While participating in the Walk of Hope, I met many blessed and joyous souls. One of them was a silver haired woman, from Panchgani, a small town located in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. While covering long distance on foot, walking together on busy roads, she would invite new found acquaintances to her abode turned into a Retreat Centre for The Satsang Foundation.
Soon after the walk reached it’s last destination, I decided to pay a visit to the hills of Panchgani. Of course I had the added incentive of being in the absorbing company of Teji -as she is known among the Satsangis, for few more days. Adding my best friend from college days – Jehangir, to my travel bag, I set out from Mumbai for a seven hour overnight journey.
We arrived at Panchgani early one morning; the cool breeze that welcomed us was a relief from Bombay’s summer heat. From the bus stand, the Retreat Centre is a ten minute drive on Mahabaleshwar road; till you take a right turn on an offbeat pathway, with wild plants and blossoms on both sides of the pathway.
On entering the premises, one is struck by the green cover. A neatly manicured creeper with lovely violet flowers forms a canopy over the main door of the House. The bright flowers and Gayatri mantra etched on a terracotta plank at the entrance welcome all.
The living arrangement at this Retreat Centre is a simple, neat and clean affair. French glass windows, overlooking the valley, curtains providing the option of privacy, copper water containers and glasses by the bedside, table lamps and the rest add to its simple elegance.
As we settled in this ambience and drew the curtains away from the windows, nothing had prepared us for the view that opened up. It was just breath-taking and stunning. The open expanse of the blue clear sky met the rugged brown background of the Sahayadri Mountains and merged down below into the blue waters of Krishna River. We fell silent; as if meditating with open eyes, feasting on the divinity in front of us in the form of Nature. For fifteen to twenty minutes, we remained unaware of each other, simply looking into this previously unseen face of the divine.
A quick shower and we moved upstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. Here we were introduced to the supporting staff there. These were women from nearby Taighat village, who are more of sakhis (friends) than the mere caretakers of the Retreat. We sat on the terrace adjoining the kitchen facing the Krishna River and relived some of the memories of the Walk of Hope.
My friend and I decided to explore the surroundings. On the climb down from the kitchen door, there is a large shed towards the left. Here, women from adjoining villages learn and craft handmade items like bedspreads, Godadis (blankets) and other items of household utility. While this process financially empowers the women from the rural areas, they also get self-confidence from the training programs and interaction with visitors from different walks of life. The organizers of this initiative are seeking ways to empower more women from surrounding villages and evolve a self sufficient training and production unit. We said Amen to that.
In close proximity to this shed for crafts work is a campsite to conduct workshops and camps for students and adults. A space for campfire holds promise of warmth of sharing and silence. Walking westwards is a grove of trees that add charm to the open space. One can witness from here the changing colours of the sky and reflections in the backwaters of Krishna at the sunrise. This spontaneous meditation may lead one to Yoga, Gayatri Japa or simply let one soak in the rising sun.
Retracing one’s steps, on the right side of the climb-down from the kitchen door is the basement room. One part of the entrance has beautiful hand painted animal figures by students of The Peepal Grove School. The other side has hand painted Warli tribal art. There is a small lotus pond and the wide spread canopy of Singapore Cherry tree that shelters a variety of birds, apart from providing shade for the human beings. All this lends a feel of earthiness and liveliness to the surroundings. Further on is a climb towards a “tent room” that gives a feel of a tent while providing shelter from rains and other elements. By the time we reached here, it was time for lunch.
As we entered the kitchen space again, we found Alka cooking for us. The meal was simple but sumptuous and nutritious. We were served Jawari bhakris, leafy vegetable, daal and rice with an array of pickles. Our well-fed bellies asked for a well-deserved siesta.
I woke up within half an hour, seeing Jehangir enjoying ‘sushupti’, I decided to go up to the main hall. The main hall has spacious seating arrangements and hosts a well-stocked library with more than 500 spiritually oriented books from various traditions and teachers. It also contains most of Sri M’s books and talks on DVDs and CDs, which one can listen to in a quiet ambiance. While browsing through the bookshelves the silence of the space engulfed me and instead of browsing, I just decided to ‘Be’.
After a while there was an invitation to join for a cup of tea on the terrace. For the next hour and half we had an absorbing conversation on spirituality. It wasn’t as dead serious as I make it sound. The discussion was punctuated with sharp wit and sense of humour. Post our discussion I returned back to the stillness that permeates the space here. Back in the city we try hard to be still, but here there is no effort. As they say ‘just be’, it just seems to be a natural way of being in this space here.
Later in the evening we strolled out for a walk among the picturesque surroundings of this quaint town. We returned and dinner was served early. At night we selected Sri M’s DVD and sat through this 180 minute talk followed by a cup of tea. Being a small town lights go off here frequently. We sat on the terrace, in the dark, overlooking the tiny lights in distant villages on the river banks. Sipping the hot tea in silence was a perfect way to end the day. Yes, the lights did return after a short while.
This was just one day of my first visit to the Riverview Retreat. I have returned here twice, since then. Since my first visit I don’t think of this place as a Retreat Centre only but as a sacred place to return to. It was built for Seekers and Sadhaks of all traditions and backgrounds, to come and share the experience of its warmth. Tejinder says, though I built this house, I don’t feel this is mine; I am just a caretaker here.
Just in case you think I am going overboard, I pause for now and invite you to go experience for yourself. Just as I have been touched by the stillness and silence of the space there, I pray that you may also experience the process of reflection, contemplation, and meditation, may you discover yourself.
Love and Peace.