Quest for a Campsite

Posted By Author on October 17, 2009

I got up at 5 A.M. Took bath.  Baba told to get ready to shift immediately.  I had no dry clothes.  I put on wet clothes and by car came to stand.  Some of us went ahead by bus. Ramanidada and I were in the front seat.  Baba, Gita and Kalyani were on the back seat. At 7.15 A.M. the gate opened.  We enquired with one beggar about his health there. Alms were given.  He was jubilant to receive one rupee.  Probably for the first time he received that much amount in his life.  Owing to ecstasy he was unable to speak and answer Baba’s question.

We reached Rudraprayag at 11 P.M.  Our car was at the rear of the convoy and consequently we were smeared in dust.  We went to Inspection Bungalow.  There was no watchman or ‘khansama’ (caretaker). Kitchen was filthy.  Baba told me to draft a severe complaint about this.  He was seated on a parapet wall just above the water tap. The tap was jammed.  I tried to open it.  In the last try I held it between teeth and put full force.  Baba exclaimed, “Oh! No Suresh.  You are childish” and gave a hearty laughter.  Then I opened it with a spanner that I procured.  He told all others to rest there and hurriedly moved with Ramanidada and me in search of a campsite.  He reminded me to take towel as he intended to take bath on way.  We were three in the car and the driver was instructed to follow the road along the river Mandakini. It headed towards Kedarnath.

We crossed the famous Rundraprayag Bridge over the river Alaknanda.  I was simply thrilled to see the bridge.  This was the famous bridge described by Jim Corbett in his book ‘Man Eater of Rudraprayag’, the panther that devoured hundreds of men, women, and children.  We were heading towards Guptakashi.  On way Baba told me to note down five to six spots for camp.  Ultimately on 22nd mile on way to Okhimath and opposite Guptakashi a spot was finalized.  It was a small island in the bed of the river Mandakini guarded by five hundred feet high cliff on the north.  I got down and examined the approach road.  It was a footpath winding about two hundred feet below the motor road. Baba finalized the spot.

Then he showed me a school of Guptakashi across the valley.  He informed that Uttarakhand Vidyapith (University) was to be established there.  It fizzled out.  He told me that Prof. Iyyar was to become Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University but his appointment was cancelled in time. He further told that during his walk of India, Baba happened to dine at Iyyar.  He amusingly told me that he ate the most ever chillies in the food at his place.  We walked around and came to the car.  On way we drank water from a roadside spring.  Our driver was Sriram Nepali. Baba asked him how was the water.  He replied that milk of a city and this water was equal in strength.  On the contrary he remarked that spring water of the mountain was better.  We began our return journey at 3 P.M. At another spot we drank water of river Manadakini.  It was sweet.  The water was gushing in torrents and bath was impossible.  We took a wash and we returned to destination at Rudraprayag at 5 P.M. with absolutely empty stomach.  I took bath and then told Baba that I could not locate the mistake committed yesterday, which he had asked me to find out.  He said that yesterday I left him and went ahead and the crowd troubled him. I pointed out that he ordered me to fetch the car.  He admitted that in the process of thinking he forgot the order. He then told me to take food.  It was a delicious meal followed by fruits and milk.

After meal I had a discussion with Baba.  The question of camping arose.  He suggested that we would send our man to the District Magistrate and Divisional Forest Officer with an application for permission.  He told me to finalize account of the taxi and write a letter to Ramkrishnaji as directed by him.  He pitied my condition and told me to take rest. However, at that time doctor and Sub divisional magistrate of Okhimath Mr. Surendra Chandra Rastogi arrived and we had to vacate the occupied wing of the Inspection Bungalow. I talked with Mr.Rastogi and came to know that the selected spot was under his jurisdiction.  He said by law he could not allot the land but he suggested that we should apply and occupy the place. He would delay the order and file it.  I narrated the talk to Baba.

