Tag Archives: Maheshwar

Pilgrimage to the Heart of India 2018

19 day pilgrimage to Varanasi, Omkareshwar, Ellora & Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu and Indore

20 November – 8 December 2018

Dear Friends,

It’s about time I bring a group of friends to see some of my favorite pilgrimage places in India: Varanasi, Shiva city, the spiritual centre of India famous for tantra and pilgrimage; Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada river are major centres of the 3.5 year pilgrimage that sees a steady stream of devotion. Ellora and Ajanta are both ancient monuments of devotion and wonder. We will make a stop by Mandu for a day of cycling, frivolity and wandering thru villages and Mugul ruins scattered across the country side. The final stop will be in Indore to visit a couple important tantric temples and enjoy the comforts of the city before going our separate ways.

The trip will include:

  • Land travel within India, most meals, room, guided tours, yoga & astrology
  • Traditional Hatha Yoga practice including asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation. Bhakti, Raja, Hatha, Jnana, Tantra  and Kundalini yogas will all find expression over the course of this trip.
  • A detailed Vedic Astrology reading and remedy coaching.
  • Six nights in a simple, traditional forest ashram over-looking the  holy Narmada river
  • Five nights in Varanasi over looking the Holy Ganges river
  • A small group of six allows for deep integration of the practices and teachings.
  • Excellent introduction to India for those who wish to continue traveling the country
  • A unique yoga pilgrimage
  • Deep introduction to yogic philosophy and Vedic way of life.
  • Suitable for anyone who is a pilgrim at heart. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Sincerity towards the method is the most important attribute.

Basic Itinerary

20 November – 8 December 2018

20 November 2018: Arrival in Varanasi, rest, short evening yoga and meditation next to the river.

While in Varanasi: Morning yoga, site-seeing tours, boat rides, lots of free time, meeting Shiva devotees, astrology charts will be completed for each person.

25 November: Train to Khandwa; bus to Omkareshwar, take rest and get settled at the Gayatri Forest Ashram, easy evening yoga and meditation.

While in Omkareshwar: Two yoga classes per day. Learning traditional stories, parikrama (walk) around the island,  visiting important pilgrimage sites, pilgrims and sadhus. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying.

02 December: Jeep to Ajanta. While in Ellora/Ajanta trip we will take our yoga where we can get it. There is often an opportunity to practice among the caves.

03 December: Jeep to Ellora and then to Maheshwar, take rest, get settled in the guest house.

While in Maheshwar: One to two yoga classes per day, visiting special holy sites, boating, swimming, meeting pilgrims, singing, & enjoying nature.

07 December: Jeep to Mandu, cycling/site-seeing, and then jeep to Indore.

08 December: Visit Mahakala and Bhairava temple before departure. The tour will end on this day and departures will go from Indore.

  • Note: let us know if we can help to arrange transport and lodging before and after the trip.

By the end of this trip participants will have gained deep knowledge of Yogic, Vedic and Tantric practice and lifestyle. One will have gained an appreciation for simple, prayerful living and will have a good foundation to continue a personal sadhana (spiritual practice). You will also gain valuable travel experience and a deep humanistic education as we travel on and off the tourist trail thru the heart of India.

Anyone with a sincere desire for self knowledge thru yoga and traditional knowledge are welcome. Yoga classes are easily modified to be accessible to everyone as well as challenging for every level of fitness and concentration. Much of the philosophical content will be organic (arising from the circumstances and questions) so this too will be both accessible and challenging for most anyone.

India can be a challenging country and we will be living very simply as pilgrims ourselves for parts of trip. This simplicity of nature will hopefully counterbalance the sensory and emotional over-load that Delhi and Varanasi are known for in different ways. Travel can be slow and frustrating (most times) and there will a few arduous days of travel, lots of walking, and a group of eight people traveling and living together for 19 days (18 nights). We hope that lots of free time, optional tours and practices, and flexibility by everyone, will allow everyone to get the flavour they are seeking from life.


