Joshimath Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the changes
By the time we reached Joshimath, it was pitch dark. The GMVN TRH was easily located. And the paperwork was more time-consuming here than at Bhaironghatti. D and I did our best to make the counter-staff understand that atleast one room could be opened up for my parents so that they could rest their backs after that long drive, while we attempted to finish all the writing at the reception. After 10 minutes of patient repetition, they finally understood and opened up all three rooms.
Four of the GMVN staff members came to unload the luggage, with one person in charge. Since the rooms were open, K and my parents went upstairs to make sure that the luggage was carried into the correct rooms. D and me, patiently waited downstairs, at the reception, to finish the paper-work.
Luggage transfer was soon over and the man in charge expressed tiredness after carrying the Ã¢â‚¬ËœheavyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ suitcases (mostly woollens and clothes) and at the number of them. Both D and I were surprised, since only one suitcase was heavy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all the others were not. He was aiming at extra money and we gave him some, just to finish the matter.
KÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cough was showing up again and he had finished his cough syrup. So he rested while I arranged for his cough syrup to be bought. My parents and D came out with me to make calls and run errands. Electricity went off, but since we were inside an STD booth, it was OK. D had ventured out on his own and came back after a while.
Dinner was ordered and even though we were late, it was served. I noticed that D had some pappadams, which he chose to share with my father. None of the others had any, so I asked him how he had managed to acquire that rarity. Just asked for it, he smiled. My father was willing to share his bit with me, but I chose to ask for it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it had been ages since I had eaten one.
K had finished more than half of his cough syrup already, so I decided to accompany D to the market. He had to get cash and I needed a new syrup bottle for K + check for e-mail from my guide. My father needed some shaving blades. K decided to rest in the room.
Joshimath after 2100 hrs was deserted and with unstable electricity, also scary. No females outside apart from me. The men seemed either to be drunk or on their way to get drunk. Unsafe.
I decided to check only within a short distance of the GMVN TRH for internet cafes and medical shops Ã¢â‚¬â€œ none were open. D found the ATM after a good deal of searching and got cash. He went to buy the shaving blades for my father from the corner paan-bidi shop. I refrained from joining him there since the shop was surrounded by characters right from a B-grade hindi film. Maybe they all had hearts of gold - I did not venture to find out.
D was very surprised at the findings of his walk in Joshimath Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he has been here in the early nineties and found it to be a safe and small place. Now Joshimath had grown and one could hardly believe that it was part of the Himalayas Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something about it made it similar to any urban place in the plains.
At the reception we found out the directions of the next dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s early morning visits: Adi ShankaracharyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cave, Narsimha temple and the gate timings to Badrinath. My mother told me that my father had been irritated by one of the errand boys and scolded him. My father was tired and it appeared to put him into a foul mood. Ensuring that my parents would be warm enough for the night, I repacked our things and retired around midnight. K slept fitfully, but thankfully, had no fever.
17.10.06. K and I would be drinking only water until breakfast tomorrow morning. After an early morning bath, D, K and I carried the luggage down, since the persons appointed to carry them did not turn up as agreed. They turned up when 90% was already next to the car and expressed surprise that we had managed so much without help.
Both D and I made it clear that we saw no reason to wait after his complaints Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we had assumed that he did not want to do the job. He apologised and requested to be allowed to finish the job. We agreed.
I went in search of the errand boy my father had scolded, apologised to him and gave him some extra money. He was a stable person, not on the lookout for either an apology or extra money: he took it all in his stride as part of a dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work.
D and my father had been out earlier than the others, to Adi ShankaracharyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meditation place. The original name of this place is said to be Jyotirmutt,Ã‚Â due to the meditationÃ‚Â of Adi Shankaracharya here, but had changed to Joshimath in due course of time.
Breakfast was a hurried affair since we wanted to pass the first gate opening to Badrinath. All of us left clothes to be given to the laundry with one of the errand men Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we would pay for them and pick them up on our return from Badrinath.
K desired to visit Adi ShankaracharyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meditation place before leaving, since I was not too sure that we would have the time on the return journey. D took him up while my parents and I made STD/ISD calls.
