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

http://himachalimages.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/726463534_72807663a9.jpg

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