As I slipped in to the welcoming embrace of a much needed sleep, the last thoughts racing through my mind were mired with uncertainty about my Plan of Action for the next day. It is close to 10 PM on 9th October 2013, Wednesday and I am 300 Kms away from my home town, New Delhi, tucked in a cosy bed of a budget Hotel in the chilly environs of the hill-station Nainital in Uttrakhand, India.
The reason behind this baffling uncertainty; whether to travel to Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave (Click here for the Google Map link) in Kukuchina, 110 Kms North from where I was in Nainital or be content with having had the good fortune of visiting Baba Neem Karoli’s Ashram, also called Kainchi Dham (Click here for the Google Map Link), in Nainital earlier in the day. While it was my extreme good fortune, by Babaji’s grace, to have been able to visit Kainchi Dham, I had come to Nainital with the desire to also visit Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave along with Kainchi Dham. What was triggering this indecisiveness was the challenge of covering 220 Kms (110 Kms to the cave and 110 Kms back to Nainital) without having my own mode of transport. I also had to return back to Delhi later, the same day after visiting Mahavatar Babaji’s cave.
For travelling to Kainchi Dham, a distance of 36 Kms, to and fro, the decision of renting a gearless scootie from a local company, Him Yatra Travels, was a no-brainer. But, riding a motorbike / scootie for 220 Kms on this mountainous terrain, when I was no longer that comfortable with riding 2 wheelers was reason enough to make me feel that perhaps the ‘call’, for me to visit the cave, was not there yet. I had also contemplated taking a cab but decided against it as the cost of taking a cab would throw the ‘budget’, from what I had planned as a budget trip, out of the window. Feeling dejected and unpleasant, I went to bed, unsure about what I would do the next day.
At 5 AM the next day, 10th October 2013, Thursday, like every other day, my BlackBerry phone’s alarm went off. For some reason, I was instantly wide awake and did not simply snooze, something that I do ‘every other day’. Inexplicably, I was having vivid recollection of the day, many years ago, when I had ridden my ThunderBird motorbike from Delhi to Shimla, a distance of over 300 Kms in one day. Something told me, if you could do it then, you will be able to do it now too. As these uplifting thoughts were working their magic, I began surfing my Facebook Newsfeed on the phone. While doing so, I stumbled upon a quote, ‘Do not fear losing, fear not trying.’ There was no instant conviction but I could certainly feel that the doubts I faced last night were now conspicuous by their absence. Taking this as a sign, I took the first step, of many through the day, and decided that I’ll talk to the motorbike rental company at 8:30 AM (if they are open) for renting a motorbike and then see.
Amazingly, when i reached the office of the motorbike rental company it was wide open at 8:30 AM, and in no time I found myself negotiating with the owner Mr Bisht on the rental and the type of 2 wheeler I should take. For some reason, I felt the owner was quoting higher prices and was not being friendly / flexible today as he was the day before (when I had rented a scootie for Kainchi Dham). I decided against dealing with the company and walked out of their office. I was feeling disappointed and angry with the owner but I had no doubt about my decision of not dealing with him. Interestingly, this did not dampen my drive to visit the cave and the doubts from last night had still failed to surface. I approached one of the cab drivers near the Bus Stop and asked how much would he charge for driving me to the cave in Kukuchina – Dunagiri. A brief conversation later, I found myself sitting on the passenger seat of the Wagon-R (Maruti Suzuki manufactured car) cab headed towards Mahavatar Babaji’s cave in Kukuchina – Dunagiri. The time, about 9:20 AM.
Driving from Nainital, we crossed Bhowali and then Kainchi Dham. Due to the long journey ahead, we could not stop at Kainchi Dham today and proceeded further on our journey. We reached Ranikhet after some time and drove through the area controlled by the Army. There was a stretch of about 4-5 Kms which was not paved and for driving on that stretch we had to be real slow. I was tracking our progress on the Google App on my phone and felt excited as we inched closer to the cave. After Ranikhet comes Dwarahat which finally leads to Dunagiri. Dunagiri Temple is quite popular and one could see a stream of devotees purchasing Prasad and other prayer items from vendors on the main road. From the Dunagiri Temple, we have another 5 Kms drive for Kukuchina.
