August 8th, 2009
The following is a count of my journey to Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave in Dronagiri area in Himalayas. I took the trek on 29th of July 2009 along with my Father. After several visions and signals from the Masters, I finally made the trek deep into the Mountains at about 9000 feet.
To view photos from my Trek to Babaji’s Cave, please click here.
Leaving Rohtak for Haldwani
After I could not make the trek to Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave in Pandukholi region during my visit to Almora, Himalayas in 2007 – I had accepted the fact that the time had not come yet for me to visit. During my summer 2009 vacation, I was determined to make the trip and after a small hiccup, it materialized into reality. I will try to be as faithful in remembering the little details as possible and provide you with my experiences during this extraordinary journey that I took with my Father.
My Father and I left Rohtak on Sunday, 26th July 2009 at about 10 AM for Haldwani where we would stop for the night. The drive from Rohtak to Haldwani takes about 7 to 8 hours and is about 340 KMs (337 in our case) if there are no traffic problems. The route is:
Rohtak to Delhi to Ghaziabad onwards to NH 24 all the way through Hapur, Muradabad, Rampur, Bilaspur, Rudrapur to Haldwani. We stopped at Haldwani for the night where an old colleague and friend of my Father Mr. Bisht lives. Haldwani is the last stop in the plains on way to Nainital and surrounding areas and is known as the Pravesh-Dwaar (entrance) to the Dev-Bhoomi Uttaranchal (now Uttrakhand). It connects plains to the Kumaon region of the mighty Himalayas. The next morning was rather hot and muggy as we left Haldwani at around 10 AM for Almora. The drive was scenic as it normally is anywhere in Himalayas. By then we had learned that Monsoon rains had mostly evaded the state of Uttaranchal, but as we started ascending the mountains on NH 87, we noticed raindrops on our wind shield. Due to landslides that had occurred earlier, the normal route (via Bhimtal) to Almora had been closed to public and we had to take a detour and go through Ranikhet and enter from the backside of Almora. On our way, 4 ladies asked for lift to Pilot Baba’s Ashram that was on the way. We gladly accommodated them and dropped them at their destination.
Visit to Haidakhan Ashram, Ranikhet
As we reached Ranikhet, my Father and I decided to pay our respects to Haidakhan Baba and visit his Ashram on the outskirts of Ranikhet. To visit the Ashram, one must enter the Ranikhet Cantonment and take the low road from the Main roundabout beyond the Sadar Bazaar. Here we found another older Gentleman who we asked for directions and we ended up offering him a lift into Ranikhet until the point where the 2 KM slip road took us directly to Haidakhan Baba Ashram. Since it was a cloudy day, we could not see any of the peaks Nandadevi, etc.) that are usually visible from the Ashram on a clear day. We spent about 30 minutes at the Ashram and I meditated for about half an hour. After paying our respects, we left the Ashram at 2:05 PM for Almora in hopes of making the trek to Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave the following day. Little did we know that it was not yet to be. We arrived at Almora at 4:03 PM (odometer 474 KMs).
Fury of Rain Gods
Later that night in Almora, my Father and I both woke up to the sound of raindrops. The next morning turned out to be immensely cloudy and carried dense fog. We could barely see the terrace of the floor beneath ours. The clouds were below us and it felt as if we were in heaven for a moment. At times the floating clouds seemed to enter our hotel room and the very next moment the rain would stop giving us a bleak hope of setting out for Pandukholi where Babaji’s cave is located. The day, however, stayed dismal and rainy for most of the time and by 10 AM we had dropped the plan of making the trek. Later that night, the TV news predicted heavy rains during next 48 hours in the state and my father even suggested that we leave the following day if rain gods continued with their fury. To our relief, rains finally gave way to a light drizzle at about 4 PM. We finally left the hotel room to take a walk on Mall Road and also visited the Almora Market. Before retiring for the night, my prayers seemed to be getting answered as I finally saw the mountains in front of us that had stayed hidden behind clouds for most of the day. The heavy cover of clouds seemed to be saying goodbye to the mountains and I thanked Babaji for keeping my hopes alive of making the trek the next day.
