Saturday, December 12, 2020

This is Why I didn't Stay in an Ashram in Varanasi

Varanasi

Beginning of this year, I visited one of the most iconic cities in India: Varanasi.  One of my intentions was to stay in an ashram in the holy city, but that proved to be difficult.  In the end, I had no choice but to stay in a guesthouse.  This is what happened.


One month traveling throughout India 


This February, my friend Aly and I traveled together for the whole month throughout India.  We visited Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Agra, and then Varanasi.  

That was before the pandemic hit India, of course.  

Varanasi was wonderful. I was able to do the things that I had dreamed about for many years. It was a truly spiritual experience. 

I even made a video that you can find at the end of my previous blog: I Visited Lahiri Mahasaya and Babaji's Cave Temple in Varanasi.

But finding an ashram was not easy.
 

Is there any ashram where to stay in Varanasi?


We really wanted to stay in an ashram in Varanasi but although Google maps show you a whole bunch of ashrams, none of them seemed to be real ashrams.  

At least not the kind of ashrams I have visited before.  

You know, I'm talking about a place where you can have a daily routine including yoga, meditation, satsangs, and so on.

It was very difficult to find any website with reliable information about these ashrams.  

So we decided to stay for one or two nights in a guesthouse while we explored the city searching for an ashram.

We visited many of the ashrams listed in Google Maps, but they were all more like very basic guesthouses for local pilgrims.  Some of them were strictly for Hindus only.  

Varanasi Ashrams Map


Finally, after several hours of searching, we desisted on the idea and decided to just stay in a guesthouse for the whole Varanasi visit.

A few locals also confirmed to us that there are no ashrams in Varanasi.  At least nothing like the ashrams you can find in Rishikesh or other places around India.

But a few days later, while we were searching for Lahiri Mahasaya's Samādhi we discovered an actual ashram called Shaktiananda Babaji Foundation.

It is on the same street, somewhere between Lahiri Mahasaya's house and the Satyalok Lahiri Mahasaya Temple.

There was a sign outside with the daily schedule, and it looked pretty interesting.  

Shaktiananda Ashram Schedule


So we decided to come back the next day at 7 am to join the morning program, which included a homa (fire ritual) and a meditation.   


An ashram for Latinos?


The ashram is an impeccable two-floor house, and I really mean impeccable.  It's so clean that the moment you walk in feels like you are transported to another continent. 

You pretty much forget you are in Varanasi, or even in India.  But as soon as you leave and walk out the door, India hits you back with the smelly and dirty roads full of cow dung.  Lol.

The guru of this ashram is actually a woman from Venezuela known as Mataji Shaktiananda.  She even has an ashram in Ecuador

I had never heard about her or her ashram before.  

According to the two lovely Latin-American girls running the place at that time, Mataji, whom they consider their guru, has attained divine realization and darshan from Babaji himself.  

When we arrived at 7 am they first guided us to the roof terrace for the fire ceremony.  We were the only guests that day.

I love fire rituals and mantra chanting, but I must say, the short prayer in Spanish at the end felt a little bit weird to me.

I don't know why to be honest.  This is my mother tongue and I started my journey at an ashram in Ecuador.  I should be used to this!  Lol.

After the homa, they took us back down to the meditation hall on the ground floor, for a short pranayama and meditation practice.  

The altar is gorgeous.  It has two small Shiva Linga and an image of Babaji.  Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos.

After the meditation was over they showed us the rooms they have for guests.  The rooms are spotless and they look very comfortable. Better than anything you can find in Varanasi.

So if you are searching for an ashram in Varanasi, and if you like something that is really clean and safe, this could be a really good place.  

But you need to remember that you have to follow the daily routine, and if you are not into their tradition or if you don't speak Spanish, it might not feel very comfortable.

We didn't stay at this ashram because we had already booked a room in a guesthouse, but also because it was a bit expensive.  

2000 rupees per night, for a bed in a shared room (only three or four beds I think)!  But a really nice room I must say.

Oh and yes, based on my experience, it did feel like an actual ashram to me. That's all I can say.


Best yoga schools in Varanasi


We also wanted to try a yoga class in Varanasi but somehow we never managed.  The early mornings were a bit too cold and rainy, and the pollution in Varanasi was also making us sick.

So I can't recommend any yoga school or yoga center from personal experience. However, we did stop by the Satyalesari Cosmic Energy Centre, near the Shivala Ghat, and talked with the owner for a little while.  

It seemed like an interesting place and the teacher was kind and friendly.  Next time I visit Varanasi I might try to visit this school again.

If you ever been to this school please let us know what you think in the comments below.

Now that I am writing this blog I remember that a guy from Switzerland, that I met in Sri Lanka back in 2014, recommended me a yoga teacher in Varanasi.  I had totally forgotten about it.  Luckily I had saved it in my notes app.   

The yoga teacher's name is Sunil Kumar and the school's name is Yoga Training Center.  His school is located in old Varanasi, close to the burning ghats.  

