Sunset on the Ganges
Azure waters of the Ganges
My room at the Ashram
The ashram premises
The temple inside the Ashram
The temple lighted at night
The Ganges and the foliage
The Ganges flow by
At the Ashram; reading Osho
Munna at the Ashram
Bonfire and Ashram
On a hike
Steps to the nearby temple
The sparkling hills
The hills are alive
Mitje; my German friend
The Balkumari temple
Praying inside the Balkumari temple
With a chap from the ashram
Gazing at the hills
Posing for a group photograph
Time for departure
Bye bye Phoolchatti
You go to sleep amidst the rustling sound among the trees in the wind, feeling the nip in the air, and enjoying the stillness that is so far away from city life, in the tranquil Himalayan surroundings. You get up in the morning, and see the magnificient valley spread out in front of you. The Ganges roaring past, down from the lap of the Himalayas… the waters an azure blue, the hills reflected in the clear blue waters.
Welcome. You have arrived at the Phool Chatti ashram, around 40 km from Rishikesh, nestled among the lower Himalayan ranges.
Since ages immemorial, sages and common men have sought refuge in the Himalayas for spiritual journeys and renewal. The majestic isolation of the Himalayas provides the perfect setting for spiritual contemplation and realization of the true nature of life.
Social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration. In modern times spirituality has come to mean the internal experience of the individual. It still denotes a process of transformation, but in a context separate from organized religious institutions: “spiritual but not religious, in a way a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions. One thing that a person learns during a journey of spirituality is to let the past, along with its mistakes and stresses go, along with negative emotions and thoughts. One learns to live in the Present, free from the twin monkeys of the Past and Future, enjoy each moment for itself, and derive satisfaction and happiness from it.
Phool Chatti Ashram, situated at some distance from Rishikesh, is such a place, which forms a cradle of spiritual rejuvenation. This ashram is 120 years old, and is a spiritual haven for those who want to spend time in quiet solitude, meditating, learning yoga and the ancient wisdom of the East. The Ashram is situated amongst verdant surroundings, with the picturesque mountains and the everflowing Ganges forming the grand backdrop. Life stands at a still, while the Ganges, its waters the clearest and purest that can be found before they enter the plains, flows at a rapid pace, gurgling its way past the boulders.
While the Ashram has been there for many years, Sadhvi Lalitambay Ji ( she stresses on the “Ji”since most of her students are foreigners) , who has been here for the last 23 years, has developed and nurtured this programme in the last 4 years. The Ashram was founded by Brahmlin Swami Sri Vishudha Nandaji, about 120 years back. The traditions were carried on the present head of the Ashram, Swami Dev Swarup Nanda Ji. Today, the programme attracts students from around the world, and has found a mention in the Lonely Planet travel guide, as a spiritual destination worthy of a visit.
The beginner/ intermediary course of Yoga & Meditation is designed for 7 days, and is intended for those with minimal exposure to the Ashram and spiritual way of life. Our guide for the programme was a freespirited Frenchman named Jeremie, who had been around here for the last 3 months and had done the programme twice, hence was now helping out Lalitaji in conducting the programme. I felt his knowledge of Indian customs and traditions was quite phenomenal, and it did help since the other members of the group were from diverse places such as the USA, UK, Australia, Finland, Germany, Russia etc, though some of them already had an orientation to Indian culture and the Indian way of life.
Life begins at 5.30 am in an Ashram with the sound of the gong, after which everyone has to get up, get ready and gather in the meditation / yoga hall for the morning round of meditation. Thereafter, it’s a continuous cycle of Yoga, Karma Yoga ( ashram service work), Neti pot cleansing, Meditative walks, Discourses, Pooja, Mantra chanting, with Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and a 2 hour break in between. Done religiously, it helps to calm the body and soul, battered from the daily stress and struggle of modern day life. Lights are out at 9 pm after the evening round of meditation.
The Ashram has a really good collection of books, on topics ranging from Spirituality to novels. I enjoyed reading “My way- the way of the white clouds” by Osho. It provided the answers to some fundamental perspectives of life.
Several styles of Yoga such as Hatha Yoga, Ashthanga Yoga etc and forms of meditation such as Silent meditation, Om chanting, Yoganidra etc, are taught in the duration of the course. I would admit, though, that some of the Yoga postures were a bit beyond the easily performable and involved complicated gymnastics.
The Alsatian duo, Caesar and Razor, who were keeping guard at the Mandir, made things even more interesting with their infectious enthusiasm. It wasn’t uncommon to find them bumping into the participants and demanding their share of attention from time to time.
The ever helpful and cheerful Munna, a volunteer at the Ashram, of course, made things easier by being around whenever we required, and helping out. His enthusiasm was very contagious, and did not fail to put us into a cheerful mood when it was most needed.
What made the programme interesting was the diversity of the group, from post-highschoolers to mid-career professionals, all united in a common mission of searching for a new, healthier, happier way of living. The enthusiasm was infectious and palpable, and set the tone for effective learning and absorption.
However, it differed from the usual courses in the integration of activities such as Meditative Walks (walks amidst nature to appreciate the connection of mankind with nature), Laughter Yoga, Evening bonfire, and the icing on the cake, the trip on the last day to the local Balkumari Mandir, picturesquely situated on the top of a hill, and reached by walking up a flight of tall steps, with majestic views all around. At the Yajna Ceremony, the “ Om Trayambakam” mantra was repeated 108 times around the bonfire, after which the participants were asked to drop a piece of paper, into which they had written a mistake that they had committed, into the fire- thus symbolically destroying the act. A sumptuous lunch capped the proceedings of the last day.
We rush around, our whole lives, trying to find meaning, trying to calm our emotions and tame the twin monkeys of the Past and Future. What we can probably do is to make a journey within ourselves to discover an ocean of tranquility, and what better place than the tranquil environs of Rishikesh to undertake this journey? After a long, long time, I achieved a true sense of tranquility, peace and meaning. I was reminded of the following lines from “ Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann:
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
At the Phool Chatti Ashram, the majestic surroundings of the Himalayas, with the tranquil mountains, flowing Ganges and the clear sky, provided the backdrop for a journey, the likes of which I have never undertaken before.I would definitely like to come back here some day.
Some details about the ashram:
Location : Around 40 km from Rishikesh. Jeeps are easily available from Laxmanjhula, and charge around Rs. 300/- for the journey.
Details of the course : Beginner/ Intermediate course for 7 days; costs Rs.10,000/-. Open from February to December.
Elements of the course:Yoga, Meditation, Meditative walks, Mantra chanting, Silence, Lectures and discussion.
Course instructor and contact person : Sadhvi Lalit Anand Ji
Telephone: 0135– 6981303, 0135 – 2122196
Best season to visit: Spring/Autumn