It’s a hot (are there any other?) day in Rishikesh, the ‘yoga capital of the world’, where I’m attending a yoga retreat. It’s been a few days already and I’ve settled into a little routine. The 5 am meditation sessions combined with blistering heat mean that the time between lunch and the afternoon yoga practice are devoted to napping. But when my roommate Renee asks ‘Do you want to go see the Beatles ashram this afternoon?’, I jump out of bed, even though I don’t have a clue what the Beatles ashram may be.
The holy river Ganges takes its source in the high Himalayas. At its origin among the snowy peaks it is but a meandering stream, to gain pace among the greenery of the lower mountain range. When it reaches the foot of the Himalayas, it is already a proper river, angry and roaring during the monsoon season, peaceful and majestic after the rains have stopped.
‘Mother Ganga’, as Indians call it, attracts pilgrims from all over the country and from abroad who for centuries have flocked to the region between Haridwar and Rishikesh to bathe in the holy waters and be purified, to meditate by the shores or to practice yoga. The region abounds in ashrams, Hindu and Buddhist temples and yoga schools ranging from simple refuges to luxurious spa hotels. As it is a holy place, all meat and alcohol are prohibited.
With a mixture of curiosity and skepticism I head to Rishikesh for a week-long spiritual retreat at Parmarth Niketan, one of the biggest and best known ashrams in the area.