ART PEACE

tapping the creative 'right' side of my brain

Archive for the tag “pilgrimage”

Ahobilam Climb

“The best project you will ever work on is you” – Sonny Franco

For the first time in my life I wished for a relaxing trip. Go into the jungles – visit a few temples, waterfalls, enjoy the local food and back to business. BTW I changed my job again and hence the gap. I have been working like a donkey so wanted to wonder in the woods like a lion. Little did I know – once a donkey – always a donkey; and you will know why, by the end of the trip.

Through the dense Nallamala forest and washed-off roads we reached a small town called Ahobilam where Vishnu incarnated in the form a lion-man; Narasimha avatar to kill the demon Hiranyakashipu.

This place is divided into two: Lower and Upper Ahobilam. We will visit the Lower Ahobilam temple for the evening where the Lord got married.

Procession inside the temple

There are lots of interesting stories related to this place. First – how did the demon Hiranyakashipu came into existence and Second – how he got killed?

The first story – how did the demon Hiranyakashipu came into existence

Jaya and Vijaya were the gatekeepers of Vaikunta the abode of Lord Vishnu. Four Sanat Kumars – sons of Lord Brahma once went to visit Lord Vishnu and were stopped by Jaya and Vijaya which led to a rift between the parties and angered the Kumaras. Kumaras then cursed Jaya and Vijaya to loose their divinity and take birth as mortals for 3 life times. At this point Lord Vishnu intervened. Jaya and Vijaya asked him to lift off the curse to which he replied that he cannot do that but instead he assured that in their three life’s Vishnu himself will come and kill them so that they attain moksha and return back to their rightful place. In their first birth as enemies to Vishnu they were born as

Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu in Satya Yuga.

Ravana and Kumbhakarna in Treta Yuga.

Shishupal and Dantavakra in Dwapara Yuga; (good luck pronouncing all the names)

Second story – how Hiranyakashipu got killed

The story starts when Hiranyaksha, his brother got killed by Lord Vishnu in his Varaha avatar. Hiranyakashipu swore revenge that he would, in turn, destroy Vishnu. He decided to undertake penance to earn the grace of Lord Brahma. Brahma pleased with his austerities, appeared before him and told him to ask for a boon. When Hiranyakashipu demanded immortality, though, Brahma refused, saying that anything that was born on Earth had to die someday. So he told him to ask for another boon. Hiranyakashipu thought for a while and asked that nobody killed him under the following circumstances: Neither by an entity, living or nonliving; nor by any weapon. Neither by a demigod nor by a demon. Neither by a human nor by an animal. Neither within nor outside his residence. Neither during day nor nighttime. Neither on the ground nor in the sky.

Brahma granted him all of the above, blessed Hiranyakashipu and left. This newly found power made the Asura drunk with his power. He decided that it was time he showed off his powers and established his superior status, even as compared to the Devas.

When Hiranyakashipu was in penance, Indra and the other Devas decided to attack his home. At that point, sage Narada intervened to protect Kayadhu, the devout and pure-hearted wife of the demon. He took her under his wing, until the time Prahlada, the child she was carrying, was born. Right from the womb, Prahlada would hear Narada sing praises of Lord Vishnu. Thus, he became a great bhakta (devotee) of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu resented his son’s leaning and extreme devotion toward Vishnu. When things became unbearable for him, he decided to kill Prahlada. However, he failed each time he tried to kill the boy.

Prahlada refused to acknowledge his father as the supreme power and would instead keep praying to Vishnu. One day, Hiranyakashipu led his son to a pillar and asked him if Vishnu would be residing in there. Prahlada answered in the affirmative and said that his Lord resided everywhere. In a fit of rage, he lifted his mace and banged it hard against the pillar.

The pillar shattered and from inside it, jumped out Narasimha, a fearsome entity who was half-man and half-lion. This was actually the 4th avatar of Lord Vishnu. He had manifested to destroy the arrogant asura and also to protect his young devotee, Prahlada. Narasimha then proceeded to attack Hiranyakashipu.

As per the asura’s conditions for death, Narasimha was neither a human nor a Deva nor an animal. He manifested at twilight (a time which was neither day nor night); on the threshold of the courtyard (this was neither inside nor outside the palace). He put the asura across his thighs (this was neither on the ground nor in the sky) and, using his sharp claws (not weapons of any kind), he tore the demon open, disemboweling him; killing him instantly.

So today we will be trekking to to the pillar from which Narasimha manifested which again goes through forests and rocky terrain.

Seriously, he couldn’t pick a simpler pillar to smash…

We definitely needed a guide for this one and I am glad we got one as it had started to rain. Everyone one around us advised us not to climb. But our guide was like – it’s a piece of cake, I’ll take you there, don’t worry. And that was all I needed to move forward.

Starting point

I pray this bridge stays intact till I come back.

This is the path, if you can call it a path, which freaked me out. We climbed almost 5kms through this rocky jungle with just a stick to support us.

My guide was my photographer for this trek, I couldn’t manage to hold on to anything but my stick and had to crawl like a monkey all the way up.

I have no idea how I climbed this….. however as if this wasn’t enough !!! Now I have to climb down to reach there……

And just go down those loosely held life risking ladder… one slip and I would have had a direct audience with God today !!!!

