Last Day In India

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I arrived in my Master's Bidadi Ashram 2 days ago. Master granted my wish of one last Darshan of him and a blessing before I return to Singapore. There was a one day weekend meditation course that I was able to join - Kalpatharu Darshan - that allowed for it.

It was a course about fulfilling your dreams and wishes by preparing your body and mind prior to Master's darshan. But all I wanted was to see him again!

At the end of the day after a long wait and several meditation sessions my Master finally appeared on stage. When it was my turn I was in deep awareness of how long it had been since my first darshan of him, and how much has happened since then. Indeed my entire India trip was fueled by a large part by him drawing me into his circle.

What do I ask from him? There will be many wishes and desires but none will ever be worth spoiling the beautiful silence I felt as I approached him.

In the past I used to be all a flutter before approaching him. My mind would be undergoing through a desperate last minute spring cleaning to make the place appropriate for Master's visit, and amidst this inner hubbab I would get my darshan.

But now there are no longer any more illusions. I am who I am, imperfect and flawed, but also divine in nature in the process of awakening and going home. Master would have welcomed me regardless of who I am.

Kneeling in front of him, I did not look into his face, instead choosing to close my eyes and wait passively. I was surprised by Master's voice. "Do you have anything to say to me?" he asked. This was because in Kalpatharu Darshan you approach Master with a wish or desire you want fulfilled and ask for the energy to achieve it. But my wish was to be in his presence again, and it was already fulfilled!

Besides, bringing me out of my ignorance and depression, saving me from my own madness of inner chattering, guiding and protecting me through the most important journey in my life - 6 months in the spiritual center of the world, what has he NOT fulfilled? What will I ever be able to ask that he doesn't already know? What will he ever withold from me that will be best for my spiritual development?

I shook my head and sneaked a peek at his face. I also was aware of a strange thing I was doing that I never did in his presence - I was smiling at him! He exploded into a wonderful silent laugh and gave me a wonderful darshan. He put his thumb on my agnya chakra but hugged me at the same time. I have seen him give this most affectionate form of darshan to people before, I never knew that Mr. Dysfunctional Heart would ever deserve this from him. He hugged me closely afterwards, then said to me: "I am with you."

How did he know that I would be returning to Singapore, and was seeking his blessing? Or my fear of losing my path after returning to Singapore, or of being distant from him? With the four words of that blessing I barely made it back to my seat before my tears fell, unabated. Always the right words at the right time, that Master of mine.

Today I had a last glimpse of Master as I left the ashram. He was celebrating Diwali with his ashramites, lighting firecracker after firecracker, running away after the fuses were lit giggling like a little boy and leaving explosion after explosion (and fleeing ashramites) at his wake!

India IS the Spiritual Center of the World. That I know for sure now having spent 6 unforgettable months roaming and exploring. The lessons and revelations come from breathtaking places and mystical teachers but also from unlikely sources. All that it asks of you is for you to be open and aware, and seeking. And when the Jnana of direct experience starts coming and coming, you will realise that the answers have always been inside you, waiting for you to remember.

I want to return! There are many places in the north I was not able to devote my full time to, and many more I have missed totally. It will happen when it happens!

Goodbye, India! Happy Diwali! And thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Ayurveda in Cochin

Thanks to the Kerala Ayurvedic Center in Cochin today I find out my body type falls into the Vata/ Pitta category, after asking a few questions including the frequency of my toilet trips (!) the consultant pushes me over to the Pitta side. This explains my skin problems like acne..

Of which Elaadi Keram oil was perscribed to be massaged on the affected parts before baths. Am on the lookout for that oil now.

Unfortunately as I will leave for Bangalore tomorrow morning, I am only able to take a one hour full body massage this evening. Woo!

10 Day Vipassana Course at Igatpuri

Buddha Preaching the Dhamma

Vipassana, the original unchanged meditation and self discovery technique taught by Gautama the Buddha, once lost to India but rediscovered thanks to generations of Myanmar teachers who carried on the tradition silently through the ages, and reintroduced to its home country by S N Goenka.

I was immediately grateful for choosing the Igatpuri center after seeing the Dhamma Giri Pagoda! A beautiful Burmese pagoda sitting atop rows upon rows of meditation cells, surrounded by lush greenery. Many thanks to Minakshi, friend of Masha's for her great advice.

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Inside the center I had to surrender all my books (I had tons of them!) writing materials and my malas and bracelet, and make a promise to observe noble silence throughout, along with other promises to abstain from sex, intoxicants, religious practices, etc. I was given a beautiful room to stay in all by myself, little more than a bed and bathroom but very clean and cooling and peaceful.

The meditation work was done daily in a meditation hall as a large group. We would wake at 4am to start the morning with a 2 hour meditation session, followed by more meditation and more meditation, a meal or 2, then more meditation (you get the picture).