Then in the evening me and Baba were talking by ourselves. He said that I should be ready to perform real ‘sadhana’. He augured that if I wanted to be a poet or a politician I would be a good poet and politician.  I said I was least interested in politics. Once I aspired to be a politician but after seeing the polluted politics and degenerated leaders I made an about turn.  He remarked that even politics would have to be divinised.  Ramanidada joined us. He told me in Baba’s presence that he needed different cars for a convoy.  He stressed that Baba’s car would be Rolls Royce.  Then there would be two more cars for Baba. In one there would be a kitchen and in another arrangement of bath.  He was confident that one day that would be achieved.

The Medical officer was Bengali and when in the adjacent suit they came to know that Baba was of Shaulmari Ashram was staying there, they became curious and the name of Netaji could be heard.

Ramanidada waked me up at 5 A.M. and told that Baba had summoned me.  I told Baba as to how all arrangement of permission of the camp was made already.  I said there was no need to move around.  He told me to take Ramprasadji and Haribandhu to campsite for preparation.  We had no time for a cup of tea. At 6.30 A.M. we caught first bus to Guptakashi.  We got down at Kunda Chatti, a place where road bifurcates to Okhimath.  The settlement of Guptakashi was three miles away on top of the mountain.  We began our walk.  Lost the track and again regained it.  Accidentally we met a forest guard, a young boy named Hukumsingh.  I requested him to fulfill our need of timber to construct huts.  He agreed to provide it but the next day.  I finalized the deal.  Haribandhu and Ramprasadji went ahead to a village next to Guptakashi to fix purchase of a milking cow but newborn calf was a must.  Unless calf drank milk Baba would not accept it.  I reached alone at Vidyapith (school). There I was lucky to meet lecturer Mr.Pratapsingh, M.A. in Geography, my own discipline. I had lunch with him.  He did not allow me to pay for lunch. Other teachers were discussing about Kashmir problem and expressed their concern about entry of Mujahidins. I assured them they need not worry and that future of India was bright.  They told me that one Maharashtrian boy from Satara was living in Agastya Muni.

I left Guptakashi Vidyapith and straight-headed one thousand feet below to the bank of Mandakini.  There was no footpath and my feet and legs were bleeding due to cross-country short cut.  My colleagues were on the opposite bank. Shomu rushed on the other bank. The distance between us was thirty feet.  The river water was waist deep rushing through huge boulders.  I thought I would cross by jumping over boulder to boulder.  I came midway and the current there though narrow was very forceful. It was impossible to cross it.  Shomu shouted to go back.  While returning I fell in waist-high water but it was calm.  I reached back to the starting point.  The site of Ashram was thirty feet across the river and to reach it I would be required to climb one thousand feet, cross the bridge, walk five miles and descend another one thousand feet.  So crossing the river became tempting to save trouble.  I walked along the bank towards the source.  At places vertical cliff touched the water. I wondered how I could cross it by clutching crevices.  Then about a mile ahead was a silent pool of water about forty feet across.

I took off my clothes, Bhagvatgita and watch and held it high in left hand.  I entered the pool.  Water was ice cold.  On backside I swam hardly ten feet.  I could not swim by one hand and seemingly silent water had force underneath. I had to lower down left hand and clothes were below water. I made about turn and was relieved when feet touched the bottom.  The boulders were slippery due to moss and after tumbling down many times I climbed up the bank.  Back to square one. I accepted defeat by the Mandakini.  The Kosi already taught me how to wisely accept defeat. I came just opposite the Ashram’s camp.  Twenty feet distance was so tempting that all boys and girls began to shout that I should cross the river. I refused and climbed the mountain.  Hearing the shouts Baba came.  He called me.  I had to get down again.  Then from twenty feet across the river, he said I was too clever to know the rivers of the Himalayas. He ordered to go up and cross the bridge.  I climbed up six hundred feet and sat in the canteen of Vidyapith.

