To Badrinath

Continued from last Post – Meeting Ma Ganga and receiving Her Blessings

With permission to travel to Santopanth Tal in our pockets, we went off to Sri Shankaracharyas Mutt (Monastery) to see if we might get permission to meditate in the cave where Sankaracharya meditated ( about 1200 years ago).    It is said that it was under the Kalpvarisksa (wish-fulfilling mulberry tree), just above the cave  Sankaracharya attained Enlightenment.   The tree is some 2,4oo years old and is about 125 ft tall with a huge trunk. The tree is now protected as a shrine.  One can only circumambulate it,  or steal a touch of it through the wire fence, which completely surrounds it.

The Mutt is located at the top of the hill and by the time we had climbed all the steps to reach it, I was breathing heavily.  Randy had run ahead of us.   Joshimath is  at an altitude between 5000-6000 ft.  and  already my breathing was labored.   The trek to Santopanth Tal would take us to heights of 15,000 ft., which I tried not to think too much about.   I had experienced breathing problems at 11,000 in the past.

Reaching the Mutt, Devananda and I were happy to see Randy already speaking with the pujari at the small shrine by the sacred mulberry tree.   Strangely, they looked like brothers and were talking together like long, lost brothers.   Devananda and I both remarked on their amazing resemblance, although Randy was at least a foot taller and blond.

Randy had the ability to make fast friendships with everyone he met along the way.   He had been coming to India for some years and had clearly maintained these friendships.  He would send clothes and shoes and other practical articles to various people throughout the years.   He had a dream of buying a house someday in Joshimath and living there at least part of the year.  That day, he seemed to be already settled in there.

The pujari was happy to inform us that the monk who had the keys to the cave was presently at the Mutt.   He went to get him.  We were given permission to meditate in the cave as long as we wanted.   This was a special blessing.   We took advantage and meditated for almost two hours.  The pujari was there waiting for us and locked the cave.

Off we went to dinner.   We sat and talked about the day.  It had been remarkable and rich with rewards.  After a dinner of curry, chapati and of chai we went to see a play of the Mahbharata,  all ready in progress.     It was being performed by the children in the town. It was delightful, even though we didn’t understand a word.  Our hearts were overflowing.    Walking back to the hotel, we were full of expectation of our nights meditation.  We said goodnight and went to our rooms.

I tried to do japa and meditate again but kept falling asleep.    I finally gave up and went to bed. It was getting cold and climbed into my sleeping bag and used all the heavy coverlets from the hotel.    I slept deep.  In the early morning hours I had a vivid dream with Mataji. I did not see her, but I heard a voice who distinctly said, “this is going to be your dark night! Prepare, it will be most difficult. Persevere!”

I clearly remembered the dream upon waking. Not even the dream concerned me.    I realized I was truly living each moment and was exactly where I wanted to be.  We had arranged to meet early in the breakfast room.  I walked into the breakfast room and burst out laughing.  Randy had come to breakfast in his bright yellow dhoti, his long blonde hair loose and flowing.   He had a light sweater and shawl over his chest, but his dhoti was folded so that his long legs were exposed to the cold mountain air.  He had on his high tech tevas sandals.     Devananda was already seated, trying to keep a straight face. But I couldn’t hold it in.  We all had a good laugh.  Randy wasn’t offended, nothing in fact could shift our high mood and higher expectations.

However,  there was bad news.  There had been a bad landslide over the night between Joshimath and Badrinath and no cars were being allowed to travel the 44 kilometer stretch.  We would not get out today.   The driver had given us the news about the landslide.  Devananda asked him to meet us the following morning.  There were scheduled gate times, in which a certain number of cars were allowed to drive from Joshimath on to Badrinath.  We would hope to take the 9:30 Gate.  When road conditions permit one can get to Badri in about three hours.  When you are unlucky it could take you two days.

The dilemma we had was how to spend the day in Joshimath.   We decided to go to Auli, the winter ski resort, even though nothing would be open the cable car and chair lifts would be operating. We could hike and train abit for our trek.  We had heard that atop Auli one could have a panoramic of the Himalayas – Nandi Devi and even Neelakanth.   It sounded great to all of us.  If only Randy would put some pants on.

Auli was mystical. No one else was on the mountain with us.   There is a small Hanuman Temple up there too.   Apparently it was of some importance in Ramayana. It was the place where Hanuman stopped to rest on his way from Sri Lanka, to find the magical herb  sanjivani (one that infuses life), for Laxman.  It was a perfect place for sadhana and we stayed quite a while.   Nandi Deva looked so close we could touch it.

We  began to climb further on the mountain and Devananda and I  again sat to mediate.   Randy wanted us to move on, but we chose to remain. He was furious and said, “I am in charge, there can be only one leader.” We both laughed, thinking he was obviously joking. He wasn’t and we told him to get a grip and forget about it, we were staying a while longer.  He responded, “What a mutiny already!?”   “In the mountains I am in charge and you must do as I say.”