At this point, I had begun to peer sideways in my attempt to locate the famous Joshi Restaurant which is the final point on this journey before we head for the unpaved stretch of road then finally the trek to the cave which is covered by foot. I had read about all these online on a fellow traveller’s blog (Click for Link) which is a ready reckoner for anybody seeking information on Babaji’s cave, while searching for Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave.
Before I could sight Joshi Ji’s Restaurant, I saw that the road ahead of us had ended. Taking that as a sign, when I looked to my left, I was overjoyed to see the familiar sight of Joshi Restaurant, familiar, as I had seen pictures of the restaurant a number of times on the net. Senior Mr Joshi passed away some years back and his son is equally warm and hospitable to not cave travelers alone, but visitors in general. Seeing our cab stop, Mr Joshi (young) sensed what was the purpose of our visit and rushed to greet us with his affable smile and warm personality.
Young Mr Joshi narrated stories of travelers from across the world and also mentioned that he had constructed few rooms for people who travel here to see the cave to rest/stay. As this place is in the middle of the jungle / mountain, i feel it was a fabulous idea to have a Guest House made. By the time people reach this point, they are quite exhausted and fatigued by the long mountain journey. Absorbing the surrounding view, I could not help but feel envy for Mr Joshi to be having his dwelling right opposite the mountain housing Babaji’s cave. Also, I feel the surroundings must be carrying lot of positive waves in the air as a result of the penance performed here by Mahavatar Babaji and other evolved people who we might not have even heard of. It is indeed quite a blessing to be living in such proximity to the cave and places of penance. Mr Joshi also mentioned that there are many evolved Yogis or Saints who live quietly in the mountains without anyone getting to know about them. ‘Such people try to stay in the quiet, away from the world.’ Mr Joshi added. Mr Joshi showed me a register he maintains where some visitors had made entries from their stay. My eyes fell upon the most recent entry which read something like, ‘I came here but could not complete the journey and returning.’ Upon enquiring from Mr Joshi about the entry, he mentioned that the gentleman in question had reached a little too late in the day and that he was slightly on the bigger side which would have made it difficult for him to complete the steep trek which has to be completed on foot and there is no help available. Also, the conditions were overcast that day, added Mr Joshi. While I did not overly express it, something inside me started telling me that maybe I will also return unsuccessful from here. After the overnight drive from Delhi of 300 Kms, and the half day 110 Kms drive from Nainital to Kukuchina, the last 3 Kms (on the unpaved path) and the 2 odd Kms trek now seemed like a light year away.
The fear of missing out on visiting the cave coupled with the fact that I had to catch a Coach for my return journey to Delhi in the evening, we decided on not stopping here for long. As we were quite tired from the long mountain drive, we requested for a plate of Maggi which Mr Joshi prepared in no time. In the intervening time, I managed to click some pictures of the surroundings. While we waited for our Maggi, I noticed a black dog looking at us, wagging his tail expectantly. From the pack of Buns sitting at the counter of Mr Joshi’s shop, I offered a few to the hungry dog who made quick work of them.
Maybe it was the fear of missing out on the cave weighing on my mind, we too did not take too much time eating our Maggi and with minimal conversation post that we proceeded on our journey. As we made the turn and began our drive on the unpaved path, I could finally see for myself why this path was called extremely dangerous on the couple of blogs that I had read online. The stretch was absolutely unpaved but was, in patches, laid with some concrete and in some parts it had a layer of gravel. The cab driver did not have too much trouble negotiating the sharp turns. At one point, we were faced by a car from the opposite side, most likely carrying devotees who had just concluded their cave visit. As the path was very narrow, one of the cars had to be backed till the point where there was enough room for the 2 cars to drive past each other. Soon after that, right next to a water stream, we saw the road ending and also the first board pointing towards the direction of the cave.
