India Dreaming
Accounts of previous tours to India by Sundaram



Part One: Into The Hills


Dear Friends & Devotees........ Jai Bhagavan!


We have been back in Encinitas for a little over a week now, (note: this was written in mind-December, 2004), after a truly amazing 2 1/2 months in India. So many wonderful experiences, holy places, saints & so many little miracles. More than anything else, this pilgrimage really brought us closer to our Gurudeva & more & more appreciative of who he is & what he has done (& is doing!) for all of us!


The group portion of our yatra (pilgrimage) began with a kirtan in Delhi with our dear friend of many years, Swami Nirvanananda, the “singing monk from Italy.”. Due to our departure delay, Shivani (Hilary) & I missed out on that kirtan, arriving just after it was over. Swamiji did leave us a copy of his beautiful new CD, "Prema Mata," however. The next morning we all left by our chartered bus for the Himalayan foothills. There were 12 of us. We camped the first night just outside Ramnagar, near Corbett Park National Wildlife Reserve. In the late afternoon we walked through the forest & along the river to the Girija Mata Mandir, on a hill in the middle of the river. We did some kirtan & meditation there on a platform at the river bank, & had darshan of the deity. As it was getting dark, & having been warned about leopards, a young man with a motorcycle accompanied us as we made our way back thru the forest. The next morning some of our group rode an elephant thru the park in search of tigers. None were to be found that day, although one of our groups did find a very large python that had just killed a small dear. (O dear!)


After leaving Corbett Park we drove thru the awe-inspiring hills to beautiful Almora (about 7-hours). The next morning we visited an old friend, Richard Russo, a devotee of Baba Hari Das, from America, who retired & built a house on a hilltop in Almora. His health is good now & he seemed very happy. The day we came to visit he was having his tabla lesson. His house is on a hill overlooking the Almora valley -- very beautiful & picturesque, with incredible views of Nanda Devi & other Himalayan peaks on clear days. After leaving Almora around noon, we drove to Chokori, another 7-hours, at an elevation of over 9000 feet. This was the base camp, so to speak, for our visit to the famous Patal Bhuvaneswar caverns: “Shiva's abode in the earth”. This was our second visit there, & it is very impressive, yet we were disappointed not to have been able to meditate more in the cave. for there is now a 1-hour time limit for visitors. Patal Bhuvaneswar is mentioned in the Skanda Purana as being the holiest place of earth, or so we are told. Viswakarma, the divine archetect, built a kund (bathing tank) for the Pandava brothers to use when they lived in the cave for 6-months. Many of the stalagtite & stalagmite formations are naturally formed in the shape of some of the Hindu deities. "Shiva's Hair" is particularly impressive. In the 8th. Century, Adi Shankaracharya installed a copper plate around the Shiva lingam in the cave, which is still there.


Our next stop was the YSS Dwarahat Ashram, where we stayed on retreat for 4-days, including a pilgrimage to the cave of Mahavatar Babaji & a visit with Swamis Achalananda & Devananda from America, & Swami Nirvanananda from YSS. We had a special evening kirtan with Swami Devanandaji & Brahmachari Acyutananda from YSS, who is classically trained in bhajan singing & an excellent mrdangam player. There was also a special cultural program by the YSS school children presented for the visiting swamis from America that was just delightful. It was choreographed and produced by Acyutanandaji.



Part 2: Badri & Beyond