America through my eyes –Mount Madonna
Telugu Original : Dr K.Geeta
English Translation: Madhuri Palaji
Most of the people here go camping during the summer. Summer is the best time to roam freely outside in the limited warmth. Camping means living absolutely outside. Living in tents in the forest areas where no human lives, climbing hills and mountains, walking for miles, playing in water, fishing and enjoying the greenery of nature. We both are still influenced by Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It increased after coming here. We wanted to go camping if not living on an island smoking tobacco like Huckle. But, there used to be some obstacle every year. We kept postponing thinking it’s not ideal with kids. The day has come finally.
Varu is going for a three days scouting camp in the week before summer holidays this year. So, we also made arrangements for our camping. Komal planned to go somewhere else with his friends. But we had to take Siri with us. We decided to go cabin camping this time since it is very difficult to go tent camping with a small kid. Even though it is summer, it gets very cold at night in thick forests. So, we can’t spend in cabins without a heating system. When we searched online for a place to go camping with a small kid and with certain limitations, we found Mount Madonna.
It is in Watsonville which is sixty miles away from our home. We can reach there in an hour or hour and half. There is a camping facility in Mount Madonna County Park but it doesn’t have the facilities that we wanted. So we chose Mount Madonna center. It is like a Yoga Camp. It is a yoga, meditation center run under the supervision of Baba Haridas. But since it is in America, it is very sophisticated. They have accommodation like that in hotel rooms and also camping with tents. We purposefully chose an individual cabin. Moreover, we were going to stay during the busy, first week of yoga program that happens in the beginning of the summer. It’s for our own good. We decided to check this ashram and the programs there. We cannot cook our own food here. We have to pay for food along with the accommodation and eat the food they give. Only vegetarian food is available. We couldn’t get a reservation to stay for two nights.
Even if we go on Friday evening, we have to return on Saturday. Since Siri was still on baby foods at the time, I packed the needful for her. I packed only a couple of snacks for us to eat. Since dinner is done by six in the evening, we called them and asked them to put dinner aside for us.
It was almost four thirty by the time we started after sending Varu off with the girls scouts group. Moreover, we were stuck in traffic. Because of that, we reached there not in an hour and half but two and half hours. GPS misguided us and we took a wrong turn when we were just four to five miles away. The road was very bad there. This kind of road in bad condition is very common in India but here in the US, even if you visit a remote village, there is a proper concrete road. This is the first time we traveled on a mud road through a jungle. Because of the thick forest the light disappeared quickly and we were surrounded by darkness. Due to the bad condition of the road, the car looked like a drunkard walking who lost balance. Siri suddenly started crying seeing the change in the weather. I, too, was terrified. Did we lose the way completely? Is there an end to this mountain? Where are we going? These kind of thoughts occupied my mind. Siri’s non-stop crying on the other side. There was no way to reverse the car. We had to drive forward. I was surprised to notice how kids understand their surroundings under various circumstances. Entire sixty miles journey was one thing. The journey on this mountain was another. After driving for another half an hour, we reached the proper road. I guess it was some kind of short cut. We felt very relieved upon seeing the road.
Mount Madonna Center:
Within five minutes, upon taking the next turn, we reached Madonna Center. Since the main gate adjacent to the road was not visible, we went ahead and came back. There were no floral decorations welcoming the guests like the ashrams from our country. It looked like an old school gate, that’s all. When we enter the ashram, there is Lord Hanuman’s temple on one side high up on the stairs. There is a spiritual center on this side of the main road, a pond on the opposite side, we found the cafe and main center, ahead, after crossing these. We went to the main center and got tags to our wrists. We took our cabin keys, gave our details and took the papers. We came out and decided to go to the cabin first and then come out for food. Our cabin was through the second entrance which was about a mile away from the main center. We searched for a while, took help from the map they gave us and finally found it. There is also a walk way till here. We were exactly on the top of the mountain just behind the temple. The entire ashram is built on mountains spread across 355 acres of land. Some cottages are located below the road at the foot of the mountains, some are at the height of the road and some are above the road.
