The trip to Rishikesh, which many of the Yatris undertook during the break of five days, was one most would cherish for the longest time. Haridwar, on the way, was all decked up for the Ardh Kumbh which falls during Shivaratri, a very auspicious day for ritual bath. Rishikesh was busy as usual with many tourists from abroad as well. The Shivaratri and the International Yoga Festival held there from 1st to 7th March helped swell the numbers. Many yatris went up the hill to have Darshan at the Nilkant Mandir, which meant a hard trek along a steep but well-trodden path.
A couple of kilometers up the forest trail to the temple is the Mauni Baba cave which finds mention in Sri M's autobiography. The young ascetics in charge of the cave were kind enough to permit the yatris inside and that too inside the inner caves, where very few seem to be allowed. The yatris tried visualising scenes from the autobiography – Maheswarnath Babaji and Sri M inside the Mauni Baba cave, the incidents from the rogue elephant story etc. The ascetics regaled the yatris with stories of Mauni Baba, the wildlife around and about Sri Chandji whose idol is worshipped inside the cave. Sri Chandji was the son of Guru Nanak and the founder of the Udasi sect.
Afternoon was spent on the Ganga riverbank. Many accompanied the senior Satsangis to the cave on the banks of Ganga where Sri M and his Baba meditated for long periods of time. Now, the cave has been taken over by the forest department and given to sadhus. The hall and buildings where the first Retreat was held was also another place of interest.
On the next day, all padayatris left by a minibus and tempo traveller to Vasishta Guha. The road is serpentine and gives a good view of the Ganga from different angles. The Vasishta Guha where Sage Vasishta is supposed to have meditated and lived with his wife Arundhati, and the nearby Arundhati cave are maintained by a trust headed by Sri Chaitanyananda. Sri Chaitanyanada is an octogenarian and is a disciple of Sri Purushothamanada, who was a direct student of Sri Rama Krishna Paramahansa. Interestingly, how he took care of Sri M's injured and blistered feet while on his maiden Himalayan trek, finds mention in the autobiography. Yatris meditated for some time in both the caves and some had dips in the pristine waters of Ganga.
By the time it was evening, most had settled into places of their choice to celebrate the Shivaratri. The two of the most adventurous, trekked to the Mauni Baba cave and spent the night in the cave – savouring the smells, darkness and sounds of the forest, even coming within the trunk span of a lone tusker!
A few lit a dhuni in the premises of the Punjab and Sindh kshetra and kept the vigil. Others spent the night at Divine Life Society, founded by Swami Sivananda where Shivaratri is a very structured and solemn celebration, ending with a multi-course breakfast at 4.00 am!
On their way back, yatris had time for a quick dip at the Har ki Pauri, the most auspicious spot for ritual bath in Haridwar. They had a quick breakfast at the famous Mohan Puriwala's and, then it was return journey for the yatris. They could not thank the senior Satsangis enough for organising such a smooth and eventful trip as this.
The morning saw the yatris move from the Vijay Vallabh Smarak Jain Mandir by bus to Karnal. Called the Rice Bowl of India, Karnal was also known as Karnaal, Kurnaul or Karnaul during the British Raj. It is said to have been founded by Karna, a key figure in the Mahabharata tale.
The Haryana - Phase 2 team swung into action at Namastey Chowk with a brief function after which the walk commenced. After a short walk, the padayatris reached their place of stay and settled down for the day.