Sunday, March 31, 2019

Night and Day


The ashram has been blissfully quiet for a couple of days; very few people moving in and out, very few phone calls, and more time sitting quietly with Gurudev.

When we arrived today the shoe cubbies outside were nearly full. Inside, there was a large group conducting a class or discussion on the side, plus the spots near Gurudev were all full of people. After washing our hands, Shambho and I made our way upstairs to the big room, or what I call the Devi Temple, which has many images of the Devi (goddess) on the alter - including a picture of Dakshineshwar Kali with images of Ramakrisha and (his wife) Sarada Devi below. There are also pictures of saints and deities in this room, as well as Pahadi Baba. It has a clean, quiet energy  and feels far away from the hustle and bustle of downstairs, and we spent a couple of sessions there before being invited to lunch (rice, dal, subji/vegetable, chapatti and a deep-fried speciality-prasad, just for today).


When Shambo and I walk to 1.5 kilometers the ashram, we are usually bombarded by rickshaws seeking our business (we are in a tourist area, where foreigners are usually keen to see the sights). They make a beeline straight for us (it feels a lot like being a target in a video game, to see these three-wheelers careening straight towards you). The driver usually gestures and insists we get inside and suggests we go to Amer Fort or another popular tourist destination. We usually say decline (although in the intense heat we’ve been occasionally saying yes; by negotiating, we’ve managed to get the fee reduced from 150 rupees to just 20.... although our goal is 10). Sometimes locals will engage us in conversation, or try to get us to buy coconuts or sugar cane juice or dress up in traditional Rajasthani clothes for a photo. Others (usually young men) yell “HELLO” to us as they pass by on their two-wheelers 

Pranava decided to go to the ashram with us after he arrived on Saturday. No one bothered us once during the entire walk. He is a 6’5” South Indian from Mumbai. 


Once day Shambo and I decided to have lunch at Sree Suraj Restaurant, which had been recommended to us. We were ushered way, way, way into the bowels of the restaurant by a waiter who spoke English and encouraged us to eat in the AC room (which involves a 30-rupee per meal surcharge).  We said no and took a table in the corner, under the fan. The waiter recommended the Special Thali (meal) as being the least spicy, so we each ordered that and fresh lime soda - an old favorite from my time in Mysore. The meal came, and we ate. Shambo had some bread and pulao (rice) left and we asked them to pack it. Nothing happened. We asked for chai and were told “No — the restaurant is too busy.” We asked again to have the food packed. Nothing. The bill came and was for 590 rupees. “Pay 700” our waiter told us. Not understanding, but wanting change, I handed him a 2000-rupee note. He brought it and the bill to the cashier/manager and returned with change... for 590 rupees and stood there staring at me, waiting for his tip. “No tip until packing” I said, pointing to the leftovers. “You pack, I tip.” He left. I put the bread in my bag, and we got up. I walked around with a 50-rupee note, looking to give it to him. Finally a manager asked me if I was looking for my waiter, and offered to give him the tip. 

Last week there was a medical camp (free medical care) at the school next to the ashram, which meant the ashram had to feed lunch to over 100 doctors.  So we returned to Suraj for lunch. This time a manger ushered us to a front table, and explained that the “Regular Thali” was also not spicy. So we got a special and a regular, plus the fresh lime soda.  While we were eating, he asked us how the meal was (so good that Shambo almost finished his). When we were finished, he asked if we wanted chai or anything else (we didn’t). Then he gave us a bill for the proper amount and bid us a fond farewell when we left.

Jai Guru!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Few Photos

The WiFi is working!

Krishna-Radha temple grounds
Front of ashram
Meditation dome on terrace of Sharanam House (Day 1 in Jaipur)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Stranded at the Gate’

Hanuman Pt. III

We finally got to the exit, which was largely deserted. It was hot!

We saw a couple of rickshaws standing around, but no sign of Vijay. I thought I’d asked him to meet us at this entrance, but apparently I had not. 

