As Master Oogway would say, the best place to meditate is- now 🙂 The place doesn’t matter since the purpose of meditation is not to be quiet when you go to a quiet place but rather, the purpose is to cultivate the faculty of awareness which would keep us quiet even in a noisy place.
But for people starting out on the path (like all of us), it sometimes does make sense to find a nice quiet place where we first cut out the external disturbance to observe the mind. If we don’t have the resources or space to go to a new place, we can make this disturbance-proof corner in our own house but that’s for another post.
Over the past decade, I’ve been around India quite a bit and from this experience, I’m putting down this post with some of the best places to meditate in India:
- Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
One might be a little surprised to not find the Himalayas at no.1 inspite of my base being Himachal Pradesh but maybe there’s a little bias here. Let’s find out.
Tiruvannamalai is home to Arunachala Hill which is considered to be Shiva himself (the god of death. Death of the ego) and the mountain has been revered since time immemorial. It is also home to the famous saint Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) who happens to be the guru of the person writing this post.
Saints and lay people have poured into the town from centuries and visit the famous Arulmigu Arunachaleshwar Temple and go around the mountain in a 14km walk. Barefoot. This practice is known as giri vallam in Tamil (giri means mountain and vallam should mean going around). Up the mountain, there are two caves- Virupaksha and Skandashram where Ramana Maharshi meditated. There are several other temples and saints who have resided in Tiruvannamalai in different places, different times. It’s such an ancient place that sometimes space and time start losing their relevance.
Where to stay:
– For staying in the ashram, one has to write 2 months in advance and considering the popularity among Indians as well as Westerners and Chinese, it can be tough to get a booking but try here: Ramana Ashram Accommodation.
– If not here, there are several other guest houses where you can find rooms on arrival as well. There is the Ashram Post office road where Pink House is a nice clean place to stay. Agni Lingam lane has a German Bakery (run by Nepalese) and several guest houses. The other locality is around Sathya Cafe, Perumbakkam road. Book any place for 2 days via Airbnb and then figure out for the longer stay.
What to do:
– Girivallam, 14km walk around the mountain. Some people living here do it every day.
– Visit Ramana Ashram, Swami Seshadri Ashram, Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram, the Main Temple, and the hundreds of other small temples with their own flavours.
– There are a few hep cafes that have come up- Dreaming Tree, Inner Child, Auro Usha (has been around). These are places from where you can sit and work if you need to. And there are several other small places where you’ll get the best south Indian fare.
– Ramana Ashram and Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram have daily meals as an offering around 10.30am. Do go for prasad once at atleast.
– I would highly recommend talks by Sri Nochur Venkatraman, my salutations to him.
2. Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
Now we’re in the Himalayas 🙂 I haven’t stayed long enough in Rishikesh to give a detailed analysis but the impact the place leaves on one makes me want to write about it before another place (Dharamshala) where I have spent 5+ years. Along the banks of the Ganga, Rishikesh is probably the spiritual capital of India. And the serenity of the river with the Himalayas in the backdrop always makes it special.
Again, when looking to explore a new place, my trick is to book online via something you like for 2 nights and then explore the place on foot to figure where you’d like to spend the rest of the days. My visit to Rishikesh took me once while we were on an Uttarakhand pilgrimage and we first visited Parmarth Niketan Ashram. The ‘Hindu’ circuit can get a little ritualistic but make sure you spend enough time before labelling and categorising. All these places have a certain magic and mystery which slowly starts revealing itself.
Mooji is a popular new-age saint (if I can take the liberty to use such terms) and he has his annual satsanghs in Rishikesh. I’ve had the grace of meeting Mooji at random once while doing the girivallam in Tiruvannamalai. Again, as a self-note, meditation and the spiritual journey is not about these meetings and experiences, one meets saints every day- there is god in everyone, in everything, rather god/bliss/peace/brahman is everything.
Coming back to practicalities, Rishikesh has tonnes of places to stay from Ashrams to backpacker hostels and guest hosues to high end luxurious hotels. Post covid, an online research pointed me to Devi Music Ashram but I haven’t been there yet. I’ll update this post after collecting more local information from first experiences.
3. Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
If you want to explore Tibetan Buddhism, there is no place like this. I had come here in 2012 for a short break from my work and it proved to be the initiation point for this journey into the beautiful unknown. I stayed for about fives years in village Rakkar where I was part of the team that started Ghoomakad and I had the good fortune of spending time with some amazing people in the Sidhbari region.
The Dalai Lama came to Dharamshala in 1959 and ever since, the little town which is now a ‘smart-city’ has been home to the Tibetan Government in Exile, numerous monasteries and nunneries, the famous cricket stadium and a growing population of people moving from the cities to this place.
Places to meditate:
– Tushista, a Tibetan Buddhist Centre (a wonderful serene place in Dharamkot, a small village 15km drive up from Dharamshala town. Dharamkot is also a backpacker hotspot).
