The trip was in the making for quite some time.
My friend, Ramesh, had been on many such foot pilgrimages. I had expressed my desire to join him on one of his trips. More importantly, having given up trekking many years ago, my fitness for such a trek was in question. I needed a strong motivator and someone whose experience I could lean on. Therefore, no one was better suited than Ramesh for this role.
Ramesh had made a careful choice. Given his experience, he had a variety of options to choose from. However, he knew of my limitations – my regular walk was limited to areas in and around my apartment complex. The only time I took the stairs was while responding to a friend’s offer of hot filter coffee during such morning walks.
Finally, the chosen trek was a 42-km foot pilgrimage through a forest. Ramesh had chosen the direction of Horanadu to Sringeri because Horanadu is at a higher altitude than Sringeri. Therefore, it meant that we would be going downhill. While in theory, this was correct, we ended up climbing for the first 15-odd kilometers before we reached flat land.
Each of us carried a backpack. Over time, I was to realize that Ramesh’s backpack carried quite a few useful things like a handy plastic mat, a steel thermos and a couple of raincoats.
We reached Horanadu by bus in the morning of Day 1.
Horanadu is where the temple of Devi Annapoorneshwari is located. It is nestled in the thick forests and valleys of the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Since we had traveled overnight by bus, we quickly checked into a modest lodge to freshen up. Once ready, I went up to the balcony. Amidst the greens, the temple stood out prominently. A few lodges, a row of modest shops opposite the temple selling snacks, God’s pictures and related paraphernalia, and a couple of eateries completed the picture.
Standing on the balcony, I spotted a middle-aged security guard in an olive-green uniform trying to round up some stray cows and direct them away from the crowds. The cows were smarter. They split up and ran in different directions but not in the direction the guard had intended. The guard ran in different directions but his age and paunch were coming in the way of his intention. He could not do much. Finally, he resigned to the situation and left the area. The cows returned and assembled at the same place, munching happily. They had won this round.
We entered the temple for the darshan. Fortunately, although it was a Saturday, there was no rush. As a result, we had a great darshan of the Devi. The idol is stunningly beautiful. I prayed for a successful trip. More importantly, it was my 58th birthday and the day had begun very well.
After the darshan, we entered a small cafe near the temple for breakfast. The cafe was by the side of a road leading out of the temple. A family with a couple of kids was having breakfast. As we were washing down our breakfast with hot filter coffee, a cow picked idlis right out the kids’ plates. There was a flutter and the kids’ father tried angrily pushing the cow away but in the bargain, he lost his dosa to the enterprising cow. Finally, the cafe owner came and gently nudged the cow away. As a result of this development, the kids seemed pretty excited. They were requesting their father to order something for the cow. The father, however, seemed very upset. It seems the cow loosely belonged to the temple, meaning, it had made the temple area its home. Holy cow, I thought!
Our route went through the forest. Ramesh didn’t expect any shops on the way for the most part. Therefore, he purchased some snacks and filled his steel thermos with piping hot coffee. I slipped into my sports shoes. We were all set.
We began the foot pilgrimage. A few hundred meters away from the temple, we spotted the route. We saw the milestone: Sringeri 42 kilometers.
Off to a start
We began the climb. The weather was beautiful. It was a clear day. Furthermore, a light breeze was blowing. With lots of trees along the way, we alternated between sunshine and shade. We saw magic in the skies. The road was winding. We did not see much traffic. Just an occasional vehicle passed that way.
The phone network was not available. It was my birthday and in the normal course, I would have been fused to my phone. I think I have built a reputation of promptly returning missed calls and responding to messages in time. Here, I could do nothing. I switched off the phone and put it into my pocket.
I believe that Nature operates in a certain rhythm. While living our stressful lives, we end up operating against this rhythm. It is in such spaces that we get re-introduced to the natural rhythm of life. With no disturbance or distraction, walking amidst nature was uplifting. Ramesh and I synchronized our footsteps. Except for the sound of the matching footsteps, there were no man-made sounds. A light breeze continued to blow through the trees carrying a light fragrance (not sure if I was imagining it, though!), birds were chirping, a few mischievous monkeys pranced around and we saw a couple of peacocks disappearing into the undergrowth.