For group sittings we were expected to sit without moving our hands or legs for an entire hour! But it soon became natural, and now I am able to meditate freely in a Burmese sitting position for up to 2 hours. The comfort comes not from the pain going away, the pain and discomfort is always there, the comfort comes from being able to relax and stop resisting the pain, and watching it objectively, all part of the Vipassana process of liberation!

THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

The biggest problem I had in the course initially was with my fellow meditators. There was a lot of farting and burping going on in the hall during meditation. Combine this with knuckle cracking and loud yawning and the occasional snorer, you have a cacophony of noises to meditate with! With eyes closed, the noises intensify and seeming pull you from any state of concentration effortlessly.

“I have problems with distractions from other meditators” I begged my instructor, defeated after an entire day of meditation marred by uncontrollable feelings of anger and irritation.

With his help I tried to manage these feelings best I could, first coming in terms with the reality of meditating as a group and that I was a naturally irritable person, then working at the feelings of anger and irritation best I could.

"The cause of the anger is inside you, not outside." he said, "So don't be angry at the people outside."

We were initially taught an introductory technique of watching our breathing, this was to sharpen our minds to receive the Vipassana technique proper with the right kind of mind. Vipassana proper was taught on the 4th day. Something was afoot! Walking to the canteen after the afternoon initiation I was suddenly overcome with a wave of inexplicable emotion which brought tears to my eyes and almost make me choke on my food from sobbing. What had happened? It was such an intense emotion I had a feeling that I had waited many lifetimes for this opportunity.

I continued to work to contain my feelings of irritation and anger with mixed success. The urge to react always comes like a painful shaft with every distraction, even under the intellectual understanding of the cause of my anger. At times I slip up and let loose a verbal counter at the noisemakers. I must have been a very difficult person to meditate next to in those times.

My pet peeve, apart from the usual farting and burping that Indians seem apt to make while in meditation, are the silent smacking noises one makes when they wet their lips or swallow with their mouths open. The person sitting behind me was especially wont to do that. Once I got so mad I turned around and made an extremely loud and childish smacking noise back at him! What a demon I was turning into.

Another favourite of mine was a meditator who insisted on cracking his knuckles, finger digits, and other assorted joints, and make irritating tapping noises with his feet and yawn loudly.

By the 6th day I was ready to throw in the towel at containing my irritation. I had made makeshift earplugs that I wear while meditating and it kept the distractions down to a minimum.

"Those that have the silence inside them spread bliss to those around them. Those that don't only vomit the hell to those around them." Those are not the exact words my Master, Paramahamsa Nithyananda, used but it contains the jist of it. On that day I remembered his words with much misery at my failure.

In my anger I was getting mad even at my Master. It is a truth that in my life I have only ever put the blame on some other person or excuse for things that have only gone wrong inside of me. But I had only been able to bring that understanding to an intellectual level. When it comes down to it, I was never more than a helpless slave to the whims and fancies of my rampant emotions.

"OK Master," I mentated in my mind. "So I don't have the silence within me. You can talk so much about it. How about showing me what to do?"

What happened next in the evening meditation was absolutely jaw dropping.

Bravely and foolhardily I decide one more time to try mediating with the noises and distractions and put away the earplugs.

LOSING MY I

The struggle, the fear of losing control, the burning up of emotions, all ensued. This time somehow I remembered the words of one of S N Goenka's evening lectures. "There is no I". He had said.

Although I had heard that statement many times in the past, once again it was only an intellectual understanding.But that evening when that thought came into my mind, something clicked, something registered, I fell instantly into a state I can only call a greater sense of relaxation.

It was an extraordinary experience. I was completely open and defenceless inside to whatever distractions that used to make me steel myself up with tension in defence. But there was no longer any "I" to defend. There is no I.

And the distractions soon fell to the background with another thing that was happening inside of me.. as I worked with the Vipassana technique I was filled with the now familiar energy of Kundalini. It straightened my spine almost painfully, and pushed my head upwards and backwards with a great pressure. I was locked in that position, sitting ramrod straight effortlessly held in position by the strange force, when in days past I had slouched time and again from the fatigue. A brilliance was filling up inside of me. Soon it was so bright inside my inner space it was completely and uniformly white. I was blinded, albeit blissfully so, for I was filled with so much joy.

It died down close to the end of the session, relinquishing its grasp of my head and spine, my head started drooping a little. The ending prayers sounded, and that was that.

Later that evening while watching the nightly video lecture in a small lecture hall, a boy who had been sitting near me while I was being an irritable nuisance started deliberately making the wet smacking and slurping noises with his lips every few minutes. I came to know that he did this deliberately as he is completely silent whenever he thought that I wasn't around.

He carried this torture through nightly till the end of the course. I must have been a great nuisance for him to have been so overcome with feelings of revenge.

But alas he was a day late. My head was still humming blissfully from the intensity of the experience, and there was no "I" left inside to be affected by his attacks. Elvis had left the building.

