Winter Abode of Shiva

The Power Trip, The Pioneer, July 2002

The path cutting through Sarahan and Jeori up till the town of Sangla in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh close to the Tibetan border, was first dusty (with ongoing dams and hydroelectricity projects) and then dangerous. Traveling along the fierce Sutluj on steep narrow roads was not easy. The river Sutlej enters India from this region and literally cuts the Great Himalayan belt into spectacular gorges. Sutlej did not look like a river, rather an awakened army of sleeping monsters, full of renewed fury and vengeance. Yet one is more than compensated on reaching Sangla, the backside of Kalpa or Kinnaur Kailash, when a stunningly beautiful valley stares back at you.

As night fell, clouds hung low amidst a most spectacular criss-cross of hills, the stars took their positions and began to converse. A halt at Sangla got me comfortable with the beauty of the terrain before I embarked for Kalpa for a face to face with Shiva in his winter abode. The long haul sure seems worth it when one reaches Kinnaur, the tribal district of Himachal Pradesh, with a spectacular terrain of lush green valleys, orchards, vineyards, snow clad peaks and cold desert mountains. Under a magical spell of beauty unconceivable by a human mind, three conspicuous peaks of the Kinnaur Kailash range, representing Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha, sit majestically in eternal samadhi. A tribe of thick pine forest surrounds the range, and tall thin trees swing cautiously from side to side when the breeze moves through them, seeming as court ministers extending council.

A path beckoned me. With each step, I got closer for a face-to-face with the Shiva peak (as though ushered into his private chamber). I bowed in typical court style and muttered Your Highness! Just then a chunk of snow floated up from the peak and became cloud. As I gazed transfixed, I got convinced that the breeze was indeed Shiva's breath, mountains are his lungs, and the clouds were the rings of his chilam! I climbed higher and rested awhile on a green patch alongside harvests of peas and pulses, and plucked a purple flower whose cold petals refreshed as they pressed against my palm. The path called me further into the woods and I mindlessly followed even as darkness grew. Birds whistled with caution that not all paths that call may be safe, and they may be calling for different reasons. I compelled myself to return.

I knew just how the earth must feel, as I experienced the gradual melting of snow in my bones the next morning. Just as one is about to get snug in the chill, the sun warmly steals it away. The morning brought with it brand new sets. To think that it is the same village as last evening would be a mistake! The silence of the region got flirted with by the tinkling sound of the rolling prayer wheels, as whiff of rhododendrons mingled with the aroma of thukpas and mutton momos being cooked by a giggly village family. Legendary myths are living creatures in Kalpa. The entire village is under the benign governance of the living and loving presence of Mataji, none other than the revered Durga. She selects individuals through whom she channels directives, answers only on Sundays, and by nods few can decipher!

The village is sprinkled by monasteries and Kali temples alike, and it is believed that the natural 70 meter Shivalinga peak of Kalpa (rising to 6,050 meters) changes several shade during the course of one day. I kept watch, but to my eyes it had only one color thus far, that of the snow. Strangely, I felt Krishna's presence resplendent in this Shiva land, when I saw snow linger lovingly over the peaks before drifting away forever. Or when I saw the final hovering of light over possessed peaks. Chant of Om Namah Shivaya switched to Hare Krishna of its own accord, as I sighted the milkiness of the moon playing hide and seek with the fake denseness of clouds.

Mountain boundaries merged with darkness, while patterns of their silvery hung loosely under moonlight. It seemed as though the watercolors of a child (God?) spilled, smudging the artwork!

The entire region looked like a cot wherein creation had been lulled to sleep. I, too, slid into a reverie and witnessed a brilliant vision of the Shivalingam change hue from a transcendental blue to a flaming orange, then to a white, a yellow and red. And I understood what Kalpa was about—an integration of the unmanifest Shiva, and the most stunning expression of the manifest, Krishna.

Kalpa is a small village in the Sutlej river valley, above Reckong Peo in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Northern India, in the Indian Himalaya, and hosts Mt Kinnaur Kailash, at a height of 6050 meters and is considered sacred by both Hindu and Buddhist.