Trip to the Himalayas

Trip to the Himalayas

Part 4

We quickly came to loose stones on the slope of the Bhagirathi Mountain. No path! We advanced carefully and noiselessly as rocks were still coming down. The slap of rocks hitting each other sounded alive! Looking up, I immediately dodged as a fair size one sped towards me. We’d lean on the mountain, advance on rocks that slid away and we’d slip. Below, the Ganga rushed, her current strong. Krishna protected us from a harsh end as my inadequate shoes rolled on unstable rocks numerous times. I guess, we took it a step at a time, believing we’ll be there now. We could not have foreseen the peril. Soon we descended to the river.

 

This year’s extreme weathering changed the topography. Ganga now surged from 2 rock fissures in Gomukh. Some saw 3 of them! Yet, BBC Ganga says She started from the Gangotri glacier, which retreated 20 km due to climate change.  Lord Shiva caught Her in His dreads at Surya Kund. In the winter when the water level is low, a Shivalinga is visible. Allegedly, She could also come from Tapovan. Personally, it’s all a mystery I cannot understand. On the other side of us, the terrain was level but our guide refused to cross the gushing river. We entered, thigh deep and quickly dipped in her icy waters. We filled bottles, drank deeply and carried some more. A fleeting visit based on faith, and we’re clutching our way back to the top, to the non-existent trail. Our guide misled us and risked our lives when he walked where the old path used to be. We basically rolled across the mountain flank for ½ km while he was like a mountain goat, just like the Sherpas are like human mules. Old people have walked this trail since centuries. I highly doubt they’d both, step on and clutch at, rolling stones. Later, we learnt a hazardous but less volatile trail did run over the glacier. A proper guide would know that. Ganga is an important structure of our Vaisnava culture. Hence, we’d pressed on. Now we hurried, and were soon across the boulders towards Bhojbasa as Vikash inhaled oxygen. There, we met Radhika, Vrindavan Kirtan and young people from All-India-Trekkers who urged us to stay the night at Bhojbasa because starting the ride to Gangotri in the late afternoon could be disastrous. But we were hell bent on going, as we felt quashed by the trip. It had been rather harrowing. At 4 pm, with dread sitting like a brick on our chest, we started our 4-hour ride back to Gangotri, uneasy and unprepared.

KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Part 5

The return journey petrified us. It seemed the path had narrowed with extra tight bends and low overhangs. Also, our mules liked the brink. Vrindavan Kirtan’s mule would graze below the edge. He yelled at the handler to control the animal. The man cheerfully replied – no problem; if you go down, you go up! Most of the way was abrupt, deep precipice. Dusk arrived as the sun moved behind the mountains, and we came to the danger zone. Too late, no time – said the handlers, as they urged the animals on to the steep incline. Vikash almost came off his saddle. Behind, Radhika chanted Hare Krishna interspersed with Krishna, Krishna Maha Baho. Later, she told me her mule had stopped midway, legs shaking. Steps were hewn in the rock and they were sheer and smooth. A short backward slide to the bend below and none would survive. The handler gently coaxed the animal on. Radhika wondered how it would feel to smash on the boulders at the bottom and remembered Lord Vishnu rescuing Prahlad when he was thrown off the mountain. We were still 2 hours away and darkness dropped.

 

Besides, cold invaded and froze our limbs. Vrindavan Kirtan rode in front and shone his phone torch. At once the handler told him to put it off or the animal will follow the light off the mountain. We still had rivers to cross, unsafe paths, hairpin bends, overhangs to knock us off our mounts, capricious mules brushing against mountain, catching and twisting our leg at the knee, and the saddle felt like iron digging in our butt bones. Thus, while trailing in the dark in utter misery, some one said to look up. At once, the sight of so many bright stars, so close, a detailed milky way, the inky blue-black sky and the outline of these magnificent mountains captured and fascinated us. Here, Vaikuntha is not far. It is the destination of Saints as nothing panders to the body. We rode on to our destination, feeling close to God.

