“As long as it takes…”

“How long are you going to be staying here?”

“As long as it takes…” came the answer.

The question was posed to a gentleman sitting at the adjoining table in the cafe, who seemed to be seeking answers, as many before him have sought, in the middle of nature. This time around, the setting of this conversation was in Gangotri.

But I have jumped forward many a moments – Let me start at the beginning. This is going to be a d-e-t-a-i-l-e-d post, because I want to relive everything myself.

~~~

“Bhai-saahab, bus kahaan se leni hai?” asked I, as I stood opposite the landmark metro station at Seelampur. Before I could ask for more details, in the typical rush of the answers given at tour operator offices, came the reply – “wahaan par ek flyover hai, jiske paas ek bada sa patthar hai – wahin ruk jaaiyega, bus aa jaayegi”…and cut. (“At the base of the flyover is a big boulder, wait there, the bus will come”). After the difficulty in being able to listen to him, there was the difficulty in believing him – how can a boulder be a landmark, but I wasn’t the only one who had that doubt – there were others praying near Sacred Rock too.

Having time to kill, and an instinct of self-preservation, particularly my respiratory system given that I was reaching Delhi from a relatively much cleaner town, Bhuj, I decided to escape that God forsaken area for a couple of hours (I’d reached way too early) by searching for a restaurant to eat and spend some time at. But there were none nearby, just a manic rush in the people, with noise-less electric scooters darting here and there, taking full advantage of their quick acceleration, darting around like wayward thoughts personified.

Searching for a restaurant, a man approached me and told me that wearing  a backpack and an out-of-place expression , I  looked like the textbook-tourist and I was immediately given some advice – “stay safe, you will definitely be looted – your phone, wallet and other things will vanish before you know it.” While this sank in, he wheeled out his scooter, told me he’d take me to a hotel where I’d get good food, although it would be non-vegetarian. Looking at the mad rush of traffic, which didn’t seem any signs of slowing down even though it was nearing 9 pm now, I decided I could always eat just the gravy, if not the flesh and accepted the offer. I did wonder to myself “What if this is a novel way of looting someone? Once I’m on his scooter, with a heavy backpack, that’s it, isn’t it?” But then, he called his family out, told them where we’re going and somehow it looked as if he wouldn’t be harmful at all, just a gut feeling, and I hopped on. He told me this is a bad area , to be alert and to not take auto rickshaws late at night. Torn as I was in choosing to believe a reality of the world I didn’t want to believe in, I nodded. Had a quick dinner and did take an auto back to the metro station, and the way it was driven told me this place was something else – all sense seemed to have left people, and the ride gave me an all too uncomfortable peek into the minds of the traffic, moving in a manic rush to reach somewhere,  with a thoughtlessness which had pervaded into everyone’s soul at the same time. Everyone was going nowhere quickly and riskily.

Now, I’m at Sacred Rock. the landmark boulder, looking straight into speeding incoming buses, trying to read the number plates and tour operator names of buses as they zoomed towards the flyover, their headlights blinding me. How is anyone going to be able to read a number-plate between a bright pair of headlights? But somehow it happened, and I was off to Dehradun.  The bus was neat and run professionally and that meant I could sleep well after my seemingly first-world trauma-esque experience of the evening. Reaching Dehradun, I  saw that on that day atleast, most people at the bus stand in Dehradun did not understand the word “queue” and somehow I got my ticket to Uttarkashi by passing money through several hands (not via a bribe, I literally had to pass the fare amount down the line for the ticket to travel backwards through the line). I boarded a bus and we sped on.

In Uttarkashi, the first thing I did was to book a room – I walked as far as I could, chose a hotel farthest from the city center and settled down, harrowed by an experience of the cities. Just three years out of big cities and I had almost been knocked down. A quick bath and a stroll down to the river Bhagirathi, walking through the town, Uttarkashi seemed to be a quieter, peaceful place after the chaos of the past few hours. However, as I walked around, I saw that the people didn’t really seem to have the peacefulness of the place, and when that happens it rubs on to the place, making the place noisy and chaotic and thus the people noisy and chaotic too ending in a vicious circle.

If a place is peaceful and calm, either the place must be special, or the people must be special, or could it be that maybe the observer alone is so…?

Uttarkashi was cooler, and I enjoyed the respite from the heat, and strolled around parts of the town while seeing some beautiful wall art.

After spending a day over there, just walking along the river, transitioning out my hysteresis and inertia, I decided to take a shared cab to Gangotri the next day. I’ve taken shared cabs before, and it is always a story in itself. It was so this time too. “Somehow”, I got assigned the last seat (sideways facing) but after spending years travelling like that in BMTC Volvo buses and cabs in Bangalore, it didn’t really matter to me that much – sitting sideways facing doesn’t bother me any more.

I met Gaurishankarji, an old gentleman from Chennai with whom I shared a cup of tea as we waited for the cab to fill up. As we waited and more passengers started filing in, we heard the drivers sharing and arguing about their day to day things – “how come the cops said this is a 8+1 seater only? I can make him count that this is 9+1 seater…! Ganit fail kara doonga uski..!” (“I’ll prove his math wrong!”)” – and on that encouraging note, we gulped down the last of our tea knowing our leg space was going to be moderate, and not luxurious. As we shuffled into our seats, there were 4 of us in the seats which could comfortably hold maybe 2 adults and an average sized backpack. Not wanting to be disproved and scolded by our strict math teacher, we settled in. There is wisdom in the old saying – An angry math teacher doesn’t make a safe driver. Think about calculation and substitution errors he may make on the road! So we all sat down cosily – look at how comfortable we were, who needs a seat-belt when you’ve got each others backs like this?

As we went on in our journey, we talked about our career paths and the careering road / drive on which we were on, and what we planned to do when in Gangotri and around. Gaurishankarji and I connected well and we spoke a lot about his reasons and mine of coming here, and also our intersecting past in the south of India, a half continent away. He was studying the Upanishads (which was something new for me, that people studied them so seriously that they’d travel alone all the way, 2000 km away at the ripe young age of 70+ years in what was tough terrain by all means) and I was interested in hearing more. We hung out together and I could see that he kept his word wherever he promised someone – neither was he thoughtless while speaking, nor so in action after that. I think that was one of the first observations about him which worked for me.

We reached Gangotri by noon and immediately checked into a hotel while Gaurishankarji asked me to join him while he did a Ganga-snaan. I could see the mighty peaks now, with clouds spilling, draping, floating over, a softness of form merging so seamlessly with the rugged landscape – there seemed to be such a balance between what we associate masculinity and feminity with, coming together so beautifully, in an unifying manner, bringing out the best in the other.

