I do realize that life is what it is, it ensures an adventurous experience for one and all. While it has beautiful peaks and mountains, it also has deep valleys because it is quite natural that one cannot exist without the other. A mountain peak can only be defined as such if there is a valley next to it, else won't it be called a plain or a plateau? Without the ups and downs of life won't life be called death? Probably that's why when we are not too happy with life, we tend to say our life is dead or has plateaued! In today's age though life is nothing less than a bumpy ride, I am delighted that even youngsters are talking about understanding and accepting this reality of life. Humanity through the ages has become more courageous, conscious and strong yet we are still in discomfort at times, we still want clarity, we still want something.....So what's that something we want? What's that something which keeps us unsettled and anxious at times? Well I guess what we really want or need is a state of mental Joy...a state of true happiness! I say 'mental joy' and not just joy because people confuse it with life situations. I am not talking about joyful outer experiences but a state of deep 'mental joy'...irrespective of outer circumstances. Life is bound to be full of ups and downs but if we can maintain our mental balance we can really be a very happy lot. "We will become like rivers, flowing as gracefully through the mountains as through the plains and valleys." And then a truly happy person always overflows and spreads joy all around. A Joyful person is like a lit charcoal, it helps light up all the other charcoals around. Therefore since last approximately 23 years, I have always believed in honing up my skills to be able to live like a Sanyasi / ascetic wherever and in any condition I live. By a Sanyasi, I mean a person who lives in the world, celebrates life, goes about doing everything needed to be done but keeps a complete mental balance! So an ascetic as per me lives exactly the way everybody else lives in the world but just alters his/her mental attitude. A Sanyasi, as per me, neither gets perturbed with difficult situations or people nor gets too excited with success or heavenly experiences. So, is being in a calm, joyful and balanced state a matter of some one-off course or certification or some eureka experience?...May be not! Life is all about learning each moment how to achieve this state of 'permanent and ever new joy'...as the ancient yogi's say "Sat-Chitt-Anand". I was extremely lucky that by the grace of my gurus and masters I was able to understand this fact quite early in life.... Well, but was I able to manage this balanced state, all the time, through last 23 years.... by understanding it? Obviously not! 'Understanding' is far from 'practicing' the understanding. Therefore understanding is only the beginning...and life is an unending process! Though I have been working personally on achieving this balance but just like anybody else I do run out of fuel sometimes and at other times I feel that a booster dose is required to get back into shape. I have experienced that when I want to mentally balance my mind to be in a joyful state, nothing works better than either doing the energisation exercises I have learnt from the Paramhansa Yogananda lineage of gurus or sitting in silence, going within and 'practicing' meditation. In fact continuous practice of going within, gives me the strength to tackle life challenges energetically, enthusiastically, joyfully and in a much more calm state of mind. I can notice a slight change the moment I slip from my discipline. Sometimes the usual meditation of 1 hour a day also needs some more power...and this time, as a few other times in the past, to renew my energies, deepen my meditation practice and reinforce my balance, I chose to meditate, away from the hustle bustle of city life...in the himalayas. I also chose certain circumstances so that I could challenge my limits and loosen the coating of 'fuss' around me, which I accumulate because of the usual metropolitan lifestyle.
I chose to head towards Rishikesh, one of my most favorite destinations since my childhood and then planned to go into a more peaceful location in the himalayas...further on.
I decided to just pack 2-3 kurtas, a couple of lowers and under garments along with a small blanket, a towel, a jacket, the jeans that I was wearing and basic toiletries minus the shaving kit. I carried a small sling purse so that i do not need to carry my usual bloated purse. I did choose to take my phone with me, yet decided to use it only as a camera..that too occasionally as I was not on a photography trip after all. (and yes I did not choose to talk to anyone back home during the entire trip)
My first stay at Adi Badrinath Mandir:
I then headed straight to Rishikesh, reached around midnight and was lucky to get a small room in a temple called the Aadi Badrinath Temple near the Ganga ghats. This was the idea...because I wanted to stay at the most basic and humble yet peaceful places I could manage to find. I was told by some people next day that people visit this temple during the six months period when the Badrinath Mandir shuts down because of excessive snowfall in that area. (I was unable to digest this story though:) Here are some photos of The Aadi Badrinath Mandir - the place of a brief first night stay at Rishikesh, upon my arrival close to midnight.
