Yoga is an old age practice that is not only done for the mental and physical well being but also seen as a way to connect with your spiritual self. It is the inner knowledge of the divine with nature and oneself, something which in easier words you can term as inner peace. We have all had mandatory yoga classes in school which was enlightening in some ways while others might have been able to relate to it from the movie ‘Kung Fu Panda’.
Today, on the 21st of June 2018, the world celebrates the fourth edition UN declared “World Yoga Day”. It has created quite a buzz around the globe ever since it was introduced in 2015 and is seen as an integral part of the western pop culture. The history of yoga dates back to the Pre-Vedic era of the Indian heritage. India is known to be the birthplace of yoga and travelling to these origins is to travel to a place that is somehow changing yet somehow timeless.
Here are some places in India where you can have a soul finding yoga retreat,
1. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
The ever clanging bells echoing through innumerable temples and the flickering ghee lamps that illuminate the Ganga river at night, is what makes Varanasi, a city that is a prayer in itself. One of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth and one of India’s holiest, the very essence of the city is Faith. It is a continuum of pilgrims bathing in the holy waters, setting of the sun in the horizon, walking the ghats and the aarti lamps, everything will make you feel so small yet illuminated from inside as you witness the faith of the millions. It will give meaning to a timeless context.
While a lesser known counterpart is the town of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh
Famed for the birthplace of Lord Vishnu, Mathura is one of the seven hindu pilgrimage sites and attracts floods of pilgrims during the time of Hili and Janmastami. The town is dotted with temples from various ages and the Yamuna river that flows past lines 25 ghats. The evening time is crowded with lines of devotees set to light the diyas into the river at the evening aarti while the dawn sees the rustle as people take a dip together at the river. Here is when you see the holiness of the morning sun and understand the faith that went into the creation of the Suryasana. It is the faith that builds the very roots of yoga.
2. Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
Rishikesh has been the magnet for spiritual seekers for along time, probably the best known as “The Yoga capital of the world.” 500 miles upriver from Varanasi, Rishikesh is the town lined across the shores of pristine waters of the fast flowing Ganga river and surrounded by the serene greenery of the forests. Deep within the town, one will find many shops, temples and ashrams bustling with people from dusk to dawn. In the evening, a supernatural breeze blows through the valley as pilgrims and tourists prepare for the nightly aarti. It is a place where you can learn the purity of meditation and the therapy of laughter. The ganga river is relatively clean in the outskirts and makes for a perfect spot for a soul purifying plunge. Practising yoga in the land of million ancient yogis is truly a soul lifting experience.
A lesser known counterpart of Rishikesh is the town of Haridwar in Uttarakhand
Haridwar, a city located at a point where the Ganges river emerges from the Himalayas is the holiest pilgrimage city of Uttarakhand. You will see millions of Vishnu devotees walking the steps of the temples and taking a dip into the river which is known to clean all the impurities of life. The sheer gathering of people gives this place a chaotic yet a reverent feel. A birth place of thousand of ancient yogis who led the way to the auspicious ways of yoga as it is now. You will find sadhus seeking alms in the streets while shopkeepers try to bargain with international tourists but peace is always within reach at the Ganges river.
3. Hampi, Karnataka
The city that once thrived as a royal capital in the glory of the Vijayanagara Empire is now reduced to ruin of boulders from the past but each boulder reads a history of its own. The ruins, palaces, temples along with boulder-strewn landscape of the town will take you into the enchanting world of reality and mythology of royalty and Ramayana respectively. As you see the sunrise and sunset over Matanga hills, you will see the how ancient the town actually is and how many memories it holds. It is not the place but how the people behave that makes this place. Hampi is a legend and a golden history that people of the place firmly believe in; a yoga retreat here will be nothing but enlightenment.
Similar to the ancient golds of Hampi lies the lesser-known rock and boulder of Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.
