Pre-planning stage prior to pilgrimage – Yeashivana Mahadeo
The thought of the India trip first came about sometime in June, 2014, and from that moment the ball started rolling and that was the main discussion among the prospective travelers. As the travel dates were confirmed and more information was given about the places we will be visiting, the list of names began to grow. When my mom first told me about the trip, I had split emotions because on one hand it would be nice to visit the place where my ancestors are from, and on the other, I would be missing school and catching up with schoolwork wouldn’t be easy. I immediately made my decision to forget about school for 2 weeks, after I heard that my mandir friends and their family would also be going. Thankfully Guruji wrote a letter for us to give to our teachers as to why we would not be attending school for two weeks, and this was sufficient. Many of my teachers were very impressed about me going on a pilgrimage; one was so excited for me, that he asked if I was going to visit the Ganges. They were very considerate and told me to enjoy my trip and not worry about the work – I can catch up later.
Prior to the trip, the adults met several times to discuss the itinerary, travel requirements – visa, vaccinations, baggage regulations etc. During these meetings, Guruji and Guruma and others that made previous trips shared their experiences, and gave us an insight as to what we should expect, and helped us prepare for the yatra. The most troublesome part of the preparation was obtaining visas because the process required several trips to Manhattan, and was very tiring. Packing for the trip was another hurdle because we had to include items like towels, bed sheet, gloves, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, wipes, and a variety of snacks. A special puja was also planned for those that were embarking on this journey sometime in February, 2015.
February 8, 2015 – Pre-trip Puja – Yeashivana Mahadeo
On February 8th the devotees going on the India Trip performed puja to pray for safe and wonderful trip. One member from each family going on the trip sat down. I represented the youths. All of the travelers were filled with enthusiasm knowing we were only days away from our trip. There was so much prasadam that when it came time to make the offerings to the deities, there was a bit of confusion in everyone finding their own.
During Guruji’s pravachan, he showed one of Guru Maa’s favorite clips from the movie Banaras to give us a preview of Varanasi. After the puja, the group met with Guruji and Guruma for a debriefing of departure time, what to expect on our trip, the DOs and DON’Ts, currency exchange, what to pack and how to pack our suitcases for easy internal flights access.
February 13, 2015 – Flight from JFK, New York to Delhi, India – Yeashivana Mahadeo
Saturday, February 14, 2015 – Arrival in Bharat Desh
Many passengers on flight AI102 clapped joyfully as we landed safely at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi around 1pm IST (India Standard Time) on Valentine’s Day. We grabbed our hand luggage from the overhead bins and hurried toward the exit. We were greeted by the unique scent of Bharat Desh as we proceeded to immigration and then the baggage claim area. We retrieved our suitcases from the belt and then congregated in one area of the terminal while Guru Ji looked for our tour guide.
Our tour guides Suresh Ji and Sunil Ji escorted us to the tour bus that we would use to travel around in Bharat Desh. As we boarded the bus, Suresh Ji garlanded each of us with a mala made from marigold flowers, and he gave everyone with a beautiful murti of Lord Ganesha as a welcome gift. Before travelling to our hotel, Guru Ji thanked bhagwan for bringing us safely, spoke briefly about our purpose for making the journey, and then introduced Sunil Ji who would be our official tour guide for most of the pilgrimage. During our travel to the hotel, Sunil Ji gave us some important details about the city of Delhi, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where it is believed that as many as 80% of our ancestors came from. The current population in Delhi is approximately 17 million, consisting of 15% Muslims, 9% Sikhs and the remainder mostly Hindus. The winter season occur from December to February, summer from April to June, and the monsoon (rainy) season from July to September. We spotted a beautiful peacock in the woods, and passed by a temple with an enormous murti, about 2 stories tall, of Hanuman Swami. Sunil Ji also taught us some simple hindi words to use in our everyday conversations, such as karpia – please; jhaldi – hurry; ek bhota pani – one bottle water. We arrived at the hotel, went to our hotel room and freshened up before meeting for dinner at 7:30pm IST in the hotel dining room. The buffet had vegetarian items which were marked by a green dot, and non-vegetarian marked by a red dot. There was a large variety of vegetarian dishes to choose from soups, salads, fruits, pastries, breads, vegetables, and not forgetting the chai tea and an assortment of desserts. We ate dinner together, and the youths had a designated table. We were very surprised at how laid-back the waiters were, how long we waited to get something to drink, the many steps involved in getting a cup of coffee, and when we asked for soda, we were given club soda instead of coke.
