Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Curious Case of the Curlew




Bush Stone Curlew

The Wisdom

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light 

who knows neither time nor error, 

and under Whose eye, unforgiving, 

the world, unforgiven, 

swings into shadow.


 –from "Evening Hawk" by Robert Penn Warren


Have you ever had one of those pivotal moments in which everything you had previously thought of as true and real, no longer seems so because your whole sense of reality has shifted gear and opened out into a wider dimension?

This 'new' perspective is so near and so natural we can't help wondering how we had never noticed it before.

I think most of us have experienced such moments during our lives. When they happen we feel that nothing will or can ever be the same again and 'truth' seems so very near and obvious. But alas, all too often and all too soon we lose the lofty heights of our momentary perspective and sink back into the dream...

And the 'dream' is addictive and compelling. We believe in the story of our lives and almost everything that we do or say or think feeds into the sturdy edifice of 'our story.' It is almost as though we cannot help ourselves because the story-line seems so believable.

And sadly, we almost never think to question our story or to investigate the nature and origins of our inmost sense of 'self.' As a result, our attention remains locked onto the drama of our unfolding life and we remain none the wiser right up until the time it is about to end.

Most of us are not even aware that we are fixating on a drama which is neither true nor real and we are accustomed to living almost all of our lives this way. For us, what is nearest and true, as our inmost nature, has become but a distant dream and what is dreamlike and passing is the obsessive focus of our day to day attention.

There is a nocturnal bird that lives in Australia, called a Curlew. It has a tendency, on occasion, to turn up outside windows and reflective surfaces where it appears to be mesmerized by its own image. It is not that it thinks the image is another bird, rather it knows instinctively that the image it is seeing in the glass has something to do with itself. There is an almost fatal attraction which compels the bird towards what it is perceiving in the glass.


In a similar manner, we human beings are infatuated with our sense of self-identity. We are convinced that we are what we appear to be.

We can learn so much from the natural world around us, from the wildlife, from the plants and in fact from every living thing.

Since I was very young I remember hearing stories about birds that
would appear just before or around the time of someone's death. In fact, I personally witnessed such a thing on more than one occasion in my younger years.

In New Zealand, where I grew up, these untimely or timely, visitations were considered, by the Maori, to be an omen.

Modern societies have forgotten about omens. Everything has been reduced to the small and narrow focus of what is apparently provable. As though the only reality we can identify with must be scientifically accounted for.

And yet, whenever something rattles our attention and gives us pause for thought, or better still, arrests our thought altogether, we come face to face with the 'unknown.' In such confounding moments, we entered the realm of the omens of awareness. We cannot understand them with the mind and yet on an almost subliminal level we feel deeply unsettled by them.

Getting back to the curious case of the Curlew.
Some years ago, while I was visiting Kuranda, a small settlement, in the far north of Queensland, I was surprised to see groups of birds occasionally gathered here and there around the town, usually near bushes and leafy parklands.

They were most often completely still and immobile so that one might not actually notice them until very near and then be startled by these strange, still and ghostlike creatures. They certainly made an impression on me.

I asked a friend about them and he told me they were called Bush Stone Curlews and that the Aboriginal people feared their appearance in a locality as harbingers of death.

Whether that is actually true or not remains to be seen, however, given the ancient origins of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia one might well assume that they would have cause to know.
I was particularly impressed by these birds and had the feeling of something 'other-worldly' which I always felt when I saw them or happened upon them on my way.

They are said to be primarily a nocturnal bird explaining why they move so little during the hours of daylight and have an almost dreamlike quality about them. Dream-like as in sleepwalking.

Then, quite recently I came across a story of a bird that appeared in a busy Brisbane suburb. One of this particular breed had planted itself very firmly outside an office building and was seen to be gazing at itself in the glass of the shop front for hours on end. In fact, it would come at the crack of dawn with the very first rays of the sun and leave again only at dusk when it became dark.

Of course, many people noticed it and the occurrence began to spawn much attention. So much so that a notice soon appeared on the window just above where the bird would stand in isolated and determined vigil gazing at itself in the glass.

"I'm a bush stone curlew," the sign read.
"I'm fine. I just like to stare at myself in the window."


Many people were alarmed by it's behaviour.

The Brisbane City Councillor, Ryan Murphy, humorously named
one such bird Sir Kew Llew, when, on a separate occasion, one appeared outside his office and took up the post of a vigilante for several days on end.

He wrote;

The situation is rapidly spiralling out of control. Despite it being clearly signed, the Curlew ignores all instruction. What's worse, patrons of the nearby Dominos Pizza shop have gifted it a generous supply of Classic Crust, allowing the bird to maintain its siege indefinitely.

I am no stranger to odd constituents. Indeed, one once threw a burning tyre through the very window that now consumes this Curlew. The affection of some constituents burns red hot, but the obsession of this avian interloper is more than a man can bear.

RSPCA refuse to pick it up, so I guess Sir Kerr Llew must stay. Like an ‘office volunteer’ who hangs around a lot, eventually, I will be forced to put it on my staff.'


😄


Australia is blessed with many unique and extraordinary birds but there is something mystical about this breed. They have a bone-chilling and piercing cry which can often be heard if they are nesting in the local vicinity. Their call is very haunting when it sounds out in the early, silent hours of the morning.

As with so many things in nature, we can find, in their seeming eccentricities, things which are entirely relevant to our own lives and peculiar ways.

We are so surprised and even quite unnerved by the behavior of the Curlew. To us it appears extreme and irrational and yet we do not notice that we also behave in a similar fashion.

We may not plant ourselves in front of reflective surfaces for days on end gazing at our own images in the glass and yet, are we not mesmerized by our sense of 'self-identity' and the seeming reality of our lives and the part we appear to be playing in them?

This infatuation can compel us to move through an entire lifetime like a sleepwalker, awake to the dream and yet asleep to what actually is. Like children engrossed in watching the pictures made up of moving dots on a screen, we fail to notice the screen itself.