And I am finally there… Oh Gods!!! Now getting down from here will be an achievement in itself.

I was tired, but it was the good tired feeling that you have after doing something worthwhile. The gentle breeze, the sunlight, the chirping of the birds, the calmness – I was soaking it all in. This is by far the toughest hike we have done which left me euphoric for long. Given a chance I would like to be born in one of these isolated places – worrying about nothing but daily bread n butter and enjoying the nature in its fullest. For this life I am not sure I can go back to a life like that after seeing what money can buy. I have had this dilemma for a while now – will I be able to give up on material things to live a nomadic life? Having that money in my pocket is what gives me the strength and confidence to plan random trips like these, will I be peaceful knowing I don’t have that bank balance or in other words “safety”? With these thoughts in mind I start my descend back.

We took a different route while coming down – thank God or thank Shivanna(our guide). He took us through the dense forest and that was awesome. There was always a risk of a wild animal pouncing on us or a snake getting angry with us, but these thoughts didn’t occur to me until we crossed the forest safely.

After a long nearly 5 kms walk or more…. I lost all sense of position. Happy to see some ground where I can relax. We had to keep walking – walking – walking while we were in the jungle, the minute we stopped we were surrounded by the over enthusiastic mosquitoes who wanted the taste of some human blood. Sitting by the stream I got myself a little free fish spa 🙂 There were others there who had packed some food and were enjoying it – I wish I had packed some snacks as suggested by my guide. I can’t wait for the walk to be over and eat something appetizing.

The place where we sat is where Prahalad – the son of the demon studied Vedas. He must have also walked through the jungle daily to get to this place. No wonder why he wanted his dad dead 🙂

Prahalad cave

On our way down we visited some other Narasihma temples. I am way beyond exhausted. All I care for now is some good food and a nice bed and its my job that pays for these two so I am going to hang on to it for a while 🙂 and leave it to nature to fulfill all my desires…

OM Namo Narayanaya!!!

Nallamala Forest

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us” – Anonymous

A quick getaway is what I needed after zombie-ing in and out of my laptop from 9 to 5 and making the one hour commute to vegetate in front of the TV till I drop dead only to rise and shine again and rinse and repeat.

Heading to the Nallamala forest for this short trip. Nallamala is a dense forest range in the Eastern Ghats of India with multiple tiger reserves and varied flora and fauna. Uranium deposits have been found there now, so before the whole place becomes radioactive – politically and otherwise; let me enjoy the beauty. We had a lovely monsoon season so the forest is going to be lush and alive – hoping to see some tigers on the way 🙂

Entering Nallamala

The first stop is Mallela Teertham waterfalls. We go through a muddy pathway through a village and cotton fields to reach there.

Loved the monsoon clouds which made the entire trip so picturesque. Mallela Theertham is yet again a religious site\waterfall as it is believed that many saints and rishis have performed penance here and Lord Shiva content with their devotion appeared here and blessed them. Some 350 steps in the lush green forest takes you down to the waterfalls. This is also the source for Krishna river.

Meditation is definitely possible in this place. I hope I gathered some energy from here which would help restore my sanity. Next stop – Srisailam – the shrine of Lord Shiva who is in the form of Lord Mallikarjuna with his consort Goddess Bhramarambadevi.

Enroute Srisailem Dam
Entering Srisailem

As it was Navratri and the festivities were on. By the time we reached Srisailam it was almost evening so we decided to take a stroll in the market place rather than relax and I am glad we did that. The whole place was lit up and bustling with food and people of all sorts.

Somewhere in the distance I could hear drums rolls and was just drawn towards it. The procession had just started from the temple. Navratri is the celebration of good over evil. During these 9 nights and 10 days Goddess Durga is worshiped in all her nine forms. Each day the Devi is ornamented in the respective form and brought out for a stroll among the people along with the presiding deities of the temple.

Glimpse of the procession on Youtube

After an evening full of amusement and morning full of worship, time to move into the deeper parts of the jungle.

Some more of the countryside

I wonder what this crop is? These are infact the big leaves from a small tree which they are hanging to dry them up.

Country style homemade food…. as we were crossing villages in the forest area there were very less options for lunch. The best one however was the one below. They had transformed their veranda into a dining area and provide homemade local food 🙂

Next stop Ahobilam – an oldest Vaishnava shrine

Om Namah Shivay!!!

The Kumbh Mela – Amavasya and the Mystics

“Surrender in spite of freedom – is the way of wisemen” – Swami Chinmayananda

I woke up startled with bells ringing in my head. The first thought – “Why am I sleeping, I planned to come here 6 months ago to witness the splendors of the Mela?” I jumped out of bed in a cold Feb morning at 4AM got ready and found myself in front of one of the platoon bridges. That is when it dawned on me that my marathon walk for today has started.

People kept pouring in day and night

I was walking like a white walker but that didn’t stop me. I have to see whatever is left of those processions which started at midnight and have my dip.

These processions are called “Peshvai of the Akhadas”.

Peshvai means presenting. All the saints arrive here in huge groups and a procession is carried out in honor of this occasion.

Akhadas\Akharas are monastic places of practise with facilities of boarding, lodging and training. They follow a Guru-Shishya(teacher-disciple) tradition. In the 8th century Adi Shankaracharya divided these ascetics into two groups: Shastra-dhari – scripture bearers\intelligentia; and Astra-dhari – weapon bearers\warriors.

