India’s Unique Yoga Hotspots

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India, the birthplace of yoga, has several unique holistic destinations that can be packaged as niche tourism products both for the inbound and domestic markets

Darjeeling

Darjeeling, a small hill town in the state of West Bengal used to be the summer capital of India under the British Raj. Over the years the place became popular for its tea plantations and beautiful weather, attracting all kinds of tourists from across India. The toy train which was established in 1881 has become one of the most iconic sites since it was listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to its British connect, the town is dotted with colonial architecture reflected in the mansions and churches.

Nestled at an elevation of 2042 km above the sea level, the town has countless tourist places to visit. Each place provides a wide angle view of the mountains where tourists flock to enjoy the view. One can visit the Buddhist monasteries, historical churches, temples, rolling tea estates on mountain slopes, museums, art galleries, parks and gardens, waterfalls or take the cable car ride to capture all the scenic views of the small town.

Adding to its offerings today is yoga retreats. The town’s pleasant environs and refreshing views have played a significant role in opening of yoga centres in the area. One such centre is Himalyan Yoga Bliss. The 500 hours registered Yoga Teacher Training school is affiliated to the Yoga Alliance. It was one of the first of its kind to start yoga teacher training in India over the Himalayas. Located in the beautiful mountains of the world famous tea growing town of Darjeeling, the school offers internationally recognised residential yoga teacher training with a multi style exposure. They immerse it into traditional Hatha Yoga and its contemporary styles of the primary series of ashtanga yoga and Vinyasa.

The school is located in the lower Himalayas overlooking the peaks of Kacnhenjunga, the tallest mountain in India. The serenity of the place is ideal for practicing yoga and meditation. The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest major railway junction is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). It takes about three hours to reach Darjeeling from both these locations by car.


Dehradun

The scenic state of Uttarakhand is globally popular for its mountains, rivers and lakes, culture, flora and fauna. Uttarakhand is a diverse tourist destination with offerings including pilgrimage, adventure, wildlife, excursion and wellness.

Uttarakhand is also one of India’s top yoga destinations, with its association with yoga since the ancient times. With a long history of Ayurveda, yoga and meditation, Uttarakhand has become an ideal destination to learn, practise and master these ways of life. The state has lately come to be known as the “yoga country” on account of the number of ashrams, health centres, retreats and high-end spas, it is home to. Like Rishikesh, various other parts the state are also strongly associated with yoga and wellness. Uttarakhand has been a top pick of foreign tourists who seek yoga experiences in India; for instance, legendary English band The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh for learning yoga and meditation. The state capital Dehradun is nestled in the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. Dehradun is one of the most visited tourist destinations in India and houses a number of tourist attractions such as Robber’s Cave, Forest Research Institute, Malsi Deer Park, Tapovan, Sahastradhara, Sai Darbar, Tapkeshwar Temple amongst others.

One of the most famous yoga retreats in the country, Vana in Dehradun explores each aspect of wellbeing – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Bringing together ayurveda, sowa rigpa, yoga, natural therapies, spa, fitness and aqua, the retreat provides many wellness offerings. The 21-acre retreat is near clusters of reserve sal forest with the hills of Mussoorie to the North and the Dehradun town to the East. Vana does not follow a particular school of Yoga, but instead looks at it in its pure, undiluted form.

In addition to bespoke private and group sessions at yogashala, Vana offers daily morning sessions at the outdoor yoga temple and evening sessions at the Yogasala that are open to all its guests. At Vana, a nutritious culinary experience is considered vital, and the cuisine is put together to complement each guest’s retreat.


Goa

One of the most happening tourist destination in India, Goa is globally popular for its beaches, nightlife, fairs and festivals, history, cuisine and much more. The smallest state in India, Goa attracts a large inflow of tourists, both domestic and international. Tourism is a major part of Goa’s economy. Goa is gaining further impetus to tourism and hospitality due to emergence of numerous international hotel brands in the state. Over the years, Goa has also established itself as an eco tourism destination, but one of the lesser known aspects about Goa remains its wellness offerings. Goa is endowed with innumerable varieties of medicinal plants and hence the medicines needed for Ayurvedic treatments are easily available and taken directly from nature without any adulteration. The weather also is warm enough to perform Ayurvedic therapies and yoga.

