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.