Witnessing the huge crowds I got into thinking – Why taking a dip during Mouni Amavasya is so important? Let me note down all the reasons which surfaced after my intense research, YES I ended up reading lots of online sources and half of a book to understand this.

— A dip in the river on Mouni Amavasya eternally blesses the soul. The soul is cleansed of all sins and also gives the person mystical powers as it helps them get detached from the infinite cycle of life and death.

— It is believed that a space opens up between our world and the spiritual world at the point of the confluence and taking the dip helps the soul step out of the human body and attain a deeper meaning in life.

— It is also believed that the universe was created on this day, when the Sun and Moon enters the Capricorn sign. A vow of silence (Maun Vrat hence “Mouni”) on this day is assumed to control our senses. Practicing austerities is believed to purify the individual existence and observing a vow of silence (Maun Vrat) is the simplest way to do it.

— This all made sense to me but why would lakhs of ash cladden sadhus from the Himalayas come down for just a dip? The Sadhus or the holy men perform austerities\penance to attain a higher self and this takes a lot of years of practise and discipline. To make the body live long (longer than 100years) they turn to alchemy which is one way but they end up utilizing a lot of their energy in this process. The other easier way is to take a holy dip on Mouni Amavasya when the Sangam water itself turns into Amrit – nectar of immortality. This way they get to retain their energy for a higher purpose.

View of the Sangam from ghats

Moving on to the Mystics I met in Kumbh. This was the only trip for which I didn’t know what to expect, the only planning I did was to book a funny room for 4 days, apart from that I had no idea what we were going to do but everyone I met there had contributed somehow to my soul searching.

The boatman (resembled Modi-our Prime Minister) who knew so much about the history of Prayagraj and remembered the names of every ruler. The 1 hr boat ride was filled with stories.

The boatman on Yamuna river

Bob Miller and Golu – We met Bob Miller fondly known as Baba Miller, in the camp where we were staying. I met him over breakfast one day and we got into talking about meditation and how it helped in his evolution. Till now I had only read about all these techniques and experiences and here he was – the one who had gone through those processes and experienced it all. It felt as if the Universe was conspiring against me and asking me to resume my meditation practise which I did – taking Bob’s advice and started doing the 20 mins of Cat and Mouse Hole Meditation. It definitely helps in overcoming the distractions and in keeping the monkey mind at rest.

Bob Miller and Golu

Coming to Golu, the kid in the picture. Golu and his family are the caretakers of this Someshwar Temple to which Bob visited one day and made friends with Golu. Golu showed Bob an old American dollar coin. Bob thought it was an antique coin which could help Golu get some money so he took some pictures of the coin and sent it to his friend in US. Turned out it was an imitation coin. By this time Bob had grown fond of Golu so wanted to give him some money but Golu and his family didn’t understand Bob’s New York English and neither did he understand Hindi. So this is when he came to me so that I can be the translator for him and make them understand why he wanted to give the boy $50. We went to Golu’s home and sorted out everything and came out all smiles.

This got me thinking about the karmic debt we all had – that one person had to fly all the way from US to give this boy some money and I had to be the witness for this transaction. Everything is connected – all we have to do is meditate to gain that higher conscious to understand the connection.

Naga sadhu of Juna Akhada

The Naga sadhu who signalled and called me and told me not to be afraid. He blessed me with Vibhoti. I wondered if he saw through my inner fears?

The hippie sadhus, I wondered what the symbol on his chest represent. Did some digging on internet to find out that the symbol was used to represent alchemy mainly the philosopher’s stone. Philosopher’s stone was one of the sought after stone in ancient times, believed to turn any ordinary substance to shining gold. However as per the esoteric science Pholosopher’s stone represents the golden light of the soul which slowly transforms the lower self into a purified instrument of divinity. Circles often represent the spiritual because they have no end. The triangle is a representation of the union of body, mind and soul. And the four corners means to see equally in four directions – up, down, in and out – and to be whole, complete and free.

And there I was thinking it was the sign of “Deathly Hallows” from Harry Potter … 🙂

And then there was Swami Sarvamukhanandaji from Belur Math who said that all the austerities mean nothing if we again got into the race of achieving something in this material world because all we should strive for is to free ourselves from them.

Swami Sarvamukhanandji

I never thought I would exchange numbers with a Swamiji but that is what apparently happens @ The Kumbh 🙂

Rudrabhishekam @Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram

For a glimpse of Rudrabhishekam Mantra chanting @Maharishi Mahesh Ashram: click here & here

Time to get back to the material world and try to implement whatever I have learnt\gained here.

Beautiful paintings @Prayagraj railway station

Some more ….

I am definitely coming back after 6 years but in the meantime I am also looking forward to the Kumbh Mela – also regarded as “world’s greatest theological symposium”, only this time @Haridwar in 2022.

Om Namah Shivay !!!

The Kumbh Mela – Yoga and Akharas

” It feels good to be lost in the right direction”- Anonymous

The Kumbh Mela @Prayagraj, the biggest congregation of spiritual pilgrims. Prayagraj hosted the 2019 Kumbh Mela from 14th Jan 2019 till 4th March 2019 at the Triveni Sangam – the confluence of Maa Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.