This package tour includes:

  1. 19 days/18 nights in various guest houses and ashrams may be shared occupancy
  2. Many meals, lots of chai and snacks
  3. Transportation
  4. Vedic Astrology consultation.
  5. Classical Hatha Yoga classes
  6. Guide fees
  7. Additional administrative fees, organization costs, booking fees, travel expenses, baksheesh & diksha donations to temples, pilgrims and ashrams in the name of the group

Total cost: 

  • $1950. A $600 deposit will hold this space for you

Stipulations

  • Limited to six people. Must have at least 4 people signed up by October 1 for the trip to proceed. Full refunds will be given if it’s cancelled for this reason. I expect it will sell out fast.
  • One place will have preference for someone with knowledge in Ayurveda and/or Jyotish and would like to do a mentorship in astrology over the 19 days of this pilgrimage.
  • Unless your seat can be sold to someone else we may only be able to refund 50% of the fee in case of cancellation. There will be an administrative fee retained in any case, but we look vary favorably upon those who find someone to fill their place for them.
  • Bring a friend and save $100 each (not available for early bird pricing). Bring two or more friends and save $200 while each of them save $100.

What is not included, and why?

  • Many meals, snacks and chai throughout the day since you will be on your own.
  • Baksheesh, diksha payments, tips to temples monks, sadhus and service people which are best given by your own heart & hand
  • Flight to India, travel insurance, immunizations are all your responsibility.
  • Souvenirs, personal items, personal travel or personal entertainment.
  • No certificates will be available as this pilgrimage is meant to be a personal healing, learning & potentially transformational journey. If you want a certificate, go to Rishikesh.
  • If you are unsure about what may or may not be included, please ask before departure.

Your host and guide:

Mike Holliday has had a deep spiritual and personal connection with Varanasi, Ganga & Narmada since 2007. He has been teaching yoga around the world for almost ten years and offering philosophical/spiritual coaching and counsel for over half that time. He has guided many people thru Varanasi and well as thru Indian culture and a few have even come to experience the magic of the Narmada river with him. He is an engaging teacher and story teller; a very knowledgeable guide thru the unknown; a sincere, grounded friend and adviser & he has a strong passion for sharing traditional knowledge. He is an off the beaten path teacher who mostly follows orthodoxy but does not not believe it is necessary.

For more information:

  • holliday.michael@gmail.com

Finding Bhakti

With only a couple of days in between, I went from being the fearless adventurer in the Pakistani border region, to being the child devotee looking around in apparent confusion. For it was while I sat on the stone steps aligning the river that a hand was held out to me and a voice beckoned me to “come.” So, like a lost child I took the hand and allowed it to lead me wherever it went.

What astonished me was the rituals that were going on all around me. Everyone seemed to have some doorway that they had constructed to bring them closer to god. Many washed the lingams, or offered milk or flowers or incense to the heavens. After carrying out prayer rituals (last moments or minutes)many swam or bathed or dunked themselves in the river. Some merely took a sip. But when you take a sip from the Narmada, you not only take a sip from a river, but from the divine. Besides all these acts of devotion, people were also singing and chanting and ringing bells. It was almost too much for me. I saw the beauty of their devotion and quietly, in my heart, I wept. I wept for all of those in whose hearts God resides, and all those who have conception of such purity of action.

But then came the beckoning hand, so I followed. I followed until there were no more steps by the river and we were on a path, I followed through the small village outside of town, and then O followed down a long lane-way to a very small temple. I said nothing for there was nothing I could say (a couple days would pass before I could again find words). When we came to the temple, they were just making chai. When they found out I spoke no Hindi they left me alone in the corner to drink my chai. When the chillums began to be lighted they passed these to me in turn. Four hours I sat there smoking chillum and absorbing the shock of such a powerfully religious town.

After almost two weeks here, I’m slowly coming out of my shock. I’m learning ritual: morning and evening baths in the river, a few incense sticks here and there, maybe a sack of flowers to adorn some idol or other. But ritual does not come easy to me. When I step up to a temple I step forward with thirty years of atheism on my back. I step forward also with the full weight of western society on my shoulders. When I step up to a temple my lightness of being is replaced by great a weight. But each day is better than the last, progress is always being made. Time is forever marching forward and with each step new ideas become easier and ritual becomes less alien.

But I have to go from here and study Hindi for some time before I come back. That is one problem with stepping off the tourist trail: no English. This is a small problem since communication is always possible, but will get much more from these areas if I speak the language.

In 1908, Gandhi wrote a pamphlet called “Home Rule”. In this pamphlet they asked: “And what about the English?” Gandhi replied, “They can stay if they’re willing to live like an India. If not, then they too should go.” So now it’s time for me to learn to live like an India. After studying Hindi, I’ll be doing a pilgrimage down the Narmada river to really begin to learn Hindi and how to live like an Indian.

