Living in an ashram in India

I will preface this post by sharing that since this experience I have become better at reviewing the details of tours and activities in advance…

I arrived to the bustling streets of Bangalore after a very long flight. It was a dark drive to a hotel that I had booked last minute, as it was close to the airport. First impression was ‘mmm’. The next morning I woke up excited to see my surroundings in the light. Outside my window was another high rise building on one side, and some piles of rubble and rubbish on the other. This pretty much aligned with the contrasts I had been told to expect in India. I had breakfast before taking a taxi back to the airport where I was to catch my flight to Dehradun, Uttarakhand.


A driver picked me up at Dehradun airport on arrival. We drove a couple of hours to Yoga Niketan in Rishikesh, which would be home for three weeks. I was attending a yoga retreat to set myself up for the long travel adventure ahead.

The roads were bendy, uphill and on a cliff. This however did not deter drivers from speeding or motorbikes from weaving between the cars. I had to close my eyes a few times just to ensure I did not give myself a heart attack.

The ashram looked very much like a boarding school complex. It had accommodation blocks on either side of the road, which gave me flashback to my time in the Pink Prison (my high school nickname). The shock on my yoga teachers’ faces as they saw all my luggage when they came to welcome me was noteworthy.

In jest they asked if I knew that Ashram living was simple, before directing me to my room. The room was quite basic, containing a bed, a desk and a closet to put clothes in. There was a bathroom with a shower. Solar energy powered the heating system so hot water was not available till late-morning to mid-afternoon.


When I was alone, I had to return to my booking to confirm if it included this information. indeed it had – but I had not double checked what an ashram was. An ashram is a Hindu monastery…….where people of the Hindu faith go to deepen their spiritual practice. I found this rather amusing as I had no idea I would be staying in a place of religious significance. Even moreso because my belief system is founded in Christianity. Also, at this point I knew next to nothing about the Hindu faith and felt like a bit of an imposter. I discovered that ashrams are also open to people who are seeking to learn about the faith. It is also an environment to develop one’s own personal religious practice…this is where I qualified myself.

All guests receive three meals, a room with a private bathroom and access to all the activities. Some foreigners also opt to stay at ashrams to take advantage of the low cost of the experience, at under $10/night.

As I had booked the yoga retreat to prepare my mental and physical state for the journey ahead. I realised that my first test was learning to be comfortable in whatever space I found myself. Once I made this mind shift, apart from the cleanliness, the accommodation itself was not too bad. To accommodate the Ashram complex, the forest had been cut back on the side of a hill. This resulted in lots of trees on either side of the buildings. There were also regular sightings of monkeys and other creatures on Ashram grounds.  My room had a beautiful view, overlooking the Ganges River and a temple on the other side of the river. During the day I could sit on my balcony or the top of the garden, basking in the sun, listening to the singing birdies and watching the river flow.

Sounds of chanting filled the morning air, from across the Ganges, as people did their prayers. The evenings brought the same, as people closed off the end of the day with an evening prayer ceremony. The temperatures tanked at night, and the lack of internal heating. I am grateful I had my trusty hot water bottle that always finds a place in my packed luggage.

The Ashram had specific rules for guests to follow within its premises. We weren’t allowed to leave food outside, as this may attract more monkeys. There were things forbidden within Ashram grounds, including alcohol, sugar, cigarettes and drugs. They shut the gates to the premises at about 10pm and thus one had to be back by that time, or stay out all night. This may have been limiting for some people, but I was tired and ready for bed before the gates shut on most nights.

Yoga Niketan has a daily schedule that starts off with a 5.15am meditation, before yoga at 6.30am. It was not all mandatory and needless to say, I never made it for either of those. My private morning class started at 6am – so I was still up and getting active pretty early in the morning. As you can see the activities varied by the day and you could choose what to attend.


There were about 40-70 people at the ashram at any point that I was there, plus 2 adopted dogs.

The diet was satvic which meant, no meat, no sugar, no onions and no spices. To my surprise the food was still variable and delicious. They served the food buffet style and in spite of eating a lot, I actually lost a bit of weight. I guess the combination of wholesome food and activity, was what my body needed for the curves to return.


This experience was a true cultural immersion. I spent a lot of time with locals. I learnt about the Hindu faith and beliefs, as well as Indian culture in general. I learnt how similar the core of the belief systems are. It gave me a reason and an opportunity to challenge my own beliefs and their source. Although my religious beliefs did not change, the structured schedule instilled a discipline I believed would help me, as the year unfolded. I implemented routines to cater to my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs.

I am of the opinion that most of the hate and mistrust in the world comes from a lack of tolerance and understanding. Life in the Ashram highlighted that most people are searching for the same thing – meaning. Albeit in different ways. Once we not only understand, but appreciate this, we are less likely to be critical or judgemental of each other.

Comment below to share if you would stay in an ashram? What would be the most difficult thing for you?