We have travelled through India during Festival Season: Navratri, Dussehra, and Diwali. This means that mass migration around the country increases train cancellations, road traffic, and accomodation demand.
Although the Yoga Trip Itinerary was well organised, the unpredictability factor was high, putting extra pressure on all of our adaptive skills.
We found new places to practice asana and pranayama, we met new friends, found the Ganga’s flow diverted for cleaning, and had to find normal accommodation when ashram bookings were cancelled.
When things were working in our favour, we visited Maya Devi Mandir, bathed in the true Ganga, had lunch with Ravi’s family, and invoked the inner goddesses. We also enjoyed a 1st birthday celebration at our hostel (Hashtag Hostel Rishikesh).
The group travelled in auto rickshaws like a dream, and team spirit was very well balanced.
Ashrams and sadhus provided some real highlights. We were invited to a bandara (feast) at Kali Cave (Jhil Mil Gophur). We also had some special connections at Guruji’s ashram in Barsana, including a techno music tractor ride with Vishnu, yoga on the temple forecourt, chai with resident sadhu Ramdevanand, camping in the ashram grounds, and the arrival of a special red sand boa snake (non-poisonous), which means money will flow back into my pocket…
We pressed onto Jaipur via the beautiful Ambika Shakti Peeth. Jaipur was vibrating with the commerce of pre-Diwali shopping. We found sanctuary from the madness in the temples, parks, forts, and restaurants.
India tried to derail us but as a team of fierce yoginis we were a 5 wheeled juggernaut, unstoppable, powerful and always ready to ride the wild side of this incredible country.
India is great! It has such beauty, such chaos, such vibrancy. I return here time and time again to teach yoga because India teaches us the real yoga. The yoga of self-knowledge, self-discipline, surrender of the ego and immersion with the inner self.
This group was amazing and I was blessed to be the guru of such wonderful women.
Jai Mata Di!
The latest tour of India with my yoga group has been amazing. Sometimes you must take the bull by the horns and make the most of the unexpected twists and turns.
Although our early morning train to Haridwar was cancelled, I took the group (+2 extras: Raven and Bridget from Aussi) to the Lotus Temple which was also closed! Then at the Lakshmi-Narayan Temple, which was open, we rested in the cool marble compound and drank chai. We finally caught the afternoon train to Haridwar.
When we got back to Haridwar the Ganga’s flow had been stopped for pre-Diwali cleaning! The once fast flowing river was now a slow trickle, so we headed over the bridge by autorickshaw to bathe in the ‘real’ Ganga.
At Chandi Ghat we found the sacred waters flowing fast and headed down onto the marble steps to bathe. Many western people think the waters of the Ganges are unclean, but actually the waters are amazing. Fresh, filled with Himalayan minerals and with a pH level of 8.9, these waters are seen as sacred. Bathing in the Ganga leaves you felling refreshed and alive! It is so clean and so natural. The water actually sparkles!
We spent a day and half in Haridwar, enjoying temple life and taking in the charismatic vibe of the place. Westerners are few and far between giving the place a friendly upbeat vibe.
Our next stop, Rishikesh, allowed us to find some time to relax, take in the sights, and catch up on a bit of shopping.
You can always find sacred moments in India which give us a chance to offer simple thanks for all the beauty and bounty of this extraordinary landscape. Then again, you can also find moments which make you think … only in India!
DAY THREE – ‘CHARANPADUKA’ – God’s Footprint
Just before the sun rose I followed the ladies who collect tulsi (sacred basil) up the path to a place called Charanpaduka – God’s Footprint.
Here at the shrine I sat and had herbal tea with the resident Yogi Baba. The Baba, a member of Nath Sampradaya, runs a wonderful hut cave and makes it available for visitors or overnight guests. Surrounded by breath-taking scenery, I imagined bringing some hardcore yogi back for some satsang and meditation (Shive, Peter, Milan, Micah?)
The Baba told me there was another cave much higher up, specifically dedicated to women who want to meditate. I was keen to spend a couple of hours in unspoilt blissful retreat, so I asked him to lead me there.
I watched the Baba as he climbed down over rocks, picking his route carefully back down the mountain. This was the route I would need to take to return safely to base camp.
I found a flat ledge just above the cave entrance and settled in for a long meditation. Just before going into the deep inner space I took a few snaps to show how beautiful and breathtaking the setting was.
In the emptiness of self I found wells of gratitude, of appreciation, of all the emotions.
