.25.10.2017

The Sunrise

We decided to have a date with rising sun on Matanga hill. Started climbing the steps to top at about 5 A.M. It was quite dark. Though steps are there but not well laid down. Diversions too are there in between hence it is advisable to be accompanied by some local person while venturing on hills in dark. If possible take a torch with you. We had our auto wallah with us. The climb is not too high. We reached the top in about twenty five to thirty minutes time. Four persons — two girls and a young couple were already there with their cameras all set and ready to capture the majestic entrance of sun. We too settled down on the side facing valley and hills beyond.

I feel we can never appreciate the charisma of sunrise to it’s full extent if we have not waited for it in the darkness. The tranquility all around, the soft silky wisps of air, the mystique translucency of darkness and that expectant gaze fixed on horizon for the glimpse of the first hint of emergence of sun….every thing for the time being as if stood still. Slowly the sky behind the hills started changing colours. Just a hint, little bit of diffused light. Chains of hills, the boulders in the valley stirred slowly into existence.  The illuminated clouds were suffused with ethereal glow.Hearts set on prayer tune with batted breath we waited and then we felt it…. the red orb behind the clouds. Slowly the curtain parted and there was the smiling , big red sun on grayish blue sky. To hold an eye to eye communication with the celestial being was a divine experience. Slowly I let go my breath. The realization dawned upon me then only that I was holding it . With this descended a feeling of being burden free, a quiet strength to face to face what lies ahead.

 

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I stood up to look around. Down there in the valley the entire  Achyut Rai temple complex lay spread. We have been to this temple day before but this aerial view presented entirely different perspective. The gopuram stood high. The temple enclosures spread wide but the entire complex mingled homogeneously with the surrounding rocky terrain. Not only this temple complex, ribbon like serpentine Tungbhadra, the roads meandering through the green trees, big rocks jutting out into the valley,each and every boulder scattered all around, the big tall trees, the tiny blades of grass… all looked like an essential part of a bigger scheme of thing. The scene before eyes filled the heart with all embracing emotions. The elevated perspectives do widen and deepen our thoughts.

 

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View of Achyutrai temple from Matanga hill …. If one wants one can come down from hill and directly go to visit this temple.

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Every boulder there has a story etched in it’s heart.

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The Tungabhadra….

By this time the silky golden sun rays had descended on the earth. The delicate tufts of slender grass blades on hill top glistened with fresh beauty. Gentle morning zypher tickled the grass blades and they danced with mirth. I turned around and for the first time noticed a modest white colored top of temple on the rock.

 

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Veerbhadra temple

This is Veerbhadra temple. In fact while coming up we passed through the courtyard of this temple and then ascended steps to reach the hill top. But due to darkness we couldn’t notice the arch of entrance, the courtyard .Most of the part of the temple is in ruined condition yet a long covered varandah with view to valley was kept clean by the Sadhu, who frequents this temple. In the niche of the verandah in a dark corner we found two idols too . The main shrine is of Veerbhadra. It is a cult of Shiva followers and it appears that during it’s prime time significant number of Humpi population followed this cult. Veerbhadra is one of the raudra form Shiva.

 

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Gopuram of Veerbhadra temple.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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A view from covered verandah of Veerbhadra temple. Many such mandpam are found on hills ,on way to temple.

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veerbhadra Swami…. The main deity of temple.

The sadhu in the temple informed us that still an annual fair takes place there and many pilgrims belonging to a particular community and cult gather here in large number.

 

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The Sadhu we met in the temple. He was making these trinkets with thread tatting and displayed them for sale.

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view of Virupaksha temple from Matanga Hills.

Mythological references

As per our mythological stories Matanga Rishi is one of the very first crusader against untouchability. By birth he belonged to  lower caste. Caste system at that time used to be very rigid. Once unknowingly he crossed the path of princess of the kingdom and was beaten for this so called offense. He protested against this injustice outside king’s palace and  later on attained a place and respect of a Rishi by his severe penance, knowledge and divine powers.

We find another reference of Matanga Rishi  in Aranyakand of Ramayana. Near Hampi on another side of Tungabhadra it’s Kishkindha Kshetra. The kingdom of strong,powerful monkey king Bali. The story goes like this.

