A recollection of past pilgrimages

Very soon we will be leaving on Pilgrimage to the 2010 Kumbhamela, in Haridwar.  It has been 17 years since my first Pilgrimage.  My first pilgrimage was an exotic and sometimes rather shocking exposure to religious fervor, death and rebirth.  In subsequent pilgrimages it was sometimes shocking to witness my own religious fervor and sense of death and rebirth.   I can always count on the spiritual energy of India to intensify my  Yoga practice and deepen my meditations.   The priest’s early morning chanting, the bhajans sung by devotees,  the temple bells, conchs and drums , the fires, prayers and ablutions of the sadhus set us  afire.  I find  superficiality is stripped away and one is drawn down to one’s bones.  Pilgrimage in India affects anyone who is the least bit open to Her power.

I have taken many pilgrimages in South India and traveled to the sacred char dham of the Garhwal Himalayas (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri).  Pilgrimage in the South are different from those in the North.  The South is all about experiencing the energy of the intense worship that has built up such power in the ancient Temples.  Pilgrimage  in Northern India regardless of where I go is not  about the  temples. It is about connecting to the Immense Prana and Spirit in its Nature.   Pilgrimages in the South and North demand willingness for  karmic purification.  The Himalayas require total surrender.

The conditions in the Himalayas  are still very difficult and dangerous.   There is great physical challenge for lungs and limbs and life.  But the changing landscapes, meandering rivers, rock formations, waterfalls and fragrant and pristine air fill my soul more than any temple ever could.  There is nothing quite as spiritual to me as hiking in the Himalayas and specifically trekking to  sacred spots of mystic vision and bliss.   One never returns from these places the same person.

I have next traveled on pilgrimage also to Nepal. I have the witness cremation site at the sacred Pashumatinath Temple in Katmandu on the holy, Bagmati River. This Hindu Temple was established by the Adi Shankara in the 5th Century on this holy river.  Even to this day the priests at the Shaivaite Temple are Brahmins who have come from South India to officiate at the Temple.  The River Bagmati however is no longer a majestic or sacred. When I was there in 1994, the cremations were still taking place, but the river is so terribly polluted with floating garbage and toxic waste that it is no more than a sad commentary on man’s brutal disregard and neglect of the earth’s gifts.  The Indian Himalayas has not been disrespected nor  disregarded.  It  is still the abode of  God and Goddess.

As I write this I reached for my coffee and see an absolutely perfectly formed heart in the center of the almost finished drink.  Even as I  take another sip the milk foam continues to hold the heart shape.   Each day brings me small wonders that I delight in.    That is what it is like  in India… small things arising in the moments of each day that could easily be overlooked, but which instead take on a bright hue of delight and significance.

Over the past twelve years I have been traveling with Govindan on pilgrimages to India once, or twice a year.  It takes quite a bit of preparation to make these trips possible when we  take a large group with us.    It always requires  a “man on the ground” to physically travel to various hotels and arrange payments six months ahead of arrival.  Even in this day of internet it is not easy to manage.  In 2005, Walter, “our man on the ground” left the Bangalore Ashram to pursue deep study of Vedas and Vedanta.  It is not easy to find someone with whom you can trust and feel confident in, to deal with transfers of large sums of money and lots of responsibility.

That year in Fall of 2005, we had taken a group to the Valley of Flowers.  It had been a most difficult drive and for me a difficult climb physically.  In fact I actually hit a mental/physical wall at about 14,000 ft and was unable to continue the final climb up to the Valley.   I had to stop and descend.

The trek back to Ghangaria was delightful and refreshing and I saw that it was not only the thinning oxygen levels that were affecting me but also not being able to walk in my own time and at my own pace.   I took my time returning, and enjoyed walking alone.  I stopped at several beautiful spots to meditate.   Many Sikh men and women of all ages passed me by on their way to Hemkund Sahib, the Sikh spiritual site, which is situated at an even higher altitude beyond the Valley of Flowers.  I admired their stamina and religious fervor.   I so enjoyed myself and felt so full of grace that I was able to be right where I was.  I thought about what to do with  Walter out of the team  now and considered my own physical shortcomings.    I wondered if this might be the end of our almost yearly Himalaya yatras.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I said aloud, “You will have to make it clearly understood what you want to do!  If you want us to come back you have to bring us someone else to handle the preparation!”   I closed my eyes and meditated and felt the clear light and sweet sense of being heard.  I felt uplifted. My  headache was gone and my energy had completely returned as I strolled back to the town.  It began to rain lightly and I found myself thinking  I should make the most out of this trip for it may be our last to the Himalayas for a long time, or maybe forever.

