A Path to Heaven

Continued from previous posts

Santopath means “path or way to Heaven.” There is something quite otherworldly about it.  Even though moments earlier we were beyond exhaustion, the mere sight and energy of  the lake’s radiant water, teased us effortless to her beaches. There was a small house just down to our left and the area was flat. We could have easily camped there. But we longed to be by the water’s edge.  So we climbed over more of the  rocky terrain and eased our equipment down on the other side of a steep ledge.

An hour later we were setting up camp.  We had brought a water purifying system and Randy had set it up by the lake quite conveniently just before nightfall.   Deba began to prepare a meal. He had immediately begun to cook  lots of sweet milky tiger’s tea over his little camp stove.   It was the most delightfully tasty tea.  The porters were loud and talked non-stop. It seems they were upset because the trek had been too hard, and there was no wood to keep a camp fire burning.  We had already discussed with the three of them that they would go back the following day to buy fire wood along with more vegetables and flour.  It should take them only one day to travel back to Badrinath to buy supplies and another day to return.  Deba and the guide arranged everything and we gave our guide the money to give the porters, in Badrinath for the supplies.  I was too exhausted to eat dinner. I slipped in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.  My sleep was very disturbed.  The porters were very noisy.   I was probably hungry.   My legs kept jerking and I was very cold.

I awoke early the next day with the rising sun.  The porters had already left for Badrinath.  It was nice to have the peace back.   I was feeling a bit ill, perhaps  from physical exhaustion, altitude and or  sunburn and hunger. I washed in the frigid sparkling waters, wrapped myself up in blankets and practiced pranayam and meditation. I did not have the energy for asana.  We then had some hot chapati and chai.  I looked for my Power Bars. They were not in my backpack.  The Power Bars, which had made me feel somewhat prepared in case of a food shortage were gone.  And this was just the first day.  The porters must have just taken them all with them.

Randy left to go hiking a bit higher further into the mountains to view the Santopanth Glacier and perhaps to look for Babaji’s cave.  Feeling a bit light-headed, and without my Power Bars, I chose to investigate the area surrounding the lake.  It was cold and Devananda went into this tent to continue his sadhana.

I found a cave, rather hidden in the hills, a yagna peetam was just below it.  I crawled into the opening. It was a large cave once you got inside. There was Sanskrit etched on its walls.  I was surprised not to feel a bit claustrophobic.  The energy in the cave was amazing. I felt definitely that I was not sitting there alone.  I had a peaceful meditation.  I returned to camp to tell Devananda about the cave.  Of course we went straight back.  Devananda climbed in, on hands and knees.  The cave itself was large enough for both us to sit very comfortably in, but I was developing an intense headache and had to go back to the campsite.   On the way back I felt a bit faint, was nauseous and headachy, so climbed into my sleeping bag and slept the rest of the day.  I physically could not get up for dinner.  I slept on and off during the night and had lots of dream sequences.  I still remembered the dreams the next morning.

By the next morning I felt okay.  Deba made me several cups of Tiger Tea and Devananda gave me a instant oatmeal from his secret stash.  It was a fine day for sadhana.  The weather was magnificent. There was not a cloud in the sky, which was a color of blue that I think exists only at the top of the world.   We sat together by the lake.  Santopanth Tal is a lake of an amazing color.  The water is crystal clear, but has a beautiful green tint to it. The glacier rubs against the rocks so the minerals are pulverized and this support algae growth in the lake, thus the green color.   The glacial lake is surrounded on all sides by steep rocky hills of silt, sand, rock and ice.  The rock face appeared to have an area where we imagined there had been a water fall in the past.

Badrinath mountain range, surrounding the valley on three sides, rises in majestic snow covered peaks.  Mt.Neelakanth is in clear view.  We were camping at an altitude of less than 13,000 ft., but the Santopanth glacier itself spans over 13 kilometers and originates at about 23,000 ft.  We were blessed indeed that the previous winter had been so unusually moderate and we were able to camp here at the lake.

The atmosphere was so quiet. There were no sounds other than an underground stream flowing near the tents   and the occasional avalanche, which broke the silence once or twice a day.  The only wildlife we saw were three birds that came daily for handouts. They especially loved the tiger tea. There was very little vegetation, some alpine flora and some scattering of the badri plants, no bushes just small plants here and there.  Badri berries used to blanket the whole area around Badrinath.  They are small and red and maybe the same as the jujube.

The second day had been absolutely perfect, meditations deep and so much happiness all around.  It was so much nicer not having the noisy porters with us, although we were surprised that they had not returned by the late afternoon.  We went to sleep again at sundown and dreamed of being in Heaven.

Midday, I noticed our guide from Mana climbing on the rocky ridge above our campsite.   We had not expected to see him again.  I asked Deba to make tea.  Our guide was limping. I got out the medicine kit. He had sprained his ankle on the rush to get to us.  He knew how to wrap it and began to do so as he explained why he had come.   Apparently, the porters thought the trek was too difficult and didn’t like not having plenty of wood for the nights. So they weren’t  coming back.  They had taken the money we had given them for supplies and then left to go back to Joshimath.  We would have to get back on our own unless new porters and a guide could be found.  He had another trek that he was to begin in a couple of days.  And in addition, the weather was turning bad here, snow was expected that night.