To be present and yet absent from our presence is a dilemma that ensnares our modern societies. The fatal attraction of a pseudo pleasure which is always somehow just out of our reach is a modern version of an ancient human problem. Smartphones and our digital technologies play into this dilemma very conveniently by creating devices that snatch away our attention and subvert it very efficiently into channels that do not in any way serve our best interests.

At the end of the day, the wise will remember that life is brief. Of what use is it to spend so much of our precious time and attention gazing at a screen? Better by far to waken from our dream and become aware of what it is that makes the whole show appear in the first place!

The only truly meaningful thing to do in this world is to understand who and what we really are and yet we find endless ways with which to distract ourselves from this vital investigation.

We are fatally attracted to what we perceive and yet fail to notice what it is that does the perceiving...

This points to what is missing in our lives. Many feel that something is in fact missing and yet cannot quite say what it is. The answer is shockingly simple. 
Our attention is missing. 

When our attention is distracted we are not aware of the only thing which is actually real and true. Without it we are merely puppets dancing to some frenetic tune from which we finally collapse, exhausted and lost.

Unwittingly, we have become sleepwalkers. From the moment of waking until the moment when we sink into sleep, we are the plaything of our perceptions and of the very technologies that promise to free us. The lines between waking and dreaming have now been dangerously blurred so that we scarcely notice them at all.

Is this not a strange turn around of events? Unintended repercussions are often the result of fundamentally good intentions.

May the omens of awareness come to shake us out of our torpor, out of our dreaming. Infatuated with the images on the so-called screen of life we fail to see that we are swallowed by the abyss of inattention and when our death comes to greet us, as it surely will, we will suddenly wake and wonder how it all has come to pass.

Like the Curlew that has planted itself in front of the glass, we are fixated and lost. We are not able to free ourselves from our obsessions.

Let us not forget the most precious of all gifts which each of us has right here and right now, in the very palm of our hands. 

It alone deserves our unswerving attention now and always...





Thursday, 23 May 2019

Is Time Speeding Up?



It seems to be a global phenomenon. With every passing year, time appears to be accelerating.

Where ever we go and where ever we turn we hear people commenting about time flashing by so quickly, time pressure, the days appearing to become shorter and so on.

Young people are much busier these days than we were when we were growing up. They have more activities to attend to and school schedules are very full, along with after-school work and activities of various kinds.

The same holds true with every age group in different ways and for different reasons, barring perhaps only the newly born.

If we throw modern day digital devices, such as mobile phones, gadgets, tablets and gaming devices into the mix it quickly moves the whole phenomenon to another level.

One group of thought say that the 'time speeding up' phenomenon is due to a lack of 'milestones' as we get older and that this perception is based on psychological reasons. The 'firsts' which greet us in the earlier period of our lives diminish as we age. This explanation, however, seems incomplete.

Another school of thought takes a more scientific bent bringing quantum physics into the mix. The Schumann Resonance, which can be likened to the pulse or the heartbeat of the planet is said to have been stable at 7.8 cycles per second for thousands of years. This same group say that since 1980 the pulse has begun to increase. It is currently at 12 cycles per second. Some claim that when it reaches 13 the earth will actually stop rotating on its axis. It will not rotate for approximately 72 hours and then slowly it will begin to rotate again but in the opposite direction and a reversal in the magnetic field around the earth will thus ensue.

Very interesting...

And yet where do we actually stand in the midst of all of this?  What do we have to measure with or even comprehend our place within a vaster scheme of which we are slowly becoming aware? The interdependence of every living thing has now become undeniable and yet we still have not acknowledged how this is so or why.

We are under the impression that awareness exists because the world exists, but exactly the opposite is true. 

The world exists because we are aware...

Don't underestimate the importance of this statement. It is, in all actuality, mind-blowing.

If we go back to the absolute fundamentals based on our perception of the world in which we live, move and have our being, we are faced with the incredible mystery of our awareness. That, which is under-rated and often overlooked is, in fact, the very key to unravelling our confusion over the whole, messy business of living and dying and everything else.

Within an ever-broadening mandala of interconnectedness, we are being forced to begin noticing what is closer to us than any 'thing' can ever be.

How beautiful it is that this fundamental 'truth' turns out to be the simplest thing and the only thing that we can ever really verify in our own personal experience.

We all have the intimate and direct experience of our existence. It's really the only thing we have. Think about that for a moment.

Everything outside of that is hearsay.

Meanwhile, we are living our lives in a state of almost perpetual distraction. Our attention is riveted to the evanescence of life and not to the spring of 'awareness' from which it all arises. In other words, our eyes are fixed on the moving colours and shadows on the screen of life and not apprehending the screen upon which those colours and shadows are dancing about.

We are running faster and faster to get, well, nowhere...


Busy-ness has become a dilemma of our times. Too much to do and too little time to do it in.

Yet, we only need to pause a moment and take note of what really is right now and we are immediately brought back to zero...

What can be simpler than that in a complicated world?



Friday, 12 April 2019

Too Busy Being Busy?



People running here and there. No time to stop, no time to think, no time to even really live...

When we are busy most of us are not able to live consciously in the present, instead, we are caught up in thoughts and all of the activities that spring from them. If we strip these thoughts right down to their bare basics we can quickly discover that all of them are about some preconceived hopes or fears about the future or the past. This is the condition in which we normally live. It is distracted, pre-occupied, stressful and very unbalanced.

Busy-ness is a kind of modern-day insanity which is overrunning our lives.
Even in our moments of non-busyness, we often find ourselves reaching for something to engage our attention and this continues from the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we shut them again at night. We live in a kind of fever and stress has become a substratum in our day to day existence in the modern world.


Unless we consciously take the time out to pause and be still we are caught on a wheel of perpetual movement and change. We are little better than mice on a treadmill which is going around and around. We are working so hard but we are not actually getting anywhere.

There are most certainly psychological impacts when we are constantly distracted, and constantly busy.

There is nothing so useless as
doing efficiently that which
should not be done at all.

Peter. F. Drucker


One impact of this condition is the sense of acceleration, the feeling that time is speeding up. We perceive this as something which is happening to us and we feel it as a kind of pressure which manifests itself in our lives as stress.

