My Indian tirtha-yatra
People say that if you go on a trip to India, you never will be the same. That is exactly what happened with me. India has changed me, it changed the total of me to the bone, changed my values, attitudes, and even my fate. More on that later but first things first…
After a 25 hour flight, I landed in Delhi. In this city, I had to stay until the evening before starting the journey further north into the Himalayas. I arrived early in the morning before dawn. My hotel was located in the central market, near the railway station. The location undoubtedly wasn’t the best, especially in the pre-dawn time for a young, white-skinned tourist. I knew this immediately when I came out of the subway. I had no internet reception on my mobile phone and did not know where to go but the idea of asking for directions from the hustlers, rickshaw drivers, or other vermin out at that hour was terrifying.
Reaching the nearest hotel, I asked the reception how to get to my hotel and it turned out that it was very close. I was warned in advance that the hotel is located on a small side street from the main shopping streets and that it was hard to see but when I passed by I did not see anything in the alley, it just looked like a hole in the wall or a cave leading into some kind of sinister darkness. Several times I wondered if I should go in there and whether there might be some kind of hotel or not, but my options at this point were slim.
Finally at the end of the tunnel, to my great surprise and relief, I was able to see the name of my hotel. Like an oasis in the desert, the hotel opened its doors to offer some temporary relief. As I realized shortly later, my paradise retreat was surely not that. All I wanted after a 25 hour flight was a hot shower. After walking into their bathroom or as I would call it a closet, all I found was a bucket with a scoop and a hole in the floor. And I was told later, the hot water in the hotel was only available for two hours and those two hours would occur when I was no longer at the hotel. I understood that India began to work on me, and that I just had to be measured and take everything as it comes.
Realizing that I was not destined to be washed, I decided to go downstairs to use the internet since the wifi only worked downstairs on the couch next to the reception desk. The hotel staff, who slept on that couch, had just woken up and were sitting there drinking their masala tea. After seeing me, they quickly poured another serving of tea into a glass and offered it to me. I sat on the couch and enjoyed the unusual taste combination of black tea, milk and spices. As I observed my surroundings, I noticed the walls of the hotel were made with a plywood partition that separated it from the street and the neighboring areas. Suddenly, I heard someone vomit loudly directly behind the wall. At this point I looked at the half-empty, shabby cup in my hands, and remembered the words of friends and acquaintances that said I should drink nothing but water in a sealed bottle while in India. After this sudden memory I was left a little scared. The idea that I could end up with stomach poisoning on the first day of my Indian adventure was not pleasing to me but I decided that if I was sick, then it was like everything else on my journey in India, and was meant to be.
So I got through my first Indian morning and luckily did not get sick. Afterwards, I spent the day riding on rickshaws and for the first time visited an Indian kirtan. In the evening I made my way to the bus which after a 12 hour ride would take me to the city of Dharamsala and more precisely to the small town of McLeod Ganj near by. Dharamsala is the center of Buddhism in northern India, a city that has become a haven for Buddhist refugees and also the focus of Buddhist culture.
Upon arrival in Dharamsala, I was still dreaming of a hot shower but as I arrived at the toilet to find the same bucket with a hole in the floor and no hot water, I realized that India was trying to harden me. I had to wash under cold water in the mountains where the temperature is very low and even colder at night during the winter. Safe to say that my dreams of central heating were shattered too. Of Course, I was left more than a little cold at the end of this ordeal but this did not deter me from continuing the journey and enjoying the beauty of the mountain scenery around me. Here, the surroundings were absolutely nothing like India, there was a feeling that I was in Tibet. The hillsides were covered with small colorful houses and most of the locals, who were Tibetan, sold Tibetan goods like clothing, utensils, and art in roadside shops. The mountain air was filled with prana, the most I’ve ever experienced as a yogi in training. I only required about 4-5 hours of sleep and was up at 3a.m. in the morning to go to the roof to meditate under the starry canvas among the tops of snow-capped mountains.