Bright and Sunny 29th, Trek to Babaji’s Cave
Bright sunshine greeted us the next morning as we woke up to almost clear blue skies. We left soon after our breakfast of Poori Bhaaji at 8:39 AM. Kukuchina was 86 KMs of drive from Hotel Shikhar, Almora. To reach the trekking point, one must leave Almora on NH 87 and pass through Ranikhet and continue towards Dwarahat. From Dwarahat, one must bear right towards Dunagiri Temple and continue towards Pandukholi. We reached Dunagiri Temple at 11:25 AM (odometer 557 KMs) and Pandukholi was still 5 more KMs to go. After driving for a few more minutes we reached Kukuchina, which is the last village before the 2 KM walk to Rathkhaal where the trek begins. We had a cup of hot Himalayan tea at Joshi Tea stall. Mr. Joshi, who runs the shop, carries Himalayan hospitality and a welcoming smile on his face. We were surprised that he remembered us from our brief stop from 2007 when I had failed to make the trek. We discussed the conditions and the weather in the mountains and requested him to arrange a Jeep ride along the 2 KM narrow path to take us to the trekking point. My Father and I decided against taking our own Ford Ikon car considering the extremely narrow and hilly path that, in my opinion, should either be travelled on foot or in a vehicle with 4-wheel drive.
Jeep Ride to Rathkhaal, facts about the Area
On many occasions, I thought the right tire of the Jeep would slide and slip over into the Valley taking all of us along and not to mention, I kept murmuring Babaji’s name all through the nerve-breaking Jeep ride. Once the Jeep dropped us at the point where the YSS (Yogoda Satsang Society) board pointed towards the Cave up in the mountains, we chanted Babaji’s name and began our trek at 12:07 PM (Tuesday, 29th July 2009). Those who wish to get an idea of the geography and the trek must understand a few things. Babaji’s Cave is unlike most of the other sacred places such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, etc. which are visited by thousands of people each year. You will even find people in Almora area that have not heard of Babaji’s cave up in Pandukholi area. The area in particular is 86 KMs. from Almora and the trek requires sincerity, strong will, devotion and intuitiveness on your part. YSS (Yogoda Satsang Society) along with others have done a great job in putting up a few boards and laying out a very basic raw mountain path, but one may still get easily lost if not attentive and intuitive.
Trek begins to Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave
As we started climbing the stony and narrow path along the mountain edge, I felt a surge of strange energy and did not feel any fatigue all through the trek whatsoever. My father took frequent breaks while climbing and I went along capturing the extraordinary Mountains around us through the lens of my camera. Somewhere mid-way during our trek, it started raining heavily and we had to take out our raincoats from my backpack. Climbing a mountain path such as this one could be very dangerous especially when it’s raining. Rain along with pine needles along the path can make the mountain surface very slippery as we discovered during our trek. Interestingly, I slipped more than my father. May be his mountain skills acquired during childhood when he used to climb mountains in Kashmir, helped him along the way. After the rains became too heavy, I said a little prayer to Surya Dev (Sun) and whispered Surya Mantra so the sun would shine and rain would stop. Lo and behold within a minute or so, the rains subsided and sun came out. I was grateful to Babaji as it made the climb a little easier especially for my Father.
Mahavatar Babaji Smriti Bhawan
After an hour or so of climbing through the forest, we came to an ashram, which turned out to be Mahavatar Babaji Smriti Bhawan established on the hilltop by YSS (Yogoda Satsang Society) on 25th July 2002. An elderly couple that met us in front of the Bhawan told us that the Cave was further up, about a couple minutes climb from the Smriti Bhawan. We also ran into a group from Andhra Pradesh that was visiting Babaji’s Cave. Their driver gave us the key to the Cave’s door after I convinced him that we would lock the Cave door and the Smriti Bhawan and hand the key over to a keeper that lived in the village down in the valley. Initially my father suggested that he would rest at the Bhawan and I should continue up to the cave, however, I did not think that he came all the way up here to miss out on visiting the sacred cave. After my suggestion, he accompanied me up.
