Posts tagged spiti valley

Live in my heart (sweet nectar)

High above Spiti Valley, India

Is that your lyre of love?

I hear carried on the breeze,

Or just the crashing of tin spoons

Played by a drunken fool?

Your sweet wine of inspiration flows freely,

Sustaining me, freeing me.

All torment and shackles lie at my feet,

I’m almost too afraid

To step out of the mould.

Your wisdom

Gilded in the golden armour

Of your grace and love,

Forever feed me,

My dear, dear Mother one.

Retreating to the hills

Where sages sit in caves

To express their joy,

I have seen you here,

There and everywhere;

In the tangled forests

In the eyes of the crippled ascetic

In the stillness of the tree yogis

In his matted hair

In the wonder of a child’s laughter

In the waking of spring flowers

In the ever flowing stream

In the beating of my heart,

I see you in all of these things

And more.

What a release!

To finally realise

That wings grow strong with life

We may soar through sorrow,

We can learn to fly.

My heart lies open

Like a forgotten doorway,

So clean your dirty boots

Of fear and pain

And take one step forward,

Be near me again.

Under guard of the many petalled lotus,

The refuge of one heart,

No ripples you find,

Say ‘Yes!’

And in each other

We will shine.

Let’s pick the highest fruits

And share the light of life,

Let’s sing to the wind

Our victory grows ever nearer,

The sweetest nectar.

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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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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 http://www.wmf.org/field.  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

Gitanjali

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.

Om

Streetside Hampi, August, India 2011

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Lost in Spiti Valley, Himalayan Images, Tabo 23rd June 2010

Once upon a time in Spiti Valley, Falco and I went for a walk and almost lost ourselves along the way…. 

Leap!

Off piste

Falco by name....

Scramblin’ Man

Falco, cheers for the pics.

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Images of Kinnaur and Spiti Valley, May-July 2010

Kinnauri Bride, Kashmir Village, Kinnaur Valley

The Wedding Party, Kashmir Village, Kinnaur

Grandmother of the Bride, Kinnaur

Dawn in Chitkul, Sangla Valley

Demul Lady posing for portrait, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

High up with Parjanya on the Kunzum La Pass, Spiti Valley

Two girls on a roof, Chichum, Upper Spiti Valley

Caesar the mountain dog, above Tabo, Spiti Valley

Targey Family (Max, Tsering, Sonum and Sonum), Langcha, Spiti

Digging out a landslide, above Kaza, Spiti Valley

A gate to Lalun Village, Spiti Valley

Sunset over Dankha Monastery, Spiti Valley

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The Perfect One Smiled – Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

A man from Hikkim, Spiti

A man from Hikkim, Spiti Valley

Govinda no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha.  Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha.  He saw the face of a fish, of a carp, with tremendous painfully opened mouth, a dying fish with dimmed eyes.   He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry.  He saw the face of a murderer, saw him plunge a knife into the body of a man; at the same moment he saw this criminal kneeling down, bound, and his head cut off by an executioner.  He saw the naked bodies of men and women in the postures and transports of passionate love.  He saw corpses stretched out, still, cold, empty.  He saw the heads of animals, boars, crocodiles, elephants, oxen, birds.  He saw Krishna and Agni.  He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and becoming newly born.  Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory.  Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face; only time stood between one face and another.  And all these forms and faces rested, flowed and reproduced, swam past and merged into each other, and over them all there was continually something thin, unreal and yet existing, stretched across like thin glass or ice, like transparent skin, shell, form or mask of water – and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face which Govinda touched with his lips at that moment.  And Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, this smile of unity over the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths – this smile of Siddhartha – was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had perceived it with awe a hundred times.  It was in such a manner, Govinda knew, that the Perfect One smiled.

Golden Buddha of Langcha, Spiti

Golden Buddha overlooking the Himalayas, Spiti Valley

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