Sacred Walks

Sacred Walks
Journey to places of divine connection, where the veil between the physical and spiritual is thin.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Himalayan Yatra

Kedarnath-The Legendary ‘Abode of Adi Yogi’

A Mind-blowing Journey to the Heights of the Himalayas with yogi and mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Himalayan peaks at the top, near Kedarnath
In yogic lore, the Himalayan hamlet of Kedarnath is known as the home of the adi guru or “first guru” of yoga, Shiva. An oxymoronic combination of gentle natural beauty and ascetic ferocity pervades that space. Our host for this remarkable journey seemed equally paradoxical—gentle but intense, deeply compassionate but piercingly frank, fun-loving, lighthearted but undeniably fierce. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, south India’s renowned yogi and mystic, guided us into this Himalayan mountain terrain and across a divide into something timeless, illogical and truly indescribable…but I will try.

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
This is not the ashram you visit to hide away, but it’s the perfect place to go if you are ready to take a leap in your personal growth. I have been hungry for such a leap for a long time and after a couple of weeks acclimating to India at this very special ashram, I was going to get a chance to take another huge stride toward something few people do—the beauty, presence, and power of the Himalayas.

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
It took nearly a full day just to reach the base village where we were to start our trek to Kedarnath the next morning. Sadhguru met with us that morning at six a.m. We shared breakfast and then he spoke with us about the profound impact of Kedarnath on spiritual seekers. ‘In many ways,’ he told us. ‘This mountain is Shiva. This is not a fact, but it is the truth. Do you know the difference?’ He then explained how the whole existence is comprised merely of energy vibrating at different frequencies, that sound is also a vibration of energy, and that the words ‘Shiva’ and ‘Shambho’ are special sounds, enlightening sounds or mantras, that literally reverberate throughout Kedarnath. He encouraged us to chant and be with these mantras as we made our way up the mountainside.

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
Sadhguru had hiked in the back of the pack. We sat and waited eagerly for him on an icy curve of steps leading up into the center of Kedarnath village. As he arrived, I immediately leapt up and started down the hill toward him, but I stopped short when I saw his face. He came with such fierce intensity in his eyes that I suddenly began to feel self-conscious. Everyone, even the local villagers, fell into silence and stared in anticipation. Of five hundred people or more, no one moved a muscle. He walked straight to the river’s edge, knelt down and gently ran his hand through the water. The air was electric around him. We all watched in amazement, stupefied by our own ignorance of what was happening.

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
As I arrived at the temple steps in the center of the village, I slipped off my shoes and climbed the stairs. A line of bells hung above the top stair and I rang one, as is the tradition, as I crossed the threshold onto a stone terrace. The temple stood in front of me with such a remarkable presence. It was a surprisingly simple, stone structure but it radiated with a preciousness that I couldn’t quite pin down. For a while, I simply sat on the raised terrace several feet from the temple’s open door and savored every breath. The mountain peaks that encircled me seemed to dominate with silent wisdom and I basked in the vibrant energy that continued to pulsate within, around and through me.

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.

When I left the temple that evening, I was filled with awe and gratitude for the experience I had received, which I knew was in no small part a result of being accompanied by Sadhguru on this journey. Sadhguru later described Kedarnath itself as a ‘heady spiritual cocktail’ --an unfathomable mixture of elevated spiritual energies from every kind of extreme yogic process that has been practiced there for thousands of years. My mind-blowing experience of Kedarnath was a blissful sip of that cocktail. It is a drink everyone should taste at least once in their lifetime.


ramu said...

Great article, Nagini.
You should write more.


Prasanna said...

Was blog hopping and found this article...mind blowing! I too am an Isha Meditator from India...Your blog is simply awesome...

Poornima said...

simply astounding experience for me to have just read about your experience. Fills me with a longing to be there at himalayas with Sadhguru. Iam a Isha meditator myself, at Birmingham Alabama.

OH!! I AM BLESSED said...

Amazing Experience..I was just going through the blogs and found it. I feel I was destined to read this. U are lucky to be with SadhGuru on this trek.

Jai Gurudev!!

merridian said...

Your descriptions here have touched me more than I expected. It sent me from the room, crying in angst... angst for wanting to be there myself yet knowing I can't afford it, yet. But your words itself moved something in me, something that has been aching to shift. Thank you for waking me up a bit more. I needed this. <3

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