Back in Gangharia, I found a young woman from our group seated in a cafe.   She had stayed back as  she was  quite ill with a bad cold, cough and headache.  She seemed to be at the brink of  wanting to turn around and go back home.  We spent the next few hours seated in the café drinking chai, then enjoying chapati and  roasted potatoes all the while  sharing about how we are forced on these trips to face our fears, insecurities, inconsistencies and demons and how that was ultimately a very  good thing.  By early the next morning the young woman was feeling healthy and was so full of cheerful energy that she was in the first group which trekked quickly down the mountain and was back in Govindghat ready  for the long bus ride to Badrinath.

Govindan was the one who seemed to have the most trouble on the descent.  His knees gave  out and shocks of pain caused him to use a cane and have to walk very very slowly.    He was  saying, well  perhaps we were at an age when we should start rethinking treks and Himalayan Pilgrimages.    I nodded. “Yes,” I said, “we will just have to wait and see if we are to continue them…”   Back on the bus we found ourselves delayed for hours due to landslides. We didn’t reach Badrinath until after nightfall.

Just reaching Badrinath always feels like a great achievement. And surely it is due to karmic merits.  That year we were again staying at The Hotel Narayan Palace.   Although it was the best hotel in Badri,  the temperature of the guest rooms was often colder than than it was outside.  There was no heat  anywhere in the hotel nor was there hot water.    I  slept in my jacket, socks, gloves, hat and in a sleeping bag and still used the  heavy coverlet.   I sponged off each morning from a bucket of hot water brought to the rooms.  Accepting conditions cheerfully was half the fun and anyway compared to Ghangari, Kedarnath of Gangotri or Bhojwasa, the Narayan was a palace.

The time in Badrinath  was as always full of insight and we reveled in our own bliss.  Govindan and I sat across the Alaknanda River from Mount Neelakantan Peak and discussed the possibility of future pilgrimages without Walter and if perhaps it were no longer our dharma or karma to help people get to Badrinath?  As we ponder these questions Govindan noticed a yellow ashram just under Neelakantan Peak and sighed, “it would be something really special to have an Kriya Yoga ashram here for Babaji.”

“It seems highly improbable for any foreigner to be able to purchase land here,” I said. “And it must be extremely expensive to buy land and impossible to build.    And anyway, who would benefit from such an undertaking? Take that thought out of your mind!” I reached over as if to snatch it out of his head and tossed it into the heavenly ethers.   Hmmmmm.

We spent a few glorious days visiting Mana and Vasudhara Falls and walking to the base of Neelakanth and having early morning darshan and arati at the Badrinarayan Temple and bathing in the hot springs of the Tapt Kund.   No great insight about  continuing the pilgrimages, so we did not make our usual reservations for the following year.

However back at home and not even a month later, Govindan received an email from the young man who had guided him to Santopanth Tal over 5 years earlier.    Govindan had not seen or been in communication with Rohit since that time.  Rohit had been living part of  each year in Badrinath since he was a boy. His father had been the President of the first bank in Badrinath.   Rohit himself had a B.S. in banking and accounting and he was deeply spiritual, but it was only recently  that he had  been feeling a very strong connection to Mahavatar Babaji and to Kriya Yoga.   He was writing to offer Govindan his services in any capacity, but especially with regard to bringing Pilgrimage groups to the Himalayas.

And that is how it works.    And of course it worked out that over the past 5 years  Rohit has become part of our family.   He and his wife Madhu spent half a year in Bangalore at our ashram there.   He has helped us with all the pilgrimages in the Himalayas every since.    Annd since working with Rohit we have found and purchased  land in Badrinath for a Kriya Yoga Ashram.   He is now chiefly in charge of all the work  there.    We could not have considered an  ashram in Badrinath were it not for  Rohit.  He was made available for this work.   He has been a gift from Babaji to us all.

