Check into one of India’s 5 best ashrams, writes Vasudha Rai in Vogue India on June 20, 2017.
Even the most luxurious holiday cannot compete with a stint in the ashram. Offering peace, quiet and humility, ashrams are great equalisers. There’s no special treatment for the rich, and no discrimination if you’re poor. You can either interact with people from all walks of life, carve out a little cocoon of quiet for yourself, or delve deeper into your spiritual practice. Ashrams barely charge anything for you to stay in their impeccably clean surroundings, but do encourage an hour of selfless service (or seva) every day. This could mean an hour of making pickles, doing the dishes, serving food, or even mopping the floor. This seva is supposed to burn off your negative karma and thereby lead to a better life.
Remember that you’re going to an ashram and not a five-star hotel, so following the etiquette is essential. Abide by the timings of meals, satsang (if you’re going there), dress appropriately, and you will have a retreat that is enriching, fulfilling and satisfying. While the surroundings are absolutely dreamy, and the environment more peaceful than any luxe resort, you do need to carry your own essentials, toiletries, towels and maybe your kettle. With that in mind, here are our favourite ashrams in the country.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Madhuban
Situated about a two-hour drive from Kathgodam railway station, in a fruit orchard, spread around 30 acres, this ashram is situated high in the Himalayas. The Mother, one of spiritual heads of the ashram, loved flowers, and therefore this place has a huge variety of blooms—from daffodils to magnolias to camellias, plum blossoms, roses and more. You can go for a trek in the hills in your free time and use the meditation room in the evening to unwind. The ashram offers many workshops such as ‘How Work Becomes Worship’, ‘Overcoming Depression’, and ‘Effective Life Management.’ Sriaurobindoashram.net
This peaceful haven is situated right on the banks of the Ganga, just 15 minutes from the Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh. It’s away from the hubbub of the city and located in a quiet spot surrounded by nature. You can choose to stay there for a few days to find a moment of peace. Or you can sign up for the many workshops and meditation camps. The teachings in this centre are vast—from reiki and massage to the philosophy of Osho, and Sufism. Oshogangadham.org
One of the oldest yoga universities in the world, this is rooted in tradition following Patanjali’s ashtanga tradition (eight limbs for silencing the mind). But that’s not to say that it’s a blast from the past. Since its inception in 1924, the ashram has combined yoga with modern science to study and resolve various conditions including obesity, diabetes, stress and blindness. You can apply for a full degree or take short courses in philosophy, yoga and meditation at the ashram. Kdham.com
Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh
Also the headquarters of the Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International (AHYMSIN), the ashram is built like a beautiful village, where you can learn yoga and meditation. You can join one of the group retreats, or ask for a program specifically tailored for you. Thursdays are silence days at the ashrams, although you can extend your silence to 10 or even 40 days (if you’re experienced). The accommodation is very comfortable and there are guests from every corner of the world. Sadhakagrama.org
Amma’s Ashram, Amritapuri
A remote fishing village on the backwaters of Kerala, this was the place where the much-revered Mata Amritanandamayi Devi was born. Today this erstwhile cowshed has been transformed into a bustling city, with visitors from all walks of life and every corner of the world. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not—this ashram welcomes everyone with unconditional love. Even if you’re not here for Amma’s darshan, you can follow her lead in meditation, spiritual practices, or take classes in yoga, meditation, or vedanta. Amritapuri.org
vogue.in – illustration by Osho News
Vasudha Rai is a certified yoga teacher and has been writing on beauty, health and wellness for 15 years. Find her at Vbeauty.co