About us
Swami Raghavananda, Home Gardener,Gangotri

Freedom and natural living in the high himalayas
Swami Raghavananda has been living in Gangotri since 1998. He came to Sivananda ashram in Rishikesh in 1984 from Kashmir and moved to Gangotri four years later. Gangotri is a place of pilgrimage for devout Hindus as a temple dedicated to the Goddess Ganga stands here. Eighteen kilometers upstream from Gangotri lies the Gangotri glacier from where the river Ganga originates. Gangotri stands at an elevation of 10,000 ft. from sea level and has a harsh climate with winter temperatures dropping below zero. Spring comes to Gangotri in May with the melting of the snows. The doors of the Gangotri temple are also thrown open to pilgrims in the month of May, closing for the winter  just after the festival of Deepavali.

Living in a small cottage nestling in the mountains, which rise high above the banks of the Bhagirathi as it rushes and tumbles over boulders and rocks down to the plains, Raghavananda cultivates his small home garden lovingly. Not only is gardening a therapeutic activity, it also provides him with fresh vegetables and some fruit for his personal use as fresh vegetables are not available abundantly here, far from the madding crowd.

Gardening in the high Himalayas
The growing season at Gangotri is only five months and lasts from May to  September. Towards the end of September the frost comes and kills the vegetation. Only root vegetables like turnips, beets and potatoes can survive the frost. Raghavananda has ten growing beds that are approximately  10 ft x 6 ft each. He tends these beds manually with some help from the young “sadhaks” or spiritual practitioners who have also come to Gangotri in their spiritual quest and live in the small cottages clustered around his home garden.

He plants radish, potatoes, knol khol, mustard, kashmiri bathua ( type of chenopodium) cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, cabbage, turnip, mint, wild onion , wild garlic, spinach, fenugreek and a few other vegetables. This year he has planted burdock or gobo.

The garden is watered by a hose pipe and water is drawn from a large water storage tank which is fed by the mountain springs near his cottage.Although manure is difficult to procure, Raghavananda procures a few sacks of cowdung manure from some sadhus that keep cows in their ashrams at Gangotri. Wild animals generally do not disturb his garden or eat up his crops and at this altitude pests and diseases are rare. So there is no need for the application of pesticides, even organic bio pesticides.

Health and diet
Raghavananda lives on a simple vegetarian diet consisting of rice, rotis, dal and plenty of fresh vegetables. He takes cow’s milk  and curd when it is available. He also takes fresh fruit, viz. apples, pears, peaches and apricots from Harsil and mangoes, melons, bananas and other tropical fruits from the plains when visitors bring him fruits or when he goes down to Haridwar for some work. He has his lunch between 10 and 11 a.m. and an early, light  supper at around 6 p.m.

Raghavananda learnt the art of fasting from some practitioners of naturopathy in Chhabwal, near Hoshiarpur in Punjab. He fasts during the navratra in spring and autumn and at times goes on an exclusive  fruit and vegetable diet.

As befits a believer in naturopathy and natural living, Raghavananda does not keep any allopathic medicines with him. He only keeps a few balms and herbal oils and for complaints like a common cold or a stomach upset he simply fasts or drinks a healing vegetable soup.

Earlier Raghavananda used to harvest a few wild vegetables growing alongside the Bhagirathi like fiddleheads, wild spinach and wild onions. Since he started his own kitchen garden he has given up foraging for wild foods.

He admits that fruits and vegetables are the secret of his good health; and the manual work he does in his garden provides him with the necessary exercise. Fast food or junk food is simply not available in a remote place like Gangotri,  although of late several restaurants have opened up catering to the pilgrims and serving the standard fare of the plains. Raghavananda admits that green leafy vegetables grow extremely well in the high Himalayas during spring, summer and the monsoons  and require less labour.
Only a light watering is required for them to flourish and some manure if it can be procured.

Though not fussy about food Raghavananda likes green leafy vegetables the best. He knows that meditators have to eat light, non-oily, non-spicy food to keep up their energy levels.

Sharing nature’s abundance
About 25-30 sadhus live permanently at Gangotri and have their  “kutiyas” or small cottages along the banks of the Bhagirathi. There are a couple of women sadhus as well. Raghavananda gives fresh vegetables to the dharmashalas and anna kshetras (almshouse for sadhus) when his garden produces an abundance of vegetables.

Several other sadhus and ashrams are growing vegetables in Gangotri for personal use and for the pilgrims who visit them.  During summer time the sadhus arrange “bhandaras” or ceremonial feasts. These “bhandaras” are usually meant for sadhus and for a few householders like the temple priests and their families. Vegetables are needed for such feasts and the produce from the home gardens of the sadhus comes in handy during such occasions.

Raghavananda’s has maintained contact with his family, now living in Jammu after the exodus of Kashmiri pandits from the Kashmir valley in the 1990s. His brother and sister visit him along with their spouses and children during the summer months. Fresh produce from his kitchen garden comes in handy during such visits.

Winter survival in Gangotri
Raghavananda hails from Kashmir which has a tradition of drying vegetables for winter use. Earlier he used to dry some vegetables for use during the cold winter months when Gangotri is cut off from the outside world. But with improved transport in the past decade  he has not felt the need to dry vegetables en masse. Nevertheless he does dry mint and bitter gourd.

Raghavananda stocks his dry rations for six months at a time as well as LPG gas cylinders for his gas stove. In addition he keeps potatoes, peas, turnips and knoll khol during the winter months. Vehicles come to Gangotri till December and bring fresh vegetables. Over the years swamiji has developed a good relationship with a few farmers in the neighbouring villages of Harsil, Jhala, Sukhi etc. These farmers bring him potatoes, apples, peaches, pears and also provide him with vegetable seeds if need be.

As soon as the frost comes in, Raghavananda moves his residence to the temple side of Gangotri as it is the sunnier side. With no heating and indeed with no electricity during winter, sunlight is an important source of warmth for those who choose to spend the winter months in Gangotri. Burning woodstoves can be cumbersome and expensive as wood collectors demand exorbitant prices for collecting and bringing in the wood from the surrounding forests. Thus sadhus like Raghavananda have to keep themselves warm through sheer willpower, good food and yogic practices during winter.

A simple life is its own reward
In 2011 Raghavananda made a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar along with a large batch of pilgrims from India.  The pilgrims proceeded to Kailash from Kathamandu in land rovers. A “ration” truck had gone along with the expedition and the pilgrims were provided with excellent food and a variety of items during breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Although Raghavananda makes occasional visits to Haridwar and Dehradun and to other spots in Uttarakhand during the summer months before the onset of winter, he likes Gangotri the best . During winters there is no electricity in Gangotri and with the mobile towers being non–functional the entire area is cut off from the rest of the world.  But sub zero temperatures do not daunt Raghavananda who manages to keep himself warm through special  yogic practices learnt from his gurus. 

His successful kitchen garden at 10,000 feet with no  purchased inputs shows that a small patch of land is sufficient to grow vegetables and maintain good health even in extreme weather conditions.  A simple life is its own reward!