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It was past mid-day when I reached the small temple dedicated to the guardian deity of the hills. He is Karuppusamy sporting a long moustache, his stretched right hand holding a sword and body decked with ornaments. The journey was tiring and I had trekked over five hours from the base camp. A half an hour climb lay ahead to the top of the hill.
Three hours into the trek, I had stopped at a cave dedicated to Goraknath. The cave was naturally cool and its stillness and energy difficult to describe. A perfect place to meditate in nature. The profound hatha yogi Goraknath meditated in the cave.
A natural stream was running adjacent to the Karuppusamy temple and I decided to take a dip in its cool waters. As I stepped in the waters, numerous tiny fishes circled my legs and bit my feet. This was nature’s way to provide a tickling and soothing massage for the tiring feet.
As I immersed myself in the surrounding, I noticed a Sadhu in squatted position on a huge rock in front of me. He was in his forties with matted hair and a healthy physique. The sadhu keenly observed my activities for some time before he got up and walked towards the spring.
He stood beside me pointing his right hand towards the naturally dripping water through the rocks and his left hand pulling the saffron colored cloth wrapped around his waist. With the loincloth intact in his body, he seemed to enjoy the tiny fishes biting his feet in the cool waters.
I attempted to start a conversation with him curious to know about his life. He looked at me and said he will meet me in top of the hill after two hours. At the top of the hill amidst the dense forest is a temple dedicated to the very first yogi and the one who put the first thoughts of yoga in the human mind. The sadhu asked me to visit the yogi who is omnipresent since the beginning of time and not to miss the lunch served adjacent to the temple.
I continued my journey as I started to ascend the hill. It took over forty-five minutes to reach the peak and I sat down to meditate in the powerful space.
As I got up and walked, I was greeted by a bunch of busy monkeys. The monkey tribes provide you constant company from the base camp all along the trek. A shed adjacent to the main complex serves free food throughout the day. I walked into the shed to enjoy the simple food and relaxing atmosphere.
Outside the shed, the sadhu was promptly waiting for me sitting in squatted position puffing a beedi. He greeted me as I sat down next beside him. There was a long pause before I began the conversation.
“Tell me about yourself. Where are you from?”
The Sadhu preferred to converse in broken English.
“I am a Naga Sadhu from Rishikesh. I come down south to visit this hill every two years. I am leaving tomorrow to Ujjain for the Kumbh mela where I will meet my guru”
I continued to enquire. “why did you become an ascetic?”.
“It is a long story”, he said. “I never believed in god nor in spirituality until I was 22 years old. I never visited temples and wasn’t interested in any rituals”.
He continued after a pause.
“I was 22 years old. During a summer, I had come down all alone to these hills for some fun and trekking. I had trekked for eight hours and lost my way. I was tired and exhausted looking for directions. It was getting darker and I was extremely worried”.
“As luck would have it, I saw three men at a distance. I frantically shouted and waved at them. They turned and walked towards me. As they came closer, I could guess they were in the late forties. I explained my situation to them. They said I had a long way to go and asked me to follow them”
“I followed them as they walked. The men were highly energetic and I was struggling to keep the pace”.
“I enquired about their age. I was shocked and could not believe when one of them said he was 90 years old and the others in their eighties. Being one-fourth their age, I was struggling to walk at half their pace”.
“Seeing my plight, they stopped and pointed me to a tree. One of them asked me to walk to the tree and pluck some leaves. I promptly followed their instructions and came back with handful of leaves. I was instructed to pick 4-5 leaves and chew. The leaves were slightly bitter and I chewed”
“As I gulped the pulp down my throat, I could sense a spurt of energy in my body. I felt totally refreshed. To my amazement, the men told me that I will not be able to find the tree again. The tree is visible to those who are in the path”.
“I was very curious and enquired about them. The eldest one said they were disciples of Agastya Muni and I was lucky to have encountered them. This totally baffled me”.
“For the next two hours I walked briskly keeping to their pace as I continued to inquire. I had a number of questions about life, religion and spirituality. I am not going to go through the questions and answers with you. However, I would like to say that their response was enlightening and I felt a sudden transformation”.
“I asked them, where is Agastya Muni?”
“They stopped and pointed me towards a cave. An old woman was standing at the entrance and invited me inside. It was a pitch dark cave. She gave me a lamp and asked me to go inside. I nervously walked inside holding the lamp making my way into the darkness. Within few yards, the cave opened into a larger space”.
“The larger space was lit. I saw a man in sixties with a long white beard and white robes. He was of normal height. I could feel the divine energy around him as I stood in front of him with folded hands”.
“He introduced himself as Agastya. He did not talk much and indicated to me that my journey is about to begin. He asked me to go to the Himalayas for self-transformation. He immediately asked me to leave”.
“I hurriedly came out. The old women and the men outside were not to be seen”.
“This is it, I decided. I took a train to Varanasi the following week and spent time in the city for two months before I reached Rishikesh. I met my guru in Rishikesh who initiated me into the Naga sect in the Giri order. I became an ascetic”.
“I roamed in the Himalayas for the next 15 years. I had numerous encounters with wild animals but they would never harm me. It was a divine experience and very difficult to explain. I come down south every two years to this place I revere where I met Agastya muni”.
I enjoyed the conversation with the Naga Sadhu and his experience. I have grown up listening to stories of Agastya muni. His tales go back to as old as 15,000 years. He accomplished what others would have taken several life times.
I was ready to leave. The Naga sadhu opened his yellow bag and gave me a handful of ladoos. A bunch of monkeys surrounded him and he did not disappoint them. He said the monkeys will keep me company along my way as I started my descent down the hill.
My Journey to Chaturagiri in the western ghats during April 2016.