Joshimath by daytime, seemed slightly different from Joshimath the night before, but only slightly so. That certain quality which distinguishes a mountain urban centre from an urban centre in the plains was definitely missing.
Our car soon wound up in the queue and fortunately, we were just half a minute away from the ancient Narsimha temple. We all trooped in, including my mother. It was actually a complex of temples, not just a Narasimha temple.
Here Narsimha is worshipped as Ugra Narsimha. The left wrist of Narasimha is thin and said to getting thinner everyday and according to the scriptures, when the wrist completely disappears, the present day Badrinath will cease to exist and the deity will be worshipped at Bhavisya Badri, also in the vicinity of Joshimath.
Mere entry into the temple compound takes one back into time Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and also away from the rest of Joshimath which is so modern, urban, commercialised and glitzy. This compound seemed better connected to Badrinath, spiritually, than the rest of Joshimath. We finished paying our respects and came back to the car just in time. The gates had opened and vehicles had started moving.
As the car climbed upwards, we opened the windows Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not just to feel the fresh air, but also to soak in all that the eyes could see. The ruggedness of the landscape can hardly be described. The mountains between Chirbhasa and Gaumukh were also rugged, but here, they appeared to be bigger, more awesome, mighty and powerful Ã¢â‚¬â€œthe mighty HimalayasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is a phrase which aptly fit the mountains between Joshimutt and Badrinath.
One instinctively wondered at the energy in the power that would be required to move these mountains and the rivers in those awesome gorges, as predicted by NarasimhaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thinning wrist Ã¢â‚¬â€œ inconceievable, just inconceivable.
Entering Badrinath, was in ways similar to, yet different from entering Kedarnath. Badrinath is, unquestionably, more accessible and therefore more modern than Kedarnath, on the geographical dimension. As Kedarnath and Badrinath, both radiated awesome, majestic and unconditional love. Yet. Kedarnath, though depicted by the hindside of a bull, was experienced as personal. It is at Kedarnath that I have experienced several times as being in almost perceptive contact with Shiva, Mahadev, Gauripati, not a bull. Badrinath, though depicted by a deity (shaligram-shila), was experienced by me, as being in many ways, impersonal Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it is tantalising because one knows that Badrinath is also personal, and therefore just out of my reach currently.
The difference between them was comparable to the difference between a father and teacher, both kind and nurturing, but with two different roles. The teacher has an authority which the father does not have, while the father has a commitment which the teacher does not have.
K and I had been to Badrinath in 2000 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for all the others, it was a new experience. Here I felt the need to wear Indian clothes Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I had used trousers and tops until now. So we quickly finished the formalities at Park-Inn and rushed to the temple, with K and D as usual, going ahead, My father and I walked as fast as we could to have darshan before the temple closed at noon. I was watchful for signs of cardiac stress and altitude illness Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but he seemed to be amazingly resilient to both. In fact, it was I who again began experiencing signs of altitude illness, and since my father was very keen on making it for darshan, I let him go ahead. In addition, I did not wish my illness to worry him or slow him down.
Walking to Badrinath was different from walking to Kedarnath, yet similar Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I knew at both places that I would make it. At Badrinath, the difference between knowledge and hope became clear to me Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when hope moves away from doubt into certainity, it is knowledge. At no other time in my life have I ever known anything as I did while walking towards Kedarnath and Badrinath Ã¢â‚¬â€œ nothing else has been so certain or bereft of doubt or probability. Academically, I have been an above-average performer. I have travelled many routes with which I became so familiar that I finished them on auto-pilot several times. I have known the presence of love in persons around me. I know I can count, spell, read, write, speak, think, move, I know my name and the life I have lived, I know I am married, living in Norway, currently travelling in India, will die someday Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all this can all be classified as knowledge. My personal knowledge.
However, none of these above-mentioned had the strength of the knowledge that I would complete those two walks, no matter what = all of these above mentioned could change and vary, but the knowledge that I would complete these walks was not subject to change and variation Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was completely certain. The strength of that certainity required me to stay connected and keep moving my feet. The rest would happen Ã¢â‚¬â€œ just like a ball thrown from one end must reach the other end. The ball moves on the momentum given to it at the start of its journey. It is not the ball who decides anything about the journey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it only moves as directed.