Sunday, February 15, 2015 – Sightseeing in Delhi
We were all down in the lobby on time, some of us even earlier because of the jet lag, ready to have breakfast as soon as the hotel dining room was open at 7:00am. Our agenda for the day included visits to the Akshardham – Swaminarayan Temple, Lachmi Narayan Temple, the Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and the Sikh Gurudwar. We boarded the bus equipped with our cameras, phones, lots of snacks and munchies, a variety of anti-diarrhea medication and toilet paper. As always our routine started off with prayers by Guru Ji and singing of bhajans and dhoons led by Guru Maa, followed by a reminder about sticking with your group and not getting lost in the crowd. Then our tour guide, Sunil Ji gave us some details about the places we will be visiting that day and what to expect.
First we stopped at the Laxminarayan Temple, known as the Birla Mandir and did puja to Vishnu Bhagwan. The temple was built by the Birla brothers and the building’s architecture is very modern and beautiful. We began singing dhoons and were given the temple’s harmonium and tabla to use. Ravi played the harmonium and Bheem played the table, and we were soon joined in kirtan by some of the other visitors. We left after taking prasadam and making donations.
Our next stop was the Akshardham – Swaminarayan Temple. On our way there we saw the Jamuna River minus the water. Their police stations are on the roadside and look like little booths. There was very high security at the Akshardam and no cameras were allowed, but each family purchased family portrait from the professional photographer. The beautiful architecture of the buildings and ground are indescribable, and each animated scene depicts the life and legacy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The structure is constructed only from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble and took five years to be built. Some of us purchased items from the temple store, and, we drove around Delhi and saw the India gate and the Parliament House.
Next we went to the Guru Nakishan Sikh Temple, where our heads had to be covered. All the men in the group had to use kerchief to cover their heads and the women used their shawls. There we saw men cooking in the biggest pots and karahi. Children, men and women helped to bele chopati as we watched a machine convert dough,(loai) into rolled paratha. Some our youths helped to flip the roti as it cooked.
Monday, February 16, 2015 – Flight from Delhi to Varanasi and Visit to Kal Bhairo Temple Vikash Tewari
On February 16, 2015, the devotees in the Bharat Yatra began the day with breakfast at the Piccadily Hotel. Shortly after breakfast, we all separated our suitcases for the flight to Varanasi. We then took the bus to the Indira Gandhi International Airport for our flight on the Indigo Airlines to Varanasi. After 1 hours and 15 minutes we arrived in Varanasi. I learned that the city of Varanasi has many different names such as Banaras and Kashi. Also, the city of Varanasi is the oldest city in the world and the city of Lord Shiva, therefore it is immortal.
At Varanasi, we met one of our tour guides, Ambarish, who was very knowledgeable about the city of Kashi. After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Ramada Inn and had lunch at McDonald’s where all of the children enjoyed the McSpicy Paneer. After lunch, we drove to one mile away from the Kaal Bhairav Temple. Kaal Bhairav is considered to be like the police commissioner of Kashi and one cannot enter Kashi without worshipping Kaal Bhairav. After the bus ride, we all took a one mile rickshaw adventure to the Kaal Bhairav temple. During the rickshaw ride, we got to witness up close how chaotic the streets of India actually were. After the rickshaw ride, everyone had a chance to enter the very crowded Kaal Bhairav temple and at least bow to Kaal Bhairav. After the visit to the Kaal Bhairav temple, two groups split apart and got lost which was a little frightening, however we did all find each other and made it back to the bus safely. We then, drove back to the Ramada Inn and had dinner. Lastly, we went to bed while listening to a wedding and reception in the lawn of the hotel.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015 – Ganga Maa Boat Ride and Maha Shivratri Celebration
Wednesday February 18, 2015 – Flight from Varanasi to Delhi and Drive to Mathura
The light of the morning was a bit dim, both figuratively and literally (we were up so early that the hotel had not turned on the lights yet), as the SSNM Bharat Yatra Group prepared for their departure from the beloved Kashi or Varanasi, back to New Delhi. After enjoying a beautiful Maha Shivratri celebration just the night before, the devotees packed their suitcases and boarded the bus headed to Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport. After checking in our luggage and enduring an approximately 1.5-hour long flight, we landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
Following our landing, we were picked up by our coach bus and driven back to the Piccadily Hotel in Janakpuri, New Delhi, where all members of the trip were to collect their belongings for the next exciting, and longest leg of the trip, which included: Mathura/Vrindavan, Agra, Jaipur, and Pushkar. After a quick switch of luggage, the devotees again boarded the bus and headed to Mathura for the next 3 hours.
