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Staying in an Ashram in India | Ummi Goes Where?

A Guide to Staying in an Ashram in Rishikesh India

Traditionally, an ashram is a monastery or a spiritual hermitage in India. Today, it still serves as a spiritual hideaway for those who wish to escape the frenzy of their daily lives. But it also commonly refers to a dormitory for yoga students or practitioners trying to further their practice. 

Like many people, the first time I ever heard of an ashram was in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert — a memoir of a woman’s search for happiness that took her to Italy, India and Indonesia. In India, she stayed in an ashram to do silent meditation.

When I first read the book (in 2008), it was many years before I even dreamed of going backpacking, or trying anything out of my comfort zone. So, it really stupefied me that someone from a developed country would travel thousands of miles just to jail herself in a place where she had to wake up at 4 a.m. to scrub floors and clean toilets.

Staying in an ashram in India guide - Ummi Goes Where?
Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts. Credit: E! News

It was only when I started traveling on a super-tight budget that I began to see the intrigue of living without luxuries. I was surprised by how little I needed to get by.

What I thought I couldn’t live without — TV, cosmetics, handbags, shoes, fancy clothes, and tons of different shampoos and lotions — turned out to be nothing but unnecessary clutter.

Purging my life of all the clutter felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. My life was simpler, my mind clearer, and my wallet happier. Backpacking was my rehab.

At around the same time, I also started doing a little bit of yoga and meditation. Naturally, I was tempted to experience yoga in its country of origin. That was how I made the decision to stay in an ashram in India.

How to Choose an Ashram in India

  • Location – There are ashrams in almost every region in India. So, the first question you should ask yourself is which part of India you’d like to visit the most. The northern and southern parts can be very different from one another, but each one is special in their own ways. Take into account the weather when choosing your destination. For example, if you’re not used to being roasted alive, going to South India during summer is probably not a very good idea. 
  • Price – Prices may vary greatly depending on the location and the amenities offered. Some ashrams offer an all-inclusive package, which may include meals and classes. Some only charge you for accommodation, and let you pay separately for each meal and/or class that you choose to take.

Staying in an ashram in India beginners guide - Ummi Goes Where?

    Credit: Times of India
  • Classes – Choose an ashram based on what you’d like to work on. There are ashrams that only focus on meditations, some on yoga while the others on ayurvedic treatments — just to name a few. The quality of these classes also vary, so be sure to check reviews by former students to see which one is right for you.
  • Schedule – Check what the schedule is like and how much commitment is required of you. How many days a week are the classes? Is it compulsory for you to attend every class? Is there any curfew? Are you required to do ‘karma yoga’ (cleaning and other chores around the ashram)?
Click here or here for a list of popular ashrams in India.

Ved Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh

After some research, I decided to go to Rishikesh. Rishikesh is the birthplace of yoga and has since been known to be the yoga capital of India. As you might expect in such a place, there are many ashrams and yoga schools to choose from, each with different rates.

I chose an ashram called Ved Niketan because it was apparently the cheapest in the area. A single room with shared bathrooms only cost 150 rupees per night, and if you stayed for more than 3 nights, you’d get free yoga classes (otherwise, it was 100 rupees per class).

They also had more expensive rooms available for 250 – 500 rupees — some with private bathrooms. Please check the current rates on their website.

Ved Niketan ashram - staying in an ashram in India - Ummi Goes Where?
The main entrance of Ved Niketan ashram

The ashram is located at the end of Ram Jhula, away from the tourist-filled streets, therefore is much quieter than the other ashrams. It features a large complex of buildings with a yoga and meditation hall in the center and is surrounded by gardens.

The place is said to be a favorite of old-timers and real hippies who couldn’t care less about luxury and are only after an authentic ashram experience. Well, that sounds good to me!

Ved Niketan - Staying in an ashram in India - Ummi Goes Where?
Ved Niketan ashram is surrounded by greenery.

As the ashram is often full, it is best to book your stay in advance. Send them an email or call +91 135 2430279.

How to Go to Rishikesh

Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh India beginners guide - Ummi Goes Where?
Ganges River, Rishikesh. Credit: The National News

Rishikesh is a small town in the northern state of Uttarakhand in India. It is about 230 km away from Delhi, and is well-connected by planes, trains, and buses. The nearest airport is Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport with multiple direct flights from Delhi.

By Train

There are many trains from Delhi to Haridwar. And from Haridwar, there are three slow trains daily to Rishikesh. Once you reach Rishikesh station, take a shared rickshaw to Lakshman Jhula, or Ram Jhula, where most of the hotels and ashrams are.

By Bus

A bus ride between Delhi and Rishikesh takes about 5 – 7 hours, depending on traffic. The travel agencies around Delhi and Rishikesh can help you book luxury buses (with A/C) for about 250 – 700 rupees.

Alternatively, for a fraction of the price, you can take a local bus. Just turn up at the bus station in Delhi (no prior booking needed), but be prepared to fight for a seat. I was with three Italian travelers as we arrived late at night at the bus station to catch the last bus to Rishikesh.

Guide to staying in an ashram in Rishikesh India - Ummi Goes Where?

