The summer of May, 2006 was quite a surprise. It was not so hot as it usually is in Delhi. So we delayed our departure to the hills by a month. In the meantime, I was exploring the possibility of going to Gomukh if things could be put in place before the starting of June. But that was not to be. During summer months, places like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gomukh and Gangotri get so crowded because of religious sanctity attached to these places, it becomes almost impossible for people like us to visit these places in complete silence and enjoy the nature.
However, another desire of mine was to visit Mayavati, a place sanctified by Swami Vivekananda, and stay for a few days, if possible, to feel the spiritual atmosphere of that place.
In this case also our planning had to face choppy weather but fortunately ended with a happy note. Shivani, our daughter, fell sick just a week before the day of departure. She had fever, cough and cold. Till the last two days it was almost certain that our planned visit might have to be cancelled. We were demoralized. But to our surprise, Shivani recovered from her fever. We decided to go ahead with the programme considering the clean air of the hills that would help her recover faster than remaining in polluted Delhi.
Experiencing the heat in the 2nd class sleeper couch during our 2004 trip, we booked our ticket in 2nd AC to keep the Delhi heat at bay. It was an e-ticket printed at home. I wonder at the marvel of science that enabled us today to book Rly. tickets sitting at home.
Finally the 12th June dawned. In the meantime, Krishna (my wife) packed our rucksacks with warm clothings and other essential items. Just to be sure that the train was right on time I called up the Rly enquiry number and to my horror it said that the train was starting at 9.55 p.m. It was already 9.05 p.m. and Delhi station from our place is about 45 minutes drive. I had thought of carrying our recently acquired Telescope to the hills for which I got made proper carrying bags but for the announcement advancing the time of departure of train almost by an hour, I dropped the idea. I felt frustrated to go without the Telescope. I have been imagining how nicely we could see the night sky from Munsyari and Chokori with this telescope and finally it had to be dropped.
We all were tight lipped in the cab till we reached the station. As the time was running out I wanted to hire a coolie to carry our luggage. He told us that the train was coming at 10.40 p.m. as scheduled and that the train started from Sarali Rohila station at 9.55 p.m. We were immediately relieved of the tension but again I felt doubly frustrated for not carrying the telescope.
It was a hot evening but the train gracefully steamed into the station within few minutes putting a stop to our worry. We located our compartment and with little adjustment we all got our berths close by. It was quite comfortable inside the Air-Conditioned coach and very soon we forgot the hassles we experienced a few minutes before. The train started and we enjoyed the cool weather inside and very soon fell asleep.
We reached Kathgodam station at 6.15 in the morning of 13th June, 2006. Our programme was to go to Lohaghat about 165 km. from Kathgodam. I estimated the cost of hiring a car would be around Rs. 1600/- but we found they were claiming Rs. 3500/-, Rs. 2,500/- etc. I had to politely decline such offers. We went out of the station and looked for a cheaper one and finally found a car at Rs. 2000/-. Although it was little above our budget estimate, we finally gave in and headed for Lohaghat. The road to Lohaghat was through Bhimtal, Padampuri, Dhanchuli, Sahar Phatak, Devidhura and it had sharp turn at every minute. It was really an exhaustive drive. Lohaghat is at a height of 1700 m above sea level and an important point near Mayavati Ashram (1940m) and Abbot Mount (2001m). Our guest house at Lohaghat had a good view of the thickly tall trees all around. We reached just before 12.00 O'clock and were allotted a room with a view. The room was quite big with attached bath. I could do my daily exercises inside the room, it was that big. The discordant note was that the maintenance was poor. As we were very tired we ordered for a hot cup of tea for all. The weather was just right. We refreshed ourselves through hot water bath. By 2 p.m. we had our lunch and sat in the sun for some time. There was another family staying at the guest house who hailed from Allahabad. It was a joint family and the grand parents were very loving and caring. We enjoyed their companionship during our two days at Lohaghat. Mr. and Mrs. Kohli would be always available at the guest house enjoying its quietness and looking at the mountains around. I found Mr. Kohli quite knowledgeable in respect of scientific and general information of the day.
