Wise, old dog.

A toony illustration of Zany.

When he came home, 10 years ago, he was a little monster. He destroyed our bedding. He made holes in our clothes and he stole the bread from our plates. He tore plastic bags to bits – I guess he already knew about the impending plastic catastrophe. The wisdom inside him was known only to himself. He also tore open the skin on my hand once and that was when we decided to get him a trainer. He learned quickly and started to “sit” and “heel.” But, the wisdom in him surfaced only after another of his kind was brought home.

If he was a monster, she was a monster from another planet. She kept us on our toes and troubled him in creative ways. She would bite his ears and bite his lips, she’d claw him and bark at him all day. And the way in which he reacted to her monstrosities made me see the saint in him.

He’d let her do whatever she wished to. He let her have all the toys. He was happy with a piece of cloth or a sheet of newspaper, while the alien monster rejoiced in the luxuries of squeaky pigs and stuffed squirrels.

Although the monster that she is, she is full of love. She revels in her victories over him because he lets her. Both are creatures with abundant love – because that is what dogs are made of.

Now he’s 10 and his snout has turned white. His joints are stiff and he walks slowly. He enjoys his walks which are punctuated with multiple stops as he just sits and takes in the sounds of the surroundings and the blowing wind.

He has the maturity of a monk (as I imagine them) and the calmness of the deep ocean. I’m sure that in a parallel world, he lives in the Himalayas (along with mountain goats and yetis) and just strolls through the mountains and does his thing.

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Lost Wild

If it weren’t for the faint, flickering city lights, the night was an immaculate black. The city erupted from the periphery of the green jungle. However, the jungle also appeared black at this time. A wavy outline of darker black, against a lighter black skyline.

Many urban people resided in the many small houses very close to the jungle. The people slept at this time. On the balcony of one of the houses, stood a four-legged shadow. It had a lean but muscular body and a long tail. It looked around for a while and then jumped down into the lawn and walked out on to the cement road.

It walked a short distance before disappearing into the black jungle.

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The City Leopard

The Gods in the Mountains

Before embarking on this journey, I wouldn’t usually consider a trip that revolved around religion and worship. I believe that the higher power resides within each one of us and there’s no such thing as worshiping only one particular deity. But, after having finished this journey, I wouldn’t mind another trip that’s basically a pilgrimage. Not because it changed my belief system, but because these journeys are filled with stories that have origins in our ancestors and mythology and they are very interesting to discover by yourself. It would take me years to delve into these stories and figure out the role of each of the gods and goddesses worshiped by the human race.

For now, I would like to talk about my experiences on the Girnar mountain pilgrimage (not in particular order.)

This is a journey of approximately 10,000 steps that have been carved into the mountains for worshipers to reach the summit which holds the footprints of Lord Dattatreya. He was believed to have three heads and six hands and he is said to have meditated here and attained Nirvana.

It’s not just Lord Dattatreya that people come for. The stairway in the mountains is punctuated by temples dedicated to a bunch of other deities that fall at various pit stops marked by the number of steps completed. An interested devotee goes till the pitstop of his preferred deity and is free to turn back and start his descent.

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The main pit stops.

We decided to start the climb at night. Around 10 p.m. This was to avoid the crowd and the heat. Being June, the rainclouds hovered above ready to shower or else hide the moon stating the importance of carrying torchlight. The trail is dark with no lights. After a couple of hundred steps each, there is a lamp post or not. After another couple of hundred steps each there is a refreshment stall or not. There are no refreshment stalls after a particular point. So, we stocked up whatever we needed at the last one to last us till we reached the summit and back to the last stall.

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The dark trail leaves you with views of shadowy trees that stand out in the moonlight. 

The Cave

After crossing the 2000 steps mark, there came a rock on which was painted an arrow that pointed towards a small cave. A flight of 4-5 steps led us to a dwelling. It was a tiny dwelling where a sadhu sat on a platform. The platform led to a tiny room. At the end of the cave was a door which was closed and had ‘NO ENTRY’ written over it. The walls of the cave displayed pictures of various deities. The sadhu was appropriately dressed. With a pipe of weed (probably) in his hand, he played cards with a few other normally dressed men. The cave-room was hazy and the toxic odour filled up my nostrils. They offered us some tea which we refused as we wanted to continue our ascent.

As we exited the cave, we came across a middle aged lady, suffering from nausea, lying down on the cool rock for some rest.