I found Haribandhu sitting alone with a mourning face as if he just came from a funeral.  I laughed seeing his condition.  I offered him a cup of tea.  Ramprasadji, he informed was sleeping in the adjoining temple.  The three of us began our march to Okhimath.  We were to climb further high and tread long distance.  My legs were shaking due to over exertion. On way we cam across a house under construction where we bargained and fixed a mason.  We reached the main road above the campsite.  I told both of my colleagues to proceed to camp down below.  I walked up to village Chunni and met Shyamlal Pradhan.

Baba was thinking of taking a rented house for cow and others.  Shyamlal’s son Ramprasad showed the house and told that next day I should accompany him to tahsil to register my name and address.  He said they had to be very particular about spies.  He promised to offer timber and ‘tadpatri’ (sheet of resin-cloth) for Ashram.  I descended on the road and took rest. I was to descend two hundred feet more to the site. I had some photos of Gods and big bottle of ‘ghee’. Twice I slipped but luckily nothing broke including me.  I reached the camp in one piece.

Baba told me to complete payment of taxi but seeing my condition he pitied me and asked me to take rest for ten minutes. I refused.  I climbed up. The milometer showed 842 miles and our maximum calculation showed 640 miles. The driver agreed. I paid extra Rs.15 per night halt and tip of Rs.50. Then I paid Motisingh extra one month’s salary as compensation for accident.  He was satisfied. I descended.  The Medical Officer I met yesterday sent his assistants to collect required information.  I furnished it in writing.  I was about to take rest and Baba summoned.

The island’s one course of river was dry.  Baba forecasted that it would be flooded in rainy season and hence construction of bridge was indispensable. We examined the possibility. He proposed to construct pillars in the dry bed.  I opined that deep digging would be needed for firm foundation.  He agreed.  The ropeway was the only possibility and he agreed.  While examining the dry bed he saw human excreta.  He assembled all and rebuked and gave hygienic rules. Beyond dry bed there was a flourmill run on water that flowed through canal of the river. It is locally known as ‘Gharat.’  The area was a small plain.  I proposed the camp there and told that guarding from all sides would be possible. He said people coming to ‘Gharat’ (flourmill) would cause nuisance.  Moreover, he needed rhythm of cascading water of the river for concentration, which was absent there. We returned to the island.  On a flat big boulder I spread my bed and fell asleep.

However, I was immediately called by Baba.  It was pitch dark.  He spread his mat below a tree just on the bank of the river.  The sound of the cascade was so loud that both of us had to shout to talk.  Logs were being lit before him.  He pointed out that Sriram driver was dishonest.  He moved the milometer and squeezed hundred rupees extra.  He gave a sermon, “Suresh, human psychology is different to understand.  If someone does good thing, do not form the opinion that he is a good man and if someone does bad, he is not necessarily a bad man. Man is a combination of both.  Whatever he sees in others first, he assumes that to be the type.”  It was true and a good lesson for me indeed.  I was assuming Sriram to be a good and honest person.  Baba instructed that next morning we would look after us and he was not certain as to when he would get up and come out. I returned. Showed magic to girls, gulped khichari and slept.  At midnight it was so cold that I had to pull over all available clothes and bed sheets.

Got up at dawn. Finished ablutions.  Baba called me urgently.  He told me to go to the owner of the neighboring hydro-flourmill and enquire whether  our island was ever covered with water during floods and whether the dry stream could be fordable during the rainy season. The owner told me that there was no danger up to 15th of June and I narrated the same to Baba.  Ramprasadji had gone ahead to bring timber.  I was also to go to the tahsil office to get a permit for the timber.