Next day early in the morning I packed my bags to travel further into the himalayan belt beyond Rishikesh to find a peaceful and picturesque place to stay in for the rest of my stay. Couldn't resist some pics of the beautiful Ganga as I moved higher up.
Visit to the Vashist Gufa/Cave
I have been learning, following and practicing the ancient Kriya Yoga Meditation tradition of the great Paramahansa Yogananda (Autography of a Yogi) lineage of masters i.e. Mahaavtaar Babaji the great Yogi who passed on this ancient science to Shri Lahiri Mahasaya and Shri Lahiri Mahasaya passed it on to Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri who was his disciple. Shri Yukteshwar then passed it on to Shri Paramhansa Yoganada. I am learning this great discipline from the Ananda Sangha founded by Kriyananda who was the direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. One of the primary reasons for this trip was to deepen the meditation I had learnt... through long practice. I am grateful to one of my teachers at Ananda, Gurgaon who informed me that Vashisht Guha beyond Rishikesh is a great place for meditation and is a must visit. Traveling further I decided to first visit this great place before continuing my search for accommodation. Rishi Vashist is one of the great ancient Sapt Rishis who spent the last many years of his life in this cave along with His wife Arundhati. The husband-wife duo was considered the most realized married couple. They were the only Rishis known for their synchronization and harmony with each other, even after marriage :) . ( You may know more about the saptrishis here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saptarishi ) I finally found this place at around 11 am, approx 20 kms beyond Rishikesh, walked down the hill to the cave, which was just next to the Ganges and was mesmerized by the simple ashram and the beauty of the place. I was told that the entrance to the cave would open at 3 PM and thus I explored the place to find a small temple like structure at the entrance of the cave and found this beautiful manuscript there - "what are we searching for? - Joy!" (2nd pic below) I also noticed that there where 4 rooms, some cows and an ancient firewood stove where the daily meals of the ashram were cooked. It suddenly dawned upon me that this is the best place to stay for the rest of my visit. It was a simple, quiet, ancient, holy, beautiful, scenic and a great place to meditate. Therefore I decided to meet and request the revered Saint who lived in the premises and was the in-charge of the ashram. He candidly informed me that the ashram and food of the ashram was sanctified and not for outsiders, especially travelers..upon which I explained the sincerity and purpose of my visit. He was moved by my intention and very kindly allowed the people in the ashram to offer the last morsels of food left (called prasadam by him) as it was now way beyond their lunch time. (see photos below where I am eating ashram food with the one who made it and was also one of the last ones to eat.) The babaji/Saint then lovingly explained that a 7 day long Holy Story (katha) is going to be narrated in the ashram from that very evening and would cause disturbance in meditation. I meditated near the Ganges and also talked to a fellow traveller who was visiting the place, till I waited for the cave entrance to open. At sharp 3 PM the entrance to the cave opened with the sound of bells....I meditated for more than an hour inside the pitch dark cave till I heard the loud chants of the katha begin at the entrance of the cave...as rightly pointed out by the Saint. It was a kind of a shock to me because of the loud chants contrasting the deep silent state I had reached by then. The quality of meditation inside the pitch dark, holy and cool cave of the great Rishi was at least 4X of the intensity I have usually experienced. (The dark/black photos below have been clicked by me from inside the cave. one can see only the mouth of the cave from inside) Though I did not stay here finally because of the above mentioned reasons but I did visit this place many times again during my stay and meditated for hours in the first half of the day when the katha (Holy Story) was not on. Believe me the experience each time was out of this world. A must visit for all seekers of truth and joy.
