Tag Archives: first timer

Kamal Bhatt, a Yogi of Rishikesh

Kamal Bhatt, a Yogi of Rishikesh

We come to Rishikesh to learn the secrets of yoga, looking for perfect teachers who would be all knowledgeable, powerful, personification of enlightenment, mind control and superhuman power. When we understand that such type of yogis are not to be found here on every corner (or in every cave), we start to settle for something more realistic – a teacher who would be experienced and knowledgeable to teach us proper techniques of asana, pranayama, cleanses and meditation. There are several good teachers here who can offer such expertise. So we learn here and devote some (sometimes considerable) part of our life to learning and mastering these yogic techniques. We study right asanas, proper alignment, good injury avoidance techniques. We go deeper in our forward and backward bends, do some crazy twists, impressive arm balances. Maybe we learn some pranayama techniques and cleanses that help us keep our body purer. Maybe we learn some mantras and kirtans as well.

And this is all very good, but what is the purpose of it? Is the final goal of our “practice” to become more flexible or stronger or able to hold the breath longer, or being able to twist ourselves into some pretzel poses? Is this the end of it? Of course, you will say, better health. Agreed. You will also say, more patience. Fine. Better mind control. Certainly. But for me, the goal of yoga is not just that. Neither it is in becoming “enlightened”. Being used so much in all kinds of fairy-tale-ish legends about superhumans that nobody has ever seen, this lofty word does not bear any substantiality any more… For me, the path of yoga should lead to becoming a better person, and it should be seen in one’s attitude towards oneself and certainly, towards other beings. For a good practitioner and especially a teacher of hatha yoga, the yamas, moral conduct rules, ought to be something natural, engraved in someone’s nature. It’s natural that yogi should not feel violence towards others, that he is truthful, does not indulge in feelings of envy, jealousy, greed or lust. Yamas should not be a code that someone “adheres to”, this should become one’s nature. Goodwill to all people and the world around you, compassion, forgiveness, readiness to help when this help is needed, contentment and gratitude for what you have.

And can you imagine, in the world capital of yoga, there are a lot of good teachers that can teach you technicalities of asanas, pranayamas or kriyas, kirtans or meditations, but there are very few teachers who are just good persons by themselves. This may seem sometimes even discouraging. Too many teachers are working here not because of call of the heart and a longing for self-development, but merely because yoga is a good business in Rishikesh. But what we as “seekers” from the West really seek is a role model, someone who practices all these yoga practices and by his or her life and actions towards others shows that these practices help him or her in becoming better human being. There are really few teachers like that in Rishikesh, and Kamal Bhatt is one of them.

Kamal is a toga teacher who has been giving classes for about 10 years. His main speciality is shatkarmas, yogic cleansing techniques, natural lifestyle, and classic yogic asanas. When I was running a yoga school in Rishikesh, Kamal was our teacher and also helped us deal with everyday situations in the school. Not everybody in our school liked his style of teaching, the fact that he does not explain a lot of things or cannot provide you with lengthy intellectual explanations of why you do this or that practice and what physiological benefits it brings. He talks in simple language and explains effects from his experience. Because first of all Kamal is practitioner. One who really practices all these yogic techniques, and given the limitations of his knowledge of English language and maybe some rhetoric skills, speaks very briefly. But he definitely practices yoga and knows the benefits it can bring. He helped several severely overweight student with health problems to lose a lot of weight and become completely medicine-free in a few months. One girl lost about 25 kg under his guidance and corrected her hormonal balance to the point that she conceived a child right after the course in Rishikesh, something she and her husband fruitlessly tried to do for years. Kamal used combination of fasts, specific diets, serious yogic cleanses and asana/pranayama routine, which might seem to some boring, but turned out to be very effective.

Kamal Bhatt

Kamal Bhatt

But the most amazing thing about Kamal is his personal qualities. While working in our school, he was the most reliable person. I could ask him to substitute some teachers 30 minutes before the class, and he would always be there without failure. I could call him in the middle of the night saying somebody got sick and needs to be taken to the hospital and he would be right at the person’s door in twenty minutes, ready to drive them to any hospital in the vicinity of 50 kms. He never asked about the money, never said no to any request. He was a teacher with the smallest ego and biggest modesty, out of all we worked with.

One interesting instance happened a few months ago. I has not been involved with the school for 1,5 years and came to Rishikesh solely for personal practice. One day I received a phone call from my friend who has just received a head injury and called me, all in tears, to find out, where is the nearest hospital. I was some 40 minutes away from her. I had no scooter or bike. I was trying to think where the nearest hospital would be, so that she could get there as quickly as possible before passing out on the way. Who can help me? Out of all people I know in Rishikesh, I called Kamal. And certainly, he dropped everything he was doing and came to give the girl a ride to a hospital in Rishikesh. He registered her at the hospital, waited with her in the line, translated to the doctor her complaints and comments, paid her bills, rode her back home and without saying a word, proceeded on his business. Keep in mind, he does not know the girl. When I met him a few days later to give him some sweets and compensation for the costs that he spent on her, Kamal was really surprised. I said that he should take the money because he paid for her in the hospital. He replied, “It’s everyone’s duty to do that in such circumstances”.

If more people thought like that, the world would be a better place.

So maybe if you’re in Rishikesh, you can drop in his class. Maybe he will not become your guru or the best teacher of all times, but it will be useful for you to see a practicing yogi and feel his light energy.

