Monday, October 11, 2010

Spiti valley (2) – Monasteries, Buddha temples and a lot of nature

Our first day in the mountains was long and brought us a lot amazing and unexpected nature and situations. So no doubt that after reaching Kaza we only wanted to have some dinner and go to sleep in the double room with an extra mattress, especially because the last two nights were not so comfortable when we slept in the bus and car. The warm shower we could take was more than luxury to us! The next morning we had some time to explore a bit of the centre town of Spiti valley, grab some food for the way and then we left Kaza and the Israeli hitchhikers from the day before for seeing some nature and man-made sights. The mountains and environment up in between 3500 and 4000 metres are so incredible and personally I found out that I can watch them forever. Alternately there were either penurious stone formations and strange mountain shapes or lively oasis with rivers and grain fields. It’s so impressive, if you imagine that people are living in this kind of environment, what makes daily life mostly complicated compared to our society’s life.

Obviously since at least 1000 years ordinary Hindus and also Buddhist monks were worshipping their gods from close to the top of the world. From this point of view it is no wonder that their cities and settlements are sometimes on the peak of the mountain itself! But life is kind of harsh and connected to a lot of struggles. During the year they have to fill up their stocks with the little agricultural outcomes they gain from the stony fields to overcome the cold winter. Except of money from tourism the region has income from the apple harvest. The north of India and particularly Himachal Pradesh, the state where we were, is a big supplier of these fruits to all over the country. But as we had to notice how cheap apples were compared to the price charged in Delhi, the harvest can’t make people rich. People living here only have the necessary things in life: time to produce food and clothes, faith in something and a strong commitment to community life. This endowment holds them back from doing such big harm to the world as we do with our so called normal life style. Furthermore they foster a simple life style, which maybe makes them happier then people in sophisticated and unnatural environments.
In that particular monastery we saw some Buddhist monks doing their religious prayers the whole day long. The monotone song they sang and same moves over and over again, probably brought them closer to a higher feeling. Anyway, on the roof-top I spotted some solar PV modules, which they use to generate electricity for TVs and some electrical devices… The redundant things are even not holding back from mountain villages.
The next lessons we learned that day was in a Buddhist temple in a small town, which holy “Om” letters we could read on the mountain walls from far. Besides watching the impressive construction and stunning old age of the ground with its worshipping facilities, we got taught from a voluntary student. Firstly we had to know, that in Buddhism everything is connected in flows in a cycle. Life, death and life again… therefore we had to walk a clockwise round in the temple. Surprisingly, there was not just one Buddha we could see in the temple, but heaps of heaps. Thus, we learned that in each of us a little Buddha sits and just waits to rise! Thirdly, you can become a Buddhist even though you are married and have a family, but the highest maxima should always be related to honesty, truth and not cheating at all. Then you’ll become pure. The last lesson was from the same importance than all the others before, but in a country like India it was even more remarkable. “Good things are coming without money!” our smiling teacher said and be saying this he gave me a very strong determent for life. Whenever I was travelling after that trip his saying was helping me to distinguish between true good people and other trying to fool you.

We were really glad that we had our own Jeep and driver, respectively friend, because we could reach so many things we could never have done by bus in the short amount of time we had left. They valley is quite big and you need time to go from A to B. The road conditions are not that bad as in the night before on the Rohtang pass, but our average driving speed was still marginal. Once we had to take pictures of the scenic view, once we had yaks on the street, once we gave construction workers a lift to the next bridge, once we stopped for a lost tourist, … a lot of side stories happened.
The evening ended with playing some cards and sleeping in basic beds up on a mountain peak, where the Ki Monastery stands. Due to our late arrival we even didn’t get any food, but for one evening of a fabulous day we could easily afford that. When Caro, Jenny and Jonny were already wrapped into their bed sheets I went outside and watched the stars for a while. Being hundreds of kilometres away from a significant light source, the star heaven is so shiny and you see an amount of little yellow blinking spots, what you could not have dreamed of. The only night in my life, I have seen at least the same great phenomena, was in the 5 million star accommodation of the Australian outback. It’s so magic! The next morning was not less beautiful then the night observation, because we could look down into the valley surrounding our mountain accommodation.

Overnight Jenny got fever and started to feel very sick and weak at the same time. In India you should really take these health issues serious, because especially foreign people are more vulnerable for threatening diseases, especially when the monsoon brings malaria and dengue fever to your city. In the hope that she has no dengue, we skipped another meal and drove to a doctor in Kaza. For that moment we called her luckily, because the doctor said Jenny was not infected by dengue, but without the results of a proper blood sample we couldn’t be 100% sure. Anyway, getting some medicine and the consultation of the doctor made Jenny and us feel better. For the rest of the trip Jenny either were resting in guest houses or sleeping in the car, but since she was too weak she couldn’t join more hikes or sightseeing. By the way, back in Delhi the results of a proper blood test were explaining her status: Jenny had dengue! But as we are still in the mountains, we didn’t know that and let her rest, while Caro, Jonny and I finally had breakfast.
Strengthened by the food we left Kaza for some more scenic views and mountain villages. Before we reached anything particularly, we had a notable drive again and since Caro speaks fluently Hindi, Jonny and she were chatting all the time. Meanwhile I had a lot of time to enjoy the nature and could follow some thoughts from earlier. In the mountain area I even noticed more than in Delhi that cows are holy, straying-around animals and nobody owns them. From an economical point of view it is almost not explainable, because under these conditions they are declared as a public good. Everybody can access them and when one user milked it, than another one would not gain any milk for a while. Thus somebody could just overuse and exploit the cow’s products, because nobody is hindering him. Some-how this is not happening here, so regulations do not have to implement a right to someone to use the cow. In our western world this is exactly how it is done, because if one owns the cow, he will take care for it and charge a price to sell the products of the cow. The demand would decrease due to the price people have to pay for the milk and no overuse would take place. This just shows how different things are. For Indians, their religious beliefs obviously count more than their greed for possessions. Although I’m interested in economics and also had various economic courses in my degree, I’m not an expert on that topic. If there is an economist reading my small contribution, then please tell what’s really behind that observation. Jonny in the meanwhile kind of noticed that I couldn’t really participate in the Hindi conversation, but still made me a good compliment by describing me as “a good man, really simple…” and woke associations to Ghandi’s saying “Simplicity is the essence of universality”. By the time we reached our destination, which was a village up on more than 4000 metres.
The colourful play of the nature surrounding us made let us forget that we had to go back to Delhi again, but how is a saying going: “You should leave, when you enjoy the most!?” Well, it was Saturday afternoon and to make it to work on Monday morning, it was time to drive back, picking up Jenny, having a lost night in the mountains in Chhatru at the same spot where we slept in the car in the first night, climbing up the somewhat 4300 metres over the Rohtang pass and reach Manali.

Our last stop in Manali was a bit random, because it saw a Bollywood movie shooting and entered it. Usually it is forbidden to take pictures there, but since they wanted to have some of us, we could also click them ;-) It is by the way quite common that these shootings take place in the mountains and such big coulisses are set up. The nice looking “palace” in the background is therefore only made from wood and cardboard.

After the quite cheerful event Jonny wanted to show us the last thing on our trip. It was a small Shiva temple on the mountain side and lucky for me, I food some boulders where I finally could practice a bit! Down in the city we then just had time to say good bye to our friend and promise him to come back. Over the days we really started to like each other and all of us hope that our passes are crossing again. And so our nice trip in the Himalaya ended, at least for this time …

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