Stylist’s deputy production editor Jenny Tregoning follows in the footsteps of famous yogis on a blissful break in Rishikesh.
Yoga, like drinking a daily spirulina smoothie or double cleansing, is one of those things I know would be good for me but I’ve never quite managed to get into. A trip to Rishikesh in northern India changed all that. Practising sun salutations on a private beach, lulled by the hypnotic, rolling waters of the River Ganges, my chattering mind quietened for the first time in a long while.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, really. Yoga is an intrinsic part of Hinduism and the Ganges is the religion’s sacred river. The holy city of Rishikesh, set on its banks in the Himalayan foothills, has been a place of pilgrimage for millennia. Temples and ashrams scatter the hills, while visitors flock every evening to join the famous Ganga Aarti ceremony, blessing the waters that sweep through the city.
Rishikesh also happens to be the yoga capital of the world (well, if you’re going to learn anywhere…) and the site of the ashram where, in 1968, the Beatles retreated at the height of their fame to learn the art of transcendental meditation (and write most of the White Album, no biggie). If you’re looking for enlightenment, this is the place.
A half-hour drive out of the city (there are works ongoing to widen the road, so expect a bumpy ride) sits The Roseate Ganges, a serene, minimally chic hotel made up of 16 villas dotted down the hillside and an infinity pool that Instagram dreams are made of. The calming vibes continue into the rooms, with polished concrete walls, white marble floors and rattan armchairs. Each villa has a private terrace for sitting and gazing out to the Himalayas, where tigers and bears roam the dense forests, golden eagles soar overhead and the Ganges courses far below.
A 10-minute stroll down a winding path brings you to the hotel’s private beach, and if you’re in need of more thorough de-stressing you can book into one of two rooms at the Aheli spa for a soul-restoring massage with fragrant ayurvedic oils or sign up for a three-day retreat including a personalised programme of treatments, yoga classes and breathing practices. Our yoga teacher Megha was calmness personified, taking us through different poses, correcting poor form and leading us in a breathing exercise that allowed us to stop and forget the outside world; a rare, much-needed indulgence.
The Ganges plays a significant part in any visit here and that goes for the more adrenaline-fuelled pursuits too, including white-water rafting, which I threw myself into with (slightly nervous) aplomb. The force of the current here is so strong you barely need to paddle and the rapids will all too happily catapult you in (no need to worry, this is holy water after all).
You can raft all the way into Rishikesh or hop out halfway and take a car to the Beatles Ashram, the famed spot where John, Paul, George and Ringo studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Abandoned in the 1990s, the site has been left to nature and only recently reopened to the public, with derelict lecture halls now emblazoned with murals of the Fab Four, moss-covered meditation huts where you can contemplate life and crumbling accommodation blocks with spectacular rooftop panoramas.
Back in Rishikesh, life moves a little faster and pedestrians, mopeds and cows all jostle for space on the narrow streets. As the sun began to set, we made our way to the Parmarth Niketan ashram for Ganga Aarti. Crowded onto stone steps leading down to the river, Hindu priests in orange robes chanted while lanterns were lit and passed through the crowd. On our visit in October (a good time to go as the monsoon rains have passed and festival season gears up), it happened to be Navaratri, a nine-night festival that celebrates the mother goddess, and we were treated to a speech on the divine feminine and the importance of respecting women; a poignant moment that would move even the least spiritual person.
After much nourishing of the soul, it was time to nourish the body. India is a vegetarian’s dream, and the region of Uttarakhand is known for its pulses and grains, so dishes at the Roseate’s restaurant, Chidya Ghar, veer towards the earthy and wholesome – kidney bean salads and rich lentil curries – alongside chargrilled paneer served with the flakiest, butteriest naan. And the breakfast is no half-hearted affair: masala-spiced French toast is a contender for breakfast innovation of the year.
If you’re coming to Rishikesh, you will need to pass through Delhi (a 45-minute flight from Dehradun airport) and to say you should be prepared for a different pace of life is an understatement. Delhi is home to an estimated 30 million people and the roads are something else: lorries, scooters and rickshaws weave around in a kind of chaotic ballet. And the beeping. So much beeping.
The Roseate Ganges has two sister properties in the capital: The Roseate, an architectural oasis sunk down from a motorway, and Roseate House, a high-rise close to the airport. Both can organise a guide to take you to the heart of Old Delhi, and I recommend a rickshaw tour of Chandni Chowk, a riotous maze of bazaars.
But even the frenzy of Delhi wasn’t enough to dent my newly tranquil state. If you need me from now on, I’ll be practising shavasana and dreaming of the Ganges.
Villas at The Roseate Ganges start at £195 per night including breakfast (roseatehotels.com); Air India flies from London Heathrow to Delhi (airindia.in); for more information, contact India Tourism London (incredibleindia.org, 0207 4373677, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images: Supplied by PR/author’s own