Posts Tagged ‘pilgrimage’

   Our pilgrimage took us all kinds of places in all kinds of ways . . .


OK, so we didn’t actually travel by elephant or fruit cart, but intrepid travelers that we are, we made our way through the Orient by all means possible, and completed our journey safely.  Thank you, Guardian Angels!


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Hell on a Bus

11-12 January 2009                                             Tamil Nadu to Kerala,    India                                   


         Travelling as we do, without advance itinerary and open to the Universe’s suggestions, can lead to magical events as well as disastrous consequences.  We’ve already had a couple hell rooms (one was so bad that the mouse living there hitchhiked out of there in our backpack when we checked-out, as we were too grossed-out by the grunge to even sleep there one night).  So I guess it was inevitable we’d have a hell ride, too.


         While it’s true we are budget travelers, we do try to do the best we can with what we’ve got.  Because of the high tourism season, we could not get any train or 1st class bus out of Pondicherry, so we made reservations on a 2nd class, “semi-sleeper” all-nighter, direct bus to cross South India.    This “direct” bus made so many stops, (sometimes at the drivers’ relatives’ places we think), that it ran 6 hours behind schedule.  We stopped to load burlap bags on top, a box of fish next to our bags down below, take on a man with peeping chicks in a bag, and stop for chai, every time allowing mosquitos to pour in through the open windows (they got to ride for free!).  At one stop a man loaded his motorcycle into the cargo hold, and the bus guys heave-hoed it on top of our bags, thereby smashing and breaking one of them.  James was so exasperated (and no one spoke English) that he chained our crumpled bags on top of the motorcycle so they wouldn’t move them again without our knowing.


         Sleeping was a torturous endeavour.  We suspect the bus driver avoided the toll road, as he seemed to wander around the countryside, hitting bone-rattling pothole after pothole (worse than Taos’ finest during mud season!).  Or maybe that was the highway…


         When we left the state of Tamil Nadu, we had to change buses because of some supposed law that doesn’t allow Tamil Nadu buses to haul less than 7 passengers across state lines.  There were 6 of us going on to Kerala.  So we disembarked at 5:30am, to catch the next bus out at 7:15am.  Finally the new bus started off, but stopped in 1 minute because it had a flat tire.  We finally got on the road at 8:30am.  There was no further dozing, as James used his force of will to keep us out of head-on collisions on basically a one-lane road.  This new bus driver cut it very close many times.  The positive take on the situation is that the Indian drivers are so good that they can cut it close – within inches.  We have noticed that 99% of vehicles have side-swipe marks, and broken-off side-view mirrors.


         The consolation prize was the scenery – banana and palm groves watched over by the distant mountains, the Western Ghats.  Sunny, green, clear, and even clean…  apparently Kerala has a left-leaning socialist government, which I suppose translates into better education and social programs.  There is a marked contrast to the trash and ramshackle quality we found in what we saw of Tamil Nadu.  Kerala seems to us to be quite lovely.  And we made it here alive!

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   8 January 2009                                                       Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India


         Arunachala is a sacred mountain, and after our relationships with Maxwaluna in Taos and the apus of the Andes, we were ready to meet this mountain.  Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi attained self-realization here, after sitting in silent meditation in a cave in this mountain for many years.  James was especially looking forward to Arunachala, as Ramana was the first guru to get James’ attention, years back when he was living in Spain.  Soon after this he began dreaming of Puerto Rico and remembering me, which led eventually to our partnership.


         “So in a way coming here is coming full circle,”  James said. 


I guess so, in a circles within circles kind of way. . .


         Now that we were in South India (and gratefully out of the cold winter of North India), it was only proper that James should come to Tiruvannamalai and pay homage to his guru.  This meant walking the stone path up the mountain – not the easiest feat for him.  So we went slowly, sometimes he leaned on me, but mostly he did it himself.  Step by step.


         We had agreed to make it a silent pilgrimage, so we did not talk.  As a writer, I am literarily overflowing with words, which accompanied me, incessantly, on our climb.  We passed families of monkeys; they foraged through the bushes, chased one another, and swung from tree branch to tree branch, very much like my thoughts.  Stilling the mind is an enormous challenge, even in a walking meditation!


