pilgrimage to the Source

It was on the 13th May 1982 that I wrote in my diary how I happily left Kankal and on arriving in Rishikesh, crossed over the bridge and went looking for a place to stay for a few days. I met Abde and he asked if he could travel a bit with me and I agreed. We found an ashram that someone recommended.
The Guru was away and so there were less visitors and we were able to find a room. It was a nice room with a cot on either side of the walls and a door which led out to a little court yard. It was very clean and there were no meals and so it was just a few rupees per day.  Not too far from there was the Lukmanjula bridge and I crossed over to the other side to be able to receive some letters from home. In this area there were many small restaurants and it made a big difference as they were much cleaner and no smoke.
The ashram was situated in a very quiet spot and from here in the evenings I could go down and bathe in the river and sit on the rocks and meditate with the sun setting in the distance and the soothing sound of the water running over the rocks. A few days here just to rest before beginning the pilgrimage up the river to Badrinath.
Walking back to my place, there were some solitary monks meditating, a woman washing clothes, a cow lying in the sand between the rocks and I walked slowly up to where the shops and restaurants were and it was so quiet as most of the tourists had left. Some elderly folks were sitting on the steps leading down to the Ganges, beads in hands, doing their prayers. we could hear a pundit chanting and making a commentary on the Bagavad Gita as his voice floated over a loudspeaker. The river was very calm and reflected the lights from around.
It was three peaceful days spent here doing some reading meditating and going for walks and baths in the river. The water was clean and refreshing and even so because it was not during the monsoons when the land brought down lots of its washings. The last night and we were both sitting and reading when in the corner of my eyes I saw something moving across the floor. it was the longest scorpion I have ever seen. It was light in color except for the tip of the tail which was curled over its back. “Scorpion!” I shouted and  quickly got my sandals and sent it to limbo. “Bang!”  I went asleep praying that that weren’t any creeping into the covers. It was the third scorpion I had killed in the space of a few weeks.
We left the ashram and got on a bus at 9:30. The road to Srinagar follows the Holy river mostly all the way and looking through the window we could see how beautiful the river was as we got further away from the city. As we climbed we could see the white sands and jade colored waters in the distance. There were the occasional rocks that stood out in some spots.
I still could day- dream that we were in a private car and  we could get off and bathe in its waters so clear. One dive in and once we were out, all I could think of is going back in again. Maybe it was really an image or a reminder of the Absolute. The sun sparkled in the greens on the sides of its banks. here the farmers had cut semi-circular like steps on the sides of the road in which the water held by mud, and rice was planted. It was very pleasing to the eyes somewhat like Zen gardens.
We spent only the night in this city especially as our aim was not tourism but rather a pilgrimage to the source of the river.  Next morning we were on a bus after meditation at 5 am. The bus pulled out at 6 am and we were on our way to Joshi Math. There was a definite drop in the temperatures as the bus climbed higher and higher. We seem to be still alongside the River Ganges below. It is not as wide but clearly jade color and it rushes over rocks and flows over rapids, as though dancing joyfully.
The air is now perfumed by pines and flowers. I notice some familiar shrubs on the side of the hills like sumac, and flowers like daisies, crocuses, bourganvilla, roses and capucins. The people we see on the roadsides are fairer, some beautifully bronzed skin with high cheek bones. Some women look like Tibetans carrying huge baskets on their heads. Occasionally we pass a sadhu walking and so lightly clothed I wonder how he endures the cold. Almost every bend in the road reveals a different scene. There are goats with shaggy  coats and long horizontal horns.
An old woman on the bus lights up a chillum pipe. Out side, cannabis grows wild and tall all along the route. The houses are well built seemingly with stone and slate roofs. The villages here are so clean in comparison to other cities further South. There are public toilets and no messing in the streets! The drive becomes more and more breath-taking as we climb and the bus’ wheels seem to be just on the edge of the cliff. For the first time, we can now see the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. It is 1:30 in the afternoon and we arrive in Joshi Math and as we get off the bus we experience the cold, very cold!.
This part below was borrowed from the blog of (he tells where) http://www.flickr.com/photos/royprasad/5000580960/in/set-72157624897467293/

