ABHA

A Dark High Altitude “Attic” for Enlightenm­ent

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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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