I relocated to Dwarahat last month. Dwarahat is a small town located in Almora district of Uttarakhand. Kathgodam is the nearest railway station and it takes almost four hours to cover the distance of 117 km to reach Dwarahat from Kathkodam.
One of the ashrams of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS) is located in Dwarahat. The fresh air of Himalayas, the quiet surroundings and the subtle spiritual vibrations of the area, make Dwarahat a suitable place for spiritual seekers. For the same reasons, many devotees from Self Realization Fellowship (SRF), the counterpart of YSS in the western countries, come to Dwarahat and stay here for a long time. One such devotee happened to be my neighbour. We had known each other before meeting in Dwarahat. When we met in Dwarahat, I found that he nurtured a similar desire – to explore the nearby places of spiritual significance. We mutually agreed to travel together. A week after our meeting, we embarked upon our journey to Kainchi Ashram of Neem Karoli Baba.
Neem Karoli Baba was born in the village of Akabarpur in Agra District. He left his home at the tender age of eleven for his spiritual pursuit. He stayed in Gujarat for seven years before coming to the village of Neeb Karori. The local villagers became very fond of him and built him a cave where he stayed and did his sadhana. It is his association with Neeb Karori that got him his popular name, Neeb Karori Baba. He had and continues to have many devotees in different parts of India and abroad. He was a Self-realized master. He performed uncountable miracles to help people and devotees in need, but he never proclaimed it. He would pass the credit to God and would say that it was God who did it. It was his way of restoring people’s faith in God. He stayed in Kainchi for a long time, and as a result, an ashram and temples of Sri Hanuman and other deities came into existence. He shed his mortal coil in 1973 in Vrindavan. Nobody knew his exact age. His Samadhi shrine is located in his ashram in Vrindavan.
Kainchi lies between Kathgodam and Ranikhet. It takes approximately two hours to reach Kainchi from Ranikhet by bus. I had been to Kainchi Ashram earlier, but could never spend the desired time for meditation. During the little time that I had spent in the ashram, I had found the place to be spiritually vibrant. That is the reason why Kainchi Ashram was first on the list, when I thought of exploring nearby spiritual places.
My devotee friend and I left Dwarahat at 8:30 AM on a public bus. We both were excited about our trip and were in no hurry to reach. We spoke about the culture of India and the West, our spiritual practice and many other things which were not specific to a particular topic. The bus took almost two hours to reach Ranikhet, which is at a distance of only 37 km from Dwarahat. It takes time to cover distances in the mountains, because the paths zigzag and vehicles cannot ply at a speed of more than 40 km/hour. We got down at Ranikhet and walked into a nearby food joint to have our breakfast. I was feeling nauseous, so I had light breakfast. We then walked to reach the nearby bus stop and boarded a bus for Kainchi.
We had to wait for about half an hour before the bus started for Kainchi. It took us two hours to cover a distance of 38 km. Even though the distance was not much on both the occasions, travelling in rickety buses with no shock absorbers made it tiring. In the mountains, it is better to travel in smaller vehicles like cars and jeeps. It is easy for smaller vehicles to manoeuvre on a road strip which is narrow. I was hungry as I had light breakfast, so we decided to have lunch first. It would have been inappropriate to go to the ashram with my mind hankering for food. We had lunch at a nearby food outlet and then proceeded towards the ashram.
Kainchi Ashram is located on the banks of a river bed. The river bed was dry at many places because the monsoon had not set in. Fishes were easily seen in the water, which was scarce. Visitors to the ashram were taking keen interest in the activities of the fishes. There is a small foot-over bridge which connects the main entrance to the ashram. As we enter the ashram gate, we have one end of temple premises on our right. Temple priests were singing bhajans (devotional songs) and were playing dhol and manjira (cymbals).
There were temples of Goddess Durga, Lord Rama & Goddess Sita and one of Lord Hanuman. I inwardly paid my obeisance to all the deities. We walked slowly and independently, as we observed things in the ashram premises. I came across the temple of Neem Karoli Baba, which is located just outside the room of Baba. There is an idol of Baba in the temple. His room remains locked for about four hours in the afternoon. When Baba was alive, he used to take rest in his room after lunch. Ashram authorities decided to maintain the same timings to open the doors of Baba’s room for the devotees. I wanted to meditate in his room, but we still had two hours to go before the doors would open. In one corner of the temple, I sat down on the floor to meditate. The short but peaceful meditation lasted for more than an hour. After that, I approached the cot which was used by Baba. It was kept on the veranda. He would remain wrapped in his blanket and sit or lie down on the cot and interact with the devotees. His blanket was spread on the cot. I touched the blanket with my forehead and prayed inwardly. It was an emotional moment. To be able to touch and feel the articles used by a realized master is a matter of blessings and grace. I was humbled to have got the opportunity.
We then walked into the bookstore where I purchased a book on Baba, and a photograph of him. The volunteer at the counter informed me that the ashram still uses postal means to communicate with the devotees. Anybody wanting to stay at the ashram will have to send a request letter to the ashram. This was an interesting piece of information. Their logic was the same: to follow the same process which was followed when Baba was alive. Some may find it strange but I chose to respect their decision. Is it not true that we all see and perceive things differently?
We then walked out of the ashram and spent some time on the foot-over bridge to take few photographs. Photography is prohibited inside the ashram. We then returned to Ranikhet by a bus (again!) and then hired a cab to Dwarahat. The cab journey was nice and comfortable. We arrived in Dwarahat in the evening. The short excursion finally came to an end. I was happy and satisfied to have spent time in the ashram and meditate there. To any seeker who is reading this blog, my humble suggestion is that you should visit Kainchi Dham. It is a wonderful place for meditation. It is a place where a divine being had unfolded his divine drama!
– Nishant Chaudhary