Diya Gupta


Under Spitian Skies

10:03 PM, Monday, 18th August, 2014
David, Katherine, Alyssa, Ted and me at Pin Valley in Spiti
Alyssa and Ted face bomb my pic!
Watching Munsel-ling children perform at the Pin Valley monastery
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore…?” – Isaac Asimov, ‘Nightfall’

Isaac Asimov’s ‘Nightfall’ could not have predicted a brighter night sky. The stars glimmered and glistened, their ancient light like pinpricks penetrating the darkness. Spreading across the sky in a giant arc, the cloud-like Milky Way revealed itself. We sat on the steps outside our flat in Rangrik, gazing upwards in silence. It was late at night, and the time felt just right to dwell on the meaning of hundreds of fiery spheres in outer space making their existence known to us. Was anyone on another planet looking at our sun in the same way?

Our contemplation was combined with expectation. We had seen several shooting stars dart across this canopy – each a bright blazing streak in its death – and were hopeful that the Spitian sky would provide a few more such spectacles before we went to bed.

It had been a good night. Munsel-ling had in July become a hub of volunteers – some passing through, others staying for longer. The Canadian medical students from the University of British Columbia had finished health screenings for the 550-odd students of the school – no mean feat. The engineering students had sorted out the chlorination process and a regular supply of clean water to the dining room. This meant that the children had safe drinking water and various places in the school to wash their hands and dishes – a huge step forward in health and hygiene.

Building an art room for the children was in progress; and British volunteer and mathematics teacher David’s tip on gauging a successful lesson was firmly etched in Shaun’s and my mind – get the students to have their thumbs up if they had followed the class, thumbs sideways if they had grasped quite a bit but not all of it, and thumbs down if they hadn’t a clue what we had been doing for the past 40 minutes. Brilliant!

The night of shooting stars was one of celebration. July had been such a vibrant month, with all these volunteers from across the world meeting in Spiti, exchanging ideas, discussing issues, marvelling at the beauty of the place, playing with the children, comparing notes on falling ill (!), and helping out. It was also one of saying goodbye: the Canadian students were heading home soon, as were David and his wife Katherine. It was a night of beer and crisps and merrymaking in our flat, of singing and laughing and sharing funny stories, and promising to stay in touch and visit one another.

When, in the small hours of the morning, we all decided to head for bed, the stars began their display. A marvellous shooting star blazed across the sky just as we opened the door, to the accompaniment of “Ooh!”, “Wow!” and “Did you see that?!” from us. It was a fitting end to an eventful night, and an eventful month. Once the others had left, Shaun and I stayed outside, and the Spitian skies did not disappoint. We could have stayed up watching the stars in the silence of the night until daybreak – but the monks were performing their famous ‘cham’ dance at Kye monastery bright and early the next day, and we were invited. It’s a fast-paced life we lead here in the Spiti Valley!
Diya on 10:40 PM, 31st August, 2014
Hey Laura! A hot-springs pool in Mongolia sounds pretty cool. There's nothing quite like a starry night sky, is there - shooters or no shooters!
Laura Clark on 4:26 PM, 31st August, 2014
Lovely description of a magical night, Diya! We've just had an evening in a hot-springs pool in an Outer Monglian ger camp, with a very clear night sky above us - no huge shooters up there though! :-)
Diya on 6:07 PM, 20th August, 2014
Thanks, Shashikala! Happy to chat about the stars all night if you like! :-)
Ushasi on 2:29 PM, 19th August, 2014
Very vivid description of the night sky. Will want far more details when we meet.
Diya on 2:22 PM, 19th August, 2014
"…Confined to a tiny bit of sand, Unable to escape." Shaun just played me the song! It's a wonderful quote. When you get here, we will rock civilisation!
Adam on 2:50 AM, 19th August, 2014
"Staring upwards at the gleaming stars in the obsidian sky, We're marooned on a small island, In an endless sea." (Pendulum: Slam)-I just thought that a quotation from some commercial drum and bass was called for. I am looking forward to coming to visit next month!
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