I tried texting him via WhatsApp, but there was no response. 

Not sure what to do, I started asking the other rickshaw drivers if they could take us to Jal Mahal (the famous Water Palace, near our hotel). The response was.... Nothing. No sign of recognition. Nada. Apparently my pronunciation is off. It was getting hotter, there were a lot of flies,and I was getting a little concerned (and more than ready to go home).

I figured I’d call Vijay via WhatsApp. I placed the call, but nothing happened.  Then I noticed “No Service” on the upper left of the phone.*

Next, I started asking devotees leaving the temple grounds if they spoke English as they streamed past. Nada.

A temple attendant in a white dhoti saw this and came over. He asked me in English if he could help. I explained I was trying to call our rickshaw driver, who was at the other gate. “But phone is not working.” He pulled out his mobile and offered to place the call for me.

Suddenly, my phone started to work, and Vijay picked up. He said he’d come in 20 minutes.

We went back inside the temple grounds, used the bathroom, and took a seat on a shady bench under a tree. Then we shared some water and enjoyed the fact of our own existence.

Eighteen minutes later we heard the distinctive “tuk-tuk” sound of the rickshaw. We heard Vijay-the-rickshaw-deejay before we saw him. We got in and marveled at his navigation skills as he wove through a herd of goats and a herd of cows that were taking up the entire road. His skill and patience are incredible (I’ve never seen him blow a red light even though every other driver is doing so. Or lose his cool when he is cut off, etc... or use his horn unless absolutely necessary).

On the way home, I asked him to stop to get fruit. He wouldn’t let us get out of the rickshaw (that way the prices would be fair) and used his own money to get what we wanted. 

When it came time to pay, we handed him a large wad of rupees.

He gave some back.

“That is too much,” he said.

Gate’ Gate’ Paragate’

Jai Guru!


*In general, my new TMobile plan — actually Shambo’s TMobile plan, which he put me on the day before I left, so far has been great here. Unlimited texting and data (albeit only 3G) and 25 cents per minute for calls.... all for no addition to the regular monthly fee. This is compared to my old service,AT&T, which is an extra 60/month (on top of your regular bill) for limited data and 35 cents per minute for calls in India. Jai Guru!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Extortion at the Altar

Hanuman Pt. II

Vijay dropped us at the base of Hanuman Hill.  There were already other people making their way up the cobblestone path to the top of the hill.  There were also lots of animals — mainly monkeys and goats. A man who looked like Shiva, dressed entirely in red, was feeding the animals from a packet of biscuits. He handed the packet to us and gestured that we should take it and also feed the animals - which we did. He asked for nothing in return. 

The air was fresh, and the walk was stunningly beautiful,  with many breathtaking views of Jaipur nestled in a valley between a couple of mountain ranges. 

As promised, there were many monkeys all the way up the hill.  They are both adorable and menacing; we tried to keep our distance. One of them attacked a child who was in front of us and got too close. He screamed, and  his father scooped him up and carried him. 

The monkeys really have human qualities (or is it that we humans have monkey qualities?). Their wizened faces express emotions; plus  we saw them grooming each other, fighting, playing, begging for food and — best of all - swimming in the water holy tank next to a Shiva temple. An older one sat on the platform above, dunking their heads under water as they swam by.  

At the top of the hill we came to a temple dedicated to Surya, the sun, and his wife, Renuka (Hanuman worships Lord Ram, who is said to be the king of the solar race). A woman ushered us inside, and told us about the temple and how her family lives there and tends it. After darshan, she gave us holy water and marked our foreheads with a Tilak. Then we each placed 10 rupee notes on the altar. But she shook her head and told us it wasn’t enough and that we should each leave 100 because many people come and only leave 10 rupees. Not wanting to cause trouble (or be cursed by a Brahmin), we did so. 