The legend behind the Kumbh Mela dates back to medieval Hindu era when due to a curse by sage Dhurvasa the Devas(gods) had lost their powers. They went to Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva who directed them to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then instructed them to churn the Ksher-sagar(ocean of milk) and obtain  Amrit(nectar of immortality). Thus advised by Lord Vishnu the Devas made peace with Asuras(demons) and started churning Ksher-sagar. Mount Mandara was used as a churning rod and Mahadev’s serpent Vasuki offered to serve as the rope for churning. Lord Vishnu himself had to take an avatar of the Kurma(tortoise) to help in the process. At first came the halahal(poison) which was consumed by Lord Shiva. Subsequently whatever came was divided between Devas and Asuras as per agreement. Finally came the Amrit in a kumbh(pot). Devtas didn’t want to share Amrit with Asuras hence Garuda took the pot and flew away. Meanwhile Devas and Asuras fought for 12 days. (12 day of Devas = 12 year for humans) During this war Amrit spills on earth in 4 places – Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. The story ends with the Devas drinking the Amrit and defeating the Asuras. According to the legends during the Kumbh mela time due to the planetary positions of Jupiter, Sun and Moon the water in the respective rivers acquire certain mystical powers. It is believed the waters of these rivers turn into Amrit during this time.

The Sanskriti Gram entrance @Prayag Kumbh Mela depicting the Samudra Manthan

Millions of people come here to Triveni to take dip in these holy waters – to wash off their sins, to attain moksha or for a healthy and long life – and I was one of them…

We reached Prayagraj on the Feb 2nd and were greeted by a colourful and artistic town with clean roads. We had a smooth traffic free ride from the airport to the camp which we had booked for the next 4 days. And I thought all this talk about traffic jams and millions of people on the roads was just a hype but boy… was I wrong!!!

A casual stroll to the ghats as it was already evening. The Ghats were reverberating with sounds of drums and mantras from the opposite side of the river – where the Kumbh Mela was set up.

The view of Sangam from Arail Ghat

Braving the cold weather people had already started taking their holy dips.

Day 2

While strolling yesterday evening we came across a signboard which said Swami Ramdev would be conducting free yoga camp. So we decided to go there first. We reached by 7AM for some early morning yoga with Baba Ramdev.

It is so exhilarating to listen to anything he has to say. He even managed to get some follower to join him.

After a refreshing yoga, some hot tea and a light breakfast it was time to start the kumbh journey 🙂 We walked till the ghats in the quest of finding the Mahatma’s. Took a boat from Arail Ghat which dropped us at the Triveni ghat.

Boat ride on the Yamuna river

Prayagraj Red Fort in the backdrop

Triveni Ghat is where our marathon started. We went in search for the Akharas, Naga babas, Sanyasis or popularly known as The Mahapurushas. One true thing about India – ask atleast 5 people for the route but still make your own decision. Google maps is also not a bad idea but in places like the Kumbh Mela not sure how much it will help. After wondering for about an hour in the hot sun we got to the Triveni Marg platoon bridge.

Platoon Bridge

It was not only the humans who had flocked to Prayagraj but also the Siberian Seagulls who had travelled all the way from Siberia flying over Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet and over the Himalayas. Their presence in the Ganga basin was mesmerizing.

Finally we were near the Akharas…. to finally get some blessings from the Mahapurush themselves.

You could see pilgrims approaching the babas and sharing their life troubles or ask for health remedies or seek spiritual guidance or simply seek their blessings. The four major categories of sadhus that come to the mela are: Nagas, Vairagi, Udasi and the Nirmala. They are further organized into different “Akharas”. All the babas had a name, only if I had knowledge enough and a notebook to note their names down. There were many babas who had a strong aura – I dared not take their pics, I did take some just from the side. Some of these head crown weigh upto 45 kilograms.

Naga Sanyasi – Barfani Baba

This baba has kept his hand at 90 degrees since 15 years

Naga Sadhus – the baba in the middle has his hand in air since 3 years

Display of arms at one of the Akharas

Snake charmers entertaining the naga sadhus inside the Akharas

To read more about the Naga Sadhus – Click here

The plan was to stay the night and see the Naga Sadhus take their dip at the sangam but my body had already reached its limits. After much contemplation we decided to head back to the camp and try our luck the next day. We had walked almost 15 kms by now and it was just another 12kms ahead of us to reach the camp… 😐

Pilgrims taking a dip at the designated bathing ghats

Airavat Entrance of the Kumbh Mela

We dragged our self to the camp – ate and called it a day. Again with no plan of when we want to start the next day. Tomorrow is “Mouni Amavasya” – one of the main bathing dates. The sadhus are here for that, the sanyasis are here for that, crores of people are here for that and me too. But I had to rest this body for today.

Chalo Kumbh Chale …

Om Namah Shivaya!!!  

Pashupatinath-Nepal

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” – J K Rowling

We went to Nepal on 27th day of the Ashwin month, year 2075. OKAY… I didn’t time travel and visit Nepal in the future but that is what 13-October-2018 converts to, as per Nepali calendar.

So a Nepal trip during Dashain – as it is known in Nepal OR Dushera – as known in India. There is so much to share so I am going to split it into many blogs and hopefully that way I can share all I want to 🙂

A visit to the Pashupatinath Temple takes you to a different era. As you walk towards the temple the surrounding areas are bustling with shops selling items for puja and the many colorful traditional ornaments that married Nepali women wear.

