India Spiritual Tour
It was during the last summer holidays that I, along with my wife Jenny, decided to visit India on a spiritual tour. Initially, when we started our India journey from the John F. Kennedy International Airport, we were griped by a little apprehension and uncertainty about the outcome of our India tour. We feared whether India, the country famous as the land of spirituality, would be able to meet our expectations and were also scared with the very idea of visiting a third world country which was projected as poor, dirty, unhygienic, lacking infrastructure and facilities. We were thinking if our hopes would be met or totally dashed.
En route to India, we were provided excellent accommodation by Air India. However, throughout the journey; Jenny sensed my tremendous excitement to have a glimpse of the much talked-about spiritual sites with my own eyes. Apart from me, she was also thoroughly enthusiastic to participate in an India spiritual tour. Our plane landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport at the scheduled time and we proceeded towards the exit terminal.
However, as I was walking along the Terminal 1 A and 2, my eyes were suddenly transfixed on the facilities available at the airport. I, as an American, had always viewed India as a third world country and hence, prior to my India visit, had thought that its infrastructure facilities can’t be of a higher grade. But, as I witnessed splendid washrooms, modernized departure lounge, ceilings and the state-of-the-art security apparatus at terminal 1A and 2, I was amazed and couldn’t help admiring the splendor of the Indian airport system. Yes indeed, India has developed a lot, I thought in my mind, and the nation is moving fast to compete with the first-rated countries. As soon as we exited the airport, we hired a taxi to the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Once we reached the Taj Mahal hotel, we felt tired after the 19-hour-long air journey and needed a little rest to refresh ourselves. We got up at around 3 pm and after having our coffee, went off to visit the Laxmi Narayan temple. Situated west to Connaught Place, the temple was a sight to behold. Splendid wooden carvings decorated it all over and the popularity of the temple can be gauged by the long queue of visitors thronging at the gate. Thereafter, a visit to the Lotus Temple in south Delhi rejuvenated our spirits. Completing the initial phase of our India pilgrimage tour in Delhi, we returned to our hotel room at around 7-30, with the deepest sense of spiritual satisfaction ringing in our hearts.
From Delhi, we moved to Vrindavan, a highly sought after spiritual location situated in Mathura, a district of Uttar Pradesh. The stinking drainage system of the town repulsed me in the beginning and the dirty streets overwhelmed me with a disgusting feeling. But soon the breathtaking spiritual aura of Vrindavan temples made me forget this unpleasantness and I began to realize why this place is an indispensable part of Indian spirituality and can’t be excluded from an India spiritual tour at any cost. It was only after spending some time in the holy Vrindavan that I discovered its deep rooted connection with Indian spirituality. This place is popular with tourists worldwide as the place where Lord Shri Krishna had spent his glorious boyhood days. In Vrindavan, we paid brief visits to Radha Vallabh Temple, Madan Mohan Temple, Banke- Bihari Temple and Shahji Temple. Vridavan is still abound with folk stories on Lord Krishna and Radha, the lord`s soul mate.
After strolling along Vrindavan and enjoying its spiritual magnificence for two days, we continued our India pilgrimage tour by moving ahead to Haridwar. As it became apparent that the distance from Vrindavan to Haridwar is about 360 kilometers, we decided to travel by car. It took us around 9 hours to arrive at Haridwar but during the whole journey, I wasn’t tired a bit as I was totally excited to catch sight of the river whose water is never infected by worms even if it is kept locked in a can for years. In Haridwar, we were enthralled by the tranquil waters of the river Ganga, picturesque views of the Ganga Aarti( worship of the goddess Ganga) conducted at Hari-ki-Pairi, the principal ghat(stairway that leads to the waters of Ganga) of Haridwar, was mesmerizing. The “Ganga Aarti” was a spectacular sight with candles and diyas floating all over the water. People from far corners of this world arrive at Haridwar to watch this typical Ganga worship. After the Aarti we moved to Rishikesh, about 24 Kms from Haridwar and chose to stay at one of the ashrams there.
Although, all Indian spiritual destinations are full of people with orange colored clothes, there was something unique about this place situated again at the banks of river Ganga. Here you would find people meditating everywhere, in the calm and peaceful ashrams, near the banks of the river, even in the river waters. There was this one saint whom I saw sitting neck deep in the Ganga waters, lost in his meditation without caring for the hustle and bustle around him. I sat on a rock at the bank near him wondering what he was experiencing. I wanted to talk to him and waited for an hour for him to get up but couldn’t as he was not ready to buzz from his seat. Since Jenny was alone at the ashram I planned to return later but tiredness got over me and on reaching my ashram room I fell asleep, a sleep that I have never had in my entire life. Next day when I got up I went straight to the river bank with Jenny and we both took a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga. One dip and we were refreshed to the soul. No soap, no perfumes just the spiritual water of this river and we felt rejuvenated with splendid energy, ready to take on the world.
