Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - August 2013  

Inner Yatra (Pilgrimage)

by Daniela Citti

One year ago, at the end of the Gurukulam year, I took a few days trip to the first prayags of the river Ganga. A prayag is where two rivers join, becoming then a bigger river, and according to Hinduism these are holy places. There are five major confluences of the smaller rivers that joining and joining then give birth to what we know as Mother Ganga.  The main sources of these rivers are known as Char Dham, the four major holy places in the Himalayan mountains: Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. At these spots there are four marvelous ancient Temples. The journey along this route is known among Indians as Yatra, the Holy Pilgrimage.

The journey I want to share with you was on the way to Badrinath and Kedarnath.  I’m recalling the journey of the previous year because it was there where I got my inspiration: driving up on a shared, crowded jeep I saw monks, swamis and sadhus walking their way to these holy places in a pilgrimage that would last weeks and weeks, many walking barefoot on dusty and arid roads, parched ground and with no shade on their heads, the only possession being their dusty, faded robes, and a water tank and a walking stick (danda in Hindi) in their hands. The constant presence of the holy river Ganga flowing down below all along the way. I was so fascinated seeing these men, some young, some quite old, alone, in pairs or smalls group walking their way as the most holy worship they could do in their life and their faith. I got so inspired and moved within myself that I felt an immense desire to do the same, sometime, one day.

Time passed and I forgot everything, the new Gurukulam year started and then was again almost at its end.  I can’t really tell why and how, my feeling is that I was moved by something deep within.  I decided to walk my Yatra, my holy pilgrimage to the shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath. Many people at the Ashram tried to dissuade me saying that it was something crazy, maybe dangerous, but I could hear no words. I need to say for the understanding of the reader who doesn’t know very much about these places that the Yatra to the Char Dham is an Indian affair, this is a route out of the westerner tourism circuit, and that absolutely no one, except monks and sadhus makes their way on foot to these places. (Sadhus are those men who renounce everything to follow the spiritual path; they are not monks for they haven’t taken any official vows of renunciation)

I didn’t know what I was going to face, I had a map of the area with me with the indications of the villages where I could find places to sleep and distances.

The journey started early morning. I reached Rudraprayag by jeep and the next morning, all alone with my backpack, with everything that would be needed, from the hottest places where I was starting to the coolness of the temples at 3,000 and 3,500 meters s.l. where I was planning to reach. my Yatra started.

I was not totally new to travelling in an alternative way, but never in India. Past adventures done alone were just to show myself how self-sufficient and independent I was, but this journey was holding would hold big surprises for me.

It became quite clear from the beginning that an undertaking like that could not be possible as an “egocentric journey”. I had two books with me. One was “What Is a Pilgrim?” by Swami Veda.  “A pilgrimage is not undertaken for oneself alone and by oneself alone, it is done for the benefit of all with the help of all.” These words became true from the very beginning. But it was not easy at all for me to drop my old sense and habits of self-sufficiency. I met many Swamis and Sadhus on my way walking the same path. Everyone was walking his own way, then someone was stopping for a short rest, to drink some water, for a chai (Indian tea) or a chat with someone just met. So we were constantly meeting each other, all the way through. Every morning it was a pleasure to see on the way almost always the same faces, the sadhus and myself. Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namo Narayanaya, these our greetings, for none of them could speak English nor could I speak Hindi.

Every day I was starting early morning, around 6 o’clock after my usual meditation practice and walking for about 5 hours. Then it was getting too hot and I had to stop. I was always trying to reach by early afternoon the place where I was planning to sleep so as to have time for some rest and to visit the place.  My backpack was really heavy (10 or more kg) and was giving me a lot of trouble.

I also had to carry some food and water because you could not know where the next village would be. I had some nuts and dried fruits in case I could find no food.

From here starts the understanding of this pilgrimage, a real journey within myself, my fears, my loneliness and my limitations. Meeting the Sadhus sometimes they were asking for food or money. It was a pleasure to offer them chai at the tea shops, but I came in touch with all my greed when I had no other food than a handful of nuts and I didn’t know when and where I could find a village or a shop.   