There are various yoga retreats and resorts across Goa, which offer yoga courses and trainings to visitors. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts on imparting ysogic knowledge across the world, foreign tourists are increasingly adding yoga experiences to their itineraries in Goa.

Located on Palolem Beach in South Goa, Earth Yoga Village has open-plan yogashala largely made of organic and natural materials and offers a peaceful healing room in a private setting. The yoga village also has a small eco-bath for relaxation after yoga. Earth Yoga Village offers three retreats – Yoga Holiday, 15-day Mindfulness Yoga Retreat and 30-day Conscious Living Yoga Retreat – alongside teacher trainings.

Sampoorna Yoga Village in Goa is located on Agonda Beach. It has two facilities in Agonda located next to each other. The retreat is located in a 10,000-sq-m coconut grove. It has two yoga platforms, one each on the lower part and hilltop with open sea view. Campoorna Yoga Village offers 300/500 hour yoga teacher training and yoga retreat studios. It also has 20 eco-cottages.


Kangra

Located in the lower Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, Kangra is known as one of the most picturesque valley. Amongst the most populous districts of the region, it is famous for its handicrafts, miniatures, shawls and hiking spots. It is full of greenery and offers some unique spots for practicing yoga.  Surrounded by mountains, the place is now emerging for yoga retreats. One of the places offering yoga teaching courses is Basunti Yoga Retreat. Situated in the heart of a wildlife reserve, Basunti offers a very serene environment to escape the daily life and lead a healthy one. The yoga sessions are designed to suit the time of the day, season, inclination and ability. The sessions are held both in open air thatch roofed shala or on the roof of the main house.

In order to make the best of the natural environment, the shala is set amidst the extensive gardens overlooking the beautiful views. On the other hand, the main house flat enjoys 360 degree views over the lake, wooden ridge and on a clear day, the Himalayas beyond. The day includes at least four hours of yoga practice divided into two or three sessions, leaving plenty of time for swimming, bird watching, and exploring on foot or by canoe.

One can also take the yoga teaching sessions, to qualify as yoga teachers. Tuition is provided by qualified, experienced yoga teachers who speak fluent English and many are multi-lingual. Sessions are mainly open level, providing tuition for both complete beginners as well as more experienced practitioners and they also provide yoga equipment.

Kangra is also well known tourist spot being the home of Masroor Rock Cut Temple or the Himalayan Pyramids. The town is 18 km from Dharamshala and makes up for a good day trip from Mcleodganj. It is easily accessible through trains, air and road. There are direct buses from Delhi and the journey takes about 10 hours. The nearest railhead is at Ambala Cantt from where you can further take a bus to Kangra.


Gokarna

Open beaches, coves, sunsets, cliffs, temples and culture are some of the highlights of Gokarna in Karnataka. This coastal town draws Hindu pilgrims, Sanskrit scholars and leisure tourists. Apart from its famed beaches and the Centre for Sanskrit Learning, it is home to the ancient temple of Mahabaleshwara. Cliffs separate each of Gokarana’s five beaches from the other and offer views far out into the Arabian Sea. Gokarna natural bounty and location make it an ideal location for yoga and wellness experiences. Realising this, CGH Earth set up SwaSwara on the fabled Om Beach, amidst 26 acres of green lawns, gardens and hills. Wellness is an integral part of CGH Earth properties across India.

With yoga at its core, SwaSwara targets those segment of travellers wanting to combine vacation with wellness and spiritual experiences. A stay at SwaSwara is aimed at providing a journey to discover one’s true self through yoga. SwaSwara has dedicated spaces for yoga and wellness activities, for instance, the Meditation Hall and poolside.

SwaSwara offers 24 Konkan villas for accommodation and offers healthy vegetarian and fresh sea-food, alongside a selection of Indian wines. Facilities at the property include swimming pool, meditation dome and an Ayurveda centre. Guests can indulge in wellness and spiritual experiences through of yoga, pranayama, meditation and Ayurveda. Moreover, guests can also enjoy boat rides and excursions.

The yoga destination is 170 km from Goa’s Dabolim Airport and 240 km from Mangalore Airport.


