The next day, we went to our first satsang with Prem Baba. It was so bitterly cold in the hall that Jenny went out to the nearest shawl vendor, and bought the warmest shawl she could with the 1400 rupees she had in her wallet. It was soft, in tones of grey, and since Jenny actually had a perfectly fine New Zealand merino pashmina she would bring henceforth, Ravi appropriated the grey shawl for the rest of the satsangs.
Prem Baba is of Portuguese origin, and was a psychologist before becoming a guru. This gives him an interesting insight into the process of becoming enlightened.
His theory is that if people have unresolved psychological traumas from childhood, they will struggle to maintain elevated states of consciousness, because they will be triggered back into ego defences on a regular basis.
This makes the questions and answers at his satsangs sometimes sound more like a “Dear Abby” column than a spiritual discourse.
However, the Prem Baba approach definitely seems both valid and needed for Westerners. They don’t tend to spend two years in celibacy practising yoga and pranayama before even considering raising kundalini energy. Westerners are in too much of a hurry.
Traditions have a purpose. Those two years do a lot to purify unhealthy patterns in the ego!
When we left Prem Baba’s ashram, we walked across the Ganges on Laxman Jhula (the Laxman bridge). They were resurfacing it with hot bitumen.
Notice the pedestrians are required to climb over the workers, who are balanced an a narrow strip of safe paving on each side. You can’t see in the picture, but the workers are all wearing thongs (flip-flops). Health and safety regulations? What are they …?
The walk from Laxman Jhula to Ram Jhula on the far side of the river gave us some amazing views. It is hard to believe that just 30 years ago, there was nothing here but trees.
Jenny had a flu for the first few days, which had started as an itchy throat on Gaafaru in the Maldives, the morning we were to leave. It could probably have been headed off with a day of rest.
But we were committed to 36 hours of travel, four flights in three countries, followed by two evening clinics in Mumbai, and then the flight and train to Rishikesh, so there really wasn’t much opportunity for rest. The flu had a field day. And the cold in Rishikesh didn’t help.
Despite the flu, Jenny enjoyed the walk. When we reached the top of the Ram Jhula settlement, there was a troop of monkeys hanging about. Maybe it was the safety of the temple, or maybe it was the fruit vendors and other shops that lined the road.
The big grey monkeys were less aggressive than the macaques. That didn’t stop them from stealing packets of crisps, though! (Or whatever else they could.) All the vendors were armed with sticks.
There were a LOT of young grey monkeys, and they seemed to be having a great time!
When we reached Ram Jhula itself (the bridge), we found they were pimping it out, too! The sides were being painted the colours of the Indian flag. With all the non-precautions for worker safety that had been on display at Laxman Jhula.
On the bright side of the cold weather – we really enjoyed having a hot meal with lots of spices!
We found a fan heater in a store along the way, so we finally had a way to keep the temperature in our room out of the single digits range.
This made it conceivable to wash our hair, because we had a way of getting it dry. It also meant Jenny could stop getting into bed at 4pm (when her entire wardrobe, worn in layers, stopped being enough to keep her warm).
Here we see Ravi, offering gratitude for the gift of warmth.
And now that we had proper clothing, and a heater at home, maybe we would be able to concentrate in the satsangs with Prem Baba, and absorb some eternal wisdom …