While I Waited

I had been to my son’s college to complete certain formalities of admission. I filled a form, and was asked to wait. There were a few others waiting as well. I found these two people interesting to study and paint.

There was a Reading Room close to where I waited. I found these two students absorbed in what they were doing.

As I entered the college I found this young man texting a message from his mobile phone. After completing my work, when I got ready to leave, an hour later, he was still there reclining on his car, and texting some message!

And I wasn’t done with waiting . At a junction my car was held up for nearly five minutes in the traffic. 

Rohtang La

Rohtang La or the Rohtang Pass is the gateway to the Lahaul -Spiti valley from the Kulu valley. This pass is significant in many ways. At 13,054 feet it serves as a sharp geographical and climatic divide. It divides the sub-humid Kulu valley with its green vegetation of  pine and deodar trees from the arid Lahaul valley with very little green cover. To the south of the pass, River Beas emerges from underground as a small spring and flows southward as a roaring river fed by the melting snow. To the north of the pass flows River Chandra which is one of the streams that feeds another important river of India, the Chenab.

It rained the first few days afer we reached Manali and the road to the Rohtang Pass remained closed due to landslides.  On further enquiry we got to know that at no given day is it a smooth ride to the pass. Rains make the road slushy and the large amount of tourists driving up to the pass cause a traffic  jam. This is the road that leads to Leh and Ladakh, and this is also the military route during the summer months, used by the Indian army to take supplies to Indian soldiers at the Indo-Pakistan border. Considering all these we have to take a chance, go as far as we can in the car, and trek the rest of the distance. We were prepared to do that, and that was the least I could do, considering that I so  much desired to visit Kardang Gompa or Kardang monastery, 8 kms from the town Keylong in the   Lahaul – Spiti valley. We were discouraged from doing this owing to heavy rains in the region. We could be delayed for days if roads got  closed due to landslide. We had our return tickets booked and had commitments to come back to. So we decided to travel into the lap of the Himalayas another time !

Our drive to Rohtang La took us five hours, the road as expected was bad. Cars got stuck in the slush and we waited at various points till the traffic cleared. I had nothing to complain, the view of the Kulu valley from that point was breathtaking. I took photographs and painted.


We reached the Rohtang Pass and stood on this large clearing where rolls of mountains appeared to take a deep breath before rolling on again. This is a flat surface, wind swept, to the south is the green Kulu valley and to the north the mesmerising Lahaul valley. The beauty was too much to take, we had to slow our palpitations with a cup of tea and what better place for me than this: if I can’t make it to the Buddhist monastery I was glad to have my bowl of noodles and Tibetian tea from the Buddhist Dhaba!

We drove down the Lahaul valley for a few kilometres, parked our vehicle near a glacier that broke into a fast running stream, with  a beautiful view of the Chandra river, dark and muddy, flowing deep down the gorge. We walked around, the cold breeze was stinging and blew at a high velocity. It carried  away my paper a couple of times as I painted, my son ran and got back the paper. There was no one around , just my husband, my son and me with the mountains and the river.

 
Up there all clouds rain, we were warned.  As we sat near the freezing glacier the sky darkened for a brief while and we thought there would be a heavy rain that would run us into all kinds of trouble. Providentially it didn’t rain but the sky for an hour  remained a magical turquoise blue of a young night.


 On our return from the Lahaul valley we stopped at the stupa on the Rohtang Pass, many faithful hearts have left prayers here. The prayer flags fluttered in the breeze, the wind had brought down the poles that carry these flags. A prayer the colour of ruby lay close to where I stood: I added my prayers to this flag.  

Prayer

I packed my art supplies and went for long walks, and this was what I saw of the rolls of mountains that tumbled away beyond the Rohtang pass to the Lahoul valley on their way miles miles away to Leh. As I painted I dreamed that I was travelling there to the land of yaks, glaciers and Buddhist monasteries.

These are paintings and colour sketches, like the others on the Manali series,  that I did at the spot. I did not work on them after I came back to my room. I want the paintings to carry my wishes and prayers to  travel across these mountains one day, to where ever it leads!