And stress, as we all know, directly affects our health, our moods, our thoughts and the quality of our lives. It also affects the way that we interact with others and has powerful repercussions on the lives of those with whom we are close.

In actuality, of course, time and space are relative and yet when our mind is engaged in the busyness of living from day to day we become entangled in the machinations of time passing in units of hours, minutes and seconds. We get caught up in the drama of events and we lose our sense of a wider and vaster perspective.

If there is one disease that pervades modern society it is that of stress which can condition our behaviour in so many ways and adversely affect our sense of well being and health. When our anxiety levels are high we are certainly not at peace and our lives are certainly not balanced.

When our attention is constantly engaged and distracted and busy we can easily miss out on the very things that give us a sense of meaning, satisfaction and fulfilment in our day to day lives.

*****

Recently I was reading a story about two psychologists from a university. They conducted a test which was designed to indicate what kinds of triggers and conditions engender in people certain types of behaviour. In this instance, compassion and empathy.

In two separate groups, one therapist asked the students to walk to a class where they were each expected to give a short speech. The chosen theme for the day was compassion and empathy.

The other psychologist sent his group of students off to another class, ostensibly telling them the same thing, however, he led his group to understand that they were already late for their class. The first group, however, had been told that they had plenty of time until their class would begin.

Meanwhile, an actor had taken up a position on the pathway along which each group would pass. The actor made the appearance of being very unwell and in distress.

What happened next was interesting. It turned out that the theme and topic on which each person was expected to speak in their up and coming class, had little if any impact on their behaviour. (Remember, that day the theme was about empathy and compassion.)
Only 10 per cent of those who had been told they were late for class stopped to help the person in distress, whereas, 60 per cent of the group who thought that they had plenty of time stopped to help out.

Busyness is bad for empathy and compassion. Those of us who have spent time in big cities have seen many examples of this. I am sure that most of us can also attest to examples of this in our own day to day lives if not personally, then in numerous instances that we can observe happening around us.

*****

It is very extraordinary to notice how our sense of perceived 'time' can affect the way that we behave and react to different situations.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the following, also equally thought-provoking example which took place during an excursion into the Andes.

An archaeologist hired some Inca tribesmen to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped and insisted they would go no further. The archaeologist grew impatient and then angry. But no matter how much he cajoled, the tribesmen would not go any further. Then all of a sudden and quite unanimously they completely changed their attitude. Inexplicably, to the archaeologist, they picked up the gear and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist later asked the tribesmen why they had stopped and refused to move for so long, but then suddenly appeared to have changed their minds they answered, “We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.

This may sound very quaint in our digital world where everything moves at breakneck speed and yet there is a very profound truth buried within the simple tribe people's home-grown wisdom.

When we rush around continuously never giving ourselves time to be still, to be silent, to be quiet and to be present in the present we rob ourselves of something utterly fundamental to our health, wellbeing and sense of day to day fulfilment.

Our existence is rooted in a truth so unspeakably near to us that we fail to recognise it. In the midst of our busy-ness, there is just one thing which is utterly essential for us to do. Everything else, in the light of this truth is completely meaningless.

To find out who and what we really are is the single most important thing we can do in this life. By refocusing our attention away from being the 'doer' we can train ourselves to perform actions even while we remain quiet and at peace within our sense of 'awareness.'

Friday, 29 March 2019

When Hatred Explodes into Love


On the afternoon of the 15th of March 2019, I was in the small provincial town of Nowra about two hours south of Sydney, when a Whatsapp message pinged in on my phone. It was from my mother. It read; 'Everything is ok with all of us so please don't worry. Will ring you when I get home. Am out at the moment.'
At first, I thought it might have been mistakenly sent to me while intended for someone else. So I responded, 'Did you send that message to me accidentally?'

The reply came quickly. 'No! Am at a friends place, we are all holding together here.'

Then an earthquake alarm which I had installed on my phone after the Christchurch quakes, now many years ago, went 'ding ding' right at that moment so I immediately thought; 'oh no... there must have been a big earthquake.

As a New Zealander growing up in a subduction zone on the 'Ring of Fire,' I am very much aware of quakes and as most of my family members are now living in Christchurch I keep the alerts on my phone in case one strikes. It was uncanny timing because my alert is set at Richter 6.5 which does not go off very often. I looked quickly at where it was registering and it said Indonesia, so was immediately baffled as to what mum was referring. As I was soon to discover however, this was an 'earthquake' of a different kind...

Next moment another message came through from her. 'Listen to the news.' 'Massacre at a mosque near Hagley. It's chaotic here at the moment and the crisis on-going.'

During the entire duration of my journey back to Gerringong on the train, while clinging to my cycle in the hallway and as the compartment swayed back and forth I was riveted to my tiny phone screen consumed with news of the unfolding situation. A few tears rolled involuntarily down my cheeks as I tried to comprehend what was going on. The unfolding situation along with disbelief and horror was particularly poignant because it was happening in the vicinity of people I love and places I know. Whenever I am visiting my family in Christchurch I stay with my mother who lives quite near Hagley Park and my feet have pounded the pathways around the park many times over and at every opportunity.

Hagley Park is the 'jewel' and heart of Christchurch in many respects.

The news of this event is of course, by now, history...

One man with several loaded semi-automatic machine guns and a mind consumed by hatred and extremist views walked into a mosque near Hagley Park and unloaded his weapons into a temple filled with praying devotees both young and old.

At the same time, thousands of children were been gathering in Christchurch Square in order to protest about climate change. After the gunman's attempt to commit another massacre at a second mosque was foiled by the intervention of one of the worshippers present, he had taken to driving through the streets and shooting at people randomly. This caused widespread chaos and many people were caught up in the effects of the pandemonium which ensued.



It was not long before I was home and able to call my mother, as were many others who had family ties in the city and were connected either directly or indirectly to what was unfolding and yet far away.

