Controversial

Yoga tourism and its consequences

Leaving Rishikesh with a heavy heart, I promised I’d be back. I wanted to be part of the city’s famous International Yoga Festival, hosted by Parmarth Niketan, an ashram where I felt welcomed and somewhat at home on more than one occasion.

I wanted to be part of the over 1,000 yogis from all over the world (over 80 countries!) who explore all limbs of yoga together; a community you won’t easily find elsewhere. I felt this would be an amazing experience – for me.

Not one second did I think about what this means for a city the size of Rishikesh.

Rishikesh, bridge across river, India, Yoga

A pristine and serene moment…

Rishikesh’s population is just over 100,000 and the additional visitors might just be the tipping point in terms of garbage removal, sanitation and river cleanliness (in many cases, sewage is dumped directly into the Ganga).

Now, tourists flocking to a place with insufficient infrastructure, leaving behind a complete mess, isn’t a new phenomenon. But how could I as a yogi simply not see the impact my visit would make?

Parmarth actually does a lot to clean up the river, but there are a few things they can’t change. Apparently the city’s municipal sewage treatment plant is simply not able to cope with the rising population (in fact, the area is probably generating twice the amount of sewage the plant can process). The issues are multifaceted and tricky to tackle. They range from mundane things (there just aren’t enough trash cans) all the way to a lack of regulations (or enforcement thereof).

I believe it’s worthwhile to chew on this for a bit, even if there’s no straightforward solution.

Should yogis pay an additional ‘environmental fee’ with their festival ticket which funds cleaning up and possibly investing in better infrastructure? Should plastic be banned from the festival grounds? Should there be more community clean-up projects (“karma yoga”), not just during the festival, but all-year-round?

Have you been to Rishikesh? What did you notice while you were there?

You can read more about the issue in this in-depth article and find out more about the festival here.

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Image credit here.

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9 replies »

  1. Good post! I was in Rishikesh in 2013 and surprised by the massive yoga industry there. I recommend that the ashrams should teach their students about environmental issues and spend some hours with cleaning the streets around the ashrams.

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  2. I was in Rishikesh in January and desperately want to go back. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I would certainly favor having international visitors pay an additional tax to balance any burden we place on the local environment.

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  3. It seems so obvious, but I’ve never really considered this either… I guess everyone just assumes more tourism is good for economy and therefore good for a city, but there’s so much more to it than that…

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