Having freshened up and now upstream where there were fewer people, I saw Gaurishankarji take his Ganga-snaan, praying, applying abhisheka on his forehead, shoulders, elbows and chest. I hadn’t taken my water bottle and I’d thought it wouldn’t be too much time before we came back, but we met a few other people on the way, some fellow students of his, and the whole thing turned out to be more than 2.5 hours long. In the meanwhile, someone mistook me for a photographer who would take photos and sell them hard copies. I did take a photo of them and noted down their address and email ID and forwarded it to them later on.

All this time in the cold, bare-feet for almost 2 hours, hungry and thirsty in the thin air (Gangotri is at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) above sea level and I was starting to feel a bit concerned about whether I’d been a bit foolish. We hurried down to have lunch, and apart from being tasty, it was healthily made and gave me almost instant warmth. I experienced that digestion was exothermic in nature that afternoon and cherished it fully.

As afternoon faded into evening, I wanted to call up Pri, but my phone couldn’t catch any signal. I strolled down towards the market area in search of an alternative and found an “old-fashioned” STD booth. Not having seen once since many years, I immediately could imagine a small fan, a large LED display which counted the time and displayed the amount, but instead of all that, there was just a tiny feature phone with a BSNL connection. How time changes things! This booth would become a daily place for me to visit.

On one of the days, I was strolling next to the river next to Surya kund, where I was called by a Sadhu who asked me to avoid a slippery section of rocks and come towards him. As we sat and chatted, it turned out that he had grown up in Bangalore, and had renounced everything after 5 attempts at leaving his lavish lifestyle. We started talking and he shared that he was not from Bangalore anymore but from the Himalayas now, and how this is one of the places left where the pollution of the ”tann” and ”mann” can be reversed. In this Kalyug, people were becoming like pigs, he said, and just like if you wash a pig clean and put it in an armchair of velvet, the pig will still want to wallow in mud and filth. As we continued speaking, he mentioned how he had reached the mountains, and how it had taken several lessons to reach where he was now, much more in touch with himself. He shared how he had to walk for several days in the mountains with his Guru , and once when choosing to sleep in a cave, his Guru could detect an ill-spirit there. The Guru fought the spirit the whole night while he waited outside in the cold and come early morning, the Guru could suppress the ill spirit, blessed it and set it free. That, he told me, is the definition of a saint – “one who helps and guides even those who try to hurt him” – much like the sandalwood tree which gives fragrance to the axe that cuts it. We spoke about Karma being a great equalizer and how even a glass of water given / taken adds to it. He mentioned how sages and seers are floating in the astral plane in the Gangotri region and this is why it is easier to tap into those energy fields and feel spiritual. As evening fell, we went on a walk together, and pausing at Surya kund, he told me that there is a natural Shivling at its base. There’s a rainbow formed when the sun is directly overhead at fixed times of the year. Going into the past, he shared how Shivji had arrested the Ganga’s fall from heavens (“the Ganga is not an ordinary river – it is a “Dev – nadi”) and had He not broken the fall, it would have gone into “paatal lok”. This is the steepest fall of the Bhaghirathi, he said.

He guided me towards Pandav Gufa, about 2 km away, which he said would be a good warm up for my trek, and I set off through a beautiful forest trail, with soft, damp soil covered with pine leaves holding yeaterday’s rain drops. I was surprised to see colorful and tiny plants growing on the rocks and I realised that even the mountain is basically a rock, isn’t it? Don’t forests grow there too? In my stupor, I often ignore and overlook so many things…

I saw baby pine trees, the giants of the future, which although uncertain, is something each of them is going to help shape – and when I realised that, I was not alone in my journey as an “eco buddy” but being accompanied by millions of trees and millions of animals who are maintaining the food chain, habitats and the forests and weather systems which bring and control life. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone – in a lonely patch of a forest in a remote part of the mountains, I felt connected and could recognize something so tangible and permanent that no one could take it away from me.

I called it a day post an early dinner and there was a healthy worm on the window in the hotel – It turned out it was a “Khajeera” in local speak and when I asked if it was harmless, the guys running the hotel said “Oh yes” and the next day morning, it got changed to “Oh no, it can go into the ear, better be careful”. I wonder why people go in such loops. Am I one of them too?

The next morning, a slow start to the day was had, since I knew it would be an intense second half with Swamiji who had invited me for lunch. I was feeling a bit alone, not used mainly to so much alone time, and had been looking forward to meeting people here. While walking towards the Ashram, I got drenched in the drizzle, and started shivering a bit – running off to take cover under an overhang, I saw a thermometer hanging there which showed the temperature at 4 degree Celcius (and my stupidity at 100/100 levels). I wasn’t wearing shoes, gloves, any head gear and neither thick pants. I ran off to the hotel, changed back into dry and double layers and was now feeling so much better.

After spending the day with Swamiji, I then bumped into Anantha ji – who was working in the field of education and we spoke a bit about quite a lot. Or did we speak a lot about just a bit? He sang songs and made me sing a Rabindranath Tagore song with him, and he was taking notes in between, including of what I was saying, and he’s only the second person who has done so – the other one being – me! 🙂 Anantha ji was an extremely soft person – like a nascent leaf. I later on sang a school prayer with him.

It had been a long day, with several intense discussions and I was tired and cold. I slept with my thermals , cap and socks on and slept like a log. It had rained every single day I was there and I woke up stiff with my nose feeling cold inside when I breathed in. Was I coming down with a cold just a few days before my trek? Was it the generator’s fumes outdoors which had triggered it? Fear, like cold, sneaks in through any gap.

Out of curiosity I woke up and went to check how hard it was raining – I could hear the dripping of water on the tin roof, but as soon as I opened the door, I could see blue skies, bright yellow sunshine and the fresh greens and whites on the mountain slopes. The dripping noise was a wet saree drying out. It had been a fox-pass (faux-pas) and there was sun on the right , sun on the left and sun on the top of the mountains. Yipee! I stretched a bit , did my dance steps privately before bumping my head on the low door frame on the way out of the room!

I deceided to celebrate the sunshine by washing clothes after a cup of chai. Everything had changed, including my breakfast spot – the restaurant had shifted outdoors for me, and I was served food and beverage under the infinite canopy of a picture postcard sky. “Sooraj maharaj nikal gaye hai ji..cheer pe aa jaao!” (“His Majesty, the Sun has appeared, come over this side onto the cheer (chair, he meant)”) – oh, the accent is something I enjoyed so much and have brought it home with me, along with these words which I utter every winter when I sit outside to eat my breakfast.

Ananthaji came by and we walked again towards Paandav Gufa, and had coffee there. The Babaji at Pandav gufa was well stocked and we enjoyed our time there talking about a few things, including politics, since it was election results week. Walking back, we bumped into the friendly guys who ran a tiny hydel power station there, and had some freshly made tea again. A round of singing songs was had, and being local guys, we requested them to sing a local song – they sang a Garhwali song about how the Tehri Dam flooded the entire Tehri village , and submerged it entirely – and alongwith it, drowned the memories that village boys had of their village. It was a poignant moment – two grown-up men, working in harsh weather the year round, singing a song about the village they grew up in after it was submerged in the reservoir of a dam, while working in a tiny hydel-power plant themselves…

