Phool Chatti Ashram

»Idyllic yoga hideaway on the mighty Ganges «

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Phool Chatti is a tranquil and traditional ashram. Some modern comforts have been installed, electricity and hot water being chief among them, but mostly the 120-year history of this place remains untouched. The scenic location is unbeatable, and the yoga offered over the astonishingly inexpensive seven-day retreat is comprehensive. Phool Chatti is truly a perfect introduction to yoga (and India) for a newcomer.

  • What we love
  • A little-known hideaway
  • Lalitaji, the teacher and 'den mother'
  • Stunning natural setting
  • Inexpensive
  • Holistic approach to yoga
  • What to know
  • 6 km upstream from Rishikesh
  • The whole week is spent within the ashram
  • Modest facilities
  • Why go
  • Authentic ashram experience
  • Accessible yoga for beginners
  • Perfect starting point in India

A small collection of low-lying buildings, no more than three storeys high, give Phool Chatti the feel of a remote village, and in many ways that's exactly what it is. The ashram lies directly on the path of what was once a pilgrimage route, to be taken on foot. This was where spiritual seekers took a little rest and comfort on their journey, far from the noise and pollution of urban living. Although reaching the ashram is now possible by taxi, it is still a hideaway from modernity: six kilometres upriver from Laxman Jhula (Laxman Bridge) on the banks of the holy mother Ganges.

There are a few courses of study available at Phool Chatti, but the most popular is the seven-day retreat. In fact, this is the only one that is really advertised or undertaken. Beginners are welcome, and the structure of the day is an authentic ashram experience. The average day begins at 5.30am with meditation, chanting and Neti pot cleansing (nasal irrigation with saline solution). Breathing exercises (pranayama) and yoga postures (asanas) are interspersed throughout the day. There is a meditative walk through the stunning surrounding hills and a lecture/discussion each day. Silence is observed in the afternoon until the evening program. The week ends with a fire-chanting ceremony (Kirtan), a beautiful and poignant way to bid farewell to fellow students. This is a different approach to yoga than that experienced in Western countries. The holistic package focuses not only on physical poses, but also on breathing, philosophy, cleansing techniques

The retreat begins twice a month all year, except for the hottest months of June – August and an end-of-year break in January. Prices are available on request, as they are occasionally updated, but in the true spirit of yoga the fees are nominal. There is a set price for the standard seven-day retreat, with a pro-rata per-day fee for extending the stay. The per-day fee amounts to the price of a small takeaway meal.

Although the current Swami is one of the most accessible gurus of our Indian Top Centers, guests spend their entire time here with the soft-voiced Lalitaji, who does absolutely everything over the course of the retreat. She is a deep well of knowledge and wisdom, with her soft voice and seemingly cool nature belying the warmth and empathy that is quickly revealed upon commencement of the retreat.

The location of Phool Chatti lends itself well to reflection, tranquility and purity. The waters of the Ganges still run clear here, and all students enjoy swimming in its waters. The green foothills of the Himalayas that cradle the ashram are perfect for hiking. As well as being a great yoga experience, this is an opportunity for travellers to experience a deeply authentic taste of India in a supportive environment. Nearby Rishikesh may be the world capital of yoga, but Phool Chatti is a hidden gem, well worth exploring beyond the city limits.

About the area: Rishikesh

Rishikesh is to yoga what Las Vegas is to partying: At every turn, seemingly on every corner, another yogic experience is waiting. However, some are a better quality than others. To understand what makes a truly good yoga experience, one must understand yoga in India. Rather than a twice-weekly class, yoga here is a way of living. Yogic practices permeate every aspect of the day. A guru is for life, with no mixing of styles or ‘teacher hopping.’ Knowledge takes many patient years to accumulate. This is at odds with the concepts of the 'celebrity guru' and two-day yoga courses or retreats that so many travellers visit Rishikesh to experience, and it is easy to see why traditionalists speak of this approach as something like McYoga.

Nonetheless, a student must start somewhere. What better place to begin than in The City of the Divine, Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga. The world capital tag is no overstatement: Purity is enshrined in law, with alcohol and meat consumption being outlawed within city limits. This is one of Hinduism's most holy cities, where the Beatles famously studied under their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and pilgrims are a common sight, often beginning their Four Shrines journey in Rishikesh. There are several yoga festivals held here each year, and simply wandering the streets is a great way to spend the day, as long as food is carefully protected from thieving wild monkeys who loiter, gang-like, on the bridges.

Rishikesh is also the gateway to the Himalayas, with the cool green foothills providing a welcome respite from the sometimes-suffocating Indian summer heat. There is still part of the Maharajah's palace open for viewing – a sweeping view from a green throne high above the city.

Image credit: Coni Hörler Photography

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