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Padamchen is a small, beautiful village surrounded by lush. dense jungles. At the height of about 8000 ft, the village is perched on hilly slopes. I found it to be one of the most serene, quiet, soul stirring place on old silk route.

From the balcony of our homestay we could see small patches of fields and some trees sloping down and resting on the tops of the trees, who stood there, feet firmly planted somewhere deep down in the valley. Beyond that long stretch of green, mountains rose to reach high in the sky, layers and layers of mountain ranges. And on this perfectly set stage  entered those feather feet blithe dancers, soft white clouds. At a moment they rushed in large group swirling, rivuleting, bursting with energy and in a blink of eyes stage cleared. High, elegant, strong mountains stood vibrating under the impact of stupendous , energetic performance.  And then from far off corner drifted in another group slowly, gracefully, rhythmically. They floated in the outstretched arms of hill,nestling in the comfort of their solidity. The lightness of their movement, the softness of their mudras as if can be touched. We stood their mesmerized by the magnificent, exquisite show of feathery clouds. Then some fluffy ones entered flying on their wings and sat perched on the tips of peaks , as if savouring in the vistas and then slowly moved away to their far off destinations. and then there were some, almost transparent, soft light filtering into their being. They entered with hesitant steps, as if not ready to face the world and then quietly dissolved into thin air. We soaked in this uninterrupted show till the darkness descended from sky and coloured everything around uniformly. What a beautiful, uplifting and liberating experience it was!

 

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In praise of these wonderful clouds, lines from P. B.Shelly —

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.”

 

 

Snuggled in the cozy warmth of blanket that night I slept in the lap of clouds and got up to a refreshingly fresh bright morning. It had rained in the night.

After a hot cup of tea we were out on the clean tar road to explore the neighbourhood. There was no one else except us on the road and in the silence chirping, tweeting of birds on the road side trees could be heard very clearly. Padamchen is reckoned as bird watcher’s, bird photographer’s paradise. Later on I met a lone cow herder on the road and he told me that a group of enthusiastic bird photographers was staying in a guest house for last two-three days. Different kinds of calls emerging from trees told us that there were many species of birds residing there but tracing them in the dense foliage was difficult. Though we could see few while they flew from one to another tree.

From the point at the end of straight road where it turned and climbed upwards we could get a magnificent view of valley and mountains beyond. Those few red, yellow. orange roof tops nestled midst the green wilderness looked inviting. A cloud floated by brushing them gently as if cooing in their ear that another new dawn is knocking on the threshold.

The lone little figure emerged from the greenery below, a school bag on the back. The boy was hardly six or seven years old. Standing there he called his friend but perhaps he from down told that he was not coming . Young fellow started on the road slowly. I asked him. ‘school? so early?’ ‘ no . tuition..and he is not coming.” I had my all sympathy with him. But later on saw a unique scene on that lone road of Padamchen. Saw  same child walking with a young lady, who had an open book in her hand. She was teaching boy some spellings etc . Behind them at a certain distance was another young man with two little girls and he too was teaching them while walking on the road. This certainly looked liked a good plan…fresh air, calm morning and a lesson on time management.

 

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The kid walking to his tuition class

 

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Raushni, the smiling beauty too was off to her school.

 

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Lessons on the road…spelling revision session.

 

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Our hosts at Padamchen

 

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Every face has it’s own story

 

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 Corns hanging outside the hut of our hosts.

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This kind of bowl emitting fragrant smoke  from morning till night is found outside almost every home. Every morning with fresh material it is lighted and hung at a corner at the entrance. I simply loved the idea. You can interpret it in any way you want — prayers for all, welcome gesture for every guest, thankfulness to God. It definitely added to the holy, pious aura of the place.