For some crazy reason, which still today confounds me I was not upset.  I joked, “well, we said we felt like this was Heaven, maybe…”  Devananda too seemed to take the news in stride.  Randy was really irritated because he had let one of the porters wear a pair of his heavy socks for the trip to Badri and to another he had offered his high tech Tevas.  They had just walked off with his stuff!  With  my earlier discovery that they had absconded with all of my Power Bars, I understood is miffed-ness.

Our guide had some chapati and curry with us, but would not spend more than an hour. He said his ankle felt fine and he was off.   He had to get back to Mana before nightfall. He was very sweet and felt so bad that he would not be able to find porters for us.  Someone would have to go back to Joshimath to procure new porters.

We meditated on the problem and decided that we should indeed do something now, rather than wait and try to walk out on our own. Even if we left our equipment behind, the path back was treacherous and a bit confusing.  Deba volunteered to go back to Joshimath and get new porters.  Randy had befriended Deba on an earlier visit to Joshimath and trusted him.  We all felt confident that he would go to Joshimath, get porters and some more supplies and bring them back to us.  But, Deba had never been to Santopanth before either and he would be traveling alone with a good deal of money on him. Robbers were not unheard of in the Himalayas.

So our third night at Santopanth ended a bit up in the air…and cold air it was!   The next morning we woke up to a thin layer of snow on the ground. That was the first morning I didn’t wash in the Tal.  Deba took some of the food and water and Devananda and I gave him a good bit of money to buy supplies and extra for tips and/or bribes.  We wanted Deba to be able to assure anyone that might be available to help that it would be worth their time.  We had breakfast with Deba and gave him a good send off.  The sun had melted most of the snow, but the boulders were still slippery.  I brought out the drum I had bought in Haridwar and drummed as he began his trek out of the valley.  Randy hiked with him  a bit of the way and watched as he reached the top of the ridge going out of the Valley of Doom.  This was the beginning of our fourth day at the Lake. We planned to stay four more days. Hopefully that was enough time for him to get to Joshimath, get porters and return.

There was a sense of freedom in this event – you know, when total surrender is your only course.   It felt almost as if the whole episode had been orchestrated by something beyond our lack of preparation or naïveté.   And we were childlike in our approach to the experience.  We spent most of the time close to the campsite.  We meditated in the caves around the area. The first cave I found was the most profound but not the only one.  One day Devananda swam in the lake for 20-30 minutes. It was amazing, I don’t know how he did it, but it was part of his surrendering process. I watched him the whole time, just in case he succumbed to the cold. Although I don’t know what I thought I would do if he needed help. The water was absolutely freezing!   When he came out of the water, he was a little blue, but very happy and his eyes were glowing.  He wrapped in blankets and went to his tent and stayed there for hours doing sadhana.

We never got bored. Randy stayed busy building a retaining wall around the campsite area.  It appeared he was preparing for a much longer than anticipated stay.  The weather during the days was mostly sunny and pleasant, although we would have some snow at night.  Normally we ate lunch late in the day and by nightfall I was ready to sleep. We were eating a lot of instant oatmeal by that time and drinking hot chocolate.  The last Tiger Tea bag had disappeared and I could not for the life of me figure out what had happened to it.  All I could reckon was the birds had flown off with it.

Normally I would climb into my sleeping bag as soon as it got dark.  I couldn’t stay up to do sadhana. It was just too cold.    Perhaps it was our  6th day there when we had some bad weather.  It didn’t snow but had been a very dreary day and when night fell it was very dark. There was not a star to see in the sky.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we gathered all our flashlights together and used the propane cook stove like a fireplace ….. We were getting really low on food.  We had rice, which we made first and then chopped up the few vegetables we had left, and cooked them with the  rest of the dried soy chunks  into a kind of curry.  We took our dinner under a large makeshift mandir, where we would meditate some and brought the camp stove in too and turned it on to keep us warm. The sides of the tent were lifted so we wouldn’t die of hypoxia or asphyxiation or something foolish like that.

After dinner, we cleaned the plates. It was pitch dark.  We decided to chant a bit before turning in for the night.  I got my drum and we started to chant Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum… We chanted  with a great deal of reverence and love for maybe 15 minutes. At one point, I looked up and felt Babaji Presence. I saw Him.  I actually saw him sitting cross-legged on the other side of the little campstove. His head was thrown back and he was laughing. He was transparent and like a hologram, but I saw him with my eyes open.  Devananda called me from outside the tent.  “Durga come out here!”

The sky was now bright, lit up by a million stars. There was not one cloud left.  In that 15 minutes we had chanted, the clouds had dissolved and we beheld the most brilliant night sky I had ever witnessed. It went on forever.

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