Early the next morning, I set out towards Mana village. By noon, I had reached the village, inhabited by shepherds of Tibetan origin, who wove colourful, intricately designed woollen rugs, on their handlooms. They were all Buddhist. I walked until I came to the Vyasa Guha. It was a medium sized, natural cave.
I decided to explore the other caves in the vicinity and walking further up over the rocks, saw the Saraswati gushing out of a tunnel and joining the Alakananda. Another hour of walking through rocky terrain and I had reached the Vasundhara falls. My idea was to reach Swargarohini. There must be something to the story of Yudhishthira being lifted into heaven. Perhaps extraordinary beings lived there?
It was then that I realized that it would soon grow dark. The wind was already icy cold, and there was no one in sight. Hunger was gnawing my insides. I decided to walk down at least to Mana village. I had to find some kind soul who would offer me a place to sleep at night, and may be some food. I was filled with doubt, fear, hunger and a deep sense of failure. I had started on a quest and failed. There were no mahatmas except in the imagination of fiction writers who pretended to be factual. Better to die than live like this. I decided to jump into the Alakananda, and commit suicide.
By then, it was almost fully dark and the icy wind was howling. I had reached Vyasa Guha again, and to my surprise, found that a Dhuni was brightly burning at the mouth of the cave. Flames leapt and danced as the logs burned brightly. In the freezing weather, the warmth of the fire beckoned. I went towards it wondering who could have lit the fire. Perhaps a shepherd? Or was I finally about to see a yogi?
From inside the cave came a voice. Was it familiar? Was it a voice buried deep in the recesses of my mind for years, now becoming audible? I hurried towards the cave trembling. From inside emerged a long-haired, bare-bodied, tall man. “Come,” the voice said in clear Hindustani, “Where have you been wandering Madhu?” “Madhu?” Had I heard that name in a long forgotten dream?
Who was this man? “I am not Madhu,” I said, “I am Mum…” “Enough, enough, I know. From under the jackfruit tree in Vanchiyoor, to Vyasa Guha in the far North. Come and sit here, near the fire. First, I will get you some food, and then you can sleep. We will talk tomorrow.” With his right hand, he patted my left shoulder with great affection. “Sit here.” At that instant, I realized that this was the same person I had met in the backyard of my house, under the jackfruit tree, at age nine. That was it. Even the voice was the same. I had found my guru, my father, my mother, my teacher, all in one. As it turned out, I was not to leave him for the next three and a half years. He entered the cave and soon came out with his kamandalu (an oval shaped vessel, carried by sadhus to hold food or water). In it were two fresh wheat rotis and hot potato curry. He placed it in front of me and said “Eat.” I bent down and touched his feet. “I’ll call you Babaji,” I said, “I know of no other Babaji. You are my Baba, father. I am indebted to you for life. You have found me when I was at the end of my tether.”
Tears clouded my vision. “All that is fine, you sit down now and eat,” he said affectionately. Sitting there, in front of the fire, surrounded by the Himalayan ranges, I ate with relish under the affectionate gaze of my teacher. He went in again, and this time came out with a jilebi, a sweet, which he insisted he would hold while I ate. After the meal, I drank the clear and pure water of the Alakananda, which Babaji passed on to me, and immediately felt drowsy. It was as if I had not slept for ages. Babaji took me into the cave, and in the dim light of the fire inside, I saw that he had made a bed for me, with a blanket spread on dry leaves and twigs. With a gentle wind blowing the heat of the fire into the cave, or so I thought, I fell asleep instantly, secure in the thought that Babaji would take care of me. The last thing I remember was Babaji sitting on a folded blanket, cross-legged, facing the fire, steady and motionless.