I then had lunch with a film-maker (the number of different people I met on this trip everyday was unprecedented and so exciting for me) and after spending an hour talking with her, Anantha and I bumped into a Doctor-Dentist couple from Lucknow, one of them an avid trekker and the other a complete rookie. As I observed how comfortable and uncomfortable both of them were respectively at the prospect of their upcoming trek, I wondered how their relationship would be after their trek. Would they be stronger and closer, or colder and distant, a giant wedge of a rock between them? I would get to know in a few days time, when I did see them after my trek, and I was happy to see that while both seemed tired, they were both smiling and looking at them, so was I. Mountains can really bring people together.

Over these few days, I also saw trek leaders leading and bringing back groups of trekkers back to the starting point. Everything from the complexion, to the energy, to the way the backpacks are packed and carried suggested either the beginning or ending phase of the trek – along with who enjoyed it and who was just limping back, looking for a bed, hot water and a long session of sleep. I wondered what would the life of a trek leader be like? How about the cook and the porters? I recognized one of the trek leaders from having seen him on his Instagram profile and I thought to myself – wow, it is a small world.

There was ample time for me to sit and soak myself in the majestic scenery, in the vast open air campus of this outdoor university, having talked with many “visiting professors” and I realized that the Self has the potential of the Himalayas from which flows the Ganges, and that each of us , whether as an individual or in a relationship, is a peak in ourselves. With this thought, I strengthened my intention to not only do the trek well, but experience it to my fullest.

Just a day to go for the trek now and we walked to the entry point of the national park – a two kilometre walk for which no permit is required. We met Dhyan (his Indian name, he told me) from Brazil who had a powerful calming wisdom in his face and actions and we walked together to Fauji baba’s ashram. While there, he told us how he’s been coming to Gangotri since more than 3 decades and is studying psychosomatic illnesses in this setting as well as back home. He mentioned one of his visits in the 90’s when it was close to winter and on one of the nights, the sleeping bag wasn’t enough to ward off the cold. His body started freezing , going rigid and his voice was stuck too. He could just move his eyes and think; every other motion seemed locked. And as he lay there, scared and thinking he was going to die, he felt the urge to pee. Thinking about the warmth it would bring, he thought of doing so inside the sleeping bag, thinking it would warm him up enough to move – but what if it didn’t warm him up enough? The wetness would freeze him even more after that. So he held it, till his full bladder started making him shiver uncontrollably trying not to burst – and that warmed him up! He got out, relieved himself and relieved by all yardsticks(!) , he decided not to sleep again till the sun rose.

As he sat awake, he saw the most brilliant night sky he had ever seen.

Post this “little” personal sharing, we entered Fauji baba’s ashram and started talking. Fauji baba, as the name suggests, was in the armed forces before stepping out and now runs an ashram near Gangotri. He shared how he stays there throughout the year quite often and how the real meditation starts in winter, when everything is packed under several feet of snow. He was thankful to the river (Ma Ganga) for having allowed him to stay here and was vocal about how you become what you put in your body – hence, breathe, drink and eat only the healthiest and purest of substances, he said. Mothers are the first Gurus for everyone, followed by the teachers (who are also called “Gyaangurus”) and then followed by your spiritual gurus. The spiritual guru purifies the body and spirit and shows you the route. There can be several routes to the same place and the walking is ours, the way of walking is ours, but the direction and path of walking are shown by the spiritual guru. When we asked him, like surely many would have asked him, how to walk the path – the first thing he said, counter intuitively it may seem, was to sit down. How do we walk the path while sitting down? By preparing the body to be able to sit , for days together, and that’s when you know what is inside the body – you can begin to see the inner parts, and after seeing those parts, you begin to understand the Tatvas, and then you purify these Tatvas and then you meditate. Just before leaving for the day, he shared how everyone’s minds and bodies are the same, and yet we are all different – think about it, he said.

It was now close to the beginning of the trek.

Gathering at the hotel where the trekking team was, we quickly got introduced and then instructions were shared – how to pack a backpack, how to tie shoelaces so you don’t have to stop on slopes and bend down on loose rock, campsite etiquette, to leaving no trash on the slopes, getting our health cards, and so on.  With these things sorted, we went to our individual rooms, ready to leave the next morning.

Post breakfast, the next morning, we started walking, hiking on the broad trail parallel to the river, past Fauji baba’s ashram where I’d had lunch a couple of days ago, getting to know each other as we exchanged formalities, and getting stopped at the entrance to be told about how no plastic is to be disposed off beyond this point. We were encouraged to bring it down with us if we found any, and we had been given eco-bags for picking trash up along the trail. There wasn’t much of it, surprisingly, but we still got to work when we saw it. And this kind of activity is infectious – it catches on and soon there were many hands working on it.

On the way, the tall trees framed the huge mountains and sometimes hid them in their canopies. Sunny days made the colors stand out all the more and the brilliant white of the snow caps against the pure blue skies and the vibrant forest colors were a delight to view, to the point that when I later showed these photographs to a few friends, they told me that such clean and pristine environments aren’t possible, and that this was a trick of the camera! This was stepping into a large, 3-dimensional, larger than life landscape painting – something extraordinarily beautiful..

Crossing wooden bridges across narrow streams, cameras clicking here, videographers experimenting with angles and light there, we walked on towards our first campsite which was Chirbasa, named after the Chir trees (blue pine). The terrain was fully stony , hard and a couple of ascents and descents were tricky with the broken terrain also slippery at places.

At this point, I’d already been at high altitude since a few days, where I had been walking around loads, which meant that I was breathing well. But a few of the trekkers who’d reached directly from cities, in tight schedules bookmarked by weekends, felt the punch of the thin, cold air, and struggled through the day. This is where the trail begins to hit you in the stomach and knocks the wind out of the lungs and exposes one’s fitness levels (or the lack of it).

We camped overnight and the next day, we left for a short 5 km walk, from Chirbasa to Bhojbasa (so named because of the Himalayan Birch – or Bhojpatra tree – on whose papery bark, several manuscripts were written).

The trail had been mimicking the bends of the river and as we cautiously and quickly tiptoed through rock-fall prone areas, I quickly grabbed a photograph – this was so different to what we commonly see. The road was following the river, not the other way round – not the bent, broken, blocked, dried up rivers feeding our greedy cities.

