Rishikesh – yoga capital of the world?

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When I went to India for the first time, I was spoiled for choice. Should i do my Yoga Teacher Training in Goa or Rishikesh. The formerly small town of Rishikesh lies on the edge of the Garhwal Mountains, the source of the Ganges. The place is known for Hippies, Yoga and the Beatles, who spent a few months here in the 1960s. As I grew up in the mountains myself, I decided to do a yoga teacher training in Goa. Nevertheless my desire to visit the yoga capital of the world was unbroken. Therefore two years later Nipun and I drove to the auspicious city on the Ganges on my birthday (August – rainy season).


Yoga, peace and bliss?

We drove from Delhi to Rishikesh by car. According to Google Maps, this is a six-hour drive – Google Maps does not know India – in the end it took us nine hours. If you want to know the directions and the condition of the roads, you better ask a local. Exhausted and overjoyed, we arrived in the alleged yoga capital of the world and were immediately greeted with a slap in the face by our old friend the reality. Where was the inherent calm, the modesty and the untouched nature? I’ve visited many places in India by now (Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Punjab, Chandigarh and also touristic places like Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) but never have I seen such a rundown and dirty city before. My dream images of a spiritual citadel on the holy river got unattractive spots.

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Market Place in Rishikesh by Fred Hsu (CC BY 2.0)



The magic faded away

Once yogis realized their self here through years of practice in the meditation caves, but now it seems as if the 70,000 locals have jumped on the business train. Instead of the wonderful panorama, one only sees oversized posters promoting Yoga Teacher Trainings, miracle healing and Gurus. Everyone wants a piece of the profit and so dozens of yoga schools and ashrams were founded. Unfortunately most Yoga Teachers from Rishikesh don’t speak English very well, so it is difficult to understand them during classes.

Just outside the center there are still schools that spread some authenticity. But this seems to be impractical for the majority of Western Yoga students. They would be too far away from the “German Bakery” with the chocolate cakes and the “Vegan Cafés” with the hip green smoothies. The greed for more, the marketing of healing promises and the gullible tourists have cost this city its magic.

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Vegan cafe in Rishikesh with an amazin view


What does the yoga capital of the world offer?

Enlightenment can hardly be found here – but what then? The mentioned cafes offer really delicious vegetarian and vegan food, which is a treat for a European mouth. Despite the long time I spent in India, I never got used to the spiciness of traditional dishes. 😉 The forests and hills around Rishikesh, as well as the Ganges itself are worth seeing. The holy river can be experienced most intensively on a guided rafting tour. Not even the non-existent English of the Rafting Guide is a problem thanks to the hordes of business people from Delhi, who seem to come here only for this experience and who can act as translators. A touch of spirituality can be experienced in the evening at the riverside, when hundreds of pilgrims pray to Hanuman in the candlelight.


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Shiva statue in Risikesh


Experience true yoga

In case you are looking for authentic yoga classes, you may prefer a school in a quieter and more peaceful place. India is a beautiful country with a lot of magical places. I am sure you will find the right spot in this colorful collage of an amazing subcontinent. Anyhow the yoga capital of the world turns out to be a well-staged scene for would-be yogis, far away from the original thoughts of yoga. Rishikesh is definitely worth a quick visit, but I would not hope for spiritual enlightenment here. You’ll find that far away from mass consumption and advertisement – you will find it inside yourself!

Cover photo by Yogendra Joshi (CC BY 2.0)

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