Our cabin is one among the six or seven cabins here. Forest around us, thick trees, there are walkways between the cabins full of green grass. Cabins are situated a little away from each other. Bathrooms were built commonly for all in the center. As soon as we opened the lock, we found a small wooden room big enough to accommodate only two beds. There were iron lamps on either side of the beds, battery light, one extra bedsheet, pillow, and that’s all. The iron lamps here are very special. A man made lamps out of old iron furniture and gifted them to this ashram. We felt very light, at once, like all the worldly luxuries disappeared and we entered into the real world. Even cell phone signals are available only at the main center. It felt wonderful to live at a place with such restrictions when we cannot live without the internet. If Varu had come with us, she would’ve complained about this place where there is no TV, microwave oven or bathroom. I wondered how their camp was.
We came out to the dining hall while there was still some evening light. We walked on the walkway on the mountain with tall grass. Our hunger disappeared looking at the food on our plates. I thought we would get Indian food because this is an Indian ashram. There was nothing like that. Boiled vegetables, leafy vegetables. Moreover, there was no salt or spices added. Food like this is not new in America. But this food looked like we cannot eat at all. The weather was cold outside and the food also was cold like it just came out of the fridge. They put the food on the shelf with our names written on it. We ate bananas and oranges to fill our stomachs. We had to eat raw bananas and sour oranges.
We heard bhajans from the hall next to us sung by beautiful voices. We entered one after the other since it was difficult for us to enter together carrying Siri. They were handing out booklets with bhajans to everyone who was coming in. People sitting behind were singing the hymns from that booklet, following the ones sitting in front and leading. There were not more than four Indians in that hall. All were from America.
Some were dancing with joy. We couldn’t find baba there. There were hymns praising Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva and all other Gods and Goddesses in that booklet. But the voices singing in the front were very melodious. They were mesmerizing. Though there was nothing in those slokas, we felt like listening to them. When we closed our eyes and listened to the tunes, we were filled with peace. It felt like God is right here in this flowing song. The hall was filled with pin drop silence every time the bhajan stopped as if the entire world’s joy is hidden in that song. It was a big hall. Mic system was good. There were few people who had beards and moustaches, wearing dhotis like typical Indians. When we Indians went there wearing shirts and pants, Americans were wearing Indian attire. Since Siri started crying asking to take her, too, into that hall, we couldn’t spend more than an hour and we came out.
We decided to go for a small walk and came down. There was darkness all around. It was so dark that we cannot recognize the person walking on the road. When we looked up at the sky, it looked like the sky appeared just then like an umbrella to the earth. The twinkling stars were shining like lotuses in the pond. The thin crescent moon was shining brightly through the tall red wood trees, looking like a beautiful smile on lovely lips. The thick trees in the turnings were trying to filter the brightness of the sky. Enthralled by this beautiful scene, we stood like statues without caring about the cold.
I remembered the days when we used to play in the streets during our childhood when there was power cut. I wondered where all my childhood friends were. I wished that all of them suddenly appeared here and we could play again. But I never remember a time when the sky looked so vast and the crescent looked so big. I do not remember the sky being so clear even when there were no clouds. I wanted to take a paint brush right there and make a copy of that night in the darkness. Though we captured pictures in the camera, I don’t think those pictures justified the beauty. If we go a little further, there is a hot water pool area. That place was filled with people and the pool had small light bulbs, filled with hot vapors spreading into the cold atmosphere. Though we wanted to walk further, since we were heading in the opposite direction of our cabin, we had to turn around.
