Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Bath in a Cow's Mouth

Gaumukh: Hindi for Cow's Mouth.
Gaumukh is a glacier, which is one of the main starting points of the River Ganga. It is said to be one of the holiest places in India, as the River Ganga is the holiest river in India. A cow is a very holy animal in India, and so, putting 2 and 2 together, apparently you get a Cow's Mouth. Makes sense, right?The hike to Gaumukh is an 18 kilometer trek up and, of course 18 kilometer trek back to a small mountain town called Gangotri. No Cartman's or Kenny's here, but there is a small mountain ashram here, which, of course, offered nothing but the best. On the left is Olat, from Spain, hanging out in her room, which is just big enough for a small single bed with little cushioning, a narrow entryway for standing purposes, and a sweet tapestry pre-hung. I shared a room with another fellow in about the same size room as Olat's, but without the colorful tapestry. Of course, before our long trek up, none of us got more than an hour to two of sleep.

On the right, we met a really charasmatic sadhu, whose English was remarkable, telling us his life of living inside a cave, meditating all day, and coming down to the town for some rice and dahl, all while loading a bidi filled with tobacco and hash.

We get out of bed bright and early to commence our hike. We don't go the full 18 kms the first day because there is another ashram near the glacier that we stayed at. We hike 14 kms up, and rest for the evening at the most secluded, silent, and stunning ashram. There are no other people here at this time, people don't generally come early May for this trek. There is good reason for this, too: it gets to be extremely cold in the evening. But again, we all manage to sneak in an hour or two of sleep at the most as we all shared a room, which was just as cozy as the previous nights' sleep. Again, we get up bright and early to hike the remaining 4 km's to Gaumukh.

We arrive an hour or two later at the glacier, and the river, well, it is a flowing.

And it is really really cold. Only few are senseless enough to submerge one's body into river water 20 ft from the melting glacier. Well, when in the Mouth of a Cow!

Really cold!

On our way back, as we now have 4 km to the ashram plus 18 km back to Gangotri, we periodically glance back to see the sights of the towering mountains releasing our sins into the thin air of nothingness. No better way to descend back to where we came from than a visit from over 50 Himalayan Big Horn Sheep crossing our paths in the line of the mountain.

We arrive with our legs shaking and our conscious clear.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kumbh Mela 2010

This is the crazy Kumbh Mela.

The Kumbh Mela was going on for 3 months, from end of January til the end of April. There are main dates or baths to be there for the holy baths. A bath is simply dipping in the River Ganga, which, it is said, to cleanse ones self of all sins. I'll need to take many baths for this feat.

Before heading to the main ghat, where the majority of people take their baths, we, the group from the ashram, took a bath in a more peaceful and, hopefully, cleaner area of the River Ganga. After our dip, we all sat in a semi-circle to meditate.
After our meditation session, we performed tikka, or said a prayer, at the River Ganga and softly placed flowers in the river as an offering.I don't know this guy, but anyone dressed in orange with face paint is a sadhu. The face paint resembles him being a devotee to a certain god, in his case, the lines across his face are meant to be for Shiva.

And of course, we arrive at the main ghat where all the craziness happens. The main bath occurred on April 14, but I did not make it then because all the trains and buses were sold out well in advace. This made sense to me when I learned that over 60 million people were here in Haridwar that day to take a bath. I only heard of its madness. That day several people were killed, due to being trampled or from being hit by a car of sadhus. But it is said that people wish to die during the Kumbh Mela as it is a holy festival and a very spiritual act to die during this period. I arrived in time for the last bath on April 28, which only hosted several million.
You can just see the madness of the many people taking sin cleansing baths here. Simply craziness!

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Ashram Experience - Sri Santosh Puri

Sri Santosh Puri Ashram

Arti - It kind of resembles friday night services with prayers, only here, the Arti is done every morning and evening. There is singing and chanting songs all in Hindi and Sanskrit, as well has praying to the many Gods as well as the Babaji. This photo is taken from above the Arti ceremony so as to not disturb the prayer sessions. Once the chanting is finished, everyone goes upon the "alter" and offers additional prayers to Babaji.

The story of Babaji is quite interesting. It is said, that 9 years ago, Babaji "Left" his body during meditation. He performed Samadi, which is pure enlightenment. It is believed that we are not who we think we are. We think we are that which is called the Ego, but it is all bullshit, and only temporary. We are not even our own bodies, but we are the essence of our bodies, the inner us, or, in Hindi, it is called the Atma, the divine within each of us. Babaji became detached of everything - The outside world, the ego, as well as his body, and became who we truly are - pure consciousness.

His body is buried here, and every day, the people of the ashram chant and pray in his honor.

There are many little ity bity frogs hopping around the ashram, that I was wondering how many survive the stampede of everyday human life.
This is a birthday celebration. Many flowers are put together on the floor of the dining hall, candles are placed within the flowers, and everyone in the room offers prayers and best wishes by dropping flowers upon the head of the birthday girl/boy. It's quite a beautiful ceremony. Then everyone sings happy birthday to them in their native language. There was Hindi, English, Hebrew, German, Dutch, Spanish, and French.

This is a Sadhu or Guru, basically a Hindi Monk. He sleeps outside by this tree along the Ganges River. I was on my way back to the ashram from a dip in the river, when I heard this Sadhu playing the flute. I sat along the Ganges and listened to him for some time. The Ganges River is said to be the holiest river in the world, and many people live just by it and take daily baths in it. My guess is that this Sadhu is either poor and had no choice but to live this way, or he made the choice to be detached from the outside world, and live a life devoted to God, the Ganges, and meditation. Either way, the music was a delight to listen to with some really incredible scenery. This place is just one minute walk from the ashram. The backyard to the ashram is the woods and the Ganges.

Jammu: Just Passin' Through

From Kashmir, I took a 7 hour Jeep ride through the mountains to arrive at Jammu, where I was staying for just the night. The next evening I was to catch a 15 hour train ride to spiritual Haridwar.The day was spent touring different temples, museums, and national parks. This ferris wheel was part of an amusement parks for one of the larger temples in Jammu. A very interesting experience to say the least. Cameras are never allowed inside, and I now understand why. Waiting in long lines lends to some fascinating people watching. One guy seemed to be possesed by God, and it seemed as if I was the only one really curious as to what was really going on. My guide kept saying "God is coming, God is coming" and the other people waiting in line acted as if this was a daily occurance - people being "possessed" and crazily shaking their heads up and down, left and right, and the body moving in all sorts of directions as well. India really is incredible!

Somehow we were able to sneak a picture with this portrait. The eyes kinda creeped me out, but the museum was actually really nice.
A national park with many different kinds of animals, and the peacock, the bird of India, with its array of colors.
Again, Jammu is famous for its temples, this being one of them. Sitting on the bank of a river, you can see a few giant statues facing the city. Ganesh, the elephant headed God on the left. Hunaman, the monkey God in the middle. And some other statue that I am unsure of. It may be difficult to see, but in the bottom left, many people are taking sin cleansing baths in the river to purify their souls.

Thats all we are - Just passin' through!