India 2010-2011

Every year I get a little deeper into the country and come to understand the culture even more. This year I made huge strides in learning Hindi: reading, writing, grammar. My pronunciation still causes a great deal of confusion, but at least I can communicate with the locals a little bit beyond getting my necessities met.

Other than my requisite stay in Varanasi, this trip was all about Madhya Pradesh, the middle province where the Narmada river begins on the eastern border in the town of Amarkantak and gathers momentum as it heads west through the marble canyons near Jabalpur, before settling into a lazier pace as it goes through the Holy towns of Omkareshwar and Maheshwar. About 100km before it finds the Arabian Sea it enters the province of Gugarat.

From Varanasi I went straight south by bus to get to Amarkantak. There were a few small water falls nearby Varanasi, but as the bus climbed the mountains, natural beauty gave way to coal mining and power generation. In one particularly polluted town that tasted lie coal dust, I was told that there were ten coal power plants within 40km. My morning chai even had the undrinkable taste of coal. Several of the people I met here or on the buses near here were engineers enjoying the prosperous employment provided by all the smoldering black diamonds.

As the I continued south, the air began to clear and the people began to look healthier. Prosperity gave way to poverty. This is mostly tribal lands: jungle and farm. Huge, ranch-style mud houses with simple line work and dots painted on the outsides (tell-tale indications of tribal people); beautifully simple. I made my way thru Ambikapur, from the bus stand to the train station, surprising all the locals in this quiet city. I suspect that stopping for a night or two would have rewarded me richly, but Shiva Ratri was approaching quickly and I wanted to be in a suitable Shiva town (I was thinking I would get to Puri after a brief stop in Amarkantak). The driver of the shared auto who took me to the train station after I’d walked a few km refused my money and sped away singing what I think was a Bollywood love song.

Waiting for the train I encountered some rare racism: teasing and jokes that I could not understand but made me uncomfortable enough to move to the end of the platform. A couple boys who witnessed it cautiously approached me for conversation and quickly became close friends and guides for the next 14 hours. One boy was shy and from a low cast, and the other had just graduated from collage and was working as a pharmaceutical rep. Both were very cool. I got off the train one stop before they did and found myself a cozy place on the floor of the train station to sleep until morning and slept through until almost ten before catching one more bus to Amarkantak.

In Amarkantak I quickly learned the difference between asking for a “Sasta Hotel” (a cheap hotel) and a “sasta Kamra” (cheap room). Sasta Hotel is about Rs600/night ($15.00), and a sasta kamra is about Rs100/night ($2.50). The cheap room was a dung floor thoroughfare for rats with spiders in every corner and a thin mat on the floor for sleeping; perfect. The Phalhari Ashram was up the hill and had a beautiful view of the Ancient temples across the river (Sri Shankyacharyia, 1100AD) and the white spires of the new temples in the forground. All around me were huge Mango trees that were just starting to consider offering us (and the monkeys) fresh mangos.

The ashram in Amarkantak was nice and simple: a thin mat on a dirt floor, two meals a day and chai in the morning. The rooms all had rats passing through, but for Shivarthri someone apparently supplied them with poison and they began falling from the ceiling as if to beg for mercy. They were offered none. The foreign presence was small here, just myself; Mark, the Bhakti German fellow; and a hippy Alaskan guy with his daughter. Taj, the international gangster came later.

Taj had stories to tell, many stories about his upbringing in Kashmir, his immigration to Canada, his adventures around the world. He was in his early fifties and in the process of assessing his life. He was a doubter and a cynic when it came to religion and spirituality. He had no use for either and he enjoyed spouting his opinion in the ashram, to devotees and even to Babas. The Phalhari baba who ran the ashram wasn’t much different so the two of them became quick friends. Baba was a great manager and had completed 12 years of intense tapas eating only fruit while practicing yoga and tantra. He certainly didn’t recommend such a lifestyle, it was very hard on his body.

I stayed here for a few weeks listening to Taj’s stories and practicing intense yoga and meditation in my room. Baba spoke no (or very little English) so there was no instruction and he led no practices. As an ashram, it was merely a place to stay.

For Shivarathri I was given access to a private Puja in the main temple that went on for over three hours. It was he most intense puja I’ve ever witnessed. I’m certain that they recited an entire Purana with the speed of an auctioneer. When I left, my mind was swimming; I was high from the intensity of it all and I’d felt as though only a few minutes had passed. I wondered if I’d been lulled into some kind of trance. It was beautiful.

Taj and I left together catching buses and trains to haphazardly make our way to Maheshwar.