Once a mighty bull named DunDubhi arrived at Bali’s kingdom and challenged him to fight. Bali could never ignore a challenge hence he fought with him. After a long and ferocious fight Bali killed Dundubhi. He caught the corpse of mighty bull with two horns, raised it high in air and threw it far. The corpse landed on Yagnavedi of Matanga Rishi at Rishyamuk parvat. Matanga Rishi cursed that who so ever has polluted his Yagna would be blown into pieces if he ever stepped on this hill. Indra informed Bali about this curse in presence of Sugreev and Hanuman and this curse of Matanga Rishi proved to be a boon to Sugreev.  When due to certain misunderstanding Bali was after Sugreev’s life, Sugreev along with Hanuman ran to this hill only as Bali could not dare to step on this due to Matanga Rishi’s curse.

I feel most of us know about Shabri. The lady who tasted every Jujuberry fruit in her basket before offering it to Rama, when during his fourteen year exile period he once happened to meet her. Shabri was disciple of Matanga Rishi.

And that was glorious start of the day for us…..divine sunrise, enriching emotions, panoramic nature specters, people we met, faith and belief. Matnga hills. I wrote this morning with sunrise colours, dipped in early morning scent and kept it deep in my heart.

 

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“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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Stepwells in India came into existence long long back. They were born out of necessity, simple water reservoir kind of structure. They were dug deep into earth and steps were created so that villagers could reach the lowest level during dry hot months when water level recedes considerably…
during monsoon torrential rains filled these wells and that guaranteed the year long uninterrupted supply of water.
These stone cistern looking down deep into heart of earth were marvels of architecture even in their most simplest forms and some of those which evolved in their structures are astounding to look at.
One such step well is Chand Baoli in Abhaneri in Rajasthan.
We started from jaipur very early in the morning and after spending few hours at Bhangarh we covered Abhaneri too the same day. Though before visiting Chand baori I had read about it and seen pictures too but nothing prepared me for the astounding magnificence of the structure. Symmetrical steps running down in an identical pattern on the three side walls of massive reservoir created an impact of rhythmical, harmonious ode… an ode it is..ode to the skill, craftsmanship and imagination of those artist/ sculptors of bygone era.
The terraced steps walk down to almost thirteen levels and each level is said to be of about five feet. The number of steps carved is said to be approximately 3500. At the end water lay studded like a precious stone in the frame of the ring. On the fourth side are built three pillared enclosures, on the pillars facing water are sacred images of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha.

It is said that the place was earlier known as Abhanagari which later on was distorted into Abhaneri. Chand Bawari was built in 8th to 9th century by Chand Raja, the then ruler of the area. The Bawari is named after him only. It is said that long back there were two rivers in the area Bana river and Sang river. This bawari was built between these two rivers in such a way that during rainy season when the level of water in the rivers used to rise, the water flowed into the Bawari. I think that served two purposes … if at all the torrential rains threatened to submerge the area in floods, that danger was completely obliterated and second one of course the obvious one, the water was stored in the well to be used during summers when there was scarcity of water. Today also it is said that level of water during monsoon rises about three levels from below.
We were also told that originally on the fourth side was a ramp going down. This was built for taking down the animals to drink water. Later on that small summer palace was built by Raja Man Singh first. There are rooms in which royal family used to rest seeking refuge from the scorching heat of summers. Not only for royal family the steps of the well also served as sanctuary for travellers and common public providing them cool respite from hot sun above. This place also served as an arena for public meetings conducted by royal family. villagers used to sit on the steps on three sides while king, queen and other dignitaries of importance sat on the chhataris built on fourth side. What a multi utilitarian structure ! and to this day the astounding master piece stand there quenching our thirst for aesthetic and beauty.
Chand Baori, it’s premises, the lawns surrounding it – all are very well maintained, neat, clean, sparkling.
In the premises around the bawari runs covered verandahs on three sides. These verandahs serve as a kind of open museum of a number of finest sculpted, carved idols. It is said that these sculptures were part of the adjacent Harshat mata temple. The temple was plundered and destroyed/damaged by Mahmud Gazhani . Later on these sculptures scattered all over the area were collected and kept here. The temple still is there. But I shall talk about the temple and beautiful sculptures in my another post.
outside Chand bowri there is a small market where besides few eateries one can also find few shops of local handicrafts.