The strength in that knowledge also made all bodily matters irrelevant Ã¢â‚¬â€œ even though it is, apparently, the body that moves, the real movement is that of the mind, not the body. The knowledge that the body is a vehicle was brought home very clearly. During the Kedarnath experiences, Ã¢â‚¬ËœIÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ could have Ã¢â‚¬ËœdiedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ joyfully, knowing that the real Ã¢â‚¬ËœmeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ was very much Ã¢â‚¬ËœaliveÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that is why being dead or alive hardly mattered on those walks, the difference was as thin as it was irrelevant.
That period-space between life and death Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was filled with love, strong, unlimited, unconditional love. Kedarnath tugged at the Ã¢â‚¬ËœemotionalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ me, while Badrinath tugged at the Ã¢â‚¬ËœintellectualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ me. And then the knowledge came that Kedarnath and Badrinath were not really different Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was me who was experiencing the difference, the source of that difference lay in me, not anywhere else. The same kind of knowledge, the one with immeasurable strength, complete certainty and no doubts.
I walked peacefully towards Badrinath, remotely aware of some symptoms of altitude illness in a distant object called my body, and made it in time for a short darshan. After the temple doors closed, none of us wished to leave. I encouraged my father to take some prasad back to my mother, who had chosen to remain in the hotel.
K spent time with the Adi Shankaracharya who had first captured his attention Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Adi Shankaracharya in a sitting pose at the Adi Shankaracharya corner inside Badrinath temple compound. In 2000, that corner had been our meeting place, so this year too, we fixed it as our meeting placeÃ¢â‚¬â€œ this is where one waited for the others.
All of us wanted to come back at 1500 hrs, when the doors would open again and stay as long as possible. We walked back in silence. Only D came at 1500 hrs Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the rest of us came at 1800 for the Vishnu Sahasranama paath. After the Vishnu Sahasranama paath, my parents left for the hotel Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was too cold for them to remain.
K, D and I, however, remained until we were the last persons around. From the top of the temple steps, we saw a young man, dressed only in a white cotton dhoti rushing up for the last glimpse Ã¢â‚¬â€œ his hair and body was still wet from his dip in the tapt kund. I heard a Ã¢â‚¬ËœGosh!! How can he do that?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ escape DÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lips and smiled, hoping that he too would take those steps in that way, someday, but with better time, not a last minute rush affair, but with the same longing and single-mindedness (the young man had nothing to spare for anyone except Badrinath), yet very unsure about when it would happen, since D professed no attraction towards Vishnu.
I knew that K would take that dip since he never missed a chance of contact with Gangajal. I had hoped that he would do it today, being ekadashi and his 108th ekadashi, but he was tired, so I kept my hopes to myself.
Night at Badrinath, was in many ways, comparable to night at Kedarnath. I could not sleep Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the proximity to Badrinath could not be spent sleeping. I read the Vishnu Sahasranama all through the night, until I heard M S SubbalaxmiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice from the temple loudspeakers. I opened the window and sat by it, shivering in the cold, to keep pace with her. I could not have spent that night or morning, in any other way.
Sunrise was spectacular, best left undescribed by incompetent writers like me. K had just finished his 108th ekadashi fast (he took only water) and though we had not planned it that way, he spent most of the ekadashi day and night at Badrinath, with Badrinath. I am not as disciplined as him, usually, but this time I too had kept the fast exactly as he did.
After breaking our fast with hot and delicious aloo paranthas, we headed for the temple again We were all ready to take a dip in the taptkund and since D had already taken his dip in the morning (are prayers so readily answered??), before breakfast, he became the custodian of all our belongings on a parapet outside the first shop selling aarti paraphernalia.
I watched over my fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and KÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s belongings while they dipped in the steaming hot water and then rushed for darshan. After a while my father came back and told me that my mother and I could have our dips in the ladies enclosure, since K was still in the temple and would take a while to come out. So entrusting everything to my father and D, off we went for our first Ganga-snaan.
The water was so hot that no one was in the pool Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the few ladies there were carefully taking out buckets of water and using that water after it had cooled off a little, which happened quickly in the chilly morning. My mother is extremely careful about the way she treats herself (and others) and lives by a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœno-riskÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ philosophy. And ultra careful when it comes to exposing herself to temperature variations. That she had made it to the evening aarti at Badrinath yesterday was itself a wonder. I noted that she needed no persuasion for the dip Ã¢â‚¬â€œ she had come prepared! She had just notched up her scores on bravery.