While there were a few devotees who spent the bus ride catching up on some rest, or simply enjoying the sightseeing in solitude (which was quite beautiful actually), our wonderful tour guide, Sunilji, also spent some time explaining the structure of India – geopolitically and politically to the bus. From his small talks, I learned that India is comprised of: 29 “states” – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhan, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana (since June 2, 2014), Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal. 7 union, or “free” territories – Andaman and Nicobar Island, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, Delhi, and Puducherry. 1 national Capital Region – Delhi.
It was interesting to learn about Delhi, in that it served as not only a “free” territory, but also as the nation’s capital. In addition to the geography, Sunilji told us that each state has a Chief Minister, which is the head of the government in their respective state or territory (there are chief ministers in two of the union territories – Delhi and Puducherry), and have executive authority. Each of the 29 states also has their own governor, who serves as the constitutional head, and is second in authority to the chief minister. The India government also follows a parliamentary system (no coincidence that the current British government also has the same structure), where the people elect the members of the parliament every 5 years. Personally, I believe it is to be noted that while many stereotype India as a nation plagued with corruption in politics, and while some of those stereotypes may be justified in some situations, India is the largest democracy of the world right now, and is taking action against its corruption. Therefore, India should not be dismissed as a country with structure, but instead as a country who is fighting its internal evils, the evils that were created and left by the British.
However, it is not only the government that has been taking steps to improve its circumstances, but various social changes also seek to promote and protect the rights of women, contrary to portrayals by Western media. Some examples of these improvements include seats on public buses that are set aside solely for women. As Sunilji explained, there are approximately 6-7 seats that are reserved just for women to sit on the bus. In addition to this, in a more professional aspect, approximately 30% (a number that has increased considerably over recent years) of the jobs in India are reserved just for women. These statistics simply serve to prove that although there still may be injustice against women in India, it is certainly not the case everywhere, and there are movements to elevate the status of women. If we are to make India a better place and make sure that the glory of our homeland is maintained, we must use the proper knowledge that we do have against the ignorance of the media, and stereotypes.
Additionally, other interesting facts include that India’s minimum wage is approximately 2 dollars, compared to the U.S. minimum wage of 7.25 dollars. However, like the U.S. overtime pay is more, and therefore workers, if allowed, have the opportunity to earn more wages if they work overtime. In terms of government aid, both education and health care are free. Although the circumstances of some families may not permit, about 85-88% of kids in India now attend school (yay!), with that number increasing daily.
After learning all that information in probably 20 minutes, the bus ride continued with the backdrop of an “old is gold” soundtrack, and a light conversation. After making our way out of Delhi, the sights quickly changed from the urban, commercial centers to beautiful fields of crops, and cows grazing peacefully in the pasture. As we arrived, the sky became dark, and all that was left to be seen from the bus window were fields that seemed to continue indefinitely and the occasional clay home that had a diya at their doorstep. Upon arriving at the hotel, many passengers on the bus scrambled for their cameras as we passed the beautiful Prem Mandir (which we fortunately did get to visit a couple days later), which lit up in bright colors of pink, green, blue, and yellow. Around 7 PM, the SSNM group arrived at the Nidhivan, where we were to spend the next 2 nights. With a beautiful waterfall at the front, a beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a quiet corner filled with artful books in the corner of the lobby, and a beautiful Radha-Krishna Bhagwan murti right behind the check-in desk, the Nidhivan was definitely one of the most beautiful hotels of our trip. Following check-in, the SSNM enjoyed a delicious meal at the hotel and rested for the night.
My Views – Devina Persaud
I am not sure that I would have enjoyed India, had I not had a great appreciation for both my religion and culture. For example, if a stranger were to go to India, their experience would most likely be bogged down by the idea of gobar in the roads and cows in the streets. But, I found that to be a very important aspect of India’s beauty – their ability to appreciate nature and take care of it.