Whenever we wanted to catch our breath, we sat down. Sometimes we sat on those cement bench-like structures built over culverts but on many occasions, we didn’t find any such structures. Thankfully, Ramesh had his plastic mat. He pulled it out of his bag and spread it on the ground.
Ramesh and I went into some engaging conversations. He is a man of depth. Having gone far into the path of spirituality, he had some interesting anecdotes. We exchanged views across a range of topics, both worldly and otherwise.
On many other occasions, we just sat down and mingled with nature.
For me, once I am quiet in such spaces, there is a certain ‘settling down’ that happens. The entire Universe ceases to exist for me. The mood is contemplative, almost meditative. Everything seems to happen in slow motion. I saw leaves dropping from the trees, swaying like tiny parachutes and falling softly on the ground. I could hear the sound of every single leaf that made contact with the ground. I spotted a tiny fluorescent yellow spider softly descend on my grey trousers setting off a striking contrast. With the focus deepening, I spotted a beautiful dried leaf. Such sights are actually commonplace in our lives but are we paying any attention?
Slowly, as the silence within me deepened, I was reminded of some great memories. Our father’s weekly routine of taking all of us on a picnic on Saturdays to Buddha Jayanti Park in New Delhi, our visits with parents to the Thanjavur Ashram or the Ramana Maharshi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai came rushing in. I reminisced about my trip to Hemkunt Sahib and the 12-hour travel with bhajan-singing sadhus on the way to Badrinath.
I recollected my childhood and the childhood of my son – they seemed perfect. Our visit to Talnu in Himachal Pradesh with my wife and son was very special. We so much loved the silence sitting on a concrete bench and facing the deep gorge. We were quiet for a long time. The world seemed perfect, whole and complete in silence – words were a rude interruption in a perfectly silent world.
I could drift away in silence but Ramesh knew the pace of our progress. He would stir me out of my stupor. There were ‘miles to go before we sleep’.
Along the way, ordinary peasants stopped us and asked us where we were headed. They had many questions. Finally, they smiled and wished us well.
I was feeling quite pleased with myself. We had been climbing uphill for many hours and I was still enthusiastic and energetic. I seemed to have the stamina. This was a health-check on the move.
We came upon a provision store along the way and we needed to refill our water bottles. Not seeing anyone in the shop, Ramesh called out in the direction of the adjoining house. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman came out. Not only did she take our water bottles to fill, but she also offered us buttermilk. She fetched a steel vessel and a couple of steel tumblers and served us many rounds of buttermilk. Buttermilk in the afternoons after a tiring walk can act as nectar. Finally, we thanked the woman, got our water bottles and left.
I have a theory – wherever wide highways have not penetrated, goodness still prevails. I have had magical experiences of hospitality in far-flung places such as Lava-Lolay in Sikkim, Halwara in Punjab, Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, Gobindhghat in Uttarakhand, and Gushaini in Himachal Pradesh. One has to just move away from areas touched by large highways and access tucked-away towns and villages to experience generosity. Could this be the India vs. Bharat divide? I wondered.
End of Day 1
We had walked for over 9 hours and were an hour away from the Ganapathy Devasthana (Ganesha temple) at Hirehalli for our night halt. I was tired and my palms were swollen – the backpack was affecting the blood circulation. I changed the way I held the bag and hoped that the swelling would subside.
We reached Hirehalli while passing by a lake. It was dark and the lake appeared so different in the darkness. We switched on our mobile flashlights and reached the temple. We had done 27 kilometers in 10 hours.
At the temple, we were given a modern room with attached bath but to access the room, we had to climb a ramp. I was not looking forward to another climb. Anyway, there was no choice. The person who showed us the room asked us to assemble at the temple for the aarti by 8 pm.
At 7:45 pm, as we were moving out of the building to go to the temple, we were in for a rude shock. Someone had bolted the main door from outside. It was a very secluded area of the temple. We had no phone network. We tried other doors but there was no way out. It was very dark and no one was in sight. Therefore, we opened the windows and began screaming for ‘help’. Ramesh tried some windows while I tried others. Fortunately, a driver who was relaxing in his car parked at the temple entrance heard our cries and sent someone to ‘rescue’ us but not before giving us some anxious moments.
The puja at the temple was a sight to see. Oil lamps in two parallel rows facing the deity had been lit. I was reminded of the chuttivilakku in Kerala temples where oil lamps are lit on the external walls all around the temple. We were in a different world. Happy families mingled with others at the temple. The charm of the village was evident.
