Tag: Travel

The First Solo Trip

Since childhood, I knew that I was fascinated by nature. Somewhere, this love has deep connection with me belonging to the hill state Uttarakhand. Various family trips made during childhood ended up in my unbreakable bond with nature.

During my trip to Kainchi Ashram in Uttarakhand, I got the opportunity to explore the nearby areas.

In this blog, I am sharing my experience of discovering those places.

The first day after visiting the ashram in Kainchi, I left for Garam Pani which was about 12 kms. Private cabs are available from Kainchi to Garam Pani but the owner of the restaurant, where I often used to have my meals, advised me to take a bus. One can easily get buses or shared jeeps from Kainchi, which are available in every 10-15 minutes and the fare is also reasonable.                                         

The main road outside Kainchi Ashram

Like any other place, buses here are usually overcrowded in morning and evening. Since, it was already half past noon, the bus I took was less crowded. The journey to Garam Pani was comfortable. One thing I strongly experienced during my entire Kainchi trip was that people there were so decent and helpful.

I reached Garam Pani in almost 20 minutes. After deboarding the bus, I simply walked towards the local market area. I can’t recall the last time when I strolled so freely in my city life. I was just walking down the road purposelessly. It was the month of September and the weather was little hot but overall I enjoyed it.        

                                   Shops in Garam Pani                                                                                               

While returning, I again chose to walk a little. After some time, to my sheer surprise, I found a place where I saw zip lining activity being performed. So, that was it. This adventurous soul tried her hand at the thrilling activity. 😎

Then, I went down towards the stream and spent some time there soaking my feet in the cold water. After some time, I left the place and took a bus to my hotel.

Next morning, I was waiting for a bus to travel to nearby places. There I met Monika, a doctor from Delhi, who was staying in a homestay close to my hotel. Soon, we gelled with each other and decided to visit the nearby tourist sites together. We took the bus for Kamal Tal and within an hour we were there.                                                                             

Like me, Monika turned out to be a great nature lover. So from there, we both set for a leisurely walk towards Naukuchiatal adjoining Kamal Tal. The views we came across during our nature walk left us awestruck.

Such enchanting views kept coming our way.                                           

On our way back, we stopped at Cafe by the Lake. What attracted us about the cafe was its outer decor.                                                                 

When we entered the cafe, we were equally struck by its interior beauty. The ambience, lights, music, books, furniture; all were complimenting one another. Food at the cafe was too amazing. Just sitting there was so relaxing.

Monika and I decided to leave together for Delhi by train the next day. Her friend arranged for our train tickets. Somewhere, we were not yet done with our sightseeing thing. So, the next morning both of us left for Sattal. We had only an hour to explore the place. Tourists at the lake were trying their hands in kayakaying and other activities while we two were busy in capturing the wonderful aspects of nature.              

We got so engrossed with the beauty of the place that we ran short of time. Both of us skipped our lunch in order to make for the lost time. We left the place in a hurry and took a bus to Kathgodam Railway Station. Luck was on our side that day. Both of us were literally running carrying our luggage but somehow we reached there just on time. Finally, I boarded the train with Monika cherishing many beautiful memories of Kainchi trip with me.

And yes, we finally had our dinner in the train. 😛

Getting Back to My Roots

I remember visiting my native place in Uttarakhand in 1998. It was my distant cousin’s wedding. Since then, I never seriously thought of going there. Gradually, the cosy lifestyle of this city dweller overpowered that thought.

Such houses are a common sight in my village

I always felt nostalgia for my village. For, it was the place where I had spent many beautiful moments of my life. But the availability of very limited basic amenities discouraged me to consider the very idea of visiting it.

A house on way to my home

It was in November 2019 when I had to rush to my village due to my mother’s sudden illness. At that time, my parents were staying there for the reconstruction of our old house.  

The beautiful flowers seemed like welcoming me

The place brought me back to those beautiful days of my life. I could see many changes but what actually struck me was the fresh air and clean sky – a rarity in cities like Delhi.

Early mornings can never be as perfect as this one

Morning bloom

I still cherish those childhood memories when I, with my siblings, used to roam around the entire village and have unlimited fun. Like other houses in the village, ours, too, bore a traditional look.

My ancestral house in a dilapidated condition

Few years ago, it collapsed and now has been replaced by a new house – a concrete one. Still, there are traditionally-built houses in the village but the sign of modernisation can be easily felt. Now, villagers prefer concrete houses over traditional ones as they require less time, efforts and money. Moreover, they are easy to maintain. The architecture of Uttarakhand is based on locally and easily available materials like stone, clay and wood. It represents the rich cultural heritage of the state. That’s why, I believe this trend of concrete houses should be the reason for concern seeing Uttarakhand’s distinctive heritage.

A traditional house in neighbourhood

Once reaching there, I did not leave a single chance to explore things around my village. After having tea at my uncle’s house, I went on to discover the surroundings.

A usual day in the village

On my way back, I met a lady who was returning after collecting fodder for her cattle from fields. She invited me to her house. Both of us along with her husband had a fantastic conversation over tea. After some time, I took their leave and came back.

The hospitable couple

But perhaps, I was not done yet. So, I went on meeting people in my neighbourhood. The usual busy urban routine hardly allows us to think about life’s other beautiful aspects. I had this realisation while visiting these naïve people.