All the pics — Sunder Iyer

Mankhim view point…….The temple at Mankhim view point is at the height of about 6500 ft and offers a wonderful scenic view of Aritar and hills around it.The temple belongs to Rai community of Nepali origin. The Nandi outside the temple and various tridents in the premises suggest that the temple is dedicated to lord Shiva however the Shivalinga inside temple is in different form than found in other parts of country. Lord here is called Paruhang. Rai, mainly a community of cultivators consider themselves children of Peruhung, who is supposed to reside in Himalayas. Rai people in Sikkim gather here every year to celebrate Sakewa, a festival celebrated for expressing gratitude towards Mother Earth. Sakewa is also known as Bhumi pooja or Chandi pooja. Prayers are offered  for peace and protection of all living  beings and for rich crops and cultivation.

 

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Temple at Mankhim view point.

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Peruhang….inside temple. As it was annual festival time in the valley, we found many youngsters visiting temple in groups and pairs. youngsters clad in western outfits, different colored streaks in hair and half shaved head kind of hairstyles…. taking off their sports shoes and bowing before God with that expression of surrender and reverence….. somehow the sight felt very reassuring.

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Nandi and Kalash in row outside temple.

Besides panoramic view of hills and mountains, from here we can also enjoy the beauty of Lampokhri lake and scenes around it.

 

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and when the blues descend to embrace greens, the dreamscape created is so surreal, so inviting that you close your eyes, stretch your arms and are almost ready to be lost in oblivion…. Niravana kind of feel.

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From up there, the view point, the terrace fields looked like wide spread poetry sheets, nurturing life in their womb.

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 A glimpse of  Lampokhri lake from Mankhim view point. Without the emerald spread all other colours would look so static.

 

Later on we went down to Lampakhori lake. Annual cultural function and fair was going on at the ground near lake so many parked vehicles and an ongoing stream of people filled the area. However the Green placid lake surrounded by hills and trees promised that on quiet days the place would be worth spending some time in one’s own company. It’s not like that I don’t like humans or I like them less but I like nature more, There midst pathless woods I find a different kind of joy, sitting on a roadside rock, looking at the mist covered street dissolving in oblivion ,as if leads me to altogether different vistas  and I love being there.

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Lampakhori lake and the small temple on it’s bank.

 

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A folk dance by seniors in the cultural fair.

 

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A lady in her stall in fair with some handwoven stuff.

 

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And the light of world, little girls in fair, enjoying their day out. Golgappa, pani batasha, pani-puri, fuchkas…. you may call it by different names in different parts of country  but they definitely are high on ladies favourite list, whatever might the age be.

 

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This Gumpa was quite close to our homestay.

Solitude is the language of these small places on Old silk route and ever smiling, hospitable locals add charm to one’s visit there.

Meet some people who made our Aritar stay more enjoyable—-

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She is Pinchu. We met her on our way to Mankhim view point. To reach view point we need to climb a stretch of well laid stairs and on the way is Pinchu’s home, her shop. Her parents provide home stay facility too. While returning from view point we stopped at Pinchu’s shop for sizzling Wai- Wai and hot coffee. Pinchu made our stop over very enjoyable. Very smart girl she is and was handling the customers confidently, offcourse consulting her parents for cost of items etc. As her father was telling us about their homestay facilities and tourist agency at other places too, Pinchu took out his visiting card from the drawer in shop and handed over to us. Her perfect business woman kind of gesture made us laugh aloud. Nobody there even mentioned the visiting card there but she knew what should be done.

 

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And he is Aryum, our homestay owner’s son. Kid with his young companion, Nasima, a girl of eight years filled our hours with pure joy and laughter, which you can enjoy only in the company of innocent kids only. Aryum and Nasima shared a beautiful relationship. Nasima proudly told us that she was a student of class third.

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She is Aryum’s mom, owner of Shangey homestay. wonderfully efficient lady,. I saw her with amazement running on her toes from ground to second floor, attending all the guests with a charming smile, managing her staff, looking into problems of water, electricity supply and kitchen too.

