Spring and autumn are the two seasons when Swargashram area in the Himalayan foothills in Uttarakhand draws a large number of visitors from all over the country and abroad. It could not have been given a more appropriate name. Swargashram, in Pauri district, upstream of the Ganga surely has a divine air and complexion, justifying its name. It projects the essence of Rishikesh in a magical way, attracting tourists and pilgrims. These days, the place has many visitors.
Its relaxed atmosphere and colourful appearance, with the presence of several ashrams and temples spread out along the mountain side makes it a very special destination for spiritual seekers and those interested in Indian culture and religion.
Passing through the crowded lanes and bylanes of Rishikesh city (which lies in Dehradun district), one reaches the overcrowded parking lot on the banks of the Ganga. From here, it is a short walk through the Rishikesh bazaar upto the Ram Jhoola, the massive steel suspension bridge spanning the Ganga. This bridge, which has made an appearance in many a Bollywood film, takes the visitor right upto the entrance of Swargashram, near the spot where stands the ancient Rameshwar temple.
Lilting chants of “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” echoing from a small ashram nearby, a group of young foreigners talking and laughing outside a gems shop and an old sadhu begging loudly for alms – such are the sounds that greet a visitor to Swargashram.
“Green” and other cafeterias claim to serve original Italian and Chinese food. Most of the cafes here provide exotic continental dishes for the numerous foreigners who arrive throughout the year to stay on at the ashrams and Yoga Centres for weeks and sometimes, months. For some, shopping for sapphires, cat’s eye, rubies, jade or Rudraksh can be fascinating and entertaining at Swargashram. For those who love books on Yoga, meditation, spirituality and self improvement, this bazaar is a treasurehouse. Works of Osho, Swami Rama, and UG Krishnamurti are easily available. This market is totally driven by the specific needs of the visitors and residents. There are few permanent residents in Swargashram. Most of the population is floating. The many internet cafes cater to the requirements of the tourists, especially the foreigners. Many of the shops change foreign currency. Most visitors to Swargashram between October and May are foreigners who stay here for long periods, learning Yoga and meditation.
Himalaya Herbals which has a shop in Swargashram offers a large variety of Ayurvedic products along with the Ganga Pharmacy in its neighbourhood. The Ved Niketan Ashram is gaining popularity for its Panchkarma treatment. It houses the “Trayambakam Panchkarma Centre” which is heavily booked by foreign tourists.
Parmarth Niketan here is another hub of activity. Most of the tourists gather here and enjoy the open spaces and beautiful views of the hills which Parmarth offers. Every year, in the first week of March, an international Yoga festival is held at Parmarth which brings together Yoga exponents and students from all over the world.
The ashram of Mahesh Yogi where the famous Beatles had stayed in the 1960s is not far from here. The ashram had been lying abandoned since 1982. The Yogi passed away in 2008 in the Netherlands at the age of 90. It was in 1961 that Mahesh Yogi had obtained a 20-year lease from the Forest Department to start the ashram. In 1982, the lease expired. The state government is now developing it into a tourist destination.
Tourists from various parts of the world come looking for the “Beatles’ Ashram” in Rishikesh.For the Beatles, their stay in India was their most creative period. When they were in Rishikesh/Dehradun for several weeks in February, March and April of 1968 they wrote many songs, most of which were included in their White Album, one of their best known.
Groups of foreigners can be often spotted at the ashram.Langurs co-exist here with the vagabonds who love to rest outside the ashram.Food is shared among all, including the monkeys. There is an air of deep tranquility. Perhaps the vibrations of the transcendental meditation still prevail. Without a visit to Swargashram, any pilgrim or tourist’s visit to Uttarakhand is incomplete. It is a microcosm of Yoga and Ayurveda activity and knowledge for which Uttarakhand is renowned.
Friday, 05 April 2019 | Jaskiran Chopra | Rishikesh
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