I had taken a hot spring dip at Yamunotri in 2000 and those memories came rushing back. Like before, I wondered why I came to such places Ã¢â‚¬â€œ what did they give me that I kept coming back? Was the dip here limited to a physical exercise Ã¢â‚¬â€œ was it a vehicle/tool/aid taking us to a spiritual destination? I did not know when I or my mother would have the opportunity of covering ourselves with Gangajal again Ã¢â‚¬â€œ so we made the most of it. Finally, when we were both satisfied, we stopped and readied ourselves for darshan.
As we came out of the tapt kund area, I saw K standing at the main temple door, looking lost and searching for me Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I rushed up to him and yes, he was lost and searching for me, since he had not seen where D or my father was. He accompanied us to the temple while my father and D went off to drink some hot tea Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both were feeling the cold biting into them, inspite of the layers of wool.
When we joined them at the restaurant, my father was stressed up about not finding his room keys and spectacles. I told him to relax since both were replaceable. D remembered where my father had kept both these articles and took them out Ã¢â‚¬â€œ my father looked at him like he was a conjurer, :-).
Ganesh gufa and Vyas gufa
We went back to the temple for lunch and decided to make short excursions after lunchÃ‚Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Ganesh gufa, Vyas gufa, Saraswati and Bhim pul. The car transported us until the outskirts of Mana, the last village on the Indian border. From there, a cemented and sometimes cobbled path, led us first to Ganesh gufa. I was by now getting used to surprises Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both my parents decided to join us.
We climbed up a short flight of stairs and came to a cave-temple, Ganesh gufa, where Ganesh sat while writing down the Mahabharata. Vyas gufa, slightly higher up on the mountain, was where Vyasdev sat while composing and communicating the Mahabharata to his scribe, Ganesh. In effect, it meant that the communication was not by voice, but by thought.
Both the caves had a calming effect on me. There was none of the rush of people, the urgency of ceremonies or the powerful vibrations of Badrinath temple here. Here was a place one could spend time in a different mood than that of Badrinath Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Badrinath somehowÃ‚Â energised us into concentration, but here, the energies were left free to roam Ã¢â‚¬â€œ perhaps over the entire Mahabharat or the entire Himalayas or the entire cycles of our lives orÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Next to Vyas gufa was a tea-shop which proudly announced: Last tea-shop in India!
While we were having tea, we saw some white trekkers and high altitude porters coming from the other side of the mountain Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I spontaneously asked one of them: From Gaumukh? And they smiled broadly and nodded in answer. I asked them how long it took, 15 days, they answered.
Very often when I had been searching the internet for info, I had come across the story of a priest who performed aarti at both Kedarnath and Badrinath during the same day, using glacier routes. Perhaps he was a yogi, perhaps the contours of the glaciers had changed over the years, perhaps he was fiction Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but to my mind the idea was mesmerising, but I always gave up the thought of attempting any such venture immediately, since I had no plans of going on a mountaineering expedition. But these people did not seem to have much mountaineering gear and seeing them, talking to them made me wonder why I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do it? After the invigorating herbal tea, we walked down the path towards Saraswati and Bhim pul.
My mother stopped at the tea-shop at the crossroads, preferring to wait there for us than attempt any more climbs. She denied signs of altitude illness, but said that she had some difficulty breathing while climbing and would be alright if she rested instead of climbing any more. Since she seemed to be convinced about only requiring rest, we walked up a path to the right, following some others.
Suddenly, we saw and heard her Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the thunderous roar of the white waters ofÃ‚Â SaraswatiÃ‚Â gushing forth from a cave - one of the most amazing sight and sound experiences. A look below, to the left, reassured us of the trickle of the green waters of Alaknanda, moving gently along. A look above, to the right, was a place I suddenly had a desire to be - right in the middle of those high-speed torrents Ã¢â‚¬â€œ somehow knowing that it was not death, but life that was there.