Not being in New Zealand while all of this was taking place I could only listen from afar to the experiences of personal family members but nevertheless, they really touched a spot. What arose from this horrific incident appears to be so significant. From the fear and hatred which motivated the unbridled killing of innocents, rose up a tidal wave of empathy, love and compassion.


A few days after the event, my mother along with one of my sisters took their offering of flowers to add them to the makeshift shrine that had been erected outside Hagley Park.  Several streets before the park the flowers and tributes and notes and candles began to appear. By the time they came near the park itself, there was an ocean of flowers as far as the eye could see.

Both felt deeply moved by the scene, in fact, they had never seen anything quite like it. They quietly walked along arm in arm occasionally stooping to read a note or some card or look at a photo of a loved one lost. After moving along the wall of flowers for some time in this way, they lingered a while to take it all in and became aware of an Imam kneeling on the grass reading through some of the notes. My mother had noticed him before at some time, somewhere but had never spoken with him. He pulled himself up from the grass and the flowers, the messages and the tributes and turning around he was directly in front of my mother and their eyes met.

Without thinking at that moment something made her suddenly reach out and extend her arms towards him, he acceded to being held by a complete stranger in a warm and loving embrace. My sister soon joined in and the three of them stood there silently holding each other. Within a moment the Imam was sobbing uncontrollably in their arms. No one could speak, what could they say? The flow of empathy between them was complete and in that moment they were united.

Many many people around the city of Christchurch during that time had their own stories and experiences to share. It quite literally unleashed a tidal wave of empathy and compassion.

Exactly a week after the massacre I got another message from my mother. She told me she was all dressed and ready to go to the park for the 'Call to Prayer' which was to honour the victims and show support to the Muslim community. She had, only weeks before undergone a knee replacement and being well into her eighties, was naturally baulking at the idea of making this journey alone. Normally this would never have been the case as either a neighbour or a friend or one of my two sisters would have most certainly accompanied her.

However, on this particular morning, everyone appeared to be busy. Even the neighbours whom she had approached. A sad little message appeared on my phone. 'Lyse,  I so want to go to the park and be part of the ceremony but it looks as though I will not be able to.' I could certainly understand her dilemma, but on this occasion, I felt it was too important to follow her heart and the inner pull which she was so obviously feeling and that somehow everything would be ok.  I immediately encouraged her to drive as near to Hagley as possible and then take a bus from there. It was all she needed. Just a wee nudge of encouragement and she was on her way in her little bright-red Honda making a beeline for the park.

She drove to Hagley, found a park for her car and began walking slowly with the help of her crutches and a determination to make it to the main shrine area. It was a fair distance but before long someone approached her and asked if she needed help. She replied gratefully that she could manage. They reached forward and embraced her and went on their way. This happened several times until a lady in her mid-fifties suddenly took mum by the arm. She stayed with her throughout the whole ensuing ceremony and even accompanied her right back to the car afterwards.

The flow of grace and the spirit of generosity and empathy were palpable. Mother made it to the makeshift shrine, she was even able to find a seat, probably only one of a handful in the whole area. Being present and able to partake of this momentous event which had shattered so many people's lives and then exploded into a huge outpouring of love was really quite unprecedented. Everyone present could feel the empathy.

Of course, things will slip back into the usual day to day flow when it all begins to fade and the old routines kick back in and yet something completely out of the ordinary has taken place. Hatred has given way to love, it has opened people's hearts and minds. Such an outcome could not have been further from the perpetrator's mind and intentions and yet this is the beauty, this is the hope...

One cannot write about these events without mentioning Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's currently elected Prime Minister. She is a strong young woman with a heart which is alive. A woman with the courage to stand by her humanity. Perhaps, because of its very isolated geographic location, in New Zealand, such an outpouring can happen more easily but I feel it is also an indicator of our times and amid the hatred and the greed we all need to see this quality blooming and taking hold. Our societies have become hotbeds of disconnection, dysfunction and profound unbalance.

She caught the imagination of the world by taking a devastating and traumatising event with which the perpetrator sought to isolate and terrorise one small group and she transformed it into a deeply unifying expression of the only thing that can heal such madness; love.

This is and must be an emerging sign of our times.

Kia Kaha is a deeply significant Maori phrase widely used around New Zealand, meaning 'stay strong.' ' Stay firm.'  Do not waver in the face of hatred and adversity. Remain united and as One.



Saturday, 9 February 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim. Part 3




After a rough night camped out on a tarpaulin which we had laid out over the bare and none too clean floorboards of the cabin, the first sounds of life outside indicating the approaching dawn summoned us to rise early and make our ablutions under the cold water tap nearby.

We set about preparing a simple breakfast after which we got ready for our ascent and the final climb up to the cave. The previous day, a local person, possibly a native to northern Sikkim had arrived a little after us and set up a  camp nearby, he rolled out his bedding not far from ours inside the shelter. As we could not communicate except with the small store of Nepali words I knew we had not been able to get to know his purpose there.

 However, that morning we shared our small cooking fire and a few biscuits with him. It seemed that he was visiting the cave as well, but he set off some time before we got going that morning.

As soon as we climbed out of our camp we were confronted with steps rising almost vertically up the side of the mountain. The steps were narrow, steep and slippery. One careless foot placement and it could all be over within a flash.


We continued our steep ascent up mossy stone stairways that seemed to become ever more narrow and steep the higher we climbed. It was a somewhat cloudy morning unlike the blue skies of the previous day which had graced our journey in. Therefore we were a little anxious about the weather turning on us. This gave us some added pressure to our sense of limited time. We intended to make it back down to the lodge that same day and our descent on the slippery pathways was not looking any easier than the ascent had been.

Onwards and upwards we continued for some forty or more minutes, by which time the sun had risen and was beginning to peak through the early morning clouds.

Then, after a particularly exposed and sheer section of bare stone steps, we suddenly noticed a whole bevvy of prayer flags hanging over a narrow entryway and we knew our destination was now very near.

There was some clambering over difficult large boulders and then we were there, right in front of a steep cliff face and looking into several dark passageways. Interestingly, there was no clearly defined cave entrance to be seen, rather a series of gloomy caverns under the sheer cliff wall.