We closed our eyes as he stormed away.  We met up with him later in the afternoon in Joshimath, where the cable car descends.  He seemed fine, although, Devananda and I ate without Randy that night.  The next morning I woke early and went out on the balcony to do sadhana.  Randy was on his balcony. The moon was still out.  It was magnificent.  He whispered to me, “I think we will make it to Badri today!”  I agreed.

We checked out of the Uday Palace about 8 a.m.  The Qualis and driver were outside when we took our luggage out.  We were ready to go so left early and sat parked at the Gate.  The army was still clearing the road from the previous landslide and the early morning gate had not been lifted. There were many cars in line ahead of us, but the general chatter from the other drivers was that we would be allowed to leave at 9:30 a.m.

The sky was clear and beautiful and the sun was shining. Devananda spent the entire time taking photos of the mountains. He was a preparing a day by day journal for his wife and children.  He purchased small tokens from each town too and pocketed stones too. He had a professional still camera and fancy digital video camera and would often take pictures of the town’s people, but in a easy going way. The “models,” especially the children were all charmed when he would show them their picture in his  digital camera.

The Gate was lifted a bit after 9:30a.m. We left in a convoy.  For about 45 minutes all went smoothly.  The road got really bad after Vishnuprayag and there was a very long delay at Govindhat.  Then of course we came to a section of road that could not be crossed by the Qualis. The army was still blasting the mountain, and trying to clear it of all the large rocks and earth.  It was not clear when we would be able to cross it by car. Randy and Devananda got out and crossed the road to see if we could hire a car on the other side.  They found a car, so we left our car and driver behind and carrying our bags walked across the closed area of the road.  We jogged most of the half kilometer as small rocks were still falling.  (I have traveled to Badrinath at least seven times now and only once was I able to ride a bus the whole way.  The road to Badri is really treacherous, and always provides the opportunity for one to just surrender to the pilgrimage.

We piled into a small jeep on the other side which took us the rest of the way to Badrinath.

That night we checked into the Dev Lok Hotel just across from the Badrinaryan Temple. It was a very simple place, a bed and a toilet, but on the other hand our rooms had a direct view of the Temple and Neelakantan Peak. What more could one ask?  After dropping off our bags we went for chai, chapati and potatoes in a small open air shop just across from the hotel.  The meal smelled subtly of propane, but I was really hungry by that time and so happy to be there, that everything tasted wonderful to me. We spent a lot of time just sitting there being there.  Then we took a long walk just drawing Badrinath in.  We went to the temple and spent some time meditating there outside of the Temple under the covered area of the mandap.  A woman was chanting beautifully and we were intensely happy.  Randy left to call Deba to check on the porters, while Devananda and I walked through the small town towards Neelakantan Peak before returning to the hotel.

The porters should arrive the next day.  Apparently since they were not Garwhali, or even Nepali, but were Tibetan, Deba had rounded them up and they would travel together.  He warned us they were untrustworthy.  The guide from Mana would come to our hotel early the next morning.   Just one more day and we would begin the trek.

Early the next morning, I got a knock on the door. I had slept in. It was 9am.  A little boy told me to go to Saket Restaurant.  The guide from Mana was there with my friends.   I thanked him and tipped him. He wanted a pen too. I promised him one later.  I was already dressed because I had slept in all my clothes. In fact I also had on my hat and gloves.  It had been a cold night.

I never thought I would forget the name of our guide, but it has now slipped my mind.  He became a good friend over the next week.  He was born and raised in Mana and knew the area like the back of his hand.  His face was so weathered I could not put an age on him.  As we were getting up to leave, I  looked at his flip-flops and said teasingly, “well I hope you have another pair of shoes for the trek tomorrow.”  He glanced down and said he did not.

Devananda pat him on the back and said, “Well, my man, first things first, lets go get you some shoes.” And we did.  The fact is we bought new shoes and heavy socks for all the porters and Deba too!  None of them had either warm clothes or the proper shoes for trekking even though this was the way they made their living.  That whole day was spent outfitting the porters and preparing our packs.  Everything fell into place and it looked like we would start out for Santopanth Tal the following morning.  It had been an exhausting and exhilarating day and we all went to sleep as soon as it got dark.

About 4a.m. Devananda knocked on my door and told me to get up immediately and get out on the balcony.  The sky was totally clear and the sights of the night were awe inspiring.  The moon was directly above the tip of Mount Neelakanth and directly above the moon was a star.   These bright celestials aligned so perfectly with the pyramid shaped snow clad mountain, literally dropped us to our knees.  A perfect alignment between heaven and earth. We all meditated deeply.  Tears ran down my face as I heard a voice initiate me into Babaji’s mula mantra, seemingly in an instance.   When I finally open my eyes the sun was out and Neelakanth looked positively self -illuminated.

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