The guy said the teacher was excellent and authentic. That's all I know.  You'll need to discover it by yourself.  If I had remembered it while I was in Varanasi I might have tried at least one class.

They offer 200 hours and 300 hours yoga teacher training courses.  

Their website doesn't look safe so I won't link to it, but if you decide to visit this yoga school please let us know how it goes.


Where to Stay in Varanasi


When we were planning this trip to Varanasi we realized that it was a bit difficult to figure out where to stay.  Varanasi is not a small city and it has a lot to offer.  But now that I've been there and explored the city I have a few tips to share. 

First, you want to stay near the Ganges.  

The roads close to the Ganges are only for pedestrians, two-wheelers, and cows. The more inland you go the more chaotic the city becomes, with a lot of traffic and pollution, and I really mean a lot!


The problem with staying near the Ganges is that you'll need to be ready to walk for several minutes with your luggage.  If you have a trolley bag this can be a real challenge.  Better use a backpack.

There are two main areas where you will probably like to stay in Varanasi.  The Dashashwamedh Ghat area and the Assi Ghat area.  These two ghats are about 30 minutes walking distance from each other.  So you'll need to choose wisely.

Dashashwamedh Ghat is the most popular ghat because of the famous evening Ganga Aarti. I talked about this in my previous blog.  This is an event that you can't miss.     

This ghat is just 10 min walk from Manikarnika Ghat, where the Hindu cremations are performed non-stop all day long.  

Staying near the Dashashwamedh Ghat was perfect for me because it was close to a temple that I wanted to visit for years, the Lahiri Mahasaya Samādhi.  I also talk in detail about that experience in my previous blog.

The Assi Ghat, which is quieter than Dashashwamedh is on the south end of Varanasi.  There is a morning Ganga Aarti at 5:30 am. 

So if you want to attend both events it's probably best to stay near the Assi Ghat.  

The morning program at the Assi Ghat, known as Subahebenaras, started in 2014. It includes not just the aarti but also music and a free yoga session with pranayama, asanas, and even laughter yoga.


Best guesthouses in Varanasi (Near Dashashwamedh Ghat)



1. The Neela by Bunkedup  


This is where we stayed. If you are looking for a budget guesthouse then I can recommend The Neela.  The guys working there were super friendly and helpful.  

The rooms were decent, very clean and they have a nice roof terrace.  The dorms didn't look very appealing to me though.


These are a few other guesthouses that we visited while walking around Varanasi.  We really wished we had booked one of them beforehand:  


2. Shiva Ganges View Paying Guesthouse  


If you are looking for something homey and very comfortable I can suggest you stay at Shiva Ganges View.  It's located next to the Ganges between the Narad Ghat and Manasarovar Ghat.  

The rooms are very cozy.   Some of them even have a view of the Ganges.  It's a beautiful home that almost feels like a boutique hotel.  They have a restaurant on the rooftop.


3. The Ganpati Guesthouse 


The Ganpati Guesthouse is a very colorful and beautiful decorated guesthouse.  It's located right next to the Ganges between Dashashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat.  

As soon as you walk in you feel invited to stay and hang out all day.  It's very clean and they have a terrace with an amazing view of the Ganges and with a good restaurant.


4. Ram Bhawan Residency  


This is not an easy place to find but once you find it you won't be disappointed.  We discovered it by accident.  As soon as we noticed the main entrance we asked ourselves “What is this place?” 

So we walked in to discover a beautiful four-floor building.  It looks more like a heritage hotel than a guesthouse.  

It's extremely clean,  offering not only private rooms but also shared ones.  A bit dark perhaps inside but it has an amazing terrace with an excellent restaurant and great views.

It is one of those places where you can easily get to know other travelers.  Meals for guests, which are included in the price, are taken together at the same time giving you the opportunity to interact with other guests.


Best restaurants in Varanasi (Near Dashashwamedh Ghat)


Brown Bread Bakery.   This was one of my favorite places for breakfast.  They have an excellent and very affordable small breakfast buffet with their own homemade muesli (granola), peanut butter, and even multigrain bread. 

Shiva Cafe and German Bakery.  Another lovely small cafe with many options for breakfast.  The food was better than the photos you'll find in google maps, IMHO.  At least for breakfast options.

Shanti Restaurant. If you need a break from typical Indian food then you have to try this place.  They offer pretty good Korean and Japanese food.  Ideal for dinner.  

Ram Bhawan Residency.  The roof terrace restaurant of this guesthouse, which I mentioned above, is simply amazing.  Excellent for a nice dinner after a long day exploring Varanasi.


What do you recommend?


I hope you've found this blog useful and informative.  If you've visited Varanasi before please don't hesitate to share your personal experience with us.  Tell us about your favorite restaurants, guesthouses, or even yoga schools.

And if you actually found an ashram where to stay, that offers yoga classes, meditation classes, and a good daily routine, please let us know about it in the comments below.

After Varanasi, we headed to an ashram near Rishikesh.  You can read all about that experience in Aurovalley Ashram in Rishidwar.

No comments:

Post a Comment