The Land of the Gods November 6 to 9, 2012
Pilgrimage is a journey that a pilgrim undertakes to a shrine or sacred place. Our itinerary certainly included places of such repute, but our minds could not grasp the realities that lay ahead as we set out on this momentous journey into the Himalayan mountain ranges where the sages so lovingly adored as the home of the gods. Our group was quite diverse from various cultural and geographic backgrounds. We did not know what to expect. Perhaps this added to the anticipation that was evident in the eyes and voices of the group as we gathered in the bus that was about to take us to a land that is heavenly in grandiose, but with treacherous mountain roadways that hang dangerously on the side of steep mountain cliffs. We trusted in our guides’ choice of bus driver who has to navigate these roads and share it with the many hurried and ever “honking” flow of traffic that seemed to enjoy the thrill of racing in conditions that beg for slow and safe driving.
The first bus stop set the tone for the rest of the trip. The food and hospitality was above our expectations. We enjoyed the hospitality and courtesy of a people that gave of themselves freely. It was such a delight to partake in the wonderful meals that were always served with grace and love. Our group responded in kind and everyone showed appreciation and gratitude for the kind hospitality of our hosts. It was certainly due to the great efforts and planning of our guides.
Our first stop was Dev Prayag. Silvia Baratta was not a guide but more of an inspiration for us to appreciate the spiritual wealth that surrounded us. Without her some of us could have missed the subtle spiritual powers that were offered freely like the rays of the sun, which can easily be missed unless one is mindful of its presence. Perhaps at the first stop some of us had a shift in our mind from a touristic observer to that of a pilgrim who is open to receive the Prasadam (spiritual food) of the sublime vibrations that are offered freely and unconditionally. This natural beauty resonated with the energy currents of two rivers merging. Waters that originated from different parts of the mighty Himalayan peaks now merge to become one. The power emanated from the raw beauty of the continuous flow was filled with eddies of currents that invite us as pilgrims to surrender our little mental eddies into the bosom of this mighty rendering of the divine dance of nature. In so doing it embraced us and lovingly lulled most of the group into a spontaneous meditative state in reverence to the palpable energies that presided. This transcendence became a norm as the pilgrimage unfolded and all of us embraced the natural beauty and spiritual richness in our own personal meditative silence. It was indeed very comforting to share these experiences with a group that honored the timeless expression of silence and meditation.
Our trip continued from Dev Prayag through the breath taking routes that awed and humbled us with never ending beautiful surprises and subtle gifts. Receiving the gift of an innocent wave from children who attended schools along the mountain roads to sighting of enchanting birds along with stately vultures that live high up in the mountain. On the second day we visited Jak Devata Temple. This temple is filled with divine presence. It is to be experienced. We then climbed along a beautiful trail via a valley that took us on to a path that wrapped around a mountainside filled with rich greenery, wild flowers and many meandering streams to a small village called Kalimath. It is a simple collection of small huts and a few scattered homes adjacent to a stream. As we approached, it seemed like a typical mountain village. Kids greeted us with clasped hands on their way from school with smiles rich with innocence and respect. The simplicity was soon transcended into a world that is beyond the limitation of architecture and people. Most of us surrendered to its subtle beauty that could not be captured by our outer senses. Masters from our tradition chose this location for reasons that soon became obvious. Swami Rama and Swami Veda have done austerities at Kalimath. The Lakshmi Devi Temple had a fire kunda that invited some of us to make fire offerings and a local Pandit lead all in our group to pay homage to the goddess Kali. The Divine Mother Kali is the mother of transformation and dissolution of all that is dark within us. Her love embraced us as we were exalted by the tolls of many bells and the chant of ancient mantras to venerate her holiness.
Our physical strength and resolve were tested as we embarked to make the pilgrimage up a peak at 3,680 meters (12,073 feet) that is the home of Tunganath Temple. This pilgrimage was the most memorable as it tested our resolve to reach into the clouds to pay homage to a holy shrine of Lord Shiva. It was a demanding climb as it took between 2-3 hours of uphill walking along a trail that looks over the most beautiful views that is fit for the gods. It is physically demanding, but spiritually enriching. One member of the group did this pilgrimage as a contemplative walk in silence, others chant “Om Namah Shivaya” all the way, others felt the call of the divine that override the physical limitations that was screaming for attention to turn around. The grandeur, beauty and spiritual vibrations that lulled us into spontaneous meditation mesmerized everyone in our group. It was indeed a very humbling experience to see everyone sit at various locations around the temple grounds to pay homage to the deities that presided and to seek personal peace and blessings in silence.
Each moment of the 4 days while we were on this pilgrimage was enriched by the timeless spiritual traditions of the great Himalayas. On our way back to SRSG, we stopped at Koteshwar to visit a natural Cave Shrine. This was nestled in the side of a cliff overlooking a scenic cove that invited some of us to take a dip in the frigid waters flowing in the beautiful backdrop of towering cliffs. Perhaps it was a perfect moment to receive the cleansing and healing grace of these legendary waters. We then arrived at Rudraprayag, another of the remarkable confluences that is revered by pilgrims. Yet again, a short stop turned out to be extended as members of our group surrendered to the natural invitation to enter into a meditative state. As we paid homage to the various shrines that adored this confluence we were graced by a saintly sadhu that silently invited us to visit a Shiva Shrine; in this Shrine we were greeted by the presence of the picture of one of the saints of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition, Shankaracharya. It was indeed a blessed surprise by possibly one of the most humble and pious Sadhus we have met on this trip.
This pilgrimage was filled with memories that we will all cherish. The awesome beauty and regal serenity of the Himalayan peaks and valleys has certainly reminded us of the infinite beauty of the divine that is the silent architecture extraordinaire. We also had many opportunities to reflect on our personal pilgrimages and in some cases facilitate healing on multiple dimensions: physical, mental and/or spiritual. This journey to the land of the gods took on greater depth and meaning because as a group we had a special harmony and respect that supported each other mostly in silence and at times with few words of warmth and comfort. There was an implicit safety that allowed all to be themselves yet respect the space and mental reverence of others. Perhaps it is a moment in our lives that cannot be reproduced for that time that place that mental state that was created was all spontaneous and in reverence of the moment, of “Presence.”
As a group we honored each other upon our return by meeting and sharing in our collective experiences and our individual reflections. The core of the reflections centered on how blessed we all felt to have the opportunity to make this pilgrimage from our otherwise demanding lives, as it expanded our appreciation for nature, divinity and our own inner dimensions. This sharing and offering of our selves added to the richness of our time together. It further showed that we silently bowed to the divinity in each other. We were transformed from a bunch of unknown tourists to members of a family that treated each other as spiritual brothers and sisters on a pilgrimage that started in the Himalayas but shall continue as we return to our various countries and personal lives. We all agreed that the pilgrimage will continue as we leave the Himalayan peaks to the peaks and valleys that our personal lives have in store.
We bow to the Guru Lineage for this opportunity and to our kalyana mitra Silvia for organizing this pilgrimage. We are also grateful to our guide who was outstanding and the bus driver who showed great restraint by driving uncharacteristically slow.
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