Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chal Akela

ज़िंदगी की राहों में रंज-ओ-गम के मेले हैं
भीड़ है क़यामत की, फिर भी हम अकेले हैं 

#throwback #SabaAfghani

When my parents bought me my first-ever tape recorder, I carefully chose six cassettes to buy along with. A very nice starter kit! And this tape  'Anup Jalota - In Concert' was one of them. 

I discovered just now that there is a Sonu Nigam version of the ghazal. But... not a patch on Mr Jalota's version.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 4: White Mountain, Green Mountain

White Mountain, Green Mountain

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
–Li Bai, ‘Green Mountain’

A header change that needs no explanation at all: my mind is still in the mountain clouds.

But even here there is cause for dismay. We see a lot of breast-beating about dwindling habitats of wildlife species, but whoever gives any thought to the fact that the territory of the sadhaka is imperilled? My Sadhguru rues that with the building of motorable roads, there are no more impenetrable, remote retreats for spiritual men.

Time was these yogis could find themselves bolt-holes high up in the caves, secure from prying eyes or thirsty but encroaching masses who would gather at their feet. The waters of these Himalayan rivers are so prized, I understand, for this very reason. The yogis who stayed at these higher altitudes poured their knowledge and energies into the Bagirathi and other streams, a way of sending downstream what they had earned and what they could share with others. The whole concept of ‘Ganga nahaana’ or bathing in sacred waters comes from this.

But now, abutting the sacred Vyasa Gufa in remote Mana – a place that must have, over time, harboured countless sages and adepts – is a teashop claiming to be the last tea-stall in India. As we trekked to the point where Saraswati emerges from the cliffs, I crossed a small cave. An aghori sat in it, smeared with ash, a ‘dhuni’ duly lit for his meditations – and a small crowd around him, taking pictures. I don’t know if he minded, but I did.

Thanks to our coffee table books and the documentaries that we have seen, we have objectified our holy men. An aghori is not just a picture, is he? He is a life, an entire way of life... a purposeful life with life-choices wildly different from most of us. I was made sharply aware of that this trip. People like you and me, who drop everything they know and walk away into the hills, in search of a truth they only dimly perceive. Brave men.

I hope they find their retreats – high on those slopes, living on so little! Possessing just that much, my Guru says, as would make a difference between life and death.

I so loved the Chinese poet Li Bai for his utter gorgeosity and poetic empathy. And, I cannot resist another poem by him:

Lines For A Taoist Adept

My friend lives high on East Mountain.
His nature is to love the hills and gorges.
In green spring he sleeps in empty woodland,
Still there when the noon sun brightens.
Pine-tree winds to dust his hair.
Rock-filled streams to cleanse his senses.
Free of all sound and stress,
Resting on a wedge of cloud and mist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 3: Hum toh dariya hai...

Hum toh dariya hai...*

Another aspect of this yatra that had me hugely excited was the water: the glacial sources, the streams, the rivers, the confluences... and finally these amazing, wide swathes of life-giving, life-enhancing goodness.

Everywhere we went, almost every road we took had a gurgling stream of water flowing alongside. The presence was never far away – deep ravines, rounded rocks and boulders, clean flowing water – now turquoise, now jade, now a frothy blue-white... no wonder that the journey seemed to have cleansed me.

And then there were the prayags – the confluences of rivers that are said to generate immense energy. As these streams and rivers hurtle downhill, they meet and go on from that point as one. The Mandakini and Vasuki meet at Son Prayag, the Alaknanda and Mandakini meet at Rudra Prayag, the Pindar and Alaknanda meet at Karna Prayag... and finally, the big two, Bagirathi and Alaknanda meet at Dev Prayag to flow on as the massive Ganga. 

Dev Prayag, Bagirathi and Alaknanda.

Mystery Prayag - I can't remember which one this is! Maybe Rudra Prayag, after all.
Rudra Prayag
We came across many of these and since we criss-crossed the many landmarks, I have pictures of some confluences and have absolutely forgotten which ones they are. I wonder if I’ll have another chance at visiting these glorious places, take them in more slowly? I didn’t know even a quarter of the history associated with these places... I didn’t know, for instance, that Karna Prayag, the only confluence where we had the time and opportunity to go down to the customary temple was so rich in significance. This was where Karna earned the protective kavacha and kundalas from his father, the Sun God. Kalidasa refers to this spot in Meghadoota and the famous love story of Dushyanta–Shakuntala played out here. Wikipedia tells me Swami Vivekananda meditated here for eighteen days. And, and, and... that the stone temple at the confluence was rebuilt by the ubiquitous Adi Shankara!

