Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pigrimage Overview

Note: this is the last post on the pilgrimage (aside from a pictures post). It provides a chronological context for the other posts and refers to the where appropriate. Posts on the current happenings in my life coming soon.

Day 1/2 – en route to Dehradun
The trip begins with a lost ticket and "lost" sim card (see rude or courteous city post). Upon arrival in Ahmedabad, our first (an only destination): Gandhi's Ashram (Manav Sadhna). After questioning several people, we make it to the corner where MS is located. Apparently Jayeshbhai was at the tekra, and Krishna would be arriving shortly. So we wait and wait. The waiting was a growing experience. I wasn't bored nor did I get impatient. Instead I sat silently, taking the opportunity to mediate and take a look around. An hour and half later, my cousin had had enough and just as we were about to leave, we find out that Krishna should be arriving from wherever he was for prayers and sure enough we did. Soon, I got a tour of the place and a chance to play with all the kids. The boys sure are inquisitive and friendly. Immediately, I was surrounded by several of them asking me what my name was, etc. Such a delight. When we made it over to where the girls were, the situation was no different. However, instead of playing cricket and disc, they were chitchatting and playing carem. The kids reminded me yet again how much I enjoy working with children. It seems to be a debate that is continually coming up: to work in sanitation or to work with kids. I'm sure I'll be interacting with kids doing sanitation work, but it might not be to the same degree as if I were doing education-based work. Both are important and I do have the capabilities to do both. We'll see how it all plays out. Though I didn't get a chance to meet Jayeshbhai, I got to see MS and could feel the family atmosphere right away. I'm looking forward to spending more time there.

After lunch at MS, we headed to the train station to catch our train. Soon, I was engaged in a conversation with an uncle who was telling me about yoga and what it means to practice yoga. The lessons he was imparting were those that I had heard when I took yoga at Cal, but it was good to hear them again and it was def different (and more difficult) to hear it in hindi/gujarati.

Our conversation was cut short by the arrival of the train and then chaos began. It took an hour to figure out what our seats were, etc and for better or worse, we didn't have full sleeping seats for the 28 hour journey. After some rearranging we settled in- my first train ride for this trip.

The trip was not a disappointment. Typical India style, we played Antakshari with 8 others atop the loft beds and shared food with our new found friends heading to Dehradun to get married. The trip would not have been complete without the adorable babies and conversation with Vivek, an officer in the Indian army.

Day 3 (getting shorter because its now days later)
We had a great time laughing, singing and dancing with the hotel manager's son in Barkot. It was very interesting walking to Yamontri with my cousin, who has never has been to the mountains before. Through her awe and amazement, it was like seeing certain things for the first time again. Post on science and religion has more about being in Yamnotri itself.

Day 4/5 Gangotri
Traveling were spent in appreciation of the beauty that I was surrounded by and the enginerd in me observing the valleys, rock structures, terraces and set-up of villages, etc. (for reflections on these observations see water v earth and the valleys)

Day 5 - gaumukh
Day trip to Gaumukh on foot and on a pony. Pony riding was a not so pleasant experience in terms of the aches and pains. I crossed the raging Ganga on a pony, something that cannot be done on foot without a bridge). Meet a couple from Ahmedabad on the way (one of the three families we crossed paths with several times). I did a lot of the walking in solitude, which was very refreshing and overall enjoyable experience. My walking alone, I could walk in silence and really observe the nature around me and my reactions to what I was surrounded by. Fearlessness was one of the topics of contemplation. The rapid and continuous mental activity is slowly diminishing and the gaps of silence are growing. Even when I was walking alone, I was never alone in the sense that countless others were also making the trek. Salutation of Jai Bhole were consistently exchanged and one felt apart of a larger picture. Each person came for their own reasons, but we each are connected, despite not knowing names or faces, by our walk to Gaumukh.

There were beautiful purple Himalayan flowers as we moved higher up en route and right next to the Ganga. The photos don't do it justice. Wild flowers of all colours marked the trails.

I would love to come back with friends to go trekking/backpacking in the region. As I walked, I could imagine a bunch of tau bates go on a trekking trip here.

Day 7/8 - kedarnath
We arrived in Gaurikund at noon, which mean it was too late to walk to Kedarnath if we wanted to arrive before dark. So we made the 14km trek on horses (not ponies) through the heavy drizzle and mist that sets in daily. At times, it felt like we were in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, since there was zero visibility and we were making our way through mountains. By the time we made it to the top, we were cold and wet and ready for some garam chai. My rain jacket served me very well and my upper bottom was completely dry, while my legs took a while to warm up. On the way up, we also crossed paths with the family from Indore, who mom had met on her way to Yamnotri.