Munger

Bihar is known for its spiritual significance which emerged from the ancient times, especially due to its association with Gautam Buddha. The fifth largest city of Bihar, Munger is historically known as an ancient seat of rule. Munger has several places of tourist interest such as Munger Fort, Chandika Asthan, Kastaharni Ghat and Bhimbandh Wildlife Sanctuary, although Munger is not well known as a mainstream tourist destination. Munger, however, has established itself as a yoga destination amongst Indian and foreign tourists. Bihar has give the world its first yoga university. The epicentre of many social, cultural and spiritual revolutions lies in Bihar. Bihar is blessed to be the place of Swami Satyananda Saraswati the modern yogic visionary and reknowned sage. Ganga Darshan Yogashram stands on a hill overlooking the Ganga river, in Munger, 175 km from Patna, the state capital, and 500 km from Kolkata. Ganga Darshan Yogashram commands a 180-degree panoramic view of the river Ganga, which itself is considered a symbol of yoga.

In the ancient past, the site of Ganga Darshan Yogashram was the seat of King Karna of Mahabharata fame. Here, Swami Satyananda Saraswati had the vision of Swami Sivananda Saraswati blessing him at exactly the same time that Swami Sivananda left his mortal body in Rishikesh. It is the site where he perfected his sadhanas and had the vision of the future role of yoga for humankind. Founded in 1964 by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga imparts yogic training. The yoga techniques developed there are a synthesis of numerous approaches to personal development. Today, these techniques are taught by Bihar Yoga Bharati through various programmes. Bihar School of Yoga also guides yoga projects and medical research in association with hospitals, organisations and establishments.

Ganga Darshan is home to the various institutions dedicated to yoga, including Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar Yoga Bharati, Yoga Research Fellowship and Yoga Publications Trust. Casual visitors who are interested only in sightseeing or tourism and who have no spiritual intention are usually not encouraged to stay in the ashram. Guests are required to remain within the ashram during the entire period of their visit, without access to external services, including email, banking and shopping. Basic provisions and personal items can be purchased on campus. Foreign exchange is also available.


Nagaur

Naguar is not primarly known as a yoga destination by many but the place offers a unique location for a yoga retreat. Situated between the famous cities of Bikaner and Jaisalmer, this small district even finds mention in the Mahabharata. The place has a deep historical connect as it was the birthplace of Meera and Abdul Fazal. A temple and shrine have been built in dedication to the two. Nagaur also witnessed the valour of Great Rao Amar Singh Rathor who challenged the mighty Mughal Empire. The large old fort has many glorious tales of bravery of the erstwhile rulers of the states.

Though there is only one major centre of yoga, the places offer a completely different experience than the mountain retreats. The Hath Yoga Institue is housed in Shri Jasnath Asan, a 500 year old ashram. Right on the edge of the Thar desert, it delivers yogic wellness practices, education and spiritual upliftment. Over the years, the institute has become more of a self sustaining community also equipped with modern amenities like ayurvedic spa and organic farm gardens. Instead of just yoga courses, the institute teaches how to live the yogic lifestyle.

The yoga institute is located in the heart the heart of the Marwar region of Rajasthan. The 16th century fort where the institute is built now was made by the King of Udaipur and blessed by the yogis of Nath tradition. It is one of the oldest educational, social, and religious institutions in the Marwar region – the trading hub of ancient India. Along with certified courses there are also the free classes and programmes that help one to learn the basics of yoga.

Some other places to see the history of Naguar are the Nagaur Fort, Tarkeen Dargah, Jain Temples, Cenotaph of Amar Singh Rathore, Bansiwala Temple, Nath Ji ki Chhatri, Barli etc. The nearest airport is in Jodhpur (134 km) or  Jaipur (182 km). However, Nagura is well connected to major places like Delhi, Agra, Hisar, Chennai, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer by regular trains.


Rishikesh

The small town in the Dehradun district of Uttarakhand has gained huge popluarity as a yoga destination in India. Set in the foothills of Garhwal Himalayan range, it came to be known as the yoga capital of the world as many early settlers practiced meditation here. Even the famous band, The Beatles came to Rishikesh in the 1960s to learn and practise yoga. Situated 409 metres above sea level with multiple yoga centres, many foreigners now prefer the destination for their yoga retreats.

