It’s only in the night that the secrets are revealed. The daylight hides everything. But there is no escaping the star-studded sky, lit up by the moon, during the dark hours. It’s in those hours that the universe is accessible, its limitlessness felt. These thoughts crossed my mind as I walked in the hills of the Black Forest in Germany. There were no streetlights, and despite their absence, the trails were washed in the cool moonlight. Has the moon ever been so bright, I wondered? In the cities, we hardly recognise how calming, how brilliant, the moonlight could be. But here in the forests, the marvel dawns.
I had come to live for ten days in a monastery, an ashram, in the village of Bad Antogast. Hardly a village it was, though. At its heart is the monastery, encircled in the distance by a few wooden houses that speckle the hills around it. Life in the city had become overwhelming, and I was searching for respite. It was then that I decided to come to the forest to do a meditation course. “You will be in silence for the next ten days,” our meditation teacher explained to us, a group of 30 individuals from all over Europe on day one, “Not a word to be spoken. You can walk in nature in the breaks, but do not strike any conversations.”
First, I was scared. How will I survive for ten days without speaking? By the third day, though, a calm settled like the morning mist that enveloped the forest trees around me. I didn’t feel the need to speak. Rather, I decided to take long walks in the surrounding hills and explore the narrow trails that circled around them.
Each morning, after the first hour of meditation, I took the "Horses’ Path," called so because an 800-metre climb on the path brought one to a stable that was owned by one of the villagers. The ponies in the stable chewed hay, unmindful of the silent visitor watching them. Afternoons were reserved for longer walks along the "Spring Way" that took me to a spring that supposedly offered healing fresh water. After filling my water bottle, I continued to walk up the steep hill with no one to accompany me, except for the sound of a rippling stream in the background. Up on the hill, when my legs demanded rest, I would settle myself on a bench overlooking the valley. The hills far away were masked by the low-hanging clouds as if shrouding a secret.
At times, I would sit till sunset to watch the play of light and colour. Invariably, the sky would explode in the palette on which nature, like a preoccupied artist, laid and let the colours mix. The dark blue of the sky, tainted with a pale orange, spattered somewhere with a stroke of deep red. It all would turn into blackness by the time the sun disappeared, and only the lights from those isolated houses punctured this darkness with spots of fluorescent yellow. It was then that I would walk back to the monastery on the trails bathed with moonlight.
As I spent my days there, I learnt that Bad Antogast was once well-known, even internationally, for its hospitality. It is due to the healing spring water that was first discovered roughly 760 years ago. The healing water was found to contain carbonic acid that gave it its proprietary fizz, along with sodium bicarbonate and calcium.
A chapel was built around the spring by a hermit. Soon, word spread that the water could cure incurable diseases. As a result, Bad Antogast started to witness an influx of tourists who came to accelerate their convalescence in a favourable manner. Once, in the 19th century, it was increasingly sought even by the Czars and the Generals for therapeutic treatments. Even today, visitors continue to throng. The only difference is that what was once a popular holiday destination for upper-class society is now accessible to everyone. It has now become a holiday home to those seeking silence and access to nature.