In the morning, we did darshan in the warmth of the sun at a South Indian style temple set against a gorgeous backdrop of snowcapped peaks. The walk down, I could actually see the Mandakini following alongside the trail and fell in love with the terrain.

Day 10 - valley of the gods
In Badrinath, I got a chance to sit for an extended period of time in a temple. I cannot verbally describe the power of the vibrations that I experienced.

By this point, we had traveled enough on foot/horse that I knew I would not be able to convince my family to visit the Gurudwara and valley of flowers that were atleast 18km off road. If it is to be, then perhaps another trip to Badrinath will be arranged for these purposes. But if anyone goes to Badrinath, include an extra day or two to visit these places.

Day 11 rishikesh/hardiwar
Hardiwar- there is a temple on every corner and every street of the city. The art work is absolutely incredible There are statues and 3D depictions of so many stories and people found in Hinduism. The Bharatiya Mandir is incredible. It a temple dedicate to Bharat Mata or Mother India. Each floor has a room filled with statues. On the top floor are prominent gods (and their consorts), the second floor (from top down) is dedicated goddesses, the third floor is that of saints (Vivekananda, etc), the fourth floor to prominent men in Indian history (Gandhi, Bhagat Singh), the fifth floor is prominent women (Mirabai, Jhansi ki rani, a catholic nun, whose name I can't remember, etc), the sixth floor has a painting for each state depicting the prominent structures, people and cultural attributes of the state (for ex. for Punjab- the Golden temple, bhangra, bhagat singh, etc), finally the last floor or bottom floor has a large statue of bharat mata with a beautiful passage on how all the rivers of different cultures and religions flow through one land and we are unified by a common heritage. I would have loved to take pictures, but that's not allowed.

Hardiwar is also the starting point for a Ganga Yatra (see land of pilgrims) so we saw countless people, mainly men, carrying containers of the Ganga jal ( Ganga water), walking home.

Day 12 mathura/govardhan/gokul
I visited Vraj, the most significant pilgrimage area for Vaishnav (devotees of Krishna). It is the land where Krishna was born and raised. I got a chance to see the night aarti of the Yamuna river, in addition to playing in the sand that Krishna played in centuries ago. It is said that the sand has a lot of power because Krishna played in it and if one attempts to remove any from the site then you will not be able to leave (your mode of transport will face difficulties, etc). My cousin tried to take some years ago and their bullocks would not move until they threw the sand away. There used to be soooo much Ramanreti (literally meaning "playing sand"- aka the sand in which Krishna played), but now they have build huts for saints and expanded the temple grounds, leaving a small area of sand. I wonder how much will remain in a few years or decade.

We also went to Govardhan, the famous mountain which Krishna held upon his pinky to provide the entire village with shelter when Indra, the lord of rain, showered down an endless storm. To circumvent the mountain, one must walk over 15km. Imagine how tall the mountain was. I say was because it is said that the mountain becomes lower as the burden of sin upon the earth grows. Today the mountain can be considered to a be a wide hill. It has dropped significantly in height in the 10 years that have passed from when my cousin last visited (I don't remember its height from my last visit). We circumvented the mountain barefoot and in the rain. The day before we arrived, over 2 lakh (200,000) people were circumventing the mountain . Circumventing the mountain that one should perform when visiting Govardhan. It is considered to be even better if one can do with milk. So I held a clay pot, with a hole at the bottom, filled with milk in one hand and a pot filled with dhoop (smoke from ??) in another. As the pot began to run out, a man cycling alongside us would fill the pot. I partially did the parikrama (circumventing) in honour of my paternal grandparents, who are great devotees of Krishna. While I did the parikrama with milk, my mom did it with candy. As she sat on a wooden cart attached to a bicycle, she handed out candy to all the beggar children along the route. I personally think that that parikrama is worth more in terms of good karma. The thought that came up when I saw the amount of milk I would need was give it to the children instead of spilling it on the earth. Personally, I am becoming more critical of the need of certain rituals and rites. There is power in Govardhan parvata (mountain) to which I bow down, but in my mind, instead of offering gallons of milk to the mountain, offer a little to the mountain (to use in the ritualistic bathing of the stone that is used to represent the mountain) and then give the rest of the milk which you want to offer to the hungry. God is within each individual so are we not offering God milk by giving it to the needy?

Day 13 delhi
Spent 7 hours in Delhi , mainly in one shopping in one shopping area and the train station. I got to see Abhinav and how modern/Americanized Delhi is. Also got to see Guru Dev Mandir.

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