I always wanted to write about my favorite Mountains—the Himalayas. I was born in the city named Simla –the “Queen of the Hills” in India. She is a beautifully petite and exquisitely picturesque city, located in the lofty Himalayan Mountains of the beautiful and always vibrant India. It is the city, where the British made peace with Gandhi ji and India; and where Pakistan and Bhutto made peace with India and Indira Gandhi. It is thus the city of peace and peacemaking—it is the city where India finally redeemed her pledge of making a “tryst with destiny”.
During the turbulent days of the Second World War, the WWII, Simla was the Capital of India, Burma and Punjab, from where the British ruled a whole Subcontinent and more. She has a very glorious past and the brightest of the futures. The wealth of the Mountains of India –material, spiritual and historical is beyond imagination, untold and unlimited.
Such is Simla, my Simla, and I fondly remember the panoramic vista from her famous Ridge -- that of the Dhauladar range of the Himalayan Mountains. Every view of the mighty Himalaya is a shining beacon of Shiva’s love---a beacon that reminds everyone of His presence for their protection and progress both spiritual and material. Simla is the beautiful abode of the lucky ones, she is peaceful and is adorned with---- her spacious skies, her scared temples and shrines, her World renowned schools, her cultured people, her famous Ridge, Mall Road, Lower Bazar, Longdwood, Chowra Maidan, Taradevi, Annandale, Jakko Hills and the famous Lovers Lane. She always makes a mark in everyone’s imagination and almost everyone leaves a part of one’s heart in Simla. And I was born there—I left the whole of it there.
As a child I thought that the whole World is a Mountain, full of towering Deodar and Pine trees where monkeys played with joy. Telling us mere mortals – life is to play, share and smile and jump around – with one’s family and friends. I can never forget that, or the much maligned monkeys, who are frequently treated inhumanely by so called humans, that are us. And the playful monkeys – the helpers of Shri Hanuman ji and Shri Ramji- remind me of my childhood. I too was like a little monkey ready to play with everyone and everyone loved me and played with me. My childhood was like a story book childhood. We were not very rich, but we were very rich, we worked hard but played even harder, we were not yet independent but we were free as a bird. We studied hard and Read all the Scriptures did Puja every day, went to English schools and at a very young age read Dickens’s “David Copperfield” his “Pickwick Papers” and the “Christmas Carols”. We enjoyed Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” and Pear S Buck’s “Good Earth” and many other classics.
All that aside, the Himalayan Mountains are a 1300 mile long expanse of millions of peaks all towering close to or higher than 20,000 feet above Sea level. The Himalayas are draped in the evergreen Deodar trees and their peaks wear a makeup of pristine white snow, they are covered with the “Chunarias” (scarves) of sacred rivers such as the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Sutlej, the Sind and the Brahmaputra and many more. They are illuminated with an aura showered by the glowing Sun. And, are kissed by the wind that swirls around them, wanting to touch feel and smell every part of the Mountains—as if they were her sweet heart. There is not a poet who knows how to write about the beauty of the Himalayan Mountains—just saying Himalayan Mountains describes it all.
Uniquely, of all the large Mountain ranges in the World, such as the Andes and the Rockies, the Himalayas are the only one that span from East to West, the rest go from North to South. As if God created the Himalayas so that the Sun could look at them all day, traversing them daily--- 365 days of the year—because even the Sun, who sees everything, cannot keep his eyes away from God’s “most beautiful white picket fence.” If you do not believe me take a flight from the east to the west –from Kabul to Rangoon --- sitting on the left side, looking towards the north, you will see the most magnificent, the most beautiful, the most colorful, and above all the most spiritual-- view of, yes, God’s most beautiful white picket fence—that He diligently keeps painted white—snow white that is. You too, like the Sun, will not be able to take your eyes away from that –the stunningly gorgeous and attractive fence, the only one He created for the Sun.
During your flight you will see, soaring amongst millions of peaks--- the 100 highest peaks of the World. You will see the virgin Kuchenganga, the Annapurna, the Nanda Devi and the most famous of all the Gauri Shankar (AKA Mount Everest). Every peak of the Himalayas is sacred – Shiva meditates and plays there with His consort Parvati, the daughter of the Mountains. And then there is a special slice of those Mountains, the most sacred amongst the sacred, known as the Dev Bhoomi (the Land of the Gods)– it is situated in the Uttaranchal Province of India, in the Kumaon region of the Province and its vicinity. In that slice is located the Mount Kailash sitting on top of the lake Mansarover respectively displaying a view of the Linga and the Yoni where the faithful visualize Shiva’s home.
In the Kumaon Hills, north of Almora is Bageshwar and further north is the way to travel to the most Holy Kailash Parvat (Mountain) and the Lake Mansarovar. The lake is located at 15,000 feet above sea level, the highest fresh water lake in the World, and the Kailash Parvat like the Linga touches the skies rising another 6000 feet—as the centre Pillar of the World. And in the front of the Linga is the Mount Nandi, 1000 feet high– she looks like a sitting Bull --Shivas powerful ride--- the “Nandi Bull”.
