My preparation (reading up on Vedanta!) for the retreat was in reality only limited to packing for my trip! Tara wanted me to carry clothes for all possible weathers! I suppose we both forgot that Rishikesh was just at the beginning of a climb to the Himalayas, so I packed two sweaters (Tara’s idea!), a jacket and raincoats: light (for light showers) and heavy (for a downpour) and also a few full sleeved T shirts! This was in addition to my regular clothes! I also added a pair of shoes along with sneakers and slippers. Quite a lot for an ashram! My instincts said it was too much but I chose to ignore the warning!
I realized how heavy my bag was, only at the New Delhi railway station when I decided to roll the suitcase on its wheels not spotting any porters. No problem till I reached the pedestrian bridge, it was then a steep climb and a long walk. This Excessive baggage and its burden I carried were entirely due to my ignorance about the weather and about life in an ashram. Few veshtis (dhoti) and shirts and the slipper would have been just right. The sneaker would only be needed in case we went trekking!
I had no clue that it would be so hot on a coach without A/C and that is how we travelled from ND to Hardwar. Our assumption that it would not be hot on evenings in a moving train was wrong as the train stopped often! As we struggled with the heat and the noise I hoped that this was not the beginning of a really testing retreat! I hoped that the cottages (or would it be thatched huts?) in the ashram would not be this hot. The old stories of Rishis doing katora tapas(Harsh penance!) had surely colored my imagination.
As we got off from the train at Hardwar we saw the porters and engaged them promptly! Actually this station was better designed with ramps to wheel our bags easily. Anyway the porters had a good time. We got into the waiting taxis, a new Toyota Innova and were soon on our way through typical small town roads once we crossed the bridge at Hardwar.
We were pleasantly surprised as we entered the gates of the Ashram. The ashram was large, open, clean and fairly modern. My room was on the first floor and I could easily take my heavy suitcase up as there was an elevator! I was pleased to see that my room was functional, even had an overhead fan! I discovered later that the bathroom was clean and included a geyser for hot water and a shower!
While I was a little disappointed that we were not living in a thatched hut, it was also a relief to be staying in a nice room! Even though we reached the ashram well past the dinner time, the ashram officials, Swami Hamsananda and the manager Gunananda, had very kindly kept dinner for us. It also demonstrated to us the regard the ashramites have for Neema and Surya.
We took a walk to the riverfront after dinner and while it was dark, we could hear the river, reverently addressed here as Gangaji. The sound of the river as I stood there with my eyes closed was magical and the thought came to me that while the river was as old as history, the water that flowed down was always new, it was a clear example of the ‘here and now’, an expression often used by Neema and Surya in their teachings!
I hurried back to my room as we were to start early in the morning at 6.30 am for meditation to be guided by Surya! I did not want to be late on the first day of my retreat! In fact, Surya was planning to take a dip in the river early in the morning, ‘At 5 am sharp’ he said! I was not even remotely tempted!