As a student, I also found it important to understand how the government of India works, as well as be informed of their current social situation and improvements. It is very easy, being a teenager in America, to be brainwashed (for a lack of a better term) by Western media, who only seeks to dismiss any efforts or accomplishments of eastern nations, such as the great India. For example, prior to going to India, many people warned me of going to the bathroom in the bush, thieves, no electricity or TV… except that being in India for 2 weeks, I learned none of that is true. In terms of social advancement, I myself thought that most kids did not attend school, and therefore most of them were illiterate. Of course, while I am sure that illiteracy remains a problem in India, it is definitely not as big an issue now as the public makes it out to be.
Thursday, February 19, 2015 – Janmabhoomi and Taj Mahal Devina Persaud
During our first morning at the Nidhivan, the devotees of the SSNM Bharat Yatra Group congregated in the lobby for a brief and beautiful Guru Puja. Following this, everyone was redirected to the dining area, where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast. Then, at about 8:30 AM, the group disembarked from the hotel on the way to blessed Janmabhoomi.
As we left the hotel, Surya Bhagwan rose in the sky – an inexplicably beautiful sight of an orange circle in the sky, surrounded by morning fog. On the bus, as per our tradition every day, we offered prayers to Krishna Bhagwan, thanking him for allowing us to make our way to India to see his birthplace. Also, thanks to the beautiful sunlight of the morning, we were able to see Mathura in greater detail, with people bustling as they began their business for the day, children playing at the sides of the street and getting ready to go to school, and the women cooking a morning meal on their little fires. The morning was off the beautiful start, when we were struck with a divine surprise!!!
On our way to Janmabhoomi, every member of the bus became enthralled and captivated by a sight for which there are no words to describe. As we drove down the road and looked to our left, our eyes were blessed with the sight of a giant murti of Mother, sitting on her lion, with Hanumanji bowing in her presence. Upon seeing this beautiful murti, in unison, the entire bus yelled “Stop the bus!”, as we struggled to get as many pictures as possible. However, soon enough, everyone began to run out of the bus and towards the mandir. At first, I thought it was a little crazy, seeing everyone running, even sprinting, into the mandir, but as I got closer and closer to Durga Maa, I began to feel a divine connection and presence that made me feel as if. I had to go into that mandir. So, I became one of the runners. We left our cameras and belongings behind with our wonderful tour guide Sunilji, who made all of the arrangements for us to go in before we could even ask.
Upon entering the mandir, which we found out was named Maa Vaishno Devi Dham, had beautiful murtis/fountains of Vaishno Devi Maa, as well as the Lord Shiva lining the walkway as we made our way into the main mandir. After admiring all the beautiful murtis and soaking in the ambiance of the divine place on the outside, we made our way into mandir, where we were saw beautiful murtis of many deities, including Mother Durga, Lord Ganesha, and others. Needless to say, the unexpected visit to that mandir set a more-than-right tone not only for the rest of the day, but for the rest of the trip. No matter where we went, the devotees of the mandir could not stop retelling the story of our magical visit to Maa Vaishno Devi Dham. I hope that on my next visit, we get to visit there again! The image of that Maa Vaishno murti that I saw while staring out the bus window is an image I hope resides with me forever.
Finally, we arrived in Janmabhoomi. After clearing security, we made our way into the prison cell, where we were allowed to walk in, and touch the very stone that Lord Krishna was born on. After getting chandan, Guruji also lead us in some prayes and briefly retold the story of the birth of Lord Krishna. As we stood there, listening to the beautiful story, looking at the window through which Vishnu Bhagwan appeared, my skin grew goosebumps to know that Bhagwan brought me to that point. I felt nothing more than blessed to be in that cell. After popular request, we made our way around the mandir again, and made our way to the cell one more time, where we absorbed the celestial atmosphere and looked lovingly at the Lord Krishna murti. After leaving this site, we made our way across to the Keshav Dev mandir, which was also adorned with murals of Krishna Bhagwan, as well as other deities, on the walls and ceiling, all telling a different story. That mandir was definitely a sight to behold.
After exiting the mandir, the devotees of the SSNM Bharat Yatra engaged themselves in arguably their favorite activity – bargaining and shopping! As we passed through the shopping quarters, every shopkeeper begged customers to go into their store to shop a beautiful collection of murtis, paintings, necklaces, bangles, jap malas, and many other things! After about a half hour, although many did not seem to get their fill, our shopping session was concluded and we were off to our next big venue – the Taj Mahal.