When we got there, there were at least 30 other people at the bus door trying to get in. The conductor turned the locals away and let us in, probably because he could charge us more (it was still much cheaper than a luxury bus though). But there were four of us and only two available seats. We had to take turns sitting on the floor throughout the journey.

~ ~ ~

It is also possible to get a bus to Rishikesh from other major cities in India, such as Jaipur, Pushkar and Varanasi. Please note that in July, there is a festival called Saavan, where thousands of people flock to Rishikesh, causing many roads to be blocked and many hotels overbooked.

What to Expect at Ved Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh

Check-in

You should have already had an online booking prior to your arrival. Once you arrive, head straight to the reception and make your payment upfront. Some online reviewers had complained about the front desk being rude, but I didn’t experience this. The guy manning the registration counter was welcoming enough. Perhaps because I was a solo woman? Or perhaps he was new. I was then showed to my room.

Room

The room was spartan. There was one very shaky bed with a stone-hard mattress, a blanket, a thin pillow, two windows, a power socket, and stone shelves carved into the wall. The room also came with a lamp and an electric fan. But it could still get very hot during the day as the electricity was prone to disruption. 

Staying in an ashram Rishikesh India - Ummi Goes Where?
My room in Ved Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh.

There were toilets and shower rooms at both ends of the building. Considering that the place was surrounded by trees and the Ganges river, I was surprised that I didn’t face any problem with mosquitoes during my stay.

Rules

Like any other ashram, Ved Niketan has its own set of rules. For example, strict silence is to be maintained at all times, but especially between 1 and 3 p.m., and after 9 p.m. at night. No meat, fish, eggs, liquors or drugs are allowed anywhere in the premise. And there is a curfew at 10 p.m., after which the gate will be closed and nobody will be allowed entrance.

Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh India - Ummi Goes Where?
The rules at Ved Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh.
Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh India - Ummi Goes Where?
The residents are referred to as “inmates”.

Schedule

Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh India - Ummi Goes Where?
Yoga class in Ved Niketan ashram, Rishikesh.

The schedule at Ved Niketan is pretty lenient. There’s a meditation class at 6 a.m. – 7 a.m., a morning yoga class at 8.30 a.m. – 10 a.m. and an evening yoga class at 5 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.

Aside from that, it’s free and easy. Even the classes are not mandatory to attend. Which is a good thing, because if you find that the classes/teachers are not suitable for you for whatever reason, you can still attend classes elsewhere while still staying in the Ved Niketan ashram.

The yoga classes at Ved Niketan focus on different aspects everyday. For example, Monday is yoga for strength, Tuesday for flexibility, and so on.

During my stay, the morning and afternoon yoga teachers had different styles of teaching, so students had to learn to adapt. To me, they were all right, although some of the other students didn’t think so and said you could find better ones at other ashrams.

Food

Rishikesh, I was told, is a vegetarian region, so you will not find any restaurant here that sells meat. If you’re a vegetarian/vegan or an aspiring one, this should be great news for you. The ashram kitchen sells breakfast and thali sets but the price is almost similar to the nicer restaurants outside (which have wifi!). If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could try the street stalls.
 
I particularly enjoyed the 10-rupee chai tea sold everywhere on the streets.
 
Chaiwala Rishikesh | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Just Dial
 

Final Thoughts on Staying in an Ashram in India

Ved Niketan Ashram — or basically any ashram, for that matter — are not for fussies. Do not expect luxuries. There is no A/C or hot water. It’s perfect for those seeking to focus on their yoga/meditation as it is a quiet and peaceful place, offering only the sound of the Ganges. And no Wi-Fi.

The twice-daily yoga classes are quite intense if you’re not used to doing yoga everyday. The poses are simple enough for beginners but can really test your strength and endurance. I stayed for a total of 6 nights and throughout my stay, I skipped the morning meditation class because I was too lazy to get up in the morning. I heard it was good though.

Personally, I would prefer an ashram with stricter rules and schedules (like the Vipassana silent retreat I went to), so that there is no room for me to be lazy.

Staying in an ashram in India | Ummi Goes Where?

Have you stayed in an ashram before? Is it something you want to try? Why or why not?

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Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh, India
Staying in an ashram in Rishikesh, India
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35 Comments

  1. Roger

    Informative post!… ‘Ashrams of India’ is pretty good book that covers a few ashrams in Rishikesh and beyond… eBook version can be viewed at Amazon and on the website ashramsofindia.com

  2. Pingback:Auroville, India – What It’s Like to Visit This Experimental Utopia | Ummi Goes Where?

  3. Saidila Abdul Rahman

    Wow menarik jugak , kira macam tempat penginapan bajet jugaklah yer ni kalau kat korea ala2 sauna gitu…insyaAllah jika pandemik ni dah berakhir dan boleh travel balik nak jugak cuba. Akan rujuk blog ini sebagai guide. Paling penting mesti mahu berani mencuba dan tak kisah dengan sedikit kesusahan dan kekurangan.