Nepali women wearing Pote – glass bead necklace in red, green or yellow. Only married women wear it and it is believed to bring good luck for them and their family.

So, the existence of Pashupatinath temple dates back to 400 A.D and it was rebuilt in 17th century as the old one was destroyed by termites. The temples lies on the banks of the Bagmati river.

Interesting fact – the 2015 earthquake destroyed many things in Nepal, the temple still stands tall and unharmed. While devotees claim it’s because of the divine powers, some argue its because of the strong architectural base. Take your pick..

Anyways it is one of the oldest Hindu temples and there are many legends surrounding the origin of the temple.

Legend 1

One fine day when Shiva and Parvati were taking a stroll, they came near the banks of Bagmati river and were amazed by its beauty. Both took the form of deer and spend their time here. After a while the gods got worried and decided to bring Shiva back to Kailash to resume his duties. When Shiva refused to do so they had to use force and in the battle Shiva’s lost one of his antlers. Which became the first Lingam that Hindu’s worship here as Pashupatinath. Pashupatinath means Lord of Pashu’s or animals.

Legend 2

In continuation of the previous legend, the dropped antler of Shiva got lost\buried and was found again by a herdsman. The herdsman had a cow which used to visit this place and irrigate the place with its milk. By the time the cow reached home its udders were empty so the herdsman followed it one day and saw the whole event. On digging deeper he found the Shiva Lingam.

Legend 3 – As per Koti Rudra Samhita

The Pandavas defeated and killed their cousins — the Kauravas in the epic Kurukshetra war. To atone for the sins of committing fratricide (gotra hatya) and Brāhmanahatya (killing of Brahmins — the priest class) they went in search of God Shiva to seek his blessings. First, they went to the holy city of Varanasi (Kashi), believed to Shiva’s favourite city. But, Shiva wanted to avoid them as he was deeply incensed by the death and dishonesty at the Kurukshetra war and was, therefore, insensitive to Pandavas’ prayers. Therefore, he assumed the form of a bull (Nandi) and hid in the Garhwal region.

Not finding Shiva in Varanasi, the Pandavas went to Garhwal Himalayas. Bhima, the second of the five Pandava brothers, then standing astride two mountains started to look for Shiva. He saw a bull grazing near Guptakashi (“hidden Kashi” — the name derived from the hiding act of Shiva). After some searching Bhima recognized the bull to be Shiva and tried to catch him. Shiva trying to hide, dived into the ground but Bhima caught the bull by its tails as he was disappearing. Then Pandavas prayed to him over and over again. Following that Shiva is said to appear in parts in the following regions: – The Bulls hump – Kedarnath, The Bulls head – Pashupatinath. The Pandavas then meditated and attained salvation.
The Linga in Pashupatinath has 5 heads: east facing – Tatpurusha; north facing – Ardhanarishwara; west facing – Sadyojata; south facing – Aghora and the upward facing Nirakara.

The mesmerizing evening aarti on the banks of Bagmati river.

Open cremation on the banks of Bagmati river.

Sadhu‘s near the temple

By the time we came out it was late in the evening. On our way out we saw a marquee where a Sadhguru was telling the tales of Goddess Durga and how she killed Mahishasur. The faces are covered now, the veil will be removed on the eight day (I am yet to discover the reason for that and when I do I will let you guys know)


One thing I loved about these travels is that you uncover so many stories or legends and it make the journey all the interesting.

Time to call it a day … OM Namah Shivaya!!!

Ambubasi Mela – Kamakhya

“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey

Kamakya Devi temple that we went to has a lot of legends and stories to tell.

Sati, the consort of Shiva was the daughter of Daksha Prajapati a descendant of Bramha… Sati had married Shiva against the wishes of her father. The vain Daksha performed a great yagna(with the sole aim of insulting Shiva), to which he invited all the gods and goddesses except his son-in-law Shiva. Against Shiva’s wishes, Sati attended this sacrifice and was insulted by her father. Unable to bear this insult, Sati sacrificed herself.

Enraged at the insult and the injury, Shiva through Veerabhadra, destroyed Daksha’s sacrifice, cut off Daksha’s head and later replaced it with that of a goat, as he restored him to life. Still crazed with grief, he picked up the remains of Sati’s body and did Tandav (dance of destruction) throughout the Universe. The other gods intervened to stop this, Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra  to cut through the corpse of Sati whose various parts of the body fell at several spots all through the Indian subcontinent. These sites are known as Shakti Peethas today.

Kamakhya Devi’s shrine hosts the vulva that fell here following the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice.

Ambubachi mela or Ambubasi festival is an annual fair celebrated for four days in Kamakhya temple, Guwahati, Assam during the Assamese month of Aahar (mid-June). It is believed that the presiding deity of the temple Devi Kamakhya (a form of Shakti) goes through her annual cycle of menstruation during this period. The temple is closed for three days during this period and the doors of the temple open on the fourth day when devotees throng in a long queue to get a glimpse of the goddess..
The deity is believed to have been there since pre-historic times. There is no man-made statue of the goddess but a stone of shape similar to vulva.

