Fantasy, On The Road, Tales from Rural India, The Higher Himalayan Research Walks and Treks, Uttarakhand
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Pandava Forest and the Brahma Kamal: The Nights of Change in the Higher Himalayas – I


But before finding Brahma Kamal, Nara had to go through the forests where Pandavas once roamed.

Pandavas!  

The mighty heros of the Indian Epic, Mahabharata. Who after defeating the Kauravas, after slaying their own uncles, brothers, friends in a battle that went on for 18 days, not night. The rule was to rest and sleep in the night; until Pandava’s sons were murdered. The rage from there onwards became the reason to kill; not merely win. The carnage started then. Pandavas killed each Kaurava till the last count one by one.

It was a bitter victory.

Pandavas went on to rule for 36 years. But the guilt of killing their own kept breathing in their minds. Pride over the years melt into feeling sinful. As sharp pangs of remorse led the Pandavas to leave their kingdom they had won; leaving their worldly clothes, ornaments, and even their weapons; to find eternal peace, to attain Moksha. It was during this search on their way to heaven, while walking for years in the mountains; numerous stories, symbols and structures were established. Amongst which some can still be seen today; handful of big stone-structured temples, high in the higher Himalayas, above the garden of herbs, above the meadows and forests, even above the clouds.

Established by the Pandavas, Kedarnath Temple. Photo taken Circa 1852


It was in the winters of 2016, exactly five years ago, when the Pandava Forests first called me to the Kedar Mountains. An Anthropologist from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University had found my work in Rajasthan with the Manganiyar Community ‘fascinating’. She wrote to me explaining about the study she has been doing on the cultural history of crowd gatherings in the Himalayas and asked me, if I could help her document the findings.

For Twenty-Six December days I walked from one mountain village to the other without ever touching a road. It was a pilgrimage of Magic. One that involved invoking spirits in humans, every night after Sun would set. We witnessed 1000 year old rituals being performed, as people from villages far walked for hours to reach these on the mountain tops; to hear, see and pray quietly to the energies, to the sound and the direction of the wind over ancient hymns being sung for those many nights.

Pandava Research Days, in village Nagarsu, Uttarakhand


I remember once while on our way to a village on the mountain top, night had fallen and we were passing through a forest. It was cold. We were breathing heavily and had taken a halt when I realised a whole world of fireflies had started surrounding us. Forest had brought stars for us. So many that I could even see owls roosting in the dense evergreens above us. Uncanny. It felt something more, surreal. Till about that moment when they abnormally started pushing us to walk away. Like putting all there might to show us something or save us from something. Thousands of them in a line followed us further up for a while, gleaming at their brightest when all of a sudden they left. The light left. The forest grew again. The sound of the night came back. Dark. Alone. As if the soul just left. But somewhere far, deep inside amongst hundreds of trees, a small fire could be seen, placed as if it was a human’s work. We walked. Few people were sitting around it. They looked different. Unlike locals as they sat still and made no sound or gesture. More it looked that they were there for a purpose, a ritual. Lets let them be, Amita said. I could not immediately find our path up but made sure I did not walk too close or disturb them when suddenly my feet landed into a small ditch. It unstable-d me and it made a sound. They were five. All at once looked back together like the head of a snake turns. It gave me a pang. But I stood my ground. Standing like there was nothing to hide. What I did not see from there was the sixth man, oldest of them all. Beard- cotton like white, long, floating in the wind, touching his navel. With a long wooden staff he walked very slowly towards me with his gaze querying who could I be? He looked firm yet so old that three-me put together could have only come closer to match his age that night. He came close. My head without my permission bowed in Namaste. Amita stood behind me, shaking with fear. He took my hand. The strongest grip. But it felt assuring. It felt well. He led us towards the fire and signalled to sit with others. Light beaming now on our faces.

