Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed July 20 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | July 20, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    An Unexpected Experience With Indian Ashrams

    An Unexpected Experience With Indian Ashrams

    PHOTO: Even if you don’t stay at Parmarth Niketan, it is worth walking through their lovely grounds. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    To Ashram or not? That is the question.

    Picking the perfect India ashram is akin to pulling winning lottery numbers. Based on my experience and from others I’ve spoken to, the consensus is that although I absolutely love Rishikesh, a place structured around personal wellness, it provides far too many options and elevated costs and left me utterly stressed while trying to find the best combination of both.

    Most ashrams now cater to Western tourism. Although I’ve tried a handful of places, I ultimately felt as though I was back in North America attending classes instead of actually being part of the Indian ashram experience I’d pictured in my mind.

    After many bouts of trial and error, seeing what options, prices and environments fit and what didn’t, below are the two top-rated ashrams in a sea of hundreds, as judged by travelers wanting more of an authentic experience. For those of you on a very tight budget, I have also added in the very cheapest.

    READ MORE: Solo Female Travel in India: Realities and Tips

    The structure and rules of each ashram vary so before deciding to jump into one, do a little research, as most are a minimum three-day stay.

    Yoga Niketan (950 Rupees a day)

    Out of all the ashrams, although the price is steep (as are the majority of ashrams in Rishikesh) Yoga Nikitan provides the most. From two meditation and yoga classes, a 45-minute lecture regarding yoga, meditation and philosophy, musical holy hymns as well as three meals a day and accommodation — you can’t beat it!

    Santosh Puri (950 Rupee a day)

    Although it is located outside of Rishikesh, if you’re seeking something more authentic, with staff that are dedicated to their practice, this is the ashram of choice. It includes Asana, Karma Yoga, Course, Aarti and evening meditation.

    Cheapest Ashrams:

    Sri Ved Niketan (150 Rupees a day)

    The daily program includes meditation, two yoga classes, lecture and accommodation.

    Parmarth Niketan (600 Rupees a day)

    I had initially planned to stay here, as it’s one of the largest and most famous of the ashrams. However, I decided to skip over it after experiencing staff rudeness both times I visited. The atmosphere was cold and the program only included one yoga class and accommodation.

    PHOTO: Walking down the seemingly empty bridge in Ram Jhula is not quite the case in the yoga capital. Be prepared for a slew of selfie sticks, honking scooters, Indian tourists, stealing monkeys and cows.

    Initially, I went to Rishikesh with the intention of staying in an ashram for one month, as it provides structure and pushes you to attend classes rather than swim in the Ganga all day at the beach. However, after my many trials, I found that what suited me best was to stay in my own private room at Shree Sant Seva Ashram for 200 Rupees a day while attending drop-in classes that specifically catered to my needs, such as Vinyasa Flow classes rather than Hatha, which are commonplace classes.

    READ MORE: Yoga, Iced Coffee and Veggies: An Idyll in Rishikesh, India

    PHOTO: Sri Ved Niketan may not look like much but it’s the best bang for your buck!

    What it comes down to is “to each their own.” Test out the drop-in classes, the ashrams, retreats and courses to find what suits you best. What you initially think you want when you begin your ashram search may not always be what you ultimately need. 

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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