India - Rishikesh, the Ganges and a train ride to Vrindavan
Despite the Silent Retreat having finished, we started the day out at 7 am in the morning and continued our practice of Babaji Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) and meditation. It was amazing to do it with the whole group each morning at the Ganges. The fresh air was chilly but the exercise kept us warm and we definitely woke up ;-).
Our next destination was Rishikesh. The travelling began with a visit to the famous Chandi Devi Temple which is located in Haridwar but was on route to Rishikesh. The Chandi Devi Temple was installed by Adi Shankaracharya, an early 8th century theologian and philosopher. The temple is on a hill and a typical indian gondola takes you up there. Well, we all had fun to jump into the gondola and the view over the surrounding landscape was stunning. Up there, we visited the temple and Paramahamsa Vishwananda talked to us about the influence Buddhism had at the time of Adi Shankaracharya. He also explained us the difference of the philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya (Advaita Vedanta) and the philosophy that we follow in Bhakti Marga (Vishishta Advaita Vedanta).
Next, we continued our tour. By bus we went on a bumpy and curvy road up into the mountains. Wow, the landscape was amazing. It was not like the crazy,crazy roads you see deep into the Himalayans, but still, the valley was deep, the road was somehow built in the mountain and the bus driver was driving like amad man. But we all just went with the flow - like this no-one got sick (just a bit dizzy). Finally, we arrived at the sacred site of the Vashishta Cave. This cave is the site where Sage Vashishta, the son of Lord Brahma, used to spend his time meditating. The cave is considered to be ancient and within it there is also a Shiva Lingam considered to be from the ancient times as well. It is a wonderful place. I went inside, there was an incredable silence and darkness. I wanted to take a picture - but I couldn't! I was trembeling too much. That must have been due to the really strong energy inside the cave. So sorry, no pictures from inside the cave. But this was a moment to remember in the heart and not on pictures, I guess.
We spend some time in the cave, went down to the Ganges and also enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Later on we drove back to Rishikesh for a late lunch overviewing the Ganges and the city. It was a magic atmosphere. After returning back to Haridwar, it was time to pack our stuff. We had a last dinner in our wonderful ressort and called it an early night.
Next morning, it was an early start. By bus we were taken to the train station in Haridwar where we jumped on the train to Mathura. The train luckily was only slightly late. Our group had to divide in 2 coaches, as there was not enough space in one coach for all of us. Unfortunately, Paramahamsa Vishwananda was in the other coach. But he visited us and during half of the 8 hour train ride we sang bhajans, had pizza (we ordered it online and it was delivered to one of the stations - a safe option for having food for the group, we could not risk to get sick all together) and chased lots of coackroaches in the train. It was a nice time to get the people in the group a little bit better. We really had a lot of fun.
In Mathura, we were picked up by another bus. It was a short drive to Vrindavan, the home of Radha and Krishna. Being here for the fourth time already, for us it also felt like coming home. We slept in the Shree Giridar Dham Ashram of Bhakti Marga. After check it was already time for evening prayers and abishekam with Paramahamsa Vishwananda in the temple. So wonderful to be back. We enjoyed it very much, but we were also lucky to call it a quite early night (early as it was before midnight). A huge programme was waiting for us the next day. And we were really tired. A pilgrimage with Paramahamsa Vishwananda is not a holiday. You do not sleep much, there is a non-stop programme and - and this is the most important part - he is constantly working with each single participant (the "inside" work). So having a few hours of a decent sleep is always welcome.