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And the aesthetically decorated dining space of Shangey homestay. We stayed at four or five homestays during this trip but Shangey homestay at Aritar is our most favourite one.

Reliving my memories feels like that rose pressed between the pages of a book, even after ages I can inhale the fragrance and feel fresh.

 

©All the pictures by— sunder iyer

 

 

05.04.2017

From the balcony of first floor of our home stay it felt as if we have been transported to a land of clouds. On the other side of the narrow road, just outside of the doorstep of homestay nothing could be seen. The valley, the trees, the hills beyond, the tiny houses everything was enveloped in the dense grey layers of clouds . We stepped outside. Walking on the gradually rising road felt like literally entering the clouds world. However as we approached closer, trees in the valley became a bit clear. At least we were able to make out the shapes of tall, cylindrical stems and fluttering prayer flags. Last evening we had seen a board of a ‘Chorten of lopenla’, [ Chorten means a Buddist shrine, a saint’s tomb ] the arrow directing towards valley. We decided to step down and explore the vicinity. Walking on the narrow,  gravel paths, stepping on the steps of rocks, running through silent forest gave birth to indescribable emotions….it always does……whose were the steps who first treadled on this path….who were the people who walked on this before us…..felt a kind of connection to all those who passed on that track before me…they made it easier for us to walk…. a bond of gratitude was established. Somehow that feeling made me happier.
After descending for some time we could see an enclosure housing a Stupa like structure and a bright colored room nearby. Rows of white, red, blue, yellow, green colored flags with prayers written on them were tied in a cris-cross way from one tree to another. The prayer flags fluttering rhythmically in a slow pace over our heads were as if showering blessings. We walked on silently and reached at the gate of enclosure.
The enclosure had a small gate which was latched from inside but could be opened from outside. However we stood outside enclosure silently looking at the Stupa with each one engrossed in thoughts of own when we heard a voice from inside the room, ‘ you can enter the enclosure.’ We went inside and by that time the owner of the voice a Buddhist monk too had stepped outside his room. He struck the conversation by asking the usual questions like….from which part of country had we come…..and then invited us to his living quarter……well, that was definitely a new experience for us. We had visited many monasteries in different parts of country before this and had a little bit of interaction with the monks in the premises but had never been to their living rooms.
He is known as Guru ji midst locals there. We had long intimate informal chat. He told us about his life….originally to which place he belongs, how he reached at that particular place, his Guru ji who earlier long back did penance on the spot and after he left for his heavenly abode Guru ji stayed back carrying on the legacy. We talked about his daily routine, travels, thoughts, beliefs, human life, present social changes, even recent political scenario of country. He also told us about a pond up there in hills somewhere in which  red colored flowers  bloom every year at a particular time and earlier locals used to climb upto the pond to pick up those flowers. That period was celebrated as local festival as inhabitants used to gather around the pond, stayed there and celebrated the occasion with folk songs and dances. It was considered an auspicious period. Still few locals go there but now the cultural fair is organized near the lake down. Now the three day cultural event has taken a modernized look though folk dances and songs by participants too are performed on podium.
Guruji also offered us hot, delicious tea prepared by him and chips,  papads fried by him. We were lucky to get prasad which was brought to him from Himalayas by his some fellow brethren.
He chatted with us in a very normal way. Nothing like imposing any rules, thrusting any gyan or establishing any supremacy yet his compassionate smile, the pious aura and fragrance had a kind of cleansing effect on us. In his presence we felt unburdened.
Travels bring us unexpected experiences, learnings and encounters and these enrich us for life time. That morning with Guru ji at Aritar will keep glowing inside me for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pics copyright- Sunder Iyer

Rangoli, Alpana, Kolam,Muggulu, Puvidal, Mandana , Chauk….. you can call it by any name but different patterns adorned on ground on various auspicious occasions all over India speak one language and that is of celebration, welcome and devotion.

