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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

A  HERMIT   IN   THE   HIMALAYAS

Dinner over, I invite them into my bungalow for a final chat, as
they will be off on their journey before dawn* We discuss those
ancient topics of the spiritual life which have been discussed so many
times in India, and the teacher, with the aid of his quick-moving
pencil, explains a number of minor points connected with his own
particular branch of spiritual culture. And then he rises, we all smile
at each other, touch palms in salutation, and they pass from my ken
to retire for the night. That is the last I see of these two yellow-robed
wanderers.

This is the pilgrim season. During the four months of summer
the Himalayan trails and mountain paths can be safely negotiated,
but afterwards they are buried in snow four, five and six feet deep,
and travelling becomes a dangerous and often impossible task. So
the pilgrims make their appearance only during the summer. Most
of them are holy men, fakirs and monks.

I admire the determination, the bravery and the religious
devotion of these people who come from the plains of India, from
regions of fiercely-burning steamy heat to an austere region of
precipices, ice and snow. For the temple of Gangotri itself is right in
the perpetual snow-line. It is easy enough for a European, who is
fairly inured to the cold winters of his own continent, to endure
Himalayan cold, but it is a matter of painful acclimatization and
some suffering for these thinly-clad Hindus to penetrate into such a
region.

Hundreds of men, and even women, come up on pilgrimage
through canyon-like scenery to these snow-clad mountains every
summer, for their religion teaches them that here their fabled gods
and famous teachers lived and, invisibly, still live,

Himalaya is the holy land of the Indian sub-continent. It is to
the Hindus what Palestine is to the Jews and Christians.

Here, in the grove of Badarikasrama, lived the famous sage-
scribe Vyasa, who wrote the Mahabharata, India's greatest religious
epic. There at Rishikesh by the Ganges bank the Vtdas, her sacred
scriptures, were given their final fourfold form. Vasishta, sage and
seer, the recluse writer of an immense Yoga compendium, lived in
this Tehri kingdom before the days of Christ. High up on a snow-
surrounded natural throne, Shiva, the god who took the body of a
Yogi, is stiU believed to be lost in one eternal aeon-old meditation.
In the little tree-shadowed ^ valley of Agastyamuni the great Seer
named Agastya had practised his Yoga in ancient times. The sacred
river Bkagiratki which flows across this kinrdom is mentioned in the