The fire in me has been burning strong these days. After two months of studying and then teaching yoga, my dominant Pitta nature is flaming through the roof. Though I continue to sit through my daily meditation practice, I’ve been flowing far faster through my āsanas – craving that dripping-sweat-tight-lungs-steady-focus feeling.
The Rishikesh valley has continued to incubate us in heat – some days reaching 42 degrees Celsius, factor in the humidity and I’m aching to run for the hills (literally).
I’m on pause for the moment – waiting for a package to arrive from Delhi. It was supposed to be delivered two weeks ago, but of course…this is India. So, I’ve been making use of my time by teaching yoga and singing at the Devi Music Ashram (concerts are Tuesday and Saturday nights at 6:30 – if you’re in town!).
Anyhow, about that fire…
I’ve started training in the early mornings and after sunset – the only hours that are cool enough for real exertion.
Today is Sunday – no yoga classes so that means it’s adventure day! There’s a tingling in my chest when I wake, knowing that today is my day for me, just me and this vast valley of trees.
This morning I started my sadhana around 5am – meditation, pranayama, chanting, āsana, song and dance, āsana, meditation.
I came back downstairs and after showering sat with my cards for a moment. The second card I pull comes up as Sulis, the Celtic goddess associated with the healing properties of water. She suggests that I spend more time near bodies of water and engage in purification rituals. I laughed to myself considering that my plan for the morning is to hike up to some hidden waterfalls outside of town. But of course.
By 6:30am my boots were laced up and I was heading out the door with a small pack and a huge grin.
I started my ascent into the hills at a steady pace – feeling into each step. My hamstrings were still tight from last night’s run – so I lengthen my stride, gently stretching those muscles as I continue to climb. This is a new kind of awareness that I’m becoming more familiar and experimenting with – dynamic stretching; finding that sweet spot that allows your body to both relax and strengthen at the same time; beginning to better understand the relationship between muscle groups and how they work to support each other. …a growing awareness!
The sun is now up but the sky is filled with clouds, providing a long-awaited relief from the heat. I turn my head skyward, with gratitude for this rare phenomena. Thunder cracks, early morning rain. My love for each droplet is immense.
I push onward up this steep and now slippery hill. I synchronize with my breath and feel a deep sense of calm washing over me as my awareness turns inward to the breath; as the honking horns are replaced with bird songs and the pungent smells of the town disappear behind fragrant flowers.
Breathe it in.
The trail twists and turns, crossing over little bridges and passing by small homes, cow paddocks, and little Shiva temples.
The forest grows taller and the fresh rain seems to have awoken all the flora and fauna. The jungle is breathing with me – inhale, exhale, expansion, release.
My mind begins to wander, I bring it back into meditation with the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra:
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam Urvarukamiva Bandhanan Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat
…a prayer to Lord Shiva, the three-eyed god, for healing the woes of grief and death, for releasing attachment to this perceived mortal reality.
It brings me calm and focus.
I carry on.
After a while I notice a small trail off to the left, overgrown, but I’m certain it’s a trail. I step off the main path and hunch down beneath the prickly branches, squat-walking my way through the bush.
Soon it opens up to a gorgeous cascading waterfall, and there I am balancing above it. I scramble down beside it and plunge my head under the water. Its strong and rhythmic pulsation brings me inside – enveloped in its percussive beating.
I turn my face toward the flow and let it wash away the town’s toxins which cling to my skin, feeling the oils lift and fall away; any worries in my mind are gone as swiftly as the water makes its way downstream.
I find my way over to a boulder and perching upon it, I ground my sit-bones, open my chest and enter into a deep, warm meditation.
There is nothing here, in this place.
Even the sound of the waterfall fades away.
There is nothing.
Unaware of how much time has passed, I slowly flutter my eyes open, chant a while and then make my way back up alongside the waterfall, through the overgrown trail and out to the main path. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, stepping back into “reality” after a little journey into freedom.
I continue to climb.
My belly grumbles as I’ve been fasting for a little over 32 hours now. My feet pick up the pace as I know that there’s a little creek-side cafe 20mins up the road, tucked in behind a very small village.
The heat is on the rise and the hiss of the forest insects becomes louder as I climb.
I pass by a few women carrying huge bushels of green brush on their heads, on their way to feed their cows. They are a beautiful sight, machetes in hand, wearing kurtas of vibrant colours, steadily making their way down the hill …in flip flops. Just flip flops.
My western mind has a hard time reckoning with this. The nature of these women seems so foreign to me – never have I seen poise and strength embodied with such ease.
They smile with grace.
Upwards and across this little valley I climb, finally reaching the cafe – a small bamboo hut. I clean my sweaty face with creek water before entering and then walk in to find a very old woman, hunched over in a bamboo chair, propping herself up with her cane. Her hair is wrapped up with a brilliant red scarf and her big belly pours over her sari. As we make eye contact her face illuminates. “Namaste”, we exchange and she motions for me to come over. I lean down to meet her face as she puts her hand on my cheek and bursts into giggles. I have no idea where that laughter came from, but I join in.
A young man emerges from behind the hut and welcomes me. He fumbles about – surely I’m his first customer today and he seems a little unprepared. We agree that he will bring me Indian tea and breakfast – whatever that may be.
I relax into my seat, my legs still tingling from the long climb, my shirt already saturated with my sweat….and I’m only half way up my intended route.