In South India drawing the geometrical patterns at the entrance and Pooja room is a daily ritual. Different states have specific design patterns for specific occasions and specific Gods too. In South India these patterns are drawn with dry powder or wet paste of rice powder while in North India it is made with dry wheat flour. With the passage of time various other mediums are also being used to draw Rangolis. Innovations and experiments with new design patterns are also seen but the spirit of these motifs still reverberate on the same tune.

The design galore on ghats of Varanasi on Dev Deepawali day was spectacular.The magnificent display of patterns, designs, colors and lights was mesmerizing.Ghats after ghats one could see old ladies to young girls busy in drawing designs, filling those with colors, decorating with diyas.  Witnessing  three generations involved enthusiastically to fill the world with beauty and sacredness gave a deep reassuring feel. Air was filled with Shlokas, Bhajans.Innumerable lighted earthen lamps in flower bowls floated slowly, rhythmically, steadily on quiet Ganges. These tiny dots of light on wide  waters of holy river bathed in inky darkness filled the heart with gratitude and peace. Big round moon in the sky smiled benevolently  as if granting boon.

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All pics by Sunder Iyer.

Few days ago I got to spend few hours with this ninety two year old gentleman with varied experiences of life. He takes care of this ages old temple but does not hold a good opinion of so called Sadhus and babas. He prefers to communicate with we grahasth [family] persons, who according to him happen to be more enriched spiritually.
He lived with Sri Govind Ballabh Pant, the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, when he practiced as an advocate and Our country was under British rule.He started his first government job with salary of Rs forty per month, did his char dham yatra on foot from Haridwar.He shared lots of memories of the days when entry of Indians was banned in Hazaratganj after four P.M. as that was the time British offiicials and their families used to come there for enjoying their evenings.He also shared how there was scarcity of educated people and posts in government offices, seats in higher educational courses lay vacant for want of candidates.
This temple where he now resides is ages old. He told us that no body knows who built it originally. years ago it lay surrounded by dense forest on the bank of river. Dacoits, bandits and freedom fighters too took shelter here.When he arrived here then also it was surrounded by dense forest and forty to forty five snake couple resided in the vicinity…and why not after all it is an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva.It is said that plastering of the temple structure has been done by the mixture of Urad dal [ black lentil] pulp of Ber [ indian plum / jujubi] and chasani [syrup of Gur[jaggery]

Talking to him was like turning pages of a old history book nay more interesting and enthralling. He created wonderful imagery while narrating his travel experiences of mountains and the underlying spiritual essence provided hope and strength.

 

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

It’s raining heavily . Outside the glass-pan of window the down pour has created a hazy screen.No wind is blowing at all. The single tree visible from my seat stands facing the lashing silently. It was a green, blooming tree few days ago. The green wide canopy interspersed with bright yellow delicate bunches of flowers filled the heart with dream and romance. With every wisp of air the hanging chandelier like flowers danced rhythmically. Some times few flowers from the bunch came down dancing softly with the wind and on a really windy day the ground below was carpeted yellow. The tree was a source of joy to us. but that day people from electricity department arrived and cut all it’s outstretched arms as those reached the high voltage wire running above. Now the stem with few butchered branches and leaves hanging desolately stand bare . But the tree has not lost it’s dignity. Under the incessant lashing rain it stand firmly holding it’s ground as if bearing with equanimity it’s fate and look there is this small bunch of three-four fresh green leaves peeping out from that bleeding crevice. To me they feel like angels of hope…..if calamity falls upon, the bright time can’t be far behind.