After rest in the afternoon we had a cup of tea and went out for a walk. Shivani, was not keeping very well so we had to satisfy ourselves with the local landscape. The night sky was a bit cloudy so we could not see as many stars as we expected to. For the next day programme to Mount Abbhot and Mayavati we confirmed a jeep for Rs. 900/-. The rate was quite high.
Early in the morning of 14th June, I got up at 3.30 a.m. instead of 4.30 a.m. I saw the watch and it was 4.30 a.m.! It was my mistake to see the hour hand at 4.30 when it was really 3.30 p.m. After my wash I could do some exercises as there was plenty of time before our scheduled programme at 5.30 a.m. The Jeep came at 5.40 a.m. by the time we all were ready to go. The early morning breeze was so nice but a bit cold. We headed for Mount Abbhot. The road to the Abbot Mount is a spiral and steep one with lovely scene all around. Suddenly you reach a plateau where one can play football or cricket. The view from the top, I suppose, on clear days should be exhilarating having full circle view. The sun rise and the Icy Himalayan view could have been visible if things were really clear. I would like to suggest visitors to visit this point only during Oct-Nov and again March-April when the sky remains clear. It was quite cold there early in the morning. I think that was the place where Krishna, my wife, caught cold and we all suffered because of her fever later.
From this place we went back to our guest house to have breakfast. Krishna & Shivani had bath and were ready for breakfast. In the meantime, I basked in the early morning sun and enjoyed listening to the chirping of birds.
After breakfast our next destination was Mayavati Ashram. This is about 11 k.m. from our guest house. This is the only Ashram of Sri Ramakrishna Brotherhood where no formal worshipping takes place and there are no idol to worship either unlike other centres. For a long time I had a longing to visit this place. The location is wonderful amid thick forest commanding a grand view of the Himalayas (unfortunately the summer time- May/June remains cloudy). It is situated at a height of 1940m. This place had a special attraction for me because Swami Vivekananda stayed at this Ashram for 14 days from 3rd January to 17th January, 1901 when it was mostly raining, or snowing. Only for 2 or 3 days the weather was little better and he could take a walk by the lake (now a volleyball court).
One day, walking by the lake with Mrs. Saviour and others, he said to her,"In the latter part of my life, I shall give up all public work and pass my days in writing books and whistling merry tunes by this lake, free as a child!" What a wonderful personality he had, I could imagine standing by the side of this apparent lake.
The Library room where Swamiji stayed during his sojourn at Mayavati has been converted into a Meditation Hall. I was thrilled to enter the room as if he were present there. The fire place which warmed him once remained a mute witness to his presence. If only the books, the fireplace could narrate to us the tale of his dynamic presence! What a difference could it make to the visitors of this wonderful place!
We sat in the room quietly for sometime. I was thinking how fortunate these books in the library are. These could see the history in the making. Although physically a very little change has been effected and maintained to present a view of the room as it looked during Swamiji's visit, in reality more than a century flew by. If I knew the art of freezing time, we could have met him here, in this room. What a miracle it would have been! After paying my obeisance to this great spiritual leader, I stepped out of the room remembering his message of fearlessness. The blooming flowers in the well laid out garden was another illustration of love for the nature of the inmates. I took a walk in the garden and marvelled at the glory of that Supreme that helped create this beautiful nature. There I happened to meet one visitor who frequents this place to enjoy the serene and sombre atmosphere of the Ashram. He took me to the lake where Swamiji used to take a walk by it. I also visited the place where Swami Swarupananda used to meditate. Mrs. Saviour got him a netted structure to keep leopards or such animals at bay so that Swami Swarupananda, the first president of Mayavati, could meditate without any disturbance.
As photography inside the Math premises was prohibited, I went to the book stall and found a copy of the awakened India January 1999 issue. This issue was dedicated to the story and history of Mayavati with a special coverage given on the visit of Swamiji. This issue is indeed a marvelous collection of writings and gives you in details the evolution of Mayavati Ashram through the century and how the baton was passed on to the Presidents of this ashram.