It was breathtaking first. Heat made us comfortable. We calmed down. Yet, no one had spoken still. And I was yearning to know, even though I wasn’t in command neither i felt that they wanted to ask anything. All other kept quiet and were strangely focused in looking at the burning wood. Unblinking. Intently. Amita and I looked at each other and then towards the old man who sat far, his back towards us, preparing something as the sound of grating kept coming. The sound of some thing coming. The sound of becoming. Sound that everything was fine. We felt assured. As i happily looked over the fire towards the mountain, there was something amiss. Was I looking at the mountain or the mountain looking at me? It was gigantic, conflictingly extensive, huge, high, giant of a triangle feeling like it was standing over my head. Looking closely, whole mountain looked village-less but had seven such lights, flickering at different places positioned as if making a great bear, Saptrishi. I suddenly felt as if we are trapped. We are in a constellation; mirroring the mountain in front of us. Like I was looking at myself. It was frightening because it looked we were losing some grip over what was going on. I was still searching when I heard some steps. The elderly man was coming to us with something in his hand; hot smoke coming out of it. He extended his hand to us. I looked at him; his eyes were a deep well, un-blinking. I took the bowl. Amita denied it. I drank it. He left.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The sap made me uneasy. I had to walk. We were standing by the time he brought that nectar, elixir or poison of the scorpions again. I bowed with hands. He, unmoved but assured me without showing anything or so I feel. We left.

In the dark again, we started walking without ever speaking about what happened, I did not know if Amita found it shocking but she never spoke a word. We kept trudging up the mountain when the sound of Dhol/drums and Damau, the state instruments of Uttarakhand started filling our ears. The village was near, Amita sighed, and started walking faster, so much that i did not see her that night again.

There was not much difference i could make after the drink but certainly my body felt light and the mind was flying, or was it my body. The sound had become so loud that I felt my feet were not landing on the ground. I was losing the grip of what was in front of me or what was within. The beating of the drums were doing a strange thing i was not in control of. When the sacred tree arrived, I carefully kept my things on the ground, looked up to the giant tree; opened my hands like wings and started running around the tree looking up. That night I danced like no one was watching. Stepping, swinging, twisting, leaping, jumping, spinning, rapping or truly I was dancing- tripping when another sound alerted me. A gigantic baboon like man was walking by. The night shade of the tree and the sound from the village had saved me from getting noticed. But he himself was in some kind of rhythm. He too moved with the beats like i was. He was white from head to toe with a black face. A snout reaching out, but had horn like growth coming out of his ears. He stood like humans and wore nothing, he was looking for something in the fields. He uprooted big sugarcane willows like carrots, collected them and left. I followed. His way took me inside the village. I was slow but i wanted to record it. I took my camera out. The lanes were Colourful. but they were narrow. The sky had mist. The sound of water running through either side filled the trees above. Trees covered the night sky, from my eyes. I took left. Walls became yellow. I took right. There came steps. A red balloon lying on the side, still but jumpy. I climbed, the lane took left when one head almost cracked my lens. Right in front. A man stood watching. He had forced stopped himself but he was moving. I slowly pulled my camera away. His eyes met mine but he wasn’t looking at me. Angry. Sweaty. Red, rather they were piercing my gaze. His look drilled through my consciousness. Like it cracked me open. I shouldn’t have been here. He must not have been stopped. But he was stopped. And his mouth moved, rotating screams in whisper : Brahma kamal! Brahma Kamal. again and again. Brahma kamal! Brahma Kamal! Brahma kamal!

Kedar valley, Chaukhamba, Uttarakhand


The beating of the drums and pulling of the Damau had intoxicated me. I had to let loose. I started walking towards the sound. And it led me to the centre of the village, Taat. And it seemed every being of the village had come out to see what was going to happen. Every possible inch of earth was covered that night. Even the hut roofs. A big trunk of a tree was uprooted from the forest. Carried by 100s of villagers on their shoulders for two days and was planted here, right in the centre of the village. Vibrating, women and children sat around it. When all of a sudden, every single human present there went silent. As if it was rehearsed. For a second or two. Stunned to see the beefy white monkey who came roaring down from the sky, on top of the trunk. With as many sugarcanes, he started throwing it off in every direction. People went berserk and ran amok. Some adults picked bricks from the roof and threw at him. He went defensive but his tail went stiff and started twitching it sideways. He was getting ready to attack when someone shot at him. It missed. In anger he bit off the whole top of the big trunk, jumped in the sky and away, over the houses, towards the forest. Children ran after him, parents ran after children.

Shocked and astounded, people spoke in hush sounds. But slowly started getting back to their places. Rushing and running had made them warm again in the cold, as it gets in the Himalayan nights. Things started from the beginning again. Dhol and Damau started. Tea was being prepared, some men opened a Liquor bottle hideously behind the temple. Adults stood watching, talking. But some, the most responsible ones began performing the rituals, may be a millionth time again; invoking the spirits of the Pandavas in the men who were dancing in front, with the weapons Pandavas had once left. Observing it all i saw Amita, somewhere sitting, but it was not her where my eyes rested, it fell on the most beautiful old man i had ever seen. He was dancing as if there was nothing else in this world to think, he was living dancing it with the villagers, his eyes closed, moving, floating two-stepping in a circle like no one was. The grace himself. He, from there after lifted every curtain there ever was in my life. His rhythm, which was waiting to become mine, flows through me today. That night, the sap became my energy to meet his, or so i feel it today. I met my first Guru thus, that night.