In fact, sitting silently and peacefully every night in the video lectures amid his constant lip smackings was a tremendously helpful tool for me to practice and imbibe the lessons experienced. I surprised him and even myself at the extent I had changed after that experience.

"ThereisnoI THereisnoI ThereisnoI ThereisnoI..." my mind went on an on the next day, in between uncontrollable bursts of gratitude for the experience. It was fading from memory and I could sense my "I" returning, feeling the beginnings again of irritation. In my panic I started repeating the statement like a mantra to keep the experience alive inside me.

"Fool," my Masters voice echoed in my mind, laughing playfully,"Unclutch from the experience. It will become a part of you and will never be lost. And stop vocalising!"

Who am I to disobey voices in my head? With difficulty I stopped mentating, and found that though the sense of "I"ness returned, I found I was now able to move to the state of relaxation at will. My experience had been a "Sneak Peek" at a spiritual state, but it had left the doors open for me to make my way there permenantly.

THE PATH OF JNANA

Whether a product of the process of Vipassana (to see the bright light during Vipassana was not uncommon, I later found out) or the intervention of my Master I will never know, all I know is gratitude for the experience. It was a truly rare moment in my life when I had come to an experiential understanding of such a sublime truth.

And this is what the process of Vipassana is about, Goenka had said in a lecture. It is a path of Jnana or self knowledge, a knowledge born from self experimentation and experience, as opposed to intellectualisation.

And all through an ingenious process of training the mind to be a watcher of all the sensations that the body receives, instead of the usual habit of reacting to them, and using the body as experiemental lab and playground for the mind to work on these sensations.

The revelations come as an “AHA!” that seem to come out of nowhere, while practicing the technique diligently, rather than come out of the technique as a direct conclusion. Rather than as a logical or technical tool for figuring out the great Truths, its more like an exercise machine to prepare the mind for the Truths to settle into it once it's ready.

There were also demons to exorcise. Sankaras are deep unconscious desires that control a person like a demon possessing a host. By the process of Vipassana we stop the creation of new Sankaras by stopping the mind from creating new ones by its natural habit of reacting to sensations with craving or aversion. Once this process is stopped, old and deep Sankaras start surfacing and then it’s up to us to purge ourselves of them. Not like in Hollywood movies where the demon claws its way out of a man’s chest! They manifest themselves by sudden feelings of inexplicable discomfort, pain and craving that manifest themselves in the body while practicing.

Once surfaced, by remaining equimanical, balanced and detached to the raging emotions, one becomes freed of them.

The biggest Sankara that surfaced in my course for me? It was the Sankara of lust.. and lots of it! The beautiful meditation cells under and around the main pagoda were out of bounds for new students to meditate, but we were kindly given permission to meditate in the cells for 2 sittings. The cells are a beautiful space of sensory deprivation and intense energy, and inside my cell at 4:30 in the morning I was hit by wave after wave of lust and sexual fantasies, all of which I recognized were from my fantasies of the past!

There was another truth revealed to me near the end of the course. That everything is transcient. Once again, a truth that is proclaimed again and again, but never quite understood, until direct experience, and divine Jnana.

And between the revelations and beautiful experiences, outpourings of gratitude in tears and more tears! I must be the crybaby of the course for the amount of tears I put out, for it is much normal to see austere faces in Igatpuri than a raving crying madman who cannot decide if he is crying or laughing! In fact it was difficult to decide who to be grateful to.. my Master for starting and guiding me on this path, SN Goenka for reviving the practice of Vipassana in India, Buddha for giving the world this method, anything, everything, everyone! It seemed the best thing to do was just raise my eyes to the sky.

“Ah this world of sensations,” I mentated in ecstasy after a particular beautiful session, a momentary glimpse of liberation, having conquered a painfully discomforting sitting, “I am no longer your slave”. It proved to be a bit premature, as it faded from experience with time. But once again a subtle change was left behind, a way was opened in its wake.

But a feeling of freedom is still inside me right now as I write. The changes left in me by the course are as obvious as day from night.

Once I was a victim of my emotions. Once I was caught in a helpless chain of cause and effect, watching in depression as I am carried from sorrow to sorrow from an untamed reactionary mind. This mind now watches calmly at situations that used to instigate it to react in a sadly predictable manner, and any attempts at containing it resulted in a volcanic explosion of pent up emotion or a dead end.

Verily, I am freed. Far from total liberation, but free enough to feel an incredible lightness, and a drive to keep the practice of Vipassana ongoing to see where else it takes me. To be in total defenceless relaxation in the face of the world despite of the world! The dream I had of flying, it felt like this!

Igatpuri

Have arrived in Igatpuri after a very long train ride from Chandigarh. Will be in the course for the next 10 days, starting tomorrow morning.

Chandigarh

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Wide, multilaned roads with traffic thin enough to see gaps between vehicles, no trash on the streets, green buffer zones between road and bicycle paths, monolithic modernist concrete buildings.. is this India? But the unkemptness of the green areas and patina of dirt on the buildings soon tell you that it is.