 

Words cannot adequately describe the ordeal. Nothing had prepared us for this journey. Advice of friends who’d hiked before was inapt. Record rains had changed the terrain. Rockslides were still reshaping it. Veteran hikers told us they’d never attempt the ½ km before Gomukh the way we did. I would strongly advise future hikers never to ride mules on those risky, unsafe trails. Better to walk and spend the night in Bhojbasa. Back in Gangotri we heard 2 mules had thrown their human loads off the mountain some days before. MVT manager, Govinda, recalled his trip earlier this year. Mules had run amok, brutally slamming him and his friends into the mountain. Had they been edge side …!

 

Yet, such pilgrimage shows the reality of the spiritual coming down to mortal realm. Our lives are committed to Prabhupada’s mission and we acted in naïve ignorance. Had we known the degree of risk, we’d never have ventured beyond the last ½ km to Gomukh, or rode on mules!! We rested in Gangotri for 2 days before leaving for Rishikesh. Driving down the mountain, ravine side didn’t ease the tight knot in the chest.

KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Himalaya Trip – End

 

Besides no one obeying traffic laws, India could have the worst of bus drivers. Though we encountered little traffic driving away, we still felt stressed, as vehicles coming at us seem to force our car to the brink. After a sharp curve our driver stopped for us to look down the canyon. The broken carcass of a van was still there. Few days ago 14 people had perished. It is a road from hell, leading to heaven. A brief stop to dip in the hot Springs at Ganganani and we were off to Uttarkashi where we spent the night. Here Ganga trickles down as dams hold her captive for various uses. Still, several streams again join her, swelling Her waters but altering Her temperament and color. No more is She almost white, nor does She dance Her way down. The next morning we started early, relieved the frightful mountain road was behind. Pure delusion!! We’d climb to the top of a mountain, come down and go up another one, and another one and …, for 5 hours! Often we failed to see the bottom of the chasms. One time we saw cranes pull up a bus from down. It had compressed to about 4 feet high. No survivors! The roads to Rishikesh were worse and it felt like a 5-hour tooth extraction – angst, nerves, and trepidation.

 

In Rishikesh we stayed 5 days on the banks of the Ganga, soothed and solaced by Her. Closer to Her birthplace She moves about playfully, Her transparent icy grey-blue waters is sweet ambrosia. Here, She seems sober, Her mercy, formal and her water has a taste. Yes, I would like to go to Gomukh again and Tapovan. Ganga is closely related to Krishna in various pastimes, up to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu bathing in Her or depositing love of Krishna for Narottama in Her waters. We pray our pilgrimage to the place of Her appearance earns us Her willingness to remove our many sins from countless of lifetimes, so we can chant with attachment to Krishna and serve Him in any condition and/or situation. Still, the big question – did the trip contribute to our devotional practices. Since we began our Karthik Nama seva, images of Gomukh Ganga come to mind. I have yet to understand how such an externally arid, lonely, desolate place fills the heart with the warm desire to serve with attachment. We humbly desire the day when our devotion issues forth from Krishna’s toes and flows unhindered back to His Lotus feet.

KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Trip to the Himalayas

Trip to the Himalayas

Part I

We went to Yamunotri, Gangotri and Gomurkh this time. Landing in Dehradhun early morning, we drove straight to Yamunotri the same day. The winding mountain road generated ceaseless fear. Apparently heavy rains and rock falls had destroyed the already narrow path. In one place, the road was a gaping hole through which we saw the plunge. Our car literally climbed the mountain. My wife, seated ravine side, kept screaming – more to the right, until the driver told her to shut up and let him do his job. Poor soul froze, naked fear robbing her of her voice. Yet, at intervals, we spotted the Yamuna far below. She is a warm turquoise, aquamarine, blue. Relief invaded our beings when we arrived at destination. But the hardship wasn’t over. The dharmashalla was eye-popping exorbitant. It was unclean, tiny and icy cold. We all hardly slept. Early morning the next day, we set out, Radhika on the donkey, to the Yamunotri temple, a 5 km, 4000 m high, stair climb. Cold, thin air labored our breathing. At the temple 3 hours later, we were soaking in the hot springs. The actual source of the Yamuna is the Yamuna glacier at 6400 m altitude. Access is almost impossible for the common people. Still, from where we’re standing we see her sharp descent from way up.

