I must tell you my experience of landing in Devalok. This was probably, maybe ’85, ’86, 1985 or ’86 – I am not sure, one of those two years. So I go to Himalayas and I am alone, I trek. I just have – I don’t have any woollen clothing, because I live in South India. And I just have t-shirts, little thicker ones, and I have one canvas jacket.
Canvas jackets do well in South because it rains. So I am always in the canvas jacket, because I am riding on my motorcycle. If it rains, I never had the – I never allowed bad weather to stop me from doing what I am doing, whatever it may be. Whether I am playing a game or I am riding or traveling, I never allowed bad weather to interfere with what I am doing. So even if it’s pouring monsoon rains, I will be just riding. So always there is a canvas jacket with me.
People from Bangalore should know – Flying Machine jackets. But when you go to Himalayas, when it gets cold, the canvas gets colder than normal clothing. Actually cotton clothing would be better, canvas gets so cold. So there’s no way I can wear this jacket. For the first time I realized, canvas jacket doesn’t work in altitudes. All over South India it did well for me. The highest altitude I reached is Ooty and Kodaikanal, so it protected me pretty well. But I went there and I couldn’t wear this canvas jacket. So I had to take it off, and just walk around in T-shirts, when temperatures are like minus three, minus four degree centigrade.
Then those days there were bookh hartal buses. These buses are called bookh hartal. Bookh hartal means hunger strike. Morning 3:30 AM it will leave Haridwar. One of those small, short chassised junk Tata buses. The roads were not like how it is today. The Himalayan roads were fabulous. In my experience they were fabulous, because almost every corner the bus looked like almost it’s going to fall off. And, I always went and sat on the top. Almost every year, from Haridwar to wherever I went, Gomukh, Kedar, Badri, I traveled on top of the bus. And I know every bend in the Himalayan road.
About five years ago, when I was driving, people who were driving with me were terrified. Because I was hitting like one-thirty, one-forty on the Himalayan tracks. Because I know every bend, I know every rock, every corner. It’s like a video in my mind. If I just turn it on, it’s like I am seeing the road two bends ahead all the time. Those moments of sitting there on top of the bus and drinking in the Himalayas, even today I have a perfectly unedited video of the road of complete twelve, fourteen hours’ drive. Now that Tehri dam has changed, I’ve got little confused near that place, because the dam diverted the route. Otherwise the video if I turn it on, it’s just plays on for me even today.
So I sit on the bus and I reach there. That day the bus broke down half way, and there was some little bit of, you know, landslides – we reached late at Badri. We had to cross the gate at six o’clock or 6:30, but we didn’t make it and then the driver somehow begged the gate and opened, and we reached there around 8:30 in the evening. It was raining a little bit – cold. I can’t wear my canvas jacket. So I am in my T-shirt, all my muscles stiff. But I am young, there is no substitute for that.
So I went around and I am trying to find myself an accommodation. I am a super budget traveler. Normally, wherever else I went – in New Delhi I always slept in the bus station. ISBT, I have slept in that station any number of nights. In Haridwar, I slept in the bus station. In Rishikesh, I always slept in the bank of Ganga. It’s only further up when it gets cold – in Uttarkashi I always slept outside. Only when I went further up into the cold, I need a place. Then I am looking for one cheap accommodation somewhere to put my head down, I am exhausted.
I got some food to eat. That’s one thing in North India, you get roti and aloo-aloo, aloo-aloo, aloo-aloo, aloo-aloo. Four, four different varieties (Laughter). In twenty, twenty-five days of journey, only the potato is hanging in your head. Being from South India, you are desperately hoping somewhere there’ll be some little rice and rasam, that you can slurp down, which feels like food. So, I ate the aloo-aloo. After the aloo treatment, I am looking for a place. No place. They said every hotel is full. There were not this many, there were just one or two. They were all full.
Then I went into an ashram. I forget the name of the ashram, anyway. I went in and I said, “I want to see swamiji,” whoever is there. After much haggling they took me inside. I had eyes, that they could not ignore. Now my eyes are like over-worked, and not the same. I had no beard, but I had eyes that they cannot ignore. So they took me in. Then I went there.
Two really nice big swamis, full orange robe, big bearded, they were like, “Hmm.” I went and I said, “I’ve come from south and I don’t have a place to lie down and I am all wet. My T-shirt is wet, I don’t have a change because all my clothes in my haversack are wet by now. So I need a place to lie down.” They looked at me, “What do you do?” this, that. I said, “I am beginning to teach what I know.” “Mmmm, uskho devalok mei dal do” and I thought “Oh, wow, this is my fortune. They are going to put me in Devalok.” Devalok mei dal do, all the stories that you have heard about Devalok.
I went. They took me inside a building, like this, like this, alley after alley. Then they gave me a room. The whole room was laid with beds, nobody there. So I went and I said, “Thank you” and I put my bag down. I just want to hit the sack. I hit the sack, ‘Kshhhh…’ so much water in the beds, Chssss… it all came. I, oh my god, okay, this bed is wet. I slept on that bed, that is also wet. This bed, this is also wet. But in spite of so much water, it did not drown the bugs. When I lie down, they bite me here, they bite me there, and I rolled and rolled and rolled. There were about eight beds, I think. I rolled across eight beds throughout the night, just to make sure all the bugs are evenly fed. I could have at least stayed in one bed. Once they are satisfied maybe they would have also slept, but I believed they will tell their friends, and they will all come. I just wanted to confuse them a bit, lying here, lying there, lying there.
Then I couldn’t sleep beyond 3:30 in the morning. The treatment of the bugs and cold bed – you know, watery beds, not cold, wet. Not damp, totally – like if you lie on it, your clothes will soak up, including your underwear everything is wet in that cold. So then at 3:30 in the morning, I got up and went out, then I saw Devalok.
I was like no sleep and I thought I’ll just get myself a tea and carelessly little bit, walking like this. Then I just looked up, the whole valley is pitch dark. Just the mountain peak was white and golden, lit by the sun from elsewhere. I burst into tears, then I knew I was in Devalok. No, it is our lok which is so beautiful, that you don’t have to go to Devalok. So that is my experience of Devalok.