 

Locals there told us that on way back to Jaipur from Abhaneri if we have time we can also visit Bhandarej ki Bawari. From Dausa this bawari is about three km. away. We didn’t go there due to paucity of time in hand but thought of mentioning it, if some other enthusiast is interested in exploring.bundi_23nw

closer to the heart of earth runs the nectar of life

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Asymmetry might be compelling but then symmetry is so comforting.

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All Pictures by Sunder Iyer

It was a cool January morning when we started from Jaipur to Bhangarh. The ride of about 52 Km. was full of beautiful pastoral scenes – small villages, green fields. Just before entering the limits of Bhangarh we passed through this village of idol, statues makers. the narrow muddy lane was lined by scores of statues of all sizes. Some were almost ready and stood tall in full glory while others lay scattered in semi finished states waiting for their turn to get shaped. There were Gods, Goddesses. dancers, angels, animals, flowers all carved out of white marble. outside every house of the village we could see these images.
On the way we stopped at two places to confirm the direction of Bhangarh. In front of a humble small house a middle aged man was working, we stopped the vehicle and enquired about the distance and direction. After guiding us suitably spontaneously he invited us to have some water, a gesture to welcome the guests. It really felt very good. The warm hearted traditions of our culture are still being followed/ preserved at least in some corners of our country. We had the same experience at other place too. Soul of soil still breaths.

Ruins of Bhangarh are known as the most haunted place of India or perhaps Asia too. Nobody is allowed to stay there after sunset. Prohibitory orders by archeological department to this effect are displayed on a board at the site. There are many versions of the story about Bhangarh ruins, the fate of the place. But today here I am not going to talk about the haunting quotient of the place as we didn’t go there to explore that. We visited Bhangarh as a tourist place and the ruins communicated with me in a very different language.

After entering the first gate we walked on a neat, smooth cobbled path lined from both the sides by rows of roofless one rooms structures.It clearly gave an impression of being a market place.The walls were of boulders and in certain structures few stairs were seen, may be once they led to roof top or there was a first floor. Behind the rows of shops [ i will call them shops only] on one side at a distance spire of a temple could be seen amidst swaying green tops of trees. The area in between was strewn with piles of rocks, boulders while green stamped it’s presence emphatically in all kinds of forms, from tiny grass blades to shady, thick canopy of huge trees. On other side behind the rows of shops various structures of ruins stood every where and behind these overlooking the entire scene was a continuous chain of hills, laden with greenery.
There were other groups of tourists too in the premises . Murmurs of voices could be heard in distance but overall, the serenity and quiet reigned.
At the end of the market there is another high , imposing gate. Crossing that the first structure we visited was Gopinath temple. The temple stands on a high platform. After ascending five-six steps we reached the open platform and sat there for some time imbibing the all around scenes. On one side of temple was open ground covered with green grass beyond which certain structures were visible and farther loomed the Aravali hills. Behind the temple at some distance stood the ruins of palace elegant in their deprivation closer to the heart of hills.As far as the eyes reached the roofless labyrinth of ruins as if whispered every thing on this earth comes with a definite span, everything comes to an end. But the message was conveyed in such a soothing serene way that it didn’t make me afraid rather a sense of calm acceptance pervaded the being.
In the temple is a sanctum sanctorum and in front of sanctum is a circular space with ornately carved ceiling and beautifully paneled pillars. The inverted bowl shaped canopy and pillars have intricately carved images of dancers and musicians. This kind of music enclosures in front of sanctum was perhaps quite prevalent in ancient times. I have found so in many other old temples in different parts of our country. There is one in Lepakshi at Andhra Pradesh, one such circular one I saw in a temple at Pithoragarh. I am sure there are many examples of it places like Hampi etc. Singing, dancing, chanting have always been a part of our worshiping rituals. There is no idol inside sanctum. The only functional temple in the premises is Somesvara temple, the one devoted to Lord Shiva. Besides these two there are Hanuman temple. Kesav Rai temple and Mangla Devi temple .
On the extreme right of the palace there was this broken wall. I climbed on it and sat there for quite some time. Many feet down on the other side of the wall was dense growth of Kevra plants.A thin curved ribbon like kachcha path passed near it and then lost itself in the dense darkness of the forest ahead. Sitting there I could feel the green of earth touching the blue over head at a very very far point. A curtain of mist hung there as if trying to cover the sacred, the mystique from harsh, peering doubtful souls or may be signifying that what lies beyond, the sacred, the unknown is not perceivable through eyes. That was my moment of ultimate midst the ruins of Bhangarh. I did not feel fear of unknown, paranormal. I did not experience that overt enthusiasm of exploring, trekking. Rather I lived the serenity, breathed the calm.

