November 1st on a crystal clear Sunday morning, we prepared ourselves for our journey to Gulmarg to experience the grand Himalayas. The night before I hand washed my navy sweatpants, and not thinking, laid them over the railing of the potbelly stove, so they could dry. When I reached for them in the morning they were a crisp dark brown. I thought, “My God, I could have burned down the whole place. Wow, someone was certainly looking over me.”
Once again we boarded the shikaras and headed for our taxies that were going to take us to the Himalayas. The drive was spectacular as we viewed the changing landscapes. I couldn't stop saying, "This country has so many contrasts." The roads were narrow and beautifully lined with thriving pine trees. We drove by meadows of yellow wildflowers, farmers thrashing wheat and separating the grains, and men walking down the road carrying armsfull of firewood.
A number of people in the group became ill with dysentery and were jugging down Keopectate, while I was taking chocolate flavored X Lax. Invariably, I always seem to be different. What can I say? We stopped at a bathroom somewhere out in the country. What we found was the usual hole in the ground. I felt badly for the ones that were ill, but I had to be very careful with my empathy. Nancy, a gorgeous woman who always looked tan was describing her illness to me: intestinal cramps and nausea. Because I really liked her and empathized with her, I felt myself getting sick. This is partly why I have such a difficult time in crowds. I'm like a sponge that absorbs the emotions and feelings of my surroundings: good and bad.
We were awestruck when we laid our eyes on the grandeur and power of the Himalayas. Lila said, "To be within view of them is like being in the presence of a saint." I could not help but feel God imbued in the snow covered mountains. We pulled into the Highland Hotel located at the foothills of the Himalayas. It absolutely amazed me that most of the attendants were very old men. One looked at least eighty, but with his very small frame picked up my very heavy baggage and carried it upstairs to my room.
We definitely weren’t roughing it on this trip. Although, some of the places we stayed at weren't up to the standards we were used to. There were no heaters in the rooms and it was mighty cold. But the same little men who carried our luggage would come in our rooms in the middle of the night and add wood to our wood-burning stoves.
The next morning on November 2, we rented ponies and our guides took us along the trails of the Himalayas. The guides literally led us. They walked for miles up and down rocky trails without one trace of tiredness, leading our ponies. When I finally convinced the young man who was leading my pony that I was an experienced rider, he let me have the reins. I took this tiny-framed chestnut pony for a canter down the trail in a manner that depicted the Himalayas--feeling free of restrictions.
On our way home my guide asked me in broken English, if I would give him my sweater. I had on a yellow wool pullover ski sweater that I knew I wouldn't need for the rest of my trip, so I gave it to him. These people were so poor, but after meeting the forty of us, they were certain to have a nice wardrobe!
Later that afternoon, a number of us that still had our health went back to the mountain to meditate. We bundled up in our down jackets and sat on a low wall made of large stones and looked out on this majestic place. There wasn't one person there who was not in a state of awe and appreciation for being there.
Even though the mountain will remain in my heart, I wanted to take a piece of the mountain home with me, so I took a couple of stones. They have found their home on my altar. I hope someday to return them to their place of origin. I
On November 3rd we all piled into our individual cars and drove back to Srinagar. There we took a flight back to Delhi just for the night. We were leaving early in the morning for a quick flight to the city of Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. We decided before returning to The Oberoi Hotel, we would again try to see Baba Nagpal.
We walked onto the marble floor of the Chattarpur Temple, and from the main room, we heard the most exquisite and incredibly pure voice of a priest singing devotional chants. We were captivated and mesmerized. His voice was hypnotic, and I will never forget the ambiance of peace that he set in that room. After a time, we spoke to him briefly, and then for a half-hour he sang the Holy Scriptures while playing the harmonium. He had us in a divine spell.
We were then invited, by the devotees of Baba, to an Arati, which is a fire ceremony--a form of purification. The room was vibrating from chanting, and bodies were moving to-and-fro. Incense was passed around to each person, and with our hands, we drew the smoke over us, as we blessed ourselves with it. Rice was thrown into a container of fire symbolizing the seeds of karma being burned and transformed. I felt honored and excited to have been able to participate in this event.
The forces were with us that day, because we were also able to meet with Baba. Baba was short and very small framed with long, thin fingers that moved poetically as he spoke. He was dark complected with long matted black hair, and a very long beard. Before he spoke, tears flooded my eyes, because I knew I was in the presence of someone quite holy. He spoke to us, while a devotee translated his Hindu words into English. He said, "I am very happy you have come. I am very concerned about the decline of morals since the modern age. Each one of you can help change these destructive values and bring in the light of God."
He was so sweet and so badly wanted to give us something. He graciously gave our group a basket of yellow, red, and white roses, and a garland of orange carnations. He then gave each one of us a single red rose, blessing us one by one, when we walked passed him in reverence. By this time I was sobbing. I felt he was an open vessel for the Divine, and being in his presence, we were able to experience this aspect of divinity.
I felt such a bond with Baba and so badly wanted to give him something. That evening I called on him in meditation, and in that instance, I felt his presence. When I asked what I could do for him, I felt him say, "Help our world by continuing to let God in." A part of me wanted to go back to the ashram and live under his direction, but I knew my path was to be out in the world.
The rose he gave me I would always treasure, and I kept it on my altar. Years later my housekeeper threw it away, obviously thinking it was just a dead rose. To my surprise, I wasn't that upset, knowing that that part of divinity can never be thrown away. It was also a lesson in non-attachment. What that rose symbolized can never be thrown away.