Monday, May 24, 2010

Acts of faith

The road to faith may begin at any time of one’s life. It is one single moment or a few moments that collectively come together to create a belief system within us, which is a source of perennial strength. However, while life provides ample instances to revert to this source of inner strength, sometimes it is good to take on an act or feat which will revive our faith, consciously.

Thus, despite umpteen stories told to instill the fear of monkeys, I took on this trek to Jakhoo, the Hanuman temple, rumored to be highly populated by hoards of monkeys and a coterie of ardent priests, who have placed themselves there to pray and serve the most beloved animal God of faith in North India – Hanuman ji. The bachelor God, whose presence came about through the Ramayana, is known to all as one of the best examples of devotion, austerity, celibacy and one who can move mountains to give his believers what is their heart’s desire.

Mine was a simple desire – restoration of my faith in a Higher Power.

Jakhoo is approximately 2.5 km from Upper Mall, Shimla and is the highest hill (2,455 metres) around Shimla. To get there, you take the narrow road between, Christ’s Church and the State Central Library to begin your trek up the hill to Jakhoo.

It is a steep climb right from the beginning without any let up. Your heart thumps against your chest faster than you can repeat the name of God.

For me it was a test of my faith, a test of my quietude to trek up alone, despite the fears instilled by one and all – There are monkeys all around; they will snatch your spectacles from you or anything you are holding and until you have given them the channa they want, they won’t return your spectacles; be careful; don’t do it alone….

Come Sunday, I was doing it alone and the good news is that there were monkeys all along the route, but they were not any fiercer than those you encountered all around Shimla. If you don’t look at them, they don’t trouble you. If you don’t swing your ice cream and your handbag at them, they are not enticed to snatch those from you.

You may trek with anyone, or even a group, but only someone who loves to trek alone, knows the sheer joy of trekking alone. There is only you and nature around. You and your thoughts, you and your movement; you have left the whole world behind you just for these hours or days, you really do not know what challenges are before you nor do you know right now, how you will handle them should they come about, but something deep inside tells you that come what may, you will find your answers within or a help will surface from apparently nowhere.

“How far am I from the Jakhoo temple?” I asked a man who was coming down the hill.

“Only 5 minutes”, he said jubilantly, “Ram naam lo aur pahuch jaoge”- Only 5 minutes more…repeat the name of Ram and you will be there.

Was that Hanuman himself, giving me hope and encouragement, I wondered. Indeed, the temple was only 15 minutes away. On the last leg, the uphill climb gets very tough. Your lungs pump hard and the heart beat is all you hear. The monkey population increases and they jump hither and thither in front of you, engaged in activities with each other. Don’t lose your balance or begin to jump around like a monkey physically. Strangely, at the top the often referred to monkey mind of man having undergone the single-minded pursuance of the trekker, to reach the summit, submits and surrenders. The mind becomes silent, clear of all thoughts, just quiet!

You have reached the feet of Hanuman, all the wish and demand list you had made is forgotten and you just heave a sigh of great relief, a soft feeling of joy playing inside your heart – you have indeed accomplished an act of faith.

A few things to remember on this journey:

- Keep yourself light - hand baggage and food,
- Photography is not allowed; do not carry your camera with you
- Start the trek early in the morning by 7am. Maybe earlier
- Walk slowly up, there is no hurry
- Keep your mind on the road ahead
- If you have a mantra, repeat it mentally
- Do not make noise; walk silently to avoid stressing your lungs
- Do not carry channa, nuts, peanuts for the monkeys
- When you encounter a monkey or see it close by, don’t scream. Just place your hands across your chest, as if hugging yourself and look down and keep walking
- Since they are mammals, if they still jump on you, stand still, without fretting. They will go away
- On the way, you can hire a stick for Rs 10 – 30, but please don’t use it on the monkeys. Sticks are helpful support for climbing up and more so for climbing down perhaps
- While climbing up, think of the stress-less joy of climbing down!
- While climbing down, be attentive to the sliding road on which you are walking. A fall here might be more damaging than falling on the marble floor of your bath
- There are steps on one side of the road; for those who like to use the steps for going up or down, you may do so
- Wear a shirt with an inner pocket to hold your spectacles /money away from the penetrating eyes of the monkeys
- A good pair of shoes always helps, one that you are used to wearing and which is not a new pair

Last but not the least, if you are one of those no-stress hikers: You can take a car right up to the last leg of the hill; you will have to walk up only for a few minutes.

If you are really one of those lazy bums, wait! In a year you will have the ropeway to take you from the Mall to the temple in less than 10 minutes.

Either way, its all about acts of faith, whether one prefers to trudge up or go up in air!

Picture credit from the web:

Jakhoo Temple

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chail: Is the Maharaja monkeying around still?

Monkeying around Chail at The Palace Hotel is more of an entertainment than walking around the hotel and its lawns lost in the reverie of a passionate maharaja – the then Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh (1900 – 1938), whose taste for English women, lead him to some trouble with the then Commander-in-Chief, Lord Kitchener.