Arrival at Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave
Finally we saw the steps and the door of the Cave. I asked my Father to do the honors and unlock the door. As soon he opened the door, a sudden rush of energy went through me as I saw the interior of the sacred Cave. On first look, one could say that 4 to 5 people could easily sit next to each other in the Cave. We noticed that drops of water were trickling down from the cave top, which we attributed to the recent rain. Although YSS has put up a marker, gate and the steps, the cave itself is natural and could be thousands of years old. I would like to refrain from making any claim on this, however. Since the plastic spread inside the Cave was wet, we decided to spread our raincoats and sit on them. I sat in the Lotus pose (Padamasana) and was immediately lost in a trance. One does not have to try and meditate as it comes naturally where one almost feels being present on a different plane far away from the mundane world. The silence and the grace that prevailed within the cave were unlike anything I had experienced before in my lifetime.
“It’s time to leave”
Call it the fury of the weather gods or Babaji’s signal to leave – within about 15 to 20 minutes clouds started thundering in the most threatening way and we knew that rains were imminent. I finally opened my eyes and my Father suggested that we get a move on. After taking a few pictures and paying our respects, we locked the door and descended back to the Smriti Bhawan. To our surprise we found that the group of people we had met earlier was still inside the Ashram where we also decided to stay put until the rain ceased. The Smriti Bhawan had 3-4 rooms where one could stay overnight. Since the rains were heavy outside, I decided to sit and meditate inside the Bhawan where a couple of other people from the group were already meditating. Within about 30 minutes, rains gave way to bright sunshine and we decided to leave.
Later while viewing the photos, I found one photo clicked after another where energy circles could be seen on my right. I discussed this with my Uncle, Dr. Rajeev Kaushik, who is a Sahaj Yogi and has recently published a book with Rupa Publications on Kundalini Yoga describing his experiences and revelations. He explained that such energy circles and usually seen at charged and sacred places where sages have done tapas or establish their presence in astral form.
Losing our way in the forest
In a stroke of wisdom, I suggested to my father that we leave the group behind and be on our way. Little did I realize that the descent back to the village would be even trickier than the climb up. Due the rain, the mountain paths were filled with water and we both slipped at a few places. I tried to be more than alert despite handling my camera and capturing the serenity and beauty of the mountains and trees around us. At a sharp turn, we came to a narrow path off the mountain where despite my strong suggestion; we turned left per my Father’s instinct. It wasn’t too late before we realized that we had not come this way during our climb up. Instead of descending the part of the mountain on our right we had confused the surroundings and were actually heading in a totally strange direction. After ascending the mountain and then descending again, we found ourselves headed straight to the valley into deep forest. At one point we could even see a house in front of us at some distance away, however, it was on the other side of the mountain and it was not possible to reach it unless one crossed the forest that lay at the bottom part of the mountain that we were on.
I then suggested to my Father to bring back his mountain-instincts and guide us out of this predicament. As I mentioned earlier, he had climbed many mountains during his childhood in Kashmir, which at that time was full of wilderness as well as animals. He took a moment to study the surroundings and then eventually with some input from me, we headed to our right and started climbing the part of the mountain that lay ahead of us. It was my understanding that it would bring us back to our original path. At some places, we had some serious hiking on the cliff of the mountains that was also wet from recent rains. I was also worried about my Father and his ability to climb at such rough spots.
By Babaji’s grace, we went through the rough path and also crossed a small waterfall hidden deep within the mountains and eventually ended up in a small field of Turnips. In front of us – lay a villager’s hut who, to our good fortune, was inside the hut and having his lunch at the time. My father told them that we were coming back from Babaji’s Cave and had lost our way in the mountains and requested him to show us the correct way to reach Rathkhaal and then Kukuchina. Before he showed us the correct way, he stressed more than once that we join him for lunch or tea at the least. We politely thanked him for his generosity and went our way after getting directions. This along with other minor incidents strengthened our faith that people in the mountains were still filled with the hospitality, trust and kindness that has almost disappeared from the plains.