History of Bhangarh —
It is said that Bhangarh was established somewhere in 1573 by Bhagwant Das. Bhagwant Das got it established as the residence of his younger son Madho Singh. Madho Singh was younger brother of famous Man Singh, general of emperor Akbar. After Madho Singh his son Chhatr Singh ruled over Bhangarh but after his death in 1630, Bhangarh started declining slowly. Later on Jai Singh II took control of Bhangarh . The famine of 1783 came as a final blow to gradually diminishing population of Bhangarh. It is said since then it lay uninhabited.

Folklores related to Bhangarh —

Though historians attribute famine as reason of the abandonment and destruction of Bhangarh the folklore have their own tales to tell.

According to one legend Bhangarh perished due to curse of Guru Balunath. Guru Balunath was the person who permitted the establishment of Bhangarh at the place under one condition that shadow of the palace should never fall on his abode and the day it happened so, the town will be perished. To honour his words initially the palace of Bhangarh was erected upto three storeys.However later on when one of the rulers added a storey to the existing palace, it cast a shadow on Guru Balunath’s residence and the town came to it’s end as prophesied. It is said that Balunath lay buried in a small samadhi in Bhangarh.

There is another a more interesting legend related to Bhangarh, Ratnavati, the princess of Bhangarh was very beautiful. And there was a Tantrik named Singhia. He was master of many occult practices, He lived on a hill overlooking the palace, Once by chance he happened to have a glimpse of princess’s face and fell in love with her immediately. He knew that she can never be his so he planned to bring princess under the influence of his occult practices. He used his black magic on the oil to be used by princess. Singhia was sure once the princess used that oil she would come running to him and surrender, It is said that the princess too had some knowledge of black magic and she could decipher Singhia’s plan. She threw that oil on a big boulder which ran towards Singhia and crushed him to death but before breathing his last the Tantrik cursed that Bhangarh would perish soon. Soon after there was a war between Ajabgarh and Bhangarh in which the royal family, army and most of the population of Bhangarh was wiped off.

How to reach Bhangarh —
Bhangarh lies in Alwar district. nearest airport is of Jaipur and nearest railway station is Dausa. Distance of Jaipur is about 52 Km and Dausa is about 22 Km. Drive from Delhi is about of 300 Km. Route is Delhi, Gurgaon, Bhiwadi, Alwar, Thanagazhi, Ajabgarh ,Bhangarh. From Jaipur cabs can be hired . If you have only one day spare in hands then too can go to Bhangarh and even cover Abhaneri stepwell, one of the biggest and most beautiful stepwell. Sariska tiger reserve is about eighty Km from Bhangarh fort and the road is scenic and beautiful. However locals can guide you to many small yet beautiful places, temples in the vicinity.

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The way through the market. This must have been once the bustling, colourful place but then time always has it’s own story to write.

 

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Temples in the premises.

 

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Front view of the remains of palace. Graceful in it’s silence, wrapped in another time zone.

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She is Munni, I met her while we were exiting the palace. She comes there with a bucket full of drinking water for tourists. Her small source of earning.

 

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view of Gopinath temple, Surreal, misty , calm inviting one to the world beyond

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My ‘it’ moment of intimacy with Bhangarh ruins….. soul to soul communication

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the ornate ceiling of Gopinath temple

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 Somesvara temple.

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Met him in the verandha of ruined palace. From that height today’s world looked far away. He has many a tales of beliefs from his childhood to this age. ….kind of suspended moment.

Fixing my gaze on scattered ruins, the high arc of the gate, the temple, the palace , the crumbling fortification I was transported into the stage of deep meditation. Silence and solitude penetrated and spread within. Something of that ancient world came fleeting and nestled inside reassuringly.