Drink Cups Of Clouds

After hours on the road to Lake Parashara, hot tea was a welcome, even more if your glass got filled with the clouds around you. 

At the edge of a precipice overlooking the lake sits a small restaurant where noodles, rice and hot rajma  are served. The speciality is of course the dollops of clouds that get spooned into your steaming tea.

Inside the temple complex dedicated to Sage Parashara is a chai ka dukhan called Thakur Tea Stall, here too clouds lend a salty taste to your tea.

There Was Once This Man Called Parashara

There is a lake and a thirteenth century temple dedicated to Sage Parashara at 2730 metres above sea level in the Himachal range of the Himalayas, about 120 kms from Manali town.

It took us about 5 hours to reach the lake from Manali town. There were practically no tourists that we encountered on the way. Villages lay behind roughly hewn paths that we saw meander behind high rocks, we saw shepherds sunning on rocks that hung out as dangerous cliffs while their sheep climbed precipitous slopes. Brooks flowed between cracks carrying water that melted down from peaks somewhere far away, we drove through such streams that were pebbled neat with round stones.


As we drove higher, deeper into the rolls of mountains we had only the clouds for company.


When we reached the destination the view of the lake and the temple was breathtaking, nothing close to what I imagined. The lake looked like a luminent drop of large pearl teasing light on its surface.


The temple was more tantalising than the lake, for a moment it was revealed when the clouds lifted


at another, the temple pulled its hat down the ears


and then it was perfect when the lake reflected the beautiful temple.


This was the place the Rig Vedic sage Parashara meditated, and the temple from the 13th century was built in the fashion of Buddhist pagodas with wood (a single deodar tree) and stone slats.

Sage Parashara was the grandson of Sage Vasishta and the son of Shakti Muni. Parashara was a teacher of great repute, he was what was called a travelling preceptor. He is believed to be the author of several works, one being on astrology, and the other called ‘Parashara Smriti’ is a handbook on code of living. There are several references to Sage Parashara in the Vedas where he is alluded to as the speaker on various instances or as a teacher addressing his disciples. There is also an opinion that there were many  Parasharas because the historical dates of the works attributed to him do not match.

Vedic period is dated roughly 1500 BCE to 700 BCE. The epic period when  ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ were written/compiled is attributed  approximately to 500 BCE to 400 BCE, and the Puranas were compiled during the Gupta period around 400 CE. Compilation or documentation of the Vedas, epics and Puranas should not be confused with the time that these works were created. None of the Vedas or epics or Puranas were created at a specific historical time, they were created over a period of time and remained in oral form before being compiled/written/redacted.

Parashara who probably lived in the Vedic period (or even before)  is fleshed out in the epic ‘Mahabharata’ where he is the  lover of Satyavati, the  beautiful daughter of  a fisherman chieftan.

Here are my interpretations of Satyavati and Parashara and their love child Vyasa.

PARASHARA AND SATYAVATI 

He seeks her in the crevices under the arms –
smell of fish, the river bed, weeds that dance in the water;

she ferries him across the Ganga, dreams in her eyes
like the distant moon, blue in a honeyed night.

In the velvety darkness through speeding currents
in the folds of her misted skin he inhales

the smell of worms and algae that swim
in the depths of her eyes; as the pool of passion

surges and stirs, he ingests fragrance of the musk
under her breasts that roll down the waist like heads of

sleepy children. She is no longer a secret he carries
in his loins, she has spilled into kingdoms far and in history.

SATYAVATI AND VYASA

The man from the mountains
ferreted out the fish girl; feet sore

with calluses, he descended the hills
like a mountain lion and sniffed her skin

scaled in water. (He stepped out the river boat
water at the bottom slurped, a hood over

his head he disappeared beyond the copse
to a path that took him again to the mountains.)