This journey has put me face to face with the basic needs we have as human beings in a body who needs water, food, rest and shelter. We don’t face these needs in our everyday life because we already have all these things available and we take them for granted.  I was put in front of a big choice whenever a poor, shabby sadhu was asking me for some food and that was the only thing I had for myself. You need to try to understand, because in our normal life we are never in need of food. Just need to open the fridge or the cupboard, or to take a ride to the nearest supermarket. Was not like this walking in the Himalayas. I had to make the choice between my sense of survival and my call to spiritual growth that passes through looking at the other as at oneself. Not an easy choice and many times I behaved egoistically, denying having something or not sharing. And feeling terribly bad soon after, regretting my petty behavior.

But God gave me many chances to correct myself, at the beginning I had literally to force myself, but slowly I could realize how the feeling of sharing or doing something for someone was greater than the fear of not having enough for myself.

“3rd May, Chamoli, 5th day of Yatra: I’ve walked down to the river, here is where the Sadhus are! All together, in small or big groups… here they are, they have nothing and they walk lightly, (they) rest lightly, (they) laugh lightly… walking the Yatra are only the Sadhus and myself, today among them there was also a Nepalese lady.. We meet, go over each other and meet again, and then at night we meet all at the same destination, myself in hotel neat and clean, them under the stars… I wonder… what does it mean to be a Sadhu... it means to put one’s life in God’s hands and have nothing in life but God. Someone more, someone less…”  “…the weight of my luggage torments body and soul because it is only the visible, touchable part of all the useless weight I carry with me burden that limits and hampers my (in)ability to surrender to God. It is since the first day that I want to get rid of something, but immediately fears arise and I get afraid of cold weather on the high mountain, the need of reassurance and safeness from now, right now.”

Soon after I had to face another basic need, the one for shelter. The Temples of Badrinath and Kedarnath were not open yet so most of the hotels and guest houses on the way were still shut. It took me only a few days, leaving the lower territories and adventuring up high where the business of the Indian Yatra tourism was not started yet to face the problem. The hotels were still closed or under maintenance and the few that were open would not readily give a room to a foreigner or to a single lady for thousands of not understandable reasons. Language was another big problem.  I was reaching a place already exhausted from the walk under a constant sunshine and it was impossible for me to find a place to sleep. Don’t forget I was a woman alone travelling on an Indian mountain.  Sometimes I had to travel further than I had planned and felt totally exhausted. One day I tried to get a room in a private house in a village: “I tried all day to get a room on the way, I promised myself that I would ask for hospitality, and I said to myself- it doesn’t matter what they will reply, the important thing for you is to ask, to admit to yourself that you need others and you cannot do without other people’s help.  Everyone’s answer is “No” and they tell me to go 2, 3, 4 kilometers further, while I’m so tired and it is already 1 o’clock and the sun is burning my skin. Ok God, you are right, I’m not totally exhausted yet, I’m not able yet to ask from the depth of my heart and my agony is not huge yet. But at the end help comes in the form of an old man in a small shop who first makes me sit and rest in the shade and refreshes me with some cold water, and then arranges for me a lift from a biker to the next village. I can get a room in a dirty hotel under reconstruction, but the owner is a good man. He just throws a quilt on a wooden bed and this is my place for tonight. ”

You cannot believe how much I’ve cried. I started to call this “the Yatra of crying”.  I was completely wearied.

And after a lot of inner struggling and suffering the only thing I could do was learn to surrender and accept every condition I was facing as a gift from God to make me grow. But you reach this stage after a lot of inner fight. Only when you are exhausted in body and spirit and nothing is left, when no power is left in your body and heart, then you say: God, here I am, I accept everything you want for me. Of course my acceptance was not at its  fullness as the one of a Saint, I don’t want to give a picture of myself as what I’m not, but this was the greatest gift I had from this journey, something that would transform deeply my personality. Living everything that was coming to me as a gift from God, accepting every situation as God’s will and not fighting against it. In my IPod Swami Veda’s voice was telling Jesus words “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life” I could do nothing but trust these words. Deeply I wanted to trust these words.