I came to Chandigarh for Nek Chand's Fantasy Rock Garden and Corbusier's town planning and designs and Chandigarh did not disappoint. However, due to my oversleeping this morning (I had been kept awake by Delhi bedbugs) I missed my morning train and had to take a later one. I only managed a quick look at the Fantasy Rock Garden in the evening hours, with what precious daylight hours left obscured by evening clouds and rain.

Open Hand

Hopefully I will be able to see the High Court tomorrow morning before I leave for the afternoon train to Mumbai and Igatpuri.

Hellboy II in New Delhi


While retreating to Shahdara in Delhi to watch Hellboy II in the air-conditioned comfort of a modern mall I was met with the after effects of the recent bomb attacks in major indian cities: long queues and frustrating wait times to get into its metro stations as guards make a painfully long search of each passenger's belongings before allowing them to pass.

My camera which has gone through thick and thin with me had finally given out after Varanasi. It must've been the push and shove on the train and insistant pressure on it caused the lens to go out of alignment slightly, making the right side of photos noticably blurred. It was saddening but my trip is nearly over and I will be able to get it fixed when back in Singapore. Also by turning the camera right side up or upside down I can control which side of the photo gets blurred, and by pushing against the lens with my free fingers I can relieve the blurrness somewhat.

Sexy Khajuraho

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

Its strange and unexplained, but the sexiness of the sculptures and carvings in this ancient temple site is many times more intense in real life than in the pictures I took of them, or in any of the photos I've seen come to think of it!

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The guide book talks of the slant of the body and the twist of the torso of the figures being portrayed lending life to them, I agree but there is still much more emotion, sexual energy and um.. enthusiasm being expressed here than can be explained away by technicality.

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197 dead in temple stampede in Jodhpur

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3543100.cms

Being a witness to how pushy-shovey Hindu pilgrims can be, both in the North and South of India, I am however surprised at the extent to which this can occur, leading to massive loss of lives at such a holy place. Some news sources are citing bomb threat as the cause for stampede, while this news source is saying some of the devotees started slipping off the hill causing others to fall on top of each other causing the stampede. Sounds pretty far fetched but from my experiences so far this seems like a more plausible explanation.

They seem to push and press up to the person in front of them because queue cutting seems to be the norm and leaving a gap between you and the person in front invites a queue cutter to exploit the opportunity.

Squeezing yourself into available gaps in order to bypass is also the norm, as is overtaking in queues. Many times a person would tap you on the shoulder and try to push you aside (if you're not aware of what happens) so he can squeeze past you as if you're not in the queue!

They also push and shove because they want to get to point B faster and think that pushing against the person in front will get them there faster.

And of course the insanely dense and out-of-control overpopulation in India does not help.

The really scary times happen when during a massive bottleneck of humanity, another passage or opportunity opens up and then there is a massive push and stampede towards the new opening.

Put it all together and its a stampede waiting for even the most inane excuse to happen.

When even a simple thing as queueing for a temple darshan becomes life threatening, there is something wrong with the whole setup here.

On the TV a reporter lists down a long history of similar stampedes that have occured in other temples in India.

Doing the Touristy Thing in Agra

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Of course no Indian trip is complete without splurging for a 750 rupees admission ticket to the Taj Mahal! Its a popular place with grandparents as the average age of tourists here seems to be in the 60s range.

Allahabad

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It looks like staying longer in Bodhgaya was not meant to be as train tickets onward were fully booked on all the other days except yesterday night, so here I am in Allahabad 8(.

Bodhgaya

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Soon as I arrived in this Buddhist pilgrimage town I tried visiting the Vipassana Meditation Center in the hopes of changing the venue of my previously registered Vipassana course from Igatpuri to here, with no luck 8(. This means I will need to make it quickly back down to Mumbai by the 8th of October for my 10 day meditation course.

It is a bit saddening as I would have appreciated more time here in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and also here in Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha gained enlightenment. But everything happens for a reason.

Visiting the Mahabodhi Temple this evening and the sacred Bodhi Tree where it all happened i could feel a palpable spiritual energy, even as the throngs of Hindu (yes Hindu) devotees push and shove their noisy way through their pilgrimage here. Despite the deadline of getting to Mumbai in time, I will spend as much time as I can in this beautiful place.

Warming Up to Varanasi

Mulgandha Kuti Vihar

It was coming back from an uneventful day trip to the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Sarnath that a beautiful thing happened. I cram into a shared Vikrams to get back to Varanasi and get unceremoniously dumped somewhere in the suburbs. Hopelessly lost I grab a cycle rickshaw hoping it will take me the rest of the way back to my guest house at Manikarnika Ghats. The rickshaw stops me at the choked up Godaulia Junction and goes no further, the puller points at a police blockade and says he can not pass.

Grumbling I look around and decide that in order for me not to get hopelessly lost I had better make it to the river bank and follow it north to my ghat.