During our bus ride, on request, Sunilji took the time to tell us a little about the history of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal, which currently stands as one of the (subjective) 8 wonders of the world, was built in the 16th century by Shah Jahan, Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor of India, and built the Taj Mahal as a symbol of his love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. At the age of 31, Mumtaz gave birth to her 11th child, and she passed away while giving birth to that child. The building of the palace started in 1631 and continued for 22 years, with workers, many of which were Hindu, toiling daily to complete the Emperor’s dream. The palace is made of white marble, much of which was imported from places surrounding Jaipur, the city of Jewels and Stone. Architects from Europe and India also helped the Emperor in designing the palace. With the Yamuna River surrounding the back of the palace, it is a sight to behold. While, in my opinion, Akshar Dham is a much more beautiful place that holds not only more religious meaning, but also better architecture, the Mahal was flooded with tourists from all around the world. After a few pictures and walking through the palace, we slowed down a bit in the evening, heading over to Prem Mandir to conclude the day.
Prem Mandir caught the eye of many devotees on the bus upon our arrival in Mathura just the day before, and the wait was definitely worth it. Lit in red, yellow, blue, green, and beautiful purple lights, the mandir was illuminated from the outside, only foreshadowing the beauty of the inside of the mandir. Outside, however, there was a beautiful recreation of the Goberdhan Parvat, where Lord Sri Krishna lifted the mountain. After going into the mandir and seeing beautiful murtis of Lord Sri Krishna and listening to the beautiful bhajans being sung, devotees of SSNM offered a couple of prayers and made their way outside the see the gardens become illuminated, as well as the marble of the outside of the mandir being lit up. After this, the group retired to the hotel, where we ate dinner and spent the night at the Nidhivan, preparing for visit the following morning to Goberdhan Parvat.
My Views – Devina Persaud
I felt overall just very blessed that I was able to come on the Bharat Yatra and visit all of these religious places. Of course, listening to the stories of Krishna Bhagwan and his glory serves as testimony by itself, but there was something about being able to stand in the very cell that he was born in that reinforced my bhakti, to put it simply. It is not that I did not have faith before, but these stories took on a new meaning when I had an image, a personal image to accompany them.
Friday, February 20, 2015 – Mathura & Vrindavan Sightseeing and Visit to Goverdhan Parvat Reta Singh
On the bright sunny day of February 20th, 2015, the day started off as usual. Devotees performed Guru Puja, preparing our minds into a mellow state of bliss. After eating breakfast at the hotel, we all head to the bus for a long bus ride to Mathura, the humble abode of Lord Shri Krishna.
As customary, we kids filed into the back seats, while the aunties and uncles occupied the front seats. Since this bus ride was over 8 hours long, we had plenty of time to grasp the captivating stories of Lord Shri Krishna.
“Hari Aum,” came through the speakers as Guru Ji started off the morning ride. We were heading to the holy region of Mathura, in which Gokul is located. Taking place in Mathura, were the many leelas of Shri Krishna Bhagawan. He teaches us to be humble regardless of the power or money one may have. These materialistic items lead an individual to forget the most simplistic ideas of humility and modesty. For instance, the famous leela of Krishna Bhagawan taking the gopis clothes reminds us all that only when you give up all worldly possessions then you will received by the open arms Lord Shri Krishna. As a youth, I must have heard this story over and over, but the purpose and morals will never become indifferent to me because of the significance they have for us all; young or old, male or female, no matter what distinctions we have between us. These leelas served a greater purpose than just a sense of entertainment but an easy way to convey the sacred words of Bhagawan himself.
Another significant leela that Guru Ji narrated to us, was that of the Govardhan Mountain. At the time Lord Shri Krishna was a young boy. Indra Dev, the devata of thunder and rain wanted everyone to worship him in the village. As a result of their worship, he would create rain for the villager to farm and get food. Krishna Bhagawan saw the pride and ego in Indra Dev, even at a young age, so he created this leela to teach us all a lesson. Nanda baba asked his father: Why should they pray to Indra Dev when the mountain is the source of and main cause of their survival. The mountain, cows, and Brahmins are the things upon which we thrive from so we should worship them instead, says lord Krishna. Lord Krishna further says that the rain you are receiving is not because of Indra Dev’s blessings, but it is because of your past karma. The village people were convinced and they worshiped the mountain, cows and Brahmins instead. In response, Indra Dev unleashed his power on the village creating violent hurricanes and strong winds. Lord Shri Krishna held up the Govardhan Mountain with his pinky for 7 days and nights, until Indra Dev controlled his anger and realized that Krishna Bhagawan was Narayana himself. Lord Krishna shows us all the importance of retaining your pride and ego, which applies to all of us, especially in the age of Kali Yuga.
