The intention of the Balashram Trek is to raise funds for the development and running costs of the Hariharananda Balashram Residential School in Odisha, India. The school is named after our Gurudev, Paramahamsa Hariharananda who had a dream to give children-in-need a home, an education, and thus a future. This became a reality through his successor, our Guruji, Paramahamsa Prajnanananda, who founded the school in July 2004. The Balashram Treks have been a successful means of raising significant funds for the school.
The Balashram Trek to the Sinai desert in Egypt, was the inaugural Balashram Trek. To date, there have been six Balashram Treks; the last one being to Tanazania in 2018.
I had the good fortune to attend the very first Balashram Trek and would like to share my experience.
I decided to participate in the Sinai Trek for several reasons. First and foremost was the opportunity to be in the presence of Guruji who was taking part in the trek. Secondly, raising funds for the children from extreme poverty, many of whom are orphans, was such a worthwhile cause. Thirdly, I had never been to Egypt.
When I discovered that it was necessary to raise a minimum of £2500 in sponsorship, I was daunted. How would I raise such an amount? I was not in a position to write a cheque for such a sum of money. As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way.
I prepared an email and contacted family, friends, work colleagues asking for donations. I was pleasantly surprised when cheques started coming in. What surprised me most was those people who donated/sponsored me and those who did not and also the sums that were donated by individuals! I was astounded and touched by the generosity of each and every donor. I easily exceeded the required amount. In fact, most of those on the trek, many of whom were kriyavans, raised more than the minimum sponsorship.
I flew from London to Sharm El Sheikh and we stayed at the Morganland Hotel near St Catherine’s. The following day we visited St Catharine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Built between 548 and 565 AD, St Catherine’s monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. Although it is commonly known as Saint Catherine’s, the monastery’s full official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai.
After exploring the ancient monastery, we ascended mount Sinai in the afternoon aiming to reach the summit before sunset. This Mount Sinai is believed to be the same as the biblical Mount Sinai where Moses received the ten commandments. It is 2285 metres in height, next to the city of Saint Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.
The climb was steep and not easy. However, we reached the summit before sunset and the view from the top was stunning. Guruji initiated a kriyavan at the summit; we reflected on how special it was to witness this event. We descended at nightfall by torchlight, the sky ablaze with stars. We spent our second night at the hotel.
The next day we were taken by coach and dropped off in the desert to commence our trek after lunch with the Bedouin guides who would accompany us for the rest of our journey. They took good care of us, conveying our luggage, setting up tents and preparing and cooking our meals. We were also accompanied by a train of camels that carried our food and water. One could say it was a trek where we were well looked after!
My favourite memories are of the sky at night. There was no light pollution and thus the view of the night sky was fabulous. One could see the milky way like a cloud, it was spectacular.
It was truly special to be with Guruji and Peter Baba, Claudia Ma, Mangalanandaji and Histas Baba. We had frequent rest stops where we would sit and share snacks.
Was everything positive? Well the food was not great and the toilet facilities left a lot to be desired! However, overall, what an amazing experience.