It may not be an entire city but these ancient caves in Bhubaneshwar take you far away from the lights of the city into the lands occupied by yogis and sadhus in the ancient times. While some caves are natural, others were known to be carved by Jain monks during the time of King Kharvela and belong to the oldest Jain rock-cut temples. There are many inscriptions that have been found of the cave walls including meditation mantras and the fundamental mantras of Jains, the Namokar Mantra. House to many ancient yogis, these caves will provide you with a short but precious retreat into the land of a legend. Other than that, the city in itself is called the “city of temples” for a reason that it houses some of the biggest and oldest temples in India. A short trip to Puri will also make you come closer to the divinity and the legends that thrive in the shadows of the great Jagannath temple. Have a taste of the Maha Prasad, it will be unlike anything that you have ever tasted. You will be overwhelmed!
4.Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu
50kms south of Chennai lies the village of Mamallapuram which was formerly called Mahabalipuram was a major seaport of the Pallava kingdom but now has turned to a beautiful village with World Heritage-listed temples and beautiful carvings that fire up your imaginations of history. Salty breeze and coastal beauty, you will wake up to the clinking of chisels of artisans. Climb the hill that dominates the town for views of the sunset and the stone spires of the Shore Temple. Perhaps, looking out to the sea as a wave retreats, you can imagine the six other temples that legend says once stood beside the Shore Temple. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami swept away sand, revealing submerged structures, hinting that the myth may just be true. The age-old history carved into the humane abilities of art and craft teach you a different inner knowledge altogether. Not only that, it is the best way to understand your fellow humans and achieve a level of enlightenment!
While scenic beauty may be a plus, the royalty, arts and history together take you on a ride to understand human nature. A place like that is Mysuru and Srirangapatna, Karnataka.
The historic settlement of Mysuru is one of the most enchanting cities in Southern India famed for its glittering royal heritage and regal monuments and buildings. Not only rich in heritage and tradition but you will find a range of spice bazaar and famous sandalwood aromatherapy. The deeper in the city you go, Mysuru villages hold the historically archived and still practised arts and crafts such as the Mysore Rosewood Inlay, Sandalwood carving, Ganjifa artwork etc. It is a place that would give an insight into the lives of old and new artisans as well as its regal culture from the kitchen and rooms of the Mysore Palace. Travel to this origin of Ashtanga Yoga and engage in heated asanas and mudras that is known to purify the body!
5. Mount Arunachal, Tamil Nadu
Driving southwest of Chennai, through the green stretches of paddy fields scattered by coconut trees, your view will be dominated by the majestic form of Mount Arunachala. The legend says that the range is a manifestation of Lord Shiva and has attracted devotees from around the world coming to see the magnificent natural miracle. The silence of the place provides for a worthwhile retreat for meditation and yoga to find inner peace. Each year during an autumn festival, a great beacon fire, using more than 7,000 pounds of ghee for fuel and a 1,000-foot wick, is lit atop the mountain. On the foot of the mountain, lies a temple where the chants of “Om Namah Shivaya” ring through the area while the silence still persists in Sri Ramana Mahashri ashram. Take in the essence of a natural monument and feel a step closer to nature with your heart. Don’t forget to try out a sip into the coconut waters along the way!
When we are talking about natural beauty, we can’t really forget about the serenity of the North Eastern states of India that provide for a perfect peaceful retreat. Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.
Arunachal Pradesh lies at the foot of the Himalayas lining one of the largest rivers in India, Brahmaputra. The pristine waters, snow-covered ranges and quietness of monasteries provide all the reasons to go for a retreat. Itanagar takes its name from the mysterious Ita Fort that is there. Travelling through the roads with mist-covered forests and across the river with a ferry will give you the getaway for you to connect with yourself. The Buddhist influence that lies in the culture and tradition takes you through a ride of pure enlightenment and peace.
That’s all for the list now. This Yoga day give yourself a treat and discover your inner happiness. After all, well being is all about a healthy body, mind, soul, and a happy, satisfied life.
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