    • ummi

      Ya, Saidila. Lebih kurang macam penginapan bajet. Tapi tujuan asal ashram ni sebenarnya untuk membolehkan kita ‘get back to basics’…lupakan kemewahan buat sementara supaya kita boleh fokus on what really matters. Betul, kita mesti berani mencuba sesuatu yang baru. Ada banyak yang boleh kita belajar bila kita keluar dari bawah tempurung.

        • ummi

          Ya, Syamimi, Rishikesh ni memang tempat yang tenang dan dekat dengan alam semulajadi. Sungai Ganges pulak adalah sungai yang sangat terkenal di India. Ramai penganut Hindu di sana akan berendam dalam sungai sebagai simbol penyucian diri. Tapi di bahagian2 hulu (utara) je sungai ni bersih. Kalau dah sampai bawah sana, rasanya nak celup kaki pun tak sanggup 😅. (Boleh tengok gambar di Google sebagai rujukan).

    • ummi

      Betul, kawasan ni sangat menenangkan. Berbeza dengan kebanyakan tempat lain di India yang biasanya hingar bingar dengan bunyi hon kenderaan. Walaupun kat Rishikesh ni ramai pelancong, tapi yang datang tu boleh dikatakan semua untuk tujuan meditasi/yoga, jadi takde la bising.

  4. Sis Lin

    Sis tengok chai tea tu je wowww…mesti kaww kann dia punya rasa..
    Baru tau juga india ni ada yoga semua tu, sebab normally tengok filem hindi ke india ke, takde pulak mereka buat exercise yoga ke kann…

    • ummi

      Ya, sis, memang kaw dia punya rasa, dengan rempah2 nya, sebab buat cara tradisional guna periuk dapur arang, bukan guna teh segera 3 dalam 1 🤭.
      Filem2 Hindi tu kebanyakannya shoot di Mumbai dan bahagian2 India Utara. Apa yang menarik tentang India ni, dia besar dan luas. Dan di setiap sudut, kebudayaannya berbeza. Kadang-kadang rasa macam bukan dalam satu negara yang sama. Memang sangat menarik untuk kita teroka dan fahami.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Sienny. Glad you liked the article. Staying in an ashram is a great new experience, if you like that kind of environment. I hope you’ll get to experience it someday. 🙂

    • ummi

      Awesome! Just a word of caution though — an ashram may not be for everyone. It is *very* basic. But if you enjoy the simple things in life, this would be perfect. Have fun!

    • ummi

      Yes, Fas. I would love to go again to Rishikesh and experience other ashrams, to see which one I like better. This one is very quiet, which suited me well, but I always want some variety. 😀

    • ummi

      Yes, Jia Shin Lee, you definitely should! Yoga has spread worldwide and has attracted a huge following in the western world. But nothing beats seeing it in practice in its motherland India. 😃

  5. Min

    I personally rasa yang kalo jenis kental dan backpakers maybe boleh stay kat ashram ni kan..tapi bg mereka yang cerewet maybe tak sesuai tapi kalo i why not try kan? Utk rasa pengalaman berbeza di negara orang

    • ummi

      Betul tu Min. Pada pendapat saya, kalau setakat nak rasa penginapan dan layanan 5 bintang, kat mana-mana dan bila-bila masa pun boleh dapat. Bahkan, dalam negara sendiri pun banyak. Tapi pengalaman yang asing macam ni, bukan di semua tempat ada, dan bukan selalu kita berpeluang. Jadi, rugi kalau tak rasa. Selagi mana saya mampu cuba benda2 sebegini, saya cuba. Satu hari nanti mungkin dah tak mampu, atas keterbatasan usia dan fizikal 🙂

    • ummi

      Admittedly, ashrams may not be for everyone. But if you think it suits you, I hope you’ll get to experience it on your next visit. I miss traveling too!

  6. Nina Mirza

    Suka travel style gini. Lebih dekat dengan budaya dan cara hidup mereka yang sebenar. Ala-ala bajet gitu. Chia tea tu, warna dia nampak sangat menyelerakan! Tentu sedap kann?

    • ummi

      Betul, Nina. Saya suka travel dengan cara begini, lebih dekat dengan budaya dan cara hidup masyarakat setempat. Kalau asyik duduk di hotel saja, pemandangan kita tak terbuka.

      Bagi sesiapa yang belum pernah cuba chai masala tea ni, mungkin pelik sikit rasanya, sebab ia adalah teh susu yang dimasak dengan halia, buah pelaga, dan rempah-rempah lain. Tapi kalau dah biasa, ketagih juga. Dah la murah.

    • ummi

      Oh you definitely should, Kelly! If you go to India often, then staying in an ashram is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the culture. 🙂

  7. Coni

    Girl, we could be good friends! I never thought of decluttering my life as therapy, but your words ‘backpacking was my rehab’ really resonated with me. I’d love to experience an ashram, so I’m saving this post. It’s great to hear both the good and the not so good of the experience, so you’re making my research much easier 😊

    • ummi

      Thank you, Coni, that’s lovely to know. I hope you’ll get to experience staying in an ashram in the future. Backpacking was indeed the therapy I needed, and I’m glad to say that I’m still reaping the benefits from a minimalistic lifestyle — even now that I’m not traveling as often as I wish. 😀

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