"In-Roads", Life Positive Magazine, March 2004

  • Yes, it was the night of full moon; when I decided to be by the side of the mythical moon lake, Tso Chikgma or Chandra Taal, or Chandra Tal in the Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, India. Near the source of the Chandra River, this lake is known to be the abode of the moon God. Here, the perfect face of the moon finds its spotless reflection in the clear waters of the lake, as the moonlight weaves its magic around the mystical surroundings of near purple hills. Situated at about 14,000 ft above sea level, 9 kms from the Kunzum pass, the lake lies in a broad grassy plain that in ancient times was a glacier. Its 2 ½ kms circumambulation is considered holy, and there is a myth of a mermaid living in the lake, with whom a shepherd from Hansa village of the Spiti valley once fell in love.

  • As I traveled towards Manali, the moon followed me teasingly, zipping behind electric wires, trees and the traffic. At midnight, as the city streets were left behind and the mountain lining made its regal appearance, fresh air teased my nostrils, and I began to hear my own breath as clearly as a whistle of the hill bird. Fear mounted at Manali when fellows warned that the road ahead was tough and unsafe in this weather. But wriggling my way out of doubt, I resumed my journey towards Rohtang La (or Rohtam Pass), the high mountain pass at an elevation of 3.979m (13,054ft) above the sea level. I had to keep my date with the lake on the full moon.

The whole of next day saw me going up and down circular climbs on rough roads. Mundane day's activities cleverly threw a veil on the mystery of the night. Cows munched fodder, village folk hung around doing nothing, taps leaked and dhaba kitchens lit up busily. Magic slept. I waited. As mythology goes, the sun and the moon were originally equally bright, and Gods did not think this was a good idea, so they took a hare and threw it at the face of the moon. The hare struck the moon, and made a dark blotch that dimmed moon's brightness. But it sure could not take away its mystery!

As I continued undaunted on my journey over near broken hill roads, the day finally exhausted and prepared its return to the arms of night. Excitement built up. As I saw the last dazzling ray of the dying sun kiss adieu to the peaks, the night appeared with its enigma. The moon made its spectacular appearance in the sky. It disappeared and reappeared with each swirl of the road. It felt something like losing and regaining faith over again. I had heard of faith moving mountains, but today I felt the mountains moving me to faith! The night grew thicker, and the way darker and harder. Crossing the village of Batal (a mere small hut of a guesthouse), as I started the last 2.5 mile drive towards my destination, the chill of the region touched my spine and I knew the place to be inhabited by other beings. The big and small rocks scattered along the way looked possessed. Clouds flung their large shadows onto the peaks. This sure was a terrain where both life and death became one; rather a place where care for both drops.

Bereft of all signs of visible life, yet pregnant with a presence, a place for penance or rather an adventure of consciousness it seemed. At the last curl of the broken raw road, on the other side of the great mountain, the lake appeared, sitting quietly, completely innocent of its spectacular beauty. As I prepared to camp by its side, I could sense the moon preparing to emerge from its hide from the other side. When it finally slid from beneath the clouds, it was midnight. It gleamed teasingly, fully aware as to how long it had made me wait. Sliding in and out of the clouds, hiding and revealing it self... we had nightlong conversations.

As I rose from my camp in the morning light, the beauty sprinkled around me brought tears to my eye. I saw blue larks glide about freely in the sky, cranes and ducks frolic in the lake, and the waters clearly revealing the stones lounging underneath. The return journey started sooner than I thought, as temperatures dipped more than expected. The river never stops flowing, and the mountain never moved and the sunlight continued to make patterns on anything it fell upon, nothing changed. Yet the landscape, the leaves and the hills looked different on return journey. They looked satiated, content and rinsed, as though they had received the same nourishment I had received.