Set in the cool
foothills of the Himalayas in Uttaranchal is a quaint little ashram.
With beautiful flowers studding the temple courtyard and near rooms
tucked away around it, the ashram presents the perfect setting for a
quiet and secluded retreat. There are no telephone lines here so you
cannot be disturbed by the outside world.
The ashram grew around a
very ordinary-looking man who, in fact, was an extraordinary saint.
His name was Neem Karoli Baba, after the village where he was first
discovered in pre-independent India as a ticketless traveller in a
first-class compartment of a train. The British ticket collector
threw him out at the next stop whereupon he quietly disembarked and
sat under a tree. However, the train did not move thereafter, much
as the engine driver tried to go full steam. All kinds of checks
were carried out only to reveal that the train was in perfect working
order. The Indian passengers then told the ticket collector that
since he had removed a holy man from the train it would not move.
Embarrassed at having to believe such native irrationalities, the
ticket collector nevertheless called the sadhu (holy man) back onto
the train. The holy man got back onto the train as quietly as he had
disembarked and it puffed out of the spot immediately!
There grew a well
organized station at this spot and Baba became famous for many more
miracles until he left his body in 1973.
Clad in a white dhoti
(unstitched garment) with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders,
Baba (or Maharajji, as he was also known) was known for the
spontaneous love that was palpable in his presence. With a
mischievous sense of humour and seemingly ordinary ways, Baba drew
throngs of people to the ashram and visited many places during his
life. Among his devotees were the roadside tea-stall vendor, the
fruit seller, a Harvard professor, a scholar of Hindi literature
diverse were the temperaments and vocations of those drawn to him.
His only teaching was to love one and all, something which he did
effortlessly. Even as they needed a translator to interpret his
We grew up under
his care, says the owner of the little restaurant opposite the
temple. Maharajji was sitting on this bench by the road more
than fifty years ago when my father, then a young man, happened to
walk by one night. Nobody knew Maharajji then, certainly my father
didnt know him. Maharajji called out to my father by name and
asked him where he was going at this time of night. Surprised at
being addressed thus by a stanger, my father stopped in his tracks,
and was even more amazed when Maharajji told him not to worry about
the case that was pending in the court, as the ruling would be in his
(my fathers) favour. Maharajji then promised to visit my
father sometimes, which he did ten years later, when he stayed in
our house for a few days. All that we have today is due to his
Miracle of Love is the
title of a book compiled by an American devotee of Baba. It is full
of miraculous episodes recounted by a number of Babas devotees.
While the sceptic may not find much to believe in such happenings,
no one can fail to be untouched by the peace in the atmosphere of the
ashram which stands testimony to the man around whom it grew. People
believe that Neem Karoli Baba was but an incarnation of the monkey
god Hanuman. The Hanuman Chalisa, a special prayer
addressed to this Lord is recited many times a day in the ashram.
It is a place definitely
worth visiting. The temple office does require prior intimation in
writing so that they can see whether accommodation will be available
for you. Shree Ma, the principle disciple of the Baba looks after
the ashram now and it is open to visitors only when she is there.
Periodically, she goes off into the hills to meditate in solitude.
What gives the ashram its
peace? The hills that stand beside guarding the inmates from the
sharp sun or ungirdled wind. Or more simply, its distance from a
city? The salubrious climate or the innumerable fruit trees around?
The simple folk that inhabit the village? Or is it because the ashram
did not have many visitors when I went? I do not know. When I sat in
the open space within the ashram, which has comfortable rooms for
visitors, I never looked for reasons. Peace seemed most natural in a
place still vibrating with the power of meditation of the Maharajji.
This ashram is for those
who are seeking silence and have the faith to bide time while
searching for answers. No ready succour in spirtitual gurus.
Trains will take you up
to Katgodham, after which a two-hour bus ride will reach you to
Kainchi, where the ashram is easily seen from the bust stop. Simply
vegetarian food is cooked in the ashram kitchen, and donations are
accepted. Apart from a prayer routine two or three times a days,
there are no set practices to be observed. One simply drinks in the
serenity of the place, for nothing is asked of the seeker here.
For those who are not
purposefully seeking only spirtitual solace, there is a hill station,
Nainital, just a couple of hours away (by bus) from the ashram. It
has all the facilities that a tourist would look for, so a trip to
Kainchi could well be combined with a holiday away from the warm
plains in a well-established tourist resort, Nainital. You will
return refreshed, both in soul and body.