In Dharamsala, I spent a couple of days. During this time I rode a horse to the mountaintop and enjoyed spectacular views of the Himalayas, visited the residence of the Dalai Lama in the main Buddhist temple, tried Tibetan cuisine, wandered through the small streets of the city and tried the famous Tibetan massage during which the masseuse uses oil from Himalayan herbs which are meant to return the energy flow of your body back to normal. Then once again the bus was waiting to take me to the next town, which was the city of Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is a holy city, and it is forbidden to sell or eat meat, fish, and alcohol. There aren’t even any people smoking cigarettes in the streets. This city is called the “World Capital of Yoga” and it is easy to find people in town who are here on a spiritual quest. Across the city there are various ashrams where you can live, do yoga, attend kirtan, satsang and other spiritual practices. Rishikesh is a city of Zion, and there are always a variety of meetings with prominent spiritual leaders. Fate brought me to satsang to visit the sage Mudgee. In this satsang, he did not give any lectures but did answer questions from all the visitors who wanted to learn something or to ask for help from the sage. To be honest I was a little scared of the people who came to this satsang, I would call them “strays”, they were lost in their race for spiritual growth. Many of them sought it through some expedited route and attempted to express their spiritual growth much ahead of their mental development and so seemed lost in their understanding of their physical existence. These people here, I’ve seen a lot of them before and honestly feel sorry for them.
Just as in Rishikesh, I visited places of power such as caves of ancient yogis who meditated there for many years and the temple in which the Beatles took their famous pilgrimage but quickly fled from there after being disappointed in its guru. I bathed in the holy Ganges River and took a boat ride too. On the day I went to the nearby town of Haridwar. There was a ceremony which offered fire to river Ganges “Ganga Aarti”. During the ceremony people are allowed to send boats with flowers and fire unto the Ganga river, and pour milk into it, praying and asking for blessings from the river.
Overall Rishikesh was quite a tourist town but in the good sense of the word. As I mentioned before, people come here for spiritual development and these are the people I am most interested in. I enjoyed being amongst such company, all of the bright and smiling faces. Local residents were less entranced than visitors, as in other tourist cities it seemed they were mostly focused on shepherding the visitors who were seeking something there than in practicing their own spirituality.
On the way to the next town I got to experience another unprecedented attraction, Indian trains. I would be travelling exclusively by train for the rest of my trip so I had the opportunity to thoroughly investigate this type of transport. I remember seeing somewhere in old films about India that the trains were filled with passengers on all sides and even on the roof. There were no longer riders on the roof like in the movies but what goes on inside the train is difficult to describe in words. The train was literally packed full of Indians from floor to ceiling and about 85% of those passengers were stowaways. If you were smart enough to reserve and pay for your place, then you can be sure that your seat can accommodate about seven Indians, all of whom are not particularly impressed or interested that you planned ahead and bought the ticket for yourself. People attempt to squeeze in wherever possible, they climb on to the top luggage shelf, sleep on the floor in the aisles, lobbies and areas between the benches. Meanwhile, in what has now began to resemble the fiery depths of hell, food vendors begin pushing through the crowded aisles climbing over beggars, begging transsexuals and so on to sell some food that resembled peas with onions and lemon. To say that it was very dirty does not begin to describe the conditions aboard this train. There also aren’t words to describe the awful smell or the voracious mosquitos who were hardly deterred by clothing much less the awful environment. All this I took as another test and put up with the smell, mosquitos, mud, sleeping in cramped conditions and other adversities. But it was worth it, after these trips I was left with a lot of deep impressions.
Rishikesh was the last tourist town stop on my travels. All the upcoming cities were quite small and almost unexplored by tourists, the my chance to see the real India and feel it until the end of my trip.
Fate decreed that my next stop turned out to be the small town of Reva, which was probably one of the most exciting experiences overall. In the city of Reva, I went with a group of Russian Yogis and when residents learned that they’d be visited by a group of foreigners, they moved to the town festival to the day of our arrival, so we can see the presentation prepared by the kids from different schools. Foreign visitors practically never came here, and so we arrived – the unknown creatures with a very strange skin color. People came up to us and asked to shake hands, take pictures or give us children to hold. During the concert, we were all invited to the stage where we sang a mantra in the old Russian language. When the concert ended, the children pulled me back on stage and we all danced traditional Indian dances. The eyes of these children sparkled with happiness and that feeling overwhelmed me, realizing how much I love children and eventually want a whole pack of them running around the house.
After all the festivities had ended, we went down the street to our house followed by a parade of children and adults, all of whom did not want us to leave. People were looking out of the windows and waving their hands and genuinely smiling when we greeted them in their native language. Every trip to the store or walk down the street turned into a celebration. Adults simply stared but the children immediately surrounded us and escorted us all the way. I became known as Elvis and immediately formed a crowd of fans who followed me too. One night I stayed back at the house and the children tried to storm the iron gates and then for some time continued to watch me indoors and cried for me to come out. Seeing the conditions in which these children live, for me it was very nice to give them so attention by just fooling around with them, taking pictures, shaking hands and giving out souvenirs brought from home. These feelings will long remain in my heart.
