Foot Trails

What is it to be a solo traveller in life!

Dhankhar Monastery on the cliff
Dhankhar Monastery on the cliff

On my second day in Spiti; along with another solo traveller who I met on the road; decided to hire a taxi and visit Dhankhar. Dhankhar’s beauty is absolutely unique with a 1000-year-old monastery standing at the edge of rocky cliff.

Dhankhar Lake
Dhankhar Lake, photo credits: Arnab Das

A 60 minute hike on the mountain across the monastery takes one to the beautiful Dhankhar Lake. When we reached Dhankhar; my 1-day-old friend insisted on hiking to the lake. I resisted making excuses that it’s already 12pm, might suffer from altitude sickness and also the sun is so strong, etc. etc; basically, i didn’t want to do the climb. So after paying visit to the monastery; we started off for our next destination. But then considering that he was in Spiti only for that day and hiking to the lake was on his to-do list; changed my mind and decided to wait for him as he did his hike to the lake and come back. So we turned the car around and headed back to the base of the monastery. I was still not willing to do the climb.

Reflections in the water
Reflections in the water, photo credits: Arnab Das

Being in Spiti; got to know about many legends of this place and other mystical stories that make it so surreal. So one of the legends about Dhankhar Lake is that once 3 brothers from Nepal travelled to this place and as they gazed in the waters of the lake; they saw their entire past, present and even future in the reflections of the water. Spooky stuff!

Chandratal Lake source: indiamike
Chandratal Lake
source: indiamike

And there are tales about fairies living at the bottom of the lake. One such tale is about Chandrataal (Moon Goddess Lake). It is one of those ‘Once upon a Time’ stories; during summers; a farmer who had a farm near the lake would sit by the lake and play his flute. He must be really good because the fairy would come up, to listen to his music. And thus the love affair began between the farmer and the fairy. Of course they didn’t have a happy ending. So this is a land of fairies and many magical stories.

 Another legend that stayed with me was about a chomo (that’s nun in the local language) who was on a pilgrimage to Lahaul valley. As she was returning, she sat to rest for a while. She slept and saw a dream that she got pregnant. She woke up, went back to her village and then found out that she actually did get pregnant. Of course her parents and villagers didn’t believe about her dream. They accused her for bringing shame to the family and even the village. Being a nun, this was utterly disgraceful on her part. Her parents said, “we will outcaste you and will have no contact with you ever.” But we will not punish that little life inside you. So they allowed her to stay till she gave birth. They kept the infant and told her to leave the village immediately. The nun stayed just outside the village in a cave where she meditated for long hours. Meanwhile the boy was growing up in the village unaware that his mother lives in a cave on the outskirts of the village. After years; she disappeared, no one knows to where. Later the boy grew up to be in the monk order and was one of the Rinpoche . He found out about the cave and went and meditated too there for many, many years. Last, when people saw him; he was seen flying over the villages and then disappeared too.

 13

Hmmm… So now coming back to the hike at the Dhankhar Lake. From 12pm; it was now 4 pm and there was no sign of Arnab. Had no clue, why it took so long; either he dosed off by the lake, drowned; twisted his ankle & cannot walk, fell and became unconscious or simply chilling while the taxi and a friend are waiting at the base. But now we could not simply sit and wait. It was time to do something.

Told the driver that we should start walking towards the lake to see what has happened as it would soon start to get dark too. Now this driver was also one of his kinds. In spite of being a local, he detested climbing. On the verge of crying he said; “Madame, I hate to do this climb and such an incident has never happened. I have brought so many people here; no tourist or traveller has ever gotten lost on this track. (Actually it’s true; the trail to the lake is very well marked.) But mountains are mountains! Deceptive.

So that moment, decided not to go and instead sent a worker from a nearby restaurant along with the driver. I said; “I’ll wait here and keep an eye if he comes from another side other than the marked route.”

They both unwillingly and reluctantly started to walk towards the lake. I stood there alone scanning the mountains from the distance for any trace of human life. Wasn’t liking to be in this situation. At that moment asked myself: “You came here alone; what was the need to talk to a stranger and make friends? Now what if something bad has happened? I simply had no answer! Somehow, received a strong assurance that “All’s well. Keep Calm.” My eyes still tracking those 2 men walking towards the lake, and looking for any other sign of movement across the giant mountain. Hardly 5 minutes had passed that I see ant like figures coming down from the other steep end. And with a strained look, recognized that it is Arnab with few locals.

Was so relieved at this sight. The search party was shouted at and called back.

So Arnab’s side of story: (Okay just to tell everyone. He is an avid trekker unlike me so him getting lost didn’t sound convincing.) He reached the lake after losing the track once. He sat by the lake for 30 minutes took some beautiful pictures and started to head back; when he really did lose his way. He fell, skid once or twice almost on the verge of having a great fall; hand no clue of directions; disoriented, dehydrated, and then somehow met few locals and they guided his way down. Phew!

So this was a beautiful lesson for me of Life in general. Though scary, there was a lot of beauty in this whole experience. This is Life. Can happen to anyone, anywhere. I touched a deeper level of calmness within me in this entire play.

Now am a firm believer that to travel within, at times one needs to travel without to unknown places, unexpected situations; and if possible even to be lost for a while. And also, it’s good to make some friends along the way who will bring you back on the Path. 🙂

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