Along the banks of the Mother Ganga, Rishikesh

Along the banks of the Mother Ganga (Ganges River), Ram Jhula is a bridge that connects Rishikesh over the water. Its a suspension bridge that has both foot traffic and motor traffic (only motorbikes and scooters) and it can be an interesting walk across when you find yourself navigating through the sea of people and jumping out of the way of a honking motorist!

My expectations of the accommodation were incredibly low.

I knew I would be staying at an ashram, sort of a yoga retreat – but my expectations of the accommodation were incredibly low. I thought I would be sleeping on a mat on the floor in a hall with 50+ other travellers. I thought I would have to participate in yoga everyday, share in cooking and cleaning duties and really earn my keep.

Upon arriving at the Parmath Niketan, I realised that none of my lowly expectations would eventuate! Luckily for me, I would have my own self-contained apartment, with an individual bathroom and kitchen (sink only). The yoga schedule was very relaxed and there were other spiritual activities that were optional. I felt very relaxed and comfortable in this place.

Down at the ghat along the River Ganga, there would be spiritual prayer Ganga Aarti at sunset every day. This is a ritual to thank the Mother Ganga for everything she provides and to pray that the abundance will continue.

The Ganga Aarti ceremony was beautifully done every single night.

This was my favourite part of staying at the ashram, the most beautiful ghat was right at our front door and the Ganga Aarti ceremony was beautifully done every single night.

I made friends with some of the acolytes and on my final night at the ashram we played guitar and sang songs all night in one of the halls. It was a beautiful experience, to be able to share some western music with them and for them to express their art with Hindi songs – beautiful voices, truly. The young acolyte who played guitar was really quite skilled for having been self-taught and only within the past TWO months! Amazing!

During my time at the ashram, I planned to do yoga everyday, try to meditate often and really get some spiritual time for myself. I visited Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, one of the most revered and sacred for Lord Shiva.

There were 16 of us cramped into this jeep where really only nine people would have fit comfortably (and safely).

The temple was 23KM away from my accommodation so I took a shared jeep there and back (Rs 120 return cost). There were 16 of us cramped into this jeep where really only nine people would have fit comfortably (and safely). A child had to actually sit on my lap due to the lack of space.

The journey to the temple was 1 hour, due to being on  mostly unsealed road and winding roads climbing the moutainside. We would have 1 hour at the temple, and then the 1 hour journey back to Rishikesh.

At the temple, I was delighted to behold the technicolour motifs that ornament the exterior. Inside there was a room with ancient tridents, used to represent the Lord Shiva. In this room they were making a fire offering and we would be blessed with an ashen tikka on the forehead.

In another room, was an obsidian stone representing an incarnation of the Lord Shiva, and here the acolyte would tie a holy string around your wrist and then bless you with red paint tikka in the shape of a trident.

In the final room, we would revere the holy cow and another incarnation of Lord Shiva in again the form of a smooth obsidian stone. Everyone would place offerings on and around these idols, pouring fresh milk and water over the stones. Here you would be blessed again with a yellow paint tikka, in the form of the trident also.

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