The holy town of Rishikesh is known for its numerous temples and vibrant Ganga aarti. It is also for those who crave adrenaline and spirituality. Anushka Patodia visits this tiny town that has now made it to the global wellness landscape.
“13, 12, 11, 10…” I can feel people behind me exhale loudly and sigh as I will myself to hold on. My left leg is on the ground but the right is in my hand and behind my back as I’m bending forwards trying to balance my body on one leg. Around me is a bucolic landscape, something right out of a fairy tale, with lush fields to my right, the soft murmur of the Ganges flowing to my left and Himalayan peaks forming a protective barrier on all sides. “9, 8, 7, 6…” The sky is all shades of orange and blue and I can see the sun peeking out of the clouds to make its way to the top of the cerulean-carpeted sky.
It’s 5am (yes, 5 – I can hardly believe I’m up at this hour) and I’m willing my yoga instructor to count down faster so I can come back to standing position and look around me at the breath-taking scene in peace. “3, 2, 1…” It feels like an eternity has passed between these last three numbers as my foot finally rests on the ground and I exhale loudly and audibly. I have barely rested my right foot when it’s time to put the left one up and perform the asana again. But even amid the yoga pose I perform with difficulty, I have never felt more serene and at ease. I can actually feel my stress melt away and turn inconsequential as I stare at the mighty Himalayas all around me. Perhaps this is why Hindu sages and priests have thronged to Rishikesh for centuries in search of inner peace.
I’m on a terrace at the Parmarth Niketan ashram, one of the most popular ones in town, for an early morning yoga session. Built in the 1940s, Parmarth Niketan is also the host of the International Yoga Festival (which takes place in February/March) this year. I look around me at my fellow yoga practitioners and see a mixed bag of people. There’s something about yoga that unites people of all castes, creeds, religions and nationalities. It is also here that the Ganga Aarti takes place in the evenings, but we’ll come to that bit later. Known as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh is a haven for those seeking spirituality, meditation and inner peace. You’ll find all schools of yoga here, from hatha and iyengar to kundalini as well as lecturers on Vedanta philosophy. It’s no wonder then that yoga enthusiasts from across the globe flock to this tiny town in the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand to learn from the best.