Kamarup is a very important Shakti Peeth and this place is one of the primary temples of worship for the Tantrics. Pilgrims, devotees and Tantrics throng the temple during this 4 day festival.

Om Namah Shivay!!!

Diversity Trip-Jammu

I am referring to this as diversity trip as we visited three places this Diwali to witness three different cultures which we so so different from each other. Ranging from the devout Hindus to the slow moving peaceful Tibetan Buddhists to the feisty Sikhs.

Let me again remind everyone reading this, Global Warming is a true thing, it was Diwali time (October time) and we went to Jammu, the northern most state in India which is known for being one of the coldest parts in India buttt…. it was no less than an inferno. In my anticipation of the cold climate I packed all my woolens and hauled it throughout the trip. Hmmm…. next time I am not getting afraid of the cold anymore, don’t think its cold anywhere in the world anymore!!!

Our first stop was the disputed land of Jammu Kashmir, as Kashmir is currently occupied by Pakistan, we are left only with Jammu.  I presumed Jammu to be like Switzerland, cold and snow peaked mountains in every direction but as I said it is all hot-hot-hot. The best part of the 3 hours we spent in Jammu the fascinating differently shaped Shiv Linga’s (no photography is allowed inside the temples so you just have to believe me) in the Ranbireshwar and Raghunath temple.

The weird looking tasty-tasty pani puri, Kavadi kulcha (if you have to taste authentic street food in India – you should turn a blind eye to the hygiene) and the beautiful shawls and sweater in the markets. Living in south I don’t need shawls yet I ended up buying two of them.

From Jammu we took a bus and by late in the evening reached Katra – this is the place from where our actual 35 km journey begins. The markets were bustling with tourists and shops selling dry fruits among other things.

We will be trekking this tomorrow

Day 2

This day is going to test our patience and perseverance, have a 35 km trek ahead of us which we decided to complete in a day . Bought ourselves walking sticks and started the climb to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine.

The other options

Look at their rhythm

The journey to the Shrine cave of ” Mata Vaishno Devi “begins with the blessing of Mata. It is not only a belief but also a strong experience of one  that the godly Mother sends a call or Bulawa to her devotees. And once you get the Bulawa\call all you need to do is start the journey from the Trikuta foothills and Mata will make sure you reach her abode and grant all you wishes.

Every step of the way is filled with stories, click here to read the full story of Mata Vaishno Devi.

Our final destination

I always wonder when going to such places, is the journey more important or the destination. Even though you start your journey with full vigor after a certain point your mind totally calms down and you end up thinking more than talking. I find many answers to questions which have been bothering me for a while. At the end of such journey’s I come out with a renewed commitment list.

One of the best part of the trek apart from the trek was the music coming out of those Bose speakers –  the valley is filled with tonnes of them and makes your trek all the more spiritual.

The way back was filled with dry fruit shops and many more collectible shops but I am exhausted to even take pictures.Can’t explain in words how exhausted I was after 10 hrs of walking and we still had 4 more hrs ahead of us.

It’s time to get back, bought some lovely Kashmiri pashmina shawls and beautifully embroidered tops – again exhausted to take pics and plus I was walking like Frankenstein.

The dry riverbeds – Global warming again!!! I wonder how these would look like in rainy season.

Next destination: McLeod Ganj – Dharamshala

Varanasi

The world is becoming noisier and heading towards global warming and I have been a witness to both this year. This year has been the noisiest year for me so far. The apartment we moved to in the city – feels like I am living in a subway station, even all the places we visited this year – there was so much honking, drilling, hammering and pounding. So this year for me is – Noisy @ 16 !!!

We wanted to visit Varanasi during this Diwali but as the flight charges were sky rocketing we went there after Diwali, I had packed most of my woolens as after Diwali northern India gets really cold, but to my surprise it wasn’t cold at all, we witness a pleasant temperature – good for us; but this made me realize that global warming is for real and we have to do something about it -if we can.

We landed in Varanasi and took a cab to the main ghat areas where we had booked our guest house, our cab driver Mr Pintoo not only made us feel safe but also told us where we should go, what we should do and not do and finally we ended up booking him for the rest of our trip. We were dropped at a point some 500mts away from the ghats as no motorized vehicles are allowed near the ghats. We entered the famous gallis (alleys) of Varanasi, they do look creepy – some of them so be cautious but its exciting as well.

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A labyrinthine set of galli’s(alleys) landed us near our guest house – Sita Guest House

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My first thoughts – “where is the guest house, I could only see the water in the ghats”

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So this is front face of the guest house and the one marked in blue was our room with the Ganges view. There is no lift and yo do have to climb those steep stairs to reach the room but once you reach there its all worth it.

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Early morning boat rides and swimmers – this was the best part of the day for me, waking up to a sunrise right across the river – the cool breeze and happy people enjoying their baths/rides.

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Varanasi is a spiritual city, where Hindus go to pray, wash away their sins and honor their dead on the banks of the Ganges. Dying in Varanasi is seen as auspicious, as it ends the cycle of rebirth.

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The morning visitor – (kingfisher probably, not sure??) who fearlessly sat along with us enjoying the sunrise.

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The famous Dashashwamedha Ghat

The walk along the ghats revealed the artistic side of the city.

graffiti

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painters

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The collectible shop – Assi ghat

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Itihaas cafe at Assi ghat where the food is good and so is the ambiance.