Carrying on, we heard a few fist sized rocks move and our guide immediately pointed to a Bharal (a blue sheep). Spot it in the picture below!

As we walked ahead the views kept getting richer in variety and color. The scale of the mountains exploded – we were already at fairly high altitude and we could only imagine as we gawked at these much higher peaks around us. They seemed to be starting from where we were!

On the way, we would often meet a swamiji who would be on his way towards higher ground, or should I say, a higher plane of being? They were of light feet, carried little on their backs and seemed attuned to the terrain while we labored on.

With the sun rising up, there was a mesmerizing game of light and shadow played out on a gigantic scale.

The sun was welcome generally, but it did feel warm when one was continuously walking under it, and the occasional shade offered by trees was both welcome and chilly.

Eventually we reached the campsite, freshened up and headed towards the river. There was a meditative swamiji by the riverside, who made for a calming visual experience and what I still find to be a powerful photograph. All along the trail, people would revere the mighty river and deep in his meditative state, I wondered whether among other things, gratitude towards the river must be getting offered too…?

We had a day off here – a bit of time to acclimatize, to soak things in and also practice climbing up some of the scree / loose rock. I wasn’t too sure about my right knee which has had niggling issues since a while now, and inspite of the physiotherapy and the exercises I’d been doing, I didn’t want to push too much on the buffer day. It was a nice little hike to a hill nearby and on the way back, we saw one of our trek leaders (who also doubled as a cook) run down the mountain in a controlled way at incredible speed. The locals are exceptionally sure footed, agile, fit and inspiring.

We got up around midnight to gaze at the skies and stars and except for one source of light, there was hardly any light pollution which led to some stunning star sightings. I’d carried a tripod along with my new camera and with help from one of my trekmates, we managed to grab a slice of the  heavens. (Full brightness recommended)

As we gradually started freezing (it was not the camera alone in long-exposure mode), I remember how at the top of the opposite mountain a rising halo of light started spreading. It was rising steadily and as it suddenly rose over the ridge and burst out, it was as if it was a powerful headlight of a huge bike – something from out of Harry Potter – in my mind, it was Hagrid on Sirius Black’s motorbike! In reality, it was the moon which rose so starkly that it blinded out the stars and we could see shadows of mountains and our own shadows as we huddled back to our tents. Such a routine occurrence, yet so powerful.

The next morning, we were ready to leave. Pulse Oxymeter readings taken, breakfast finished, we took our lighter bags with just water and some packed lunch and started off. The earlier route had been washed away and so we had to cross the river in a trolley strung across the river over thick steel cables. We all took turns pulling groups of 4-5 people across the wide river and immediately felt our breakfast being utilized completely! Imagine the porters and their energy reserves!

Walking along the river towards the glacier now, excitement and altitude were rising. We were told to walk carefully since there were lots of loose rocks. We did so, and started climbing.

Climbing higher now, we crossed streams on mountain sides which felt a bit bizarre – apart from the river, this really felt like a desert with hardly any plants and just tons and tons of boulders. Expecting the rocks to be slippery (which they were surprisingly not) we proceeded carefully, not wanting to get our socks wet through our shoes.

Halfway up towards Tapovan, we paused and looked at the Gaumukh glacier. It was mighty! Huge and long and such a thick layer of ice carving out a way. It’s sad to see how quickly Himalayan glaciers are melting and so much of it is down to each of us just as much as it is due to large industries and governmental policies.

As everyone caught up, it was time to continue moving upwards. We had been told by our trek leader (who caught a fever and had stayed back) that we would lose our minds at the sheer beauty of the Akash Ganga stream. I thought he was saying so to motivate us, and there was more than a bit of exaggeration in it. However, as we climbed, at one point the stream seems to be pouring out of the skies – this is because the terrain has a certain kind of setting / illusion there where the plains and mountains aren’t visible from the slope below. It was a sight to behold.

Carrying on, what was further unexpected at this altitude and terrain was seeing flowers and butterflies and the colors they added. The added magic of seeing Mount Shivling in front of us was priceless too. Next to it, we saw Mount Meru, and along with Mount Bhagirathi, that made up an impressive list of Himalayan Giants – it always blows my mind away knowing that there are close to a hundred mountains above 7000 m in altitude in the Indian-Eurasian belt.

Spending some time at these meadows, we spent some time catching our breath, talking a bit, eating our lunches and taking a few photographs.

In some ways, for many, the trek was over – the high point was reached, and I started hearing talks about the next thing to do – another adventure activity, a big platter of food, and even thoughts of returning to office. I recognized how I used to think just like this, rushing to the next moment while this moment was very much alive, and I thanked myself for learning and my teachers for teaching me how to remain in the present with more awareness. We hobbled down over big boulders – it was incredible how there were so many rocks! Finally we reached the mouth of the glacier, which we warned should always be at a safe distance, since car sized chunks may fall suddenly and the resulting wave will knock us down. It was huge, a wall of ice, a huge block from which started a river thousands of kilometres long.

On the way back to camp, we saw a big rockfall happening – check out how the valley filled with rock dust and the plume of dust thrown up as a big boulder speeds down the mountain. The sound it produced in the otherwise silent valley was loud – like a series of gunshots.

Now, it was more or less an easy path towards the camp – follow the river downstream. I picked up speed and sped ahead. And for about an hour or two, I was walking alone, in a wide river bed, next to a roaring stream, flanked by high mountains with no one in sight. I’d not done that before, and haven’t done that since, and somehow it has left an incredibly liberating feeling in my memory.

The next day morning, we were to walk back to Gangotri – a long day of trekking and I started the day with visiting one of the Ashrams at Bhojbasa. I shared a cup of tea with a team attempting Mount Bhagirathi – all of them looking younger, fresher, stronger and so much determined.

Back at camp, we finished packing up and it was time for a group pic.

The walk back to Gangotri got over too quickly, the trek was over.

For now.

Forests

To hear the leaves thudding down on the forest floor,

And seeing them pushed up on resilient support,

To see the freshest nascent greens and purples,

And the old peeling browns.

To hear the symphony of birds,

The rustling and wheezing of the breeze,

To see stillness,

To be in it,

To be it,

To hear drops plopping onto the ground,

To feel the snow melt and drip down,

To welcome the shade of a canopy,

And to the magic and marvel of massive trees.

Beautiful, majestic and puzzling superorganisms,

To hear them creaking as they gently dance,

To see them bare – a bare tree, bare forest, and soon, later, a thick canopy, a majestic green crown blooming.

To see seasons change.

To breathe the air,

To feel the humidity,

To feel the humus on the wooden floor,

To see light dancing through,

To be scared,

And reinvigorated.

To move through the woods and forests,

And to be moved by them.

To bathe in the forest,

And its memory.