I started at 8.30 A.M. Reached village Chunni where Shyamlal Pradhan’s son in law accompanied me.  At 10 A.M. I met Ramprasadji, Shyamlalji and Narendra (Ramkrishnaji’s son) near the tahsil office.  Okhimath was on a good height and my legs gave away.  We were told that the S.D.M. would come at 3 P.M. to the office.  We made an about turn.  We took ‘darshan’ of the God in the majestic temple of Okhimath.  During winter Kedarnath’s idol is brought here every year for daily rituals. At midday we had snacks and began downward journey. Fortunately S.D.M. met on way and I projected our problems. He said by law he was unable to give permit for timber.  However, he would touch his tahsildar to help us and requested to attend at 3 P.M. I was in the foot of Sherpa Tensingh.  To go down and climb back seven hundred feet was an awful proposition. Day’s total would have been 1500 feet.  With Narendra I climbed back to Tahsil and whiled away time.  At 2.30 P.M.clerk Bhagawatiprasad arrived in his room.  He saw many papers, rules and regulations but everything came in our way and by law it was forbidden to issue us a permit.  He agreed to give timber from forest panchayat quota but pointed out that it was at a great height from where it would be very difficult to bring timber.  Then he suggested that if villagers did not object we might pluck timber illegally.  He warned that there were two political factions at daggers drawn.  Shyamlal was leader of the group in power and Narayansingh was opposition leader. With clerk I called upon Narayansingh.  He let out his steam in the name of Shyamlal Pradhan.  (Pradhan was the title of head of the elected councilor of a village).  He graciously promised that he would not object and indicated spots for good timber.  He expressed his desire to see Baba next day.  I assured him.  We returned to the camp at 4.30 P.M.

Baba had shifted his destination from under the tree to the northern edge of the island adjacent to river and thirty feet above water. He was upset because someone took away his medicinal clay.  He was angry and told that he was suffering. He hinted that Ratan would be required to go to Radhakant’s house at Kaithi and prepare fresh clay. He was cooking his own food.  I took bath, as per rules and called upon him. I apprised him the day’s development.  I tied a pipe on two boulders and spread a ‘tadpatri’ for a temporary shed. Then he sent me to take food.  At 6 P.M. it began raining.  Baba’s belongings were getting wet. I requested him to shift below the temporary shed.  Together we moved and he found out a big boulder with three feet wide with recess below it.  I cleaned it and brought in sand and leveled the floor.  He sneaked below it and it was barely enough for him to lie down.  I was sure that even in heavy rain Baba would remain unscathed. He told me to leave.  My clothes were wet.  I rushed to the tent that was pitched already.  It was queer.  Within no time the sky became clear and stars were twinkling.  Others went outside to sleep.  I preferred the tent.

Got up early to work. The hired labourers arrived and the work was distributed.  Baba was displeased.  He suggested we take a rented house at Guptakashi. What would only two laborers do?  He expressed that at least ten more were needed.  I told him that I will make the arrangements.  He agreed.  By midday ten laborers and four boys joined the work. The structures of Baba’s, Ramanidada’s and our hutments were erected.  We got a some ringles and grass. Ringles are a type of reed used locally for tying poles.  We covered Ramanidada’s hut with roof of ‘tadpatri’ and ours with bamboo mat.  Baba inspected everything and retired to his alcove.  He called me alone.  He was sitting in front of the cave on his reed mat. I cleaned newspapers and gave it to him. It was an unforgettable sight.  A man who could have rolled in power and riches was living in a cave.  His physical endurance, long fasts and stamina were amazing. It seemed he was really a springing tiger inborn. (Springing tiger was emblem of the INA flag). He gave me two oranges and permitted to retire.  I came to our hut took food and slept.  It looked like rain.  At night the wind was so strong that our roof blew away.  Ratan had gone to Rudraprayag to receive Radhakantji but the latter did not turn up. During day Ashramites were not working and hence Baba chastised them but even then men like Shubir shirked the work. Before he retired Baba instructed Ramprasad to go to Kanpur next morning along with Haridas and Narendra. Haridas would return with Ghee. Sandwiched between gusts of cold winds and intermittent showers I snatched naps.

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