I would have never known that a journey which merely started in finding the secrets of the mountains will end in becoming a never-ending quest of the finding the way to my own being.

For next two years, starting that night, i lived with him and Guru Ma, his wife and two cows; learning about everything breath, Yoga, Dhyana, Mudra and Naturopathic Medicine or the Therapy of the Nerves.

Guruji’s very cold room i spent my student life in


But in all those years i could never walk to find the Brahma kamal. And today, when the call finally arrived five long years later, it was raining like clouds were leaking, for past many days in Delhi. And seemingly forever in the Himalayas on news channels. Monsoons had extended their visit. News of landslides, mountains sliding, roads being washed away, death, rocks falling on bridges, bridges falling in the river, river washing houses away due to cloud burst, flash floods had filled the minds of one and all with fear all over the northern and central Indian states and specifically amongst the Himalayan people. And the same news of water everywhere, loss of lives, destruction has been repeating for last ten years. Every monsoon carries with it a rumour, and terrified, crying faces. Not very different from my mother’s who wasn’t ready to let me go this time around.

But as they say, when time comes, whole universe starts conspiring to make it happen for you. I did not tell Guruji i was coming, because this time i was on my way to find the Brahma Kamal.

: ँ :


If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

And I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;

As a Traveller, my lessons from ten years on the Road before you coarse on your own Road to Nara or come along becoming a part of this ever growing family.

 : ँ :


To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at 
Narxtara | Road to Nara | Narayan Kaudinya

by

Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.

97 Comments

      • every heart that enters these words will leave enriched. Truly you give something very special. and you did not evade doing so. ha! when i grow up i want to be like my bro! love to you Narayan. sis. xo

        Liked by 1 person

    • Always is lovely to have you here dear Radhika, I hope you are well and family is all good waiting for winters now.

      It was as other-worldly to live it through as well. Just like writing it, even without planning it, it came out. And it came out because something had to be shared, coming next week. And before this year ends. It was important.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This story of Himalayan Flowers, a unique, rare plant, is even more riveting than the previous
    essays on Indian cultural topics. There are so many surreal happenings that it takes your breath
    away following the narrative. The wonderful images start dazzling in front of your eyes;
    fireflies – “forest had brought stars for us. ”
    When the author is looking at the huge mountain, he is echoing Ethel Rune:
    “Some people get lost within the mountain. Others find themselves within it.”
    This is a page-turner out of this world! The drink that is given to him by a mysterious old man makes him dance as if possessed. Another meeting with his guru Ma begins the profound change in his life direction.
    All I can add here is, Narayan Tushar Kaudinya, with your amazing talent, your first duty is to secure your legacy, Write!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dearest Joanna, the only one who could feel the essence of the essay- the flower which is going to be the story for which this post had to be written. Thank you for pointing this out. I had to look over for ‘Ethel Rune’

      I will write my dear, and will try to understand how can i learn about securing my legacy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much again, for your trust. For the words you bestow upon Joanna. I can only try being up to that mark which you feel i can reach.

      Cannot thank you enough, you know it. Always.
      Narayan x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beyond doubt, the Himalayas are full of mystery. Your journey is fascinating, your photographs beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael Graeme says

    Thank you, Narayan. Fascinating and beautiful, an almost dreamlike introduction to this next chapter. Already, I am captivated.

    Like

    • Michael, you know i wasn’t planning to write it, as this story was deep, long embedded within me. But the story that is coming had to have an introduction as i had never written about my times while travelling in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Michael Graeme says

        Thank you Narayan, it’s always a pleasure to read your work, and to see the world from your perspective. Yes, winter has arrived here, with one night of high winds, and now the cold has crept in with a little snow this morning. By and large though, our climate is very mild, and our winters rather tame – certainly not on the scale you would get in the Himalayas.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great to learn you saying about the climate being mild there. I hope you enjoy it. Its a new, good time of the year to sit back and just be.

