The Hunza Valley on the Pakistan-China border is supposed to have inspired James Hilton's novel, Lost Horizon which speaks of the beautiful, hidden land of Shangri-la where the people are eternally youthful, happy and healthy. The novel in turn inspired a quest for this lost paradise. Adventurers, explorers and even modern day television crews have gone in search of this earthly paradise with varying degrees of limited success.
But does such a place really exist? If one is to believe a book that was first published six years after Hilton's novel in 1939, titled The Eye of Revelation, authored by a man called Peter Kelder, perhaps it does. Peter Kelder's book begins with an interesting account of how he first met an old British armyman in a park in California who told him about the 'fountain of youth' - a forgotten Tibetan monastery in a remote district of northern India.
Kelder claimed in his book that this man, a certain Colonel Bradford, a wheezing, balding geriatric had set off in search of this 'fountain of youth' and then after many years returned as a robust young man, with a ruddy complexion and a head full of thick, dark hair. The Colonel spoke of the monastery, hidden in a remote corner of the Himalayas where the lamas lived a life of seclusion. All the lamas were youthful and seemed to radiate energy. Gradually, he was inducted into the monastery and trained by the lamas. He was initiated into what has come to be known as the 'Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation'. Colonel Bradford apparently began to lose years and wrinkles and emerged, apparently awash in the fountain of youth.
This account of Colonel Bradford's and the five exercises that he claimed were the mainstay of his practice formed the foundation of Kelder's book. Not much is known about Kelder today and even less is known of the Colonel and many have dismissed the account, as well as the practice as a well constructed hoax. However, every time I've mentioned the story during a yoga workshop, participants seem to get really excited about the story.
Christopher S. Kilham, an American yoga teacher read the book and experimented with the idea. Eventually, he authored a book of his own in which he claimed that 'The Five Tibetans' as he called them, were at the very least 'extraordinary'. The practice, Kilham insisted, greatly increased strength, mental and physical agility and was a definite shot in the arm for a flagging life-force. Whether it could restore youth to the aged remained to be seen though.
The world is desperate in its desire to believe that there is a way out of the inevitable cycle that turns a firm and beautiful 25-year-old body into a sad, wrinkled lump, propped up by thin, brittle bones by the time it is 70. There are countless pills, creams, contraptions and surgical options that've become popular replacements for the elusive fountain of youth. In fact, the idea of a Shangri-la-like romantic hideaway with its 'fountain of youth' captures popular imagination with such ease that 'inspired' (albeit inspiring in equal measure) fables like The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari became instant successes. Well, the more there is to inspire the world into becoming a better place, the better it is for the planet. As for the fountain of youth, there are countless examples of great masters, both past and present who practice and preach mind-body healing routines that enable them to look as young and radiant as those legendary lamas and I'm sure even Colonel Bradford would agree. (See Slip stream)
But if you really want to believe that there is more to the legend then let me introduce you to the tales of Babaji. He is the spiritual master and yogi who, names like Annie Besant and Paramahamsa Yogananda believe, appeared to them in divine visions. It is said that Babaji attained 'souruba samadhi' (a state where divine light entered his body and has kept it ever youthful) at Badrinath, 10,000 feet above sea level on the Indian Himalayas, just a few miles south of Tibet. Disciples from the lineage of Babaji believe that Babaji's Ashram beyond Badrinath is almost inaccessible, but has quite a few monks who've attained an ever youthful, deathless state. The similarities are uncanny and it is unlikely that one legend might've inspired the other. Someday, I'll get there and when I do, I'll share the experience with you. Until then, we might as well keep practicing the five rites.