The same kind of knowledge as before at Kedarnath and Badrinath. Until now, I was not aware of any connections with Saraswati, but having seen her once, I also knew, that I had also touched her, many times Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we were not strangers to each other. Perhaps that is why I knew the vitality of life that she could bestow. When and where were irrelevant details.
I asked K to take some video recordings, knowing that I would not need to see them Ã¢â‚¬â€œ this experience was now a part of me, one more thread that strings together several lifetimes, but my sister would need to see it. I remembered my mother in this lifetime, waiting at the tea-shop, I looked at my father, husband and friend in this lifetime with new eyes. The temporality of all relationships except the spiritual ones was once again brought home.
How did a relationship become spiritual? I had no answer right there and then except that a spiritual relationship is without expectations (and therefore disappointments), without any boundaries (and therefore false securities) except those that free, without any reason (therefore beyond the realm of logic) except its own existence, without any need for affirmations/confirmations/denials/conflicts (therefore beyond the ability to destroy itself) in any manner and with its own continuity providing it with meaning.
K had several times told me about his attraction towards a complete renouncement and the life of a sannyaasi. My response to it was that he could step on that path whenever he decided to, without having to give me an explanation / reason / anything else. Perhaps because I myself was so often attracted towards it, I understood what he meant. And would only be happy for him, if he one day decided to walk away from me, instead of with me, as now.With such thoughts, we walked back, without going to Bhim pul and found my mother feeling better.
Another lady had rested there similarly and they had shared experiences, alongwith a cup of tea. She felt well enough to walk down.Ã‚Â We bought some woollen items made in the village Ã¢â‚¬â€œ good stuff at reasonable pricesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.which also reminded me exactly how far we were from renouncing anything, we are so busy collecting, :-).
My parents decided to head to the hotel and we, towards Badrinath, since it was time for darshan again. They would join us for evening aarti. We spent all possible time within the temple compound Ã¢â‚¬â€œ none of us were clear on why Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we were only clear that we did not wish to leave unless we were forced to.
All of us sat for several hours in front of the deity Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was crowded only at specific darshans. K sat in front of me and D, to my right. People started trickling in as time went by and soon the little room was jam-packed.
An extremely thin, frail, old (certainly 80+), wrinkled and Ã¢â‚¬ËœpoorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lady had found a perch on the high bench to my left. Soon enough, one of the temple guards asked her to move. I compacted myself, so that I could share space with her and gestured it to her. She was too afraid to jump. I told K about her fear and asked him if he could catch her so that she did not break any bones.
He immediately agreed and spread out his hands, gesturing to her that she would be landing safely. She took one look at those wide open laaarge hands of K and another at Badrinath. She jumped down, landed safely into KÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arms and was placed gently on the floor. We smiled at each other before turning our attention back to Badrinath.
Fellowship sans barriers
She was one of those who had made it to BadrinathÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s presence and that brought us into a fellowship sans barriers. She also reminded me of another lady at Vrindavan some years back Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we had both just lifted our heads after a darshan of Sri Radhashyamsundar Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something made us look at each other, something made tears well up inside us and something made us hug each other tightly and stroke each othersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ back.
It was as if some old relationship between two souls had recognised itself, without any need for words or anything more than that hug. We both had tears running down our cheeks as we parted, smiling at each other, perhaps laughing too, because the joy inside could hardly be contained. I have never encountered such expressions of goodwill outside pilgrimage centres/routes.
She also reminded me of another lady whom we had met on the way to Gangotri, at Uttarkashi, in 2000. Our car, like all other vehicles, had been stopped due to a huge landslide. While our driver went out to check for possibilities of our onward journey, an old, much wrinkled, extremely thin and fragile (physically), Ã¢â‚¬ËœpoorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lady came to our car window and asked us if she could dry her saari on the top of our car while we waited.
One look at those resigned eyes in that gnarled face was enough to bring out a yes from both of us. Two minutes later, we decided to give her some of our dry food stock, some packets of banana chips from Kerala, if she would have them. She accepted them, wordlessly.
A few minutes later, we heard someone yelling at her for drying her saari on our car Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was not our driver, but the driver of the truck in front of us! It was one of those few occasions which made me mad. I got out and explained to him that he was better off minding his own business and apologising to the old lady.
