It was my fourth week on the street when the India funk kicked in. That is when the lustre of probably the most enthralling nation on Earth offers technique to smog, crowds, contaminated water, scammers, infinite visitors and a wealth hole so broad even Hanuman couldn’t leap throughout it.
I used to be languishing within the holy coastal city of Gokarna, on the serene Kudle Seaside. Gokarna is a placid city simply south of tourist-riddled Goa, dotted with seashores and temples, about as idyllic as journey locations get. However I used to be prepared to go away.
What I wanted, even when I didn’t comprehend it, was a cave. A holy cave. And nestled in Gokarna’s tangerine-hued foothills there occurs to be one devoted to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Locals say Shiva Cave could be very sacred and really historical, that it has drawn pilgrims, saints and seekers of enlightenment from throughout the subcontinent for hundreds of years.
I don’t understand how a lot of that’s true, however what I do know is that earlier than venturing to a holy cave, one most likely wants sidekick, and I had the right candidate within the type of Han, a home traveller from close by Kerala. A definite oddball from my guesthouse, Han was both a nascent prophet or a dwelling caricature of 1.
I sought out his trademark bandana, beard and sun shades and located him standing on the seashore, chieftain-like, gazing throughout the ocean. He was in all probability considering infinity. I invited him to Shiva Cave and, properly, Han would by no means miss a possibility to raised join with the sacred oneness of every thing.
“I’m at all times pondering, I’m nothing,” is a factor Han says. “I have a look at this world and suppose, how can I be something compared to it?”
Following the free instructions one other traveller had given me, Han and I set off throughout the seashore towards the stony hills close by. We have been instructed to hunt out a tattered flag, the one indication that there is likely to be a spot of curiosity within the neighborhood. Like many websites in India, Shiva Cave is simply there, unadvertised, ready for somebody to search out it.
At first I didn’t suppose we’d make it earlier than darkish, as a result of Han — properly, let’s simply say, he doesn’t rush. He’s the type of man who pauses to understand seashells, or approaches stray canines to meld minds with them, or throws his arms up in jubilation each time he sees a cow. And there are many cows in India.
However even at Han’s tempo, we made it to the stark flagpole that marks Shiva Cave. Close by, a sadhu — a wandering religious seeker — meditated atop the mouth of the collapse his saffron robes.
Sadhus are commonplace in India, but I nonetheless discover them fascinating. It’s surreal to me that a nation exists wherein it’s thought of respectable to desert all worldly ambitions, don a gown and easily wander the earth, in search of enlightenment. Typically I feel now we have it backwards within the west, the place we scorn individuals who don’t attempt for materials success.
Like many non secular figures, sadhus could be contentious. A lot of them are real truth-seekers, however a few of them are simply on the lookout for handouts, so you want to watch out round them. I didn’t have time to consider that although, as a result of Han made a beeline for the sadhu, and I adopted.
We started speaking about spirituality straight away. It is a factor that occurs all over the place in India. One minute you’re haggling along with your rickshaw driver, the following you’re pondering the character of reincarnation with them.
We talked about why undesirable issues occur, and on that time we usually agreed that the undesirable solely occurs when wanting occurs — no wanting, in different phrases, no unwantedness.
The sadhu advised us about how tough his chosen path was at first, having no house and no cash, however mentioned he now lives a lifetime of full contentedness, having nothing of significance to lose.
Then got here the essential query.
“Do you might have any ganja?” the sadhu requested, to which Han — by no means surprisingly – mentioned sure.
Han pulled out a small bag and the holy man took out a stubby chillum pipe, which is how sadhus desire to smoke. As a result of, though ganja is a strictly regulated drug in India, sadhus smoke it steadily, and the police usually flip a blind eye.
We shared exchanges on the pipe and watched the solar set. The sapphire ocean was seen from our perch above the cave entrance, together with inexperienced thatches of surrounding jungle, and I felt a bit embarrassed that in my latest frustration with India I had not appreciated how peaceable and nice Gokarna actually is.
The sadhu bought to speaking about how ganja helps with meditation (it does, he mentioned, until you smoke an excessive amount of), after which he determined it was time for us all to meditate collectively.
We walked right down to the cave entrance and eliminated our footwear, as we’d earlier than coming into any temple in India. Inside, the cave was not a lot to take a look at: Only a musty fundamental cavern, worn and darkish, with just a few chambers branching off. At one finish was an alcove with a small statue of Shiva, behind some meagre choices.
The sadhu lit candles and incense. We assumed meditation postures and he started his lesson. He advised us to delve into the unconscious, to cease utilizing our mind.
As we sat within the darkness, I heard a fluttering noise, then one other. Bats. The cave was filled with them. Meditation is commonly tough, however I discovered it much more so tucked away in a darkish, bat-filled cavern, accompanied by an odd wanderer of unknown origin.
It occurred to me that again house, in Canada, I’d by no means enterprise right into a random cave on the beckoning of a homeless individual I’d simply met. However as a substitute of letting my ideas spiral away from me, I returned to the light sensation of my respiratory. I relaxed right into a type of meditation, cultivating a targeted disinterest in fleeting ideas.
As I sat nonetheless I started to discern a patina of reverence within the air. The cave started to really feel very historical. Quite than being jarring or distracting, there was really a peaceable high quality to the sound of the bats’ wings because the tiny rodents navigated the darkness of the cave. They’d most likely been right here, including to the mystique of this place, since people first stumbled throughout it.
I’ve visited many holy websites over my lifetime — cathedrals, temples, mosques — a few of them unearthly of their magnificence. However none have felt so real, so really holy, as Shiva Cave did that day. It’s a spot that costed nothing to construct or keep, a spot thought of holy not as a result of it’s ornate and even fairly, however just because it exists.
Finally Han and I left the cave and the sadhu. We meandered again to the highest of the cave and examined the night time sky. There was a thunderstorm approaching, and webs of lightning lit up the darkness. Han, incapable of self-consciousness, outstretched his arms and gazed upwards, awestruck.
That is what it’s like touring India. Simply if you suppose you’re prepared for the sterile banality of house, it offers you an entire new motive to adore it once more. I’m glad I met Han. I’m glad I met the sadhu. And I’m glad I spent a night meditating in a bat-filled cave. What had I been so pressured about anyway? I’m, in any case, nothing.
Take a look at our Wellness India tour right here.