What if solitude beacons you once in every while as you look up from a life densely populated with people, places, things, and work? What if you actually love what you do and still long for a meditative mid-stanza break from the regular life? What if you want to do that while fully aware that you don’t have time for all that? I guess the answers never come easy, but they become clearer once you have crossed 50.
Well, I tried this combination: a solo five-plus hour drive, a stay at the foot of an ancient mountain, a bit of wandering around and a climb of 8.5k steps atop the second peak of that mountain. I found it amazing, and hence this blog. Please let me know if something like this has worked for you, as well.
Day-1: Drive at daybreak
…or, soon after, rather. I packed minimally to drive 300-odd kilometers down to this ancient town, nestling at the footsteps of Girnar, among the oldest of mountains in India. I had just finished writing the review for a book that contains contributions from people who are themselves leaders, change agents and consultants who believe in spirituality and authenticity in their work. Not sure if that was the reason or otherwise, I just drove in silence, not really needing music or any other prop.
One brief bio-break, and I was in Junagadh at lunch time. I had a booking at Narsinh Mehta Dham, which offers modest, clean and conveniently located accommodation to the people seeking the proximity to the mountain. For me, the biggest merits of that place are hot water, reasonably good food, direct sight on the peaks of Girnar, reasonable cleanliness, and quite a friendly and helpful staff – not in any particular order.
For the next time: hike up to the Zina Bawani Madhi
I was taking tips from Mr. Ajaybhai, the manager of the restaurant at Narsinh Dham, about places nearby. He not only gave me options, but helped me narrow them down to one place, and also dropped me at the entry point.
I had lunch and then I strolled on the route to a place known as “Zina Bawani Madhi”. It was bad timing: I had just driven down and had lunch, and it was quite hot in the day at around 1:30 pm. Within 45 minutes I had lost interest and decided to return. The trek is about 1.5 hours, and I was sure I wouldn’t last that long and back.
One reward was that I could spot some hazy pugmarks. They must have been made early in the day, or even the previous day. As I was taking pictures, I saw a group of three people, who saw the marks and identified them as leopard’s footprints. Well, no leopard – and quite frankly, I wasn’t equipped for the meeting.
I was back in no time, and chatted up a little bit with the friendly Ajaybhai. He has his own catering business, and also manages the restaurant for this community facility meant for service of pilgrims. He is himself an enthusiast of hikes and trekking explorations.
Evening Aarati at Bhavnath Temple
Aarati is an important ritual at Hindu temples. Just a few hundred meters away from Narsinh Mehta Dham, there is this old temple of Lord Shiv, known as Bhavnath Temple. It is of primordial significance — the temple has reference to several Pauranik stories. Every winter, on the day of Maha Shivratri, there is a fair held here. A story has it, that Arjuna met and fell in love with Subhadra who had come to this fair.
The most enchanting part of the evening aarati was melodious chanting by the priest of the Shiv Manas Puja followed by the क्षमापना or seeking of forgiveness for the lapses in the ritual:
आवाहनम् न जानामि नजानामि तवार्चनम् ।
पूजाम् चैव न जानामि क्षमस्व परमेश्वर ॥
अन्यथा शरणं नास्ति त्वमेकं शरणं मम ।
तस्त्मात् कारूण्यभावेन रक्ष रक्ष सुरेश्वर ॥
गतं पापं गतं दु:खं गतं दारिद्र्यमेव च ।
आगता सुखसम्पत्ति पुण्याञ्च तव दर्शनात् ॥
मंत्रहीन क्रियाहीन भक्तिहीन सुरेश्वर ।
यत्पूजित मया देव परिपूर्णं तदस्तु मे ॥
यदक्षरपदभ्रष्टं मात्राहीनं च यद्भवेत् ।
तत्सर्वं क्षम्यतां देव प्रसीद परमेश्वर ॥
Broadly, it is an expression of a request for pardon. It contains admission that there may have been numerous faults in one’s ways and seeks forgiveness, protection and blessing of the almighty. I got transported to my childhood days when my mother’s father and his father chanted these prayers daily at the end of their puja. Unbeknownst to me, tears rolled down my cheeks from behind my closed eyelids. It was surreal – the large yet quiet group of the faithful, the scent of the Dhoop, echoing sound of the priest’s prayers and the light of oil lamps at the time of the dusk almost created an other-worldly atmosphere.
Adjoining the temple is a very small tank, called Mrugi Kund. The believers firmly believe that the members of holy trinity – Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – who agreed to stand guard to the palace of Bali in the पाताल take turns to go in and come out through this tank. Every Shivratri, the Naga Bavas come down form the mountain and take a holy dip in Mrugi Kund.
Ajaybhai at the dining hall advises me to start my climb as early as I can, the next day. I decide it to be 4am and retire.
Day-2: Dattatreya peak of Mount Girnar
The mountain is awake round the clock these days immediately following the परिक्रमा. It is quite dark and I can barely see the outline of the mountain standing right in front of me.
A few hundred steps up, and I see the red moon setting. The sunrise would still be some time away.
I look yonder and the city sleeps amid the lights on. I think about being absorbed in one’s own world while realizing the importance of not forgetting that there are always worlds beyond – at any level of absorption and awakening. The journey goes on.
At 5,500 steps there is the first peak of Ambaji, known by the temple of Goddess Amba. A handful of more steps and there is a flat terrace. One can see the next peak about 2,500 steps away. Strangely, it reminded me of some Chinese movie in which there was a tiny spot for mediation, perched up a high peak. But I would have to first climb down, and then up.
The mountain has interesting outline, now clearly visible in the early light of the day.
One passes through the place where Guru Gorakhnath lived. His story, some other day. I ask a sadhu about different colors of the Dhajas flapping in the strong wind, and he explains.
I move on, for a while afraid that despite my weight, I will be pushed aside or downhill by the strong wind. Of course, no such thing happens.
Finally, there is the second peak – after arduous climb up and down both ways, and I reach there. A small, minimalistic abode of sadhus who worship Dattatreya – the three-headed deity. His story, also, some other day.
I have no words to describe my experience or feelings. One has to take that journey to just – be there. It seemed like a tough test of my endurance, but I survive and come back.
Of course, not without eating Bhajiyas at the Ambaji temple. The shops are open now, and the number of people is increasing. Even at one o’clock in the afternoon, people were beginning to climb. I met a family who were planning to start their climb at 11:30 in the night. Well, this mountain never sleeps.
As soon as I come to the foot of the mountain, one man asks me if I wanted a massage. I ask him to follow me. In a few minutes, we are at Narsinh Dham, where I sit on a stone bench in the tender afternoon sun, and the man massages my lower legs. Half an hour of massage followed by another half an hour – or so it seemed – of hot water bath, and I am done for the day.
On my return trip, I take a left to turn on to the state highway passing through Surendranagar. It is much more rustic and hence scenic, but also 10 km longer. I took it and enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t take it again because the narrow breadth of the road slows me down.
Well, I think of many Pauranik stories I need to refresh as I hit back home to the family’s warm greeting, ‘Jay Girnar!!!’.