In such a pristine setting, the feeling of awe saturates the mind, and a sense of elevation is intensified by the presence of the mountain goddess – Nandi Devi.
Sitting there, I felt like a jewel in the mountain goddess’s pendant. My eyes felt like clear waterfalls, my bones like rocky cliffs. My hair was the trees, the high rare air my lungs. This meditation place seemed to be the real reason for this part of the trip. I felt so blessed to have arrived to find peace and blissful silence. My heart itself repaired here.
This was perfection.
This morning I had scheduled a special Empowerment Meditation at 7am, where I envisioned myself and all my students, friends and family members, past and present, re-routing our energies through the highest planes – to connect to our higher self.
At 6.30am I headed to Mana West, the stronghold of the ‘Bravest of the brave’. Undeterred by snow and cold winds, I made my way down to the sacred waters of the Saraswati and Alakananda rivers.
In my meditation by the river, I envision all the people I know one by one. Some appeared to me as mountain gods, others as mountain goddesses. Some appeared as divine minstrels and some great energies. Other people were tuned out or distracted by the business of life.
I imagined clearing and cleaning up all past impressions, all energy deposits, and directing all that energy to the Akash, the highest realms. My intention was that everyone could reclaim their own energy, as could I. This clear pristine space was the perfect setting to let go and reconnect.
After the meditation was complete, I headed back to Mana village and up to the Vasudhara Falls. The trek followed the Alakananda high up the valley.
Mana village disappeared and the rough-hewn path made the going difficult. Finally, I reached the waterfall and I had to wonder if it was worth all the effort. Sometimes we follow the narrow path to make ourselves stronger. Sometimes the narrow path finds us reflecting on the true nature of the quest.
I returned to Badrinath near sunset as the weather was closing in. Today was a fulfilling and enlightening day.
Sometimes, when we put up with hardship along the journey, the destination offers the sweetest fruit. Badrinath is a jewel of a palace: with high altitude (3300m), thermal hot pools, rushing rivers and snow capped peaks. Immediately you feel your spiritual radar light up.
The bus trip up to Badrinath took over 15 hours (319.5 km), via the rockslides and sheer drops of NH 7. I took the pilgrims route on a government bus packed with devout people. We were not alone.
The traffic up and down the mountain was intense, with earthmoving machines working around numerous rockslides. As traffic banked up the trip got slower and more difficult.
The Haridwar bus terminated at Joshimath late in the evening, so I completed the final 50 km to Badrinath the next morning with a taxi load of people. In the taxi I got talking to an interesting young woman named Ashoo.
In regards to spiritual life in the West, Ashoo said that the trappings of luxury, workplace competitiveness, and social status, diminish both our spirituality and humanity. She continued, “in their own eyes people see themselves as superior but in the eyes of god we are all equal.” Ashoo reminded me that humanity is an important part of spirituality. If we treat each other with respect and kindness, rather that aloof coldness, the world and is a better place and our spiritual practice is made complete.
After bathing in hot pools filled with ecstatic splashing women, and paying homage at the Badrinath temple, I headed up on foot to the village of Mana – ‘India’s last village’.
It seems you can only find this level of natural beauty and simplicity high up in the mountains. The local Indo-Tibetan people carve out a basic existence and yet everything seems flourishing.
Just beyond Mana village, the Saraswati River thunders out of the mountainside. The rushing waters carve out rock caves and fall with breathtaking velocity. The Saraswati joins the Alakananda River just below Mana.
Sitting at the confluence of the Alakananda and Saraswati Rivers, reinforced the energy of my name given to me by Guruji – ‘Alakananda Saraswati’. I decided that this incredible place would be the site of my Empowerment Mediation scheduled for the next day.
A few members of the Tuesday 6pm class gave money regularly over a few months so I could hand small donations out to the poor. Local people in Haridwar were so grateful when I was able pass that generosity on.
Money was also given to buy flower malas and leaf boats to offer to the local Goddesses and the wonderful river mother- Jai Maa Ganga!
The sun was rising on a new day. The beautiful fast flowing waters of Mother Ganga washed all my old karma away. It is such a refreshing and uplifting experience. Offerings were made for our shared prosperity and health.
Birla Ghat, a public place where marble steps lead to river, is filled with song, devotional activities and natural energy. I come back here time and time again because nothing makes me feel as good as an early morning dunk in the naturally high pH (8.9 pH) waters of the Ganga.
A boy tries to catch coconuts, which are thrown into the Ganges as offerings for peoples’ prosperity. Blessings to us all on this beautiful day!