A Walk in the Himalayan Foothills

In the Himalayan foothills, darkness comes early. It is still only 3:00 in the afternoon and the sun is shining brightly but the mountains are already casting strong oblique shadows. We have a long walk ahead and must make quick tracks if we are to get back to our camp before nightfall. We are headed towards Sonapani Estate which is in the middle of a dense jungle and where a ‘maharaj’ has been in residence for the last few weeks.

Gopal, a resident of the nearby Kaphuda village has agreed to escort the two of us to the kutiya (cottage) of the maharaj. The dirt-road from Gopal’s house takes us through terraced fields ploughed with many already-sprouting shoots of sarson (mustard) and a variety of other grains and flowers. In just about 10 minutes, the initially broad road has petered out into a 2-feet wide pathway as we come to the fringes of the jungle. Cowherds appear ready to herd their wards back to the relative safety of their sheds. We walk on a trunk of felled pine which is a bridge over the small brook that bubbles under our feet. The brook bisects a deep gorge where two half-eaten carcasses of cattle have been temporarily abandoned – the big cats must have fed well. Animal smells permeate everywhere. This is leopard country.

My two companions appear casual enough but there is fear simmering in my mind. Fear. Haven’t felt that emotion for quite some time now and the newness of it is exciting. I am now subject to the law of the jungle. I feel like an intruder as we walk between tall pine trees which seem to close in on us in the lengthening shadows of approaching dusk. As we walk upto a gentle promontory where we hope to catch a glimpse of the rishi’s hut, I imagine feline eyes watching. It must have drizzled here and the carpet of fallen pine-needles has become slippery. This walk is also an exercise in body-balancing. One relaxes the muscles to let their energy flow in synchrony with the ups and downs of the terrain.

The raucous cry of magpies shatters the silence and my city-bred heart does a somersault. The colourful gray and red birds rush overhead; each carrying a bunch of berries in it’s beak.

We come to a clearing and there it is. A compact and neat log cabin which (we learn later) has been built by the villagers specially for the ‘maharaj’. He is squatting outside clad in a thin dhoti while we are insulated against the biting cold by layers of warm wool. I subscribe this to super-power until we enter the cabin and are hit by a blast of heat from the fire blazing within. It is not unreasonable for the maharaja to periodically seek the cold outside.

He looks about 35 but could be older; and he is athletically fit. Long hair; but clean. There is something powerful about his face. When we introduce ourselves, he says hes been expecting us! His back has been bothering him – it gets painful after a few hours of meditation and distracts him. He needs to see a doctor and has been focusing his prayers on getting one to visit him! And it looks like it has happened! Sushil, who has worked in an orthopaedic hospital, finds a patient in the most unlikely of places!

The maharajs actions are fluid as he makes tea for us. He tells us of the unimaginable power of dhyana. Once, he says, he found himself in a very dense forest in Gujarat and was camped in the open, under a tree. Around 9:00 PM, he suddenly felt like having a cup of tea. There was no tea-powder, or milk or sugar and he was not inclined to walk to the nearest village which, in any case, was over 3 kilometers away. So (he continues), ” I sat down and meditated on my devi. Around 11:00 PM, I saw a light approaching from a distance. The eyes of lions also glow like torches in the dark, but this turned out to be a villager coming towards me. And this man brought with him a pot full of tea! Why did you walk all the way in the middle of the night with a pot of tea for me? I asked. The chap said that hed been sleeping when devi gave him darshan in his dream and told him to do just this!”

Whether or not I take him at his word, I realize that the maharaj is indeed an unusual character. Living alone in this remote cabin in the center of a jungle filled with leopards, bears and other predators is, in itself, something extraordinary. I ask him if he is ever afraid. An enigmatic smile plays around his lips as he says: “What is fear? If I experience fear in the present, isnt it really my thoughts about my future that are threatened? Am I afraid of the pain Ill be caused as the leopard attacks me with his teeth and paws? No, the actual fear centers around my ignorance about death. The very idea of death appears so anti-life to most people that they consciously suppress such thoughts – they try hard to ignore the fact that no one has survived life permanently. While we are alive, we are not dead. After we die, its a whole new ball-game.” He does not elaborate.

I ask him about the secret of his vibrant physique and he says he combines four disciplines for good health: Meditation, Prayer, Yoga and a retinue of Physical Exercises and he loves to eat lots of pure ghee!

So what actually does he do everyday? I ask. With a mysterious smile he says: “Every morning, I create an idea of how my day should go so I am Bhrama the creator. I then act out my plan – so I become Vishnu the implementor and every evening, as the day comes to a close, I am finished with all my plans so I am Shiva the destroyer!”

On that enigmatic note, we wish him goodbye and hurry back to our sanctuary where a hot bath and a glass of Old Monk rum awaits.

(Contributed by Ajit Harisinghani, author of One Life to Ride: A Motorcycle Journey to the High Himalayas. You can know more about his book at http://onelifetoride.com)



  1. Hi Ajay,

    Looks like a long time you spent in the divine land. I enjoyed reading your journals. Do you still travel to parts of Ladakh?

    Best wishes,

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