I stayed in this city two days and also visited the school. For me it was a shock when I found out that the school is almost free, that children from an early age, in addition to the core classes, learned meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, English and Sanskrit, the concepts of the jama nijama. I wished that all of my children could get a similar education in the future but, alas, there are no such schools in Russia or in the United States. I also learned the true meaning of Indian hospitality after spending two days with a Hindu family.
The next place on my India trip was a very unusual and magical place. This place is called Ananda Nagar and is off the beaten path, near the small town Pundag in the north-east of India, where there is no civilization. This place is the center of one spiritual community, where the monks engaged in various developments in the field of spiritual development, medicine, and esoteric practice.
There I met a wonderful man who received a Microvita Sadhana and learned through kirtan to produce positive and negative Microvita charges in water or medication. Microvita is something like a divine energy that is generated during prayer or reading mantras. This person treats people in the last stages of cancer and AIDS using Microvita. He also conducts research in the field of application of Microvit for rocket fuel. He says that Microvita charged fuel used in a spacecraft would allow it to reach the outskirts of our neighboring planets in a matter of hours.
And further, according to the guru this place is the energy center of the planet and ancient yoga is liberated here, allowing a yogi to attain moksha.
Also there are several tantric energy centers. tantric energy centers are places which are said to have a powerful flow of cosmic energy, on which many yogis meditate. At one of these tantric energy centers I had the most powerful meditation experience of my life, having spent more than an hour in a trance state.
In general Ananda Nagar is a very beautiful and peaceful place. I visited the surrounding villages where people do not even have water at home and they wash in the river. Of course I did not leave without a visit to the boarding schools to meet local village children, where I was entertained with Russian dumplings at a gala dinner in honor of the holiday of Holi colors.
And here again came my favorite amusement to carry me to the next town. Outside the window of the train too were a lot of interesting things, godforsaken towns with dilapidated houses made of reclaimed plywood, a large banner advertising 4G internet, a man on a bicycle covered with silver paint head to toe, a person walking a herd of cows, an Indian grandmother carrying a bag of coal on her head. You can learn a lot about India just looking out the window of the train. And by the way, despite the fact that trains are the most popular transportation in India, they almost never come on time. An average of 6 hours late is the norm, but there are occasional delays of 8 and 12 hours too. So I spent two days to get from one town to another and had to cope for a day.
Jamalpur became a city that changed me forever, and changed my fate.
In my Indian journey I met a monk whose name is Shubhacintananda. This is a very small and thin, about 70 year old Indian who spent most of his life as a monk, practicing meditation. I was immediately filled with a sense of familiarity, just like when you see your grandfather. I was captivated by his kindness and the light emanating from him. Then I realized that I wanted him to become my teacher. I asked him to teach me meditation and give an initiation. My initiation took place here, in the small town of Jamalpur.
Jamalpur has some unusual and magical places, one of them is called “tiger’s grave”, it is also considered a tantric energy center. In this town there grows a huge green tree and next to it there are two graves. As the story goes, many years ago, in this place there were two great warriors, one was a tiger and the other an English officer. There was a fight between them, as a result of which both the soldiers were fatally wounded and died. They are buried here. This place has become a symbol of courage and valor. At this point, I was initiated, during which my teacher gave me a secret meditation techniques. I also got my personal mantra (Ishta mantra) and the guru mantra and I got my new name. Typically, a new name is given by the teacher, but it turned out that on the day of my initiation in Jamalpur, a congress of great monks from my teacher’s community was taking place and brought together monks from around the world. The news of my initiation made it to the president of the community and he said that he will give me the name. As I found out later this honor falls to very few people. My new name became Alok, which in Sanskrit means “divine light”. When a person gets a new name, they gets a new destiny and their lives take a new turn. It is also said that during the initiation a person burns part of their karma and sometimes it can even feel physically painful.
Immediately after initiation, I was struck with Indian fever, it was like a severe form of gastric flu. Due to the illness I could not even go to the next town, maybe the worst part of being sick. But a monk-doctor quickly got everything in order with the help of homeopathic remedies, and I was sick for only 5 days. I was very thin, but it ended up being a good detox, not only mentally but also physically.
On this note I ended my Indian tirtha-yatra, and I went on to Delhi from where I was supposed to fly home.
Each next town on the way opened me to new depths, something was forcing me to change and I really was a completely different person by then, not the same one who arrived here a month ago. As if I had read some great book that opened my eyes to many things. I was worried about how to keep the knowledge and feelings alive and not to lose by the time I returned home.