"The Bare-foot Traveler" Photo: R. Jayakumar

Wednesday, April 27, 2016



Time to bid adieu to Badri Vishal. We started off to Rudraprayag at 7.30 am. The place is famous for Rudraksha trees. Rudraksha beads are available ranging from Rs.150 to Rs.41 lakhs. The costliest one is having 21 faces (I don’t know what exactly it means). Former Srilankan President Mahinda Rajapakshe desperately wanted to buy one prior to the last general election and he got it finally from T’puram for Rs. 40 lakhs. The Rudraksha is the harbinger of peace and fortune and the seller informed me that ekmukhi (single faced rudraksha) is often sourced from Kerala. Each one costs Rs.2500/-. We had purchased original 108 beaded rudraksha-mala for bargain-less price at Rs. 400/- each. Now, friends and relatives had reason enough to be happy.

We had a brief stop-over at Joshimatt. Adi Shankaracharya had set up one of his five mutts there. The mutts were intended to be Centers of Excellence, each in its own right where brahmacharis (young students) were always learning and disseminating sacred texts.  Sadly enough, present day Mutt is almost defunct with no intellectual activity going on. A few brahmacharis were loitering around who pounced on us literally to sponsor poojas. We were asked to squat on the floor, in front of a small shiv-ling in a half-circle. The senior Brahmachari recited various ashtakams and we repeated it utterly wrong. The young sanyasis-in-the -making were least bothered. A couple of poojas in quick succession and we decided to wind it up unilaterally. Taking the long and winding road downhill, we inquired about the Paramacharya (The Head). We were told that he was on his way to participate the Kumbh (a major religious festival) leaving the controls with the apprentices.

We were moving towards Rishikesh. There was the felt need of a night-shelter. Rajan took us again to a shady place which was going to charge us exorbitantly. We refused point-blank. As a result, we had to hit the road, deserted after dinner-time. Darkness, thick as a blanket, was spread all over. Suddenly it started raining, heavily.  We felt as if we were traveling in a space-shuttle. No-one spoke. We were to press the panic button but Rajan cared a damn.

 Another fifteen kilo-meters and we started seeing the lights of Rishikesh through the rain. It was an immense relief. Like a ship-wrecked crew seeing the not-so-distant shores suddenly by the sight of air-borne birds.

Finally at Rishikesh,  the westernized town  and we checked into a decent hotel. The next morning we were going to take bath in Ganga in its lonely splendor! Eighteen kilometers away, she spread herself on the vast plains, one of the safest locations for bath! Colorful stones  were spread all over the place and you could collect them to distribute among your folks.

Rishikesh - putting you at ease
I took a whole-hearted bath while sun was rising. The water was not just flowing outside my body. It was flowing through me. Obviously the most refreshing bath I had ever taken.

By the bank, Swami Harichandra Purushottamji had built  his ashram and that was the reason why the whole river was deserted. It was a private Ganga flowing! We visited Swamiji. He was a Malayalee, from Omallur and had set up the ashram sixty years back. He owned a school, a hospital and other gadgets for social-service, managed by a trust. The Guest House that he built way up, boasted of inmates like Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and a private road  connected it with the Ashram .  Honestly, rooms with a (holy) view! When the devastating floods caught them unawares, Swami and his men ran up to safety. The Ashram was almost submerged in no time with water and sand.

Swami had an accident in Feb. 2015 at the Ashram premises and he broke his leg. Seven months later, he was still bedridden when we met. In spite of that, he was all fun and innocence.

I have all those jokers except Diabetes, he declares.

He gave us roasted cashew nuts to eat.  Before finishing with it, Swami’s Manager Misraji from Lucknow butt in to announce the arrival of a well-heeled Malayali family from Bangalore. We were edged out.

Undeterred, we proceeded to visit Vasishta Gufa. The place was amazingly serene with oil lamps trying hard to keep the darkness at bay. The silence itself was communicating! The ambiance, so relaxed! We felt as if everything around us was a single entity impregnated with life.  There was a tiny Shiv Ling at the far-end on a rock platform. Somebody had just left doing Pooja.

Diyas, fresh flowers, incense and an undulating energy field.
We really felt like meditating. Yes, we did.

The high-point of my Himalayan sojourn was the gufa experience, I must say.

Laxman Jhoola
We went back to Rishikesh and strolled around the town till evening. Only Laxman Jhoola impressed me.  It saddened me too. The British engineers were given full credit for the 240 ft span, jeep-able second suspension bridge over Ganga. Even the Supervisor’s name was mentioned in the plaque. The kind-hearted King who built the original bridge of 284 feet span, Rai Bahadur Surajmal Jhunjhunwala who ruled circa 1920 was not found worth-mentioning. The bridge was a gift to his subjects. Unfortunately, the bridge got washed away by the great flood of October 1924 which undermined the left abutment. A new bridge was sponsored by the King’s son Rai Bahadur Shewpershad Tulshan and was built by the British engineers during 1927-29.
The cost of rebuilding this new bridge as nearly as possible on the site of the old bridge had been contributed by Rai Bahadur Junior to perpetuate the memory of his father and no toll or tax was ever imposed.
Ganga-Arati at Rishikesh
It was time for the Ganga Arati. One and a half hour long Arati started at 6.30 pm. We reached the place at 6.00 pm itself and found the river-side steps almost full. People of all ages, all origins were floating paper-boats with lighted diyas, incense-sticks and flowers on the River. With utmost care and patience. It was touching to see the aged couples helping each other to light the diyas, gently taking it to Gangama and releasing them. Lovers too launching their dream-boats together. Some of the boats got overturned in the no-so-gentle current.

Suddenly the music started. Different young sanyasi groups, probably brahmacharis were singing excellent bhajans at the mandap (permanent stage), one after another. Somebody had lighted the havan (sacred bonfire) in front of the singers and people bursting out into dancing!  Everything had an order. My son held me tight to prevent his father from joining!

Toward the end, everybody stood up and recited the mangal-arati together. Camphor was ignited.

My mind was full as a cloudless sky. Or was it empty, soonya?
I didn’t know. 
Perhaps both were the same.


                                                                                                     Photo credits: R.Jayakumar