Natural beauty is unsullied and virginal here. Secondary waterfalls rush down to join to Yamuna. We all quickly walked down, a doubtful Radhika having refused to mount the donkey downhill. The same day we set out to Uttarkashi, on the way to Gangotri.

 

Part 2

After a warm, peaceful sleep we started very early from Uttarkashi to avoid the taxi drivers on strike. They’d block the roads, threaten to burn our vehicle and kill our driver. Lucky it would end up in smiles and camaraderie. Incredible India!! We didn’t even have to bribe! The road to Gangotri was daunting, though we hardly noticed; so intent were we upon our goal and we drove mountainside. I remembered Gangotri from 25 years ago. Clean simplicity and austerity created a spiritual haven. Now commerce and satellite dish have arrived. Still, a rushing Ganga graced us with her darshan from our hotel windows. How she winds her way through cliffs, cataracts and boulders is stupendous. There, we walked to Surya kund, Gauri Kund and Pandava cave – a humongous boulder with a tiny door in it. The Pandavas stayed there. Now, an old sadhu resides there even during the winter. We met a lot of Swiss and German people. We’d immediately bond because of the language. I told our German neighbors about the sadhu and they wanted to visit. They came to climb mountains and I profiled them ‘tourists’ in my mind. Yet, their next question shamed my miserly heart. What gift can we bring the sadhu – they asked. Honestly, I have never had such feelings for ‘sadhus I don’t know’. Thank you Ganga mata for purifying this fallen one. I immediately gave them a glove I had bought. They brought rice, dhal and the glove for the ascetic. My brother in law wanted to buy a barefoot sadhu a pair of shoes. The sadhu replied, your austerity is your effort to come here, I already live here; my austerity is my renunciation.

At night cold descended like an icy blanket. We’d put heating pads and hot water bottles in our sleeping bags. Tap water burned our hands till painful. Of course the rooms had no heating and we’d order buckets of hot water for our bucket-baths.

The next day we went to Gomukh on one of the most terrifying journeys of our lives.

   

 

Part 3

 

We’d naively decided to do Gangotri-Gomukh return, in one day. Before dawn all 4 of us mounted our mules, for the 14 km ride to Bhojbasa. A guide and 2 handlers accompanied us. A bare half hour into the trip Radhika’s mule made a sharp turn, hind legs almost below the edge of a high cliff. Panic-stricken, she screamed – too close to the edge. The narrow mountain paths were a bare 2 feet wide at times. A few months ago heavy rains had caused landslides, rock falls and erosion thus wrecking the old one. The way was treacherous. Almost none spoke a word. Radhika loudly chanted Hare Krishna the whole time, tightly closing her eyes when the abyss opened in front of her. At one point we had to get off the mules to walk through a ‘danger zone’. The Ganga was far below. An abrupt, smooth dip and hairpin bend duped us into thinking we’re about to walk, or slide off the mountain. A galloping mule probably would!! Back on our mounts, we arrived in Bhoj Bhasa 4 hours after we’d started.

Yet, once we beheld the Himalayas proper, we were stunned. Beauty is a weak word. How to describe the snow capped magnificent mountains! History says countless of exalted saints had walked this path. The world of the common mortal war so far removed! We felt profound ‘upliftment’. Our only worth is our surrender. Many pious old Indians do this journey hoping to end there. They walk the path of our great ancestors. At the end, the Pandavas walked north, each falling one by one on the way, until only Yuddhisthir remained.