I make it to Dasawamedh Ghat as it gets dark, and get a pleasant surprise! I was blessed with being led very unexpectedly to the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony at the ghat. It was a beautiful Aarti, the crowds hemmed in on the priests on all sides. The river itself was choked up with so many boatfuls of tourists one could not tell where the ghat ended and the river started.

Ganga Aarti @ Varanasi

Yes I am warming up to Varanasi now. The streets do not look as hostile or filthy as before, and I take less wrong turns to get to my destinations now in the old part of town (XD).

This morning I awoke early enough to bring my puja set to Schindia Ghat. A puja to my beloved Master at such a holy location would surely honor him. There were many stares, of course, and a large portion came from Brahmins, whom I knew would listen in on my Sanskrit chanting with hyper-critical ears. But my devotion to Master won over my shyness this day.

"Master sometimes I feel that there is only you and I, and that nobody else exists," a devotee once said to my Master. "That is Truth," Paramahamsa Nithyananda replied, "But keep seeking for the even greater truth that ONLY you exist."

I kept that in my mind as I began my puja. When the all familiar stirrings of my Ananda Gandha began, the people around me receded. When I finished the puja, a boatman that was sitting near me actually offered me his boat to do puja in for free, the next time I feel like doing one!

Guru Puja @ Varanasi

Yes I am definitely warming up to this holy city.

Varanasi

Well it had to happen sooner or later, and my expectations of it happening probably aided its manifestation - I lose my wallet on the train to Varanasi, but no harm done except for a few hundred lost rupees and a bruised ego.

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Am staying in a guest house close to the burning ghats of Manikarnika, where they cremate dead bodies 24/7. It was suggested by my Master I spend as much time there as possible, watching the dead until we can overcome my own fear of dying. The fear of death being the root cause of all fears, accept your own death and you conquer all fear. But frankly I am not too sure I will stay long in Varanasi as it is proving too overwhelming for me, even with 4 months of travelling experience in India under my belt.

The narrow streets in the old part of the city next to the ghats are convoluted and narrow.. too narrow for traffic, so its walking only. And many hundreds of meters of confusion and disorientation await the walking tourist here 8(. On top of that the cows here produce dung overtime, and the filth does not seem to get washed away. Many times I was literally wading in it.

Schindia Ghat

And it is probably these prejudices that I am failing to overcoming that is stopping from my feeling the spirituality of the place. A friend of Masha's once reported that he had actually fell into the bliss state (you know, when you feel like you're high on marijuana) just by walking along the ghats. Pretty similar to what I felt in Master's presence, or during my 2nd trip to Tiruvannamalai, except without the meditation!

Paramasukadam, that's probably the best description of the emotion - "Happiness without cause".

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This morning's boat trip along the Ganges was beautiful though.

A Bath in the Ganges

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Before I left for Varanasi I took a bath in Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar. The Ganges seemed clean enough there, none of the "septic quality water" reports coming from Varanasi. Of course I would have liked to have taken it in Gangotri or Gaumukh 8(.

India Floods

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/377359/1/.html

Even as I sigh at my predicament here in Rishikesh about my failed Char Dham Pilgrimage, news come of floods in eastern Orissa killing many Indians, as well as persistant rainfall in northern India. The guides here in Rishikesh tell me the rains are coming way after the monsoon period - an unnatural weather pattern. I am grateful to be safe and dry here and at the same time extend my condolences to the families of the people lost in the rains and the floods.

My Doomed Char Dham Pilgrimage

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I left Rishikesh 3 days ago to visit the holy places of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. But here I am back in Rishikesh 8(.

My first destination would have been Yamunotri. It was 2 days of bus hopping that got me all the way to Hanuman Chatti, just kilometers from the start point of the trek to Yamunotri. Travelling via the buses in the northern parts of Uttarakhand proved to be a challenge and a hassle.. none of the conductors or anyone for that matter seem to know a word of English, the buses run extremely infrequently - I had been stuck in Dharasu overnight because I missed the only bus running to Barkot, which ran at 6 in the morning. On top of that everyone seemed to have a different opinion of when the buses leave, or if there are buses available for that matter.

It had rained cats and dogs ever since the bus reached the mountains and it did not let up for all the days of my travels.

At Hanuman Chatti I received the news of landslides closing the road down to Jenki Chatti. An overnight stay later and the situation did not improve. Finally I meet a man who spoke enough English to tell me he had come from Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri, and that the situation is just as bleak in those places too.

I also met a kind old man who travelled with me from Hanuman Chatti all the way back to Dharasu and to a place called Chamba. He insisted I stick with him and he was a Godsend with his knowledge of Hindi. We did not have quite the vocabulary to talk to each other, but somehow we managed an understanding. I felt a great deal of love for the man.

Through asking the various conductors in the buses we had hopped on and off of, he had gathered that Badrinath would still be a possibility.