I was fuming so much that I decided to wait outside to let the breeze cool me down. It was then that I noticed that she was so thin that her stomach was practically non-existent Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the skin on the front of her body almost seemed to be in contact with her vertebral column.
We had some fruits and I gave her some bananas. She accepted them wordlessly.A few minutes later, a young woman knocked on our window and wondered if we had given some food to the old lady. I stepped out and learnt that the old lady was part of a Char Dham bus-trip @ Rs.3000 per person.
The organisers had over-booked and found it quite OK to ask the old lady to sit on the floor of the bus, from Madhya Pradesh until now, so that a younger man could sit on a seat, though both paid exactly the same. The old lady was travelling alone, looked like (and perhaps was) she belonged to the poorest of poor Indians, did not complain and accepted the floor of the bus as her place.
The women in the bus also noticed that the old lady had no money with her for food or anything else Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they learnt that she had been saving for this trip for a long time and all that mattered to her was that she make the trip. Food? Perhaps she was so used to living without it that it hardly mattered. She had lived alone most of her life Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a child widow with no children.The women in the bus had ensured that she got some food every time they ate.
And as soon as she received those packets of banana chips and the fruits, she had distributed them to those who had given her food until now, eating nothing herself. We gave some more packets of banana chips to the younger woman and asked her to keep them in reserve.
We made up our mind to offer the old lady the front seat of our car, if both, her bus and our car moved together henceforth, since we were also on a Char-dham yatra. But her bus decided to stay and our driver recommended that we drop Gangotri and turn back. The bus driver was not to be seen until we left, so we couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ask him to change his behaviour. The men in that bus were not worth talking to.
That encounter, her face, her body and her actions are singed into our memories Ã¢â‚¬â€œ hers was a real pilgrimage, she was a real pilgrim, she had faith, she had made efforts, she had come prepared to die and was willing to live only for the satisfaction of having been to those sacred places once in her lifetime, without letting the males in the bus/anything else distract her from the purpose of her journey - to see/ experience Gangamaataa as much as possible Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in comparison, we were just hopeful travellers, nothing more.
We did not exchange a single word, apart from her asking to dry her sari, but deep connections had been made on the banks of Bhagirathi that morning. Everytime my faith wobbles, her image comes on my mind-screen and then I am able to dust myself and stand up again, ready to move on. The fellowship functions,
While waiting in the queues inside the Badrinath temple compound, for the specific aartis and my parents, since K was inside, I saw some youth who looked familiar, but could not place them. They came over and started up a conversation Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they were the hotel front-office staff! Suddenly I heard something familiar again: Vishnu Sahasranama being chanted by some pilgrims. I looked back and sure enough, it was at the Adi Shankaracharya corner. I asked the hotels staff to hold my place in the queue while I hurried over and joined in. This is what I had essentially done during the 2000 trip.
As soon as I sat down, a young mother of a ten-year old moved closer to me, so that she could follow with the little book I had. The chanters chanted from memory, but I still needed the book, though I almost knew what was coming next, since I had heard it so many times before. I had my favourite bits, bits with which I experienced a connection, details unknown Ã¢â‚¬â€œ these bits were part of my memory.
The young mother appeared to me as an earlier version of myself Ã¢â‚¬â€œ hearing it for the first time, fascinated and enchanted by it, wanting to share it with everyone possible, especially her son. I gave her the book. She seemed surprised, but accepted immediately, so engrossed in following the chant, that she expressed gratitude with her eyes for a split second before riveting it back to the text. I kept pace in my mind and enjoyed seeing her teaching her son to follow the text, for awhile before going back to the queue.
The Vishnu Sahasranama chant there reminded me of those days of mine when I had a habit of listening to it and following the chant, atleast once a day. I promised myself to begin that habit again, knowing that it would take atleast 3 months before the habit formed again. Since this is essentially a south Indian practice, I wondered how D was relating to it. I looked at him.
Somehow he seemed changed Ã¢â‚¬â€œ kuch cchoot gaya tha, cchoot raha hain, what, I had no idea. I did not know how much he was aware of it. On asking him, I found that, yes, he was aware, but also confused Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not knowing exactly what was happening, but aware that something deep inside him was changing. Not just due to Vishnu Sahasranama, but mainly due to Badrinath.