Happy in their own world

The generosity of the village people touched me. I found them to be simple and affable. It came to me as a big surprise that they are happy in their own world, caring little about the superfluous things. One may think of them being complacent but I will definitely call them contented people.

Village people have their own extraordinary charm

The simple life of a village, however, comes with many challenges. Living in a rural area with few basic facilities is really a tough deal. Water scarcity is still a huge challenge here. There are many households which have piped water supply in their houses. Others fetch water from hand pumps or water tanks (locally called diggi) which are almost 1 km from the village. Humongous task indeed!

Villagers store water in all possible ways

Migration is another huge problem here. Most of the houses in this village are either abandoned or occupied by older people. In my case, my grandfather and father left this village owing to their respective jobs in Delhi. Eventually, they permanently settled there. Therefore, my siblings and I had our upbringing in Delhi only. So, we never really had that much connection to this place except from attending few family events and spending some school holidays.

An abandoned house after its only occupant died few years ago

Once farming used to be a major source of livelihood in this village. But with the passage of time, people moved to big cities desiring a comfortable and prosperous life. Villagers here grow few grains, vegetables and fruits for their basic needs. But the constant threat of monkeys and langurs often result in the destruction of their crop. Today, almost all vegetables, fruits, etc. here come from other states.

Farm animals are still an integral part of the village

Another challenge which I personally experienced here is the limited transport options. Usually, sumo jeeps are easily available in every 15-20 minutes but getting them on public holidays can be a reason for inconvenience. However, efforts towards the overall development of this village are on.

Solar lights have proven to be a big help for villagers

A government school in the village

The place proved to be a perfect retreat for me from a mundane city life. Summers here are not too hot, whereas winter season is extra cold.

Nights here are equally amazing

The mesmerising beauty of this place is something to be experienced. Seeing people living such a simple life gave me many valuable life lessons. I can say that I have imbibed little bit of their qualities towards leading a less complicated life.

A Mystic Saint Called Neeb Karori

It all started in 2018 when I first read about Baba Neeb Karori (or Neem Karoli as pronounced by his foreign devotees) on Quora. Intrigued, I started reading more about him through all the stuffs available on the internet. In addition, my curiosity regarding him grew more when I learnt that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had visited his ashram (religious or spiritual retreat) in Kainchi in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Hollywood star Julia Roberts chanced upon his photo while shooting in India and ended up converting to Hinduism.

Shri Neeb Karori Baba Maharaj Courtesy: Google

So while reading about Maharaj ji (as respectfully addressed by his followers), I got to know many surprising and miraculous incidents related to his life. Maharaj ji, whose birth name was Lakshmi Narayan Sharma, was a devout follower of the Hindu Lord Hanuman. In 1967, an American youth Richard Alpert visited his ashram in Kainchi and what happened after that is history. Young Richard became Ram Dass and devoted his entire life in the service of his guru and mankind. On 22nd December, 2019, Ram Dass left for his heavenly abode but what he has established in his more than 50 years of spiritual journey is absolutely overwhelming. Like Ram Dass, there are other devotees who are carrying forward Baba Neeb Karori’s legacy. Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Rampriya Das, Jai Uttal; to name a few; are spreading their guru’s teaching all over the world. Today, Baba Neeb Karori has followers across the globe. There are temples dedicated to Maharaj ji in the United States and Germany.

Eventually, this curiosity of mine made me to visit Maharaj ji’s ashram in Kainchi in September 2019. For my stay, I chose a hotel which was approximately 200 meters away from the temple. Every morning and evening, I could easily hear aartis (devotional songs sung in the praise of the deity when the light is being offered) and the sound of bells from my hotel room.

Kainchi Ashram in Nainital

So, as soon as I got fresh, I straightaway left for the temple. Surrounded by hills, the perfectly built temple is a wonderful experience to visit. What really impressed me was the serenity pervading the entire temple premises. The sound of the stream flowing adjacent to the temple was an additional delight.

Once I entered the temple, I found many small temples devoted to various deities, including Lord Rama and Hanuman. There is a temple dedicated to Maharaj ji with his statue perched on a marble platform. Opposite to his temple is the room where Maharaj ji used to sleep and would often meet his devotees. Visitors can get photographs, books related to Maharaj ji and other items from the ashram library. Photography inside the temple is prohibited.

There is also a temple dedicated to Siddhi Maa and Jiwanti Maa, Maharaj ji’s female followers.

Siddhi Maa with Maharaj ji Courtesy: Google

One more attraction of the ashram is the wooden bed outside another room which is always covered with a blanket and flowers offered to it. 

Like any other temples in India, morning and evening aarti is performed here. But what really caught my attention was seeing children (who undergo vedic education and live in the ashram under the residential schooling system of Gurukul) leading the aarti. Watching them was a pleasant feeling.

Maharaj ji with this foreign devotees Courtesy: Google

So far, I have come across many miraculous stories related to Maharaj ji on his various disciples’ accounts. And they have only brought me closer to this holy saint, who considered all human beings equal despite their caste, creed, religion or ethnicity. He never believed in preaching or delivering religious sermons. He simply used to say, “MAIN KOI MANTRA NAHI JANTA. MAIN SIRF RAM KO JANTA HUN” (I don’t know any mantra. All I know is Lord Rama.)

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