With feverish excitement, I leapt out of the car and paced on the trek towards Babaji’s cave. The path is very well connected with boards / pointers at regular intervals and if one keeps an eye for the boards, one will seldom get lost. After a number of turns and steep climbs my excitement started giving way to fatigue and each step became increasingly difficult. I, however, pressed on chanting Babaji’s name and prayed that the next turn be the last. The trek has some extremely beautiful stretches in between and the soothing sound of flowing water almost never ceases, not until one is far high up in the trek. After some distance, we saw a lone person quietly standing at a turn on the path. From reading some past blogs of Cave travelers, all sorts of ideas were coming to my mind as to who could this person possibly be. I smiled at him and did a Pranam. He smiled back and I pushed ahead. The cab driver who was behind me on the trek mentioned that the stranger had gestured to him that there is a shorter path to the cave and that we will get there faster if we took the path the stranger had pointed at. I was not sure if this was a good idea as this was middle of the jungle and more than the fear of getting lost, I was fearful of missing out on the opportunity of visiting the cave, should we lose track of the path. We anyway took the shortcut suggested by the stranger (who incidentally could not speak, he gestured and made sounds to convey himself) and soon thereafter reached another board pointing in the direction of the cave. This was a relief as I was now convinced that whether it was a shortcut or not, I was definitely not lost.
A few more steps and I had my first sighting of the Babaji Smriti Bhawan which, I had read in the blogs, is just a couple of minutes short of the cave. I was completely exhausted at this point and I could feel my heart throbbing at a rapid pace. My thoughts instantly went for people who have some sort of heart condition and undertake treks like this or the Vaishno Devi trek. It definitely seemed that one must be in good physical condition to undertake this journey. I consider myself reasonably fit at 65 Kgs weight with 5’7” height but I was huffing and puffing at this point. We pressed on and as we reached the Smriti Bhawan, a holy person wearing Orange / Yellow clothes appeared at the door of the Smriti Bhawan and mentioned to us in English that Babaji’s cave is just 5 more minutes away.
We continued our climb and after one more turn, though I could not see the cave I realized we had reached the cave as i could recollect having seen these final steps on the videos on the net and they appeared just before the cave. A few more steps and I was finally at the entrance of Babaji’s Cave. Back at the Smriti Bhawan, when we encountered the holy gentleman, I had asked him if the cave door was locked, he had told us that the door was open. I was relieved to see that the door had a latch on but it was not locked. As I stepped inside after opening the door, I noticed the section of the cave which had been closed and plastered by the cave management. I am convinced they would have instructions to have certain parts of the cave accessible to public. Also, in spiritual matters, I feel, we should be allowed access to only those things that we can easily comprehend. So, the part must have been sealed after it was felt that it was not meant to be accessed by everyone. In addition to the divine and spiritual qualities, I enjoyed the view of jagged rocks, jutting out at places, complementing the plain straight walls. The room felt cooler than the temperature outside. There was this sweet smell of incense, maybe the car we saw earlier, had devotees who performed prayers here with incense sticks and lamps etc. The floor had a mat and I sat down for a couple of minutes thanking Babaji for letting me visit the cave.
I was extremely tired by the climb and when I sat still in the cave I began sweating profusely, also the fact that I was wearing a sweat shirt and a heavy jacket while climbing, did not help matters much. It is still October and not the peak cold season in India. Not very long after that, we could hear rain drops outside. Worried at the prospect of the car getting stuck in puddle somewhere on the unpaved path, we made a run for the car. I quickly put the latch on and left from there. While I had wanted to, due to the rain, we could not stop at the Smriti Bhawan on our way back. The trek on the decline was definitely easier and faster and soon we were back at the water stream point where we had parked our car. On our way back, we stopped briefly at Joshi Restaurant and thanked Mr Joshi for his time and guidance.
As I returned from this wonderful journey, I felt extremely thankful and blessed that almighty allowed me the opportunity to visit Kainchi Dham and Mahavatar Babaji’s Cave. I hope I am able to make more such visits in my life ahead.