Archive | May 2017

Serenity and Happiness – The View from Dalai Hills

News reports and weather apps reported a monstrous summer below in the plains. Daunting prospects as we prepared to rejoin duties in sweltering climes after a brief memorable hiatus in the form of the Mid Career Training at the Academy in Mussoorie. April had been a pleasurable month both in terms of the inputs for Mid- Career correction offered by the course as well as the attempts at mid-riff correction attempted by the over-zealous ( and over flabby) amongst us who conscientiously puffed and panted down to the Happy Valley grounds at dawn earnestly beseeching the layers of adipose secretly hoping for a meltdown. After 10 years on the job the four week stint at the academy had been a refreshing change.

One morning as I wheezed my way for the customary run( walk?trot? crawl?) to the PT grounds ( innocuously called Happy Valley Grounds and as every probationer who has developed sprains and strains on each shrill call of the drill instructors whistle will tell you Happy is not an emotion associated with the said grounds) R and S were beaming with an idea. ” Let’s walk down to the Dalai Hills.”

Interestingly having spent around a year plus at the academy during the initial training days and having explored around it, I had never ventured towards the Dalai Hills. During the day one could see prayer flags fluttering in the distance and signboards pointed towards the Tibetan school but we had never really been there. In 1959 when the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa he found asylum in Mussoorie right here in the Happy Valley and a Tibetan school, temple and settlement came up here. Later His Holiness moved to Dharamshala but the monastery and some Tibetans made this their permanent home. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration overlooks the Happy Valley.

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The Academy in the distance

We walked past the new gymnasium, few shops and houses our pace quick enjoying the sharp chill of the  omnipresent mountain breeze as it fanned our faces.  Enroute a sleepy brown haired mountain dog raised an eyelid as it looked at us -undisturbed. We walked past prayer flags and down a winding concrete path under a gate that read Shedup Choepelling Temple. The temple offered a breathtaking view of the valley below- lush and vibrant after the rains the previous day. An old monk walked slowly in the courtyard in front of the temple , his wrinkled fingers wrapped around brown beads that hung from his hand, his lips murmuring gentle prayers as he shuffled. Tall deodar trees flanked the monastery standing guard to the ornate prayer wheels that creaked slowly. We entered the temple charmed by the vivid murals and colourful paintings on the wall. An instant calm and sense of tranquillity hits you inside the temple. Red cushions lay spread out in front of red wooden benches that were lined with books of prayer and incantation- signs of an early morning prayer that had probably just finished. In front of us a was huge statue of the Buddha surrounded by flickering lamps. The statue exuded peace and all four of us stood spell-bound.

As we stepped out we were greeted by the chatter of cherubic little kids in navy sweaters walking hand in hand around the temple being ably guided by a young boy and girl possibly their teachers. A few minutes of coaxing and the lure of S’s selfie stick and they were soon posing for pictures -coy smiles from the girls and mischievous victory signs from the boys as they huddled to get into the frame.

Merry giggles rose into the raw morning as S showed them the results of the photographs clicked. The simplicity and contentment of their lives was visible in their eyes and the sheer thrill they found in peering into the phone screen of a stranger’s phone. We waved our good-byes and headed westward beginning our ascent to the Dalai Hill top. The meandering path took us past the settlement ,a tiny tea shop, a few more sleepy mountain pariah dogs and a young girl wearing a bright sweatshirt deep in prayer that she was reading out from her mobile phone.

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The path up to the statue

As I panted up the steep climb I found myself being engulfed by the slow rhythm of the place. Prayer flags lined the path and the valley below. Each little curve offered new vistas- an unhindered view of the Hathipaon mountains on one side and the Kempty valley on the other. Prayer flags fluttered and whispered strains into the wind as the sun grew warmer forming a bright orange ball breaking out of the clouds as we climbed.

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The sun breaking out of the clouds

Daisies and wildflowers grew alongside the path sheltered from the winds by rocks and bushes. A shiny ,bronze Buddha stared down at us peeping through the maze of prayer flags as we faltered and panted up the hill.

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We entered through a revolving gate one at a time finally up the craggy spine of the Dalai hill. An air of calm exuded from the Buddha statue as it sat there on the platform overlooking the valley below. A few sparrows pecked on the ground unperturbed by our presence even as a Mynah and whistling thrush laughed and rent the air with their sonorous songs. It was almost like time had stopped still here- creating a Zen like atmosphere- unfettered, undisturbed.

A monkey made its way up the railing along the path paying scant attention to the four girls who stood there. As if by magic an emaciated cat appeared from behind the platform, making its way towards the new entrant. They cast steely glances at each other neither too keen to make the first move. Then slowly an uncanny friendship developed- maybe the serenity imbued in this place had its effect on all creatures- great and small.

