“All are equal for the Baba,” Sharma told Courtney and me, as we sipped chai and looked out towards Pushkar, Baba listening in behind us. “Baba life is a freedom life.”
Mr. Sharma was our guide for the afternoon, discovered on the back of our hotel’s menu, for a 3 hour “Countryside walk”. Deciding to go, we followed him out of town the next day. Past farms and flower fields and fruit trees and cows and peacocks and monkeys and more monkeys (more on them later), and up to a seemingly abandoned temple built on a hillside high up over the holy city.
I peered into one of the temple rooms and saw a dirt floor, hands stirring a pot over a small fire, and a flash of orange cloth.
The man emerged from the dark room, long dreadlocks wound into a loose bun sitting atop his head, scraggly beard poking out in all directions hiding a young, smiling face, looking at us through deep, piercing brown eyes. His beaded necklace hung low over a bright orange tee shirt, which revealed tanned and braceleted arms. A faded orange skirt reached towards bare feet.
I looked towards Sharma. “Baba,” he said. “He lives here.”
He was holding an old green blanket. “Sun sit or cool sit?” Baba asked, head bobbling back and forth between a warm cement ledge and a shaded step on the side of the temple. We opted for the better view, and sat with Sharma on the sunny ledge overlooking the city.
Baba served tea, cleaned pots and tidied his tiny living quarters as we chatted with Sharma. Conversation flowed from monkeys to Hanuman the monkey god (Sharma’s favorite of all the HIndu deities) to the caste system, karma, and finally, to Baba. The whole time questions about this mysterious temple dweller swirled in my head.
Who is this man? How and why does he live alone in this temple? When did he get here and where did he come from? Does he ever leave?
A man whose life so contrasted my own intrigued me like never before. Sharma was happy to share with us what he knew of Baba’s life.
“Baba,” he said, “is Sadhu, a holy man.”
Sharma carried on, speaking slowly, telling us that Baba was born in Nepal. At an early age he felt a calling towards chanting and solitude. He became disconnected with life at home, so at 10 years old, he ran away.
Hearing his story, Baba joined us, leaning against the temple wall. We finished our chai together as the monkeys below crunched nuts.
His father found him, Sharma explained, and took him home, only for Baba to run away again. This time when his father brought him back, an arranged marriage was waiting for Baba.
Baba giggled as Sharma mentioned the notion of marriage. “No, no, no,” he shook his head. “Baba don’t want this.”
Realizing there was no place for him at home, Baba set out for India. In Haridwar, he found a group of holy men living together and knew immediately these were his people. He joinied them, learning their ways. Baba shaved his entire body and started living naked, wandering form one holy site to the next, begging for food.
“Nothing,” laughed Baba, pointing to his clothes.
Eventually he arrived in Pushkar and decided his days of wandering were over. At the request of the locals, he acquired some clothes, and found his way up to the temple. That was 10 years ago. Everyday since then Baba wakes at sunrise, meditates, practices yoga, tends to the temple and its resident monkeys, and eats if he can find enough food.
“If he has food, no problem, if no food, no problem,” Sharma said. “Baba don’t worry for those things.”
After the story, Baba took out his one cherished possession – a photo album, every picture in it of himself. Eyes sparkling, he pointed out pictures of him at holy sites around India. A few photos were sent by travellers who visited him here.
“No photo with Baba,” Sharma said, ” but you can take a photo of him and send for his album.”
After taking his picture, we walked down the hill, waving. Baba smiled from the top of the steps then turned back, walking alone toward the temple shrine.
*Want to see Baba on video? Check out our full encounter with Baba and the monkeys here.