An Ill-fated Expedition
Most of the stories I have so far told in this chapter have been about the foreigners Papaji encountered in Rishikesh or Hardwar. He was not neglecting his old devotees during this period, for he still periodically visited Londa, Bombay and Lucknow to see them, and they in turn occasionally visited him in Hardwar. The next story is about an ill-fated expedition that Papaji embarked on with a group of his Indian devotees. Papaji’s earlier meetings with some of the members of this group were narrated in the previous chapter.
Some of my devotees from the South wanted to go on a pilgrimage with me to Badrinath. They had told me several times that they wanted to go on this trip with me because they wanted to see some of India’s sacred places in the company of their Guru. I eventually agreed to go with them. Apart from myself, there were five others. One was Narayan Bakre, a doctor from Londa; another was a forest contractor from Belgaum; a third was a teacher; the fourth, B. D. Desai, worked in the accounts department of the Taj Hotel in Bombay; and the fifth, Kamlani, ran the canteen at the Londa railway station.
We travelled together from Karnataka to Hardwar, the place where all the buses leave for the pilgrimage centres in the Himalayas. It was the height of the tourist season and we couldn’t get reservations on any bus for seven days. It didn’t matter. We had plenty of time and there were lots of places to see in Hardwar and Rishikesh. During the week we bought all the things that we thought would be necessary for a trip to Badrinath. We needed a lot because we were also planning some side trips to neighbouring places such as the Valley of Flowers. The altitude in some of these places is over 5,000 metres so we made sure we had good boots, coats, umbrellas, etc. We also procured a large supply of non-perishable food because we knew that eating places were few and far between in the places we were intending to go. The doctor who was travelling with us bought special medicines which he said would be useful if any of us suffered from altitude sickness.
On the appointed day we assembled at the bus stand, tied all our bags to the roof and took our reserved seats. After a few minutes I announced to everyone, ‘We are not going to Badrinath. Everybody get off the bus. We are staying here.’
The others were shocked. They had spent a week waiting for this bus, and within a few minutes of its departure I was telling them that I didn’t want any of us to go on the trip.
They all wanted to know why, but I wouldn’t give them any reason. I ordered the whole party to get off the bus and remove the bags from the roof. All the other people on the bus wanted to know why we were leaving, but I wouldn’t give them any reasons either.
A sadhu wearing orange robes asked one member of our party why we were getting off and he replied, ‘He is our Guru. We have all come on a pilgrimage with him from South India. We were planning to go to Badrinath with him, but now he has ordered us off the bus, saying that we are not going to go there. We have been waiting a week for this bus, but now he says we cannot leave on it.’
This swami, who had a long beard, said, ‘Don’t believe him, he’s a lunatic! What kind of Guru would prevent you from going to a holy place like Badrinath? He’s not a Guru, he’s a fraud! Don’t listen to him. Get back on the bus and ignore what he is saying.
To make sure that none of my party went back on the bus, I handed in our tickets to the conductor and got a refund. He immediately resold them to some other people who were waiting nearby in the hope that there would be a last-minute cancellation.
Three of the five were happy to abide by my decision, but the doctor and the teacher still wanted to go. They had come a long way and they were disappointed to have their long-awaited pilgrimage cancelled at the last minute.
Seeing their disappointment, I proposed an alternative trip.
‘Let’s go to Kashmir instead. We can go to the Vaishno Devi Temple. We can also go and see the ice lingam in the Amarnath Cave.’
The Vaishno Devi Temple is one of the richest in India. On big festival days hundreds of thousands of people go there on pilgrimage. The ice lingam at Amarnath is equally famous. Situated in a cave high up in the Himalayas, it is a naturally formed lingam. In August every year, tens of thousands of people make an arduous trek to the cave to have darshan of the lingam. It is a walk of several days that ends at a height of about 12,000 feet.
We began to journey by train. At Amritsar two of the boys got down, saying that they wanted to have a cup of tea on the platform. Actually, they wanted to have a smoke but they didn’t like to smoke in front of me. One of them bought a newspaper, The Tribune, and immediately found a story about a bus crash. It was the bus that we had been booked on. Forty miles out of Hardwar it had fallen into the Ganga, killing the thirty-eight people who were on board. Some of the group were still complaining about the cancelled trip to Badrinath, but when they read the newspaper, they suddenly got very quiet and didn’t mention the subject again.
Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume Two, pages 102-104
By David Godman