Walk in the night:-
Our cottage is on the top of the small hill a little away from the temple after crossing the main building. There are stairs after turning at the pond beyond the temple. There are some small lights here and there adjacent to the main road. After crossing that, there is the walkway twisting and turning, full of grass and complete darkness. The trees on the side of the walkway are blocking the moonlight. There is no way to look at the sky. We could only walk looking at the ground with the help of the small battery light. There were lots of ups and downs. We each had a battery light in one hand. Since Siri was sleeping we took turns to carry her. Before we climbed the hill, I heard a strange animal’s sound from a distance. There was something crawling on the ground nearby. It felt like there was no other human anywhere nearby. I almost ran. We had to climb the hill at one place. Though it was cold outside, because of the fear and our fast walking pace, we were gasping for air and sweating. Looking at my fast walk, Satya started scaring me making weird sounds of animals. It took almost half an hour to reach the first cottage among our cottages. When I entered the cottage first and locked the door behind, Satya started laughing. Windows were very close to the bed. The western parts of America are famous for bears.
“Can these windows stand the strength of a bear? Won’t they jump right onto us?” I mumbled loudly and he laughed listening to me. The ceiling was very low and there was a small light that blinked like a firefly. The fog was thick behind the window. Thick trees stood tall and dark. Above all, it became a great difficulty for me to walk through the grass and go out in the dark to another building to use the washroom. Satya was adamant that he wouldn’t accompany me.
I used to walk around in the backyard at night without any fear during my childhood, apparently. I couldn’t even laugh at my fear now. No matter how strong I am on the outside, there was a strange fear that took me over. Sometimes, we fail to assure ourselves by analyzing the situation and staying brave. I was scared until I fell asleep.
Satya woke me up early in the morning saying, “I’m going for the 6 O’clock yoga session. You come by 8.” I slept again. I woke up at 7.30 when Siri woke up. As soon as I opened my eyes, I saw through the curtain, a herd of deer walking amongst the green trees, grazing on the grass. My heart was filled with peace. The fog was fading slowly. Siri was walking around the small bed in that wooden cabin and laughing happily. Deer were still there without being afraid of the noise. What is the difference between day and night? Just light? Why do we feel happy with this light and scared of the darkness? Is it because of our eyes? Is it our strange mind?
I felt like laughing. My heart went out of those walls of the cabin and happily roamed around. Suddenly, the fear of the night disappeared and the morning seemed to be happy and peaceful amidst this beautiful nature. How beautiful! Staying in a forest on one side and staying just a mile away from modern life. I opened the door and came out. Mother, daughter, home, trees, animals, wild plants, silence, everything is the same there. People outside heard no sound, even now. Maybe, the people in the other cottages also must have gone to meditation. I heard that most of the people come here for that purpose. There were some plaques asking not to waste water in the bathroom as there is scarcity of water in that area. I’m seeing such a board for the first time in America. The clean bathrooms there were just like those in the hotels. Except for those modern bathrooms, everything else feels like a forest area. I think there are more cottages on the road ahead at the turning.
I walked up and down there with Siri enjoying the morning peace. By the time I remembered that I should get ready and go down, Satya returned. First session included different types of Pranayama and the second one was about various asanas. People there are doing them habitually. Though there was a man helping newbies like Satya and books about mudras to guide, he said he couldn’t understand well. They charged extra twenty five dollars for each session separately. Satya left in the middle of the second session.
We used to go down on the same path at night. This time, we saw a tent camping on the other side of the bushes. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. These people directly spent their entire night amidst the grass. I was scared to walk for a little while. Since it was Saturday that day, that place was crowded with people who came from the surrounding cities. Bells and bhajans were heard from the temple. Baba Haridas was there that day. Many devotees came that day to visit him. While climbing down the mountain, there was a pleasant environment all around. Beautiful Watsonville was seen in a distance from the main building.
Photos & Telugu Original:
Madhuri Palaji is a writer and book reviewer from India. Her book “Poems of The Clipped Nightingale” is available on Kindle. She writes book reviews for various publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Meerkat Press, Hot Tree Publishings, Bethany Publishers, etc. She is one of the top 50 book reviewers in India. Her reviews are available at http://www.theclippednightingale.com/