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A step back in time
June 27, 2008

We continue our special series on some of India's best spiritual locations recommended by Yoga acharya Shameem Akthar.

Sivananda Kutir
Netala, Uttarkashi

It is a picturesque little spot, just a few minutes away from a fast-flowing Ganga tumbling downwards on its journey to the sea, built close to the large rounded stones that have been smoothened by centuries-old flow of the river. The ashram or kutir is located a few kilometres off the main road. You are really cut off from the rest of the world once you step into it.

You may walk back to the main road for an Internet or phone link. But that too is subject to whether the local lines/ connections are working. The cellular network, the last time I visited it a few years ago, did not quite make it here. To connect to the rest of the world, you must jump into the local transport -- the crowded jeeps -- to Uttarkashi (a day's ride from Delhi). You can also make it by a plush train ride to Haridwar, where you hop off to hire a jeep to the kutir. Most yogi trekkers do that.

The Sivananda Kutir, set up by Swami Vishudevananda (a direct disciple of Sadguru Sivananda) is a major haunt for serious yoga lovers who want an integrated package, that includes lectures on yogic texts, satsangs (which are a huge hit with the world citizen), advanced yoga and pranayama techniques. The food is rather basic, since the cooks have to make do with what produce they can source locally.

Earlier in the series:
Vipassana: The path to Nirvana
A journey to spiritual ecstasy
A magnet for meditators

 The ashram's accommodation is also sparse, no-fuss. Hot water is also subject to the whimsical electric supply. But all that adds to its intrinsic charm: You can make pretend you are a wandering yogi, unfettered by anything bar your love for yoga with only bare, stark nature around you. In the night stars hang close to you, as the Ganga murmurs close by.  Plus there is charm in being surrounded by other yogis who love yoga as much as you do. Most of them also love the Sivananda brand of yoga: that makes it somehow special even where you may not wish to mingle. The crowd is largely foreigners with the occasional, loud Indian addition to break the monotony.

An occasionally braveheart will venture out to do yoga on the sandy river-bed nestled between the huge boulders: but usually it is done in two simple halls at the centre of the kutir where food is also served or meditation/classes are held. The ashram is particular women don't 'expose' themselves, so don't land up there with sleeveless or skimpy clothes. It organizes trips to Gangotri or the valley of flowers, depending on the season.

I have done two stints there, and loved it a bit more every time. Intriguingly, though both were spaced by years, the kutir looks unchanged each time, just as it may have been when the original swamis set it up.

Accommodation: As with most ashrams, the rates are different for foreigners and locals. The kutir is open from April to November. The different types of accommodation (shared cottage/ rooms or dorms) also mean different rates. It is best you book in advance through the Delhi centre. They also insist on a minimum three-day stay for a yoga vacationer. For different courses, like teachers' training or sadhana intensive (only open to those who have trained as Sivananda teachers), the accommodation rates may again be different since you will be charged for the course as well.

For registration for the Uttarkashi centre, you may contact the Delhi centre:

Address
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre Delhi -- South
A-41 Kailash Colony
New Delhi, 110 048
Phones: (011) 29240869, 29230962
E-mail:
delhi@sivananda.org
Web site: www.sivananda.org

Photograph: Courtesy Sivananda Kutir

Also see: My Sabarimala pilgrimage | Reboot with yoga & Ayurveda!

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