Learn yoga in rishikesh
Yoga needs no introduction. Indeed, few traditions promote the union of mind and body in such a holistic way. And few have achieved such popularity. What better place to start or further your practice than a stay in the world capital of Yoga. Welcome to Rishikesh, India. Where you can rent a room, eat and attend world-class yoga lessons for less than 10 dollars a day.
There are many good cities for yoginis and yogis in India. For example, Mysore is THE place for Ashtanga. But Rishikesh still has the largest choice of classes anywhere. Add to this a beautiful, (relatively) quiet setting where the holy river Ganga leaves the Himalayas, and you end up with a truly world-class destination for Yoga enthusiasts.
The major drawback is that Rishikesh has become a touristic highlight of Northern India. There is a regular flow of visitors in a hurry looking to tick the “yoga in India” box in their copy of the Lonely Planet. And your average foreign resident seems to come straight out of the India spiritual seeker cliché sketchbook. “You’re only on a fruitarian diet? Nah, I only eat fruits that have fallen from trees.” If you are looking for the real India, go elsewhere.
But if you give it some time, you will discover vibrant small communities. Traveling yogis from all over the world, of course. But also musicians learning traditional instruments. Sadhus and cows relaxing by the river. And cute small villages lost in the nearby foothills of the Himalayas. Not such a bad place to stay for a while after all.
Yoga Drop-In Classes
By far the most flexible formula. For 200Rs (sometimes 300Rs), simply show up for 1-1.5h classes, either in the morning or in the afternoon, or both. Yogasana, Pranayama, meditation, yogic philosophy, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Iyengar… Name it, you’ll find it. In fact, the choice in downright overwhelming. Unless you have something very specific in mind, it’s best to first sample generously what’s on offer.
Classes are given in hotels, ashrams and private yoga halls. They are often not or poorly advertised. Word of mouth is still the way to go in Rishikesh.
Many teachers stay only over the winter months in Rishikesh. There are still classes during the hot season and the monsoon (May-Sep), but Oct-Apr has more choice. Some famous teachers only visit Rishikesh for a few weeks each year. Sometimes you might have to commit to the whole course if the teacher wishes to build on previous lessons.
Yoga Teacher Training Courses
Everybody seems to be offering the all-included TTC formulas these days. If you are familiar with the normal price of yoga classes, accommodation and food in India you’ll know that charging a 1000+ bucks a month is a lot of money. TTCs have become an extremely lucrative business. Beware, some schools are legit, others not.
The TTCs are often open to everyone, regardless of your level and previous experience. If you are looking for a month of intense and structured learning, then the 200h TTC might be a good choice. But please don’t join the ever-growing ranks of “teachers” with merely a month of experience afterwards.
If you already have a solid base and would like to learn how to teach, then the longer TTCs from reputable schools will give you the skills and confidence to do so. In any case, don’t book your place in advance on the web. Take some time to first visit the schools in person. Talk to the students. Take a few drop-in classes if possible. And remember to bargain for the whole TTC price, especially during shoulder and low season!
Accommodation In Rishikesh
The cheapest rooms are found in the big ashrams. They perform pooja (hindu worship) ceremonies and often offer their own courses. Ashrams in Rishikesh seem to specialize on either mainly Indian pilgrims or foreign visitors. They cover the entire spectrum from simple to very fancy. And yes, you’ve guessed it, the fancy ashrams are geared towards Western yogis. Staying in such a complex might not always be the most authentic experience. But it’s certainly a unique and entertaining one.
Ved Niketan Dham in Ashram Swarg is an old favorite among long term residents. However, it underwent major renovations in 2018. Rooms now start at 300-400Rs a night. It’s impossible to book in advance. Simply show up early in the morning and ask for vacancies. Nearby aptly named Last Chance Guest House offers cheap shabby rooms for a similar price if you have to lay siege to Ved Niketan for a few days.
As of 2019 the Harihar Peeth Ashram in Laxman Jula offers some of the cheapest rooms in town. At 200Rs a night for a single and 400Rs for a double, it’s a real bargain. It’s popular with musicians learning classical Indian instruments. There are obviously plenty more affordable rooms in town, especially if you are staying for a while.
Food in Rishikesh
Rishikesh is a holy city, which means no meat, no eggs and no alcohol. There is the usual fare of Indian and international cuisine in the touristic part of town. With countless “healthy” and “yogic” options. Whatever that means. But hey, its nice to be able to order a side of brown basmati rice for a change.
Along the road and path linking Swarg Ashram to Laxman Jula there are several fresh fruit street vendors. If you like tropical fruits, you will be in heaven. And the small shops have a surprisingly large selection of nuts, natural and ayuverdic products.
A few long term residents choose to cook in their rooms. You can rent small apartments with a basic kitchen. Alternatively, buy a small portable gas stove and a few pots and pans. Cooking essentials are very affordable, especially in the main part of town towards the bus station.
Transportation to and from Rishikesh
Buses from Delhi leave several times a day from the ISBT bus station at Kashmiri Gate. It takes 7-8+ hours depending on the traffic. Alternatively, take a bus to the nearby holy city of Haridwar. There are frequent local onward buses to Rishikesh. If you don’t want to arrive late in the evening, opt for night buses.
A more comfortable alternative is the train. Head to the IRCTC website for schedules and booking. The most convenient option is usually to take a train to Haridwar, and then either a local bus or the slow train to Rishikesh. A night in Haridwar among the countless pilgrims is also a fascinating experience. And a taste of the real India.
Some people also take a short flight to nearby Dehradun, followed by a taxi to Rishikesh. Obviously, if you care about your carbon footprint, don’t.
In Rishikesh itself, Vikrams (larger shared rickshaws) ply the main routes around town. Careful not to get overcharged if you head towards Laxman Jula. Alternatively, it’s a pleasant 30 min walk along the banks of the river Ganga from the bus station.