The Pilgrimage - Day 5/5
19th July 2017 - My eyes opened softly, as I lay there, hands cupping my face and the left side of my body nestled into the sand. The river close by was dancing along the stones and I could still feel a little warmth from the night fire glowing. I slept deeply although unsure how many hours of rest I got. A couple of the boys were up and silently boiling water over the fire, the rest were still sleeping. It was peaceful and calm and beautiful. I sat up after a while and my eyes found some deer in the distance drinking from the river, their heads popping up and looking around too. A small cup of coffee was handed to me and the deer and I sat in silence, drinking our respective morning beverages. I smiled and enjoyed the serenity.
We moved our belongings back to our little clearing in the forest, next to our shrine. We eat fresh coconut roti's for breakfast, cooked over the fire. So delicious. I'm truly impressed with how we've eaten over the past five days, completely vegetarian, all the meals have been so delicious and I've never found myself hungry. I take my hat off to the boys for carrying all this stuff in sacks over their shoulders. As today was the last day, we go through all the food we have left; a load of biscuits, tea and coffee supplies, a full pumpkin, a couple of coconuts and some other stuff at a quick glance. We decide to make a chickpea, coconut mix which we hand out as an offering to the pilgrims who walk past during the morning. Tyler and I get handed the bowl to do the honours. Families, groups, individuals, young, old and everything in between pass by our shrine throughout the morning. Some walk straight past, some stop and pray, lighting incense and holding their hand out as we scoop a serving of our snack mix into their hand. They are grateful and I see some bewilderment in their eyes as they look at Tyler and I. There are always spoken words in Sinhalese and when I hear 'New Zealand', I know they are talking about us.
We take a (pretty hilarious) group photo by our shrine, before we begin the last leg of the journey. I looked at myself in the camera display and realised how wild we all looked. I laughed at myself. It felt natural and free and liberating. I hadn't shaved my legs, washed my hair or brushed my teeth in five days straight. My hair was already dirty when we began the walk and now it was matted wild and greasy. Yummy... I had been wearing the same clothes every day, only washing them in the rivers and streams with a bar of soap. But I felt totally free from judgement. Totally free from it. It was refreshing and a wonderful reminder of whats important. Not the clothes or the brands you wear, or how you present yourself, but how you ARE, truly on the inside. Your actions, your connections, your courage, your words and your thoughts.
The next two hours we walked hard and fast, this was probably the most challenging part for me. Although we were sheltered most of the way by trees, it was intensely hot and I was mentally and physically exhausted. Brian and I were at the back of the group, picking up every little piece of plastic we saw along the way. I don't know why, we just felt it was our duty then and there. This went on for a few hours that morning and by the time we caught up to the rest of the group, we had a big bundle of rubbish with us. Along with about 43 feathers I found along the way. We were extremely observant that morning.
We reached 'The Bridge' by lunchtime and stopped here in the big dry riverbed for a rest. There were many groups here, scattered around the place and I could see an army type truck across the river. I think this is the border to the national park. As usual, the boys had made a fire and were boiling water for our tea and noodles before I could say 'lunch'. A big pot of noodles mixed with thinly sliced carrots and a few other goodies. They took out a new black rubbish bag and lay it out on the ground before pouring the entire pot onto it. We all sat around this and ate our lunch with our hands.
A couple of guys came over with a camera and some microphones, hey, where did they come from?! They were from Sri Lanka TV and asked to interview us. I looked wild and messy, and was still heavily deep in one of the most spiritual and incredible experiences of my life, but we said yes. It just felt so out of place, but we agreed. I just spoke of my experience, how I ended up on this walk and what my intentions were. I spoke of the plastic we picked up along the way, in hopes of spreading a bit of a message. Tyler and Pzemek did the same. Unsure what would happen with the footage, but they walked off thanking us. That was random... Today was also my dads birthday, I had no way of reaching him but I thought of him as I walked. Emanating gratitude and love in hopes that he would feel it. I knew he did.
Our spirits were high as we continued on from the river. We were walking on a dirt 'road' now and jeeps started to slowly pass by with tourists on 'safari', in hopes to see an elephant or a leopard. It was kind of funny actually, we felt like we were part of the animals in the jungle. I could see in their faces, as they looked down at us and we looked up at them, that they were confused, shocked, unsure. Who are these random people dressed like this, walking along here!? A 'Haro Hara' would be spoken from my lips without even thinking now. Tyler and I cracked up at each other as the reality of what we had experienced was sinking in. Jeeps started to pass by more frequently and we were slowly coming back into the modern world. An intense and sudden rain shower greeted us as we ducked for cover under some trees. It was the first rain I had seen in a while. Although it only lasted for five minutes, it was refreshing and cleansing nonetheless.
A few hours pass by as we continue walking, walking, walking. Tyler's shoes got a bit wet and now his blisters were really bad, irritating and painful to walk. I felt so bad for him, but we didn't have any other choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Up ahead we see a gate! Tyler and I walk through together, say "Haro Hara' to the guards and realise its the entrance to the national park. A sense of accomplishment fell over us, only quickly to be taken away by reality as we realised we had another 8km to go to the small town of Kataragama.
A quick tea/water break as we prepared for the last 8km of our journey. I was exhausted and mentally prepared to arrive already. It was late in the afternoon and we had already been walking all day. The Kataragama mountain was in view, our eyes gazing towards our beacon. But it still looked so far away. I looked to Tyler and his face was screwed up in some sort of agony. He couldn't take his shoes off because his blisters would get all dusty and dirty on these roads. So, we packed up efficiently as ever and continued down our path. Those final hours, Tyler and I were thinking about a cold beer and a cold shower. Maybe a cold beer in the cold shower.
