I step off the bus. It’s taken two days, two flights, a taxi ride and a very rickety overnight bus, but I’m here and wondering, why? Why all the effort, the time and discomfort to be here?!

Carrying only my small backpack and yoga mat I let myself loose into the madness: 41 degrees of dry heat, roads jam-packed with people, food stalls, rickshaws, holy cows and what sounds like a thousand car horns in full action.

I make my way through the jungle and head to the famous walk bridge that flows over the River Ganges. The bridge as always is manic. Hindu pilgrims rush to be by the Gnats, beggars look for money, Sadhus pass by on their journey to the temples and tourists pose for photos. For sure it’s a test of patience!

Rishikesh meditationOnce I’m across the bridge I look back. I’m by the river, the breeze is cooling. I breath in some of the air and energy of this magical place and I’m reminded why I came… ahhhhh India!

I’m in Rishikesh, North India, known to be the spiritual capital of the world. It’s a bazaar of spirituality where you can find anything from meditation, reiki and palmistry, to yoga, astrology and Ayurveda.

On the surface Rishikesh is a commercial supermarket where everyone seems to be selling the road to enlightenment. But beneath the layers you’ll find yourself in a special place rich in energy, religion, philosophy and, of course, wonderful yoga.

A little overwhelming at first it can be hard to know where to begin in this town. Hatha yoga has its roots here in Rishikesh and it’s possible to find very special teachers. Amongst some novelty and new-age yoga styles it is also possible to find extremely high quality teaching in Mysore Ashtanga and Iyengar.

This isn’t my first trip here and I’m focused on my plan. I have my teachers and my schools and within hours I find myself in my first yoga asana class. It’s a little similar to your first day at school. I look around absorbing the space, the people, sensing some anticipation as we wait for the teacher to come.

The studio spaces you find yourself in are not fancy. The rooms are normally very basic and tired looking, with the noise of squeaking ceiling fans as they rotate the hot, dry air around the room. But we don’t come for the luxury. The content and energy is all we need and everything else disappears when classes begin.Warrior Rishikesh

With my current school I’m sharing a studio with 49 others from all over the world – people who are so passionate about yoga that they have travelled across the globe to be here, to study and to learn. It’s a unique environment and for the highly regarded classes not everyone is lucky enough to get a place. Those of us that have a spot remain focused throughout each class, absorbing everything our teacher has to say.

I always feel in this place that yoga never finishes at your savasana. It continues in everything that you do. It’s in all of the people you meet. Everyone’s days are structured by their classes and in between we talk and share stories of our yoga over chai. Here we eat, breathe and live yoga.

Some students choose the traditional ashram life whilst here. They live in a self-sustaining community protected by walls, rules and regulations. The strict daily schedule consists of mantra chanting, meditations, asana class, karma yoga and meal times.

I choose to rent accommodation and have the freedom to attend various drop-in classes and workshops. With so much going on your weeks here soon become full. Most schools run classes early in the morning and then around sunset, avoiding the midday heat. This spiritual town sleeps early and rises early. It’s a truly special place to experience. Rich in Hinduism, you’ll be welcomed warmly regardless of culture, background or religion. You can attend special ceremonies by the Ganga, blessings and rituals as you watch pilgrims who have travelled from all over India to be by this auspicious river. As a result, I always feel this place has a special energy.

Sun salutation RishikeshFor me India is a place of extremes and intensity, with its baking heat, street pollution and noise. It’s a place where you can wake up at sunrise to the sound of temple bells and the fragrant smell of cardamom in the street as the chai wallah prepares the morning batch of tea. It’s a place to come and practise yoga and learn from highly regarded gurus. And it’s a place I always find helps you to become mentally stronger and warmer hearted.

Most people here will agree that there is something about this place that is difficult to put into words – something that has to be experienced. The energy seeps through your pores and becomes part of you, and you leave having learned more than some new asanas. Here you gain an understanding of what yoga truly is.

I hope that everyone who travels here takes a little of that with them when they return to practise at home, back in their reality. It’s what I hope to bring with me on my return to Azul.

About the author

Emma Malarkey, Azul Yoga and PilatesWhen she isn’t studying yoga in India or exploring the world, Emma Malarkey teaches at Azul Yoga & Pilates Retreat always bringing back new inspiration for the team and guests.Her wide ranging yoga experience means her personal practice and teaching style incorporates many different styles, including traditional Hatha, Tantra, Mysore Ashtanga, Sivananda, Iyengar, Hatha Vinyasa, and more modern forms such as Yin yoga and Bikram.
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