Nature and its mysteries have always fascinated me and I have always loved the outdoors. During my school days I had always been very health conscious, following a daily routine of Yoga, healing meditations and other forms of exercises. In my free time, if I was not painting, I would often go with friends for trekking and camping to the forests of south and central India. In those days, conservative Indians frowned upon such activities! The healing part coupled with my Yoga regimen was particularly amazing. A cyst on my eyelid that required minor surgery was healed in a week’s time without any medical treatment. I was at the peak of my health and confidence.
All this changed suddenly when I started my Architectural practice in the city of Hyderabad. Certain adverse situations, including the lack of Architectural awareness and business environment in the city in those days, put me under undue pressure and led to my smoking and drinking excessively. This started taking a toll on my health and left me a frail and bitter person. Finally, when even after working hard and sincerely for 6-7 years things were not getting any better, on a friend’s suggestion, I thought of a change in my profession. The introspection that followed really stunned me. This was my ‘apple falling on the head’ moment. I realized that the problem was not as much with the work that I was doing, which I really liked, but the lack of my ability to comprehend and deal suitably in the given set of circumstances. Being the idealist that I am, I was being too emotional and indulging in wasteful bouts of melancholia. It struck me that earlier when I had used positive visualization to achieve favorable results, now; my negative thinking was leading to all sorts of unwanted situations.
Rather than buckle under peer pressure and take up a job or do other things acceptable to my conservative family, I decided to pursue my interests and hobbies, and actually, at a later stage when I had sufficient funds, make a business out of them. Like they say, “Either do what you like or start liking what you do!” With this was born my idea of setting up of a Yoga retreat in the Himalayan wilderness.
I turned back to Yoga and meditation for help. I quit smoking and cut down drastically on drinks. Partying and pub-hopping gave way to weekly, often solo trips to the lakes and rivers around the city for fishing and camping. Soon, my professional practice was also on track and I was getting paid without even demanding my fees!
Because of my studies in Vastu Shastra, the Indian art of placement of building spaces and my keen interest in unraveling the mysteries of healing and other arcane arts, I decided to pursue advanced Yoga. This curiosity was further fuelled by the childhood memories of a near death experience that happened due to drowningin the stream at my mother’s village in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand. I had this amazing experience of seeing bright white light accompanied with a feeling of complete freedom and peace. Strangely, I have no recollection of struggle while drowning and no physical discomfort on being revived, whatsoever. The skeptic rationalist in me was teeming with so many questions and apparently, only Yoga offered the practical and experiential answers to all of them. If out of the 8 stages of Yoga, the initial stages of Asana (bodily postures) and Pranayama (breathing exercises) worked perfectly for me, then definitely, I thought, the higher stages of Dhyana and Samadhi could be given the benefit of doubt. The subsequent study of Indian philosophies and that of the west opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. No adventure, I realized could be bigger than this and I decided to dedicate the rest of my life in pursuit of the ‘Self’.
When I set out looking for a suitable place for my retreat,from the outset I was clear that the retreat, in the true sense of the word, had to be in a comfortably secluded area of the Himalayan foot hills. This is how, I reasoned, it would have been with the sages and yogis in the ancient times. This ruled out the entire route along the River Ganges, including the towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh which are choked up with heavy traffic most of the time. Also, I wanted the retreat to be amidst a fairly dense mixed forest with ample wildlife and a reasonably big river nearby. A moderate climate would also be a big advantage.
Soon, I came across this land at the end of a village and heard of the many mystical tales associated with it. This virgin area beyond the hill station of Lansdowne is picturesque and free from heavy traffic and congestion. I found the place serene and enchanting and with much persuasion the village people agreed to part with it. With this opened the possibility of fulfillment of my dreams and at the same time, the development of this region of the Garhwal Himalayas, by creating employment for the locals, who as such, have no option but to go to the big cities for work.
Building the retreat was a challenging task as I did not want to disturb the plants growing at the site. Also, both skilled and unskilled labor was hard to get. Nevertheless, the whole experience became a part of my spiritual ‘Sadhana’ that helped me to evolve and gave me rare insights into the eternal truths as espoused in the Vedas and the Tantras. Most of the traditions and rituals that I had earlier frowned upon, I found, were steeped in scientific logic.
The ‘Auranya Yoga’ program being practiced here has evolved out of this ongoing spiritual quest. I sincerely hope that people visiting Auranya, apart from having a great time, will also benefit from my experience. Sometime soon, I will be coming out with a book decoding the tales from the Puranas, the sacred writings on Hindu mythology.