Monday, September 5, 2011

Unforgettable Narayan Ashram

She was dressed in white sari and her head was covered. She had a diminutive stature. The hunchback was very prominent and her body was arched. The face had a few wrinkles and eyes were deep set. She had an expression of unbound love. ‘Mataji’ as everyone addressed her, must have been more than eighty years old.

I along with my family was trekking in Pithogarh, in Uttranchal district a few years back. The place is endowed with a generous bounty of nature. It lies ensconced in the centre of the Soar Valley which resembles Kashmir valley on a miniature scale. It is dotted with pretty villages around its periphery. While exploring the town we walked into the tourist office and came to learn about Narayan Ashram, a small hamlet en route to Kailash Mansarovar yatra. Dharchula is the nearest foothill before the arduous climb for the yatra begins and is around 90 km from Pithoragarh.

The way from Pithoragarh to Dharchula is alongside the river Kali and is a 3 to 3.5 hour journey. The chief modes of transportation are private jeeps and state government buses. The air is filled with aroma of trees of Oak, Pine, Apple and Deodar as the bus climbs up laboriously. After arriving at Dharchula, we rested for the night.

Next day we started the ascent to Narayan Ashram which is about 14 km from Dharchula, at a height of 2734 m. The climb through the steep rocky terrain was tiring. Sometimes the boulders are so dangerously perched that one wrong step could result in a disaster! The reward for the climb is an unparalleled view of the rising mountains and pristine air and sight of small rivulets descending down the hills. There are no human habitations except a small village where few people stay. The sun had set when we reached the Ashram, and the fog was slowly setting in.

We were unexpected visitors, but were greeted by a man with a flowing beard. He took us to meet ‘Mataji’ who was delighted to see us. She told us to take a quick wash and invited us to join for dinner. It was a simple meal comprising of roti and subzi. It was more satiating than a four course meal, after spending the entire day in climbing the hills to reach Narayan Ashram. She offered us the place to settle down for night and provided the bedding as well. We were dead tired and soon slept off.

Next morning we went around the ashram. It was a sheer visual delight, with a splendid view. All vegetables were grown at the ashram and it was self sufficient. There was a hall for meditation. The ashram was built with  a mix of ‘mud and urd dal’ in 1936.Mataji was the retired Inspector of Schools in UP and the man with the flowing beard we had met the previous evening was a microbiologist from USA who had settled down there. Around 15 people were staying there and were mostly scholars!!

Mataji offered us tea and ‘upma’ prepared by her as we bid  goodbye to start our return journey. It was a heavenly experience and sheer bliss to have traveled this uncharted destination and will remain etched in memory forever.

                                                       The Narayan Ashram