Karna Prayag

We visited the even more remote Keshav Prayag as well, and I'm kicking myself for not getting a good enough look at the source of the Saraswati before yielding to 'time to go' urgings from tyrannical bus leaders. But that is the problem – roughly every third stone in this blessed place is terribly important. And the mind can only soak so much. But never mind the mind – if my energies have managed to absorb what they needed, I’ll not ask for more.

*Title is from this sher:
Hum toh dariya hai, humein apna hunar maloom hai
Jis taraf bhi chal padenge raasta ho jaayega

Friday, October 16, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 2: Jaana jogi de naal

Jaana jogi de naal

A most delicious thing happened to me on this trip – an event that coloured and informed my entire outlook. About three or four years ago, I came across Sri M – a kriya yogi, an enlightened being who came from a great spiritual lineage. Extremely curious, I ordered his book, Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master. When the book arrived, however, I read a few pages but put it aside. My own journey was so new, I needed perhaps to cement the bond with my own glorious Guru – intake nothing but his words, look upon no face but his. It was not yet time.

Sri M’s book is set in the very sacred mountains, around the same rivers that we were travelling in, and as it happened, a fellow traveller was carrying a copy – in fact, a copy signed by the great man himself. She most kindly lent it to me and I spent a few long bus journeys drinking in this story avidly.

In his book, Sri M narrates a sharp incident set in a cave in Mana, the outermost village before the Indo-China border – of how a fakir climbed the steep cataracts of the Alaknanda to fling himself at the feet of a yogi meditating in the Vyasa cave in these cliffs. Even with my brief reading of the book, I had been fascinated by this place on the fringes of Badrinath.

Now, all of Lesser Himalaya, and its throbbing spiritual activity, came alive for me. The innumerable seekers, sages, saints at various levels of achievement... the several establishments, the ashrams, the infrastructure, the difficulties, the doubts, and the juxtaposition of the mundane with the profound... in fact, the very way of life and its orientation.

Sri M speaks of refuges in Hardwar and Rishikesh, of the steep paths beyond Gangotri and Gomukh, of kutirs in Kedarnath and Badrinath, of walking drunkenly in the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib... he describes the yogi’s life, how they eat, how they live, how they pray, how they are... I was absolutely riveted! This is a near-fantastical book he talks, almost casually, of things that seem bizarre to the modern mind. It occurred to me that perhaps our Amar Chitra Kathas spoke nothing but the literal truth of how things are, if only we could suspend our disbelief!

I read faster than I should have, maybe – I did want to finish the book before we touched Badrinath, and also wanted to return the book to Farah as quickly as possible – she’d taken the trouble to lug it across the peninsula only to have it wrested from her by a needy reader; it wasn’t fair.

Once before I had the good fortune to read a book set in the very spot I was reading it in – and that was in the Himalaya as well. It is an incomparable joy, this.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 1: Uth Sangeya...

Uth, Sangeya...

So I’ve been on this pilgrimage. Not the first time in my life that I’ve set out to go to temples: in the course of my travels, I’ve seized any handy excuse to go haring after shrines of energy and significance. But nevertheless, my first pilgrimage. Train, bus, by copter, pony and on foot... all that to go to a particular place. Why does one do it? Because even the arduous journey alters us. Because human beings before us have left something some significant aspects of themselves there, in energy form, for us to tap into. Because these places touch and influence us in ways we cannot understand.

What a revelation it was! Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are together known as the ‘char dham’ – four pilgrimage destinations of the Himalayan region. On our itinerary were three of these; we left out Yamunotri.

I knew academically, of course, of the vastness, of the largeness of the Himalaya – and I have been in the Lesser Himalayan region before – but this was even more experiential. To traverse these mountains, wind up and down on slender shelves hugging the walls, to see other buses in the distance, looking so puny against the giants they were crossing... this is the first time I’ve looked so closely at the map of Uttarakhand.

The gigantic (and controversial) Tehri Dam

Snow-laden peaks in the distance

So this is a small series, till I’ve exhausted what I want to say.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Home again

Home, after a fairly gruelling pilgrimage.

As I went about from place to place, I longed to blog - but there wasn't time, I didn't have a convenient gadget, and it wouldn't have done justice to the moment I was in, if I was trying all the time to record the previous. So I have tried to cram it all into my memory, and unravel it at leisure.

For now, though, it's a sweet kind of pleasure to be reunited with my unmoving bed, my razai and my yoga mat.

The Navaratris begin today - I have a home to spruce up, three bags of unpacking to do and some muscles to loosen.