Joshi Matth – 1

Joshi Matth is a pretty little town of about 13,000 people reached about 45km before Badrinath on national Highway 58 from Rishikesh (see Google satellite map below).
Joshi Matth’s claim to fame is that it is believed to be the place where the renowned 9th-century Indian theologian and philosopher, Shankara obtained his enlightenment. There are monuments at Joshi Matth commemorating this event……
Joshi Matth is also a hub that leads to multiple destinations (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Auli, etc.), which more or less makes it a convenient stop-over point for pilgrims and tourists alike.
At an altitude of 1875m (6150 feet), Joshi Matth is also a far friendlier place to be in winter than Badrinath, which is at an altitude of 3415m (11200 feet). Pretty much the entire population of Badrinath migrates over to Joshi Matth from November through April every year.
Leica S2 + 70mm Summarit f/2.5

When I was in India in 1971, walking around with a camera was a very painful thing as every time one took it out to take a photo, it attracted attention and there was always someone who asked a thousand questions and some in the end literally asked if I could give them the camera. So on this trip 10 years later. I came with no camera and that’s a bit unfortunate in one way. In another way, as i read my journal, a thousand images pass before my mind.

We arrived in Joshi Math very hungry and so even before finding a room, we went to find something to eat. As we were in the restaurant, I could hear the loudspeaker from the temple of the home of The Sahankaracharya of Joshi Math and they were chanting the prayer of the Tradition:
It was what we learnt as teachers with Maharishi and I knew it by heart.
I felt a warmth in my heart as it brought back memories from Teacher Training Course in Europe.
I found out what time was the darshan as I wanted to be able to see this man, the successor of Bramananda Saraswati, (Maharishi’s Guru)

Thumbnail sketch biography of Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati

– Compiled by Paul Mason

Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati

Swami Swaroopananda was born Pothiram Upadhyay in 1924, in the Jabalpur area of Madhya Pradesh. At nine years old he left home to visit the holy places of India, including Varanasi where he eventually studied with Swami Karpatri (aka Hariharananda Saraswati), a disciple of Guru Dev Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. At 19 years old he became a freedom fighter in the ‘Quit India’ movement (1942) and was known as ‘Revolutionary Sadhu’ (serving two prison sentences for same of 9 months & 6 months). In 1950 Guru Dev made him a dandi sannyasi.

After Guru Dev’s passing in 1953, Swami Shantanand was enthroned Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math on 12th June 1953. But Swarupanand took up with a new guru,Swami Krishnabhodashram ji Maharaj. who was separately established Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math on 25th June 1953 by Swami Karpatri. thus began interminable succession disputes.

Swami Swarupanand became president of the ‘Ramrajya Parishad Party’ (set up by Swami Karpatri), and on Krishnabhodashram’s demise the post of Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math passed to Swami Swarupanand. There were now two Shankaracharya ashrams in Joshimath, Swami Swaroopanand’s being on the site of Trotakacharya’s cave, just below the ashram that Guru Dev Swami Brahmanand had built in the 1940’s.

In 1982 Swami Swaroopanand inherited the title of Shankaracharya of Dwarka.

It was right after our lunch that we were able to find the monastery and enter the temple. After some chants he was announced very stately and in he came and sat on his throne. It was very impressive and after a speech everyone was allowed to come close to receive his blessings.
On coming outside I learnt that there was a controversy as some others were also claiming to be the rightful heir and so there were two Shankara charyas and a court case was going to decide. So.like most places, there is politics even in the religious society in India!

Unfortunately I did not know then, some of the history connected with his place otherwise I may have stayed longer. I just consider my self very fortunate and envied by some Indians as to have been very blessed to have visited there.  There was a cave which is said to have been that of Shankara himself and there, I was able to go in and meditate. Of course for those interested, you can find lots of details about his life on the net.
My goal now was to go to Badrinath, one of the main sources of the River Ganges and so we made plans and bought out bus tickets to leave the next day..


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