After talking to people at the ashram we chose the Char Dhams (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) as our next destination and hired a car for the same purpose. From Rishikesh, we straightway proceeded to Yamunotri by travelling a distance of around 222 kilometers. It took us approximately 8 hours to reach Yamunotri, the place considered to be the origin of the sacred river Yamuna as well as abode of the goddess Yamuna. Out there, a visit to the Yamunotri temple offered us ample spiritual delight and we also enjoyed a stroll along several ashrams reverberating with the echoes of spiritual prayers.
Soon after exploring the premises of the Yamunotri temple and conducting a puja there (which I couldn’t understand, though it sounded great), we followed a trek down to Synachatti. From Synachatti, we drove to Uttarkashi and rested in the hotel for the night. Early in the next morning, we set out on our spiritual tour to Gangotri. After undertaking a 5 hours` drive from Uttarkashi to Gangotri, we finally arrived at the spiritual location of Gangotri.
Strikingly, a brief encounter with the yogis at Gangotri made me aware of certain unknown facets of life. The two yogis that I met there were in rags and a gleaming smile was emanating from each face. I was forced to contemplate on why they are so happy even when they were living on alms collected from begging. Instantaneously, I started to compare their mental contentment with mine and soon found out that they have attained the stage of supreme mental satisfaction that I have never been able to. Why is this? The answer came from one of the yogis. He said, “Craving for material possessions destroys the peace of mind. Once you escape from the clutches of a materialistic life, you will become happy.” These words uttered by the yogi have left a deep imprint on my mind.
As we took a tour around Gangotri, what enlightened us particularly was the Gangotri temple, the temple of the goddess Ganga and its beautiful environs and of course the river dips. Since the water is very cold here, one needs to have a tough mind and body, to face the spine chilling water of the river Ganga. I could only manage to expose my hands and feet in the holy waters. Here, a fellow traveler informed us that Gangotri is situated at about 3,042 m height. We spent a whole day at Gongotri and started off our journey towards Kedarnath at 6-30 am next day. For our journey to Kedarnath, we had to return to Uttarkashi and after driving for a period of around 7 hours from Uttarkashi, we reached GuariKund. This location is at a distance of around 235 Km and from this place we followed a 14 km trek and finally arrived at Kedarnath.
Kedarnath, the holy town, is situated in the Himalayas at a height of around 584m above the sea level and the river Mandakini flows near to it. However, after reaching Kedarnath and taking a half hour rest at our pre-arranged accommodation, we were off to visit the historic Kedarnath temple. To reach the Kedarnath temple, we had to follow a 14 km long uphill journey from Gaurikund as this Shiva temple couldn’t be directly entered from the road. At the temple, I offered my obeisance to Lord Shiva and Jenny prayed for a baby (that I got to know after returning to the hotel.).
As soon as our Kedarnath visit was over, we moved towards Badrinath without any delay. To reach Badrinath, we had to travel to Rudraprayag first and this we undertook by driving along the road for 3 hours and surpassing a 75 kilometer long distance. However, from Rudraprayag, we had to complete a 160 kilometer long drive to reach Badrinath and that took us around 6 hours. In the first place, we visited the spiritually enriched town Bardrinath and a visit to the Badrinath temple soothed our nerves. Badrinath temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is considered to be one of the popular pilgrimage sites. Jenny soon found out the caretaker and from him, we got to know important details on the temple history. After spending 2 days in Badrinath and saturating our senses with the awesome spiritual splendor of the town, it dawned upon us that the time has finally arrived for us to resume our return journey. Summer holidays were drawing to a close although I as well as Jenny wanted to spend some more time there.
We decided to travel to Delhi by car and hired an Indica for the purpose. The driver performed his job excellently well and covered a distance of 586 kms in around 17 hours. We got back to Delhi on 17th July 2008, after taking rest of 2days at Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi we boarded our flight to New York on 20th July 2008.
Although we couldn`t cover some of the marked spiritual locations due to scarcity of time, the India pilgrimage tour was definitely an excellent one, something that is still ringing in our heads. Lack of time forced us to restrict the spiritual tour to 20-25 days. Nevertheless, it provided us ample spiritual delight. Moreover, the enjoyment and spiritual enlightenment that I gained from this India spiritual tour is consistently inspiring me to embark on as many India spiritual tours as possible in the near future.
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