          I do not live in the Himalayas dear Michael, but i certainly will, someday. And then i will invite you personally to come over and take long walks here, as you like to do 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I read your story feeling a little breathless, ironic because breath is so important and key to many things. You know all about this. I found the story lengthy and felt it would adapt well to multiple posts perhaps to cover a whole week. If you decided to tell the story in instalments then you could also include another health tip, or cultural item interesting to the reader. I find that in a long story I forget the beginning, much like a long speech where I only remember the ending. I respect you sir and your knowledge and experience. – best wishes – David

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for coming over and leaving your beautiful, important for me review. To be truthful, for a blog post this story was lengthy, i agreed with you. And more so even while writing it. But times are such dearest David, that i have to finish certain essays as the coming time is going to be very strict and bound to take me to other direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. KK says

    Another captivating account of your adventurous journey with surreal events! Regarding the mysterious five men plus old man, I think it was their country liquor. But this reminds me of my trip to Bawangaja jain temple in Barwani district of MP. It started raining heavily, so started going back on foot. After a half kilometre, a group of around ten tribal men with bows and arrows stopped me and started requesting me to stay overnight with them. I was frightened. I thought they were planning for their dinner. I insisted I would have to go in any case. Then they took me to a stand. When a bus arrived after half an hour, all of them shook hands before allowing me to board. I heaved sigh of relief. As regards Kedarnath floods, we had lost three senior officers of the bank. The first part makes me eagerly wait for your subsequent posts. It’s really a pleasure to go though your posts, Narayan ji.

    Like

    • Kaushal ji, your words made me laugh and see, how it took you to a journey which feels as fascinating and even more. When you see men with bows and arrows. Do you think the culture still survives there even today? MP has been calling me for sometime, such tribes are still living there, it is hard to imagine in 2021. It must have been something when they were extending their hands to shake it ha ha

      Ha ha. that was a special potion Kaushal ji. They were local shamans putting shilajit, local weed plants, intoxicating leaves etc as i found out later.

      Yes Kaushal ji, i wasn’t even planning to share this, but it became unavoidable for the next story as it was linked deeply to my travels the Devbhoomi state Uttarakhand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • KK says

        I can’t say for sure, but about ten years ago, the culture of bows and arrows was there. They celebrate Bhagoriya festival every year before Holi. I had seen some of them carrying there too. It’s a very strange country, Narayan ji, you know. On one hand, tribals of North East get the benefit of reservation to enter civil and other services, while on the other, tribals of Jhabua and Bastar carry bows and arrows. Missionaries are doing their own jobs. My heart goes out for them. That’s a long story. It’s better if you have an opportunity to see for yourself. Thank you so much, Narayan ji, for your analytical comment! Much appreciated!!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel as if I’ve seen into your soul, into India’s soul. Into the very heartbeat of the story. Wonderful. Imagining what it must have been like to have the fireflies light your way, to drink the potion and to dance as if dancing was life itself, to look into the eyes of your guru. My adventurous soul, both inner and outer would love to have been there with you. Namaste Narayan 🙏 Beautiful.
    Alison

    Like

    • Dear Alison, how much can i appreciate your review here, will be less. If i could take you on a journey which has shown you the soul of India, i may not ask for anything else. But you know, India has quiet a variety of souls dipped in one magic potion.

      This essay, this story i had never planned to share. But it became unavoidable as the coming essay had to be launched. I had never written about my experiences on this region of Himalayas before. The ones embedded in magic and legends of ancient Indic stories.

      It was magic, as you felt. It was just that.

      Like

    • And how i wish to invite you, please come to India, to the Himalayas. Plan it for the next post is on which you must walk to – The divine flower.

      Thank you so much Alison. I think your words made my day, my evening walk. Its a pleasure to hear you.

      Hope you both are happy and bracing for the coming winters. My wishes dear Alison.
      Narayan x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. gwengrant says

    Such an amazing experience. Wonderful to read about. You must feel so fortunate. Thanks for
    sharing.
    Gwen.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You know Anita, the upcoming post- a trek in the higher Himalayas, i really felt close to Macchu Picchu as i was walking there but ofcourse, i havent been to Macchu Picchu. Yes you have travelled like true travellers 🙂

    Like

  9. What a mystical and magical experience this is! Almost difficult to differentiate from a fantasy fiction. Dancing uninhibited to the Damaru and getting intoxicated by an elixir, nothing short of fiction!
    I so so love your style of writing, sir. Felt extremely surreal and extraordinary. This is an experience like no other for sure. “But as they say, when time comes, whole universe starts conspiring to make it happen for you” This is a message conveyed time and again in the book The Alchemist and I believe it. Waiting eagerly for part 2!

    Like

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