– Deer Park, Bir– This place is in Bir, which is 2.5 hours (70km) from Dharamshala and is also a paragliding hub, is called Deer Park not for deers but because Deer Park happened to be the name of the place where the Buddha gave the first sermon after enlightenment 🙂 Deer Park was a monastery till 2003 and was then opened up for lay people to study classical Indian wisdoms.
– Mingyur Rinpoche’s Tergar Meditation Community– Mingyur Rinpoche’s base is in Nepal but he is associated with the Palpung Sherabling Monastery in Bir as well. His book, ‘In Love with the World‘ is a extremely honest and personal journey captured by the meditator himself/herself.
– Thosamling Nunnery– A beautiful nunnery tucked away in the fields of Sidhbari region a few kms from Dharamshala, Thosamling is a place of retreat for women (a very inspirational story). They also have courses for lay people where males are allowed. On this line, also check out DGL Nunnery started by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a nun of European origin who spent 12 solitary years in a cave.
4. Vipassana Centres (S.N. Goenka Tradition)
A mention of meditation without a mention of Vipassana is probably not complete in the current times 🙂 I was surprised to hear a dialogue in some bollywood movie where a young person frustrated with life situations said, “I am going for a Vipassana course!” This surely means, S.N.Goenka has truly arrived.
I mention the name again because this has been one beauty of the tradition, the technique and the purpose is above the guru’s name. Vipassana literally translates to ‘insight’ and masters over centuries have taught this in slight variations. In the late 20th century, S.N. Goenka who took birth in Myanmar formulated a schedule which proved beneficial to thousands of people and spread across the world. This is the famous 10 day course where one meditates from 4am in the morning to 9pm in the night. Yes, that’s almost 17 hours a day, for 10 days in a row. Ofcourse, there are breaks every hour and an hour break during breakfast and lunch (no dinner). This course is recommended for people who want to seriously dive into meditation. It’s a journey worth embarking on but don’t take it as a challenge. This is not to prove a point, do it only if there’s a calling. There is nothing special in being able to meditate for hours and hours. The purpose of vipassana as stated by S.N.Goenka is also at the end to increase equanimity, softness of the heart. Being Compassionate as Dalai Lama would tell us.
If this seems like a calling, there are centres in all states of India and probably more than 30 countries across the world, all information can be found here- www.dhamma.org.
5. On the banks of Narmada
It is said on the banks of river Narmada that when Ganga feels like purifying itself, she comes to Narmada to take a dip! This is a 1750km long river that originates in central India and majorly flows through Madhya Pradesh and the last 200km in Maharashtra and Gujarat while merging in the ocean near Bharuch.
A special tradition exists on the banks of this river- A 3500km walk, circumambulating the river. People generally start from Omkareshwar which is a Jyotir Linga or Amarkantak (where the river originates) and keeping the river on the right, walk. And walk. And walk. Going to the ocean, taking a turn in the boat to move to the other side and again- walk, walk, walk back to where they started from. All this without money or phone (most people carry a phone these days and people also do it in on a bike/car/bus). The tradition goes that one walks without any possession and is totally dependent on god (people and nature) for the body’s upkeep. Also, it is usually done in 3 years, 3 months, 13 days but this is as per a person’s faith. One can do it in five to six months or walk some and ride some. As one wishes.
Coming to places, sages and saints have walked and meditated on the banks from ages and there are several popular places where one can spend time and meditate- Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Amarkantank, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur, Karnali, Garudeshwar are some you can look up.
Meditation + Contemplation on death/impermanence = Banaras.
A place of the ghats, again along the banks of Ganga is popular and known across the world for the sacred dip in the river, Kumbh mela, millions of saints and the unbelievable squalor. An ancient, ancient city, Banaras is again a time and space warp. If you focus on the dirt and unruliness, it’ll throw you out in a day or few hours. To give yourself a chance, go during the winters and think about ‘meditation in chaos’. There is no place like Banaras for meditating on the impermanence of it all. Just sitting at the ghat and seeing dead body after dead body being burnt at the Manikarnika Ghat (also called Burning Ghat!) , gives a jolting perspective on life.
For me, the J. Krishnamuti School at Raj Ghat and the Aghori Ashram somewhere in town were the highlights but spend a week. Book yourself in a nice place (this place has no dearth of options) and explore. Walk, take boat rides, sit by the ghats and meditate. Meditate in chaos. That’s Banaras. And once you get the feel of it, Banaras may start calling you in the summers as well.
7. List within a list
Well, these were places where I’ve had some little experience and could write about. Now, there are several other place but I’ll just list them out randomly for you to go and explore (on the internet but preferably in person and tell me about it 🙂 ).
- Anand Ashram, Kerala
- Swami Bhrama Vedanta Ashram, Madhavpur in Gujarat
- Auroville (this place deserves a separate post, I’ll try and get a guest post)
- North East! (I have a post on Bhutan from my state of mind in 2015)
- Gokarna, Karnataka
- Puri, Odisha
- Golden Temple, Amritsar
- Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
- Spiti and Ladakh
- And as we began- Now.
We travelled quite a bit over here, time to meditate! Find a quiet place, put on a timer (even 10 minutes is great) and sit with quiet and ease in your heart. All the best, prayers and blessings.