We trekked the remaining 4 km to Gomukh until 1 km to destination. Rockslide had obliterated the old path. A loose, gravelly trail led down to soft sand. Beyond, boulders had rolled down. Huffing and puffing, we scrambled over them. One hour later we’d progressed less than ½ km! The thin air strained our lungs. Then, we had to cross over a narrow, crumbling ledge. Radhika followed behind me. I grasped her hand as she stepped on the strip and it gave way. Her ‘Krishna!’ rang out clear and desperate. She struggled, failed to get a footing. I held on. Though the drop was not far, she would have broken limbs. Our guide quickly came and helped her onto our side of the strip. He gripped her hand and they advanced sideways, toes to the mountain and soles hanging out. Finally we came out of the boulders onto level ground. Gomukh was ½ km away. Suddenly a guide with 2 hikers walking from there, appeared and talked to our guide. There had just been another rockslide and no trail remained. He strongly advised not to go further. Rocks were still falling and tragedy was likely. Our guide informed us he knew of a way, but it was perilous. We should decide. Radhika and Vrindavan Kirtan declined to go further. My brother in law, Vikash, and I decided to push ahead.

 

KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Hong Kong for the first time

Hong Kong for the first time. Devotees are serious, dedicated and determined here. Though the temple is tiny, a steady program is carried out each day. We are staying w/ some good hearted devotees 6 floors above the temple. We are engaged in Nama seva everyday and twice a day at times. Chinese people are hardworking. Here Iskcon is outwardly more cultural than spiritual, because of political restrictions. Yet, the devotees have an awesome prasadam distribution. Yoga is used extensively to connect people to Suddha Sattva. Various classes go on each week. Chinese people enjoy studying. We like the temple. It is well run and the devotees are well organised. Chinese also love discipline. We feel fortunate we are engaged here. Besides, we are deeply grateful to Tamal Krishna Goswami, Bhurijana prabhu and Jagattarini mataji. Their perseverance began Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan mission here.

Half of our Nama seva is with non devotee yoga crowd. They listen attentively, chant and dance. We may not talk directly about Krishna, but they sure chant Krishna’s name in sincere meditation. Sometimes we stop, wonder in awe about the Sankirtana mission and humbly pray to always be somehow or the other engaged in the eternal, almighty Nama seva.
KIRTAN FOREVER

 

 

Madhava in Phillipines

On the way to the Philippines Radhika was quite sick with a cold in the chest, which tends to give her asthma. The flight from Dubai to Manila was overbooked and we hoped against hope no one would sit between us in our row of 3 seats as she had window and I had aisle. Boarding completed, announced the captain and we sighed with relief. Thank you Krishna. You say You are partial to none, but specially inclined to those who serve You, and we are sold out to You. Radhika welcomes the facility to lie down. We are going to serve Your mission. You promise Your protection and we are deeply grateful. We started to ‘settle in’ when I heard a loud voice from the back of the plane – I am like an elephant, see my size! An abnormally large man spoke and his frame would definitely occupy 2 seats. He sat in the row of 4 seats. Every other seat on that plane was occupied but for our one! The flight attendant checks the seat plan and promptly directs a skinny filipino woman to our middle seat! Dumbstruck, we tried to make sense of …, Krishna … , until, Janma Karma ca me divyam …. . I, Mr. Frog in my well, want to understand the great oceans by comparing them to the size of my important, tiny body of water. Poor Radhika was sick during our Nama seva, but it facilitated treatments for other ailments she’d been ignoring. Our minds always need to rationalize; thus, I judged ‘Elephantman’ distress was more dire than ours. Yes, I, a minute fraction of Him want to fathom the Whole, chiefly to make me feel better! To let go of thoughts and accept Krishna’s angle as a servant should, is just not easy. He is autocratic. Overall, we cannot understand. Lucky we do get to practice – I am infinitesimal servant.
KIRTAN FOREVER

Coming to Kangaroo Land

 

We flew into Perth end of February. Aussies on the west coast have fallen hard for kirtan. From that isolated part of the globe, the crowd that came on the 3 nights of kirtan pleasantly surprised us, and a day retreat with smaller numbers revealed depths of commitment to spiritual practices. They were naturally curious to know why we mostly chant the Hare Krishna mantra.

