Thirty-five years ago I was visiting Mysore for the first time. I arrived in early January when the weather was still relatively cool, but with the arrival of February it began to get quite warm, and by the beginning of March the heat was becoming nearly unbearable. I was staying at Guruji’s house, sleeping in his office adjacent to the upstairs yoga room. It was so warm at night that I would go up on the roof to try to sleep. Early in March, to escape the heat, I traveled by bus to Ooty, which, at an altitude of 7,000 feet promised cooler temperatures. The bus ride was about three hours total, with a memorable stop about two hours in when a priest got on the bus with his puja tray. All the passengers were clamoring to throw coins on the tray and receive a spoonful of holy water, some of which they sipped, while the rest they tossed onto their head. I asked my seatmate what was going on and he said, “Oh, sir, the people are praying for safe passage up the mountain!” When we started up the steep, narrow, and winding road up the mountain in this ancient bus with bald tires, I wished I had taken some of the holy water. Eventually, we made it to the top, and it was much cooler than the plains of Mysore, once my heartbeat slowed down.
My second trip to a “hill station”—a higher altitude retreat—came in mid-March with a trip to the B. R. Hills to meet the reclusive Swami Nirmalananda. During the month of February I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Norman Allen, Guruji’s first American student. Norman had lived in Mysore for four years in the early 70’s and had made many trips to visit Swami Nirmalananda. According to Norman, the swami’s pride and joy was his pet deer, Bambi, and as a surprise gift he had arranged for the Mysore zoo to send a male deer to the B. R. Hills as a mate. In fairly typical Indian fashion, once the deer arrived it turned out to be another female! Norman arranged a second deer transport, but by the time it took place he had left Mysore and entrusted me with the task of riding up with the deer and presenting it to Swami Nirmalananda. Two other western yoga students, Priscilla and Melissa accompanied me, and we all rode up together in the back of the truck with the deer. Norman suggested that we take a basket of fresh vegetables to the swami because the B. R. Hills are somewhat remote and supplies were hard to come by. It was about a three-hour journey from Mysore to Swami Nirmalananda’s little ashram. He greeted us warmly and gratefully accepted the basket of vegetables. Norman had explained that the swami was observing mowna (silence) and that he communicated with little guttural sounds and sometimes by written word. One of the local tribal people who assisted the swami at the ashram showed us to our quarters and indicated that the swami would ring a bell in a couple of hours to call us to meditation and that dinner would be served afterwards. We retired to our rooms for a little rest and were awakened by the call to meditation. We did a short, silent meditation with the swami and then he offered us a couple of cryptic spiritual insights via his notepad such as: “Christ was not a Christian” and “Buddha was not a Buddhist.” Afterward he served us a delicious dinner that he prepared himself, including wonderful fresh-baked bread. We stayed just one night with Swami Nirmalananda, but he left an indelible impression as one of the most peaceful and enlightened beings I’ve ever met.