Small shrines were set up here and there with statues and offerings of butter lamps and flowers and bowls of water. Many had passed this way before and the pilgrims had left their offerings on the stone alters. There were all sorts of things from human hair to old malas and various other knick-knacks.


We immediately sensed a very powerful blessing in the place and although it was indefinable, it could not be ignored. Not long after we arrived the Sikkimese man with whom we had shared our breakfast at the camp shelter way below suddenly re-appeared. He beckoned us to follow him and as it turned out, this was a very fortuitous occurrence because we could never have found the caves which he was soon to lead us into had we been alone there. They were quite hidden from public view and not at all obvious.

Armed with nothing more than a small candle and a box of matches he entered one shallow cave near the main cliff-face and then disappeared over the lip of a very large rock.  We followed closely behind him, Frank ahead of me on the heels of our guide and me panting up the rear. Both of us had gas lighters and torches with us but even so the inky blackness within the mountain was utterly impenetrable and our lights seemed very meagre indeed.

However, we had little time to consider our options or contemplate the risks of following our companion and it was just as well. Very soon we found ourselves on our bellies in the dust inside the mountain and inching our way forward along very narrow passages. I still don't know how I had the nerve to follow. With Frank ahead of me there was the hopeful expectation that I would be able to fit through the various openings if he had as he was taller and larger than me, but even so, we were really entering into an unknown world with an uncertain outcome awaiting us.


Despite various kinds of adventures throughout my life, squeezing myself along muddy narrow passages into the insides of a mountain was a very new kind of experience, particularly as we were being led by a fellow with unclad feet and only a wax candle wedged between his two front teeth.

On and on we went behind the man, our curiosity increasing with every passing moment. It was somewhat comforting to know that he had been here before. Only someone very familiar with these caves could ever find their way around them. We had to slide our bodies between massive boulders which appeared to separate one cavern from another. It was not long before we were covered in grime from head to foot and very soon it became damp and muddy as well, but there was nothing for it but to continue on .

Deep inside the mountain, we eventually climbed into a small cavern and saw a shrine with many offerings from previous visitors.  We were grateful to have our headlamps so that we could at least see a little around us and into the surroundings inner caverns. After some more climbing and sliding around over large rocks and boulders we entered another cavern which had a very particular atmosphere.

It was here that our guide took out a rumpled Kadak, a ceremonial scarf of greeting covered in Buddhist auspicious symbols and some other small offerings. We followed suit. After chanting a few prayers and enjoying some precious moments of silence within the heart cavern we felt that some indefinable blessing had embraced us. It was a very exquisite feeling, deeply moving and quite unforgettable.


The journey out was as perilous as the one in but thanks to our guide we were able to make it out again into the light of day, very much relieved but also thoroughly exhilarated by our unexpected adventure.

He showed us a few more of the caves, but nothing as challenging as that first one and then he went on his way. We were never to meet again. However, the gratitude that we both felt at his having come along at such a crucial time in our pilgrimage was never to leave us.



We stayed on a while longer, exploring the various levels and nooks and crannies of which there were many.

By the time we began our journey back down to our camp our hearts were completely filled and we felt that the effort that it had taken for us to reach this remote place was completely and fully justified and worthwhile.



Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim, Part 2.




A faded sign marks the beginning of our journey on foot. Here starts the trail to the northern cave of Chang Lhari Nyinpo. This roughly translates as the old cave of God's hill. The trail passes through dense forests of ancient trees, bubbling mountain streams forded by rickety bamboo and wooden bridges of dubious strength and construction.

We begin with a descent along a pathway paved with roughly hewn stones. They are damp but fortunately not slippery. However, one must be constantly vigilant as the stones are not level. They jut out from the soil in an uneven profusion and often add to the difficulty of the path rather than making it easier to traverse.

Frank leads the way into the dense forest that greets us at the beginning of our trek. Bamboo groves soon give way to massive trees dripping with orchids and ferns of all exotic kinds.


It is not long before he decides to find us suitable walking sticks. These simple branches will become essential as we progress on our journey. A stick is very necessary in so many ways and quickly becomes an indispensable trekking tool.

I don't have the greatest kneecaps and a walking stick helps me to balance and take some of the weight while climbing and descending.

There were plenty of bamboos available near the beginning of our walk so we chose a couple of sturdy staffs to help us on our way.

As we were both carrying our own loads in backpacks it was essential to be able to balance the load well, especially on the tenuous cliff stairways and hanging bridges that we were very soon to encounter.
I will have to admit that I did roll my eyes when we climbed up to the first dubious section of the pathway not long after setting out. In this particular spot, a bit of bamboo had been roped to the side of the cliff wall and it looked none too sturdy. Without luggage one can skirt these sections fairly painlessly but when carrying a load it becomes quite a different matter.


The surrounding trees were tall and magnificent. This first part of our trail passed through some very old-growth forests that had never been touched with a loggers chainsaw.

We walked steadily onwards and upwards. In fact, after the first thirty minutes of relatively flat walking, it was all ascent, ascent and more ascent!

I always find that the first thirty or forty minutes of the day is the most difficult part of walking. After that one finds ones walking pace and the going becomes much easier. After warming up the body finds its own walking rhythm and once you tap into that there is a momentum which seems to carry you along, not effortlessly of course, but slowly and steadily.

Frank and I seemed to manage our pace at about the same rate but I was aware that he was being very thoughtful and not putting too much distance between us. There were many places where large rocks or slippery wooden walkways made it a little challenging for me, especially with my load and he was always nearby to extend a helping hand. I should also mention that he had quietly taken the lions share of things which had to be carried.

Even though it was relatively cool, as often happens with trekking, we soon became very hot and sweaty.

A seven or eight-hour trek is not much to tackle, but when the trail rises sharply most of the way it can begin to get quite gruelling.

I am something of a seasoned trekker and yet, I do remember feeling particularly weary on this ascent by the middle of the day.

Our intention was to make it to a small and extremely basic hut which lies about an hour from the cave of Chang Lhari Nying Phuk.