The Vashist Ashram - food with the holy cook and meditation on the divine banks of Ganga.
My last and longer stay at an Ashram on the Banks of the river Ganga!
I continued my search along the road beyond Rishikesh in the Himalayas and cutting the long story short of the search, I found this blissful, simple and most beautiful ashram, right on the banks of Ganga. The food here was also made on a firewood stove. I chose to stay in the dormitory as it was right on the banks of Ganga. (You will see that in the photos that follow.. below). I was accompanied by two swamis who worked in the ashram and one visiting swami on the first day. The numbers increased to 8 swamis including me on the 3rd day. (Haha incidentally everybody chose to call each other swami in the ashram...so 8 including me:) At just a humble sum of Rs. 600 per day I had a bed to myself, access to common toilets and bathrooms next to the dormitory and all meals were also included. :) It also provided for an out of this world view and very close proximity to the Ganges. Most importantly It promised a noise free, peaceful environment for meditation! The place was really cold, especially in the mornings and late evenings because of the chilly winds that flow down with the pristine holy waters of the glaciers. (8-9 degrees Celsius in November). All of the windows in the dormitory had no glass on it so a frequent gush of cold winds in the night had to be fought with by tightly rapping oneself in the quilt kindly given to us. As I was traveling with limited clothes, it was a pleasure to re-discover my capabilities to wash my own clothes and that too with chilled water. :) It was a great opportunity too to wash off the metropolitan layer of 'fuss' deposited on me. On a few occasions hot water could also not be made available so bathing in chilly water was also one hell of an experience. Simple stay, simple food, quiet and peaceful surroundings, great proximity to the holy river and delightful company of fellow swamis, were the highlights of the stay here for the next 6 days.
The last photo you see in this particular series above is me sitting on the banks just below the dormitory. It was my usual place for meditation. Thanks to a fellow swami again who clicked it from the dormitory.
Arundhati Cave where the wife of the great Rishi Vashist used to meditate is just 200 meters from the Vashist Cave. One of the days, after meditating for hours in the Vashist Gufa, I along with a fellow swami who was living in the same ashram as I was, walked through the picturesque and rocky banks of the beautiful and glorious Ganges... to this cave. The meditation here too was really divine. We discovered later that a European couple was also visiting this place for meditation. The photos were taken by the swami's phone as I was not carrying mine I suppose...later transfered through whatsapp to me :) The modern swamis !! ;) We both meditated together in the small cave for a long time and took photographs when we were about to leave.
A perfect place for meditation on the banks.
We found this wonderful place near the banks during our daily excursion. It was like a meditation chair made of rocks with a soft cushion like space, naturally filled with sand, right in the middle of the formation, to provide a comfortable seat for meditation. :) Photographs taken during one of the various rounds of meditations on the banks of the holy river. Thank you mother for such divine blissful experience time and again during my stay.
Meeting with Vishnu and Shiva.
This is a small little incident but worth a mention in this travelogue. One day I was walking down the staircase of an ashram when I saw these two cute children sitting and chatting with each other. So as I crossed them on the stairs I greeted them by saying a big hello. Suddenly there cheerful chatting stopped, their eyebrows were raised and their faces became intense. After a small spell of silence both blurted a loud NAMASTE, with an animated coming together of both their palms....and then the one on the left (in the pic below) exclaimed graciously...I am VISHNU and he is SHIVA!!! Again a big NAMASTE by both...as if scolding me, "how dare you say hello" :)) Then they informed me that the stick (seen in the pic below) is a big 'Trishul' they carry everywhere!!! Of course I was speechless :D and reverently touched both their feet...and got my palms together for a humble Namaste! :)))
An excursion into the mountains one day.