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Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat

We actually took a boat ride in the evening and while coming back he stopped the boat in the middle of the river so that we can see the aarti from the riverside and that was heavenly.

Most of our day 3 morning went into finding an ATM with cash in it, because of the recent demonetization in India there were fewer ATMs with cash and in Varanasi most the businesses don’t accept cards.

 We spent the entire evening relaxing at the BHU Vishwanath Temple which is a replica of the main Kashi Vishwanath temple – a little or far bigger in size 🙂 and a marvel in marble.

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The walls are inscribed with illustrations from the scriptures and their explanations – which caught my attention.

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Market outside BHU Birla temple.

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Away from the ghats, the streets are busy, crowded and dusty. You get to see a lot of diversity in this place, with boys playing cards near the ghats, people washing clothes on the ghats, people praying at the ghats, boat riders constantly offering you a boat ride – not free of charge of course, women preparing local delicacies on the doorways in the galli’s, restaurants serving Italian, French, Spanish and German food, priests performing puja, foreigner’s looking for spiritual experiences, foreigner hippies looking for ….(you know what I am saying), cows here and there, hordes of old people on the streets who have come here and are waiting to die here so that they can attain moksha,  people carrying dead bodies to the ghat, burning corpses, floating corpses in the Ganges.

Varanasi is a very special place. It is the oldest city in the world located along the banks of the River Ganges which is dripping with history and spirituality. This is one of the main holy places for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

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The 80ft, Buddha statue in Sarnath

And finally the famous Blue Lassi shop, I have never had such mixed feeling while enjoying a mere lassi. This is a small shop in one of the galli’s near Manikarnika ghat (usually where the dead bodies are burnt). So I have my lassi in my hand and I am thinking UMMMM….. and right then I see some people taking a dead body to the ghats for cremation , which made me feel guilty about enjoying something – I try to shred the thought and again UMMMM……and there goes another dead body. Finally after seeing 4 of those I quickly finished my drink and shot out of that place.

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And then again there is this early morning sunrise which makes you forget everything and you fall in love with this place all over again.

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Om Namah Shivay !!!

Himalayas – Badrinath

So, where was I in my Himalayan tour Part 1 – we reached Haridwar, took a cab to Sonprayag, took the back breaking horse ride to Kedarnath and trekked back. I was exhausted way over my limits, but the plan was to cross those limits and to push those limits and extend them 🙂

Triyuginarayan Mandir

Triyuginarayan Mandir

This is Triyuginarayan Mandir, with Sumeru Parvat(mountain) in its backdrop.

Story : It is said that Lord Shiva’s marriage to Sati was solemnized here in the presence of Lord Vishnu. Legend has it that the eternal fire which burns inside the temple never extinguishes. This place is way off the track some 14kms trek from Sonprayag but you get a very beautiful view of the valley and the step farmings, the girls of this area were exquisitely beautiful – I had to mention them 🙂

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View from the top – Sonprayag

Sonprayag lies at the confluence of the rivers Basuki and Mandakini. Somewhere there is also the hotel that we stayed in. Now we are headed towards Badrinath, fully determined to reach there by nightfall.

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Ohh… the scenic and beautiful valleys and step farms, as “Winter is coming” there were almost no tourists in the area which made our journey even more beautiful and relaxing, but there were no restaurants open too !!! YAY

Orange orchard

So we resorted to stealing some oranges from someones backyard, when they saw us – we begged for some oranges and finally they let us borrow some. Hmmm….. now I know what beg-borrow-steal actually means 🙂

I was very adamant about getting to Badrinath on the same day, had no idea we would lose day light by 5:15 PM itself and the route would be scary -scary-scary. Somehow we reached … Thank God. The town looked deserted, everyone had left the town and moved down for the winter. We got a room, some hot water and hot food and finally called it  a day.

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This is the first thing I see when I removed the drapes in the morning, I had no idea we were in the middle of the great Himalayan range. Badrinath is 10270 ft above sea level.

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Our Hotel Yoga, Badrinath

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I gazed at the wrinkled and rough hewn nirvana quiet mountains with a sense of awe.

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Badrinath Dham

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Ohhh… I forgot to mention about the early morning not so pleasant experience, I got up – got amazed by the view – got back to reality – went into the bathroom – turned on the tap – no water – called the reception only to be told that the water may have frozen in the taps because of the low temperatures. Now I understand why people migrate to the hills during this season. We got two buckets of hot water to do what we had to do. This is the first temple in my life to which I went without taking a bath… hmmm

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Now look at this – is this a joke!!! A hot spring right outside the temple and the taps in the hotel are choking.

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By the time we came out my feet and hands were numb. I hope God is watching me and will reward me appropriately, and he did – the shack cafe – the only place open for breakfast, and the only thing on the menu was Maggi. Steaming Maggie with hot tea – that’s all I need for now 🙂

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Mana Village – the last village on the on the Indian side of the Indo-China border.

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Vyas Panthi – This is where the great epic of Mahabharata was written

Saraswati-

Can you see the small stream, that’s the Saraswati River, it is still thought to be a mythical river – which no longer exists. Maybe it no longer exists in its full glory but hey!! its still there.