I wondered what this cave was all about as we left it behind.

Walking In The Stormy Rain

The terminal part of the journey was made of tall, steep steps carved into the almost vertical mountain. For us, in addition, was the really heavy rain, strong winds, darkness and mist. This part was initially a descent of approximately 800-1000 steps and then an ascent of 1000 steps approximately, till the summit. Each step was around a foot tall and some part of the stairway had no sidewall. We were directly exposed to the valley. However, the joy of battling the rain, the winds and the slippery rock was a joy of another kind.

There were old men and women and young ones on the same journey. They were all pilgrims. It was a full moon night and an auspicious day to summit the peak of the Girnar mountain. The rain gods decided to make it more interesting. On any other day, they say, the ‘pilgrimage’ is usually secluded and very few people come here. If you’re lucky, you could share your path with a lion or a leopard. Well, you never know, one could be lurking near you somewhere in the hills. The noise made by humans keeps them away.

We have always been intruders of their territory and they are forced to hide. Shouldn’t it be the other way?

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The pilgrimage is not literally a trek but a well carved stairway making it doable for pilgrims of all ages. 

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For oldies who cannot climb all the way, there’s this option. The Doli. Two men will carry you up the mountain.

The Summit

“Digambara! Digambara! Sripad Vallabh Digambara! Digambara! Digambara! Sripad Vallabh Digambara!”

Upon hearing this chant in chorus, I realised that I was at the last bit of the summit, which itself is just a pinnacle and has space for us humans only if we arrange ourselves in a single file.

The top of the summit has a tiny temple which houses the footprints of Lord Dattatreya. People go through the tedious climb to reach this sacred dwelling only to get a glimpse of these footprints and quickly utter their prayer or wish which is believed to be granted if you make it here.

I had reached the summit two hours before the opening time of the temple for its morning rituals. It was 3 a.m. I sat on the steps alongside hundreds of devotees who were also waiting for the temple to open.

Before I went on this trip, I had no idea who Lord Dattatreya was. I hadn’t done much research either. I went along with my family only because it involved climbing a mountain during the night time in the rains. It was a mountain in the region of the Gir forest, which meant possibilities of spotting some wildlife.

Rain-soaked, I waited with everybody else, when a couple of monks dressed in dhotis passed us and went directly up to the temple. They opened the doors and everybody was made to queue up.

There were different types of people. Patient and impatient, kind and unkind, calm and irritable. I don’t talk quickly with new people but I like observing people around me and contemplating and wondering about human nature. This does not necessarily amount to judging. I avoid judging.

It was my turn now to enter this small, pious dwelling at the summit of this mountain we had all climbed. As I entered, I saw what we all had come for, the footprints embossed on a stone tablet.

Each one of us was given less than a few moments to look, observe, pray, seek blessings, wonder, look around and get going. Nobody was allowed to hang around and take in the vibes and just sit there and wonder about life like how I would usually be inside a temple.  It felt like only a second had passed as I got out and the next person entered. A continuous flow of people was maintained.

I was left a little perplexed with all the haste but I soon looked around and saw the mountains and the birdsong filled up my ears. I was happy with the new experience that just got added to my trunk.

The summit engulfed in clouds and the footprints of the Lord.

Kashmiri Baba

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Kashmiri Baba

The next day we decided to pay a visit to Kashmiri Baba. An hour’s walk into the forest is an ashram which houses this famous man. He is apparently not from Kashmir. However, nobody around me was aware of the reason why he is so called. It is believed that if one takes the trouble to walk to his ashram and silently pray to him, one’s wish would be granted.

When we reached his ashram, we were told that we would have to wait for a couple of hours till babaji was ready to greet his audience. There was an open space on the first floor where we all sat and waited. It was some sort of a meditation hall although, I was unable to meditate. I am generally unable to meditate.

I observed the ashram cat who was roaming the place and was allowed to do so unrestricted. She was busy doing her own thing, stretching, posing, rubbing herself on the walls and so on. On a wall in the center, was a blown up picture of the Kashmiri baba, probably taken while he was much younger. That picture helped me picturise who I was about to meet.

While I was busy with my observations and pondering, we were suddenly asked to get ready for the meeting. A queue was formed and each of us was given a minute or two to sit before the baba and say silently to him what we had come for. After that, we were directed to a lady in orange robes. She was beautiful, fair and had those African tribal, matted hair tied up in a huge bun over her head. She looked foreign. We were supposed to do the silent talk with her too.

