#Ranchi, India--a spiritual pilgrimage to the YSS ashram of Paramahansa Yogananda
Sri Radhe, Jai Radhe, Jai Sri Radhe, Sri Radhe......, echoes the Indian air behind all the incredible traffic, the crowded streets, the noise and the hustle-bustle of big cities.
Several years ago, I was traveling by train in India in a second class compartment with another friend-I must have been some 15 odd years old and when my friends were already dating, I was busy making drawings for a fashion magazine I wanted to start in school. So in this train compartment, I met these two young European girls who told me about their search for peace that had brought them to India and asked me if I was ever interested in such a thing. I was only 15 and apart from staring at myself in the mirror sometimes wondering who I was, my only ambition till then had been to become successful in life and to buy my own house and car even before I was 21 years old--of course, at that time I did not know that success had very little to do with acquiring external things and was something that needed to be cultivated within. I wish I could meet the two girls again and tell them about my own spiritual journey and what I discovered at the Yogoda Satsanga Ashram (YSS) in Ranchi, India (known as SRF in the west), that satisfied all my yearnings for truth and peace.
Time and again friends have asked me about YSS and after attending a week long spiritual program there, attended by hundreds of members and friends participating not only from India but different parts of the world, I was inspired to write this post. The Yogoda (YSS) ashram as it is called, was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, who is now regarded as the Father of Yoga in the west. His book Autobiography of a Yogi is one of the world's most acclaimed spiritual classics, copies of which were handed out to attendees at the funeral of Steve Jobs according to the latter's wishes. In 2014, the life of Paramahansa Yogananda was brought to the big screen in a Hollywood documentary feature called Awake-the life of Yogananda, that has won several national and international awards.
The Yogoda ashram is spread across 18 acres of fertile land with beautifully designed meditation gardens, fruit orchards, a guest house, a Smriti Mandir (a beautiful outdoor meditation temple made in marble), a Shiva temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva), another beautiful meditation hall built in stone and marble, a newly built administrative building and shrines of Paramahansa Yogananda. On entering the ashram grounds, one can almost immediately feel a magical peace enveloping one's being and dimming the chaos of the world outside.
I post here some pictures I clicked of the gardens recently, but they really cannot do much justice to the beauty and tranquility of the ashram and offer only a glimpse of the surreal gardens and its temples.
What is the best time to visit?
The best months to visit are October, November through middle of December and then again from the middle of January through middle of March, when it's neither too cold, nor too hot. It does get really cold during Christmas time and even though there is a beautiful New Year's Eve midnight meditation held at the ashram, it is not such an easy thing to get out of bed to go for the meditation, when literally every bone in the body is freezing! Travelers going there in the month of October and November should keep in mind the festival of Diwali (the festival of lights in India) that takes place sometime during these months and is preceded by many days of worship of the Divine Mother called Durga Puja. I would avoid staying at the ashram during Durga Puja or Diwali as there is usually a lot of deafening music coming from a small temple next door, located very close to the guest rooms in the ashram. If one is staying in a hotel, this would probably be alright and for some maybe even a good time to visit and enjoy Diwali celebrations in the ashram, when the whole place is beautifully lit up in candle-lights--apparently fire hazards is a far-off thing in India and nothing could come between the people and their joyous spirits as they light candles and burst crackers!
Where to stay?
There is a separate ladies guest house for women as well as family rooms available for stay within the ashram. The rooms are simple and basic with a bed and a desk and most of them have private showers. Sheets and blankets are provided by the ashram but one needs to bring their own towels. However, during a big event like the Sharad Sangam (a week-long spiritual event), people coming from abroad cannot be accommodated in the ashram so they need to stay in a hotel outside. In any case, stay at the ashram is limited to members and those non-members interested in meditation and visiting for the first time and want to know more about the teachings. For stay at the ashram, please call the ashram directly at +91-651-2461578.
Tip: Always carry an effective mosquito repellant for your wanderings in India. :)
The following are some of the hotels that are located in walking distance of the ashram (little less than a mile, maybe) and some may even offer discounts for members and friends of YSS.
Chanakya B.N.R., Capitol Residency, Maplewood, Archie, Green Horizon.
Tip: Hotels located on Station Road are very close to the railway station so you want to make sure the rooms you book are quiet rooms. :)
Radisson Blu, Ranchi is perhaps the only 4 or 5 star hotel which is not very far away from the ashram. It takes about 10 minutes with a cab from the hotel to reach the ashram depending on the traffic, and in the early morning hours when there is no traffic, it may take only 5 minutes. A private cab will cost *Rs. 200 ($4 approx.) one way and the hotel cab costs *Rs. 400 ($7 approx.) one way. The YSS ashram may be able to provide you with a list of private cab numbers in the city.
*Rates are as per calendar year 2015 and may change accordingly.
I recently stayed at the Radisson Blu and I must say that I enjoyed the experience very much. The room was very comfortable, the food was good and the service excellent--for anyone who can spend between $100-$150 (including cab and perhaps a little bite here and there), this hotel is a great place to stay. I post here some pictures of the room and the showers and the general ambience of the hotel.
What/where to eat?
The food at the ashram is simple and even though it may sometimes get very spicy, I always enjoy it very much-I think it's the simplicity of the food, the environment and the company of like-minded people that makes it so delicious!
This is what was served for breakfast one day-Indian curry with white bread and milk pudding with black tea.....spicy but delicious!
P.S. : For those who have specific food requirements, may speak to the concerned authorities of the ashram about it, otherwise there are plenty of restaurants and fruits and vegetable shops outside!
What should I wear?
Dress in the ashram should be simple and conservative--which are rather relative words! Indian dress or long tunics over jeans or trousers with scarves for women is usually preferred. :) Men can dress in Indian dhotis-pajamas-kurtas or trousers.....no shorts, I guess!
If you have questions, please post them in the comment section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to write back to you. :)
And here is a small video I made while I was in the cab from the ashram to the hotel and on my way to the airport--don't let the traffic intimidate you! Sorry for the camera shake, this is the best I could do in the car. :)