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Beautiful India, Part 4
(Please see June, July, and August issues)
©2006 Arvind Viswanathan
I was taken to a village high up on the mountain, along the narrow road to the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Nicholas Roerich was a Russian Renaissance man who lived from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. He was an accomplished painter, archaeologist, scientist, teacher, explorer. He had two sons. While the older one was of some reputation, the younger son- Svetoslav Roerich was equally accomplished in a lot of fields his father had delved into. Svetoslav was married to the great Indian actress of the 1940s Devika Rani. I read all about the Roerich's with great interest, then took in all the paintings that were on display. Both men had attempted capturing the scenic beauty of this area, but, in my opinion, had not succeeded too well. Svetoslav's portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were much better than his landscapes.
Then I walked to the backyard and looked back at the house. It might be that my mind was playing tricks on me, but I sill believe that the Roerich house was bigger than the Naggar castle. I felt pretty bad for the Kullu royalty. From the backyard, I could see the castle itself. Small and unassuming; (if I were playing word association games, these two words would pop into my head when one mentions Naggar castle.) Nothing imposing, grand or audacious. The royalty, I concluded, must have learned a lesson or two in simplicity from the gods themselves.
Up the road at the Urusvati Institute, started by Nicholas Roerich, I walked around the small campus and came to the edge of a cliff. Beyond this there was a sheer drop, followed by deep ravines and high mountains. That whole area may be accessed by some accomplished mountaineers of the caliber of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. Armies cannot easily cut through this terrain easily and mount an attack on this region. This was the security that the Naggar Castle enjoyed- the best and the most economical kind, provided by Mother Nature herself. The castle and the villages had only one access pathway. I could easily use Eli Wallach's dialogue from the movie The McKenna's Gold, “One way in, same way out”, explaining to Omar Sharif with his outstretched arm. Feeling relieved and satisfied, I moved on in my mind.
Reflecting on this trip, it was, simply put, exhilarating. My faith in Mother Nature was restored. Typical of a woman, she was immensely powerful in action and yet simple and beautiful in appearance. Her splendour and glory scared me, and yet fascinated me. Again, just like women.
I decided I had to experience Mother Nature here one more time, so I hiked the area a little bit more. Each step made me breathless as a whole new, different enriching scenery evolved before me. My senses were reveling at being pampered like this- cool air that caressed my skin, fresh smell of the cedar trees, brilliant rays of light dancing on the mountains, rivers and trees, taste of cleanliness and purity, and the resounding silence of the forests and mountains that can never be heard anywhere else. Total, absolute silence, that is broken only by the rustling of leaves, an occasional bird-call or an animal call, and now the panting of this poor, breathless author. I was ashamed of myself for causing this noise pollution in the Valley of the Gods. My mortal nature was exposed to me.
I realized I was leaving the next day, and I hadn't bought anything for my friends and family. I knew the question “What did you get for me from Manali?” was forthcoming. I wanted to reply “Memories! Simply brilliant astounding memories that I will share with you!” because that is what I considered most valuable of all the things I took back with me. Memories supported by photographs. Any articles, trinkets, gifts, would cheapen the most valuable commodity I brought back from there- memories! Yet I had to find gifts.
That evening, I walked down the steep incline to downtown Manali. It was very busy with tourists and shopkeepers haggling over the value of various items. I noticed a water fountain in the middle of the square. I edged closer and realized it was a set of fountains called the “Dancing Fountains” where the water would spout out from the nozzles in a particular sequence that was in tune to the song being played at the moment. And exactly at the moment I came closer, the song being played was “Aashique Banaaya”. I had to get away from there as quickly as possible. I walked into a couple of stores and bought a few items with the least bit of haggling- much to my friends' and family's ire (`you paid that much for this? Thanks anyway!')
Next day I boarded a bus that meandered its way past the valley, away from the mountains, farther from the coniferous forests, deeper into the urban civilization. I looked back at the receding scenery and sighed. I reflected on what I had experienced. This is what Heaven feels like, I thought. This is what one feels when one has been where the Gods have roamed and continue to awaken the spirituality dormant in most of us. I opened the window and sucked in a lungful of air, wanting to carry with me the air from the Valley of the Gods.
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