There are two versions of why Saraswati exists only in the Himalayas

The Story: According to the Brahma-vaivarta Purana: When Ganga-devi cursed Saraswati-devi to become a river here on Mrtyuloka(earth), one of the conditions was that she would only remain on earth as long as rishis and other great sages performed tapasya on her banks. Since we are now in Kali-yuga, there are no longer these great souls performing austerities, so she vanished.

The tour guide’s version: In the above picture we saw Vyasa Panthi – it is the place where Ved Vyasa was reciting Mahabharata and Ganesha was writing it down, Vyasa got disturbed by the gurgling sounds of Saraswati’s water and asked her to slow down. But she wouldn’t listen so he cursed her to go obscure. So today you can see Saraswati only here in the Himalayan region of Mana Village where she originates and after that she goes underground only to emerge at the Triveni Sangam in Illahabad where Khumba Mela takes place.

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Keshav Prayag – Confluence of Saraswati and Alaknanda

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Now it was time to leave the abode of gods and return to lower grounds where the devilish minds are at work.

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Karna Prayag – Confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar Rivers and the last of the panch prayags.

I was supposed to take a dip in these Panch Prayag’s to attain Moksha but given the temperature of 8 degrees Celsius I’ll have to find other ways of attaining Moksha.

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On our way back to Rushikesh we could see villages and towns preparing for Diwali – the festival of lights

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Rushikesh – situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, besides Ganga river. It is famously known as the place for studying yoga, meditation and for temples and ashrams. To me it looked like the whole town’s having a hippie party.

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River Ganga – view from Lakshman Jhula

Haridwar Rushikesh

Evening Ganga aarti at Haridwar – the mesmerizing chanting of the mantras during the beginning of the aarti was the best way of concluding this trip.

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Haridwar market place

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A short visit to the Patanjali Yog Peeth on our way back.

Next time I go to Himalayas, I don’t want to be time bound and just let my instincts guide me.

Om Namah Shivay!!!

Himalayas – Kedarnath

So it’s the festival season in India, with Dussehra and Diwali coming back to back we decided to plan trips bag to bag.

The first one was to Gujarat – which I have already bragged about, the next one was to Garhwal, Himalayas which was a very spontaneous trip as we booked all tickets on the go…. during this trip we used all possible modes of transportation – flights, trains, local buses, luxury buses, three wheeler autos, rickshaws, ponies and our legs.

First stop Delhi, the capital – there is lot going on in the capital but the only thing that caught my attention was the sad plight of the birds as a result of the urbanization and deforestation.

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Delhi was just a stop over for change of trains after which we headed to Haridwar from where our actual journey begins to the magnificent Himalayas. We started from Haridwar to reach Sonprayag by evening, the whole 250 kms stretch is through the ghat roads – winding roads, meandering rivers, green hills and beautiful landscapes.

We will be going towards the source of the many rivers which fertilize the farmlands downstream.

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Shiva protecting the town of Haridwar

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Garhwal, Himalayas

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Devprayag– where the river Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet to become Ganga

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This is the famous Dhari Devi temple in the middle of Alaknanda river – the local lore is that it houses the upper half of the body of the goddess Dhari which changes its appearance during the day from a girl, to a woman and by evening to an old lady. We didn’t stay to witness the transformation but enjoyed the beauty of the nature and took some amazing shots and pushed off.

OK, before I go any further I feel the need to mention one thing, this was more of a pilgrimage cum tourism tour for us, the whole area which is also known as Devbhoomi(place where gods live – and the locals do believe that they still live here in the mountains) is filled with so many temples and significant sites full of legends and folk lore that it was hard not to stop at each of these spots to admire its beauty and listen to the stories. I’ll be sharing a few of them with you too 🙂

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Rudraprayag – confluence of rive Alaknanda and Mandakini

I couldn’t get a better shot here as there was a group performing final rituals for somebody who had passed away, so we just went to the temple near by and moved on from there. Story related to this place – Narada meditated and learnt music from Shiva.

We end the day with some sumptuous meal and went to sleep early.

One tip that I can give your here is: eat less while driving on ghat roads, the continuous movement of the car along the curve roads can be nauseating.

Day 2

Today we will start from Sonprayag to reach Kedarnath, fabled to be the abode of Lord Shiva. , this is a 18 kms trek. We were getting ready to trek but due to the cold climate and snow in the mountains opted for a pony ride.

The 4 hour long pony ride … Ouccchhhhh……..it still hurts my back when I think of it.

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This is what we- I mean the pony and me  🙂 had accomplished after 2 hrs.

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Looking down upon the rocky slope, I could hear the sound of the flowing and emerging waters which filled me with a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time.

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The final destination is somewhere there …. !!!

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Luxury in the lap of wild nature

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As pleased as I was, my pony was also pleased to have flat ground and turf before them. For us the journey is not yet over, we still have to cover over a kilometer to reach the temple.

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The dry river bed which emerges from the mountains.

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Kedarnath Dham – situated at the started point of River Mandakini

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Lone Ranger – the ranger is carrying parts with which they build houses up in these mountains. There was a better route along the river bank which got washed of in 2013 flash floods, so now until some other alternative is found these rangers carry the heavy wooden parts up the terrain.

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The descent down was another task in itself, it took us 6 hours by foot to finally reach base and God was I happy to see my comfy and warm bed.

OM Namah Shivaya

 

 

 

 

 

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