Not only did we get to enjoy these glorious stories, but devotees also got an opportunity to make visits to a school and a neighboring village. Children at the school were well prepared for the school day, lining up and eager to sing their national anthem. As I looked at the children at school, it made me think in a different perspective; a new perspective that enabled me to appreciate all that was given to me. As a youth in America, we often forget the opportunities that are placed right in front of us and focus on the things we don’t have, instead of being grateful for everything we do have. Another important visit was to the village, where we got to witness a to-be bride, the day before her marriage ceremony. According to the villagers, she was married 10 years before, but her marriage day will be the day she gets to see him. In the village we also got to see the daily lifestyle of a common villager. Cows and cow dung were everywhere, and if you didn’t watch where you were going, you would step into a mysterious, gooey mixture. Apart from that, we all had an enjoyable experience in the neighboring village.
Saturday, February 21, 2015 – Visit to Amber, Jaipur City Tour and Elephant Ride
It was a bright, sunny, and divine day in the ancient city of Jaipur. As usual we started our day off with prayers and guru puja. We then commenced with breakfast at our hotel, Holiday inn. After breakfast, we loaded the bus as we were now heading into the old city of Jaipur, to get an elephant ride to the Amber Palace.
As we entered the old city of Jaipur, it looked very different from the new city. The new city was more modernized and industrialized. On the other hand, the old city of Jaipur had all the same types of architecture, had more rural areas. Sunil ji, one of our tour guides on the trip stated that the old city took over 300 years to build. He also mentioned that it was all painted in a special color of orange, to symbolize the colors of Lord Shiva and his family. We had reached our destination, Amber Palace.
When we arrived we unloaded the bus ready to line up in the scorching sun and thousands of flies (and campers) swarming us just to get an exclusive elephant ride up the hills to the gates of the Amber palace. The massive elephants lined up one by one to carry people up to the palace. This ride was a great experience. The elephants behaved very mannerly and calmly when carrying people up. When the elephants carried us up the hill, it gave a magnificent overview of parts of the palace and the city. Also, our cameraman “Jon” as he pronounced it, told us to smile and pose when the time was right.
We finally reached at the Amber Palace. It was huge. There were so many tunnels, rooms, gardens, buildings, and more all made for Raja Man Singh, the great king of Rajasthan. The Amber palace was very far up the hill so we were able to see a nice scenery of hills and mountains in the distance. A famous monument inside the Amber palace was the glass room. This room was made out of all glass with intricate designs imprinted in it. We also saw many other things there like wind up snakes dancing, the world’s biggest carahi and much more. After seeing most of Amber Palace we went back down the hill with some sort of bootlegged smart car back to the bus. When we hopped back on the bus, a magician appeared out of nowhere and started pulling out coins from here there and everywhere like he was god. Then he decided to come up to me and make a coin pop out of you know where. Later, after the show off magician was gone we went “shopping” (looking for stylish sarees) for two hours.
2 hours of “shopping” later………..
After going shopping we went to the Govinde temple. This was a Lord Krishna temple, the oldest temple in Jaipur. There we attended the aarti at 6:30 PM. The bells began to ring as people shouted the praises of the Lord in the background. We then had to go around a chaotic circle, everybody pushing and shoving to get through to put donations down at Lord Krishna’s feet. When we were done we went back to get our shoes, not knowing that part of the group was left behind still waiting to go around the circle. After we reunited with the group and got our shoes, we did a little more shopping outside of the temple.
Sunday, February 22, 2015 – Drive to Pushkar and Visit to Bramha Temple Ravi Bisram
The day started off after breakfast where everyone assembled on the bus. After morning prayers led by Guruji, we commenced our three hour long journey to the Pratap Palace, a Keys resort located at the crossroads of the historically important regions of Ajmer and Pushkar. The palace-turned hotel is surrounded by the magnificent Aravalli Hills, which Guruji explained to have been created by Lord Bramhaji himself, in order to protect his Yagna.