The hardness of the undertaking went on all the way up to the very last day, but during that month many changes happened within my mental frame.

I realized that my tears were washing the hardness of my soul away. A process of washing and cleaning. “Fear, I feel, it is not only my own, it is the primordial, ancestral fear that we, as human being, share.”

From my journal: “these feelings of insecurity, where to go, where to stop, to sleep,  food and water, follow me step by step. Keep observing, contemplating the human condition without judging and without giving in”.

All these painful experiences and facing the human basic needs forced me to realize that faith and trust in God are essential and that God’s help often comes through people. So if I was expecting help from people, first I had to give help myself, for you cannot receive if you are not able to give. And to my surprise, after some time, I realized that I was getting enormous joy and pleasure in giving and taking care of others.

On the 12th day I reached Joshimat, at 1,800 meters s.l. stopping there a few days for rest and preparing for the high mountains. Joshimat was a pleasant little town, nice hotels and for the first time hot water! Here, nearby the temple I could have darshan of Shankara’s Cave and meditate there for a while.

The last trail of the path was the hardest: in one day I would reach Vishnuprayag, a lovely village nearby, then Pandukeshwar and from there there were 25 kilometers separating me from Badrinath and no place to rest overnight in between. It was a terribly cold area. In Pandukeshwar I met Aniruddha, a young Sadhu taking care of the village’s temple. That day I reached the village past 2 pm. No food was available. He fed me kichadi he had cooked as every day for the gods, he said. He was a lovely man. He told me his story, he left his home 6 years before with 400 Rs (8 US $) and since then he had been working for other people’s needs, and didn’t have to worry for his survival. Without my asking he offered to help me reach Badrinath: he took my backpack saying he would find someone to carry it up to Badrinath by car and would leave it at the first hotel for me to collect once I reached the place. I was amazed, it was much more I could even imagine. Next day I left early morning, a light rain was coming down.  I had the feeling I could never reach Badrinath that day, but I was trying to give strength to myself praying God in my heart. After not even one hour a car passed by and stopped few meters ahead. Was it waiting for me? As I reached it a Lady Swami (nun) put her head out of the window and beckoning me to get into the car. It was the only lift I could ever accept, for I felt I could not trust lifts from men in that area, not even men dressed in orange. She told me she was from the Bharati order, as our Swami Vedaji. This lift was making it possible for me to reach Badrinath safely in one day. I took the lift for 11 km and at Hanuman Chatti village I asked to be dropped for I wanted to finish my yatra on foot.  There was not even time to say goodbye to the Lady Swami when 2 young Indian boys approached me. They became my companions for that day and helped me to reach Badrinath safely within a few hours. The last trail of the road to Badrinath is terribly arduous, we took some shortcuts and the few times I felt exhausted they helped me.

“Chant in your heart Hare Rama Hare Krishna and you will see you’ll feel much better!”

I felt all the cosmos was helping me to reach Badrinath and to fulfill my undertaking that day. Just before reaching the village we met an old sadhu, and we happily conquered Badrinath all together that day. It was the 12th of May, the temple was still closed and the area was terribly cold. No heater, no hot water, I hadn’t changed my clothes for 3 days  and at night I was sleeping under 3 quilts, still feeling cold.

“Morning. I wash my face and my fingers almost freeze. It is terribly cold but I’m feeling good, what I have is sufficient. Meditation in not very good but I understand the importance of just sitting, without caring if meditation is good or not. So I just sit without judging and I let it be. The energy here is special and it is like now things want to be left on their own, to do by themselves and I really feel like a small container.”

Badrinath temple was originally established as a pilgrimage site by Adi Shankara in the ninth century. Shankara discovered the image of Badrinarayan in the Alakananda River and enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. It is dedicated to the God Vishnu.