The Journey to the sacred Kailash is a difficult journey, but only for those who think of difficulties. But for those, who want to sip the spiritual nectar of the lake Mansarovar, to wash all the sins of their previous 100 lives, worshiping Shiva at his home, above the Lake – is only a divine calling—that must be fulfilled.
Then there are, in the same slice of the Himalayan Mountains, -- located in the same region of Kumaon and its vicinity, --- Badrinath, Kedarnath and Gangotri and Yamunotri—the “Char Dham”—four sacred places where Gods live. The whole of Kumaons is the “Dev Bhumi” –the land of Gods. The Pandavs , Dharmraj Udhister, went to God’s abode from the famous and sacred Badrinath. Shree Ram ji and Laxman ji did penance at Dev Prayag, near the same Badrinath. Bhagvaan Swami Narayan began his journey to bless India at Badrinath and Jagad Guru Shri Shankaracharya awakened India in the Path of Dharma from there. God like saints such as Guru Nanak, Vivekananda and Ved Vyas--- the one ---who revealed all the Vedas and the Puranas, the source of all knowledge, –at one time or other lived in Badrinath.
Sometimes I think lucky are those who are from the Himalayas—and I am one of those, from the most beautiful petite little cute town of the Himalayas -Simla, “the Queen of the Hills”. The winds that swirl around those peaks have touched me too and I have tasted the nectar of the Ganges and played under the Deodars. I have Sun bathed in the soothing sunlight over there—all the while thinking, as I was growing, that the whole World is a Mountain and everyone plays like a monkey – in a happy family.
Like every one’s Grandpa – mine too was a tower of strength and knowledge. Holding his strong finger with my tiny hands was awesome. He was the benefactor of my knowledge, confidence, fearlessness and humility. He told me all I know about Kumaon and the Mountains – after all he was born and raised in the “Dev Bhoomi”. He had trekked the path of Udhisther to Badrinath and he had drank the nectar from the Lake Mansarovar and completed the six mile “Parikrama” – trekking around-- of the holy mount Kailash. He was the most renowned and beloved “Pundit Pujari” (Pastor and Priest) of his time, well known in the mountains surrounding Simla and beyond.
Grand Pa knew my interest in the Mountains and watched me gazing at the highest peak near our home—the Mountain Home. I was only five and he was like God himself for me. Every day he saw me interested in that peak and could read my imagination—“How wonderful it would be if I could climb the hill and be on top of it? What obstacles will there be? There is no path how will I go? What about the wind and other hazards, the rocks and the pebbles?” He knew that I was learning --important lessons by my questioning alone--- that the danger of stumbling comes from the pebbles and not the Mountain, climbing begins in dreams and ends in a reality, the Mountain is not the challenge –preparation and execution is. He, my Grand Pa, looked at me with an expectation of a request to let him take me to the top. And one day I asked him, “Baji, (Grand Pa) will you please help me go to the top of that Mountain, and he was overwhelmed with joy –I can still hear his deep voice saying, “Yes, Yes, Yes, Sonny we will go together – you and I- to that top so you can see what is there that you cannot see from here.”
And one day we climbed, through the rugged and zigzag trails. He was my mentor and guided me how to do it myself; occasionally I stumbled and got bruised, he picked me up showed the way-- the right way. “Do it slowly, but steadily, look up and you will find climbing a Mountain is simple and easy”, he said, “All one has to do is to focus and put one foot ahead of the other, and never look down-- it is easy, and by practicing you too will become like me-- Perfect.”
Slowly but surely we reached the top. I was ecstatic with joy, a dream had come true and I did it myself. That was a feeling felt only rarely. Grand Pa too was overjoyed, it was his great accomplishment also; and he was passing on the torch to his fragile, innocent yet a spunky and ebullient little monkey --- his grandson. He picked me up; put me on his shoulders like he had never done before. This time I felt not only his love, but also his pride—he found me ready to see the World perched up on his broad and strong brawny shoulders. “What do you see Sonny”, He said. I was overwhelmed by the question and the scenery. I replied “I see many other Mountains, Grand Pa”.
He acknowledged and gave me the most important lesson of my life. “Behind every Mountain there are many other higher Mountains. Climbing one peak will only make you want to climb others—so keep on climbing—and that is life my Son.” He said as he hugged me and put me on the ground. I was only five years old – a smart Alec—a chatty bundle full of curiosity. I asked him, “What if one climbs the Gauri Shankar (the Mount Everest) then there will be no other higher peaks to climb.” He knew me well and was expecting something like that from me. We sat down, had a drink of water and he continued with the most important lesson of my life, “Once you are on top of the Gauri Shankar (the Mount Everest) you will find although she is the highest peak—yet, there are a million other peaks-- much more difficult ones to climb, that no one dared to climb and will forever remain virgin, forever – like the virgin peak of Kunchenganga. So never be egotistical about your achievements my son—there is no limit to what always remains unachieved.”
With that we gradually started our decent and I came home tired yet happy--enlightened and very wise, very very wise.
And all I can write eulogizing the Himalayan Mountains is they are “the Himalayan Mountains—God’s prettiest white picket fence”. And my Grand Pa truly loved his spunky little monkey.
Images (c) Gettyimages.com