"The Power Trip", Pioneer, 2005

I stood confronting a tall bearded prophet who rose from his cot outside his little hut and led me towards a tall building, signaling that we need to reach the top most rung of this structure and talk! As I follow him through the circular stairs holding his sleeve, of a sudden he lets go, climbs up higher while I shrink to a tiny two-year old almost ready to trip because of open shoe laces underneath an overgrown trouser! I look up helplessly. He laughs. “One step at a time, is that how you intend to climb? That is not the way! Plus our conversation can’t wait! You must become a whirl of wind and float up!”, his voice echoed loud. I obeyed, as easily as a child, and becoming a whirl of wind, floated up.

Just then our car skid profusely, and I got plucked out of my vision. "Where are we”, I asked. "Kathgodam" came the reply. As my thirst grew for the palpable silence of the hills, plans materialized to head for camp purple at Mukteshwar, a village in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, India, one of the highest ridges in middle Himalayas at 2272 m with panoramic views of the snow covered mountains. Our destination was still a few hours away, but I knew I would be there soon, like a whirlwind! Every turn of the circular climb lifted the veil over its remarkable beauty bit by bit. It was dawn when I reached this scenic Abode of Shiva; and Navami, the ninth day of the moon. As the sun rose over the horizon, all grappling thoughts lost to its beauty.

Minutes later, I found myself ensconced at Camp Purple in a meadow surrounded by peach and apple orchards that overlooked distant graded mountains, and wondered why we make homes of brick and stone! The silence dripping from this absolutely still valley poured its sweetness into my soul. There was just stillness, and more. After a refreshing bath in tent, I was ready for an encounter with Shiva at the highest hill in this small town. The moment I started the climb, I knew precisely why I was here in Mukteshwara (literal for "Lord of Liberation"). I was indeed seeking what I had lost somewhere along the way, my lost inheritance of timeless stillness.

As I walked up the muddy steps leading towards the temple, a raven flew past, and I saw my shadow cut another—that of the temple bell. Welcome signs! I proceeded further with the mild fragrance of the incense lit by the local villagers beckoning me. Entering the small temple complex, my eyes fell on the Shiva lingam before I spotted the ancient 12th century idol of Lord Dattatreya embedded uniquely between an Om symbol. Rarely does one find a Dattatreya idol, the three faced personification of trinity in this pose, especially in northern India. I sat awhile absorbing the blessing of this strange manner of meeting. Just then, a village folk handed me a prayer book, and flipping open a random leaf I spotted my name. The message was by clear. I had been called.

Adorning my forehead with the red puja tilak and gently putting aside a bronze colored insect exerting to crawl up my feet, I walked along a lane behind the temple. Drawn irresistibly into the forest path listening to daytime crickets, I reached an open area with a gathering of rocks. Fitting myself into a crescent between two huge rocks right at the edge of the cliff (the rock fitted my contour perfectly, with a perfect armrest), I overlooked the splendor sprinkled around. The breeze pressed against my eyelids that shut most willingly. I realized that atop the hill is indeed the place for some real conversations with God.

Meanwhile, a young group of corporate women on their annual training workshop at the camp were trying their strength against the rocks. No one noticed the thatched roof cottages of locals, where the rock climbing classes were taking place. A picnic lunch organized by the camp kitchen followed. An energy rich, low fat menu of grated carrot salad and boiled peas in a delicious white sauce followed. I lounged by the campfire at night and awoke early to morning bird calls. Scheduled to head back at 4 am on an eight hour drive back to New Delhi, we sipped tea together with the bus driver. I saw two hawks do a sequence, as though to bid us farewell. They flew away as noiselessly as they had come.