Spiritual Travel in India: Where & Why to Give it a Try

Long-time yoga practitioner Mariellen Ward shows you how to get the most out of your spiritual journey through India.


A Sadhu (Hindu religious devotee) doing morning prayer by the river Ganges in Varanasi, India Photo © iStock/Jedraszak

Since the dawn of recorded time, people have been gathering for spiritual practice like yoga and meditation all over India. But where to start?

Whether it be on the banks of the Ganges River in Rishikesh, on the ghats in Varanasi, in the high Himalayas, or on the hot plains, here’s how to start your spiritual trip to India.

Why India is the best spiritual destination

First of all, several of the world’s major religions were born in India, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

The sense of spiritual fervor is palpable. There are mandirs (Hindu temples), mosques, gurudwaras (Sikhs place of worship), and churches everywhere you look.

Rowboats on the river in Varanasi, India.
Varanasi. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Small temples and shrines are set up on roadsides, in banks, even in underground parking garages. Seemingly every day, there’s a religious festival of one sort or another.

People in India practice their religions overtly, and take their spiritual beliefs very seriously.

You might see your bank teller in a suit and tie at work, but later, performing a time-honoured puja on the banks of a sacred river, wearing an orange robe with tilak marks on his forehead.

Yoga and meditation retreats in India

The spiritual undercurrent in India has given rise to several forms of practice: the two most well-known in the west are yoga and meditation. You can find ashrams, retreats, and centers all over India.

Yoga comes from the Hindu tradition and includes meditation as a core practice. This is one of the differences between yoga in India and in the west – where it’s seen as more of a physical exercise.

Meditation is also associated with the Buddhist tradition, and it’s the main form of spiritual practise in Buddhism.

Though Buddhism was born in India, it’s now practised more prevalently in other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Bhutan.

There are many forms of meditation in India along with yoga, including Transcendental Meditation and Vipassana.

A monk meditates in Sarnath, India.
Sarnath, India. Photo credit: Mariellen Ward

Beginner’s yoga to advanced yoga in India

You can find all types of yoga and meditation all over India, from beginners to advanced. You’ll find there’s much less of a distinction on styles of yoga – or indeed even on the concepts of beginner or advanced practitioners.

If you’re already practicing yoga at home, you can ask your teachers and colleagues for a recommendation in India.

Or, you can wait until you arrive and trust that you’ll find the right place. 

It was very near the end of my first trip to India that someone suggested I visit an ashram near Rishikesh. I was tired when I arrived, and had a nap. When I woke, I knew I had found my spiritual home – I had never felt more rested in my life. And yet, I arrived there by chance.

Yoga in Rishikesh

Rishikesh in north India is the picturesque spot where the Ganges River tumbles out of the lower Himalayas.

It’s often called the world’s capital of yoga, and makes for a great place to start your spiritual journey.

The peaceful valley is lined with ashrams and yoga and meditation centres, and people from all over the globe come here to study, practice, and chill out.

I liked Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram, which is owned and run by an Indian yogi and his Canadian wife. Here, you get the best of both worlds: authentic yoga teachings and western standards of comfort and cleanliness.

Yoga in Mysore

Yoga is also prevalent in Mysore, a small town in Karnataka, a few hours away from the capital of the state, Bengaluru.

Mysore is the center of the Ashtanga Yoga world, as the founder, Pattabhi Jois, established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute here in 1948. 

Yoga in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa

Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa in south India are also popular spots for yoga retreats.

The Sivananda organization has a center near Trivandrum that’s located among lush forest greenery. And you can find yoga retreats all along the tropical coasts of these states. 

These retreats vary in terms of accommodation standards and prices, from simple to luxurious. There’s a spot for just about every budget.

You can stay for just a few days, do a one or two-week yoga retreat, or take an in-depth yoga teacher training course, which usually lasts a month.

I loved my stay at the Ashiyana Yoga Retreat in North Goa. Located right near the beach, with good teachers, delicious food, and a wide range of accommodation options, Ashiyana offers both relaxation and serious yoga practise.

Updated July 2023

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  • Swapna Sathe said

    A blog very well written as India is really a beautiful spiritual Destination. I visited India last month and explored many interesting places. I read some interesting blogs on www.indiavacay.com

  • Osho Centres said

    Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. I read your blog you have so much information about the different meditation techniques. Even Inspire 3 is also a manufactures of powerful products that help to meditate and boost your brain power. For meditation centres in India Visit us www.oshocentres.com

  • Frank said

    A pretty good ashram book is 'Ashrams of India.' eBook only from Amazon and ashramsofindia.com. The eBook has hyperlinks to Google Maps, making it easier to find some the ashrams and other interesting places!

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