The dust of many years of travel coats us like a second skin but it’s the encounters with people we have met on our journeys that linger in memory. Some encounters are pleasant; others unpleasant and some have been spiritually uplifting.
On a trip to the pilgrim town of Yamunotri, many years ago, we had a life-changing experience.
It all started with a bone-shattering ride in a rickety jeep to Hanuman Chatti, at the foot of a trekking trail that led to the Yamunotri Temple, snuggled in a cleft of a mountain. Our fellow trekkers were a motley lot – some clad in dhotis, others in jeans, some resembled stock brokers while a few middle-aged women in saris had bravely set forth in sandals.
Before setting off on the steep 6-km trek to the temple, we saw an amazing sight. Set against the soul-enlarging beauty of the backdrop was a make-shift lean-to which served as the clinic of Dr R. B Singh. By sheer chance, our eyes met and the doctor beckoned us to come over and share a cup of tea. We sipped the piping hot brew and watched him bandaging the head of a little boy who had fallen off the roof of his hut. A bunch of orange-robed sadhus (holy men) squatted on the floor waiting to be treated.
Soon we got to chat with the 60-year-old doctor from Dehra Dun and learned that he had been practicing in this mountainous wasteland for over two decades. Each year for six months – from May to October when the Yamunotri shrine is open to pilgrims – he sets up camp and treats locals and pilgrims for free.
“Life is about love; love is everything, money is inconsequential,“ said the doctor as he tossed two painkillers to two sadhus who had walked all the way from distant Ayodhya and had complained to him about aching calves. He invited the holy man to help himself to tea that bubbled on a stove placed on the ground. “I derive great satisfaction from what I’m doing,” he said as he stoked the fire between treating patients. “It’s easy to love your children and members of your family and friends; it’s tough to love strangers, especially if they are poor and the needy. But once you start, even that becomes easy.”
“In all these years, have you seen God?” we asked the good doctor. He turned around, his gentle face aglow with an evanescent light. “Yes in the faces of the poor and in the faces of these sants (holy men),” he said, pointing to the two sadhus who sat on the floor, gratefully sipping the steaming hot brew .
And in the mountain light, a divine glow seemed to light the visages of the three men, connected by an indiscernible bond, a bond beyond time.