Posts tagged himalayas

Tapovan (A Collection) – Himalayas, India

Above Rishikesh

Above Rishikesh


Where the great sages

Once sat;

Where now I sit,

A humble scribble.


Rest with the holy men

And look to the stars.


Narrow windows

Of the soul,

Gleaming eyes

And begging bowls.


One and Many Faces

Within the calmest chamber of my heart, I found you sleeping;

Truth flowered from your eyes.

Locked in your gaze I remained breathless

And in your arms I gladly died.


Lost in the depths of love, guided by an inner bride,

May we merge these senses, make these revolutions shine.


Our silent dance now roars, engulfs all suffering;

Shatters illusory doors, floating on this conscious stream.


On the backs of Gods we ride, pilgrims ever set for salvation;

Beyond the temples of twisted mind, all one and many faces.

A Jungle Waterfall

A Jungle Waterfall


Fanned by the flame of infinite

Destiny; we are naturally cursed and blessed.


Hung in the cauldron of uncertainty, envy grips sincerity.


Crude words blot the page,

Sorrow is the cause

For the mountain orchids speak.


Nameless Sage

There is a formless forest guru, teak carved and polished clear;

As a tiger stalks and kills, this wooden soul would sit.

Just an old stone wasting no time at all; tendrils for toes, ascending with

Nature.  A rare breed with cloud-like constitution.


Given to an internal voyage, of Syrius he claimed soul form.

Now fully merged and fresh ash smeared, elephant hide wrapped tight to his ribs,

His three eyes stare at unity, directly.


Deep in the forest, lungs lined with early morning dew,

He talks only with tiny birds and hears of the coming rains.

Living out the depths of truth, where existence is the nectar,

A bliss filled concentration of effortless implication.


This heart a humble furnace, the nameless sage

Who charges the Himalayas with stillness,

A tranquil quake of focused purity.


Silent Song

In early day the mist has come,

Trees are stirring.


There is a deep well of beauty,

Still in time.


I hear the river fall

From the centre of the morning sun;


To disappear forever,

In silent, silent song.


Mandala Void

From out of the void,

A mandala, a body;


Something visible where the mind may feast

And fracture.


These fragments of burning candles,

The taste to realize;

Sweet mango, fresh chai.


White Swans

Rest easy in this celestial session,

Loving all, excluding nought.


All religions written in the mental sky.

When it clears, expose the vast light of truth.


Infinite the beatitude, god is nothing to fear.

Finer energies exist here, higher powers

We may touch; that we are.


Sleepless and nestled in the mothers arms.

Safe to tread the path riding white swans,

Wearing bells.


Here or There

Here or there; a fantastic meander,

Wild elephants in fields of sunflowers.


At odds with the love we are,

We are sleeping to make new days.


Yet all night our lamp

Still burns with grace.

The valley leading to Rishikesh

The valley leading to Rishikesh

Extracts from a collection written in Rishikesh, India, January ’14


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Lost to the night

Full moon over Kalpa, Himalayas, India

How strange
You no longer join me
On this journey,
Years we stood
And viewed each horizon
With no morning,
Bellies full of hope
And wine,

Laughing into the dark
And howling up the moon,
Drunk on life
In oceans of blue,
Swimming in the rips
To the tune
Of people in motion,
Wrapped up
In the safety
Of freshly
Broken waves.

So young
And caring not,
So bold
Turning pages with teeth,
Then alone
In that moment
You drifted,
Eased off
And away
To rest easy.

You had spiralled down
Then back;
With no grand finale,
No great leap of faith,
No hint of demise,
With fears locked inside.

All that is left
Is a shell,
And when we hold it
To our ears
We hear the ocean calling,

To one night
When the moon rose and fell,
As the sun grew warm
You’d bid us farewell.

So, were you blue?
In that bed and
In that light,
Where you now lay
Lost to the night.

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Monday Movies – Samsara, Ram Dass and Baraka

Its deep grey outside and the drizzle is in full effect.  The perfect day to reflect and watch something beautiful that inspires.

Thanks to YouTube, here are a selection of very different inspirational movies.  One a wonderful human story, the other an epic love story set in the majestic Himalayas and finally a visual movie with a wonderful soundtrack.

I am coming to realise the importance of YouTube and the like.  I am a little backward with the cyber thing, but YouTube is a phenomenon.  When I think back at how slow wisdom must have spread in the olden days (the 80’s!), YouTube opens it all up.  Immediately.  What do you want to know?

I am selective in what I let in, but what an opportunity to learn and get involved on a global scale.

