Sunday, October 31

A celestial look …

" I lift up my eyes to you, whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God, 
till he shows us his mercy "

... the Psalms 123:1,2 (the Bible)


Thursday, October 28

The shepherd, sheep and the dog...

It is difficult to imagine Himalayas without the shepherds and their flocks. At lower heights of Himalayas, any trekker will meet them. These friendly shepherds suddenly make us realize us that we are not alone in the trek! Hence, it is glorious to spot them. In fact, they might wonder what is there for us to trek up 17000 ft. high! After all, the mountains are their playgrounds and we are just foreigners out here. 
They also tell us how closely man and his animals live for each other!

These sheep are very much a part and life of Himalayas and we look shy-strangers !

Most Shepherds will have 2 to 3 Himalayan sheepdogs with them. It is so gorgeous to observe these power-packed working dogs running around doing their job. Basically, they are a potent breed and are strong-willed like the mountains.  Often, a single shepherd easily tends 500 or more sheep with the help of these dogs. They are also well domesticated and intelligent. Nevertheless, they are stubborn too. 
When they guard their flock, they can be ferocious. 
Himalayan sheepdogs are excellent family dogs and most people I met keep one at home. Because of their ‘watchman’ tendency, these dogs are very sensitive and outgoing. Because of their best scavenging ability, these dogs (as a pack) can survive even in the wild.

As a dog lover on a mountain, I will cherish this one golden moment. 
Seeing this sheepdog near his flock, I called him and breaking his breed norms, he rushed to me. 
I could pet him for a while. Well-build, shaggy and handsome, he was around 60-70 cm tall. 
I noted his healthy coat, strong feet and his hairy tail. 

Soon, hearing his master’s whistle and he left me for his flock. 
As he was speeding away, I was very much a content person. 


Wednesday, October 27

... keep walking

A lake always gives me a feeling of serenity. Nevertheless, I never knew that lakes are indicators of ecological health. Scientists also say that lakes are excellent sensors of environmental changes. Himalayan lakes have always been of interest to men for their ecology, splendour and remoteness. Unlike other mountain ranges, Himalayas has ‘hidden’ all her lakes in the loftiest places on earth. May be she wants to keep them away from pollution and unwanted visitors. 

The most classically beautiful Himalayan Lake is the Chandratal in Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. Reaching here from Hampta, at 4350m, I was absolutely enticed by its surroundings.  Nuzzling in the lap of Mighty Himalayas, Chandratal has been sleeping for a million years! (No one is allowed to wake her up! The government has banned all sorts of human activity in the vicinity of the lake. No one is allowed to use automobiles and drive to this lake. Camping is prohibited. Dropping any sweatshirts or food in the lakeshore is a sin. One has to hike 5 km. to reach Chandratal. A lone billboard posted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest clearly tells us that this lake is of international importance.) Scientists believe that the lake was formed at the end of the last ice age when the glaciers retreated, leaving behind considerable dead ice masses. These ice masses melted forming the large deep blue lake.
Deep in the mountains, towering snow-capped peaks surround them. Absolutely pollution free, these lakes offer a sanitized ecosystem unimaginable to a city dweller like me. No postcards, no photographs, no paintings nor pictures can draw us close to the real life and the heartbeat of these lakes. One has to go to them... sit with them and listen to them.  No wonder, these lakes have inspired and attracted travellers, pilgrims, painters and a whole generation of nature lovers.

 Chandratal is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists alike. People show great respect to her.  Hence, our trek guide Mr. Sharma told me that no one has measured the depth of the lake.The circumference of the lake is around        2.5 km. and the water is crystal-clear.

 The river Chandra takes birth from this lake as it drains out. The draining water is so clear that the surrounding environment comes alive in the reflections.  It is absolutely breathtaking and mystical to see so much of reflections around!  Except for our team of trekkers, there wasn’t a single soul out there. In those empty surroundings, the grand lake and its backdrop cast a spell on all her visitors.

 It is a sheer magic to spend moments here at Chandratal. 
I stood still... then I knelt... 
I lowered my water bottle 
and felt the surge of chill clear mountain water rushing into it. 
I kept the bottle aside and prayed…
trying to listen to God in the absolute sound of silence.

Walking back from Chandratal, we had nothing to tell one another.  
We just kept walking…
In life, I believe that is the best we can do… 
to keep walking.  

Photo location: Chandratal Wetland and Lake
Photos shot in Hampta Trek 

Tuesday, October 26

A Beauty without measuring Up....!