The Maharaja’s appetite for beautiful women caused him to fall in love with the with Lord Kitchener’s daughter, an act that was not easily digested by the Commander-in-Chief. He barred the Maharajah from entering Shimla, where his daughter lived with him, only to see that the Maharajah was far more ardent a lover than he a protective father. The Maharaja was not used to accepting no.

Chail and the Palace there were created in his pursuance of this love, which he then of course won!

I had been fascinated with this story for a long time: what romance must it had been!

The Palace which has now been taken over by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Corporation, is maintained well and lends the visitor with the sight and feel of old time grandeur, but the plush lawns are what takes the breath away in more ways than one – could the Maharaja of Patiala, still be monkeying around?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: Travelling Light by Suma Verughese

A few lessons came first.

Within my office, once the book came in, it got lost! On enquiry, it was found that the young man sitting at the Communications Desk had got hold of it and begun to read it himself! After much cajoling it landed on my desk, but not before I had already promised to buy him another copy. Cheque paid and according to him, dispatched, it failed to show debit on my account. Even after much persuasion I was unable to coax the young man to give me the Way Bill number. I left it at that. His time with a soul-stirring book was perhaps over for now with just a brush. His time will come, in time, I am quite sure.

Finally, having read the book without once putting it down, I tried to read it like a Psalm. I opened to any page and read the chapter. Over and over again, each day, there was a message for me in it!

Suma Varughese’s book, Travelling Light is a compilation of her columns in Life Positive Magazine over the last few years, precisely, 2001 onwards. Pearls of wisdom interlace with trials and tribulations of daily life, the challenges of body and mind and the inevitable journey to Self realization, which may start in this life but may take several lives to complete. Or it might have started many lives before and may just about end in this one, with a satori. How else do you describe the author’s journey from Editor of one of mainstream’s most coveted magazines, to actually a transition to India’s first spiritual mainstream magazine, which was then just a start-up? Sixteen years of depression and one strong moment of Truth was all that was required to see Suma in her new avatar – then Bureau Chief of Life Positive Magazine, Mumbai. Today she is the Editor of the same magazine.

Mixed generously with subtle humour of our daily lives, the book provides a recipe to overcome and rise above petty but meaningful occurrences in our daily lives, to embrace the larger picture there is in that experience.

Life, when you come to think of it, is really an unmixed blessing. Everything, everything, has something to teach us. Nothing goes waste, nothing is bad, and everything works out for our ultimate good. A crow defecates on your brand-new dupatta is here to teach you tolerance and acceptance – how kind of the crow! A traffic jam gives you an excellent opportunity to experience your frustration and overcome it. How kind of those who engineered it! A manipulative colleague is here to teach you to overcome anger and a sense of victimization. It is good indeed of the colleague to take on such bad karma in order to help you grow.” – pg 62, An Unmixed Blessing

The message is clear – the present is the opportunity provided for our growth.

Suma Varughese is not Deepak Chopra. She is not here to give us quick-fix enlightenment. In fact, each chapter which has something from daily life and a lesson to learn from it, is almost as human as human can be; it is a story that all of us can connect with easily and hence the lessons too make more sense. Suma is as much the victim as all of us in this matter. Was it not only yesterday the guests came and the house help who had promised only in the morning that she would arrive in time to help with the dinner preparations, gave a last minute ditch leaving us to manage the entire dinner, after a hectic day at the office? Did not our blood boil along with the soup and did not our tongue itch to spit out the choicest gaalis, in M’s, C’s and B’s, but were forced to swallow the bitter anger along with the fresh lemon soda and a plastic smile entertaining the guests? It is only at night, after a four-course meal and when the last of the guests had left with happy bellies and we laid our weary head on the pillow that we heard a voice, no matter how feeble whisper – “Everything in the life of a Seeker is an opportunity to go within.” We bit our teeth, even as we thanked the Lord, for having taken us to this road of Self-realisation, albeit with its jerks and starts.

Divided into three sections, Self, Reflections and Society, this is what Travelling Light all about. A lesson waits for everyone, just like mine came even before I had set my eyes on it – no matter how much I want to share the book with that dear fellow at the Communications Desk, I must wait patiently, for his moment of journey to Self realization to become an active search.

So will you find your message for the day, every day in Travelling Light.

Name: Travelling Light Walking the Path of Letting Go
Author: Suma Varughese
Publisher: Magus Media Pvt Ltd., C153, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase I, New Delhi – 110020 Tel: 91-11-26902020; Fax: 91-11-26902090
To buy email directly to:
Pages: 170
Price: Rs 195

About the author of the book: Suma Varughese is the editor of Life Positive magazine, India’s premier body-mind-spirit magazine. A veteran journalist with 30 years of experience, she was formerly editor of the popular lifestyle magazine, Society. A Seeker of the spirit, she is unmarried and lives in Mumbai with her mother, her sister and her cat.