But at Chamba I found out I had to stay the night because I missed the only bus to Srinagar for the day, which ran at (sigh) 6 in the morning.

Which was about the time I threw in the towel, licked my wounds and headed back to Rishikesh.

Am more than a little sad at the turn of events because this pilgrimage would have been the high point of my travels in India, but I am accepting of this turn of events. I can always do this pilgrimage in my next trip to India, better still I could join the next Himalayan Yatra with my Master!

Dreaming of Kriya

Shiva in Meditation

Whats in a dream? When I think about the really good dreams I've had in my life, the ones that make you want to go back to sleep despite all your worldly responsibilities waiting for you outside your bedroom, are the ones where I can do fantastic things like pick up and move things with my mind, and fly, especially flying!

Always I would wake up feeling something awesome had happened.. during those dreams I would do something special with my breath and my will and intent to make the things happen. The dreams I've had may have varied but the special "technique" was always the same. Yet when I would try hard to imitate what I did in those dreams to reproduce those fantastic abilities in real life I would always fail.

The strongest dream I had during the time I awoke to this great spritual adventure of mine.. india, Nithyananda, et al, was that I could burst into flame at will and if I burnt intensely enough I could fly.. yes like the human torch in fantastic five.. I can't get this dream out of my head because of the immense feeling of freedom and release I felt when I flew.

Yesterday after the unguided kriya session it came as a delayed revelation to me what the Kriya Swamiji said on Day 1 at the initiation, and that I had been dreaming of this experience all this while..

"Breath is fire" Swamiji had said during initiation, "Do you understand?". I had nodded and this is now ironic to me, as the link between those words and my dream only came to me yesterday, almost a week after he said it!

And with that realization came the memories of all the other dreams I've had and my trying so hard to bring the dream technique of breathing out to the real world. Guess what? The technique that I had been using in my dreams was EXACTLY the "Kriya Breath" taught to me here in Rishikesh!

And the realisation of this is now guiding my real life kriya meditations.. I am using the memory of what I experienced in all those dreams (and especially the fire dream) to further perfect my breathing technique.

Haridwar: Sri Sri Anandamayi Ma's Samadhi, Chanda/ Mansa Devi Temples, Har-Ki-Pauri Ghat



The first time I had seen a picture of Ma was when I was still in Singapore poring over Google searches on things to see in my India trip. I had not known a great deal about her life, just that her picture itself seemed to draw me closer.

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahamsa Yogananda wrote about his visit with her, and in his book is a photo where she hides playfully behind him and stares naughtily at the camera. It had given me a strange jolt when I saw that photo.

Today as I entered her ashram and paid my respects at her samadhi, I could not hold back my tears as I saw a whole tableful of her photos on sale at the ashram bookshop. I felt so much love for her and I still don't know anything about her except what was written in Autobiography of a Yogi.

I had a wonderful time meditating at her samadhi till I got booted out at lunchtime when it closed for a 2 hour break.

Mansa Devi Cable Car

Had a wonderful time in the cablecars leading to the Mansa Devi and Chanda Devi Temples. Inside the temples was business as usual though.. "Cello Cello" the priest said impatiently as I handed him my pooja plate, and I get pushed past the deity.. fast food religion..

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Am endeavoring to revisit Har-ki-pauri during evening Aarti. I could not do so today because I had to get back to Rishikesh to attend evening Pooja at the Kriya Ashram and my nightly guided Kriya session.

Kriya Yoga Initiation

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It had been one of the most beautiful ceremonies I had attended. In the huge circular meditation hall of the Kriya Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh (which has a resemblance to the Isha Temple in Coimbatore), 5 eager people received their initiation from Swami Shankarananda Giri, spiritual heir of the Kriya Yoga movement stretching all the way from Lahiri Mahasaya, who had received the teachings from Mahavatar Babaji himself.

It is also a secretive ceremony, the details of which, and the techniques of Kriya Yoga itself, I will not disclose. Kriya is only taught upon initiation by a Master.

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Do I feel this conflicting with my devotion to my master? Not at all. It was my Master who said in many of his talks: "Spirituality is like a garden of flowers. Pick whichever you like and make a beautiful bouquet for yourself". Also, Mahavatar Babaji was the same enlightened being who gave my Master the name "Paramahamsa Nithyananda"!

That I was meant to learn Kriya Yoga I have no doubts now. The coincidences and events leading me to this initiation are pretty obvious signposts in retrospect.. from my Master recommending Paramahamsa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi", to meeting and getting to know Masha who is an avid Sudarshan Kriyaban (from Art of Living), to meeting Divyanand Swamiji on the desolate hill at Gokarna Beach (who had a slightly perplexed look in his face when we declined to be taught Kriya at the time), to finding a copy of "Autobiography of a Yogi" and being engrossed and fascinated by the reading, to finding no suitable accomodation in Haridwar and deciding to stay in Rishikesh, finally having the amazing looking ashram pop up at Tapovan in Laxman Jhula as I ride past in the Vikrams.