I hope you enjoy….

PS – Have you noticed that when you watch clips that relate to philosophy, ‘alternative’ ways of being etc, there are always clips of young women with their cleavage out in the sidebar?  Are they trying to distract?  If you watch a music clip, the same clips don’t appear?  With that in mind…..

Here is Samsara, an epic, spiritual love story shot in Spiti Valley, the high Himalayas (you will need to change the subtitles to your language, unless you are Czech, in the bottom right of the screen).  It follows a Buddhists monks quest for enlightenment:

Here is the life story of the wonderful Ram Dass, a lovely soul:

And finally, the second part of the Ron Fricke movie Baraka (the full clip has disappeared) it’s a shame to miss the first part, but it is well worth watching these awesome images and soundtrack.

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With the Babas, Kumbh Mela (Part 2), 13th April 2010, Haridwar, India


“Fear Not. What is not real, never was and never will be. What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed.”  Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita

Which begged the question, what is real?  Especially here in the heart of the Kumbh.

All is well and cloaked in a chillum induced fug. Common reality has left these banks of Haridwar for these fleeting moments to be replaced by the sensibilities and traditions of the Hindu sadhus; the ceremony and mysticism of these ancient ascetics, who are standard bearers of the ancient traditions of Hinduism that have profoundly influenced all religions and societies for possibly the last 12,000 years.

Bearded and beaming, we pass the chillum (ceremonial clay pipe) around fires; dried chillies are scattered on the embers, pujas (prayers) are offered to the Gods and the arrival of old friends seems the only distraction from the circle of energy that binds it all together.

Chillie Puja offered to Ajni

This festival of love, the Kumbh Mela 2010, seems to be building a sense of purpose and focus.  The air is charged with something.  We are gaining an insight an older form of perception here, just by experiencing this rarefied atmosphere, all is change for a time.  Many insights come without words, but many colours and only fleeting, normally erratic, movements.  The charras lifting us up.  Higher.

This focus will lead us soon (nobody seems to know when, but soon) to the great parade.  The mass procession and festivities, a volatile torrent of Shiavite Babas (sadhus) and diverse army of spiritual sorts; mendicants and hermits, holy men and celebrity gurus, some clutching swords reciting incantations, trance like.

A cast of millions whipped up for weeks into a religious fervour, a sublime devotion to Shiva and the divine, that will lead us to the shores of the holy Ganga and a chilled bath.  The water is icy, yet the air is scorching.

This mighty Goddess river, that supposedly flows from Shivas matted locks. From its source of Gaumukh in the Himalayan highlands, meandering through countryside and city until the fertile Bengali delta.  This Gangetic plain, the fertile cradle of so much ancient history.  Every inch of this river is sacred, every inch offering a rebirth of hope for Hindus.  These riversides where millions have prayed; made pilgrimages, ablutions and offerings, and ultimately returned to as ash having left their bodies.  It is said that if a vile of water from the Ganga is held by a Hindu, they cannot tell a lie (this could solve much, especially in the political arena!).  No river in the world is so revered.

We are somewhere in the vast network of camps and ashrams, temporary homes for the millions, that has been here for weeks.  Most ashrams are supported by donations from rich, city based devotees.  The charras (a form of pure, handmade hashish) is mainly free to the Babas.  Tonnes of the stuff is supplied by the government and transported to the Kumbh in large military wagons.

The consumption of charras is an integral part of the Shiavite Babas worship.  Shiva was the greatest yogi and loved nothing more than disappearing into the Himalayas for years, smoking charras in caves and meditating.  He is the alpha male rogue of the Hindu Gods.

Shiva Shamboh!

The Babas seem to spend alot of time visiting old friends and catching up on gossip and goings on.  Many Babas live in very remote areas and this is their only chance, once every twelve years, to re-connect with old friends.  They jump from camp to camp, all wearing their own style of Sadhu couture, all looking like a cast of ascetics who have wandered in from the old deserts of Sinai.

These are the men who could have inspired Jesus and Buddha (and many more who claim to be prophets) to follow the path of renunciation and set off on pilgrimages, living the life of a hermit.  For only with great silence of mind and detachment; great liberation and stillness in life, can the real treasures of being be unearthed.  The treasures that are on show in many of these mens eyes and actions.

“When the sage climbs the heights of Yoga, he follows the path of work; but when he reaches the heights of Yoga, he is in the land of peace.”  Lord Krishna,

Night falls over the Kumbh, no signs of modernity to light the way here (bar the occasional hanging light bulb).  Vision is made possible by the blue moonlight, as we pick a path through the melee of sleeping bodies and wide-eyed night wanderers.  From what appears to be a pile of orange rags, comes a bejewelled trident, thrust in our direction with a barked warning.  The Kumbh never sleeps.

