India: Hilly state of Uttarakhand banks on spiritual and yoga tourism

Pilgrims on the streets of Rishikesh, a sacred town in Uttarakhand. Source: Volobotti/Shutterstock

INDIA’S northern state of Uttarakhand is often a respite from the country’s ever-bustling cities.

Here, snowy vistas, raggedy mountainous terrains, vast alpine meadows and charming villages can be found, easily rivaling views commonly seen in the neighboring Himalayan region.

However, it’s not just the trekking that lures tourists to Uttarakhand – spiritual tourism is also a key attraction for the state, as revealed in a recent report by The Times of India.

Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj said “exotic rituals and supernatural traditions of the hills” will soon be used to market tourism in the hill state.

He said the hills had several “mysterious traditions”, including ancient rituals practiced by priests that would compel curious tourists.

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Satpal quoted an example: “Before [the] opening of [the] portal of Badrinath temple, the main priest of Narasimha temple at Joshimath gets possessed by the deity and devours four sacks of rice, eight pitchers of water, raw meat of one goat and a lot of jaggeries.”

While Uttarakhand is a hub for religious tourism and a common point for pilgrimages, the state hasn’t yet capitalized on its many mystical rituals.

On top of that, Rishikesh, a sacred town in Uttarakhand on the banks of the Ganges River, is also thriving as the “yoga capital of the world”.

Tourists often flood the clusters of yoga ashrams for spiritual and “yogitation” (yoga + meditation) retreats.

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While the practice of yoga traditionally complies with a simple lifestyle, it’s with some irony the area has seen the development of many resort-like hotels to cater to tourists.

Amidst Uttarakhand’s golden era in tourism, the state has also decided to explore new eco-tourism circuits, including guesthouses and activities that benefit local communities.

Text by Surekha Ragavan