Only today after the initiation do I find the plot thickening. The archarya in charge of teaching the technique proper told me that Swami Shankarananda Giri had only decided to conduct the initiation yesterday, and that he is very unpredictable in conducting these initiations. And that once it was decided, the 5 of us turned up to be initiated "like magic".

If you've read "Autobiography of a Yogi" you wouldn't be surprised by this apparently miraculous meeting of coincidences.

Myself I am extremely thankful, had I turned up one day early or later in the ashram, I would have missed the opportunity! The archarya said it could be weeks to months before Swamiji would concede to another initiation.

In his initiation speech Swamiji used the phrase "going home" so often, as if he dug into my inner space for the vocabulary to use.

"Going home" has a special meaning for me, almost like a mantra, because of a childhood dream I have never forgotton, of wandering through a house with many stairwells and doors and finally coming to a warm lighted room with very familiar young faces all welcoming me, and one particular girl saying "Welcome home". The memory of that dream as well as the phrase itself is able to bring me to tears with a strange homesickness.

As the first person to be initiated I sat in front of him as he worked on my body. In my amazement he poked at my heart chakra almost the same way my master did. "Here" he said cryptically, before continuing the process. Coincidence? Is there such a thing anymore?

I will spend a few more days in Rishikesh meditating in this beautiful ashram and perfecting my Kriya techniques!

Rishikesh: Kriya Yoga Ashram

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After a morning in Haridwar checking out 2 ashrams to stay (and finding them either overpriced or unintelligible to the foreigner) I decide to move to Rishikesh for accomodation.

As soon as my packed Vikrams reaches the Laxman Dhula I gasp as what do I see but the Kriya Yoga Ashram. It's beautiful white dome framed by trees beckons me to the point of my choosing accomodation on the unpopular side of the river, away from the tourists and closer to the ashram.

I had written to the ashram earlier about taking deeksha but the problem was whether Swami Shankarananda Giri would be around to give it - Kriya is only passed on from enlightened master to disciple. Today after settling down in my guest house I rush over to the ashram to find that I will be able to be initiated tomorrow morning!

Have spent the day shopping for the items needed: 5 flowers and 5 fruits.. finding 5 different varieties of flowers has proven to be a challenge here in the Rishikesh "flower market" (more like a handful of stores).

Leaving Ladakh

Has it been a week? It felt like a long time!

My master has pointed out the difference between loneliness and aloneness in many of his talks. Here as I leave Deniz, the last of the Fantastic Five, the group that made my Ladakh stay such a memorable week, I find Lonliness inexoriably set in. I had always been comfortable travelling by myself, now it just seems empty without the ol bunch of friends at dinnertime, or sharing the sights together.

While Kevin and Stephanie head for Nepal, Max will stay in Leh for a Vipassana course and Deniz is headed for Daramshala while I go to Haridwar.

Bye guys, you are sorely missed 8(.

Pangong Tso, Chemray, Shey, Tiksay

Pangong Tso was cold! We were told to prepare for snow even, but were blessed with only occasional cloudy skies.

We tried unsuccessfully to cross the border to Tibet by walking up to it! But the lake is huge and I don't think we even remotely reached there. Haha

The next day was spent exploring the monasteries at Chemray and Tiksay and the Palace at Shey.

In Ladakh!

I made it! Am currently in cold frozen bliss in the streets of Leh. The 16 hour minibus ride to Leh turned out to be an overnighter after the bus (surprise surprise) broke down hours from Leh.

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The positive side of this story is that I have 4 other traveling companions for the time that I'll be in Leh - Deniz from Turkey, Maximillian from Argentina, Kevin and Stephanie from France. They are all spiritually inclined in their own way, and blessed, many thanks to existance for bringing us together. I will be exploring the lake of Pangong Tso with these beautiful people where we will spend the night near the border of Tibet.

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In the meantime, I am staying in an amazing single room in the Juley Guesthouse. Its clean with rich carpets and is next to a bubbling stream who's noise is like a mantra which makes meditation and pooja in the room such a blissful experience.

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I can't believe I am in Ladakh. Its the northernmost destination in my itinerary. There is so much peace and beauty in the people and the place. It reminds me so much of my visit to Tibet. I have no words.

The Long Haul to Ladakh

To cover the amazing distance between Mumbai and Ladakh, and to do it ASAP before Ladakh's roads close for the season, had me envisioning an epic struggle and journey of an almost biblical magnitude - this notion was fed by an Israeli girl's account of the horrors of her 2 day bus trip to Ladakh, which she had recounted with sick relish while we moonlighted as extras on the Bollywood set in Mumbai. Fortunately, existance decided instead not to allow me to wallow in such drama.

First was the 28 hour train ride from Mumbai to Delhi. That was much more comfortable than it sounded! The sleeper class on the trains have a nice firm, straight backrest that's perfect for meditation, and I was in meditation pretty often throughout the journey.