Naga babas

We find ourselves led to a small corrugated iron hut, attached to a large billowing tent.  The type of tent you’d imagine Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta would have been accustom to.  I am then sat below a much revered Baba, with tiny sticks for legs that hang lifelessly as he swings on a chained plank hung above a ceremonial fire.  His body, like a sparrow, wrapped in greying rags.  His white beard cascades down, his eyes are translucent opal plates.

There is a hushed atmosphere of curiosity surrounding or presence, furtive glances are exchanged and hands are cupped to shield whispers.  There is the occasional muffled giggle.  Nobody speaks out.  The fire pit is surrounded by an assortment of Babas in clouds of heavy chillum smoke.  The one sitting opposite seems to be turning into a woman!  He has breasts and regularly flutters his eyelashes in my direction.

A large crowd of devotees sit and watch on, I imagine some had rarely seen such funny looking folk as us.  Ravi later told me that the swinging Sadhu lives in a small corrugated iron lean-to in a bus station in Lucknow.  He is, what you may call, the real deal.

(Ravi is a lovely fellow.  He spends six months a year riding his Enfield around India and smoking with Babas, hence his familiarity with many.  The other six months he bakes goodies for stoned travellers on the beaches of Gokana.  He is from a family of Brahmins (the highest caste, generally richer men well-educated in the Hindhu scriptures and traditions) and is a very chilled and blessed companion/ part-time guide in this adventure.  Helping our gang to make some sense of it all.)

An elderly Baba; with the screwed up face of a happy child, hair to his waist and perfectly circular bald spot, sits to my left.  Below the dangling legs and the swing.  His eyes are closed in deep meditation, yet each time the chillum is passed, he reaches out instinctively and accepts it with a sudden yelp.  He bellows the 101 names of Shiva in a guttoral howl prior to taking a giant lungful of charras.  Then passes it to me.  Difficult to follow such a performance.

The first time this happened, I almost leapt on the fire in sheer terror.  The small man could wail.  I felt hundreds of eyes focusing on me, as I fiddle with the pipe, recovering my composure.  Still a fumbling novice, but attempting to be respectful.  I gave it a good suck and hoped not to cough my lungs up again.

The roof is low, the smoke burns my eyes……are my eyes open or closed?….I feel a poke on the shoulder, it’s the kindly child face of the howling Baba offering me steaming clay cup of creamy chai.  During my time at the Kumbh, I only ever felt at home.  Each ashram we visited, we were treated like lost friends.

From the darkness outside the tent, many small bells begin to clang in unison and we all stood up and shuffle outside.  A hushed exodus to prayer.  A large crowd of sadhus from the ashram had gathered, wrapped in blankets to beat the cold night air.  We all sang and chanted before an altar as the Brahmins, with painted chests and shaved heads; lit candles and wafted incense smoke over the many golden idols.  Constantly arranging and re-arrange garlands.  Blessings were offered with milk and sweets as we began to make our way around the wooden shrine in a clockwise fashion.  We all acquiesce, maybe in a trance.

After what seemed like an age, we decided to stretch our legs and leave the warm fireside of the swining Baba.  We said our goodbyes and they seemed genuinely sorry to see us go.

It was late and the paths were filled with characters.  They surfaced out of the night, whooping ghoul-like figures glowing with white ash and blood-red eyes, receded into shadows.  We were told that one emaciated chap had been sitting cross-legged, in the same spot by the road for months meditating.  Some had bury their heads in earth.  Some had broad swords embedded in their arms and monkey tails hanging from their rectums.  Yes, these paths are filled with characters.  I felt suddenly exhilerated.  Where would they lead us next?  (See part 3)

Baba looks on

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Dhankar Monastery, Spiti Valley, India, July 2010

Dhankar Monastery, Spiti Valley

Dhankar Monastery (or Gompa) was built as a fort monastery (Dhan=cliif, Kar=Fort) built on the the Tibetan pattern.  Nestled on a 300 metre rock spur, high above the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers.  The gompa stands at 3894 metres above sea level.

I stayed here for a while, in the nearby new monastery, home of more than 150 monks.  The old monastery only has a few hardy monks living within.  Most of the monasteries buildings are derelict, including rooms full of old frescoes, images of Buddha in his many incarnations and Lamas.  The main monastery building has an incredible energy, ancient, with its crocked stairways and small musty rooms.  Very little renovation has taken place, giving it ancient mystique and a reverential air.