The cobblestone path then turned downward. We were ushered into a temple for Lord Shiva (some say Hanuman is an incarnation of Shiva).  After darshan we were each given a vessel of water to pour over the deities (this is sometimes called abishek) while the priest (and I) chanted the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra and “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu...” (there was also a murthi of Dattatreya, who represents Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).  He tied a string on our wrists and ushered us into a second room with an even more sacred linga. Then he motioned to the offering plate. Again what we left wasn’t enough and we felt obliged to up the ante. On the way out there was a man dressed in traditional Rajasathani white with a red turban, sitting in front of some puja items (a priest?). He also placed a tilak on us and we each left a 100 note on his plate.

Finally we were ushered into a Hanuman temple, where we were shown the deity and given holy water. Then the priest (?) placed  Vaishnavite markings on our forehead (similar to Hari Krishna tilak) and showed us an eternal flame that has been going nonstop for 500 years. Then he ushered us into a smaller, more special temple, where he wanted to do another puja. No thank you, we said. It felt a little eerie. He motioned to the offering plate. We each put down 500. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted 1000 each and kept repeating “puja, puja!” And violently waving a sacred feather brush  over our heads.  We kept retreating. “Puja puja!” He kept repeating, waving harder and closer to our heads. Somehow we got away with 1500 for the both of us.

We got out of the temple as quickly as we could, emerging into the hot sun, and made our way to the exit.

But our rickshaw driver was nowhere to be found.

To be continued.....

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jai Shri Hanuman

The other day the idea came to me to visit the famous Hanuman temple here. I wanted to go today, because Hanuman’s day is Tuesday. And I wanted to go early so we missed the heat, the pollution and the crowds. 

My primary thought was, “If I ever do a retreat here with students, I’ll know whether or not to recommend the temple.”

We arranged to have Vijay pick us up at 6am. He arrived exactly on time.

“Which Hanuman temple?” He asked.


He brought us downtown to a small temple that was closed.  (The early-morning drive made me nostalgic for all of those long walks, bike rides, and scooter rides to the shala in Mysore).

“Which Hanuman temple?” He asked again.

“Kale Hanuman-ji”

He brought us to a larger temple. It still didn’t look like the right one, but we bought some prasad (sweets, a flower garland and incense) to offfer the deity and went inside; there was a huge Hanuman and some priests (?) dressed in yellow. We handed them the prasad, and they garlanded the murthi and gave us some Prasad and garlands that we’re already there (he actually put the garlands on us). Like the other devotees, we put a 10-rupee note on the plate. Then we sat for awhile in the temple; it had a very high vibration.

When we came out I looked on my phone and showed the listing for “the monkey temple” to Vijay. 

To be continued.....

Monday, March 25, 2019

Shopping in the Dark

There was so much work going on at the Ashram yesterday evening (and there were so many fumes) that we left and sat for a little while at the nearby Shiva temple that was built around an ancient wishing tree. Then we headed across the street to a large Krishna-Radha temple complex. The main temple has a wonderful vibration.  The views from the complex are breathtaking (you can see for yourself on Facebook); at one point we even saw a peacock perched atop one of the minarets.

Jai Guru!

  • * * 

There was a simple joy to shopping in Mysore, whether you were looking for a pen, a coil-type (small plug-in water heater), a salwaar kameez, a rug made by inmates at the local prison, or a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita.  You always met new people, or made new friends — each and every time, you connected as humans as part of the transaction. It did the heart good.

Maybe it’s the heat - or the fact that we’re in “the north” but shopping in Jaipur has been a largely sterile, aggressive, and joyless experience.  Getting fruit requires a ride in a rickshaw and having the driver do the negotiations;  buying a dress requires trips to several shops where you are shown many beautiful things (except what you are looking for) and leaving emptyhanded, and so on. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re in a tourist area, I don’t know....Seemingly simple things just seem harder here (don’t get me started on the WiFi or the local SIM card that was supposed to arrive on Saturday).

