A Mind-blowing Journey to the Heights of the Himalayas with yogi and mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
|Himalayan peaks at the top, near Kedarnath|
My trek to Kedarnath began last September. Two hundred plus foreigners from the U.S., Canada and Europe came together in the southern state of Tamil Nadu about 300 miles southwest of Chennai (Madras) at the base of the Velliangiri Mountains. Here, in the fragrant heat of lush rainforest sits Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga Center.
Isha Yoga Center is different than I had ever imagined an ashram to be. The environment itself is a peaceful paradise with classic stone-carved cottages tucked away in a spectacular mountain setting. But the Isha ashram is not a sleepy escape, it is buzzing with intense, inspired activity. The longtime residents live life with such unabashed aliveness and undaunted purpose that it quite literally embarrasses you out of anything that you may be suffering. In that, being at the Isha ashram was both a humbling and humorous reflection of my own habits, hang-ups, and limiting ideas.
|Isha Yoga Center, India--Spanda Hall|
After a short flight to Delhi, our group loaded onto buses and headed to Haridwar for the night. Haridwar sits at the base of the Himalayas’ famed Garhwal region. There were eight powerful and sacred sites on our schedule—Kedarnath, Guptakashi, Badrinath, Hemkund, Valley of Flowers, Uttarkashi, Gaumukh and the well-known Rishikesh. All of these sites are contained within this northern region of Uttar Pradesh, which is also home to the source glacier for the Ganges River. Kedarnath, the ancient ‘abode of Shiva,’ was to be our first stop.
|Himalayan peaks near Kedarnath on the trek up|
The hike ahead of us was 14km (8.7miles) of winding, climbing trails amongst rocky ice-capped peaks. The Mandakini River, a tributary of the Ganges River, gushed from the peaks above and cut a deep valley to the base village below. Although the temperatures were expected to be frigid up in Kedaz, the climb was warm in the sun and most of our gear was off of our bodies and weighing us down in our packs. As we climbed, there was rarely an opportunity to coast on a straight-away or a brief descent, so many hikers stopped for chai at little lean-tos that lined the path. For me, I knew once I stopped, getting going again would be difficult. I was depending on the momentum and monotony of my legs moving to keep me going. The whole trail was short switch-backs—steadily up and up and up. The only breaks I really took were to briefly lean over and shock my skull in one of several crystal clear, ice-cold waterfalls that poured out through the rocks here and there.
|Falls near Kedarnath on the trek up|
About halfway up, I could feel the air become thinner and despite being reasonably athletic, my legs had turned to rubber. There were at least four hours of steady climbing left. “I don’t think I can make it,” my mind murmured. Then I remembered the mantra Sadhguru told us about. “Shee-va, Sham-bho, Shee-va, Sham-bho…,” I began chanting quietly to myself. I plodded on with slow, baby steps, ceaselessly chanting. I was committed not to stop even if it meant arriving in the middle of the night.
Within an hour, something amazing began to happen. Although my body was now so tired I couldn’t even feel my legs anymore, somehow I was gaining speed. “SHEE-va, Sham-BHO,” I began to chant louder and a roaring laugh came up from my belly. “SHEE-va, Sham-BHO!” I yelled playfully toward a sherpa who was passing me on his way down. “Shee-VA!” he replied with a huge knowing grin. As the rooftops of Kedarnath village came into site, the buoyancy of my legs lifted me even more. To my surprise, they began to carry me like I was on wheels. For the last thirty minutes of the trek I was actually running—running and laughing with silly, uncontainable, giddy, childlike glee. All of this, in spite of me because my mind still couldn’t believe I’d made it at all.
|Kedarnath village in the distance|
Tears began to fall from Sadhguru’s eyes. He stayed there for several minutes and then joined us on the sloping riverbank in silence. We all gathered closely around him and sat, watching and waiting in wonder for him to speak, to explain what we all could feel, but he said nothing. He did not even look at us at first. He gazed, instead, at the mountain. As he did, a huge burst of palpable energy rushed through me. The sweet ache of deep longing surged into my heart. The heat of the passion rushed upward and flushed my face. I turned my gaze to the sky, my arms impulsively stretching upward as if to try to grasp hold of existence itself and draw it down into me.
It was then that he spoke, but by then nothing that he said could sink into me. The sheer angst and ecstasy of my own passionate longing had carried me off somewhere deep within myself. The sadhus who happened to be there in the village continued to hover silently nearby and watch us. Then, one-by-one, our little band of foreign seekers fought our way up the hill to the steps of Kedarnath’s one-thousand-year-old temple. Some in our group were so stunned by the experience of sitting with Sadhguru that they had trouble even moving, or walking. Others, including myself, sobbed with love and longing, like small children crying for a mother’s arms. All of us were in one way or another overcome by a huge presence that cannot be described in words.
One diminutive sadhu caught my attention as I passed by him. Earlier, I had casually noticed him squatting in silent reflection inside a modest stone shelter, a small trishul (trident symbol of Shiva) staked in the front. Now, he had come out in front of the reclusive structure in honor of Sadhguru, chanting to himself quietly but ringing a bell loudly and vigorously.
|Ancient yogic temple at Kedarnath|
At last, I entered the temple itself and made my way to the back. There, through a narrow doorway, stood a small shrine. At the center of the shrine was an irregularly-shaped pyramidal stone, an ancient ‘Shiva linga’ streaked with colorful spices and herbs and surrounded by offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense. Ages of ritual devotion seemed to reverberate within the walls of the enclosure and even as I watched, there were several sadhus crouched around the shrine chanting.
I moved closer to get a better view. As I gazed at the stone, the subtle pulsations within my system began to intensify. Within a few minutes, it reached such an extreme that my whole body began to tremor. This was not the hyped shaking of anxiety. I was somehow still deeply relaxed. I sat down, took a full breath and let go more. Soon a new kind of stillness came into my mind—the movement of time gave way to one profound moment. My thoughts seemed like trivial objects tossed around in the vast room that was my total consciousness. My presence was expansive, all-encompassing and profoundly alive. A piercing sweetness struck my heart and lit the tip of my tongue. I had never tasted such complete fulfillment before.
I sat oscillating in this heightened state, in this bliss of total ‘me-ness’ for some time without effort, without question, without action or direction for the first time in my whole life. All that ever came before was at once resolved in this timeless space and only the stream of life itself truly knew my name.