From my bedroom window I could see Dhankar hanging on its precarious rock tower, above the silver veins of the rivers and the mighty granite Himalayan peaks that surround.  All along the valley I witnessed similar rock towers collapsed, piles of red rock beside the only road.  This is due to an increase in rain fall in this, the highest desert on earth.  Global warming seemingly to blame.  The views around Dhankar are truly magical and imprinted on my minds eye forever, this is the most beautifully situated building I have ever seen.

Its history dates back to the 12 century (maybe longer) and was the capital of Spiti for many years.  In the 17th century the rulers of Spiti, The Nonos, used Dhankar as their capital.  Its main feature is a statue named ‘Vairochana’, it also holds many important ancient scriptures and tankas.  The Dalai Lama has visited many times and it is possible to see the small bed that he, and every Dalai Lama has slept on in the main ceremonial room, below a large golden prayer wheel.

Making prayer flags in the monastery

I spent time with the monks, who were very open and hospitable, inviting me to meditation and prayer sessions.  One memorable session ended with Mary and I being offered gifts of decorated sweetened barley stupas, biscuits, crisps and chocolates.  The giant golden buddhas were offered the same, but they also received bottles of coke.  We were always well looked after, lots of sweet chai or salted butter tea on offer.  After hours chanting, the monks needed some liquid refreshment.  I loved how they all had their own decorated mugs.  It seemed to keep most of them awake, there where many bobbing bald heads in the morning sessions and much yawning.

A gang of young monks in the old monastery invited me to watch an England world cup match, but after trekking over there and bashing on the old red door (nearly taking it off its hinges) there was no answer.  The old monastery is fitted with its own Tata satellite dish!  These young dudes seemed interested in all things modern, which could be down to the Shakira videos they were watching most days.  It must be hard to be a teenage monk up here.

Most of the monks were locals, living in the village Shichilling directly below, but many of the younger monks came from other villages in Spiti Valley.  Dhankar is very prestigious monastery, one of the most important in the whole region, along with Tabo and Key monasteries.

Dhankar Monastery with sun low

I stayed in the hostel attached to the new monastery and many travellers and seekers make the steep ascent, I regularly had company.  Always and interesting crowd.  I became friendly with the owners of the hostel and one of my favourite times there was helping to deal with over 40 English public school girls, who turned up unannounced with a huge amount of baggage carried by an army of donkeys and porters.  They had the look of  an epic expedition as they came over the brow of the valley.  They were a nice bunch, strange to bump into so many English people in this little isolated pocket of the world.  I helped to cook them omlettes and a curry, with vats of tea, as the cook was detained in a local police station.  The hostel only has around 10 rooms, so their were young, shrieking English girls littered all over the place.  Still, they left seeming happy enough, in a brisk, detached British fashion.  We were glad to see them disappear in a huge cloud of orange dust and goretex, getting back to the business of doing nothing.

With Manik and S********(could never remember his name!), Team Hostel

I have many happy memories of clamouring down the steep, loose rocked, village paths to one family home or another, looking for barley wine for an evening tipple.  This happened normally with only moonlight to guide me and without a common language.  The villagers seemed to know what I wanted, especially after a few attempts and I invariably ended up sitting in an old crones kitchen, above the cattle, with immaculately arranged shelves of silver pots and pans.  The old dear would scoop empty plastic water bottles of the potent spirit, out of a pale and then we’d sit and laugh; pull drunked faces, sip the brew, pick hay from our teeth.  The wine seemed to evaporate before it reached the gullet and after 15 minutes you were actually completely smashed.  This stuff had turned many a monk blind.  Being well oiled, the walk home was always a little easier, the crevasses seemed not so deep, the shepherds dogs just feisty puppies.

Dhankar kids, Upper Dhankar Village

I liked the guys from the hostel and the monks and villagers, so I used it as a base for exploring this part of Spiti Valley.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty and isolation of this area.  The diversity of landscape and colour leave you speechless and humbled.  It was difficult to imagine such a place in winter time, when temperatures plummet to around minus 30oC and the entire valley is cut off.  The locals told me they just sit at home with the family or visit friends, drink barley wine, laugh and sing old songs.  This seemed to me like a good way to spend a large part of the year.  Reaffirming bonds with the ones they love past and present, it would go some way to explain the strong sense of culture the people of Spiti have maintained despite being colonised throughout history.

