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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.