Done with the telecommunication, we were taken to the dining hall. Here, we were made to sit in rows in a disciplined manner and served lunch. It was a wholesome Indian meal of chapati, dal, vegetable, rice and jalebi. They apparently do this on a daily basis for the devotees who come to visit the baba. It was more like prasad. After finishing the meal, we had to go outside and wash our own plates with powdered ash and return the washed plates.

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You’ll find sadhus like this all over Girnar.

A question I often ask myself. 

Coming across incidents of cruelty to animals, all kinds of animals – the dogs on the streets, the dogs in homes, the wild ones in the forest, cats, horses, tigers, elephants, rhinos and many more – makes me wonder, why are we humans so twisted? Why do we run over dogs knowingly? Why do we have this desire to cut off horns from rhinos? Why do we kill elephants for their tusks? Why do we poach tigers for their coat? Why do we capture wild creatures and feel superior about training them for circus shows? WHY? 

What is this twisted emotion and sadistic happiness that we derive from hurting living creatures? Where does it arise within us? Why do we want to adorn our homes with objects that can only be achieved after slaughter of a beautiful creation of nature? Why don’t we instead, prefer other objects of decoration that do not involve harming living things? HOW are we capable of performing such grave, cruel acts? What thought process is this? Is there no guilt? How does a person performing such acts sleep peacefully at night? What makes us not have the desire to protect and nurture the earth, its creatures and each other? 

What makes us humans so crumpled?

(Maybe, just maybe, some million years hence, there may be a higher species, which will have evolved from us, which might do stuff like this to us.)


A watercolour impression of the endangered snow leopard fur.

Reminiscences From Mussoorie (Part 2)

RUSKIN BOND

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Ruskin Bond’s Home

I hadn’t read Ruskin Bond’s work before I went to Mussoorie. I got interested in his writing after I visited a bookstore in Mussoorie and got to know that he was going to, as he very often does, come for a signing session to the book store that same evening. Well, I missed him that evening but I picked up one of the signed copies of his short stories.

I must say that my connection with Mussoorie felt stronger after I read some of his stories while I was still there. And I would recommend anyone who knows Nature to read his story called ‘The Leopard’. His honest account of the elusive nature of the leopard makes you think of him as a fortunate man who has experienced and known nature so closely.

Only a man who cares genuinely for the earth can write these lines : “Perhaps I had made him confident – too confident, too careless, too trusting of the human in his midst. But did the leopard, trusting one man, make the mistake of bestowing his trust on others? Did I, by casting out all fear – my own fear and the leopard’s protective fear – leave him defenseless ?”

TO GEORGE EVEREST’S HOUSE

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The Remains of George Everest’s House. The Expansive Views of the Doon Valley and of The Himalayan Peaks is what you must visit here for. The remains just remain. You could wander about inside and imagine how things would have been when George Everest lived here in the 1830’s.

P.S. Well, George Everest doesn’t really have much to do with Mount Everest. No, you don’t get to see Mount Everest from here.

Our driver was trying. Trying very hard. To get us out of a dangerous situation. The car was stuck, refusing to move forward but ready to slide backwards and topple into the valley to our left. And while we were praying with our hearts beating against our ribs, our driver managed to miraculously get us out if the fix. And that is how we reached the George Everest Mountain, after driving through Deodhar lined meandering mountain roads.

The mountain top is a wonderful place to sit back and relax and take in the views or stroll around the ruins. Nearby is a patch of numerous trees connected with each other by thousands of Tibetan flags flying in the breeze.

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These kids live on the same hill and walk up and down it to school and back home. I’ve always admired the natural sturdiness and strength of the mountain folk.

SHIVA’S TEMPLE

The drive to Mussoorie from Dehradun airport is a long one towards the end of which you come across a Shiva Temple a while before you’re about to enter the hill town. You will find lots of monkeys hanging around there, trying to beg or steal food from you. My memorable memory of this place is the prasad (a religious offering of food) – a bowl of yellow, vegetable pulao. Over here, a large quantity of prasad is prepared everyday to serve whoever comes to seek blessings. I, personally, am not a religious person. However, I love visiting temples for the natural peace and vibe that prevails in them.

There is a shop within the premises which sells lovely stone necklaces from where I bought plenty in different colours.