I was reminded of a well-wisher who had told me that we were the products of the desires and goals of those to whom we were related Ã¢â‚¬â€œ my feelings of attraction towards Meerabai were not completely my own, but the sum total of the attraction of others before me, who were related to me in some way, multiplied with my own Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when I did something to cement that attraction, it was not just me who was satisfied, but all those before me who had shared that attraction with me, were also satisfied.
Since I knew that D was not particularly attracted towards Vishnu, I asked him if he knew anyone in his family who had been attracted towards Vishnu. His paternal grandmother. He spoke of her, her faith in practice as he had experienced it as a child.
I was immediately struck by the difference between him, who was born into and grew up in such an atmosphere and K, who had to recognise the image of Vishnu on a book-cover, as an adult. D was so blessed, I wondered if he knew exactly how much Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he had never left
My parents came and we trooped in. I was again surprised that my mother had turned up to sit again on that cold floor, but she did not appear to be surprised. I looked at my father Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he was feeling the cold alright, but determined to be there, nevertheless. I looked at Badrinath and expressed gratitude for giving me the satisfaction of seeing them there, in that manner.
Today, Badrinath did not seem so impersonal after all, perhaps it was because I had thought of NandlalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s smile and Meerabai, who had a desire to come here, but never did. I remembered what she had to say about Badrinath and concentrated on them Ã¢â‚¬â€œ here it is possible to see the face the Lord. My time had not yet arrived, but I had no doubt that it would, like for everyone else.
After the temple closed, we sauntered out and tried to find the car. It was drizzling and no one seemed to know exactly where the car park was, which D and I had assumed to be well-known locally, since Badrinath was so small, geographically. Eventually, my father found the car and then, the rest of us.
Last night at Badrinath
Since the Himalaya trip was now coming to an end (the next halt was at Rishikesh, tomorrow), I wanted to thank everyone for making it as stress-free as possible for me and as a gesture, I had ordered a surprise dessert for everyone, including my father, , who smiled happily at the thought of me ordering dessert for him, instead of rationing it as usual.
Back in the room, I was too restless to lie down or sleep. What else could I do, but follow old habits and start on the Vishnu Sahasranama, which calmed me down enough to sleep for a few hours.
I woke up before sunrise, before MSSÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice came over from the templeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ wondering why exactly I was at Badrinath, knowing that I would be back and wondering why I would be back. What did these places/visits give me? What do I gain? How do I change? How did they influence me? What was special or different about this place from all the others where I spend time?
I had no clear-cut answers, except that I needed to come back.19.10.06. Idris had finished repairing the car battery and was ready to move. So were we, in a way. It had been a long sojourn and we had a long car drive ahead of us. From here, we were turning back from the Himalayas and heading for the plains.
Breakfast was neatly packed and helpful staff loaded our luggage. We had just enough time for a last darshan. I asked permission to leave and come back again. I was satisfied that my parents had had a problem-free pilgrimage and I expressed gratitude for that. I knew that though none of us had spoken about it, we had all changed in some ways at Badrinath, with D perhaps experiencing it the most.
I had asked him, between Joshimutt and Badrinath, on the way up, why he had chosen to be with us on this trip. He answered unhesitatingly: Gaumukh. Then he explained that it was Ganga. I had known him for ca.12 years, but had no idea about these connections of his. I had, somewhere along the line, caught on that he was attracted to Shiva, so I had expected him to answer: Panch Kedar.
Somewhere along the journey, I had caught on to his fascination for the Himalayas and had made efforts to point out particularly spectacular or unique aspects of the mountains to him, as I did with the others. On the way back now, I made sure that he was getting a good view, since I do not know when he would be back Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it had taken him 40 years to make this trip, after all. I also made sure that my parents were getting the most out of the passing landscape Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it had taken them 70 years to come here and they were most unlikely to come again.
The pain of leaving, of turning back was deep enough to be physical, yet it had to be borne with grace Ã¢â‚¬â€œ no other way to bear that pain. I know I am blessed to experience that pain. I wondered at how blessed I was to have had the opportunity to come here, twice already and the joy of bringing others. And why. And why I had to leave when I so, oh so much, wanted to stay.