We settled down for dinner at the temple. It was sumptuous – sprouts, fruit salad, lentil curry, chili bajji, shavige baath, sweet coconut chutney, poha with curd, Mysore Pak, dink laddoo, and kashaayaa. We experienced abundance, yet again.
We came back to the room. With an exhausted body and aching limbs, it needed only a warm blanket over me and the background sound of the flowing rivulet behind the temple for sleep to visit me.
I drifted into blissful sleep.
I seem to have slept like a log. I woke up absolutely fresh mentally but the body was aching. Just out of sheer pain, I was reminded of body parts that I never knew existed.
Ramesh and I went to the area behind the temple. A gently flowing rivulet greeted us. While on the one side, it was gentle, almost like a placid lake, where the water met the rocks, it demonstrated its power. Not to be taken lightly, I thought! An idea crossed my mind. How about spending a few days here to engage in some writing? Certainly worth considering!
The breakfast was shavige baath with fried groundnuts, coconut chutney, and hot filter coffee. Ramesh filled his thermos with hot coffee. We said our goodbyes and resumed our walk.
It was meant to be a lighter day. From 27 kilometers clocked the previous day, we were down to 15 kilometers on Day 2. This was largely downhill. While it seems like a pleasant thing, downhill poses its own set of challenges. I could feel the pressure on the knees and a tendency to slip. Hence, one had to be more careful.
Since Day 2’s walking quota was much less than half of the previous day, it meant we had more time to ourselves. Therefore, we rested more often, mingled more with nature and stopped wherever and whenever we wished to.
At one point, my phone began beeping. The network had been restored. As a result, I received a couple of hundred pings – my overdue birthday wishes were here. Just as I prepared to respond to them individually, I lost the network again. But seconds before I lost the network, I had managed to squeeze in a message on Facebook apologizing for not responding to messages and the reason for the miss. Due to network issues, it was disappointing not being able to respond to my family and friends.
We stopped for some sugarcane juice. I was pleasantly surprised. A tiny Chinese generator was mounted on the traditional sugarcane machine set up on a pushcart. A sweet Sino-Indian collaboration, I thought! Was Doklam really necessary?
As our forest road converged on to the main highway, we met civilization. Sadly, civilization meant plastic bottles were strewn all around, small heaps of stinking garbage, disintegrating (but not decomposing!) plastic bags, unnecessary honking, and vehicular pollution. Thankfully, it also meant the end of our lovely trip but not before another exciting feature.
A fitting finale!
We had heard some thunder. It grew louder. A light drizzle began. From the looks of it, we knew this was no ordinary drizzle. Ramesh had a couple of raincoats in his backpack. He seemed pleased. He had used his last resource in his backpack. We wore our raincoats. The last time, I wore a raincoat was at school. As kids, we used to deliberately step into puddles of rainwater.
As expected, the drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. The raincoat was effective to an extent but with the heavy rain and the length of the walk, nothing much escaped. Consequently, I was able to barely save my head, my upper torso and my pouch containing my phone, charger, and my wallet. Passing vehicles also splashed water on us. However, at that point, nothing much mattered because we had already seen the signboard, ‘Sringeri’.
Finally, we had made it!
Ramesh and I shook hands. This was a moment worth cherishing.
We visited the Sringeri temple in the late evening. Surprisingly, there was no rush. As a result, we had a great darshan.
Finally, we took the bus to Bangalore from the temple entrance.
2 days and 42 kilometers through Bharat. A foot pilgrimage and quite a feat, I thought!
Finally, I had my lessons from the trip.
The lessons came back to me in the form of my own Quotes published in my book, ‘366 Insights for Life’.
- Life’s exciting discoveries are located just outside our comfort zone. (Quote #207)
- You will have no idea what you are capable of until you try. (#183)
- When you are focused and committed, new paths just show up. (#266)
- Travel in as much as you travel out. (#214)
- Imagine it and you can make it happen. (#279)
- Never retire from Life. (#271)
- On the way to achieving the goal, don’t forget to celebrate the milestones. (#100)
- Just because it appears to be difficult, does not mean it is. Give it a shot! (#241)
- Results prove the intention. (#239)
- Courage can what age cannot. (#226)
Click on http://imojo.in/siq67 to access all my 366 Quotes compiled as a book.