The saffron-coloured robes of Bhaktimarga Swami make him a highly visible sight as he strides along highways in his fourth cross-Canada walk.
The Hare Krishna monk passed through Creston on the weekend, but returned by car from the west side of Kootenay Pass to make a presentation at the Creston Valley Yoga Studio. He then visited the Advance office to continue a discussion from 2006, when he was profiled on his third walk across Canada.
“I’ve done a lot more walking since then,” he laughed. “I’ve walked in Israel, Ireland, Guyana, Trinidad and even Mauritius.”
Swami made his first “walking meditation” trip across Canada in 1996, walking westward. In 2003, he set out from Cape Spear, N.L., to complete the circle. When he isn’t walking or travelling the world, he lives as a celibate, monastic monk n Markham, Ont., promoting the Hare Krishna message through his involvement with youth and “morality theatre”.
“I was trying to understand why I barely even remember Creston,” he said on Monday. “Then I realized that everything looks different because I arrived from a different direction.”
In 2006, he arrived from the west along Highway 3A and on this trip he came from the east.
Highway 3 to Kootenay Pass, a daunting trip for most, has been pure pleasure, he said. Early on Monday he was walking westward and downhill from the road’s highest point.
“But I think I prefer walking uphill,” he said.
On his Canadian walks, Swami travels with supporters who transport him to engagements in schools, yoga centres and even seniors’ centres when he isn’t walking. Each morning he returns to walking, picking up where he left off the previous day. For the most part, he sleeps in a tent, only occasionally taking up an offer to stay in a house.
If his travels in Canada are well planned and organized, he takes a more spur of the moment attitude in other countries.
“In Israel, where I was speaking in Jerusalem, I asked a man, ‘Can you show me a map?’ I looked at it and said, ‘I think that’s do-able. Why don’t we start out tomorrow?’
“I think going outside your comfort zone is important.”
Swami remembers the Crowsnest Highway as being “a nice experience last time.”
“I love to go into smaller communities.”
He makes a surprising observation about changes he has noticed in his four walks across Earth’s second-largest country.
“The world has changed. People are more open-minded.”
Being accosted along the route by what he describes as “redneck attitudes” has become a rarity, he said. Truckers stop to hand off containers of fruit juice, drivers arrive with baskets of fruit and others are just curious about a man wearing saffron colours.
“I get to talk about balance, and that’s what walking offers us,” he said. “We don’t think consciously about it, but when we walk and our right arm goes up, so does our left leg — it creates a sense of balance that is often missing in our day to day lives.”
Pilgrimages, he said, are a part of human history that he is happy to help continue.
And, if he is continually battered by the winds created as cars and trucks speed past, Swami takes joy from his time to meditate and chant as he strides along the roadside.
“If you look at our ancestry, we have a history of roaming,” he said, heading out the door.