ART PEACE

tapping the creative 'right' side of my brain

Archive for the tag “trekking”

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!!!

Diversity Trip – McLeod Gunj

From Jammu we reached Pathankot and from there took a bus to Dharamshala. More than 10 hours for 230 kms, the State Government should do something to improve the public transport.

Reached McLeod Gunj at around midnight – surprised to see some shops and restaurants open – checked into the hotel and called it a day.

Woke up to the view of the Dauladhar range and to the chirping of birds.

A warm tea is all I need to start my day.

I had listed out around 10-12 places\things to do but once we were out on the streets I didn’t feel like working on my checklist. Dropped everything and went with the flow – which included again a pot of ginger tea and brunch – had a toast and pancakes for almost almost 2 hrs. Tibetan culture was getting onto me and I was enjoying it. One other reason could also be because my legs were still all dead and McLeod Gunj is no plain area. All the streets are at least at an inclination of 30-50%. I moved the streets of McLeod Gunj like a tortoise with a grim smile on my face. I was very particular I wouldn’t be an impulsive shopper anymore, however if the universe has different plans for you then what can you do.

Slowly crawling all over the place we reach the Namgyal Monastery, the abode of Dalai Lama. This is a quiet monastery nothing fancy plain and simple architecture. What I saw there was quite thought provoking for me.

In my perception till then – a monk was someone who had given up worldly pleasures and meditating to get nirvana. However when I saw the their daily rituals and their way of life – these monks got me curious.

On entering the Namgyal Monastery, I saw monks doing their traditional Buddhist philosophical debate. The debate happens between a Challenger, standing and asking questions and the Defender, sitting and answering them. The debaters are seeking to understand the nature of reality through careful analysis of the state of existence of things. There is a dramatic clapping which is done by the Challenger only. In their understanding of the gesture, the right hand represents method, meaning especially the practice of compassion, and the left hand represents wisdom. Bringing the two hands together represents the joining of wisdom and method. At the moment of the clap, you hear the left foot stomp down and that represents slamming shut the door to rebirth in the lower levels.

All around you, you see smiling Tibetans chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” and counting through the rosary beads in their hands. And one fascinating thing I came to know about the Namgyal Monastery and for that matter all the other  monasteries there was that they all have Tantric colleges which teach monks the essentials of sutra and tantra. For a monk an average day consists of two hours of ritual, two hours of sacred arts, three hours of philosophy classes, two and a half hours of debate, and several hours of meditation and personal study and the students who completes a 13 year course successfully gets his\her degree of Master of Sutra and Tantra.

If you ever go to a monastery never miss the evening prayer routine, it is heavenly.

Statue of Buddha Sakhyamuni

Guru Padma Sambhava

Guru Padma Sambhava, a great Indian Sidda, who went to Tibet in the 8th century. He helped the King Trisong Deutsen in building the cathedral of Samye  by subduing all the enemies of the Dharma. He also gave tantric teaching in Tibet, also known as  the “Father of Buddhism”.

Magnificent statue of 1,000 Arm Avalokiteshvara of whom the Dalai Lama is believed to be the human embodiment, next to him – Maharishi Patanjali.

This statue of the Buddha of Compassion exudes the very spirit of selfless love and the very essence of compassion, its thousand arms stretching forth in all directions, bringing hope and salvation to all beings from their treacherous and myriad sufferings in the pitiful and tragic pit of samsara.

He is also referred to as Chenrezig, his teachings are contained in the mantra – OM MANI PADME HUM

Mani\Prayer wheel –  these are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies of the mantra(Om Mani Padme Hum), printed in an ancient Indian script(Sanskrit) or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container and spun around and around. Tibetan’s  believe that chanting or spunning of the mantra invokes the spiritual power and blessing of Chenrezig(Tibetan name)\Avalokiteshwara.

You can just see so many people just repeating this mantra around you irrespective of time or place.

Other beautiful paintings inside the monastery

After spending ample time in Namgyal it was time for Gyuto Monastery. This brightly colored monastery with the majestic Dauladhar mountains in the backdrop is also a Tantric school.

We were just in time for the evening prayers.

I refrained myself from taking pictures but just when I did this guy caught me….

Calling it a day with another pot of tea and lazy-lengthy dinner. I bought a Tibetan Pain oil in the market and massaged myself back to walk like a human.

Day 2

Now because I can walk freely it was time for some more trekking again 🙂 …Going to Bhagsu Nag temple and Bhagsu waterfalls. In India wherever you go you are bound to have a temple nearby and a story connected to it.

Bhagsu Nag story: It is said that Bhagsu was a king, or a local chief, and his region was plagued by drought. He set out, promising his subjects that he would bring water. His search brought him to these mountains, more specifically, to a lake – the Nag Dal – which belonged to the serpent king. Bhagsu himself had magical powers. He managed to transfer the water from the lake into a kamandalu (water receptacle), and started on his way back home.  The serpent king returned home that night to find his lake empty. Needless to say, he was irate, and he set out to find the one responsible. He caught up with Bhagsu here, and there was a terrible fight. Bhagsu was lethally injured, and the kamandalu fell, releasing the water, which flowed down the mountain. Realizing that his end was near, he surrendered to the serpent king, asking only that the water be allowed to flow on, so that his people would be relieved from the drought, and that his name be associated forever with this place. The serpent king relented, and henceforth, the water flowed free, and this place came to be known as a combination of both their names – Bhagsu Nag.

Bhagsu Nag Temple

Bhagsu Waterfall

And the trail

There is another side to this beautiful and peaceful place, as the road winds up from Dharamshala you start seeing signs of “Free Tibet” and stories about the enforced disappearances posted all over the place. In 1959 Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet following the Chinese invasion of Lhasa, Tibet. Since then Dharamshala, India has become a home to Dalai Lama and to the many refugees who are escaping Tibet and arriving India. It has also become a center for the “Free Tibet” movement. For more history click here.

Day 3

The quaint 150 year old Anglican St John’s Church, this one is set amidst tall deodhar trees and built in neo-Gothic architecture.

I wonder what it would be like to live here. Below is the Naddi Village and the view they get to see everyday.

Naddi Village

View of the Dauladhar mountains from Naddi

The trip is never complete without a little activity.

Paragliding

And finally the sun sets in the mountains and it’s time to move on….

OM MANI PADME HUM

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Shortcuts

Mt Batur, Bali Indonesia

How do you guys feel about taking short-cuts? Be it while crossing the road, accomplishing a task or for bigger things in life.

I take short-cuts every now&then – only to realize again and again they are beneficial in the short run and are short-sighted too.

A few months back when I had booked my trip to Bali, I also decided to climb my first volcanic mountain. As I had no experience and thought I needed stamina, I abandoned my time taking and slow yoga asanas (but still I did my pranayamas religiously) and replaced it with the quick resulting cardio. I don’t know where it all went wrong – I have gained a few pounds, my body is all stiff, I had severe muscle aches, my craving for food increased and I get easily tired.

I have done enough trekking and climbing hills without any preparation like this and I was fine. But this short-cut called cardio didn’t work that well for me and now I am back to my yoga, no more short-cuts for a while 🙂

On the brighter side – I pampered myself with too many massages during that time 🙂 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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