The Himalayan Yoga Academy is the school where I was fortunate to gain deeper and more diverse knowledge in yoga. It is the only yoga school officially affiliated with Swarg Ashram, which is located on the banks of the sacred Ganges, near the Ram Jhula bridge. Swarg Ashram holds the distinction of being the largest and oldest ashram in Rishikesh. Its establishment is credited to the founder of Rishikesh, Kali Baba. In fact, the entire city of Rishikesh, now renowned as the world capital of yoga, originated from Swarg Ashram.
On the only day off of the week, Sunday, we visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram – the founder of transcendental meditation programs. In mid-February 1968, the Beatles came to India and stayed at the Maharishi Ashram, located in the jungle about two kilometers from Rishikesh. The ashram covers a large area of 57 square kilometers, overgrown with jungle, in the immediate vicinity of the Ganges. At that time, it was the largest and most comfortable yoga ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas. The meditation houses were equipped with modern amenities like air conditioning, water supply, and heating. The territory also had a bank, a post office, and a helipad, making it quite sophisticated for its time. As a result, this place earned the second name – the Beatles Ashram, due to the famous group’s introduction to Vedic culture and philosophy under the guidance of Maharishi.
The ashram had specific features for meditators, including study halls and egg-shaped cells. These egg-shaped structures were two-storied, with a spiral staircase inside. The students slept below and meditated above. Acoustics played a significant role in transcendental meditation, and the acoustics inside these egg-shaped cells were truly amazing. Notably, the musicians recorded their iconic white album in this unique setting.
Today, the ashram is abandoned but untouched, and the drawings and graffiti on the walls evoke the atmosphere of the 1960s, the era of the hippies. Upon entering the premises, we encountered a large number of monkeys, wild cows, and wild boars scavenging in the garbage pits. Indians were living wherever they found space, making the environment unusual and somewhat unsettling during the initial days. The adjustment to the unsanitary conditions and local customs was challenging, but our curiosity prevailed over the love for coziness, cleanliness, and comfort.
During our stay, there were extensive training sessions, insightful lectures, and deep meditation practices, all punctuated with more training sessions. We also had to adapt to the local cuisine, taking in the flavors of Indian dishes. Our days were filled with pleasant walks from Ram Jhula to Lakshman Jhula, where we encountered a vast array of Indian and Nepalese jewelry, each piece holding its unique charm. The opportunity to savor Nepalese and Indian traditional food was a delightful experience, adding to the richness of our journey.
Communication with fellow travelers and locals alike brought a sense of intrigue and wonder, as we exchanged stories, cultures, and experiences. However, the predominant theme throughout our days was undoubtedly yoga – an integral part of our journey, permeating every aspect of our time there.