Aranyaka Upanishad and its Vision:
‘Aranyaka Upanishad’ is a forest retreat center set in the himalayan foothills outside of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand, India. The defining vision of this unique wilderness is of an ‘Ithaca’ or a place where one could have the possibility of coming home – home to soul, to the beauty of purest nature, and to body, spirit, and mind. By venturing into a pristine forest setting such as ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’, we believe, a person can feel deeply restored, relaxed, replenished, and emerge centered in a ‘self’ that is part of a greater web of life.
Like the traditional goals of ‘yoga’ and meditation, we believe that a personal reconnection – however brief and intermittent- with nature and wilderness forests, offers a chance to reunite with ones’ own deeper being without much deliberation or effort. It is a reconnection that can often occur spontaneously, silently, and unexpectedly, just from being in a forest setting. This can bring a quiet kind of healing and relaxation to body, mind, and soul on both conscious and subconscious levels. Such openings and expansions – when they occur – can also affect the deeper nervous and subtle systems and restore our natural capacity for deep living and joyfulness. It seems that the ‘rishis’ of the Vedas were well aware of such effects on the human psyche.
For most of us, growing up in densely populated and crowded cities around the world, access to pristine forests and wide-open mountain spaces may seem more of a dream or fantasy than a present reality. Pressed by the demands and urgencies of modern life, we have gradually, without even knowing, become alienated from our own deeper roots in the beauty of nature and the magnificent web of life that truly sustains us at the core.
Painful as such fragmentation may be – with all its familiar symptoms of depression, anxiety, disease, aimlessness, ennui, and sadness – it cannot, however, be absolute for one could no more separate from the profoundly woven web of life and nature than from ones’ own essential being. It is a question of recognizing inner longings and genuine needs and of responding to them . Healing then can occur naturally and easily- like water finding its own level.
It is such a reconnection and recognition of the deeper significance of forests and wilderness for our urban post-modern world that has inspired ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’ as a forest retreat center. We have created this special place in the lower Himalayas as a way of inviting guests to visit here and enjoy the peace and beauty of untouched forests. The forest center – also a place of ‘deep ecology’- is set in fifty acres of prime forest outside of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand.
Trees, Flowers and Wildlife:
The place we call ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’ is home to a rich variety of forest trees like ‘deodar’, cedar, pine, chestnut, oak, himalayan rhododendron, ash, fir, spruce, wild walnut, apple, and dogwood. Since the forests here have been untouched, the trees are just as nature would intend – that is to say, one can observe the rich interplay between young and old in their cycles of life. Each tree is part of an intricate eco-system that is dynamic and interactive giving way to waves of forests. Some varieties are found only here in these parts – such as the red rhododendron trees that explode into color at spring time. There is also a rich diversity of wild-flowers that bloom in early spring and continue in waves until the end of summer. Each flower seems to carry a special presence and fragrance that local Garhwali folks believe is healing for different ailments. Flower remedies are rather popular in these parts. However, the custom is that there is special time of day for plucking a flower and permission is sought from the flower before doing so. The potency of the flower is then preserved.
Rhododendron flowers are especially used to heal ailments such as anemia, high blood pressure, insomnia and weakness. Rhododendron wine and juice is really delicious to drink.
The bark of certain trees like “padam’ is also believed to treat fractures and bone-loss. The bark is ground and cooked into a poultice that is then applied on the broken or weakened bone. It is believed that the bark ‘grips’ the skin and will slowly fall away in a few weeks when the bone is healed and whole again.
There is also wild-life like barking deer, leopard and bear (deeper in the forest interiors), as well as a plethora of rare bird-species and butterflies.
Perhaps among the richest in biodiversity, the forests here are also filled with exotic herbs, plants, flowers, moss, and lichen. Their richness can be seen in the complexity of distinct eco-systems that co-exist here within a small densely-packed range. In a few minutes of walking on trails, one can see the shifts of layers in flora and fauna.
Streams and Springs and Waterfalls:
The forests in and around ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’ are filled with mountain streams and natural springs that offer pure drinking water and refreshment to visitors all year around. The hillsides are as green as they are because of a rich under swell of waters. Water is a highly precious resource here that supports all the plants and wild-life. A quiet afternoon beside a mountain stream in full flow or a waterfall can be both healing and rejuvenating. Bring your bottles to fill ’em up or take a dip.