So on the way home yesterday we walked down a road I’ve been curious about — and found a lively little mini-village of shops and vendors selling fruit and vegetables. The normalcy of it reminded me of Mysore. We chose a vendor and I started filling up a bag with big, fat green beans and the local carrots, which have a rough skin and are reddish in color (it is difficult NOT to eat in season here).  We also got some grapes to leave at Gurdev’s feet.  In both cases, the prices were fair.  We were thrilled to find a place we could go on foot, and get the basic things we need for a fair price - and have an experience that was not unpleasant. 

We got home, excited to cook our carrots and green beans for supper.

But then I saw what we’d bought up close, under the light,  and realized our mistake.

Instead of green beans, we’d bought pea pods and hot peppers — which look kind of like green beans in the dark.

Jai Guru!

  • * *

Shanti Mantra - Asato Ma Sadgamaya

Om Asato Ma Sadgamaya 

Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya 

Mrtyorma Amrtam Gamaya

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti


Lead me from the unreal to the real.

Lead me from darkness to light. 

Lead me from death to immortality. 

Om Peace Peace Peace.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


Each morning I get up and go to the roof to do asana before it gets too hot/buggy. That’s followed by a seated practice in the meditation room. 

Then we have breakfast, clean up and head to the ashram. Usually we walk, but occasionally Vijay is on the route and takes us there.

Once you arrive, you put your shoes away, wash your hands, and (if it feels right) prostrate to Gurudev / his padukas. 

The devotees who’ve stayed behind have been busy at the ashram while he’s been away — cleaning, updating and painting, etc.  Visitors have been few and far between.

Usually, after sitting for awhile, you will be given a small paper bowl of prasad (fruit and, occasionally, a sweet). After consuming it you go outside and dispose of the bowl. Then you wash your hands and rinse your mouth before sitting down again.

Today we went upstairs and sat in the Lahiri Mahasaya* room, and later in the Pahari Baba room. Both are so sattvic. The mind became fully calm.

After our sit, the devotees served us a lovely lunch. Then we wove our way back home thru the heat, Jal Mahal tourists and auto-rickshas. 

We had a rest, and then got up to find  the vetiver blinds on the ramp outside our room going full blast. Above the blinds are are small hoses that throw mist on the natural materials; it has a wonderfully cooling and humidifying effect (plus it smells good). 

 I’ll try putting up a video on of it on Facebook.

* * * 

The Lahiri Mahasaya*  room has the same image of Lord Shiva as the one I first saw in Sri Dharma’s studio, back in 1999.

Jai Guru!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Heat is On

Summer appears to have arrived with Holi; afternoons are extremely hot. The yellow ashram dogs lie pancaked on their sides, reminding us to do less (and hydrate more). This is the desert, and it gets *really* hot (dry heat is still hot). 

Sharanam House is built to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. There are pipes under the floors where warm or cold water flows, depending on the season.  It’s taken Pranava 6+ years to realize his vision for a guest house for the international devotees of his guru, and the kinks are still being worked out.  Right now the pump for the heating/cooling is not working, and we’ve been using the fan and keeping the door open at night.  There are a couple of other cooling systems in place as well (a misting system, and manually spraying the vetiver blinds on the serpentine ramp that winds its way around the building (the ramp represents kundalini). The building is not to be believed; suffice to say that we are living inside of a piece of devotional art/architecture.  I hope to post pictures if/when WiFi works and/or Sumanta brings a local SIM card. In the meantime you can see several of them on Facebook (@yogikaliom or

So far, though, we’ve been quite comfortable.  When I was convalescing from my fall, it never occurred to me that I’d rather be ‘home’ in order to heal and feel better (which is usually the case). Instead, I felt like I was already there.

Jai Guru!

* * * 

In other news, we had a long list of grocery items that we needed (ghee, toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, ginger, cardamom, moong dal, etc) and engaged Keval Kumar to take us shopping in his ricksha.  We thought we were going to a supermarket. Instead, we ended up going to a couple of local vendors who had everything we needed hiding in the back of the store.  The man in charge would yell out what we wanted to a man or men in back, who would dig it out and either throw or hand it to him. Using photos, pointing, and asking nearby customers to translate, we got everything we needed — and learned some new words in the process.

