A Dark High Alti­tude “At­tic” for En­light­en­ment

ABHA - - Contents -

Iwon­der, why do all en­light­en­ment seek­ers ir­re­spec­tive of faith med­i­tate in dark caves? Many of these se­lect high alti­tude caves. Grad­u­ally, these caves be­come pop­u­lar shrines draw­ing mad­den­ing crowds on quick wish-grant­ing vis­its. Some ac­ces­si­ble caves may even have mod­ern ser­vices like wi-fi.

Dis­tant dark re­cesses with lit­tle dis­trac­tion may aid in con­cen­trat­ing on the goal. Dis­trac­tions like mock­ery by masses on join­ing class of as­cetics; tempt­ing herd-men­tal­ity; con­ta­gious con­sumerism... Or, I can put it in a dif­fer­ent way, light, all sorts of lights, on the other side of ev­ery “dark” tun­nel awaits the trav­eler(s).

An al­most ninety de­gree wooden lad­der con­nected the store with the small med­i­ta­tion cum prayer “room” at the first floor. The lad­der closely fit­ted in the roundish rocky mouth re­quired care­ful slow steps to avoid in­juries. Al­though the room could ac­com­mo­date max­i­mum of 4-5 peo­ple yet the lad­der could sup­port just one person at a time.

A path to en­light­en­ment prob­a­bly goes via blind­ing dark­ness, phys­i­cal, men­tal, or both.

While walk­ing the path, goal is over­com­ing dark­ness and sift­ing it for the choic­est light.

Re­cently, one of my day hikes in re­mote Karako­rum ended at a dark in­ac­ces­si­ble cave above Ayi vil­lage. The cave is called Ayir­zong, Ayidubk, or Tsam­puk, a sim­ple small dark med­i­ta­tion cen­ter for as­cetics. This nat­u­ral re­cess on a steep slope is, in fact, a shrine.

On Fe­bru­ary 26, 2020, my lo­cal guide opened a small door into the ground floor used as a store. An al­most ninety de­gree wooden lad­der con­nected the store with the med­i­ta­tion cum prayer “room” at the first floor. The lad­der closely fit­ting the roundish rocky mouth re­quired care­ful slow steps to avoid in­juries. Al­though the room could ac­com­mo­date max­i­mum of 4-5 peo­ple yet the lad­der could sup­port just one person at a time.

A pair of side sec­tions of the cave dou­bled as a kitch­enette, sit-out, and wash­room.

A “win­dow,” a rough round hole, af­forded views of Ayi and Tak­shai vil­lages on the op­po­site banks

of the Si­achen; and al­lowed the sun spray­ing the sit-out with its bright warm rays. A faint brick red cir­cle framed ex­te­rior cir­cum­fer­ence of the win­dow that the res­i­dents of the for­mer vil­lage pointed out when I con­sulted them for the route the pre­vi­ous day. A stone cuboid stuck to one of the walls re­sem­bled a bench in the sit-out that was ap­pointed with a few empty plastic bot­tles and can­is­ters. A so­lar panel and the bat­tery oc­cu­pied the muddy floor partly hid­den under a durry. Nar­row shelves in one of the walls held a mini stupa and other re­li­gious ob­jects. Vil­lagers pray in this med­i­ta­tion cum pil­grim­age cen­ter. Some monks also med­i­tate but the day I reached nei­ther of them vis­ited. The cave looked like an empty at­tic.

“How old is the cave?” I asked the vil­lagers. No one could quan­tify age of the cave. They just replied, “It is very… old.” “It is a nat­u­ral cave.”

Ladakh Eco­log­i­cal Devel­op­ment Group (LEDeG) and res­i­dents of Ayi “man­u­fac­tured” a small ar­ti­fi­cial glacier some­where be­tween the cave and the vil­lage to com­pen­sate for wa­ter short­age dur­ing spring and early sum­mer. A blue ice stupa promi­nently stand­ing on the glacier was frozen in Fe­bru­ary. Walk­ing on the glacier was pro­hib­ited. The hik­ers can also reach the cave via ar­ti­fi­cial glacier with­out com­ing back to Ayi.

The glacier is hardly one to one and half kilo­me­ter from the main road. A wide dusty grav­elly path con­nects the road and vil­lage with the glacier. Arano and Ayi al­most share the same con­tour. So six-kilo­me­ter walk was easy. In one hour, only one ve­hi­cle crossed me while go­ing. On re­turn, two-three ve­hi­cles rushed past me. But be­tween Ayi and the cave, the trail as­cends on an av­er­age more than 300 me­ters/kilo­me­ter (about 1,500ft (454.5m)) in a 1,500m-hike. The ice even had a hint of gray-blue.

Black top cov­ered first six kilo­me­ters of the path run along the west of the Si­achen. The river re­ceives many sea­sonal glacial brooks on both its banks. The land­scape ex­hibits al­ter­nat­ing glacial­gul­lies-and-steep-ridges. At Ayi, the Wusak Tokpo meets the Si­achen on the lat­ter’s east bank. The Phukpoche Lungpa also joins the Si­achen on the same bank hous­ing Tak­shai vil­lage. Both the vil­lages are within a short dis­tance of each other.

The en­tire path is well marked. Most of it is quite wide. The dusty moun­tain sec­tion start­ing from Ayi does not re­quire a guide in sum­mer. How­ever, dur­ing win­ter, the sec­tion buried under brit­tle snow and stony ice re­quires a guide.

The first halt for keen bird­watch­ers along the path is Thokpa, ap­prox­i­mately four kilo­me­ters from Arano. A colony of white-winged red­starts flit­ted in a dry grove at Thokpa in Fe­bru­ary. Brown and gray thorny and non-thorny dry stems of bushes cre­ated a maze in the grove. Oth­er­wise, the path does not ex­pect a pause from the visi­tors for catch­ing their breath. Blue black mag­pies “roved” ubiq­ui­tously, es­pe­cially in Ayi.

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