Instagram made #vacaymode popular and cool. The hashtag has numerous images of people in exotic locations around the world. Most of these locations are nestled in nature, and seem dream-like. This phenomenon of travelling on the ‘road less travelled’ isn’t new, even if we might think so.
The idea of travel has always been one that is glorified in Indian culture. We called #vacaymode tirth yatras or spiritual journeys. And on these journeys, one cannot simply be a tourist or a traveller, one becomes a seeker.
Travel is an opportunity to look within, reflect and be grateful for all that one is blessed with. It is an opportunity to immerse oneself in nature and feel the presence of something more powerful than just one’s mind.
My trip to Kedarnath, started like an Instagram travel hashtag but transformed into a tirth yatra by the end of it. As I climbed the emerald green mountains of the Himalayas and walked towards the snow capped peaks of Kedar, a sense of devotion found its way to my heart.
‘How?’ you ask? I started the journey thinking how hard could a sixteen km walk be? After all, I was a seasoned yogi, healthy and doing pranayama every single day. Boy, was I wrong. After the first two kilometres, the altitude took its toll. The climb felt impossible and the bag on my shoulder felt like it weighed fifty kilos – even though it was only ten.
As my ego crumbled, climbing this simple stretch of sixteen kms (which honestly felt like a 100) , I watched in awe as people much older than me climbed the mountain with a prayer on their lips, a smile in their eyes and devotion in their hearts. It did not look like a strain at all for them; yet for me, it felt like a big one.
My teacher had always taught me to ‘finish strong’ and though the climb seemed arduous, I knew I had to keep going. When the distractions faded away, in the silence of my mind, a prayer came to my lips. ‘Om Namah Shivaya… Om Namah Shivaya’, I chanted again and again and again. I told myself, take a step and say the mantra – He will carry you through. I stopped and started a million times and took seven long hours BUT He really did carry me through.
As I reached the top of the mountain and found my room, my mind was exhausted and my chest hurt a little. I crashed on the bed, thinking I would nap for a little while. But I was too cold to even sleep. I lay looking at the top of my bunk bed, cold, freezing but happy to be alive. My mind wandered back to the myriad people that walked up this mountain in both shock and awe. How did they build a temple up here I thought? How could they? What mental resolve would it have taken? So many questions – all asked in silence.
After lying on my bed for half an hour and overthinking, I decided I would make my way to the temple. I woke up and walked to the bathroom. As I opened the tap and the ice cold water fell on my hands, I panicked. How would I shower?
I took a deep breath and said my Om Namah Shivaya and miraculously the water started to feel a little warm. They had a heater! It just worked slowly. I thanked my lucky stars and showered in scalding hot water, so I could feel alive again. I dressed in five layers, still came out of our room feeling cold. I checked my phone and understood why – it was - 4 degrees in Kedar that evening.
– Helen Keller