peace on earth

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May 27th 2006
Published: May 28th 2006
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I just returned to Delhi from my last trip on this Indian odyssey. I spent four days at the Aurovalley Ashram near the small village of Raiwala, about halfway between Haridwar and Rishikesh. I took the train to Haridwar, about 200 kilometres north of Delhi, and a taxi to the ashram, so the trip was about 4-5 hours in total.

I took the same train -- the Dehradun Shatabdi -- way back in December, at the beginning of my trip. So it was fitting that my last domestic journey virtually retraced the steps of my first. It gave me a good indicator of how far I have come and how much I have learned. This time, I felt so much more in tune with the pace and style of Indian travel. I was very relaxed on the journey, though I was travelling to a place I have never been, to stay in an ashram I didn't know very much about. I simply went on the suggestion of my good friend Kailash, who also recommended Shinshiva in Kerala. I loved Shinshiva, so I had a feeling everything would turn out alright ...

What an understatement! I found Aurovalley Ashram to be the most peaceful place I have ever been in my life. It is situated in the middle of fields, with only a small village nearby. In the distance are the foothills of the Himalayas, and in between, only a 10-minute walk away, the sacred river Ganges. In this area there are very few people, and when you walk to the river, you pass only one or two small houses, another small ashram for sadhus (the holy men of India), maybe some cows or goats, and wide open fields, full of tulsi. Tulsi is a form of basil, considered sacred, and when the sun beats on it, it releases the most divine scent. The whole area smells of it. You can't imagine this until you have experienced it!

There are so many things I loved about this ashram, I don't know where to begin! Perhaps first and foremost, for me, is its location in a natural environment. Unlike the chock-a-block ashrams in bustling Rishikesh, this ashram is very much a part of its natural surroundings. The many gardens, the fields, the distant mountains, the silence (all you can hear are the songs of birds) -- the ashram is extremely
this was the residence building ...this was the residence building ...this was the residence building ...

... I stayed in at the ashram.
nature-oriented, and if you are a nature lover like me, it is easy to feel the presence of god here.

I felt a distinct and profound feeling of peace the moment I entered the gates. After checking in and unpacking, I lay down and fell into the most peaceful sleep. It was like I was embraced by loving arms. I woke 30 or 40 minutes later feeling completely refreshed. I had arrived.

I loved my room, which was simple and light-filled. Big screened windows at either end meant for excellent cross-ventilation. Lovely breezes, scented with tropical flowers, tulsi and, occasionally, the smell of cows, drifted through. A long, wide marble terrace ran the length of the building in front of my room, and I spent a lot of time sitting outside my door, watching the trees sway, the distant mountains enveloped in mist or haze and an incredible display of exotic birds. A bird lover would go nuts! Green parrots and many other birds of vibrant hues flew by constantly, each singing its own distinctive song.

The two residence buildings are lined up along one edge of the ashram (which is probably 10-20 acres in size, in
the view outside my back window ...the view outside my back window ...the view outside my back window ...

... in the early morning mist ... magical ...
total) and outside my back window was nothing but fields. In the morning I would look out and see a few cows feeding, the early morning sun already warm, and I was very strongly reminded of the field across the road from our cottage when I was growing up, and there were still cows grazing there. I couldn't believe that I would find a place, halfway across the world, in exotic India, that would harken back to me the idyllic days of my youth at the cottage. There are three people in this world who know how meaningful this would be for for me.

I felt home.

Another very important factor about this ashram, for me, was a deeply felt sense of freedom I encountered. While there is a daily routine, starting with a one-hour meditation in the serene meditation hall at 6 a.m., each person is free to follow their own routine and their own spiritual path. There is no insistence of following a strict routine. I felt accepted for who I am, and where I am on my path.

All of the wonderful values found at Aurovalley -- freedom, acceptance, peace, love of nature and
Swamiji and LizaSwamiji and LizaSwamiji and Liza

These two have a beautiful and deeply bonded relationship. Swamiji has known Liza since she was a baby.
service to the community -- represent the philosophy of "integral yoga" and the nature of Aurovalley's founder, Swami Brahmdev (known as Swamiji).

The person who created this heaven on earth is a very down-to-earth man who studied law and economics before studying the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. You can read more about him and the ashram here:

The philosophy of "integral yoga" is that yoga is not separate from life. A yoga attitude can be brought to everything you do. It is not reserved for special holy people who lives in caves in the Himalayas; or for people who can put their legs behind their ears.

I knew I liked Swamiji -- as everyone calls him -- after discovering three things about him. The first was, of course, the ashram itself. As well as being a spiritual haven, the ashram serves the community by running a free school, health clinic, and training program for women, among other things. So his actions -- how he puts his philosophy into action in a daily, practical way -- impressed me.

I also liked his almost complete lack of bullshit. Each day, he sits for 90
the dining hall courtyardthe dining hall courtyardthe dining hall courtyard

I preferred to take my meals outdoors at the ashram, in the shade of this magnificent tree.
minutes in a living room in his house, and is available to answer any questions -- about the ashram, about personal matters, about the purpose of life. Whatever. One day a little Russian girl named Liza asked him why parents want their children to go to school. "To get rid of you," he replied. "And why do children want to go to school?" she asked. "Children don't want to go to school," he said. "The day parents decide to put their child in school, is the child's first experience of hell on earth." I was impressed that he didn't bullshit this 6-year-old with some crap about the importance of education. (On my first day of school, I cried so hard, I had to be sent home! I was very upset because they separated me from my brother. I thought we were going to school together. That's what they told me.)

And the third thing was when I saw him walking around the grounds of the ashram in shorts and a t-shirt, gardening. He reminded me of my father, walking around the cottage puttering. Again, I sensed the familiar that made me feel so at home ...