~~~

Reading the fantastic, insightful book “The hidden life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben and am transferred into the magical places that forests are.

Ready?

To Restore balance,

Reduce, reuse, recycle,

Respond and rethink, responsibly,

Return to greener habits,

Reforest yourself and your neighbourhood,

Revisit simplicity,

Reimagine your habits, readjust them,

Read, research, reflect, review with friends,

Remember your role in the web of Life,

Rectify habits where they need to be, refine them,

React positively and constructively, re-energise, reach out,

Reach out renewably to repair our broken ways,

Reply to the inner calling of Nature,

Refuse to let things stay the way they are if they’re unhealthy,

Join the revolution which wants a healthier planet,

Rebuild a better planet,

Refit yourself so that you fit too,

Reality is here and now,

Realise this,

Reason with the unreasonable as far as possible,

then, resume your journey,

Recover from your weaknesses

Rediscover your intentions

Remove yourself from toxic, polluted environments,

Replace toxicity with Life,

Rejoice in the tiny changes that you make

For you are rekindling something huge,

Repent not, restart at the earliest,

Refresh, rejuvenate in this abundant beauty, and

Reignite yourself in Nature’s wisdom,

Reciprocate the Love you’re getting from her, and reconnect.

Retain this.

Ready?

~~~

A short reminder, to us all.

Painting courtesy: Priyasha Sharma (thesummerblossoms on Facebook)

Many walls to tear down..

It was not going to be easy, and it still isn’t.

Although, it is much easier now.

One strike and a chip comes off, many strikes and a tiny crack appears, a stronger hit and nothing happens – you’ve hurt yourself – the wall hitting the hammer hurting your hands, jarring your bones. There seems to be no pattern, no linearity which we can fathom in this process of destruction, or rather construction. And suddenly a sizeable chunk falls off the day you expect it the least. Re-energised, you take another hit and try to break this wall, which, built over years, cemented by excuses, held together by ego baggage, reinforced by what we call society, provides a perfect cover for our fears and self imposed limitations to grow. But as it slowly crumbles, attacked by the same hands which helped built it, from below the dark underbelly of denial, there’s light on the other side.

And it’s filtering through…

Old man and the sea, and ..me.

~~~

Old Man Ocean, how do you pound

Smooth glass, rough stones round?

Time and the tide and the wild waves rolling

Night and the wind and the long grey dawn.

Old Man Ocean, what do you tell,

What do you sing in the empty shell?

Fog and the storm and the long bell tolling,

Bones in the deep and the brave men gone.