I cannot tell all the little miracles that happened on this journey. At every step I was talking with God in my heart and I was feeling His presence in the nature around me, in the mountains, in the river constantly flowing along my way. My body was telling me about God, my feeling tired or hungry was reminding me God.  The people around me, with their needs, their poverty but also their kindness and openness were representing God for me. I met many beautiful people on the way that helped me a lot.

“At every step the primary importance of human relationships becomes more clear. I look for a sign of friendship and kindness. It is the only thing that can uplift my mood”.

I was able to have darshan at Badrinath temple on the opening day, a very auspicious day, despite the thousands of Indian people in queue that day.

After Badrinath I made my way to Kedarnath. I backtracked to Rudraprayag by jeep one day, took another day to rest and wash my clothes, then started my walk again, this time on the other side, along the Mandakini River. I made that journey faster. There was a strange feeling of fear within me that kept being with me all the way through the rest of my journey. It was like my mind was going mad.  It took me 3 days to reach Gaurikund, the gate to Kedarnath. From there the only way to reach Kedarnath Temple was a 14-kilometer footpath. Thousands of Indians were walking that path, some carried by porters, others on horses. I also hired a Nepalese porter who carried my backpack and helped me in my odyssey to find a place to sleep in Kedarnath that night. Kedarnath was gorgeous.

“As we walk the main path the Temple appears. It is such an emotion, so powerful! Tears start to come down my cheeks. You will never stop admiring it”

“The room I get for the night is terrible, a crumbling building but a nice view on the river. It is already dark but people keep climbing up, porters keep reaching. I’m not sure if I’m the only one sleeping overnight in this old building or if this is where the porters spend their night. I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t know why”.

…..now, almost two months later I can think that the fear that accompanied me all the way to Kedarnath was a subtle feeling of the disaster that was going to happen few weeks later.

Now Kedarnath is a ghost town, almost everything has been destroyed by the flooding, only the Temple and his shivalinga have survived. Kedarnath Yatra will not be possible at least for the next two years. I think of all the people who helped me to complete my pilgrimage or simply I met and I have no way to know if they have survived or not. I feel blessed I could do this Yatra. It lasted 26 days and I walked for 180 kilometers.

“…I know that this journey, this undertaking, I haven’t done it by myself alone, I know that all my spiritual guides have assisted and guided me, put under test, helped. I have already written that such an undertaking is not done (cannot be done) by one self alone nor for oneself alone”. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Slideshow for 'Inner Yatra'

  • The prayag where two rivers join
  • Daniela Citti
  • walking the yatra - sadhus and myself
  • Sadhus were my main company
  • Sadhus on the way to Badrinath
  • Shankaracharya meditation cave at Joshimat
  • Approaching Vishnuprayag
  • temple at Pandukeshwar
  • Aghori Baba at Nandprayag nice lunch together wonderful tea!
  • Hanuman Chatti from a distance
  • These 2 guys helped me a lot on the last trek to Badrinath
  •  Rough road on the way to Badrinath
  •  Sri Badrinath temple (still closed)
  • Koteshwar temple in Rudraprayag
  •  People going to Kedarnath
  • Woman being carried by porters
  • Kedarnath Temple in sight
The prayag where two rivers join1 Daniela Citti2 walking the yatra - sadhus and myself3 Sadhus were my main company4 Sadhus on the way to Badrinath5 Shankaracharya meditation cave at Joshimat6 Approaching Vishnuprayag7 temple at Pandukeshwar8 Aghori Baba at Nandprayag nice lunch together wonderful tea!9 Hanuman Chatti from a distance10 These 2 guys helped me a lot on the last trek to Badrinath11  Rough road on the way to Badrinath12  Sri Badrinath temple (still closed)13 Koteshwar temple in Rudraprayag14  People going to Kedarnath15 Woman being carried by porters16 Kedarnath in sight17


Editor's Note:

Daniela Citti is a student in Swami Rama Dhyana Gurukulam.

We invite you to read “Mother Mary Puja” by Daniela at http://www.ahymsin.org/docs2/News/1305May/05.html


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