After descending through another rough spot that was filled with water and stones, we reached the 2 KM stretch (Rathkhaal) that would take us to Kukuchina where our car stood parked near Joshi Tea Stop. Earlier we had taken a jeep ride to save time and avoid any fatigue before beginning the trek; however, we decided that it was best to walk back to Kukuchina so we could cherish the beauty and serenity of the sacred mountain.
Guide welcomes us!
On a lighter note, I later pointed to my Father a little incident that had happened earlier while were inside the Smriti Bhawan up in the mountains after our visit to the Cave.
Father had mentioned about the challenges involved in our trek (from the heavy rains to the difficult trek) and I had casually remarked back (almost boasting) “what more challenge can Babaji present us with?” We chuckled later that Babaji indeed gave us another small challenge by making us take the wrong route and getting us lost in the forest. Lord works in mysterious ways to teach us lessons, both big and small in life.
Our trek back became very tiring due to the extra fatigue we had to undergo after losing way up in the mountains. We took frequent breaks and just sat in silence to breathe in the mountain air. At one spot, we came across a Black Dog who was waiting on the edge of the mountain by a boulder and came running towards us as we approached that spot. Since I have never been close to dogs (that’s another story), my father cajoled him into making him go away. On a very interesting note, the dog stayed ahead of us all the way to Kukuchina and even stopped and waited for us as we took breaks during our trek back on the stony Himalayan path. We both had our own ideas about the dog, which would be later revealed to us by Sh. Netraballabh Joshi at Joshi Tea Stall.
Arrival back at Kukuchina
After about 55 minutes, we arrived at Kukuchina at 3:30 PM and Mr. Joshi greeted us with a smile. My father was quick to request 2 hot cups of Himalayan tea and a couple pieces of bread to chase away the fatigue of the trek. We also met Shri Netra Ballabh Joshi with whom we held discussion on Mahavatar Baba, Mahabharata, Ashwatthama, and other related topics. Some excerpts from our conversation can be viewed on Youtube in form of Part 1 and Part 2 . He also told us about the dog that had been guiding visitors on the 2 KM stretch back to Kukuchina for a few years now. I silently bowed down to the humble creature for his generous services and we later fed him with Biscuits and Bread as a small token of our gratitude.
The extraordinary day ended when we finally took leave of Joshis, bowed down to the Dronagiri Mountain and Mahavatar Baba in reverence for making this trek possible. It was once in a lifetime experience and one must physically go there to feel the energy, aura and blessings of the Dronachal Valley and Mahavatar Baba.
Arrival back at Almora
We left Joshi tea stall at 3:55 PM (odometer 562 KMs) and arrived back at Almora Hotel at 6:44 PM (odometer 648 KMs). If anyone has any questions about the trip or our trek, feel free to contact me through this website. May Babaji guide us and bless us.
Important pointers/interesting observations about/during the Journey
- Before you begin the trek, I highly recommend that you stop at Joshi Tea Stop at Kukuchina. Mr. Joshi can provide you with any guidance needed for the trek.
- Be prepared to face Kaanwariyas on NH 24 if you travel during the month of July. They can cause serious traffic problems and 1-lane is usually reserved and shut down for them. This is the period during which Kaanwariyas celebrate their Shivratri.
- Do NOT make Almora your base camp like we did. Best place to stay is Ranikhet. Pandukholi is only about 55 KMs (as compared to 86 from Almora).
- People in the mountains may frequently ask you for lift. This might be considered out of question in the Northern Plains. We were surprised when an elderly mother asked lift for her newly wed daughter!
- Even the simplest and financially challenged person may turn out to be the most hospitable and courteous. Such is the culture in Himalayas!
- It is best advised to not undertake the trek during Rainy season, but if you are as daring as us, do not forget to pack raincoats!
- Lastly, I would quote what I once read in an article. “Leave your cold intellect behind before approaching the sacred and serene mountains.”
Om Namah Shivay.
Gautam Dhar/Anupam Dhar
8th August 2009, Rohtak, INDIA
Trek date: 29th July 2009