After settling in to their rooms in the hotel, the devotees made their way to the only Lord Bramha Temple in existence, in Pushkar, a very rare opportunity. After about an hour or so at the temple, the devotees went to participate in a lakeside aarti, in which the native people were offering their obligations to the gods, as well as the lake.
After returning to the Palace and having dinner, the group was entertained by a group of performers including dancers, snake charmers, and a fire breather. After the performance ended, the whole group of devotees participated in singing songs and telling jokes until it was time to go to bed, as tomorrow would be an early day.
Monday, February 23, 2015 – Drive from Pushkar to Delhi Avinash Bisram
Tuesday, February 24, 2015 – Ganga Aarti Avinash Bisram
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 – Holy Bath and Puja at Ganges Mahesh Persaud
On Day 12 of the Bharat Yatra, which was Wednesday, February 25th, we commenced our day with an early wakeup call at around 6:00 in order to change for our first activity of the day. We all got changed into our swimming/bathing attire and departed from the hotel at 6:30 for Ganga Maa Snaan – Snaan meaning bath. After the short bus ride, we exited the bus and made our way to the banks. Unfortunately, it rained over night so we had to traverse in some mud for a short period of time. Once we arrived, at the banks of the Ganges, we began to put down our belongings and get ready to take our bathe in the holiest of waters. There were some stone steps that slowly descended into the water, so you could bathe and stand on the steps at the same time which made for easy entrance and exit from the waters.
Being the most eager, Guruji was the first one ready to go while everyone was still getting their belongings organized. Along with my fellow youths, we went into the waters which were extremely cold. Due to the temperature of the water, anyone who was not willing to bathe at that time, was able to do so later when we returned for puja. Everyone made sure to make the most of their bath and offer dhar to Surya dev who, although was covered by the clouds, still shined behind them. This was a very unique experience, considering the fact that Guruji had said that if you bathe in Ganga Maa, your paap will be washed away. The beauty of this bath was that since the waters were so cold, it made the wind feel warm, which was satisfying once we got out. We then dried off and hopped back on the bus and went to the hotel to get dressed for the puja, which happened to be my Guru Diksha. Everyone then took a regular shower, got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast before we left.
At around 9:30, we left the hotel again to return to Ganga Maa for puja. On our way there, we made an impromptu visit to a beautiful Shiva Ji murti. It was around 3 stories high and had a small lingam near the base. We offered a few prayers, took some pictures, and were back on the road. As we stepped off of the bus, it was still as cloudy as before. While I was walking to our destination for puja, many were speaking to me in Hindi and calling me a pandit due to my outfit (which consisted of a white kurta, and matching orange dhoti and angocha). We finally reached our location for puja, which was the same spot as we took our bath. We spread thin plastic sheets to sit on, and began to gather our materials. Guruji had bought a shankha from the small shop in the hotel to use for the puja. We bought a small bowl which was made from leaves and had flowers in it (which was called Ganga Maa Darshan) to use as our Khalsa. We also used a tari as our Havan Kund with a wet cloth under it to keep it cool. Once we had our altar set up, it was time to start puja. Puja started and was carried out as usual, but by the time Havan started, it began to rain lightly. Many of the adults began to take the leftover plastic sheets and held them over Guruji and the other devotees. The rain subsided soon afterwards as we continued puja, but visited us again on a second occasion later during the puja. I then received my Isht and Guru Mantra from Guruji after performing Guru Puja by myself for the first time. Lastly, we concluded Havan and had a small aarti. Oddly enough, right after the puja and both occasions of rain, the sun broke out of the clouds, which showed that both Surya Dev and Indra Dev showered their blessings upon the group. At one point in time Guruji, said we could offer money to our ancestors, which me and my family did. We were then instructed that after we offer the money, we should give it away. While we were walking back to the bus, I was giving out some money and a woman who was begging actually tried to grab the money out of my hand and started to claw my hand, so I had to give her the money. There was also another lady who followed us back all the way to the bus. As distant as the problem of poverty may seem, this is a problem that is all over our motherland of India. Many times, the group comes into conflict whether or not we should give money to certain beggars that approach us, but at one point in time Guruji told us that we shouldn’t give to those who want, but to those who need and are hesitant to take. We returned to the Godwin hotel to change and have lunch and left again at 2:30 for Rishikesh, where we would shop and visit the Gita Bhavan (which is an ashram) for Ganga Maa Aarti. We arrived in a parking lot in Rishikesh, but due to the bus’ size and streets’ width, were not able to take use to the shopping location or the Gita Bhavan. Due to this we had to take a “tuk-tuk”, better known as an autorickshaw, to the shopping area. It was basically a long, skinny road with shops lining the sides. There were a variety of stores from ones that sold murtis, to book stores. We were able to shop with our families for about an hour and then we continued down the road to the Gita Bhavan. We got our seats and waited until the swamis came out of the ashram for aarti. At the aarti, they had a live singer, harmonium player, and tabla player. Coincidentally, most of the songs they sang are also popular at our mandir’s apart is and Guru Ma’s favorites. Most of the residents of the ashram were actually white, but their pronunciation of the words when singing the aarti or chanting mantras was very accurate due to their countless hours devoted to Sanatan Dharma. To conclude aarti, we got Dias in a big holder to perform aarti to Ganga Maa.