Early afternoon, when we stumbled across a bubbling stream with large and inviting boulders along its banks we decided to take proper rest, have our lunch and a good break.

Only the occasional local villager had passed us during the morning and sometimes they had a few goats or yaks with them, but we did not encounter any other pilgrims along the path.

At a certain elevation, I began to notice leeches beginning to freeload on my boots and socks. I had chosen to wear a long cotton dress. Some would say it is not the most practical choice, and whenever we encountered large boulders I would have to agree.   There were some advantages, however. It could be hoisted up in the front when climbing and lifted above the waterline if wading across a creek and I found it was generally much more comfortable and cool to wear provided the trail was straightforward of course.

Unfortunately, as I was soon to discover soon enough, a dress was not necessarily the wisest of choices in the high alpine Sikkimese forests, where slippery pathways and leech infested grasses could make a dress a challenge. There were also a few other unexpected situations which were to arise later and make me question the wisdom of my choice on this occasion.

The higher we climbed, the cooler and mistier it became. We also noticed that the soil and vegetation around us was very damp. Just a few days before it had been raining heavily in these parts and the residue of those rains was evident on all sides. This turned the trail in something rather treacherous and the higher we climbed the more slippery it became. Slipping on these mossy stones was simply not an option, given the height at which we were climbing. One misstep could easily have spelt disaster. A broken limb in these parts would be extremely problematic to both the victim and his/her companion.


Therefore we made our way with great care and took no unnecessary risks. As nimble as goats we both somehow managed to avoid falling, but it was a wonder really.

About an hour before dusk we climbed into a small, high rocky location surrounded by massive trees and noticed to one side the trekkers or pilgrims lodge that we had heard about.

This would be as far as we could reach this day. On the morrow, we would climb up into the cliffs and find the cave.



Saturday, 26 January 2019

Sacred Caves of Sikkim. Part 1



Ever since I first came to know about the four sacred caves of Sikkim, I wanted to make a pilgrimage to each of them and as of now I still have not accomplished that entirely. If a chance comes my way, I will make another journey and endeavour to fulfil that wish.

According to historical records, the guru Padmasambhava was requested by one of Tibet's kings in the 8th century to search for places where practitioners could practise in safety during the coming times of trouble.

The four caves of Sikkim are deemed to be among the places which he blessed during his search. The spiritual heart of Sikkim is said to be a place called Tashiding and these four caves are located in the four directions which radiate out from this place.

Two of the four sacred caves are easy to find and two are more challenging being several days walk up into the mountains along slippery and leach infested trails. One, in particular, can be reached only along a very treacherous trail which leads high into the mountains. This is the cave in the West, the Dechen Phuk or Cave of Great Joy.

Two caves, Cave of the Dakinis in the South of Sikkim and the Rebungla Cave are easy to get to. Chang Lhari Nyingpo in the north of Sikkim, which roughly translates as the Old Cave of Gods Hill is perhaps the oldest of the four caves.

My German friend Frank and I were both keen to make this journey. Frank had spent a bit of time in the hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and when I had mentioned these caves to him was as eager as I to visit them. So in the year of 2008, we made a plan.

Our intention was to try and visit all four caves, however, Frank was by that time living and working in Germany and could only spare a few days for our proposed adventure.


Therefore we decided on one cave in the South which would be on our route into the hills north, where we proposed to climb up to the Chiang Lhari Nyingpo Cave and then we could visit if possible the other eastern cave on our way back down.

There would be no hotels or eating places on our way once we headed for the northern cave, so we packed a small stash of supplies to last us for a few days.

It was spring in the foothills, but still somewhat cool and also rather damp with rain falling on most days. the area to the north was flanked by dense forests and as we were yet to find out a very steep and slippery climb.

On our agreed meet up day, I rose very early in order to prepare for a big day of travelling ahead. It was a cloudy morning and I could not see the mountain of Kangchendzonga from my window, which would have been the case were it clear. I had to flag down a jeep from the road above the place where I was staying.

Ten minutes of concerted climbing with my luggage brought me puffing and sputtering to the gate of the forestry department. From here many jeeps would ply up and down the steep and narrow road on their way to Gangtok and Kalimpong.

Frank had already been a couple of days with a friend in Kalimpong so I was going to meet him at the turn off at the bottom of the hill which was several thousand feet below where I was living at the time. From there he would pick me up in a jeep which we had hired to take us up to the beginning of the track that would lead to Chiang Lhari Nyingpo.

That morning it was not difficult to flag down a jeep, find an empty seat and make my way down to the Teesta river. I got there a little before Frank arrived with our driver and it was not long before the two of us were heading east on our way into the Sikkimese foothills.

As the eastern cave was on our route we made a stop at Rebungla and found the trail that led to the Pe Phuk or the Secret Cave.

Honestly, we were both quite taken aback even before we even entered the cave. There was a very special sort of atmosphere surrounding the entire place and neither of us had really expected that. I guess we didn't really know what to expect. As it was already mid-afternoon, we could not linger too long in that place, however, we did take the time to sit near the entrance before climbing down into the cave itself. It was surprising how big it was inside. A large picture of Guru Rinpoche was placed high in the entrance to the cave as though guarding and protecting against unauthorised entrance.


Climbing down into gloomy interior we both wished that we had a guide. There were a few obvious routes that we could have taken in order to explore the vast cavern but they looked so small and we both felt claustrophobic just seeing them. It would also have required our crawling on all fours in the dust and then wriggling through narrow openings. Neither of us being of small Nepali or Sikkimise build we decided we might leave those excursions for another visit and we plopped ourselves down in the main entrance way instead and just imbibed the atmosphere of the place.

It was an impressive beginning and we were both somewhat wonder-struck. We decided that if we could get another chance in the future we would certainly return and spend more time exploring this cave. In a future visit, we would try to bring a guide.

After leaving Rebungla and continuing on our way we climbed higher and higher into the foothills of Sikkim towards Tashiding from where we expected to begin our journey on foot to the northern cave. It was late evening when we finally arrived at the end of the bumpy mountainous road and at the beginning of our trail. We quickly found a lodge to stay for the night.