– Russell Hoban

~~~

This time, that year:

Wave after wave, questions after questions, answers to questions, answers in questions, questions in answer, wave after wave.

This time, this year, this place:

There has been a lot of time and mindspace to observe this churning,
This dark gray-mattered sea which stretches far and deep inside me.

~~~

Churning

This time, that year,
same place.

Wave after wave rising, swelling, crashing. Question after question flowed out, flowed in, went on..and along with the questions, a few answers surfaced, rose like the waves.

Within many questions lay answers, or hints to them. And within many answers, especially the ones which I now feel were short-sighted, lay hidden many more questions.

The cliff stood firm, though, watching this play, back and forth, wave after wave, question after answer, answer after question.

This time, this year, this place.

~~~

This is the longest we’ve stayed at a beach, and with barely any ‘distractions’ , there has been a lot of time and mindspace to observe the churning of the sea, this dark grey matter which stretches so far and deep.

Rain.

Feel the rain.

The magic that is monsoon, after the months of waiting, the looking up at empty skies, the beating of the cruel sun, the long days of summer, the dry landscape, helplessly watching the weakening rivers and lakes, the cracking up of the soil, the slow roasting of leaves on plants, awaiting the cooler breeze of the evening, waiting..

And magically, cyclically, slowly, sometimes suddenly and scarily fast, there is a cloud formation like this. Pregnant with hope.

Flash! Boom! Crack! Boom! Rumble! The breeze picks up, the mercury cuddles up and shrinks and cowers down, trees open up – sway and dance, birds seem to surf the skies in the strong gusts and our hearts soar as the first tiny or the first HUGE drops splatter down.

Feel the rain, don’t get ‘just’ wet.

All aboard?

Almost time to depart on the next leg of the journey!

Some new tracks, metal fabric stitching us together, some new scenery, some fresh rolling stock, some new co-travelers, some younger, older and more familiar, all of us hopefully better versions of ourselves.. All of us with our own baggage, hopefully optimized and repacked over the short break.

New time tables planned, new plans now tabled, new tracks mapped out, new maps which need to be tracked, on this train where all are passengers, guards, loco drivers, station masters as well as the teams less visible in the background, often, all at once..

All on-board? Let the wheels roll!

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Magic..

We are here to understand the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. Many of us will hardly believe that this is magic. I don’t expect we will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…

Rugged terrain

Over the past few days, I’ve been on a trek, to the mountain ranges of my brain..

Through the forests of thoughts, tall summits towered high, vast plateaus stretched out and deep valleys sank down. Fissures, crevasses and gaps littered the route.

A place which could take lives or a place where one could be reborn

~~~

Learning..

Ever since moving to the new city/’job’, I’m  happy on being able to listen to some purely spoken languages here (some new, some familiar) in the past half year, and thinking about the joy of listening to ‘foreign’ words reminds me of this image and the range of feelings associated when one listens to a new tongue. 

Regret flashes by when I accept I didn’t learn Kannada when I had such a good chance to, while in Bangalore. 

But, new place, new beginnings. \m/

Space turtle! 

The phrase “Turtles all the way down” was floating around in my mind, in much the same manner the turtle would have been floating in space if it decided to, and I just had to try and paint it. 

Well, it really started as an over-cautious sketch, and there were too many questions immediately. Of which size should I draw the Turtle so that I could give it enough details and yet manage to fit the correctly-scaled Sun and the Space in between? Which orientation of paper should I use – landscape or portrait? How far ahead should I put the turtle ‘in orbit’ so that it shows just about enough motion? Will I even be able to show enough of an arc to make it look like an orbit? What if i just eventually paint the Sun’s outermost layers – wait, do I even know the layers of the Sun? I really want to paint the sun spots and solar flares though because the Sun is so majorly mighty. Brilliant ball of fire. Maybe I should look up a photo of Space first. And so on with a thousand other questions like should the turtle be floating happily or just floating with a hint of impending doom and so on and on and on. 

I almost forgot to focus on the image I had in mind. And I almost forgot that there was no way that a beginner like me would be able to translate even half of that image onto paper (needless to say, the mental image was one which was uber-rich in depth and grandiose to the maximum! :)) 

I ended up smiling, realizing that the original feeling was to paint and here I was getting tied down in too many details. Not a single pencil stroke made yet. Not that details aren’t important, but they made it seem impossible to begin anywhere. Maybe, the idea is to start, and then learn the techniques to get some of those details. 

Followed this approach, and forgetting all expectations, enjoyed the experience of painting something a LOT. For the first time. The 2+ hours just flew by. Ironic part – I never once expected and calculated and predicted the fun element 🙂 Creating something (especially something you end up personally enjoying and liking) created this immense energy, is what I felt that day. Was just bubbling with it!! 

Pri taught me some more techniques in the next painting (ongoing one) and the zone-like, trance-like experience which the space-turtle gave me got recreated, when I removed the over-thinking, fear of mistakes, fear of it not looking ‘right’, of it  not being scaled properly, of it not looking realistic and not being “aesthetically pleasing” (whatever that means). There may be a reduced co-relation between what is there in the head and what comes out eventually, but that is such a joy..! 

Too many words maybe, but ended up really enjoying the experience, and definitely a little bit hooked on to it! 🙂 Would urge everyone to try this and share as well..! 

Natural learning

​When the student is ready, the teacher arrives. 


Nature has pretty much everything, if not everything, that we need to learn from: it teaches us the concepts of diversity, cyclical patterns and behaviours, of cause and effect, unknown happenings, of beauty, the role of micro, macro and extreme events, continual erosion and sculpting, symbiotic and parasitic relationships, of coexistence, communication, specialised behaviour, adaptation, evolution, survival, balance, extinction… you name it and it is there. 

And all these, in an approachable, unbiased, giving, periodic and spiralling manner, done patiently, consistently, unfailingly, peacefully, and, beautifully.

It provides an excellent environment for learning, a medium which kick-starts self-reflection and self-learning with such ease once you connect with it. Its millions of years of wisdom awaken curiosity and teach us to sense, think and feel. 

