Himalayas…the land of mystics and yogis, the fountainhead of spirituality, the emblem of love, peace, hope and all the good things that can be, the closest synonym for beauty, where poets would fall short of words, where silence would be the language of the wise, where one would lose false pride and where one could be close to their self. Himalayas — that one word which has always kindled my eagerness. The very thought of snow-clad mountains and glacier fed rivers makes me still in reverence. I felt that all my treasures lay safe inside the impenetrable heights of those snow-clad peaks. A deep yearning to touch and feel that mystic land had begun to throb within me two years ago. Yes, such a short waiting span for the sheer grandeur that it is! Take a bow! It was in the month of March that a facebook post grabbed my attention. All I thought after that was about how to make it happen in my life. The wait had been over two years and this time I decided to hold my ground strong. I proceeded bang on with my preparations. To the black and white monotony of routine life came bright new multi-colored shades. Train and flight tickets were purchased. Leave of absence got approved. Shopping was done. Met my companion from Bangalore, Nandhu. Informed a couple of friends and concealed the journey details from most of my kith and kin for the love to vanish abruptly. There were disturbances and discouragements but my sojourn towards the spring of life, was already begun and could not be stopped. All set and done. Backpacks ready. Boarded Chennai express with Nandhu at 8.30 am, on 18th May, 2018. The sojourn of a thousand miles had thus begun physically. At times, we realized how beautifully things are aligned in the world for us to have a specific experience, to cross roads with certain people, or to enjoy the benevolence of a free hand or an intense smile that changes our perspective of life. The yatra gifted me countless intense moments.
En route to Chennai, I was lucky to have had the company of an old couple, whom I would name as ‘the glowing man’ and ‘the gorgeous mami’. Their major activity in life is to visit temples renowned for their curative powers and also personally interview people who have extraordinary powers. They then share it with the world in writing for the benefit of all. One tale after another, she shared her personal quests and experiences with the charm of an experienced story-teller — the fire yogi in Tanjore whom the flame never burnt even when he sat in the sacrificial fire (Homa kundam), Osai Kodutha nayaki temple in Seergazhi that treats people with speech difficulties and Ootrathur in Trichy known for healing kidney problems, to mention a few. What amazed me was not just the experience she possessed but her indomitable spirit to research these things and let people know her findings so that those interested would be benefited. He, a man of few words, remains in me but for one conversation. He asked us why we were heading to the Himalayas. Before we could gather our thoughts to answer, he said, “You don’t know. You… don’t know. You’re being called”.
We reached Chennai by afternoon. To feel a city is to be on its roads. Hence, we went for a stroll, and had a hot crispy dosa along with chutneys in orange, white and green color (which made our stomach truly patriotic!) We got back to the railway station to board Grand Trunk express to Delhi with Adi sir, Smrithi maám and other yatris. Adi sir and Smrithi ma’am have always been my icons of admiration since the time I came to know about them in college even though I have not interacted too much in person. Repeating one fantastic line that we used to often describe them in college, “The Universe has brought them together for a single purpose”. During the yatra, I chose to feel their company rather than think and speak. Two nights and one day passed through the summer heats of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. We made friends with other yatris, had a heads up session by Adi sir and listened to Sukumar sir’s success story. Talking to a family from Nagpur and some boys travelling to Agra, I realized that I need not worry about not knowing a language — for the art of communication is the heart and not words.