Gold Coast was the next stop where grey stormy weather awaited us. Yet, the next morning the sun came out revealing the beach in all its glory. A glitch though – a car’s alarm broke the serenity of the beautiful morning. It beeped for a full minute, stopped for 10 seconds, then on again like an alarm clock on snooze, for almost 3 hours! That evening all was back to grey skies, gusts, rain, white capped waves and of course, no abrasive noise to break the dreary weather.  At least we have kirtan – timeless, unchangeable and forever spiritual. From there, we went to Brisbane University for an evening of chanting Hare Krishna. Eager students delighted all with strong chanting. The Mantra has extended Himself from the spiritual world. Eternal joy is His nature which touches us whenever we chant.

KIRTAN FOREVER

 

Mumbai

Back in Switzerland since 5 days and neither a peep of sun, nor rain nor snow. It’s just grey and cold. All the leafless branches present a very apocalyptic picture.

We came from busy, sunny and colorful Mumbai, where we had Kirtan engagements in different cities.

In the middle of a busy schedule we still had 2 days of restful time at the Eco Village, about 3 hours drive from Mumbai. A big group of yoga practitioners from different parts of the world was doing a retreat there. I recognized people from Germany, Australia and the US. It is a serene place to rest and recuperate. The atmosphere inspires higher thoughts and spiritual goals. In two days time we’ll fly to Australia, direction summer, sun and heat besides our Kirtan engagements. Right now I feel I will never complain about the heat even during the hottest season in the hottest part of the globe.


KIRTAN FOREVER

Lithuania January 2018 – sights and sounds..

Sights on the way to the Lithuania Kirtan Festival..

Sounds….

Madhava prabhu leads kirtan at the Baltics WInter Festival, Lithuania

The Baltics Winter Festival is going very nicely. There are about 400 devotees gathered, and some great preachers, like Trivikrama Maharaja, Dhirashanta Maharaja. Niranjana Maharaja is coming today. This is video of Madhava prabhu leading kirtana last night.

Posted by Bhakti Chaitanya Swami on Freitag, 19. Januar 2018

Punjab and Delhi

Coming to Punjab for the first time, we hardly knew what to expect. India produces many masters in music, both vocal and instrumental in various styles. Indians are also used to sit down and appreciate the intricacies of an expert musical production. We wondered if during kirtan the crowd would at all participate by chanting.

To our amazement, our first engagement in Ludhiana attracted a full temple room and everyone sang with great enthusiasm. The next day the chanting of the Amritsar crowd surpassed Ludhiana. Focusing on the sacred Maha Mantra vibration naturally led to sublime dancing, thus creating a spiritual atmosphere.

Over 700 people attended one of the kirtan engagements in Delhi. The sincere chanting of many people nourishes the soul and liberates the heart from material bondage.

Coming to the Sacred

That which is sacred naturally purifies the psyche, spiritualizes our intentions and elevates our actions. Since centuries India has attracted true seekers from all over the world, heedless of their caste, creed, color or origin. Vrindavan is one vital site worshipped by those desirous to link to the Supreme Divine. Five thousand years ago Krishna appeared there, playing as a human just to draw us to Eternal Divine Pleasure. Hence, we try to see God in the hearts of all entities and to cultivate pure love for Him, which then spreads to all.

All through the year thousands visit Vrindavan. Yet, an influx of people from all over the world and India arrive during the special month of Karthik, October-November, to observe spiritual practices.

 

 

 

Summer Camp in the Swiss Alps

While flying over the Swiss Alps our great spiritual master Prabhupada, revealed to one of his disciples sitting next to him on the plane that he saw one of the mountains leading up to the heavenly planets. Swiss summer retreat is always in the Alps, but since the past few years the location is exceptionally stunning. The temple room faces the green slopes of the mountains. We were there for the 12-hour kirtan day.

There is something about mountains that helps calm the mind, focus thoughts and elevate consciousness. The air sparkles almost and energizes. Every breath we take, pure goodness invades our entire body. Our stay was brief. Kirtan with devotees was remarkably deep and heightened.