DUUUDE! - milk
Kishmish - raisins
SO! - 100

Jai Guru!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Expect the Unexpected

I forgot to mention in the last post about how our ricksha driver, Vijay, was concerned that some locals might “want to play Holi” and throw colored powder on us during yesterday’s trip to the clinic.  I told him we were wearing old clothes and it would be fine. Nonetheless he carefully  unrolled and snapped in the covers for the sides and back of the rickshaw so no one could see us.  At the end of the odyssey — which included stops at the pharmacy and a fruit stand —  I asked how much we owed him.

“As you wish,” he replied.

* * * 

Shambo and I had a deep, dreamless sleep-type nap after our morning session and lunch at the ashram.  We were both still groggy when Uma came and told us that Gurudev would be away from the ashram at a special Kriya Yoga camp outside the city from that afternoon until Sunday night.  

Flummoxed, we weren’t sure what to do - since he’s the reason we’re here. I’d been entertaining thoughts of taking Shambo to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Arunachala in Tamil Nadu for his birthday next week (since he is a disciple of Ramana) -- but had decided against it since we’d both rather be with Gurudev. 

But now it seemed like it might be a good idea. So I spent some time trying to get logged  onto to research flights and accommodations (not easy with broken reading glasses +  no WiFi +  limited bandwidth; finally I realized I could use my phone as a hotspot and do the research on the iPad). Meanwhile Shambo spent some time digging up the contact info for a travel agent he’d stayed with years ago. After our research, we decided to let the idea percolate while we took a walk along a nearby “nature trail” that leads to a small, very dear Hanuman temple. 

We’d turned down the road and were heading towards nature when I had a strong feeling we should turn back and go to the ashram.  

“What time is aarti?” I asked Shambo. 

“Right about now,” he replied. 

“Let’s go,” I suggested, and he agreed.

When we got to the ashram, we were surprised to see that it was just as busy as usual. 

And then we saw that  Gurudev was still there, radiating peace.

Not only did we get to spend more time with him, but also got to enjoy aarti *and*  see him off.

Jai Guru!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Fallen Woman

I got up in the middle of the full moon night on Tuesday/Wednesday to use the bathroom and fell face-first onto the edge of the wood bed frame. The impact was between the nose and teeth and the pain was immediate and intense. I fell onto the floor, woke Shambo and asked him to get ice, and got into child’s pose.... and proceeded to go into shock; the pain was profound. 

I spent Wednesday resting and applying ice (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off — as we learned in Sri Dharma’s 500-hour training). Tired and nauseous, I ended up watching a Hindi movie I’d downloaded from Netflix before I left — called Firebrand. It’s about a low-caste, successful women’s divorce lawyer whose past (she was raped as a child) keeps coming back to haunt her.  The solution was brilliant; her doctor had her write down what happened in detail and read it to herself in the front of the mirror - every night for a week (each night, she writes it down and reads it). By the end she’s bored with it; it has become just “a story” and loses its power over her.  Most important, her identity as a victim disappears. I thought that part was brilliant, given what we are trying to do in Jnana Yoga (stop identifying with our false identities, and realize our one single identity — the impersonal Self).

In any case I had plenty of time to hydrate (we can drink straight from the kitchen tap here, thanks to reverse osmosis filtration), use the bathroom and look at the mirror. At some point I noticed that my nose looked and felt a little off — kind of like someone else’s nose.

When Uma and Shambo got home from the ashram, they looked at the nose and thought it was fine. Nonetheless Uma - who lives here more or less full-time — made some calls and found an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who was willing to see me on Thursday morning despite being closed for the Holi holiday. We took a looong rickshaw ride there and he confirmed my suspicion that it  needed straightening, which he did then and there. He also gave me a prescription for some tablets (for the pain and swelling) and liquid paraffin drops (to apply to the interior) — and would not allow me to pay for the visit.