 

All pictures by Sunder Iyer,

As we started climbing upwards from Padamchen to Nathang scenery around us started changing. The greens receded back and brown, grey dominated the screen . It was not a bright day. Sky too was laden with grey clouds. However as we moved forward patches, heaps of white crystallized snow could be seen on the sides of road. May be it was a day old or so. The sparkling sheen had diminished a bit yet it added a delicacy to otherwise brown sternness of high, mighty mountains. somewhere snow clung to the wide powerful chests of mountains as if feeling secured in their solidity.

 

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Further up and we were engulfed in whiteness. Except the road we were traveling on, it was white everywhere and snow there was soft like cotton balls,,,,fresh cool, soft snow. In the background at a distance mountains created a chain of rising falling waves on grey waters. At some places solid sheet of pewter sky watched over us unblinking while on other occasions white, grey clouds floated in like rosette and on still another moment the sailing clouds formed a translucent curtain pushing everything under it’s fold, creating a mystical world, tempting us to plunge head-along in their depths to soar in that world beyond.

 

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Mountains don their snow robes with an unmatched sublimity. The grace with which they let snow clad them in different patterns add to their majestic grandeur and how they appear to smile with indulgence.

 

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On the way intermittently military establishments and few hutments lay under the shadow of the mountains where snow does not melt even in summers. From a distance candy coloured green, yellow, rust , sloping roofs of barracks and huts added a bit of brightness. How hard is life up there for the people due to whom we can nestle in the warmth of our homes and hearths. We can never show enough gratitude to these brave hearts.

 

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And then there were lakes — It is said that Sikkim has about 225 lakes and innumerable water falls. We on our trip came across three main lakes.

Manju lake … At the height of 136oo ft.  Manju lake lay nestled amidst high snow clad mountains. Nathula pass is about seven Km. from this lake. The serenity, the calm was overwhelming.

 

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Manju Lake

Kuppup lake or elephant lake … every tourist on old silk route visit this lake. We were on the spot in the first week of April. The lake was partially frozen and partially melted. We walked upto nearby ridge to have a complete view of lake, valley and snow laden mountains beyond the lake. On the other side of the road too white fluffy carpet of snow stretched over the hills, mountains . Cold gusty wind was blowing. Grey clouds rushed off and on displaying their antics. At a moment clouds went down embracing the lake and at another lifting their frilly gown they rushed back to the other side of mountain ranges. At yet another the clouds cautiously peeped down from the peaks watching their reflections in the crystal clear waters of the lake and then unable to restrain themselves they ran down hand in hand with the winds to bless us with their feathery nearness. It was chilling, it was freezing yet such mesmerizing was the beauty unfolded before us that we stood there rooted on the spot. Kuppup lake is called elephant lake as when frozen completely it resembles an elephant in shape, however we were able to trace down the trunk.

 

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From elephant lake we proceeded to Changu lake, also called Tsomgo lake. The lake at an altitude of about 12400 ft. lay nestled in the arms of high snow clad mountains.This is one of the highly revered lake of Sikkim.  It is a sacred lake both for Buddhists and Hindus.

This was the tourist season so the lake has many visitors, every group enjoying as per their own taste and interest.There is a temple at the bank of lake and beyond that high snow covered mountains. In this season trekking on the mountains can be enjoyed. Gum boots, canes and all other accessories facilitating the trek could be hired in the nearby small, local market.Rows of decorated yaks stood there with their masters to give a ride to visitors.

But despite all the tourist humbug if you want to be alone with the lake, you can easily do that. Walk a few feet away and the blue waters start whispering the mystical chants flowing down from the lands of the high peaks of mountains. Somewhere up there, beyond our reach, lies a world  cradled and caressed by fluffy floating clouds. And I want it to be there only, far away from us, beckoning and reassuring. They say that the lake gets completely frozen in winters and then perhaps angels float down on glassy white surface of the lake to dance and enjoy under a clear star lit sky.

 

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A quiet time with Changu lake

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yak riding, trekking on other side of the lake

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The temple

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Waiting for their turn

 

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The snow, the mountains, the peaks, the valleys, the streams, the lakes, the winding paths, the sky, the clouds. mesmerizing, panoramic scenes all stirred kaleidoscopic emotions but my heart overflowed with feelings of gratitude and reverence for these quiet, dignified, brave sentinels, They represent the real spirit of mountains.

 

All the pics 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