river ganges ashram in rishikesh india

Finding Soul in Rishikesh, India.

by Ellie Cleary

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Experiencing an Ashram in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

In hindsight, it seems only fitting that the final stop on my Indian journey (this time at least) was Rishikesh.

I’ve come to realise that part of what draws me back to India is that it is a country full of – and place for – seekers. If India is the land of seekers, Rishikesh is the beating heart and soul of India. Rishikesh is also the Yoga capital of the world.

I mean there’s even a train running between Haridwar (gateway to Rishikesh) and Delhi called the Yoga Express. I don’t recommend you take it though: it takes 4 hours longer than the Shatabdi express trains to plough the same route. Want to do train travel like a pro in India? You need this guide.

Ashram in Rishikesh India Soul Travel Blog

Sunset over the Ganges from Laxman Jhula.

Given the status that Rishikesh holds, looking for the best ashram in Rishikesh, searching for yoga retreats, yoga teacher training courses, ashrams, meditation retreats in Rishikesh, ayurvedic healing, reiki and energetic healing (the list goes on) can be a daunting task. To start with the term “Rishikesh” is usually applied somewhat loosely.

What visitors mean by “Rishikesh” is the area of Laxman Jhula and Tapovan, a few miles north of Rishikesh town itself. Two bridges span the vibrantly emerald Ganges that runs between the cliffs here: the Laxman Jhula Bridge and the Ram Jhula Bridge.

Ashram in Rishikesh India

Evening Ganga Aarti at Parmath Niketan Ashram.

Where to Stay in Rishikesh.

I’d decided to spend 10 days in Rishikesh towards the end of my travels in India in February this year. Unusually for me, I had little in the way of a plan. I’d searched for ashrams and yoga retreats for hours and become overwhelmed by options. So I abandoned planning completely and just booked my first night at a guesthouse on the Tapovan side of Rishikesh.

Click here for places to stay in Rishikesh, or see our recommendations below.

[checkprice title=”Hotels we Love in Rishikesh” ids=”3806,3808″]

If you like a bit of peace and quiet and have travelled to Uttarakhand in search of space to reflect, I highly recommend staying in Tapovan – or further out – rather than in Laxman Jhula, which can get a little noisy. As for finding things to do in Rishikesh – from my experience, here, things will generally find you. Taking a quiet stroll to soak up the Ganges air, will inevitably lead you into conversations with strangers, music on ghats by the river and more. For the action driven – Rishikesh offers white water rafting and hiking opportunities a-plenty.

I was happy I chose to stay on this side of the bridge, about 15 minutes walk from Laxman Jhula and the main market drag. Tapovan was quieter, relaxed, but still with plenty of places to enjoy a chai or join a yoga class.

Ashram in Rishikesh

On the Laxman Jhula bridge.

For my first few days in Rishikesh, I happily wandered the town, relaxed in cafes with with river views and caught up on blogging.

Friends took me to early yoga each morning which set me up for the day and gave me more energy than I had felt in months. (If in doubt… yoga. Really…). One evening I attended the Ganga Aarti (evening Hindu prayer ceremonies) at Parmeth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. This is the largest and best known Ashram in the area – set on the banks of the holy river. It accommodates up to 2,000 people at any one time. The Ganga Aarti were beautiful if somewhat marred by the many visitors who it seemed had come predominantly to take photos as opposed to soak up the atmosphere and appreciate the rituals.

My indecision over ashrams was soon remedied. Blogger friend & India specialist Mariellen from Breathe Dream Go – who I’d been trying to meet up with for a while – was serendipitously headed to her favourite Ashram just outside Rishikesh; Aurovalley. I decided to join her there.

Aurorally Ashram Rishikesh India

Aurovalley Ashram’s World Temple building.

Staying in an Ashram in Rishikesh.

It was a short stay this time, of only a week. Ashrams in India vary widely. Many ashrams have different stay requirements (minimum/maximum lengths of stay). Ashrams also have wildly differing styles and schedules. Some are focused on yoga and include several hours a day of asana yoga classes; others more on meditation; others have a more relaxed schedule.

I’d been on an ayurveda retreat a few years previously which involved getting up at 5am most mornings. I’d also been on a Vipassana meditation course in the UK which was a 4am wakeup. At Aurovalley the 6am meditation seemed like a leisurely lie-in by comparison.

The Ashram is located in Rishidwar, about 30 minutes drive from Rishikesh towards Haridwar. Its setting is along what used to be the banks of the rushing ganges, but the last couple of years have seen the river diverted, and what was once a torrent is now a trickle. Across the river is the Rajaji National park: home to tigers, elephant and – as we saw from first hand evidence – leopard. One morning we awoke to find a deer outside the gates of the Ashram that had been freshly killed by leopard.

Aurovalley ashram Rishikesh India

Finding inspiration and mindful reminders…

My Rishikesh Ashram Experience.

The Ashram had a distinctly relaxed vibe when I attended, but the energy of the place was profound, deep and transformational. I normally find it challenging (at best) to meditate for more than a few minutes; in the Ashram’s meditation hall I fell into a trance not one but several times. Once I came out of a mediation so deep to find that everyone else had left the hall without me so much as noticing. And no I wasn’t asleep ;-).

One of my favourite moments was sitting on the rooftop of the Ashram’s world-temple building and watching the sunset over surrounding forest.

You can read more about Aurovalley Ashram on Mariellen’s blog, Breathe Dream Go

Aurovalley Ashram rishikesh india

The Ganges near Aurovalley.

Finding Soul. (And lots of Chai…)

I fell in love with Rishikesh.

Partly I fell in love with the place: the mountains, the rushing river, the warm sun against the crisp winter air. After the bustle of the desert cities of Rajasthan, Rishikesh felt like a haven of peace.