It was cold and once the last rays of light faded would be extremely dark in these remote parts. The lodge was a basic affair but we only required shelter and water and a bed on which to sleep. Rising early the following morning we had a simple breakfast of tea and bread, loaded our packs and headed out into a bright and cloudless morning.

Unlike the previous day where clouds had obscured our views of the mountains, this morning a glorious sight awaited us. A line of towering snowy peaks greeted our vision and filled our hearts with happiness and anticipation.

View towards Lhari Nyingpo

To be continued...

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Return to Forever







When we reach the autumn's bend

Will we wish that we were young again


Laughing in the face of time

If only we knew now, what we did then

Clouds... billow cross the sky 

Changing as they fly 

Return to forever... 



Thus go the words in the song by Minnie Riperton.

When we reach the autumn's bend will we wish that we were young again?

Many people feel that their lives are filled with regrets and with the pangs of' if only and what if..?

Filled with broken promises and dreams lost.

Filled with the residue of stuff that is no longer important and perhaps never was...

Yet, each moment holds a new promise.

The promise of what is.

That elusive little something which costs us nothing,

which is always with us and from which absolutely everything arises.

How can we claim what is already ours?

This is the greatest of mysteries.

Unravelling it leads to recognising the simple and living promise that nothing and no one can ever take away.

But it can only happen when we let go of the endless strings of hope and fear and confront the challenge which appears before us as a complete and perfect paradox.

The simplest and nearest of all is also the most difficult to the see. This is the mystery, the only mystery...

Laughing in the face of time

If only we knew now, what we knew then...

In our younger years, it seems that there is less of 'stuff' to confuse and clutter our vision but in reality 'clarity' is always ours and for the taking.

And yet, how effortlessly we get caught. Like bees drowning in their own honey, we become submerged in the worlds that our mind creates.

Forgetful that we are mere flickering lights on the screen of life we become entangled in the unceasing display.

Clouds billowing across the sky, changing as they fly... 

In everything we find movement and change, this is how our lives unfold from moment to moment and day to day. This shifting force of change is something we have absolutely no control over.

We seem truly powerless in the face of change.

Yet our real power is always with us, unnoticed and ever-present. That power alone is beyond change and beyond time.

Forever; is in the palm of our hand.

It is right here and now...

New Years Resolution

Return to Forever...





Sunday, 25 November 2018

Kathok Getse, The Fearless Warrior

This post is humbly offered as a dedication to the memory of H.H.Kathok Getse Rinpoche, as we remember and honour a great and fearless Dzogchenpa. *



There are no random acts in the life of a Mahasiddha!
This must be loudly and clearly proclaimed because we ordinary beings with our limited perception perceive events very differently from those who come to this earth to benefit others.

Based on the evidence at hand, many would say that Getse Rinpoche left this world prematurely, due to an accident. But let us repeat. There are no random acts in the life of a Mahasiddha and nothing is as it appears to be. Transform this 'accident' into an act of supreme sacrifice and we come much nearer to the truth. Bodhisattva's appear in this world to remind sentient beings to recognise what actually is.

And this needs to be mentioned, in fact, it needs to be 'shouted from the rooftops' lest we forget!

And we do forget, constantly and miserably...

Getse Rinpoche was no more timid when facing death than he was in life. Having recognised the true nature of 'reality' he could move in this world without attachment and without fear. He did not relish the strictures of monastic life and yet neither did he shun them. He could 'dance the dance' while ever mindful of what really is and what really is, beckons us all.

In recognising that his time had come, he strode unflinchingly towards what awaited without even the least hesitation. By so doing, we can trust that impure karma has been averted and the unrelenting guru of impermanence has been clearly and unmistakably pointed out.

He had the courage to embrace the mortality of this earthly body and let it go when all the causes and conditions had ripened and in so doing he has bestowed upon us the supreme gift of the Dharma; that of remembering that we are not this body nor this mind!

He could gaze into the face of death without fear because he had established himself in what is deathless. In these impoverished times, when the Dharma is often practised without sincerity or determination, there are few who can understand the true activity of one such as this.

And yet here is the greatest teaching. Right here under our very noses. Not disguised, not edited, not covered over and not hidden. Right here and right now, as this whole mighty ship of samsara, within which we live, move and dream the dream of our lives, slowly and irrevocably sinks into the infinite ocean.

We, who are unmindful of what is approaching, continue to play out our lives, consumed by our dramas and our endless preoccupations.

Can we not give ourselves pause for thought? Can we not look up for a moment with an unclouded and undistracted view?

To the Lama who points fearlessly to that which is, we who falter in samsara bow down in profound gratitude for your immeasurable kindness...

*****

Geste Rinpoche
(shared by Tulku Jigme Wangdrak)

I was blessed. I met Getse Rinpoche soon after he left Tibet and arrived in India.
It was in the winter of 1997/8... It was in Bodhgaya.

Every day I had been passing many hours in a spot near the Bodhi tree, the place where the Buddha attained realisation. Just in front of me, a young Tibetan Lama was performing prostrations. Many hours of the day he was there, polishing the wooden prostration board with his gloved hands and long red robes...

In little breaks, we sometimes shared a few words and a few jokes. He knew a smattering of English and I a smattering of Tibetan.

One day, quite out of the blue, he asked me to accompany him to meet a Lama.
At first, I was hesitant, not wanting to be sidetracked or distracted. However, the following day, he spoke of this Lama again, impressing upon me, that he had just come from Kathok in Tibet, the place where my own teacher, Chadral Rinpoche, had spent many years.  When, on the following day, he asked me for the third time I began to take note. In a dynamic place such as Bodhgaya, unexpected meetings can come ones way and in turn be meaningful.

I followed him in the early afternoon through the market streets outside the stupa compound and into a small room in a simple building above the crowded bazaar. In that first meeting, I was somewhat taken aback, surprised, unsettled in a way which I could not quite understand. It was nothing which was said, as we merely exchanged pleasantries and discussed our respective teachers but the 'atmosphere' of this meeting somehow lingered on.