I entered the capital city for the first time in my life (20th May). I had the darshan of Birla mandir the first thing in the morning. I drank a sweet lassi and was super-prepared to save myself from the sun in Delhi : armed to the teeth with sun screen lotion, sun glasses, a stole and an umbrella! Nevertheless, I had to throw my umbrella and walk under the hot sun for hours together in Akshardam. For the first time, I felt light and liberated for being able to do it. We travelled that night to Rishikesh with a larger group. What welcomed me there was the perennial and mighty Ganges, like a mother at the door-step extending her arms towards her child. I fell into her embrace effortlessly. Our stay was at Paramarth Niketan, a serene ashram on the banks of Ma Ganga. My desire to do yoga on the banks of a river got fulfilled when we had the session at the ashram. Then, we proceeded to Vasishta gufa, the cave where the great Rishi Vasishta and his consort Arundhati did tapasya millennia ago. It was dark but for a lamp lit up near the Shiva linga. A light chillness permeated the cave which was impregnated with a profound vibration. I felt a sense of peace and deep calm. After that, I walked a few meters downwards to take a dip in the Ganges, to lay myself, in the pure, aqua colored cold waters, looking at the endless sky and to wonder about how vast the vastness is. That evening was eventful with Ganga Aarthi and satsang at the ashram. The sun bore witness to the trance-like atmosphere brought about by the singing of spiritual bhajans, and slowly disappeared behind the idol of Shiva.
We started our day long journey towards Ukhimath on the 22nd. The slow transition from the Shivalik to the Himalayas was breathtaking. By grace, we could make it to Omkareshwar temple, which hosts the idol from Kedarnath during the winters. History says (of course, not the history textbooks that we have studied) that the wedding of Lord Krishna’s grandson, Aniruddha, with Usha, Banasura’s daughter, took place there and hence it was once called Ushamath. King Mandhatha’s penance has added much to the sacredness of the spot.
I had a cozy sleep to wake up for the most testing and event-filled day of my life. I woke up before sunrise, took a quick bath in the bone chilling water and proceeded to Chopta, otherwise called ‘Mini Switzerland’, a famous destination for trekkers. That day, I ended up surprising myself by doing things that I hadn’t done before. A trek up to Tunganath and then to Chandrashila was tough yet beyond awesome. Like what Soc said in the movie Peaceful Warrior, “Happiness is not in the destination but in the journey”. Every step that I took was eventful. Every sight that I saw was magnificent. Everything around me was teeming with life, so much life that I exploded in joy. I fell in love with the silent grandeur of Lord Tunganath’s abode, and ended that trek feeling capable of more love. All along, Rajeshwari paatti, our champion woman, was my companion. The ‘bear hugs’ technique that we used helped me gather strength from her to complete the trek successfully.
The next day, the 24th, was planned to be a quiet day. We went to Kalimath, a shakthipeeth, which is associated with asura Rakthabeeja’s episode. Here we had an opportunity to chant the Lalita Sahasranamam. And then, we headed to Guptakashi where Lord Shiva was during the time he denied bestowing a darshan to the Pandavas. Both the places had mesmerizing picture-perfect sights. A good rest was necessary to gather stamina for the upcoming day. Another early rise, we travelled to Sonprayag, finished our biometrics registration and moved to Gaurikund. I started my trek with a small backpack and a support stick. Having never walked long distances in life, the milestone 16 kms seemed too far an achievement. The first few kilometers drained me emotionally. I knew there was no turning back without the darshan of Kedar Baba. Silently and deeply, I wished for help for I knew I was incapable of doing that but for his grace. I was not walking in groups but could make acquaintances all along. I was encouraged by strangers from different walks of life. It got difficult after five in the evening. I had to take multiple short breaks. Yet, I dragged myself to the base camp by 8 pm for a tight sleep. There was no scope for thoughts, words or action in the chilling darkness but patience. Day broke in Kedar. I came off the tent to have darshan. Oof! All the ticks that the clock so far ticked was to stop ticking at that point in time and space. My life came to a standstill. The impenetrable heights! The snow-clad peaks! The beautiful Mandakini! And Shiva! I felt love. I felt at home. I felt joy. I felt closer to myself. It was very difficult to walk back leaving all that was there. It was the feeling of walking out of home to a remote place while your mother stands at the doorstep to see your shadow disappearing in the streets. To write anything after this doesn’t make any sense to me.
I travelled back to Shivalik, saw Devprayag (the confluence of rivers Alakananda and Bhagirathi), visited Haridwar, tasted a glass of yummy Punjabi lassi for free, commuted to Delhi, gave parting hugs to sahayatris, met my aunt, flew to Namma Bengaluru and was received by my parents, who were impatiently awaiting me. I was at home feeling homesick!
Signing off Aish