Before even beginning to consider building a ashram in Badrinath, M.G. S.  asked students of Kriya Yoga in a Journal article what they thought of the project.    It was important to see if there might be significant interest and financial support.  He said we would not undertake such a project unless there was real interest  in it, from the start.  And indeed there was and is.   Since that first appeal, so many have given  their support.  So many  immediately donated money towards it– so many and so much that we simply had no choice, but to  buy land and begin construction.  We thought we would find a small plot of land large enough to build a small Yoga center.  We found  a small lot on the North side of Badrinath, but when we arrived in Badrinath to negotiate purchase of that land, another much larger piece of land became available just under Neelakanth Peak.   The land was large enough to include apartments in addition to a large Yoga hall and meditation hall.  And the spot had an incredible view of the mountains and the best kind of natural vastu. The  Temple was just to the North, a waterfall  to the south, the Alaknanada River east just below and Neelakanth Peak west,  just above!  The beautiful waterfall was due to the new hydroelectric dam that had just been built,  which meant that now we would  have  access to 24 hour electricity, hot water and central heat!

So much had to happen just at the right moment in the right way for all this to unfold.  Just before the new property became available, we had become a part of an amazing Badri celebration.  A couple of long time students of Babajis Kriya Yoga who had traveled with us had decided to marry.  The couple are both Canadians, although Paul is of Indian Brahmin descent.  They asked us if we thought they could be married there.  We suggested that Badrinath is not really a place for marriages. It is actually a place people come to perform shraaddha (ceremony to be performed for loved ones during the year after their death).  We suggested they go speak with the Priest at the Badrinarayan Temple.  The priests told them the same thing, but said that they would check the nadi shastras, an ancient system of astrology and prediction.    Surprisingly, these nadis predicted their marriage that week in Badrinath.   And so it was done.   Women in the village  got together the wedding clothes and Paul and Kalyna had a beautiful wedding ceremony just opposite the Temple and the whole of Badrinath was there to celebrate with us. Afterwards, Govindan and I held  a  feeding of the sadhus at the nearby restaurant.   We both felt inspired to  include daily  sadhu feedings in the Badriath ashram activities.   The ashram must be there to support Badrinath too,  not just to support Western students who visit.

Our meditations  flowed unceasingly with ideas and designs and joy continued to fill our mind and heart as we traveled back to New Delhi and onto Bangalore.   This ashram had not been our personal idea or intention.   It had only been a fleeting thought in Govindan’s mind years before.   It had certainly come as a spark of inspiration from some other  Source, but it was quickly becoming a reality.

So many people began to get involved in the idea of a Babaji Ashram in Badrinath.   Even the design of the ashram was created by a BKY student from Switzerland who phoned to say he had always wanted to design an ashram in the Himalayas.  He is a prominent architect who specializes in designing homes in the mountains and designs homes with the understanding of Indian Vaastu Shastra.   In addition we have students from around the world who have volunteered to participate in various stages of the actual building.

There have been many difficulties in both purchasing land and building in Badri.  The amount of land offered was the cause of debate and negotiation for two years.  We now have a larger piece of property, but due to the monsoons during the summer months and the fifteen feet of snow which often falls in the winter months building is  slow.   Even local politics stopped the building during the first year, but that gave us the time required to purchase the additional land.  Now our beautiful property has been purchased and titled and the land has been leveled and the foundations for the apartments at least have been built.   Badrinath is presently snowed in and building cannot commence until May, but it feels as if the Hand, which held construction off, has finally been lifted.

I am so pleased that we will continue to travel to Badrinath every year.  A pilgrimage to Badrinath is like  going to visit one’s very own Self.  And we all need to continue to do that, at least, ever so often.

    • adam
    • May 15th, 2013

    I’m working on.getting ly funds ready for a trip to.india. I’m not sure what to take with me and what to do when I land. I am going to repent and reclaim my self. Possibly staying. Any advice would be very appreciated. Thank you… Adam 23 Dallas,Tx

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