One day early in the morning, me and one of the fellow swamis, planned an excursion up a mountain, at the peak of which, as told to us, was a peaceful place with a waterfall. It took us more than half an hour after we started the climb, to reach the peak. After a steep walk up the mountain, upon reaching the peak, we were spellbound by the beauty of this amazing waterfall. It emerged from the peak and flowed down to merge with the Ganges from where we started climbing. It was really an out of this world experience, I must say I have no words to express the joy I experienced with the first view of the waterfall. I just kept looking at it for mins together, in awe and then sat down helplessly to meditate in front of it. Such a great natural beauty that it is impossible to encapsulate in photographs. Also it was amazing to notice that that the water was flowing from inside the peak at such a height, without a sign of snow or any other water body at the top! I decided to spend my entire day here, meditating most of the time! Meditating with the gentle soothing buzz of the waterfall, chirping of the birds, cool breeze and nothing else... was an experience worth savoring each bit. (Please click on the image to see the whole pic) - (photos of this particular trip have been clicked by a young Gujarati friend who was also visiting this place. He then kindly whatsapped me the photos later)
Meeting the wonderful Mountain Boy.
After an hour or so of soaking myself in the divine surroundings, I heard a mesmerizing sound of a flute. In that peaceful place the sound of the flute, this amazing mountain lad was playing, further enhanced the calm I had started experiencing after a long meditation. Oh it was so beautiful! Later on I met this beautiful person who was playing the flute. He happened to be the only person there who had a tiny tea stall for one-off visitors like me. By this time I was already hungry with no intention of going down soon, so was delighted to find the tea stall. I requested him to cook some Maggie for us, which he started preparing immediately along with a ginger and basil tea. (pic below) While the cooking took it's own sweet time on the earthen stove, he informed me that he and his family lived further up the peak where you see the waterfall flowing down from. As I understood from him it took him around 20-30 mins to climb further up to his place and he did that twice every day, with all the stuff. He also informed me that he has worked in the cities such as Mumbai and Rishikesh and earned much more money but he was not happy. Therefore he returned back to this place, where as per him the money earned was much less but Joy gained was far far beyond the loss in earnings! Life is all about joy, he exclaimed!
His interest in Meditation:
I enjoyed every bit of the delicious maggie and tea, thanked him from my heart and of course paid him. He then surprised me by very shyly asking me about the meditation I had been doing and that he was really interested in learning a technique. It would be a beautiful combination with the peaceful place, he explained. I was thrilled at this man's interest. I was amazed that with a background like his, he craved for meditation. I was enthused enough to immediately agree to share a series of simple techniques he could do everyday. Believe me, from the word go, he meditated like a Buddha (you can see the poise in the pic below)...as if he had been waiting all this while to do it. He was so happy after the meditation that he started jumping with joy and gratefulness. He then asked me hesitatingly, if it was ok to do it more than once a day as he had nothing much to do the whole day :)) He was elated to know he could. I was amazed again and realized the fact that... "only peace attracts peace". Only when you have tasted peace through some means, (in his case through the peaceful mountain) will you want it more and more through various other means...and what could be better than practicing meditation! Hats off to this man! And that was not it...his interest was phenomenal... he then gave me a piece of chalk to write down each step of the process in hindi on a black colored box lying there so that he does not miss out any step. He then invited me to stay with him in his hut in the mountain, with his family. He said he will take care of everything. This time I was not carrying any of my stuff but may be when I go that side next time I will surely stay at his place high up in the mountain...and may be meditate for hours together with him. :)
There is a lot that happened during this blessed week, which is neither possible to click through a camera nor possible to express in words but has left me with unexplainable infinite joy and gratefulness to the universe and to the one who has made it! I also did not carry my phone everywhere. After exactly a week as promised to my family, I returned back home. I am extremely grateful to my family, especially my wife that they put up with my antics and have the courage to give me the unconditional freedom and support to do what I wish to, for my personal growth....and that too happily!
Many thanks to you all for sharing my Joy. God Bless! Grateful Grateful Grateful!