Diya Gupta

Writer


“O the Mind, Mind has Mountains…”

6:41 PM, Saturday, 30th August, 2014
View of our village Rangrik from high up
The inside of the second cave
Me outside the third cave and the wild rose tree
“By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.” – Robert Macfarlane, ‘Mountains of the Mind’

August was a quiet month at Munsel-ling. The children had gone home for the summer holidays; the playground was strangely quiet; the corridor leading to the classrooms wore a deserted look. The school had become almost eerily tranquil, with no shouts from boys engrossed in their game of cricket, no laughing girls skipping away, and no stentorian teachers making sure the students were behaving themselves at the daily morning assembly. It was time, Shaun and I felt, to explore Spiti beyond the school.

The weather for nearly the entire month was perfect: the sky a brilliant azure blue, broken only now and then by a wisp of fragile cloud; the sun bright and strong, bathing the houses, fields and rivers in crisp light; and the cloud shadows sprawled across the mountains dark and many-fingered.

We drove in our friend Chhering’s car on winding roads and tracks up the mountains, seeing the village of Kibber (4,200 metres high) nestled amidst the ruggedness, and spying our own village Rangrik (3,700 metres high), encircled by towering peaks. We noted the changing vegetation as we kept ascending. The craggy brown mountains gradually became interspersed with small green shrub, occasionally breaking into fields of peas and barley. It was the height of the pea season, one of Spiti’s few cash crops, and women and children with beautiful patterned scarves on their heads were bent double, working hard in harvesting the peas. “Here, have some peas,” from a village worker became a common occurrence for us throughout the month.

The fields of whispering unripe green barley shining in the sunlight made a sharp contrast to the whiteness of the snow-capped peaks in the distance. We went higher and higher until it seemed that there wasn’t anywhere else to go, unless we were to brave the snowy peaks themselves. We passed the tiny hamlet of Gette (4,380 metres high), one of the highest motorable villages in the world with its five or six scattered houses, saw Langza (4,400 metres high) from across the mountains with its golden Buddha statue, and finally reached our destination – the little village of Tashi Gang (also 4,400 metres high).

Here, in a local house, surrounded by gleaming copper and brass pots and pans, a little stove lit by firewood and an ancient TV, we drank a welcome cup of tea. The peacefulness all around us was palpable. Tashi Gang is said to be one of the Dalai Lama’s favourite places – there is even a house especially built for him here – and we could certainly see why.

We walked with Chhering up and down the mountainside, trying to locate caves where monks reportedly still dwell. Chhering warned us about a certain mad monk who was meant to be living in one of the caves at present. Much intrigued and slightly trepidatious, we carried on. The mad monk wasn’t to be seen, but out of the three caves, two certainly looked like they had been inhabited. The second cave had a couple of mattresses, a solar cooker and electricity inside, along with the head of an ibex with its giant horns displayed at the entrance – an alternative ‘Welcome’ mat, perhaps. The cave also had some delicate and beautiful Buddhist carvings on the walls. I never thought I would say this about a cave (despite the ibex head), but it almost looked cosy.

The third cave, we were told, was a favourite of our friend British monk Geshe Graham, and it certainly seemed very spacious and airy, with two separate rooms and plenty of sunlight streaming in – perfect for meditation. With some rock fall taking up the floor space, this cave would need work before it became inhabitable again – and also it did look like an ibex may have been living outside it for a while. But the view was spectacular and the beautiful flowering tree just outside the cave, which the local people call ‘wild rose’, seemed to just be waiting for human appreciation.

Lunch back at Tashi Gang – rice, dal, yoghurt and a lemony local beer called ‘chang’ – tasted wonderful after all this exploring. I learnt the Spitian word for ‘thank you’ from our smiling hosts – ‘Zangzo’. And in fact we felt an enormous sense of ‘Zangzo’ towards the entire day – for the sunshine and blue skies, the serenity of the mountains, and the hospitality of its people.
Comments.
Diya on 4:18 PM, 1st September, 2014
Hi Gail! Great to hear from you and to know that you're enjoying reading the blog! The scenery is absolutely stunning - as is the night sky!
Gail on 3:09 PM, 1st September, 2014
I always enjoy reading your blogs Diya and hearing about what you're both upto out there! It sounds like you are having a great time! The scenery looks amazing.
Diya on 6:45 PM, 31st August, 2014
That should read 'chorten', not 'shorten'. Grr, auto correct!
Diya on 6:40 PM, 31st August, 2014
That is awesome, Laura. Folklore related to mountains is incredible. Here too people build and add to small piles of stones on mountain or hill tops, out of respect to a holy site. Often, there will be a Buddhist 'shorten' or 'stupa' nearby. We should swap mountain stories some time! :-)
Laura Clark on 4:30 PM, 31st August, 2014
Amazing, had no idea you were at such altitude! Mountains are fantastic - always the favourite point of any travelling for us, as they really do not only make you feel your smallness before the might of geological time, but also when you stand atop a peak you've just walked up, you get a sort of energy boost from the very earth below you. Here in Mongolia, hill tops are the dwelling-places of spirits, and people bring a stone or rock in hand as they climb to add to the cairns on top, to greet the spirit and get their permission to cross their territory. Awesome.
Diya on 2:57 PM, 31st August, 2014
Jason, you would love those caves! I'll try to get you some peas - don't know if they will last the journey, though! They are sweet and delicious! October is the season of apples - looking forward to it.
Diya on 2:54 PM, 31st August, 2014
Hey Rashmi! So pleased that reading my blog makes you happy! :-) I'm sure you will get to see many places like Tashi Gang with the kids, now that they're getting older! xxx
Diya on 2:50 PM, 31st August, 2014
Victoria! So good to hear from you! :-) Very pleased that you are reading and enjoying the blog. Looking forward to seeing Barbara soon! You can ring any time on my phone if you would like to talk to her.
Rashmi. on 1:51 AM, 31st August, 2014
Oh, I can almost feel it Diya. Reading about your experiences makes me so happy. The children have turned into quite happy travellers, so a day when we see a place like Tashi Gang is hopefully not far away.
victoria larrarte on 9:02 PM, 30th August, 2014
Enjoying your blogs. "Zangzo"
Jason on 7:41 PM, 30th August, 2014
Heart warming! Those caves sound amazing! Bring me back some Spiti Peas please!!
Diya on 7:34 PM, 30th August, 2014
Lovely comment, Baba! I agree. :-)
Ujjal on 7:25 PM, 30th August, 2014
Yes. "Zangzo" seems to be appropriate. These are all free gifts to us - the mountains, the sun shine, the caves, the trees, the river, everything. We got them even without asking. Zangzo indeed
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