brand new experience for me. I have a long way to go towards ‘stilling my mind’, but I have to say that overall I enjoyed the experience very much and am intrigued to learn and do more.

And we both took dips in the holy Ganga River (as it is called). It was a quick dip as the river was freezing. Please note that this is not the dirty polluted Ganges that you are imagining. Up in Rishikesh, the water is a beautiful blue-green color, flowing from the Himalaya before it has yet to be contaminated with the filth, sewage, garbage and animal run-off that destroys it further south. The Ganga is of great religious importance to the country’s hundreds of millions of Hindus. We regularly saw entire families by the river edge swimming and splashing themselves with the water of this great river. Many families fill up jugs with the sacred water that they then take home with them for future use.

A cold dip in the Ganga

Plastic jugs for sale - take some holy water home with you

So, though we didn’t do much in Rishikesh, per se, we did our best to take advantage of what this spiritual center had to offer and found that we quite liked what that entailed.

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