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The cool temple vibe! And there’s Shiva with his family. 

Chilly evenings and winding roads 

The evenings get cold. Really very cold! Having lived in Bombay all my life, I am not used to such low temperatures, around 3-4 degrees Celsius. But it was a great experience. A different experience altogether! 
I would struggle to find a sunny spot for the last time in the day as I anticipated the chill. The hardening and stiffening of my peripheral joints, it was almost arthritic! 

Mall Road would be lit by the dim street lamps. The momo vendors would set up their stalls. The market place would wind up by 8 pm. Most people preferred to stay indoors in the evening, in the vicinity of their heaters and warmers. 

That evening I decided to venture beyond Mall Road. I had my enthusiastic aunt for company. To find another market place bustling with activity, just beyond where the road ended, gave me a sense of childlike discovery. We were at Kulri Bazaar. It was surprisingly full of people! Small eateries, bakeries, wooden artefact shops and shawls and woollen wear stalls lined the narrow streets. 

Just where Kulri Bazaar starts, there is a small red eatery to the right called Friend’s Corner (if I remember correctly). It serves delicious Tibetan momos and is a small little place with dim lights. The ceiling had multiple globular lamps with Chinese-Tibetan dragon artwork on them. We ate momos in garlic gravy and oh man! They were brilliant! The hot and spicy flavour was helpful to cope with the cold. All the days that I’d spent in Mussoorie would’ve been incomplete without the omelettes, hot chocolate and coffee that I’ve devoured. Because I found that I was always hungry here in the mountains. 

We walked ahead and came upon a big shop of Kashmiri fabrics. It had some the most beautiful clothing fabrics but I was not in the mood to spend. Not that it was overpriced, it was just what the lovely fabric deserved. 

I was actually looking for this pastry shop I had read about in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We did find it! It was probably the only cake shop in the area. We packed a boxful and decided to head back to our hotel. 

What I find wonderful about this place it its dreamlike narrow streets, winding left and right, inclining upwards and then downwards. It is a pleasure to walk them! You cannot see what will appear at the end of the next turn; a process of unending simple discoveries. 


An impression of the streets of Mussoorie (charcoal on paper). The road is your balcony to the mountains. 

Reminiscences from Mussoorie (Part 1)

THE SNOW CAPPED PEAKS

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In 2010, I experienced my very first consequence of the pull to the mountains. Like many of you, I have always been fascinated by and drawn to the Himalayas. The closest I’ve been to them was when I lived in Mussoorie for a week in winter.

While I was living in the brown Garhwal mountains, the white snow-capped peaks felt so close that I wanted to touch them. I promised myself that I would return soon so that I could cultivate a better bond with them and become a part of them.

Looking at them in the distance made me feel happy, peaceful and small.

I HUNG OUT WITH THESE GUYS

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I am shy and I am more comfortable in the company of animals. Although, I am secretly working on improving my human communication skills.

There were lovely dogs all over the town and I couldn’t ask for more. They were furry, fat and happy in their own space. They would follow me and do all those things that dogs do to make you happy. They were patient enough to talk to as well.

The goat, I met at the foot of the small little hill I climbed to visit the Hanuman temple at the top. Hanuman had spectacular views from that hill! I was delighted to have spent time there. There was silence and the vibes of the temple were peaceful and the views were something else. And again, I wanted to touch those snow-capped mountains.

The goat’s companion was a calf (baby cow) and they played together like dogs do and competed for my attention. They were adorable and I made some lifelong memories with them.

 

WALKING THROUGH CHURCHES

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When I think of Mussoorie, the churches always come to my mind.

I would wake up early in the morning and start walking. Whenever I’d come across a church, I’d enter it and just sit there. In silence. I remember the moments I had spent in silence inside the numerous cathedrals that I had found at the corners and ends of the streets that I had walked. I never got bored of doing this!

HAPPY VALLEY

I can easily call this my favourite place in all of Mussoorie. It is a Tibetan temple complex, yes, with amazing views.

There is a main temple and a large compound around it. You see monks walking around and dogs taking shelter. There was a main dog who had a bell around his neck and was allowed to enter the main temple. He was rather grumpy but somewhat human friendly as well. He looked like a lab but had the body of a dachshund. He was strange.

Prayer wheels, Gompas, Om Mani Padme Hum and everything Buddhist; a place of calm and peace where you can spend sometime with yourself or nature.

(More in Part 2)