Journey to Somaskanda Ashram

I left Villa Simonicchi with Vitorio, as we shared a beautiful and peaceful drive through the speaking mountains.

Vitorio is 81. He was pretty much a master carpenter in his working life, a long time in the past, but he still works when his body allows. When he dropped me at a service station, his eyes welled up, and I saw how much of an effect I’d had on him in my short time staying. I spoke French with him, which brings him back to his younger years when he living in Paris and then near Geneva, where he learnt carpentry as to escape military service. Now he’s at a point where his body hurts sometimes and he can’t move much for days. He feels sad having this body slowly dissolving, but hopefully Jenny has resolutions to accommodate the change of pace.

I played ukulele on a picnic bench in the services for quite some time. I had a feeling that I would be at this services for a while, so I thought I should sing to St Francis rather than pointlessly trying to hitch a lift (I’ve had this feeling, this whole journey, of knowing when roughly I will be picked up, and where I will end up… So singing songs instead of standing by the exit/talking to people is just simply going along with this feeling, and allowing it to thrive). A man came and sat to eat his lunch at the bench, whilst I was learning Gaudete.

My feeling of St Francis was extremely strong at this time.

When I did start hitching, I was somewhat surprised not to get a lift straight away. But I waited, and a guy turned up to take me to the next services. I waited a while there too, and a lady took me to Bagna di Romagna. She tested out my Italian (which didn’t exist upto that point). We drove through country mountain roads to get there, and she enthusiastically asked me quick questions which I was surprised to understand (but didn’t know how to respond – I ended up opting for using a combination of both French and Spanish, and trusting she’d understand).

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Bagno di Romagna, gnome

At Bagna, a very friendly lady took me to Sarsina. She taught me lots of little bits of Italian, and seemed really happy to talk with me.

Sarsina had a lovely feel. I walked down the hill a little, following the road, and felt a real gentleness in the air. Here a lorry stopped for me – he said he was going to Bologna. I was amazed to get a lift going so far from such a rural place.

I soon established that the driver was Moroccan, which means he speaks French (and thus, communication came easy). We had lovely conversation about his home city of Fez. At one point, I noticed the sun setting, and there was this great moment of stillness as we were gripped by the beauty.

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Sunset, en route to leaving Italy

It turned out he was going to Verona. I really enjoyed the hours of just listening to the radio and watching the world go by, slowly, in our truck.

He dropped me at the last services south of Verona. We’d bonded well, and it was actually a little sad to say goodbye.

I got speaking to a German couple, who didn’t have space in their car but we shared moments of stillness, through conversation, together.

I bought some chocolate, got some fresh cardboard, and chilled out for a while. Then a German car pulled in right next to me, and I asked the young guy if he had room for me going up towards Germany. He and his girlfriend were happy to take me.

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Arrival at Europa Bridge services with German couple

They’re both studying automotive engineering in Wolfsburg, the home of VW. They’d been on holiday to Sardinia, and were driving back pretty much non-stop because their term starts in less than two days. Molina (?) was feeling car-sick for much of the way. But we shared enthusiastic conversation about the ethics of electric cars (both are seeing it as a ploy by governments/big industry to boost the economy, and are not optimistic about the benefits of switching over to electric because the electricity will still come from fossil fuels). We get to Europa Bridge at about 12.30 (past midnight), say farewell, and I realise immediately that I need to just find somewhere to sleep.

I ring Mum, as it could be the last time I talk to her for a little while. I walk up to the chapel, but it’s not open and there’s no camping ground by it. So I walk down the mountain on a little track, until after quite a while searching I find a little spot at the corner of the track. It’s hard pitching the tent because the ground is very stony/kind of tarmac here. I have my puja, make a hot water bottle, and sleep.

It’s a cold, wet night. I wake in the early hours shivering, and put on more layers. It absolutely pours it down at one point – maybe the heaviest rain I’ve experienced since leaving home.

I take quite some time getting up in the morning, it still being so cold and wet. It reminds me of travelling when I was 18, with my brother, when we’d often be camping in pretty cold conditions. The kind of cold that goes right to your core.

I got to the services and hitched in rain and mist. I was getting really damp, and my sign was falling apart. I gave up, and left the services for the peage just before the motorway (just catching traffic from the services – but changing spot meant a change in energy, and surprisingly I felt a lot better when I got there).