Dhankar Village

Buddha with cosmic enlightenment surround

The people of Spiti Valley are peaceful, and there aren’t many of them, around 10,000 in modern times.  Throughout history they have been invaded and re-invaded by the Tibetans, Hindus, Sikhs, British etc.  I was glad to hear that the Brits did some good up here, documenting the history of the area for the first time, building roads and bringing a form of democracy.

Dhankar is part of the Gelupa (the yellow hats) branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the same as the Dalai Lama, the reality is that many Indian (or Spiti) elements are woven into the belief system.  Its more Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasmbhava, the Tibetan tantric mystic, responsible for bringing Buddhism to this part of India, passed through here in the 8th century.  Converting and incorporating local belief systems.  One such cult still exists, the ‘Bons’.  The holy men wear colourful garments and have dreaded, long hair.  Their religious ceremonies resemble a circus performance.  They chop large rocks off each others chest, using swords.  The men also hover in mid air, their full body weight balanced on the tip of an upturned sword.  I regret that I could not see this with my own eyes, the Bon monastery is quite remote.

Dhankar is sinking and nobody can tell how long it will cling to the rocks.  The World Monument Fund have listed Dhankar as one of the worlds 100 most endangered sites.  Have a look here for a website that is helping  I just feel blessed to have spent some time there and got to know such wonderful characters.

I left one morning for the sharp path, descending hundreds of feet, fully loaded with back packs and a heavy heart.  It took me a while to scramble down to the main road below, where I’d hitch back to Kaza and modernity.  I remember thinking that in all this travelling; all these places, there is little true beauty to be found. And even when you find it, one day you awaken and leave.  You move on, seeking the magic hidden around each new bend.

Dhankar from a hilltop overlooking Spiti Valley

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The Poetry of India – Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Tagores poetry captures the energy and diversity of India, which saves me attempting a feeble summary after my recent visits.  I discovered ‘Gitanjali’, his most famous work, in a little book shop somewhere.

Written just after the death of many members of his family, and with a glorious introduction by W.B. Yeats, this is a work of sheer beauty from the darkest corner of grief, with a depth of devotion and love that lifts the soul.  Fittingly he became the first non-european be awarded the title of Nobel laureate in 1913.

On my travels it led me to a greater understanding of Indias faith in the divine, its all-encompassing power of survival, fortitude and joy.

His elegant and magical poetry was originally written in his native Bengali.   These are two of my favourites.  The first encomapsses the beauty and romance of life, the second the resolve and struggle that has been a trait of Mother India throughout its long, long history.  It is a rallying cry to the human spirit.

Later in his life he turned his wonderful talent to painting, many now ehibited in the Museum of Modern Art in Delhi.  He commented:

‘words are too concious; lines are not.  Ideas have their form and colour, which wait for their incarnation in pictoral art……My morning began with songs and poems; now, in the evening of my life, my mind is filled with form and colours…….  Love gives evidence to something which is outside us but which intensely exists and thus stimuates the sense of our own existence.  It radiantly reveals the reality of its objects.’

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s


Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye kissing light, heart sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.  Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems of profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, and gladness without measure.  The heaven’s river had drowned its banks and the flood of joy is abroad.

The end of Spiti, June, India 2010

Ekla Chalore “Walk Alone”

If they answer not to thy call,

Walk Alone.

If they tremble and cower mutely

Facing the Wall,

O thou of evil luck,

Open thy mind and speak out alone.

If, when crossing the wilderness,

They turn away and desert you,

O thou of evil luck,

Trample the thorns under thy tread,

And along the blood-strewn path,

Walk alone.

If, when the night is troubled

With storm,

They do not hold up the light,

O thou of evil luck,

With the thunder flame of pain,

Ignite thine own heart,

And let it burn alone.


Streetside Hampi, August, India 2011

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The Sadhus of Gaumukh, The Ganga’s Source, Uttaranchal, India, May 2010


Sadhu pointing towards the glacier

Baba before Gaumukh (the source of the Ganga)

Chillum with the Babas

Baba Giri

A rare Sadhu couple, Uttaranchal Yatra Peak above Tapovan

Gaumukh is the source of the Ganga (Ganges River) that cascades out of a crystal blue glacier.  The walk to the source is an important yatra (pilgrimage)for all Hindus, especially Sadhus ( Many make their dwellings in the mountains and valleys above and surrounding Gaumukh, practising yoga, austerity, forms of purity and enlightenment.  The valley is cut off for most of the year due to deep snow and freezing conditions.  All photos taken by Ben and Tamara (my camera died)X  Bom bhole nath!

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