I peak out the window at 3:30 a.m. this morning and see the Dhauladars glowing in moonlight. The clouds and haze of yesterday has dropped back into the valley below, leaving this impressive range of snow dusted rockfaces. When I finally get out of my warm bed at 7 a.m., they are just catching the first sunrays. The next few hours are a marvel of changing colors and shadows. The sky turns cobalt blue and the river valley’s villages start to warm up, sun streaming on the hillsides.
I see where I’d like to go–a clear field atop one of the closer mountains–and start asking about logistics. From that upper field it looks like the snowy ridge will be within arms reach. And so, between a streamlined English and halting responses that seem to be half Hindi, I get advice from Aswany and Birbal that I would be crazy to try such a thing. Much better to stay on a fairly level trail that skirts the valley walls, and end up at a small temple dedicated to a female deity. In the process, I also get to cross the river and walk a trail across a rockfall I can see over a kilometer away.
The transition from my comfortable accommodation, to the dirt road leading past a monstrous, failed hotel skeleton, to the caterpillar tracks left by a rag-tag looking road crew, to the end of road construction and beginning of a very old trail. In a few spots, one could almost imagine the trails and trees on Mt. Tam (north of San Francisco), or in the lower Sierras. Once I’m across the river and have crested a ridge, the temple path is marked by a blue tile gate, and the vistas open up considerably. I can even see back to Naddi village and my little yurt-like cottage.
The trail leads only to the temple–not a single dwelling along the way–and yet parts are so well constructed that a truck could drive over those big flat chunks of slate. The Guna temple, in contrast, sits at the edge of a mass of concrete layers, some badly decomposing.
It is perched dramatically on the side of the mountain, situated so that the biggest peaks of the upper ridge look down on its deity, Durga, a female with comic-book eyes riding a tiger and armed w/ various blades and spears. Stand back if you aren’t ready for her powers!
I can’t figure out the place around the temple. There are probably eight separate chambers that could have been rooms in a guest house at one time. Behind this ugliness, however, are large boulders beside a spring, with fields sloping up the side of the mountain. I’m very tempted to explore but remember I have a 90 minute walk on the trail back.
Once I return to the blue ceramic gateway, I follow the ridge trail to the village I watched this morning catch first rays across the river valley. I head up to the highest spot and find it is unsullied by trash, poop, or over use…what a miracle! There is even a sunny flat spot with dried grass, and in five minutes I am sleeping solidly.
Clouds move in during this time and so I need to hustle when I wake up and keep moving to fend off the cold and shadows. I enjoy greatly an encounter with two women and their goats, cows, and bundles of branches: their yips and yelps to keep critters under control strike me as a lexicon of herding sounds.
By the time I stroll into the hotel, I’m on wobbly legs and ready for coffee. The sense of gratitude I feel for my knees and body–hurt/twisted/sick/feeble/etc.–as they enable access to these backcountry cultures is very profound.
And so, to honor the winter solstice, I light one-half of a stick of incense and put it in a flower tray on the hotel’s open-air terrace. The other half I light and dedicate to my knees and legs, again with profound gratitude. This body has cooperated with all my imaginings surprisingly well thus far. Long may mind-body harmony, collaboration, and integration continue! Om shanti for winter solstice teachings, provided by the trail to Guna temple.