First power lines appeared, then faint sounds of dogs barking, then little houses on the outskirts of town. I took a hold of Tyler's hand and gave him a good smile, but he was in no state to be reflective right now, he just wanted to sit the fuck down. But I squeezed his hand a little more and we walk the last few kilometres towards the temple together. We come around a bend and see half our group sitting there, the temple vibrating with the sounds of chanting music, it was beautiful! Tyler throws himself to the ground and instantly starts untying his shoes, the boys welcome us with big smiles and high fives. An elderly man comes over with a tray of tea and some ginger biscuits. I thank him in Sinhalese and take some. The boys all crowd around Tyler's feet and talk amongst themselves. We sit like this, exhausted but happy, for a while before the rest of the group follow suit. We did it! I managed to film the temple and us sitting there, exhausted yet accomplished when the battery in my camera died. Timed it PERFECTLY. In a way, I was kind of glad it died, my job of filming and capturing was over, I didn't have to think about that anymore. I could just BE. I was mentally exhausted.
The truth is, as we progressed with the walk, I felt more compelled to put the camera down, away from filming and felt more compelled to experience fully what was happening in front of me rather than through the lens. Especially when we were walking. We walked fast and with intention. I was so busy trying to keep up with the boys in front whilst looking down at the ground to place my feet safely, there was hardly enough time to look up at the scenery, let alone take a photograph. And trying to film? It was a real challenge for me. I was constantly thinking about what I wanted to film and how, but I was so limited with what I could do; we were there to WALK. But I am so glad I did capture it in a very real and authentic way. But now, I was tired and needed to rest.
Night started to fall and we hopped in the tray of a passing truck. Holding onto the sides, I closed my eyes and felt the wind gush past my hair. I took a deep breathe in through my nose and exhaled a long and controlled breath. When I opened my eyes, I gazed over at the landscape, the sun setting behind the mountain and golden light shimmering across the rice patties. Monkeys jumped between the trees and the leaves rustled above us.
It was dark by the time we reached Kataragama, but we jumped out of the truck and made our way to the lights and the noise. We were on our way to the temple complex in the middle of town. With the spiritual resonance of religion and the tackiness of all the LED lights, it was an interesting and fascinating experience. There were a lot of people around. Crackling speakers blasted with sounds of religious music, in that voice that changes pitch frequently. People were talking and organising and walking and praying and it was a sort of organised chaos. Fruit platters were being laid on steps in front of temples as offerings. Iknew the monkeys would be stoked come early morning when the people disappeared. We visit the temple of Ganesh and a temple for Buddha. We drink holy water from someones hand somewhere and a coloured powder gets thrown on my face between my eyes. It's all a lot to take in. I'm glad when its over and we start our walk 'home'.
Vidura, one of the boys offered for us to stay at his place, so welcoming and generous, we were super grateful. Saying goodnight to the rest of our group, we followed Vidura and his brother down a little dirt path and into the darkness of the forest. With no street lights, the small dirt road continued into blackness and Tyler and I followed suit until the boys eventually took a right turn into a small gate where a local house sat. We walk into the open, outside kitchen, built entirely of mud and Vidura's mother and father greet us. I felt they were proud to host us and it was very humbling. Vidura offered we stay in his 'house', so we follow him outside to a simple, little mud hut. Four walls, a roof and a little door. We walk inside, ducking under the doorway, into the small room which held a small bed that was calling my name. In the room, there was also a small wooden table and a plastic chair. We place our bags down and thank Vidura from the bottom of our hearts. We fall asleep immediately in the comfort of a mattress! Luxury.
I woke feeling ever so wonderful from a good nights rest and walk out to Tyler already awake and sitting on the small bench outside. Vidura and his father are making a natural remedy for Tyler's feet. They get branches and leaves from the Nim tree in their garden and mix those in with some warm water and let it brew for a while. They gently place his feet in the bucket before giving them a good wash, applying balm to the cuts and bandaging his feet up. They are so lovely. We have some tea and bread for breakfast and relax throughout the morning. Apprehensive, I turn my phone on to message my dad, only to be bombarded with notifications that make me turn my phone back off. That afternoon we visit the Ashram and meet up with Brian and Pzemek.
I sit in the golden light and reflect on the journey that has just unfolded. My intention I was holding with me the whole time, was to find (or realise I needed) more balance in my life. Although I didn't entirely know this from the start, it became clear as the days passed. Being a part of Paada Yaatra, it definitely showed me an element of life that nourished me; the proof that nature had everything I needed in that moment, the Universe was flowing and allowing for this experience, and I went with it. The weeks prior to the walk, I had been struggling with finding my creative flow, I felt stagnant and a bit out of sync. I was struggling to find balance between 'down time' and 'work time'. But my work was my life, how I could seperate the two? It was bothering me on how to find a happy medium, especially whilst travelling. So I guess being a part of this spiritual pilgrimage, I created a space for myself to set my own intentions. The countless hours of walking across landscapes and having room and space to think, I was able to gain an insight into what was important to me. My intention to be in the moment more, not to go back to 'work' and my computer, like I was supposed to on Day 1. Taking opportunities for myself, without the knowledge of the outcome, because if you follow your intuition, the outcome will eventually reveal itself, most likely better than you could have ever imagined. And I never could have known the outcome, but I'm so glad I was able to come out the other side with an experience of a lifetime and an incredible story to share. It was the perfect balance between work and play. And as I sat here at the end of it all, I felt balanced that my intention was followed through. And I realised I had the power within myself.
I hope you enjoyed joining me through the journey of the pilgrimage. Video's coming soon! Subscribe to my YouTube channel.