If only we shifted our priorities and perspectives..

Work in progress..

Woke up today, all charged up. 

It was a holiday, and there were a lot of things I had to do for school, but more importantly, a lot of things I wanted to do for school. 

Saw the two 911’s parked on my desk, and remembered these words: 

In the beginning, I looked around, but couldn’t find the car I dreamt of. So, I built it myself“. 

Isn’t that what we need to do with ourselves and our surroundings?

Trees..

“Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”

~~~

Have seen a bit of rainfall here, and the almost instant sprouting of fresh leaves, tiny shoots and fresh grass which followed is nothing short of magical. Am missing some of the trees of Bangalore, those faithful friends of mine who waved when I saw them, who guarded the roads on both sides, who celebrated each season differently, who towered mightily and yet humbly, and who literally breathed life into me..

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The potter’s wheel..

Ever since we joined in our new roles as teachers last month, I’ve been getting a bit more time to read and ponder about the utterly magnificent dohas of Kabir. It helps to have a colleague who has been listening, reading and pondering on these beautiful and deep lines written hundreds of years ago, and recently I came across these two lines, which have made an imprint on my muddy mind’s surface. 

What these lines say, translated as best as I can, is: 

The clay tells the sculptor “what! You will beat and pat and trample me? There will be a time when I will do the same to you”.

~~~

A Giant and a rock.

Have been going to this place since a few years now, and this ‘piece’ of rock is something that I just love! The layers, the colours, the textures, the ride to this place (struggling in the uphill sections, against a stiff headwind, and then zipping downhill at what feels lightning fast speed), the whole experience is so peaceful and therapeutic. I wish we, as a species, leave some stones unturned.

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SSSHHHH

As the morning sun struggled to rise up,

fighting to break free from the clouds,

to unwrap itself from the heavy blanket of cold wind,

struggling up from the valley floor,

the clouds pulled the wind up with them,

the wind pulled the clouds up with it,

ssshh. It hissed. And Roared. SSSHHHH

Windy Day (image taken via a Google search)

Windy Day (image taken via a Google search)

May the light and magic show continue!

A lot of things have happened in the past couple of months. A lot of confusion prevailed. We met a lot of positive and inspiring people. We realized the importance of protecting our own internal (and infinite) energies and not allowing it to be contaminated by the noise and fears of the external society. We went through a spell of bad health, partly fueled by needless stress. In the process of recovery, we killed some bad habits. Life is becoming better now. While there was always excitement and happiness in ‘the future’, I, especially, have made a shift and am bringing that excitement and happiness into my today. I don’t want to wait and depend on tomorrow for being in my best spirits – It has to happen today.

I have quit my job as an engineer and will be joining a school, working as a teacher in the coming months. While the insecurity of leaving a high paying job scared me for almost two years, I have been chipping away at it and now I am finally comfortable to take the plunge to lower salaries. It is ironic and sad, how a teacher is poorly paid, considering the importance of the role. However, we’re looking forward to revisiting some of our textbooks from about two decades back, and are really excited to re-learn everything, with several new mindsets that these two decades have helped grow. Along with the now available and fantastic online exposure (articles, videos, blog posts, info-graphics, etc) I really can’t wait to make some notes!

Recently I stumbled on this photograph, taken against the backdrop of a dark sea at night. It reminds me that it is time for the light and magic show to continue, and become stronger.

Let there be Light, and Magic.

Let there be Light, and Magic.

 

The star of the morning

Many moons ago,

I saw a stunning star,

The star of the morning,

I starred the memory as a favorite.

Woke up to stunning weather today. Crisp, fresh air. Cold breeze. Racing clouds and a layer of mist. And the sun peeping out. Most of the times, the sun looked like the moon: tiny, white and cold, except when the clouds moved enough for the sun to shine bright. It felt so amazing to feel the slightest of the warmth reach down, and see the lightest of the shadows fleeting by. I went back to the last time when I was so rooted and staring in awe at this celestial spectacle.
 
The day is made. I repeat, the day is made. 🙂
Happy ‘Sun’day!

પાણા અને પાણી

ચમકતી ધારા ની ચળકતી ધાર
ધીમે થી અંદર ઉત્રી જાય,
મારી સાથે એક બનીને
મને ઘમી જાય..

ક્યારેક શાંત સર્કી મારી બની જાય
પૂર બની ને વહી ને મારી જાય..
ક્યારેક હસ્તી નાચ્તી કૂદતી જાય
સાંપ ની જેમ ડસી જાય,
થીજી ને જામી જાય
પ્રકાશ માં ફરી જીવિત થાય..

એના અતૂટ અખૂટ ચક્ર મને કહે
મારામાં પલળી ને અસીમ વહે

ઘણાં પાણા, ઘણું પાણી
મારામાં રેહવાના, ઓગળવાના..

And below, a quick, basic and rough translation (Realized how difficult it is to translate even something that is your own work. I can imagine the effort needed, the struggle required, the depth one would have to go to to understand someone else’s work to translate, and finally the reward of having done it satisfactorily.

Title: Water and Rocks

The glistening edge of a glittering stream

slowly slides into me,

becomes one with me.

I feel good about it.

Sometimes, it slides past me silently, becoming mine,

Sometimes, it becomes a flood and kills me,

sometimes it playfully dances and jumps around,

while sometimes, serpentine, it bites me.

It freezes, and stays frozen,

In the light it becomes alive again

Its unbroken, unending cycles tell me

Come, get drenched in me and flow, flow limitless.

A lot of stones, a lot of water,

Will stay in me, and melt away.

 

Resonance

26th January is when India celebrates its Republic Day. This time around, we woke up to a song playing from across the street, from the (huge) apartments opposite our house.