The air is cleaner, the sun is purer, and people seem relaxed. In Rishikesh I am sure there is the occasional less-than-authentic sadhu, but during my 10 days there I experienced no hassle. Rishikesh seemed generally safe too, although if walking alone after dark do avoid isolated and un-lit areas, and keep your wits about you.

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But I also fell in love with how I felt there. There’s something in the air – I found – that gets to you. Maybe it was the daily yoga, maybe it was the spray from the Ganges. Maybe it was the magic of the meditation hall at Aurovalley. All I know is that I felt more relaxed and at peace than I can remember feeling for a long time.

And it’s that feeling that will bring me back here on future adventures.

The very green holy river.
ashram in rishikesh India
Holy cow above the ganges?

Tips for Finding an Ashram in Rishikesh.

To reduce the number of options available to you, you can start by asking the following questions:

  • How long do you want to stay for? Some Ashrams are open for shorter stays (3-7 days, others only accept those staying for longer)
  • Do you want to focus on Yoga or a Yoga Teacher Training course? Some ‘Ashrams’ are more like Yoga Teacher Training Centres, while other Ashrams do not offer yoga at all – think about how much yoga (asana) you want to practise and look for Ashrams that offer this
  • Do you prefer to be surrounded by people or in a smaller Ashram?
  • Are you looking for an Ashram with a rigid schedule, or do you want more time to yourself?
  • Don’t forget to book well in advance – Ashrams are not usually set up for ‘walk-ins’ and many popular Ashrams get booked up.

Have you been to Rishikesh and stayed in an Ashram or practiced yoga in Rishikesh? Let me know in the comments section below! 

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Cherene Saradar June 24, 2017 - 1:46 pm

I would love to have this experience. I love that here is the Yoga Express. LOL Isn’t the Ganga Aarti amazing? I saw it in Varanasi a few years ago. Falling in love with how you feel…what a powerful sentiment! Who wouldn’t want that???

Ellie July 7, 2017 - 12:23 pm

Thanks Cherene! The train names are very cool ;-). Hope you had a wonderful time in Varanasi when you went – Rishikesh is definitely a much more ‘relaxed’ experience (less hustle). Happy travels, Ellie

Abbi @ Spin the Windrose June 24, 2017 - 6:06 pm

I fell in love with India but didn’t make it to Rishikesh – it looks incredible and what a way to experience it! I love yoga so this seems really appealing for me. I feel so inspired!!

Ellie July 7, 2017 - 12:22 pm

Thanks so much Abbi! I feel you’ll definitely love Rishikesh if you love India – there really is a special feeling there :-). Happy travels! Ellie

Kate June 25, 2017 - 7:31 pm

Really nice article, I practice meditation and I’d like to plan a trip to India next year and finding place where I can meditate! Thanks for sharing this amazing stay you had.

Niki September 27, 2017 - 1:02 am

I stayed at Sri Ved Niketan back in 2013. I don´t remember I had to book in advance. Place had a nice atmospthere, quiet with very basic rooms and yoga was offered twice a day with a more than ok teacher.

Ellie October 4, 2017 - 10:46 am

Hi Niki, good to know. Thank you!

Jessie Baker October 5, 2017 - 4:01 am

Hi Ellie! Thanks for sharing. I’m planning on taking a 200 Hour YTT course in India this January. Have you, or any of your friends heard of Chandra Yoga International or Rishikul Yogshala? I’m so thrilled to go on this journey!!

Neeti February 9, 2018 - 7:01 am

Hi Jessie!

Did you complete your yoga teacher training? How was the experience? I have been looking for a 200 Hours Yoga Teacher Training Experience and I have selected the following schools:
1) Hari Om Yoga Vidya School (mainly because of both Hatha and Ashtanga course)
2) Jeevmoksha Yoga
3) Chandra Yoga

Rishikul yogshala has a big class size so I don’t think I will feel comfortable there. Have you completed your TTC? What was your experience?

Hemender October 24, 2017 - 8:59 am

Hi Ellie! Came across your blog while searching for every possible information on net about Rishikesh. Its a great blog with good amount of information.
Never been to Rishikesh but now have planned for 10 -12 days break in Nov. month with the sole aim of learning the art of meditation and practicing thereafter. Not able to find any place for stay which can serve my purpose, Can you share your thoughts or suggest regarding this. Any place which you came across and found worth.

Judith March 22, 2018 - 9:10 am

I heard tushita in Dharamsala could be nice 🙂 they offer Buddhist meditationsretreats

Linda Cifelli January 30, 2018 - 4:57 pm

Rishikesh and the Parmarth Niketan and the whole area have so much healing vibration! I have studied
And worked in the energy field for body, mind, and spirit healing. My husband does other complementary
Therapies. We were allowed to volunteer along with many others for the November Eye Camp in November
2017. This is a collection of an international group with up-to-date technology to prevent blindness, a colossal problem in India.
We plan to return. I fell in love with the playful monkeys and needed to pet many cows as they kept
Nudging me for attention.

Jill February 14, 2018 - 1:37 pm

Thanks for sharing! I went on a yoga retreat in Rishikesh last year and felt very similar to the way you felt. Actually for about 6 months after returning home I felt in total peace, until I allowed the desires and vices of normal life start to creep back in to my head. Heading to Kerala for another retreat this year and hoping to get that post-Rishikesh feeling back.

Alexander April 2, 2018 - 8:38 pm

I’ve visited Rishikesh in 2016. I’ve found my soul in MaunVan – ashram in Rajaji National Park – A Tiger Reserve Forest, about 16 kilometres from Laxman Jhulla. Very silent place, with great teacher Baba Vijay.
This is his instagram https://www.instagram.com/dr.yogi.vijay.rayal/
and website http://www.maunvan.com

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