Sri Dakhinmurthy is the form of Shiva that depicts Him as cosmic guru, imparting wisdom which enlightens and enriches. The iconographic depiction of the form though not consistent mostly illustrates Shiva in a seating posture, under a Vat Vriksha, His right leg stretching down resting on a dwarfish demon.This demon symbolically represents lack of knowledge. In the fresco at Lepakshi though Shiva’s foot does not rest on demon but he can be seen near His foot. As Dakhinmurthy extolls Shiva in supreme teacher form, His one hand is shown in gyan mudra. Normally Rishis, munis are seen sitting on the ground near Him imbibing the divine words.But in this mural at Lepakshi the artists have mingled the prevelent local cultural influences. On Shiva’s head rests a cap like Sufi saints. Jana receiving/ arriving to receive the Gyan are seen dressed like Sultans and Muslim saints. Creatures from Hindu mythology too can be seen and near the demon is perhaps standing goddess Parvati. The creative liberty mixed in right dozes with mythological references makes this mural an interesting document of history, culture, spiritual beliefs and interpretation.

 

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Kiratharjuniyam is a sanskrit Mahakavya composed by Bhairavi narrating the story of severe penance by Arjun to obtain weapon Pashupatha from Lord Shiva in order to defeat Kaurava in the battle and the in between incidents till he finally becomes successful in his mission.

Fresco below depicts one of the scenes from Kiratharjuniyam.Perhaps a scene from the very beginning of the story where Vyas muni advises Arjuna to obtain weapon Pashupatha. Though fresco has suffered a lot through ages yet muni can be seen clearly.The lady in black can be Draupadi and the figure next to her one of the Pandavas.Or may be it depicts Arjuna asking permission of Yudhisthara to leave to forest for doing penance.Whatever it might be despite the damage due to vagaries of time the intricacies of human features, ornaments etc is very endearing.

 

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This one is the boar hunt scene from Kiratharjuniyam — Arjun tried to attack boar from one side while Lord Shiva, disguised as  Kirath attacked from other side. During hunt Arjun realized that it is not any ordinary Kirath and Shiva appeared before him in His real form and later on granted the boon of weapon Pashupatha.

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Below are the scenes of Draupadi’s svayamvara. On leftmost side is shown Kala-Bhairava  with eight arms holding a severed human head and a bowl and His vahana dog is depicted nearby. Two persons, one short and another tall are shown in front of him, one of them would be Drupad worshiping his tutelary God. Next on right is King Drupad , Draupadi, his daughter is shown seated on his lap.This made me remember a ritual of marriages in South India being carried out till date, where the bride sits on the lap of father while the bride groom ties the Thali [ Mangalsutra} and Kanyadan is performed. How deeply rooted and connected are our rituals, customs etc. Next on right, in front of Drupad, Arjuna is shown shooting the matsya-yantra (fish dial) with an arrow looking its reflection in the water below the dial. This follows by the marriage of Arjuna with Draupadi.

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Draupadi Swayamvara.

Here are shown Virupanna and Viranna  worshiping their tutelary deity, Veerbhadra, with their family members.As per a legend, the Veerbhadra temple was constructed by Virupanna using the state treasury. The king came to know about it and announced the punishment that Virupanna  be blinded. When Virupanna heard this order, he executed it on his own on the same spot. Local guides will show you the place inside the temple where they say Virupanna threw his eyes.

 

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Virupannas retinue

Here is Goddess Parvati with her friends and attendants. May be a scene before marriage of Shiva – Parvati. It is a lively piece of painting. The attires, the hair styles…variety is astonishing and reflects the skill of artist to capture trends of the time beautifully.

 

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Parvati with friends and attendants.

This one next to the above one depicts the most favourite theme of the artists of yester years India….Shiva – Parvati marriage

 

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There are many others mythological anecdotes painted there —a mural depicting King Muchukunda, the monkey-faced legendary Chola king who is attributed to have established Lord Thyagaraja at the Tiruvarur temple from the heavens,   Shiva and Parvati playing Chess, coronation of Rama,Nataraja dancing while other demi- Gods played various musical instruments and a large panel depicting the story of the legendary just king Manunidhi Cholan etc.

Veerbhadreshwara temple at Lepakshi is one of the greatest treasure of murals and frescos .These jewels of art not only depict the mythological themes but also documents the prevalent trends of social life of that time.

 

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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