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Travelogue #8: Cripples and Sadhus [April 1-5th]

After touring Central India, I finally made it back to the Himalayan Foothills to meet my favorite Sadhu, Tapasvi Baba Kalyandasji, or "Babaji". I disembarked from the last train stop on this line. My difficult day began with a car running over my foot, as I was standing awaiting a cab. After this, the rain began to downpour, and I was in a share taxi with 5 other people, while the windshield wipers didn't work. Nonetheless the driver drove fast ignoring the weather, passing every other vehicle on the road recklessly. His driving causing my companion to vomit no less than 7 times, and I just closed my eyes and hoped. I kept massaging my throbbing foot, wondering how badly it was injured. Suddenly I heard a BANG! followed by the steady volley of hard marble-sized hail besieging us, however much I hoped it would, this did not slow our progress, and the driver just wiped his foggy windshield with one hand while he drove with the other. Gazing like a man with bad eyesight, he was squinting at the rainy, hazy, curvy, wet, rocky, narrow, mountain road ahead. We all feared for our lives.

We curved and raced our way up and down Himalayan foothills for 3 hours until everyone had white knuckles. Finally the sun begin to shine in Almora where I declined his further assistance, and examined my swelling sore foot. I hobbled in pain to a different taxi for the next hour leg to the Ashram. I was set to spend quality time with holy men, but had no idea what to expect.

When I finally arrived I was greeted by Bhairav Muni, who remembered me from the Kumbha Mela in 2001, and he brought me to an audience with Tapasvi Baba Kalyandasji who also remembered me. As you may recall, touching a foot is a sign of respect and you touch the feet of your parents, your guru, your master, your statues of gods. In an ironic twist, Babaji touched and examined my foot because it was injured and I felt as awkward as a Catholic might feel if the Pope gave them a back rub.

Despite pain, the foot injury was a boon in that it forced me to take it easy for three days. I enjoyed living and eating with a select few sadhus, or holy renunciants. I met and received Babaji's darshan (blessing) on numerous occasions, and before he left on the second day he had entertained a famous regional politician, fed 100 guests, and invited me to accompany him and a few sadhus in May for a weeklong Himalaya excursion!!

Now I am especially excited to learn Hindi this coming April 8 through May 3 and then meet Babaji in Delhi. I will also have to change my flight to stay longer in India.

My time in the ashram was a calm fun experience. I lived one full day in silence, which I had never done before. This helped me to appreciate how unnecessary most of my words are, and how often I want to talk when maybe I should be quiet. I also learned to appreciate silent time with other people, and I was blessed with a whole day of rest with no obligations to explain myself and or ask questions.

It also allowed me to be a silent witness to the Ashram goings-on after Babaji left. Only a skeleton crew remained, including 5 sadhus, some workers, and myself. I have been eating Indian style, with my hands, mashing rice into the dal and loving it! We wash our plates with sterile ash from the sadhu's holy fire. One of the remaining sadhus is an ashen-covered sadhu like those I encountered at the Kumbha Mela. I helped him cook dinner one night and befriended him and his 4 Himalayan dogs, a breed of cute heavily-furred dogs indigenous to these northern parts.

The next day, another guest introduced herself to me, her name is Shyama and mine Shyam! That's two sides of the Krishna-Radha coin, so of course we agreed to go the next day to the Vishnu temple 4 km away. Today that is just what we did! She is a widow who has three grown boys and is now a renunciant sadhu herself! She invited me to stay at her home tonight in Almora and that is where I am, rather than continuing down the hills, I will rest one more day. Thankfully my foot is fine now and the 8km round trip walk this morning went fine.

Anyway, I want to go and meditate now and enjoy Shyama's hospitality. Her roof has a view of the whole city and she recommended I meditate there in "Sham" - eveningtime - as the sun sets which is shortly. Incidentally, that is where the names Shyam and Shyama come from, they are derived from 'evening' as Krishna was 'evening' skinned.