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An odd friendship

Some how up there in the quiet, tranquillity the multiple divergent threads of my life gave way to the tempered calm of a Zen monk. Grudgingly we began our walk back – classes, routine and the rest of the day beckoned. She was still there, reciting her prayers , the young girl we saw as we made our way up. This time she looked up and smiled at us and even helped us past one of the mountain dogs which had now woken up and looked rather intrigued by our presence! A few boys from the Tibetan settlement met us on our way down smiling and waving at us as we laboured down the narrow path. It seemed that the Happy Valley is aptly named- most people here radiate happiness- despite their circumstances.

As I walked into class for the penultimate day of the course I wondered what it was about prayer flags and Buddha statues that constantly drew me to them. The chant Om Ma Ni Pe Me Hung reverberated in my head through the day. I had read the lines by the Carribean poet Amie d Cesaore sometime back.

Hurray for those who never invented anything
Hurray for those who never explored anything
Hurray for those who never conquered anything
But who, in awe , give themselves up to the essence of things
Ignorant of the shell , but seized by the rhythm of things
Not intent on conquest ,but playing the play of the world

It seemed to me that day it would be wonderful if we could just give ourselves up to the essence of things- seized by the rhythm of things, not intent on conquest.

A day later the course was wrapped up and I rejoined work in the sweltering plains, but that moment of serenity , the cool breeze and the smiles of the Tibetan children stayed with me long after.

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Grey, Sepia and Solitude

I have an inexplicable fascination for sepia- for the old  and worn out , faded photographs, for stories that permeate into the grain of discoloured paper. As the SUV halted outside the gate of the antiquated stone fort on a bright summer afternoon  I glanced up and knew- this was my sepia moment in the mountains.  A kaleidoscope of colour all around – crisp ,bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds the reminder of rain the previous afternoon, a landscape dotted with  enchanting shades of hazy purple –blue jacaranda flowers on the banks of the Banganga , crystal clear waters gurgling across smooth grey and white rock, vibrant green pine and deodar on the  hill side , the mighty snow clad Dhauladhar peaks in the distance and   the  steely grey solidity of a  stone fort that overlooked the colour and the buzz all around with a stately demeanour –after all it  had withstood generations of conquerors and the ravage of time.

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The sun was harsh and afternoons in hill stations are not meant for trudging up slopes of cobbled stone and breathing in stories of antiquity. But the minute I stepped out of the SUV and stood outside the Kangra fort gate, I knew this was my moment of complete bliss. Above me the fort stood damaged by the earthquake in 1905, invaders and time yet holding its own blissfully aware of the epithet attached to it-“whoever conquers the fort will rule the hills”.

Pariah kites flew in lazy abandon encircling the fort, surveying the ruins that lay below. Splotches of colour here and there dotting the quiet imposing sedate grey – an information board here, a newly planted bougenvellia bush in rampant bloom there.

I stood there atop the fort, trying to catch my breath post the climb and trying to take in the mystique of the structure timeless and eternal. Grey-brown stone columns standing tall , the remains of a temple,  carvings on the wall, ghostly silhouette of a peepal tree that knew more stories than the historical narrative could retell. It stood there wise and majestic its leaves gently whispering in the breeze casting patterns on the stones.

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Forts and ruins have their own stories ones that I prefer to breathe in on my own, with no guide or informer.  The Kangra Fort is not just one of the oldest forts packed with history , mythology and stories. Standing there looking through the ramparts nearly swallowing a heartbeat and soaking in the history  I was mesmerised nearly willing time to stand still ,not wanting to go back to buzz and rush of the city and work back home. The fort overlooks the confluence of the Banganga and the Majhi rivers and the windows present a visual delight of the rivers and the valley carved through. I have a penchant for clinging to old stories and each of the walls , corners and doors seemed to have a repertoire of endless stories of mystic and lore imprinted on them.

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Silence permeated the broken bits of architecture yet the stone walls wove their magic over me. Perhaps it was the solitude, the exhilaration of having explored something so mesmerising all by myself. Perhaps it was the dull thought in my head that maybe some of my ancestors walked these cobbled stones before me. The fort held a quiet, un-settling ,elusive  quality that I could not put my finger on.

 

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Maybe some magic still lives in these walls.

Faith

Faith – that limitless expanse of hope that stretches out when the grey clouds of life encircle and engulf…That tiny flicker within that keeps you moving along the weary road.

Faith that finds itself in a tiny Buddhist temple where the lamps flicker and an elderly monk wraps his wrinkled fingers over his prayer beads.

 

 

Faith in the eyes of  rosy cheeked children as they push one prayer wheel after another.

Faith in the timeless prayer flags.

That belief that it will get better. Because it does.It really does.