Like a sprig of herb ruffled by breeze 
smelling of radiance, in the warmth

between her legs she cradled silence.
A word snarled in skeins of sounds

swelled in her belly, looped into tales
till the tangles stretched her uterus;

her story got written in her womb
where the Kuru dynasty swam:   

Vyasa birthed Satyavati and the Kuru clan,
blurring who mothered whom.

Read more about Satyavati here.

For convenience I could write Vyasa is the author of the epic ‘Mahabharata’.  Vyasa narrated  the story through dialogues between two characters – the  blind king Dhritrashtra and his charioteer. Vyasa’s version of the epic is called ‘Jaya’ . Vyasa narrated the story to his  disciple Vaishampayana who inturn  narrated the story to Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna, the Pandava prince. The version of the epic by Vaishampayana is called ‘Bharata’. This version of the story is embedded in the narration of  Ugrashrava (a suta / storyteller) who recited the tale many years later to sages gathered at the Naimisha forest. Ugrashrava’s version of the epic came to be called ‘The Mahabharata’.  These are the three major redactions of the epic leaving aside the innumerable interpolations in the text through the ages. 

My world of stories and my creative subconscious  is arid without Vyasa and Mahabharata. But who is Vyasa, are Parashara and Satyavati only characters in a story?  Parashara is mentioned in the Vedic verses and Vyasa who is the author of a story is also a character in the story, and great attention has been paid to construct his identity in this story within the story. Is master storytelling all about the manner legends and myths fudge history?

Actually I did not burden my brain with all these questions when I was up there. I was busy with these:

 

Where Industrious Apple Pickers Block The Road

Naggar is a small and sleepy town, more a village, that was once the capital of the Kulu kingdom. Such illustrious history sits light on the shoulders of the small town that seeks contentment in its quiet and peaceful lanes,  tea shops that serve scalding hot milky tea. Every house in this town has an apple tree or two, if not an apple orchard.

As we drove past this town to Jana falls we crossed villages that were tucked silently in the valley below. Smoke curled from the kitchens that gathered ample cabbages and cauliflowers from the gardens in the backyards. We saw that the houses were raised on stilts and the mountain slopes hewn for terrace cultivation. Rice was cultivated in the terraces that had turned into troughs of water.


We came to a village where the young and old, men and women were gathering apples from the trees, and crates of apples were being loaded in trucks. The  traffic on the road was halted for these industrious people. I was glad at this opportunity to walk. Within a few minutes I had left the village behind, after some time I sat on the grassy slope to sketch the valley below.

But before that, I bought boxes of apples and plums and cones of apricots that  I snacked after the steep climb near the Jana waterfall. 

As The Beas Rushed Through My Blood

 I was impatient to reach the Kulu valley but the driver of the bus from Delhi was in no hurry. He took his time to clear the traffic in the suburbs of Delhi, he kept waving to friends and acquaintances, halted for a kadak chai that was served to him behind the wheels. By the time we left behind the hustle of the city it was late night and I went to sleep sighing at the hours that we were away from the mountains.

As the early rays of the sun fell on my face, I woke up with a very brief feeling of disorientation. But it took me just a second to get aligned to the rush of water under my feet and the breeze from the  valley beneath.  I had wanted to remain awake to welcome the Beas river and the mountains, but they had stolen in on me.

It was another five hours of climbing the hills to reach Manali. The driver who drove us through the plains was no more behind the wheels. A sardar brooding in his silence and concentration took us through the winding paths to Manali. 

Only when I got off the bus I realised how stiff my joints had become after fifteen hours of travel. But I had to regale fast to days of trekking and driving around the valley and the mountains.

The guys had this after a hot bath

 

while I had hot and spicy thukpa soup.

 A quietness settled in me as I saw this from the window : a peach coloured cottage in an apple garden.

Enroute Manali


After grabbing a quick breakfast at the Chennai airport we got ready for a long journey from Chennai to Manali. We took the flight at midmorning and reached New Delhi. 


 The bus to Manali was at late evening. We hung out at the airport where I did quick sketches, and drank cups of cappuccino as I read substantial chapters from Amitav Ghosh’s ‘River Of Smoke’ .