On 14th June 1980 I was lucky enough to be present in a house visited by Baba in New Delhi after His Divine visit to Kashmir. I was preparing to go on a pilgrimage to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, one of the most difficult treks in the Himalayas. I took my high altitude equipment with me, including ropes, pitons (rock clamps) and my trusted ice-axe, an indispensable tool for negotiating precipitous icy terrain in the high mountains.
Baba graciously asked after my welfare and I said I would like Him to bless my adventure. My hostess suggested I give Baba my ice-axe to bless. He smiled, took it and began to ask some searching questions about the composition of the steel used in its making. His students knew more about this than I did. Suddenly He produced Vibhuti from thin air (without the usual circular movements I had seen in public) and proceeded to rub it with great intensity on one side, the pick side, of the ice-axe only. He didn't put any Vibhuti on the other parts. Then with an air of finality He said, "You will be successful,” and handed back the ice-axe.
I do not know what constitutes a miracle but I do know that a month later, on 26th July, while climbing into the Sanctuary, the pick of the ice-axe saved my life.
Traversing some tricky wet slabs of rockcut croppings above the Rishi Ganga gorge at Rhamani I was aided by two excellent Garhwali porters. They were so skillful and daring that they disdained to use any rope and would cross the wet slabs sloping out over the edge of the gorge in their bare feet. They would go ahead fixing rope, then sit on their haunches and wait for me with all my climbing regalia to haul myself up.
We began up a narrow earth gully which was particularly slippery and treacherous. There were no reliable footholds anywhere and we had to make them as we went. I looked back into the yawning chasm that led a thousand feet straight down into the huge gorge carved out by the rushing river below.
I kicked a toehold in the damp earth and reaching up whacked the pick of the ice-axe into the earth above. To my dismay the six inch pick clanged against rock after it had gone in only three inches, not enough to hold much weight. At the same moment the earth under my toehold crumbled away and I felt myself sinking gently with the earth until I was dangling above the gorge supported only by the Vibhuti covered pick. For the agonising moment my full weight came on the axe; my thoughts were more of self disgust at my incompetence than fear of hurtling a thousand feet to certain death.
Somehow that three inches of steel didn't slice through the soft earth but held me long enough for the porters to back down and grab me. After a few more close shaves we were successful and got to our destination, the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, reaching that holy place on Gurupurnima. There were other hair raising incidents on our return trip, but thanks to Baba's Divine Grace, we came through all right and I am alive today to narrate this story.