I woke up with a jerk as the driver applied brakes, even as the rustic Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation bus was descending to Koksar, a little hamlet in the magical Lahaul valley of Himachal. I have been visiting the region often and each visit brings out some unique aspect of this mystique land.
Remembering Old Days
The view was breathtaking as the barren hills gleamed in the early morning sun. The two dhabas were ready with steaming paranthas and to my amazement, Thupsten Chaling, the dhaba owner recognized me. I have been savouring his paranthas during my brief stopover at Koksar every year. The crispy taste of potatoes came out evenly as Thupsten had just brought these fresh from his field, the previous evening. He served these with a cup of fresh curd, even as he sat alongside enquiring about my family.
My destination for the day was Keylong, the district headquarter, some 45 km from Koksar. Keylong is much known for its Kardang Gompa as it is for the traditional chang (Rice beer), something which is truly appreciated by locals and visitors alike. As a mark of respect to the visitors, each one of them is offered chang on their visit. I was no exception and soon found myself in another world as I gulped down a bottle along with Amar Singh, my old buddy in Keylong. During discussion on the ways, it is prepared; I got to know that it had three distinct variants. The more it is fermented, the better it gets. We talked about the old days, and an incident in particular when my friend had to carry me as I had gulped down a bottle of the strongest variant of chang by mistake.
The Evenings of Keylong
The evening was reserved for a traditional dinner at his home which comprised of Sattu and vegetables. These are usually served in traditional china mud bowls which have intricate designs on them. Each of these has a pictorial inscription on them and showcases a traditional tale of old times when physical boundaries were of little significance. The next day was special indeed as we planned a trek to Kardang Gompa early morning. After a brief climb from Keylong Bazaar, we found ourselves amidst raw nature as religious chants of om mani padme hum startedreverberating in the air. The fluttering colourful flags were waving furiously, as if guiding us to
the Gompa and inspiring us, not to give up on the challenging trek. Amar Singh informed me that these are tied all along the way to Gompa to ward off evil spirits and spread the goodwill far and wide.
The air was thin and at 11,000 feet, it was sheer magic that we managed to make the climb in 2 hours.
Buddhist monks dressed in their traditional red gowns were engaged in reciting religious mantras and we moved around slowly, lest some of the monks engaged in meditation got disturbed. The serene calmness of the place is bound to have a magical effect on the visitors and one feels as if they are in the vicinity of the Forbidden City, Lhasa. The air was full of magical effervescence of Junipers, a medicinal shrub which is burnt in the monasteries to ward off evil spirits.
Keylong seemed a far cry from the magical heights of Kardang Gompa and we felt like true heroes. The moment was only short lived as small lamas, some as young as 3 walked past us in amazing silence.
As we started the trek down feeling truly blessed, the young lamas waved smilingly and I realized that I had accomplished what I was looking for. I felt truly blessed!