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Next was the 12 hour bus trip to Manali. This was cake as well after I found the counter in Delhi's bus terminal to get the ticket. And the departure time on the bus gave me the opportunity to shop for warm clothes in Delhi.. I got a taste of Delhi's awesome metro subway, its almost like Singapore's! Oh and the McDonald's in India has McVeggie Burger which I wish Singapore's McDonalds had as well 8(.

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The bus-ride to Manali was comfortable as bus-rides go. I occured to me during the trip, early at dawn while the bus was still a ways from Manali, that I have been the happiest during the times where I've been travelling from destination to destination, more so that when I am doing the touristy thing in the destination itself.

"Getting there is half the fun"? Sure seems like it to me.

When I was a kid I used to be fetched around by my parents, fetched to school, fetched back home. This carried on even when my peers were old enough to be taking the public transport themselves. It was much to my consternation as I would be the butt of their teasing, that I had to be babied back and forth that way.

I remember that when I finally did get the chance to take the public transport, it had been such a catharsis that for many years one of my favorite pastimes would be to take the bus for no reason at all except for the purpose of riding that bus from terminal to terminal.

Even in my University days when I was embroiled in the architecture course, and needing a few hours of sleep between classes, instead of sleeping in the perfectly comnfortable bed of my dormitary, I would instead head for the terminal and hop on a bus, and fall asleep at the back seat. Only to be awaken with a jolt when the bus reached the other end-terminal, crossing the characteristic hump that all terminals seemed to have. Depending on my sleep requirements, I'd either take the bus back to the original terminal and resume my slumber, or take it back to classes.

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Travelling on buses, trains and even planes must be a strong vasana in me. Its the landscape whizzing by and the wind in your face, if you manage to get the window open. When the eyes relax the scenes fall into a comfortable, hypnotic blurr that I can relax into. Its the regular motions, the rocking, the bumping. The people that hop on and off. The cramp in your legs, the rude/ friendly/ non-chalant conductor, the amazing places that buses take you for pit-stops...

Something in me just wants to go and go and go, and this something really appreciates the distances involved between my Indian destinations.

And when the sun rose this morning, we had reached the Kullu Valley. And as the amazing landscape of impossibly steep hills and icy clear streams on round pebbly boulders became illuminated I remembered a meditation exercise mentioned by Osho...

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Don't allow any words to come into your inner space the next time you see something amazing.. don't think "It's beautiful" or "It's awesome" don't verbalise. Try to stop the flow of words and just be in the experience.

So I stopped the flow best I could. But in its place my tears flowed instead. It was such an intense experience, to be in that valley at that moment in time, that moment never happening again, never being able to be reproduced in memory or words. I don't know what I felt except that it felt very positive and overflowing. I have nothing but gratitude to have gone through that experience.

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Here in Manali I have another day's wait for the next bus that will be the last leg of my journey to Leh. I expected hell but existance decided something altogether different. In the beauty of this place it is very easy to always be in awareness of my blessings.

Elephanta Caves in Mumbai

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Getting to Elephant Caves is half the fun.. first a 2 hour boat ride, then a very short toy train ride, then a gauntlet to be run uphill through unending rows of souvenir stalls, finally discovering that the actual site is so small it takes a half hour to cover. But the Sadashiva carving was worth the trip.

I get back in the evening hoping to catch the historic buildings in the Oval Maidan in their illuminated glory, only to find the only building with night illumination is the Mumbai CST! India needs to pay its electric bills..

Mumbai: I Star in a Bollywood Series!

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Ok not quite. But I landed a role as an extra for a day for "Jugni Chali Jalandhar", a Hindi TV series. I get to be a security guard for the London Airport and get a 2 second close-up alongside my partner John!

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Bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when we come for j00!

So my mad dash for Ladakh is delayed for a day..

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Ramkund/ Gandhi Memorial

As one of the sites of the Kumbha Mela, I had planned to visit this city from the get go, along with Haridwar, Ujain and Allahabad. The banks of this sacred river where Lord Rama used to bathe in overflow with humanity trading, bathing and playing. Overwhelmed, I find the Narashankar Temple to be quiet and sparsely occupied with devotees, which came as a surprise. Inside it is cool and quiet, with a perceptable aura about its central shiva linga. My meditation there was short but intense.

The Hotel Plaza at Jalgaon

I think this must be the first post I've written about a hotel. But its easily the cleanest, classiest, most attentive and generally desirable budget hotel I've been to in India!

Cream colored walls, white floors, glistening clean bathrooms, and the owner is exceedingly knowledgeable about train routes and touristy info in general. Feast your eyes on the room I have been staying in..

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All this in a country who's budget hotels' idea of clean room is when the stains don't rub off.

If you are meaning to explore Ajanta and Ellora caves and are looking for a base, make it the Hotel Plaza at Jalgaon!

Owner is Chatrasen Lapsiya and contact is (0257) 2227354.