         James spied some yellow flowers growing just off the path, and indicated that he would like me to pick them for him, so he could make them as an offering.  I winced.  Being barefoot, I was wary to step into the brush, but I certainly did not want him to step onto unsteady ground.  So I picked my way to the bush, as I was silently flogged by my internal growling.  Just as I, glaring at him with the eyes of a martyr, handed him the sprig of flowers, I stepped on a thorn. Shedding my blood on Arunachala, I had to laugh at how adept it was at instant karma. 


         Finally we reached a shrine marking where Ramana had lived and we joined people inside to sit silently.  My mind kept up the monkey circus, so I decided to do the talking:  I prayed there that James be able to transcend the pain of his body.


         Hiking on, we came to the cave where Ramana had spent years on end in silent meditation.  People who used to approach him could feel the power of his divine realization, without him even speaking a word.  Inside I could make out the flower-draped shrine in the light of ghee candles.  Settling in, I closed my eyes, and finally my mind allowed me to drop down, under the radar of my constant internal chatter.  In the quiet, what arose in me was a flame.   Naturally!  I had read that, according to Hindu mythology, it was here that Shiva appeared on the Earth as a column of fire, and Arunachala was his blazing sthavara lingam.  During the holy festival of Karthigai Deepam, in December, a huge lamp is lit at the top of the mountain (using 2000 liters of ghee and a 30-meter wide wick), so that Shiva’s light burns for all to see.


         In my meditation  I did not perceive the fire element as I had in Hawai’i – the churning and erupting of the goddess Pele – here it was a candle flame:  constant, consuming, yet continually renewing.  The flame lapped up the center of my body, so that I was the connection between the earth and the sky.  In fact, all humans forged that circuit with our internal light, allowing energy to flow between the worlds.  We were the bridge, and at the same time, the river.  I envisioned all of us as human candles, a glowing aura around the Earth, and its light bathed me in love.


         When I opened my eyes, several people sat cross-legged in silence, and James had gone out.  I found him outside the cave, and he offered me a banana.  Breaking our silence,  I said, “You mean you have bananas left?”  He had been giving out fruit to beggars and saddhus all along the way.


         As we carefully placed our steps going down the mountain (which was steeper and more difficult than the ascent), I asked James if he had had any realizations or experiences on our little mountain pilgrimage. 


         With a determined grin, he replied,  “Before enlightenment, there are many bananas to carry.  And after enlightenment, there are many bananas to carry.”

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Wonder of the World

26 December 2008                                                      Agra, India

         We arrived in Agra on Christmas Eve at midnight (over 3 hours late).  When we stepped off the train, it was like stepping into a Hollywood set.  A thick fog obscured the platforms and put an eerie glow around the lights.  A white-bearded man was chanting “Ay, Ram.”  Women wrapped in saris and men wearing turbans huddled around a fire they’d made.  As we pulled our luggage clackety-clacking along, we passed mounds of people sleeping under wool blankets.   Only one little boy was awake and peeked out at us with his dark brown eyes.  He was wedged between his mom and dad, and his face held the delight of a boy on a camping trip … sleeping there on the train platform.         The night was cold and smelled of smoke and urine, with a hint of incense.  Welcome to Agra.


         I awoke at dawn on Christmas morning to the sound of the muzzein calling the faithful to prayer, his voice rolling across the city on the misty morning.  This was followed by the sounds a someone puking in the room next to ours.  Tourist tummy which so far we’ve avoided here in India… 


Today, which is Ramses’ birthday, while sitting on the rooftop terrace of our hotel drinking chai and watching the nearby Taj Mahal materialize in the morning fog, I also saw this:  a dog hurriedly crossing the street to avoid a horse-drawn carriage that was passing a camel-drawn carriage that was passing an elephant.  Only in India ….


Ramses, I offer you these vignettes from our Indian sojourn, and wish you the very happiest of birthdays!

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Himalayan High

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