Of course,
a view of the River Ganges ...a view of the River Ganges ...a view of the River Ganges ...

... from the top of the path leading down to it, just outside the boundary of the ashram.
I also liked the other people staying there. They are all calm, kind and self-aware. Although the ashram can accommodate more than 100 people, when I was there only about 20 or so others were also there -- some from Russia, some from Colombia and some Indians. Children are welcome, and I really enjoyed their presence. They wander freely, and while they are as spontaneous and playful as any children, somehow, they are more precocious and well-behaved.

I became very close to Liza, in particular, the most precocious 6-year-old I am ever likely to meet. She is very smart and very determined. She always knows what she wants. We became very good friends, and when I was leaving she gave me many gifts and said I was her sister. In fact, she made it very hard for me to leave by asking, "Why are you leaving?" Swamiji also asked me the same question, because he knew how much I loved being there. The truth is, I didn't want to leave and I didn't have a good answer for them! There are several projects at the ashram I would like to get involved with, including teaching at the school, so
for Victoria ...for Victoria ...for Victoria ...

I stood here several times, gazing across the river at Mowgli's jungle, thinking about you, and feeling deeply moved by life's surprises.
who knows ... Swamiji, Liza and the other people who live there made me feel so welcome, that I know I will feel welcome when I do return. For I can't imagine my life going forward without Aurovalley figuring in it ...

I am saving one of the best things about the ashram for last. On my first day, a brown-skinned boy of about 10, named Diego, took me on a guided tour to the river. He told me many things about the environment -- about the tulsi, for example, and about looking out for snakes and scorpions. When we got to the Ganges, we stood on the bank and looked out across the river at the jungle and misty hills. He told me this was the jungle where Rudyard Kipling set The Jungle Book. I was looking at Mowgli's jungle! I couldn't believe it. I was thrilled. When we were children, The Jungle Book was my sister's favourite movie, and she had the soundtrack record, and knew all the songs and used to sing them to us. I never imagined that jungle was a real place, and one day I would be standing right up against it. (I
in the River Ganges in the River Ganges in the River Ganges

Me, Liza and a boy from the ashram enjoying our refreshing dip in the Ganga.
thought about you many, many times, Victoria, and wished you were there with me, sharing this adventure.)

This information added another enchanting element to my peaceful and inspiring stay at Aurovalley Ashram. Thank you Diego -- a great little boy, who also happens to look a bit like Mowgli!

This entry is already very long, but I do want to add a couple of highlights of my stay. The day Liza, her mom and another ashram boy and I swam in the Ganges was very special for me. It was my first time in India's most sacred river, and I had a wonderful -- and cooling -- time. (I was very hot almost the entire time I was at the ashram. No A/C, only fans!) It was my intention to bathe in the river, and receive her blessings, and I feel very satisfied that I was able to do it.

Another day, I walked into the village and spent about an hour sitting and talking with the villagers, having a cold drink and taking pictures. Everyone was so warm. They made me feel very special though we didn't speak the same language. One young man spoke good English, and translated. A girl came out from behind her house holding new-born kittens she wanted to show me. The woman who runs a small video rental service invited me behind the counter to sit with her. She offered me food, but I had just finished breakfast. It was also my intention to visit a village in Indian, so that desire, too, was satisfied. It was a wonderful experience.

Leaving was very hard. Returning to hot, noisy Delhi was like that scene in "Brigadoon" when Gene Kelly goes back to New York City after his vacation in Scotland (where he had stumbled into in the mystical Scottish village). Back in New York, he's in a loud, noisy bar, everyone's smoking and drinking and making cynical remarks -- and you just know how out of place he now feels, and how he longs to return to the simple, peacful life in the rustic village of Brigadoon.

P.S. I took so many pictures of the nearby village of Raiwala that I am going to post them in a separate entry.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


for Chrissy ...for Chrissy ...
for Chrissy ...

... who loves pictures of flowers. Gorgeous tropical flowers abound at the ashram.
the meditation hall ...the meditation hall ...
the meditation hall ...

... at the ashram. Also known as the temple. A very calming place.
the pathway leading to the templethe pathway leading to the temple
the pathway leading to the temple

Luckily for me, there was a lot of rain in May, which is unusual, making everything green and lush.
Liza ...Liza ...
Liza ...

Here is the face of the little girl I have fallen in love with. My new sister!
a parting gifta parting gift
a parting gift

I am holding a pretty purple flower that Liza gave me just before I left the ashram.

29th May 2006

Speaking of Brigadoon...
Doesn't Gene Kelly realize his love of Brigadoon when he's back in New York and then goes back to Scotland to stay there at the end....hmmm
1st June 2006

ah, the hibiscus flower! i read this blog after i read the very last one... which makes sense, i think. the habiscus flower grows in northern australia and really really reminds me of my care free years as a child in the long, humid rainy days on the esplanade in queensland. The vibrant pink ones are my all time favorite! How did you know? Love C
14th November 2006

Oh Mariellen, what a wonderful experience. The way you described everything... the beauty of the place and people...that is a blessing forever. Thanks for sharing it! Rosanne
25th April 2008

i've been there, in fact i came back from the ashram like 2 weeks ago... it is heaven on earth... it is, i just can't wait to go back... i've found my home.
24th October 2008

travelling around North India
Really itz excellent travelling Exprience in those places Raj
6th December 2008

from raiwala
I myself is from Raiwala village(india) and each word said is so true that i feel very proud u visited our village to carry good memories with u.thanks a lot
17th March 2009

aurovalley ashram es lo mejor visitenlo cuando puedan si estan por esos lados, estoy seguro que pronto volvere =)
12th March 2010

hello hi how were you your ashram was very beautiful
17th April 2011

I Recommend for this site he has big deep knowledge about all this Indian tour . Mithlesh kumar

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