I take in my surroundings and realize that there’s a huge stack of mattresses in the corner, covered in blankets, with little toes sticking out the end. I smile.
I pull out my pocket copy of the Bhagavad Gita from my pack and settle in.
6.29: “The (wo)man of spiritual insight established in same-sightedness, sees the Self as residing in all beings and all beings resting in the Self.”
I glance over to the old woman, we lock eyes and laugh together once more.
The young man who took my “order” appears outside the hut, behind the old woman, peeling a potato over the edge of the embankment.
Mmmmmm, potato for breakfast. My tummy grumbles.
After a while the man returns, seeming flustered, assuring me that breakfast will be ready in 10 minutes. I say “no worries, take your time, it’s all good”.
Inside I smile “it’s all good” – Vancouver Island certainly left its mark, in a really wonderful way. (Island life what’s up! Hehe)
Eventually breakfast arrives — super hot and sweet Masala Chaï with Parantha, Dal, pickled ginger, and curried vegetables.
Mmmmmmmmm. Every. Bite.
The flavours are indescribable – so full of life and love. This was by far the best breakfast I’ve had since arriving in India. All for a hearty 150 rupees (about $3.00 Canadian).
I finish up and give my thanks, excited to get moving again, farther up into the hills.
I cross back over the little valley and begin climbing up a very small, almost hidden path. Soon the openness of sky diminishes as the trees grow taller and thicker. I’m entering into the jungle now.
The melody of a little Canadian song rings in my head:
“You’re taken by the woods even though you’re aware of the slippery cliffs and the big black bears
and the salal snares taller than yourself
Ferns growing as thick as the trees
You’re looking for a flag at the top of the hill
It’s a race against the light
And one false step could mean staying the night
That’s why you should never travel alone
You should never travel alone
and you know that one false step
and you might not make it home…”
…it’s a tune that a dear friend of mine sang to me many times during my days spent alone in the woods on the Island, back in Canada.
I smile thinking about her and her sweet babe, but push it from my mind, more driven by my desire for a burning workout and my curiosity of perhaps finding some abandoned Shiva caves up in these hills.
The voices of a few local friends who know the hills well enter my mind as well; independently they have both mentioned spotting jaguars here recently. I wonder if that’s just something locals tell white girls. Again, my inner fire dominates and I carry on ahead.
As I push onwards I slip back into my meditative state. I feel so peaceful amongst the trees, this is where I belong. I feel at home in my breath, the slight tightness in my lungs makes me feel alive and well. The burning in my thighs is a cozy reminder of my inner strength.
The birds are chirping louder here, inside the woods, the monkeys are laughing and swinging through the branches above.
I step forward, lifting myself up a rocky incline when I hear a deep, deep growl.
Everything inside me freezes – alert, stunned.
Time slows right down.
Did I really just hear a growl?
Did I imagine that?
Where was I just now?
Was I fully present or was I lost in my breath?
My ears are tingling.
It couldn’t be a cat.
Nah, couldn’t be.
Those silly friends of mine were just talking big.
But how could I know?
Wait, Savanna, you’re in the freakin Indian jungle. Solo.
I stand completely still.
A monkey swings from a branch above.
It must have just been a monkey roar – they do that sometimes, right?
I let out a little cry “coo-cooooo”.
“Oh it’s all fine,” I tell myself “don’t be dramatic”.
My mind makes my body move forward.
A few steps further and I feel a tingling in my chest. This isn’t right and I shouldn’t be alone, but my feet keep moving farther into the jungle.
Another ten paces and then again, a deep, deep, deep loud growl emerges from the depths of the woods in front of me.
And then again,
…and once more.
Holy f*ckin sh*t.
I freeze, stunned, frozen,
and then suddenly my whole body snaps into motion as I find myself running as fast as I can back down the mountain. Heart pounding, legs racing.
My mind says “oh shit, you’re totally NOT supposed to turn and RUN away from cats…what? Like you’re gonna out-run a jaguar? F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.”
I burst out of the forest, into the clearing, I keep running, skidding down the rocky path.
Finally I slow down and stop, looking behind me. Of course, there’s nothing following me.
Did that really just happen?
Was my hyper-vigilant nervous system just too awake from that chaï?
Am I just a total drama-queen spaz?
No, for sure there was a deep growl, unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
I breathe deeply, jogging down now, making my way past the cafe, through the little village and down the mountain-side.
So, I’m not saying it was a jaguar. But I’m also not saying that it wasn’t.
I’m glad I didn’t stick around to find out.
I felt the need to calm my nerves, so on my way down I found a perch, up above the cascading creek. I stopped to breathe and laugh and tell myself “don’t be a silly westerner, you have no idea what’s lurking in these hills, take care of yourself gurl”.
I took the time to chant and sing and feel at peace again.
…though perhaps I should stop chanting about releasing all attachments to this mortal reality. I’m really quite enjoying this lifetime.
I recorded a little prayer while up on that perch, singing with the birds, accompanied by the hum of the waterfall below. (I’ll upload the audio file when I have a stronger wifi connection …could be a while, after all, it’s India).
At sunrise tomorrow I’m going for a hike with my friend, Gurdu, an Indian ex-guerrilla fighter. I’ll be sure to ask him about the probability of my near run-in with a wild cat.
[update: I asked Gurdu about it and, without skipping a beat, in a very nonchalant way he said “oh, no, not a jaguar….most likely it was a leopard”. Ha! Okay, sure.]
Peace and love, baby