Later I found out he’s a well-known neck surgeon and university professor and has many, many specialities and accolades. 

And he saw me with my comparatively minor injury on his day off.

Without being paid.

Jai Guru

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Vande Gurudev

After a big breakfast in Delhi the trip to Jaipur was quite smooth; Shambo met me at the aiport and we took an Ola (rideshare) to Sharanam guest house, which has a view of the Jal Mahal (Lake Palace) from the roof. Sharanam means refuge, and this is indeed that - and also very much like living inside of an architectural masterpiece. 

When/if the WiFi works, I will share photos. In the meantime I’m using my phone as a personal hotspot (thank you, TMobile), but there’s not quite enough bandwidth for pictures.

More important, I’ve been three times to the ashram — words fail — and settling into the house and getting to know Uma (our roommate), the dog Gabriel, and the lay of the land.

The 5:30 am call to prayer on Monday brought me straight back to my first trip to India, in 2002, and all of that time waiting on the roof to get into class at the old shala — which only held 12 people.


Jai Guru!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Arrived in the Motherland

The plane landed at 1am (vs. the scheduled time of 2:30pm the previous day) but apart from the video giving out before the end of Padmavaat, the 15-hour flight was fairly painless.

[Re-reading that, it looks it looks like it says ‘the plane  landed at I am’ - which is pure Vedanta]

After the flight, immigration, bag claim, customs, money-changing and arguing with Air India about checking my bags through to Jaipur (not possible unless I stayed the night at the airport — regardless of what they told me at O’Hare) I was too tired to scan license plates so skipped Ola and Uber and took a prepaid government taxi (Rs300) to the hotel. 

Finding the hotel took some doing, as did checking in — but here I am with four liters of bottled water, a hot shower, WiFi, free breakfast, and a comfortable bed.

Jai Guru

Photo: Emerging from a Kolkata cab, 2017

* * *

Pranava recommended the hotel. It’s called the Red Fox (and I am drinking some awesome Assam tea out of the very mug you see pictured above).

Shambo and I have been reading The Little Prince to each other via FaceTime. ShantiMa made the recommendation.

Our most recent share was Chapter 20, about the prince’s encounter with a fox - who speaks pure Vedanta to the little boy. 

He says, ‘Here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’

Sounds like it came straight from  Ramana Maharshi.

Jai Guru

* * * 

PS I’m not sure if the photos are coming out; please let me know if they’re not.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Just got a text that tomorrow's flight is now departing at 8PM rather than 2:40PM. No waiting for hours and hours at the airport.

And no connecting flight.

The question is: Does one find a hotel in Delhi, or hire a car to drive to Jaipur?

Pranava says not to take a car. He tried it once, and ended up driving the entire five hours while the 'driver' slept.

Jai Guru

Flight is now departing at 10:30PM.
I've arranged to stay overnight in Delhi at a hotel recommended by Pranava

Photos: Sharanam guest house construction, March 2017

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

No Sleep Til Jaipur

I'm headed to India soon to spend time with Gurudev at his ashram in Jaipur and see/stay in Pranava's new guest house. But, it may take some time to get there - despite having booked a 14-hour nonstop from Chi to Delhi.

I just learned from a friend returning from Varanasi that there's a no-fly zone over Pakistan due to recent conflict with India, and planes are being rerouted and massively delayed.

According to FlightAware, my outgoing flight has been delayed anywhere between 1.5 and 15 hours -- or canceled altogether. The "nonstop" return flight has been stopping in Vienna for a couple of hours and arriving in Chicago 2+ hours behind schedule (My Varanasi friend, KU, said that her "nonstop" flight from Mumbai to Newark stopped in Munich and that passengers went without food for 10 hours, and without water for 8 hours).

This is a good reminder that the purpose of this trip is yatra (pilgrimage) and that tapas (austerities) is part of the package.

And to pack smart.

Jai Guru!