After we glimpse the Smarek across the river and after we stop for directions several times, we drive down a green lane beside the Yamuna. We haven’t gone too far before we see a large sign for the Smarek on our right.
We turn in beside a Jain temple and follow the road to Maharishi’s ashram, a much larger compound than I expected. We stop and explain our desires to the guard at the gate, and he immediately lets us in. Pandits are walking to lunch. Someone who looks European stops, saying “Jai Guru Dev,” and shows us the direction to follow.
We get out of the car and step into the temple of Vedic knowledge that Maharishi wanted as a point of pilgrimage. The structure is impressive, rising many feet into the air and built of hand-carved stone.
We spread our cloth on a stack of bricks, and the guard shows that underneath is a ghee lamp used by the pandits, and which we can use for dipam, our flame. Linda performs the puja and Richard and I sing along with her. A large black bird which had taken residence in the Smarek caws and calls happily as we sing. Despite the bird’s additional help, the effect is deeply silent and powerful. Afterwards, the guard directs us to walk around the puja table four times.
Feeling fulfilled, we drive to the Yamuna and take a boat to the Sangam. A young man performs a ceremony to Mother Ganga and then demands $40. Richard just laughs and shakes his head. Eventually, we give him $10 and are rowed back to shore.
Our return to Varanasi reveals the monsoon has struck. Water is standing in the streets, some places knee-deep. The cobblestones still jounce us about but soon we are back at our hotel.
Tomorrow, Agra and the Taj Mahal, but today is the high point.
Images: Photos courtesy of Linda Castillon and Richard Furlough.