I have always loved this song, and often listen to it in an on-and-off fashion. But, that day, I don’t know why it was the case, but I got ‘extra-connected’ with the meaning of the song. Maybe it was the patriotism in the air around (we’d had a 20-minute video and speech the day before in office on how the freedom struggle was, on how we have already spent so many decades that we have begun to forget so much of it). Maybe it was the mass movement that is happening across the world (atleast I feel so) where the voices for common sense are getting louder.. I also love how this song celebrates the common man, and the infinite potential in every one.

More than ever, and not just in India, we need to recognize, respect and foster the incredible interconnections between we, the people, and this magnificent planet, between people of different religions, between genders, between the rich and the poor, black and white, educated and uneducated, and well, the list just goes on and on..

Here is some more info and the lyrics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mile_Sur_Mera_Tumhara

Peace and Love to all.

Boundarylessness

I did not think that I would be writing a book review anytime. But some books are special, and deserve to be ‘shared’. I recently finished  reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and loved it. Sharing a few thoughts!

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“A heron flew over the bamboo forest—and Siddhartha accepted the heron into his soul, flew over forest and mountains, was a heron, ate fish, felt the pangs of a heron’s hunger, spoke the heron’s croak, died a heron’s death. A dead jackal was lying on the sandy bank, and Siddhartha’s soul slipped inside the body, was the dead jackal, lay on the banks, got bloated, stank, decayed, was dismembered by hyenas, was skinned by vultures, turned into a skeleton, turned to dust, was blown across the fields. And Siddhartha’s soul returned, had died, had decayed, was scattered as dust, had tasted the gloomy intoxication of the cycle, awaited in new thirst like a hunter in the gap, where he could escape from the cycle, where the end of the causes, where an eternity without suffering began. He killed his senses, he killed his memory, he slipped out of his self into thousands of other forms, was an animal, was carrion, was stone, was wood, was water, and awoke every time to find his old self again, sun shone or moon, was his self again, turned round in the cycle, felt thirst, overcame the thirst, felt new thirst.”

The first time I read these words, I could not connect with them at all. I thought it was exaggerated. I thought Siddhartha was mad. At times, I thought I was foolish in not being able to comprehend what was being said through these words.

But, a few years later, a few months ago, I had an experience. After two months of a hot, intense, unrelenting Indian summer, I went to the forest, and saw the burnt, dried grass. I saw the droopy leaves. I saw the lake drying up. At night, I saw elephants drinking water, herds of deer drinking water. The next morning, I touched the soil – hard, hot, dry. Imagine a day in this weather, outdoors. Imagine an entire season filled with days like this.

I became the elephant, I felt thirsty, I showered dust and mud on my back, I twirled my trunk around clumps of grass and uprooted them searching for moisture below the top layer, I dug my tusks and turned the soil over, I looked upwards towards the blinding sun, I waited, I waited for night to arrive, I waited, I saw clouds roll in, I smelt the rain, saw the lightning, felt the fat raindrops. I experienced and imagined the relief elephants may be experiencing.

It was time to re-read the book.

I loved the book this time.

Beginning at a young age, Siddhartha seems to realise that the sum of his knowledge, the teachings of the holy books and the debates and daily rituals do not add up to something that satisfies him. The whole seems to be something different than the sum of several individual things (nirvana or moksha or enlightenment seems not to be a formulaic combination of operations), but something other than that. The whole is something other than the sum of the individual parts – something that only he can seek, only he can find and experience for himself. No other definition will do. I had recently read about Gestalt Psychology and this connection rang true in my head. I was also reminded of this quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti – “The description is not the described; I can describe the mountain, but the description is not the mountain, and if you are caught up in the description, as most people are, then you will never see the mountain”. Having been in the mountains, and having experienced the magic, the power, the energy in them, I could empathise. The same went for what Siddhartha says in the book.

Emotions and events are captured beautifully in the book, even in the translation; for example, just before setting off on his path, after his father has not agreed with his view, there is a line which says – “Then the father realised that Siddhartha could no longer remain with him – that he had already left him.” This happens at day break, when “the first light of day entered the room”. Beautiful. I could visualise the entire scene and could feel the tension, the resolve and the emotions in that room. I am waiting to read the original German text now, just to see how it reads out.

His subsequent journey into ‘Sansara’ was tumultuous, with both ups and downs, and yet necessary. It was his nature, I think, to immerse himself completely in whatever he did, and see the connection and the separation it had from his previous life. Seeing the illusions of life firsthand, he nevertheless learns some very important lessons about love – how you cannot completely isolate loving someone and hating someone. He went into the opposite extreme of his Samana state and went deep into the lifestyle of the town-dwellers. Ultimately tired of it, he cycles out of it, after almost being driven to the point of killing himself, but realises that having experienced it first hand, he has an understanding about the life of greed, power, the pleasures of the world and the riches, and that with this understanding he has the clarity to continue again on his path..Siddhartha ”the pleasure-monger” and Siddhartha ”the man of property” had to die if he wanted to kill the old Self in him and start anew.

A critical difference between seeking and finding is highlighted, with seeking shown as being limiting, since it is a conscious thing. You have a goal, you get obsessed with achieving it, and you see nothing but the goal. On the other hand, finding is ”to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal”. I find it very difficult to untwine my understanding from that of the book’s philosophy – you can’t have just goals, and you can’t just be seekers. There seems to be the need for a balance between the two. Sometimes, things have to be seeked and found, including your own self.

At the end of the book, it is mentioned that the Buddha is there everywhere, inside the sinner, just like there exists a robber who is present inside the Brahmin. The world is not black and white, atleast not always, it is also cyclical, and connected – “The stone is just a stone, but perhaps because within the cycle of change, it can also become man and spirit, it is also of importance”.

This book has many more layers to it, many of which will take a long time to be reached. Till the next reading…

Warmth

The shadows of past winters were long and hazy, a bit like the doubts and insecurities floating in the mind, like a layer of fog and mist, reducing visibility.. 

On the other hand, the warmth of the winter sun is not unlike the warmth of a long-brewing idea beginning to materialise..