We had to leave Mayavati Ashram reluctantly as the closing time was closing in. We thought of spending substantial time at Mayavati but the administrative limitation did not permit us to do so. However, what we experienced there would remain with us for ever and ever.
How to reach Mayavati Ashram: There are two routes, one goes through Kathgodam and the other one is through Tanakpur via Barielly and Pilibhit. From Kathgodam one can take a car and it takes about 4 and half hours to reach Mayavati. Or from tanakpur there are regular buses going through Lohaghat. From Lohaghat one can take a shared jeep (9 km.) up to Mayavati Ashram. For details see the wesbite : Website: www.advaitaashrama.org
A visit to Mayavati Ashram
My second visit to Mayavati Ashram was in the year 2008 March 8. After our visit to Shyamlatal, the spiritual retreat center of Vivekananda Ashram where we stayed for 2 days and we left on the 3rd day early morning for Sukhidang. From this stop we took a bus upto Lohaghat. As it was time for lunch my friend Kameshwar Rao wanted to have it before undertaking the 9 km trek to Mayavati Ashram. Both of us had some light lunch and were ready for the trek. As soon as we crossed over the Lohawati river to the other side the view changed dramatically. The tall debdaru trees both side of the road gave a heavenly sight as if to welcome the visitors to the above of God - Mayavati ashram. We walked all the way devouring the natures' unspoilt beauty stopping on the way at times for a more closer look where the nature looked wonderful.
After about 3 hours we reached the Ashram and met a Swami ji for accommodation. He wanted to confirm that we had a confirmation letter. on seeing the email confirmation we were sent to the guest house with a young boy and we were told to come for a cup of tea and snacks. When Swami ji came to know that we came from Lohaghat walking he wondered that we could take such a strenous journey at such an advanced stage. My friend was 60 and I am 55. After settling in the guest house room we went up the dinning hall for tea. It was very refreshing and we had two helpings.
Swami ji advised us to stick to the timings for food and also informed us that after dinner there will be a satsang in the library room. This is the very room where Swami Vivekananda stayed during his sojourn in 1901. We went out for a sight seeing whatever could be seen before the sun set for the day. At 7.30 p.m. the bell rang for dinner and we had to hurry up to reach the dinning hall. It was a verty homely food and served with warmth. From 8 to 8.30 there was a reading from a book on Sri Ramakrishna. As soon as we went out in the open the silence of the place enveloped us and the power of the place made us feel its dynamic spiritual potency. This place is perfect for 'Tapas'
Next day we paid a visit to Dharampur, a place on the hill where a meditation hall has been built. Swami Vivekananda liked this place and many of the Ramakrishna Math Swamijis do come here to meditate. From this location one can see the Mayavati ashram below and the 360 degree view of the Himalayan range. We stayed there for an hour meditation and looking around. There were many Rodendron trees with its red flowers in bloom. Life in such a remote location seems to be out of the world. It helps an individual to find oneself.
After lunch we had a good rest and arond 4.30 p.m. went up to the dinning hall for a cup of tea. We wanted to see the place where Capt. Saviour's, the person along with his wife dedicated themselves to build up the Mayavati ashram, last rites were performed. Swami ji advised us to visit that place next day morning as it was quite down through winding path and is not safe. But we were determined and went on our way and did visit the place and came back just when it was dusk.
Next day we visited some of the nearby places like goshala, the meditation spot where Swami Swarupananda used to meditate, the health center, the Mother's house (Mrs. Saviour) and cultivated land etc. Mayavati is a place where you can tune yourself with nature, catch up with your reading or writing or just listen to the chiraping of the birds or follow the whisling sound of the wind. Our two days of stay was coming to an end as next day morning after breakfast we were scheduled to leave.
Before leaving we gave our paultry contribution to the Ashram's fund and asked for those two sticks that we used while going for trekking. We wishes were granted by the Senior Swami. We left the Ashram with a heavy heart thinking to go back again sometime in future.