Read more reviews on Kamal Bhatt and find our where currently he conducts his classes at his yoga teacher page at TopYogis. 


What you should avoid if you go to Rishikesh for yoga for the first time


Rishikesh is a great place to go to if you’re into yoga, but to use most of it, you need to know a little about how to navigate around the place.  The city is so publicized as yoga capital that some local entrepreneurs take advantage of it and flood the place with their yoga services, even if they are not really yoga masters or even good practitioners. Some people, inspired by stories about Rishikesh, pack their things in anticipation of finding great knowledge there, but can end up in some questionable ashram or low quality yoga class and quickly get disappointed about entire affair.

Of course, you can ask people around – that’s in case you arrived in the high season and there are a lot of westerners there to advise you. But it’s always better to be equipped with some practical advice before you go, not to get into the same trap as some malfortunate yoga lovers before you did. So here’s the list of the first don’ts that come to my mind about visiting Rishikesh as the first timer:

Don’t trust guidebooks.  I relied on the guidebook advice when I first came to Rishikesh and really got to very mediocre places in terms of yoga. In fact, I got so disappointed that I wanted to leave the place right away, and I would do if one traveler did not advise me to visit a good yoga class. In fact, you can use such guides as Lonely Planet mainly for good maps, because everything else just does not work. Why?

First, hotels and guest houses that get to Lonely Planet quickly become very expensive and lower the standards of quality, because they assume that being into the guide is already a competitive advantage over their rivals. So you better seek accommodation somewhere near the places that are in Lonely Planet, not in them – otherwise you will overpay.

Second, what these guides advise you on yoga is mostly rubbish – I have a feeling that journalists have one day or so to write on the city, and they don’t have very good experience in yoga to judge whether the place is good or not. Some local people say, that Lonwy Planet journalists even don’t try out the classes they advise – they just go into the place, get details on classes, and enter them into the guide. So there, they can recommend you even some courses that are really low quality. Imagine that you trust the guide, come to a place, and engage with such course right away… Of course, there are always good exceptions – last time I checked they had Usha’s classes in their guide, and also Bhuwan Chandra’s music school is a place that really deserves to be referred to. Still, many other places are just really strange selections in terms of quality of yoga classes.

Don’t assume that every “ashram” in Rishikesh is a real ashram – most are just hotels. I assume that governmental regulations on who can call their hotel an ashram are missing or very scarce, and business minded people in Rishikesh are using that. There is a great number of “ashrams” in Rishikesh, mostly at Lakshman Jhula, that are not ashrams at all – in a sense, they don’t have any spiritual activities, they don’t have any gurus living there, they don’t have any children or monks living/studying there. They are plainly hotels with paid yoga classes, and very often with yoga teachers of dubious quality. Try to pop in at Sri Sant Sewa Ashram at Lashshman Jhula and find at least one sign of a real ashram there. And still Lonely Planet recommends them as “ashram”.

Others, like Parmarth Niketan, used to be really good ashrams but got so commercialized, and spiritual activities are so reduced, that you will basically pay for a nice garden and aarti ceremony in the evening. There used to be a 103 year old baba teaching free morning yoga class, but management stopped the class, and as the rumor goes, the reason is that baba is not bringing money. The food that’s included in stay is not very good, is not one of the most delicious sattvic foods around the place, and for a price you pay in Parmarth, you could find much better options in regards of both accommodation and food. And of course in regards of yoga and meditation activities. The place is very advertised in guidebooks, and that again brings us to the first advice of the post – don’t trust guidebooks. If you’re in Rishikesh for yoga, after staying in Parmarth for one month, you can finally look around and regret that you lost so many other opportunities.

Don’t assume that every baba in Rishikesh is a real baba – most are just beggars and drug dealers. Some foreigners come to Rishikesh with acutely romantic view on people in orange robes. It seems to me that even some guides contain warning regarding such people. There are no regulations on who can wear such clothes, and no special procedure of initiation. Just whoever buys an orange robe is considered a baba. While there are some really powerful babas out there walking in the same plain orange clothes, like Yogananda Baba or Beatles Baba – there are quite lots of them, – there are still even more fake babas that use the reputation of the place to beg or sell hashish. The ones that sit on the main bazar roads smoking hash are most likely to be that kind of babas. So please use discrimination and advice of timed travelers if you want communication with real sadhus.

Don’t expect that smoking hash with baba will give you some transcendental experience or enlightenment – most often it will just give you problems with police as many babas have “referral program” with local cops – they report some naive tourists for a share of bakshish. I know this information from local’s stories. You better get your transcendental experience from quality yoga class, but if you sill want to smoke, I assume that conversation with long time foreigners is much more useful for finding things out around the place.

The last advise concerns Rishikesh as well as any other city in India. If you’re in India for the first time, I advise you to eat local food and go less for “Western food”, even if local food may seem too spicy at first. There are reasons behind Indians eating such spicy food, and one of them is protection against parasites and bacterias. We, western people, are not used to local flora and fauna, and we don’t have inborn immunity towards their “animals”, so it would just be much safer to start with local spicy food. Of course, you can experiment, and once you’re acclimatized a bit, you can try any kind of food, but initially it would be nice to go with local.

Well, these are the advises I could come up with right now. I will add more if something else comes to mind, but also I would greatly appreciate your input and opinions on things to do and not to do in Rishikesh. Please, share your experience in comments so that other people could use it.