My Thoughts – Mahesh
Overall, the 12th Day of our Bharat Yatra was an action packed one filled with many auspicious events from Ganga Maa Snaan, to Puja, to Aarti. For me personally, February 25, 2015 will be a day that I will never forget. Not only will it be unforgettable because of the Yatra, but because I got my Guru Diksha next to Ganga Maa, which not many can say. As a new chela, I plan to learn many things from Guruji, Guru Ma, and my new “bhaiyas” and “didis”. To conclude, I will end with something that Sunil, one of our guides, said. In essence, he said that anyone can worship Bhagwan in their own way, but only your Guru can teach you how to worship Bhagwan the right way.
Thursday, February 26th, 2015 – Drive from Haridwar to Delhi Ajay Bisram
Before leaving the Godwin Hotel in Haridwar, Guruji takes the group to the pool area behind the hotel to give us a short talk about the significance of Haridwar and gave us his thoughts about this trip and ideas for journeys to come. On our way back to Delhi, we stopped at a sugar factory, where everyone got sample of fresh cane and we saw how the cane is converted into sugar. Next, we stopped at a local school where we gave the children snacks and school supplies.
We then stopped to buy fruits from a local market, and our tour guide Sunil ji bought and a small serving of modified paan, which a couple of the adults sampled. We arrived at the Piccadily hotel in Delhi around 6pm and said good-bye to Sunil ji. We had dinner and hung out until 10pm before turning into bed.
Friday, February 27th — Saturday, February 28th, 2015 – Shopping Ajay Bisram
February 28, 2015 – Flight from Delhi, India to JFK, New York Yeashivana Mahadeo
Before leaving for the flight back to New York, we had dinner at the Piccadilly hotel. At 8pm, the group departed from the hotel and boarded the coach bus. The ride to the airport was quiet; we all were trying to take in the last few moments in India. Once we arrived at the airport, the hassle began. We waited for over an hour for your baggage to be checked in, and then we had to wait on a mile-long customs line. Once at the customs counter, the female immigration officer checked our passports thoroughly and compared our faces to our passport picture, but unfortunately, that was not our last check-point. Next we were patted down and our bags scanned and some opened and items were questioned and / or confiscated. Then it was the never-ending walk to the gate, tugging our heavy hand luggage and taking the travellator at intervals. Before we could board the plane at the gate, we went through yet another security check. We were all inpatient, frustrated, tired, and really missed our home in America. Within minutes of boarding the plane, many of the members of the group were fast asleep. I was sad to be leaving the nice weather and returning back to reality.
My thoughts – Yeashivana
This trip was an eye-opening experience for me because it made me realize how fortunate I am. Seeing the way of life of the young children, and their begging broke my heart: some of them didn’t have any clothes or shoes. My most memorable experience was in Kashi, when something went into my eye on Maha Shivratri day. I had to visit an eye doctor and got a first- hand experience of medical care in India. The eye doctor’s office was like a clinic and was crowded and somewhat clean, but the process was very organized and the staff very efficient. I was seen and treated very quickly, and the cost according to my mom was very affordable. This Bharat Yatra was fun-filled and enjoyable, from performing daily Guru puja and Guruji telling us jokes and about his life, to playing pranks on each other. I will forever remember my first trip to India and can’t wait to revisit.