Showing posts with label yatra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yatra. Show all posts

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Return to India - Part 1

My daughter Gita and I returned from India last Tuesday, July 12. The 3-week trip went well on every level, though it had its challenges on every level too. Tomorrow, Sunday, July 17, I will offer a slide show presentation of the trip but I thought to use this blog for more personal reflections than a slide show would allow.

Nowadays many people visit India and it becomes increasingly accessible and (relatively) comfortable each year as India continues its explosive entry into the 21st century. Even up and into the Himalayas the development is intense: the mountain-clinging dirt roads (still very dangerous) are being paved, bridges replaced or added, electricity goes practically to Mt. Everest along with the ubiquitous cell phone towers, and hotels and guest lodges multiply like spring wildflowers. I don't know how many pilgrims ascend to these mountain shrines during each season (May-October) but it's many, many thousands. We were never alone. (One is never alone in India, at least physically. Even the path up Mt. Everest is said to resemble a parking lot, at least during the limited climbing season.)

We went by car belonging to our guide Mahavir Singh Rawat and driven by his driver Sitendra (having a driver for one's car is very common in India). The higher one goes and the deeper into the Himalaya the more likely the road regresses to dirt and rock. This is true also when one leaves the main "highways." We saw young men, two astride a small 125cc motorcycle, blasting up the mountains from the hot Indian plains far below to some of the highest shrines, along dirt, rock and rutted roads oblivious to the simple fact that one badly placed stone could send them hurtling down the precipitous cliffs in a nanosecond! (Imagine young men in their twenties in America heading off on pilgrimage together to visit ancient shrines high in mountains, eyes bright with joy and devotion?)

Ours was not a trekking holiday, nor yet sightseeing in the usual way. My daughter Gita had returned a year and a half ago from an Ananda group pilgrimage to India but she did not have the time to accompany the group into the Himalayas. Mahavir, the guide, mentioned to her that he did guided tours for individuals and small groups, not just the larger official Ananda tours. So upon her return she asked me if I'd be interested in returning with her. As I had been to India three times including (35 years ago) an extensive visit (including to other parts of the Himalaya), she could be sure I would say YES! And, of course I did. But it took some planning for we needed to use up whatever airplane miles we could muster to afford the trip. So Padma, my wife and resident booking agent, handled the flights. Gita had or researched the contacts with the families in and around Calcutta who are related to Yogananda and his life there; and Mahavir outlined the traditional "Char Dham" yatra (pilgrimage) to the four very sacred Himalayan shrines.

I admit that some deity or another veiled from our minds the obvious intensity of that itinerary which in retrospect meant some some 15 or 16 very long days of driving on mostly dirt and rock roads on treacherous mountain passes and cliffs. It meant stopping before nightfall at whatever available pilgrim style lodgings were at hand, and and where showers, hot water, (Western) toilets, towels, soap, toilet paper and mattresses were scarce or nonexistent but flies, cockroaches, large flying beetles, and mosquitoes formed local welcoming committees. I've never had chapati and dal three times a day for several weeks. It can wear on you.

But none of these considerations were uppermost. This was an opportunity for Gita and I to spend quality time together in an energetic commitment to the quest for Self-realization. We meditated together each day; chanted together walking or in the car; were enraptured by the stunning and ever changing beauty of both the lower and higher Himalaya, and entered into the pilgrim's way of devotion through "puja" and "arati" (traditional and ancient Hindu rituals) at sites held sacred for millennia by the presence of great rishis down through the ages and the devotion of millions of pilgrims seeking divine consolation for their world-weary hearts.

Lastly, for me this "Return to India" completes a cycle of spiritual seeking that began in India for me in 1975 but which, at that time, could not be completed because I had not yet found my spiritual path and guru (Paramhansa Yogananda). So, in going back now, at age 60, I went seeking to contact the spiritual roots of both India's timeless tradition and the prior incarnations of Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of gurus who sent him to the West.

Mountains have kindled in human hearts a yearning for the heavenly realms (whether as a place or state of consciousness, or both) since time immemorial. In India, the bounty, beauty and grandeur of nature is not seen merely as the product of impersonal random geologic forces but as the obvious result of the interplay of Divine forces personified in the gods and goddesses in interaction with the rishis and avatars. An unusual rock formation, for example, comes quite naturally with its own story. Do we not teach (in metaphysics) that all matter is created, sustained, and dissolved by its most elemental substance: consciousness? Is it not more reasonable to assume that a "cathedral" like Yosemite Valley was formed by conscious Divine beings than to say it "just happened?"

This trip was a pilgrimage and a true pilgrimage is a journey within. Perhaps in the next blog or two, I can share with you at least some aspects of my inner journey and its evolving realizations.

Blessings, Hriman