The retreat center is set in a gentle valley surrounded by dense forests on all sides. This encirclement, a deep emerald-green waterfall of trees, as it were, creates a distinct atmosphere so the visitor is always and everywhere looking directly at the dramatic presence of the forest in the hills. Watching the sunlight reflecting on this forest-wall while relaxing in an armchair on a wide-angle balcony can be a profound experience in itself. For many of our friends and visitors, meditation happens spontaneously and by itself. The main house has a meditation hall with windows and doors that open onto a beautiful balcony atop a cliff-side. However, each guest-house and forest cabin is also immersed in this extraordinary setting of forests like a constellation. Each cottage here is perfectly self-sufficient with kitchen facilities, living-space, bath, and bed-room. Wall to wall windows provide uninterrupted views to the serene forest. Outside, there is a swimming-pool, a deck with a panoramic view to the area, a beautiful temple, yoga-hut, and facilities for Ayurvedic massage in natural settings.
Surrounding the valley and guest-houses, are a network of mountain trails that lead up and into the forests. One can climb to the top of the hills – an average hike is about an hour and a half each way- and look upon the stunning mountain ranges from the ‘Pari Tibba’ peaks. Camping facilities are available for those who might wish to camp overnight or for longer intervals. Guides are also available for trekking purposes. One takes time to feel the presence of the forest and to observe the flora and fauna all around – the forest-floor, for example, or the bark of an older tree… The forest speaks in many ways and one has but to listen and be aware – to relax the senses and mind so nature can enter in.
In the evenings, we offer the warmth of a wood-burning stove and a gathering place for visitors who may wish to meet and to exchange their experiences. There are often some rather interesting stories to share and questions to ask. There is a library filled with books on the himalayan forests, ecology, spirituality, and local folklore. Our local staff can also offer a wealth of views on related subjects.
Exact Location and Details:
‘Aranyaka Upanishad’ is set seven kilometers outside of the main town of Mussoorie in Uttarkhand. It adjoins the well-known ‘Woodstock School’ and access is from Woodstock parking lot. The closest airport is Jolly Grant in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarkhand, and the drive up to Mussoorie is about 60 kilometers. We offer a taxi-service with a chauffeur who can pick up and drop off guests with ease.
We offer basic services such as comfortable accommodation in the form of discrete cottages and private suites that are fully independent and self-sufficient with fully-stocked kitchen facilities. Each cottage is maintained by staff members who are always available. Fresh linen and towels are provided daily.
We also provide delicious and simple vegetarian meals on request. All our vegetables and fruit is grown organically in our own green-houses and fresh-picked daily by our resident chef. There are a variety of jams and cakes and pies that are available in our main kitchen.
For those who are interested, there are daily hiking facilities along the forest trails leading to look-out points with spectacular views. Camping or tenting is offered on request with guides who are there for personal assistance.
We also offer personal yoga instruction on request and meditation sessions that can help facilitate our connection to ourselves, each other, and to the exquisite web of life all around.
Staff members also provide Ayurvedic massages with oils and potions from local herbs and flowers in the gardens of ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’.
There is a temple for meditation and prayers and a swimming pool with stunning panoramic views to the forest.
Deep Listening to the Forest
At ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’, we believe that Its far easier to offer critiques of our post-modern urban environments than to offer a genuine alternative. So, we offer five simple principles for connecting with forests. These are: finding our roots in relationships, ‘deep listening’, ‘urban ecology’, ‘re-enchanting’, and ‘unexpertness’.
At the core, we believe that each being is an energetic living force who is part of a complex and beautiful web of interrelationships. One can choose to be grounded in this truth, to connect with forests, and let the health of our communities guide our actions.
Visitors can stay in any one of our forest cottages and enjoy the joy of immersion in nature. Each cottage is built with a sense of being an indoor-outdoor dwelling so there is a flow of energy from the forest to the interior. Windows look onto ‘deodar’ trees and pine-filled hillsides. There are kitchen facilities available in each cottage that is equipped with simple and effective means for a comfortable stay.