Look at the mountains: Some say they are barren. Barren?  It is a word  too cruel to be used for mountains and the deserts. ‘Barren’ goes beyond the picture of an empty space: it speaks of an inability of fertilize... inability to sustain life. But today, geologists will tell us that mountains too have life: they are growing. Someone in our trek said that Himalayas is a young mountain and that it is putting on height little by little. I know that deserts too grow, eating into greenery. If mountains and deserts grow, aren’t they barren?

I enter a room of people taller than me, and  I feel short. I enter a room of younger people, and I  feel old. A glance at the mountains too gives me similar feelings. From the beaches lashed with waves and the surf, there is an all-imposing mountain standing tall and mighty. Why am I feeling so small and the mountain so great? That is because I have come to the mountains from a world of comparisons... a world wherein I have to evaluate, measure up, judge and tell my brain the magnitude of everything in comparison. Sometimes, my brain even attempts to compare the incomparable:  the Himachal beauty with that of Shy Kerala!  Up in some remote corner of Himalayas, I ask  “God, Please show me how can I shut down ‘comparison’? Please show me beauty without comparison... beauty without competition... beauty without measuring up! ” 

Photo location: On the way to Hampta, Himalayas.

Monday, October 25

Rules of the mountain...

Food critics enjoy very few restaurants; 
movie critics enjoy very few movies; 
art critics enjoy very few paintings 
and a connoisseur of good wine enjoys not all wine . 
On the way to Hampta, 
I asked a shepherd how the path was 
and if I could take anything home from these mountains. 
He looked bewildered.... 
Then I understood the secret of any trek: 
I should not anticipate beauty or splendour in the mountains. 
Then the shepherd replied with a smile, 
“Leave only your foot prints 
and take nothing away from the mountain!”.  

Photo location: Trek route on the way to Hampta, Himalayas.

Sunday, October 24

God own bounty !

Trekking into forest, we found a clearing in the woods. Sky opened up and we thought we would break the trek for 10 minutes.  There was an enclosure and in it, we could see paddy fields. The presence of the Buddhists prayer flags tells us that it a place of prayer. The down town locals calls this place ‘PanduRoopa’. The significance of this place is that, people believe it was here that Pandavas cultivated paddy during their long ‘vanaprasta’ (years in the woods).  Even today, paddy grows at PanduRoopa. People cultivate it for religious reasons.

It is a dramatic walk through mountain woods. The forests of tall deodars (Himalayan Cedars) and the coniferous trees grow between 2000 m and 3000 m in Himalaya. Deodars are tall and imposing. It stands guard of the hills. It branches-out like spokes of wheel and holds on the wind and the gale. It is absolutely calm to trek through these cool deodar forests. It takes little effort to relax oneself in these surroundings.  If my trek is a meditation,  then the walk through the woods is its first stage.

 There is the perennial water flow through the woods. The winter has not set in.  Water at these heights has not frozen. The  babbling brooks and the calmness of the deodars is a life of its own at Himalayas. It not only captivates me, but also beacons me for a lifelong tryst with nature. And the trek goes on...

The fecund countryside and the lush green meadows of Kerala is music to my eyes. However, I think it was all in a hurry that Kerala was called, “God’s own country”. That was too much of a standard that we set for ourselves!

Mighty Himalayas will smile... calling herself, ‘God’s own bounty’!

Photos: By UC and me, along the Hampta Pass Trek, Himalayas.  


Thursday, October 21

Looking back my way...

One of the most important point in a journey is to look how far I have come.... not how far I must go. Often,  the depth, the distance and the long never ending terrain terrify me... I ask myself, “Can I trek all this and more?”  Nevertheless, when hours of trekking are over, there is always a moment when I turn my head back, sit on a rock and look at the way done...there is always a flash of joy to glimpse the beauty of the paths I have trodden. It is a great comfort to know how I have reached upon a solid rock.

In  short intervals of any long trek, it is amazing to retrospect each steps that has carried me to my new heights... how much I have calculated and placed each much pussy footings I have done on the assuring God was in the valley of my past journey. A skid on the rock or a twisted angle can be painful. Yes, only a ‘looking back’ will tell me how grand my journey was.

Life can be a joy if I learn to look and see how far I have come. I do not forget, I cannot forget, the ethereal aim which has brought me here and now. That is more important than the future. 

Photo Location : The Hempta Pass Trek