Within a few minutes a small lorry stopped, and the guy said he was going to Holland. I took the lift, and got off just a little down the road in Innsbruck (he was going east, I needed to go west).

Then I was stuck in Innsbruck for a long time. I consulted hitchwiki, which made the situation more confusing. I finally got a lift to Innsbruck West. It was coming up to 6pm before I got a lift properly out of Innsbruck, from Hannel, who was going to Bludenz. He’s nearly finished his medical degree, that he’s been doing for 8 years.

We drive about 15 minutes on the motorway, going pretty fast, when the divine gives a new complication.

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First first tyre..

A tyre has gone flat. The recovery comes in about 20 minutes, and the guy fits the replacement tyre quickly by the side of the road. We get going again, albeit much slower as the replacement tyre is limited to 80kmph. I receive an email from Swami Durga saying he can pick me up at 5.15am from Kublis, and take me up to the temple. I become determined – and it feels like Lord Somaskanda has suddenly gripped me by the back of the neck, and is carrying me along. He’s taken over Saint Francis in aiding my way. It’s a bit daunting being journeyed by such a strong aspect of God.

Then we get a second puncture.
The same recovery driver comes, and takes us to their garage in Imst, where the tyres will eventually all be replaced with winter tyres when the friend arrives with them. I tell my driver I have to hitch out, and sorry to abandon him. And thus I have 3 hours of getting cold and hungry trying to get a lift out of Imst. Everyone goes to Innsbruck from here – I have a few offers of lifts but none going west.

Hannel laughs a lot when he picks me up the second time. I feel pretty relieved that he hadn’t missed me.

Hannel drops me in Bludenz, advising me to get a train to Feldkirch. I do, but after having a surreal journey through a petrol station shop looking for food (and buying a load, as I’m anticipating an all-nighter of much walking), and then playing music with some Arabic guys I meet outside. They take me to the station, I buy my ticket, and get my train.

And I’m in Feldkirch. Right on the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And quite a pretty place. I sit outside the station having some food, bracing for the journey to come. An important moment.

A security man comes up and asks where I’m going, what I’m doing etc. He’s pleasant, and wishes me well. Then I get up to go, and realise I don’t have my ukulele. I’m sad. I go see the security guy and tell him, and he gives me a phone number to ring when I can. I guess I left it on the train. It has been a rather nice travel companion that I got so far with. But these things happen for a reason. And I think I would’ve really struggled in what was to come had I still had the uke.

I walk and walk, for about an hour. Almost in Liechtenstein, a young couple stop, and offer me a lift to Buchs. I tell them about my journey, and they try to help by taking me further.

From where they drop me, I walk for about two hours, with two cars going past. The walk is intense, as I feel the energy of the pilgrimage becoming stronger. Somaskanda is so near. My first time returning since leaving on 21st December last year.

I get to a junction for the motorway. Clock is ticking. At about 4am, a car pulls out from nearby and stops. I ask to go to Landquart, the next town. The driver says ‘We are the police’, very sternly. I say ‘okay, can you take me to Landquart’. They ask for my passport. I have nothing to hide, no reason to be worried about an ID check, but they refuse me a lift even after checking me out.

But two minutes later a guy stops who does give me a lift, to Landquart. He’s working near the station. He finds it pretty funny that I’m hitching at such an hour! But he understands my predicament, and helps me out a lot by putting me on a good road.

And from there, a young lady stops after a few minutes, and takes me to Schiers. I arrive in Schiers at 4.45. The divine plays the cards right. It’s possible to arrive in Kublis in time. I’m absolutely knackered, and there’s no traffic here except cars going really fast and it’s not well lit up.

And I end my journey of the night on a train from Schiers to Fideris, as the last 5 miles seem impossible to hitch. I arrive in Fideris at 5.50am, and set up my tent at probably 6.30am. I set up my shrine and am in bed at 7.30am. I wake at 11.30am, with a start, and get things ready for a puja.

My puja is incredible. The energy is tremendous. I’m here. I’ve arrived. I didn’t need to arrive physically at the temple by puja time, after all. I arrived where I needed to be for it.

And I get a lift up to the end of Fideris village, then after half an hour’s walk a guy stops, with Silja inside, who takes us both up to the turnoff for Somaskanda Ashram.

Still knackered, and rather spaced out from the journey, but it’s fantastic to see Swami Durga, and Swami Amba and Brother Andy.

Om Somaskanda Murtiyae Namaha.

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Up mount Somaskanda
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