As Rishikesh offers a peaceful and serene environment away from the city, many centres opened up in the last few years. These centres now provide multiple courses for yoga learning and also certifies them as teachers. Some of the traditional ashrams are considered the best way to learn yoga in case one plans to stay for a long time. Among the most famous places are Himalayan Yog Ashram, Ajarya Yoga Academy, Parmarth Niketan, Sivananda Ashram, Yog Niketan, Aurovally Ashram, Phool Chatti Ashram, Anand Prakash Ashram, Omkarnanda Ashram and Swami Ram Sadhak Gram Ashram.

The Ajarya Yoga Academy is known for its eastern plus Western mix of courses. One cannot simply learn yoga but also be part of teacher training programs and certify as teachers. Similarly the Himalayan Yog Ashram provides ayurvedic healing programmes along with yoga courses. The healing programmes include detoxification programs and anti stress programmes. All programmes are done under the proper guidance of trained professionals who help the trainees to understand things deeply. Even during the month of March, a week long festival is hosted to practise yoga.

Always known as the holy town, Rishikesh is slowly becoming the hub of yoga in India with its multiple centres and courses. The place is now booming with new German cafes which attract majority of foreign traffic. Located merely 250 km from from the capital, New Delhi, it is easily accessible through a six hour drive or one hour flight.


Vrindavan

Located in the Mathura region near Agra, the town is known as the place where young Lord Krishna grew up. There are dozens of temples and many pilgrims from India and across the world travel to the small town seeking blessings. The entire town is considered sacred and people stay here for days chanting the name of Lord Krishna. Nowadays the destination has also gained favoritism among foreign national as many come for yoga retreats.

Since many people travelled here to devote time to worship, it became a centre of learning. It has come to be known as a sacred place and many people come here to renounce their worldly life permanently. Therefore now the town is dotted with ashrams and learning centres where majorly the elderly people come to work.

One of the well known ashrams for yoga retreats is the Sree Bindu Sewa Sansthan. It is a family run ashram in Vrindavan. They are known for their flexible courses and retreats. Not following a strict regime on rules, the place offers ayurvedic treatments, weight loss, gain strength and a complete experience of Indian culture. The ashram focuses on personal contact and pays attention to every individual separately. Additionally the ashram also runs a school for poor completely free of cost.

Some of the famous temples like Banke Bihari Temple, Iskon Temple, Prem Mandir receive maximum number of tourists. People also visit Radha Damodar Temple, Kesi Ghat, Madam Mohan temple, Mata Vaishno Devi Dham and other local temples over their stay here. The town is about 11 km away from Mathura on the Agra- Delhi highway. It takes roughly three hours from Delhi to reach Vrindavan by road. A direct train from Delhi to Mathura takes two hours while it is also well connected to Mumbai and Agra.


Pune

Once known as a “pensioner’s paradise”, Pune has been tranferred into a vibrant metro, a hub of education, industry, information technology, entertainment and more. Amidst urbanisation, Pune has still retained some of its natural offerings. Travellers can also plan several trips to hill stations, forts, and places of pilgrimage. Pune is home to Osho International Meditation Resort, one of the top yoga, wellness and spiritual centres in the country. Brainchild of a renowned spiritual leader Osho, the resort is frequented by thousands of foreign and domestic tourists.

Osho International Meditation Resort offers a number of courses, programmes, individual sessions and classes on diverse dimensions of wellness. From 6.00 am until 10.30 pm every day, Osho International Meditation Resort offers a variety of meditations for every type of person, including methods that are active and passive, traditional and revolutionary, and in particular, the Osho Active Meditations.

Another renowned place for yoga in Pune is Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI). The institute was established on January 19, 1975 and is dedicated to Ramamani Iyengar, the wife of Yogacharya B K S Iyengar. Students from all over the world come here to receive the essence of yoga. There is a significance behind the unique design of RIMYI. The three floors represent the body, mind and soul. It’s height is 71 feet and has eight columns which represent the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The institute conducts regular classes and special classes for ladies, children and individuals having medical problems.

Both Osho International Meditation Resort and RIMYI are easily accessible. Visitors can also combine their yoga itinerary with sightseeing in and around the city, including Sinhagad Fort, the backwaters of Khadakvasla Dam, Aga Khan Palace and more.

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