After that first meeting, I seemed to bump into him all over the place and at all times of the day and evening. I joined him and a group of his close ones on a pilgrimage to Nalanda and Rajgir one day and it was on this occasion that I became fully aware of his considerable power and presence.

During the bus ride on our way back to Bodhgaya that evening, he was facing me. Some hours into that journey, I suddenly looked up, as if prodded by some invisible hand. The first thing I saw was Getse Rinpoche's face and he was looking directly at me. He fixed me with a gaze for which I was entirely unprepared. If that moment had been in any way contrived, shyness would very likely have forced me to look away, but in the disappearing light of the day, my mind simply went blank and I was drawn into a vast and unfolding silence. His gaze was like a doorway into something beyond the universe. It was utterly riveting...

Before I knew it we were all clambouring off the bus and heading towards our various accommodations. He and I exchanged no words, nothing at all was said. After such a gaze, what could possibly be said? The world had stopped, period!

During that particular winter prior to meeting Getse Rinpoche, I had been deeply immersed in the mystery; 'who am I?' I had taken it as my main practice. Hours and hours I sat in blessed proximity to the Vajrasana seat beneath the sacred Bodhi Tree where the Buddha had realised the ultimate reality. I was determined to find a way into the ever-present portal of my own mysterious awareness. And then right there, and quite unbidden came one who had gone before, who had embraced the mystery, who could open the 'door,' and who was absolutely fearless and staring directly into the face of truth...

How can one ever repay such kindness?

I was fortunate to meet him on many occasions during the months and years that followed that first meeting in Bodhgaya. One can recount so many things about these times, but I will mention just one which comes instantly to mind.

One time when I was staying near Chadral Rinpoche's retreat centre in Godavari, he came for an unexpected visit. At that time a number of students were staying in the retreat centre inside the beautiful compound and gardens. Near the entrance into the retreat, Chadral Rinpoche had placed a notice announcing that none should enter the precincts therein save those mentioned right there on the notice. None would ever think to challenge the command of Chadral Rinpoche, an elder Lama, whose authority was sacrosanct.

Yet, after perusing the sign at the entrance way, Getse Rinpoche strode right on in, met with the students staying inside, exchanged a few words and a bit of banter and then went on his way again. Many of those who were there that day, were somewhat taken aback yet, this was quite in keeping with Getse Rinpoche's character.

He had the deepest reverence and regard for Chadral Rinpoche, something which I witnessed firsthand on several occasions and yet he was not one for following conventions and he was given to demonstrating this from time to time in unexpected ways.

According to the testimony of his two attendants the day before he dropped his body, Getse Rinpoche had been half-jokingly conversing with them about impermanence. 'If I were to die tomorrow, it might be difficult for both of you to prepare the wood,' he had said.  He then went on to give clear instructions on how his funeral should be arranged.

The following morning, at his own request, Getse Rinpoche took one of his two attendants and began walking from the retreat centre which he had just visited, towards Adzom Monastery. About an hour into this journey they encountered dangerous road conditions, but Rinpoche did not heed the warning of his assistant and continued to move on. His final words were; 'you still have a very strong attachment to this physical body.' What followed is now history.

The guru of impermanence will not heed our pleas. We might try to delay but when our time comes we must be ready right there and right then.

In the timelessly relevant words of the previous Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Even if death were to strike us today like lightning, 

we must be ready to die without sadness or regret, 

without any residue of clinging to what is left behind. 

Remaining in the recognition of the absolute view, 

we should leave this life like an eagle soaring up into the blue sky.


And so too shall we be claimed when our time comes. Will we be ready right there and right then to fly?

The final flight of Getse Rinpoche was fearless. Death struck like a bolt from out of the blue and yet he was ready and could demonstrate for us the supreme teaching. Thus we bear witness to the unflinching 'view' of a true Dharma warrior in these decadent times.


May all be auspicious...

*
(Dzogchen, The Great Perfection; Dzogchenpa, one who practises this.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Parvartimalai, Impossible Places

Parvartimalai
On top of a very steep and unusual chunk of rock sits an ancient temple. Parvartimalai is about 20 kilometers away from the small town of Pollur in the South of India.

A 3500-foot climb brings one to the entrance of a Siva temple which is said to be at least 2000 years old. This temple is perched on the very tippy-top of the rock summit. It is a hard and dangerous climb to reach that place and most certainly not for the faint of heart.

Since my earliest memories, I was always drawn to inaccessible structures in impossible places. Since hearing about Parvartimalai, a mere 25 kilometers north of Tiruvannamalai, my curiosity had been peaked. I soon harbored a secret ambition to climb up there,  see the temple and enjoy the surrounding stunning views with my very own eyeballs, despite the fact that I was no longer in optimum condition for such adventures.

Therefore very early one morning, I stowed a few snacks and some bottles of water into a daypack, jumped onto my 50cc TVS moped and headed off into the fading night to pick up my Telugu friend RC.

I suppose it would have been around six o'clock. It was a cool January morning, the very heart of a tropical winter in the South of India. I found my friend waiting in our pre-arranged meeting spot and very soon we were making our way along the still sleeping streets. We headed west from the town of Tiruvannamalai towards our intended destination.

TVS mopeds are not noted for their great suspension or speed, and we endured a cool and bumpy ride down country roads dotted with holes and various other unexpected obstacles.

As we approached our goal we could make out only the base of the mountain beneath a mass of swirling grey mist. Later I realized that it had been a good thing that we could not see the entire mountain before we climbed it because it is very likely I may have balked at the possibility of ever being able to climb it.

We had very little information as to where we should head in order to begin our climb but followed our noses and one small windy road which eventually brought us to a dead-end, a small temple and what looked like a well-worn pathway.


I parked the bike and locked it all up near the temple and we headed towards the mist. There was a lot of huffing and puffing for the first thirty minutes into our climb and then the body adjusted itself into a rhythm and it became somewhat easier.

Onwards and upwards we climbed, stopping only for short breaks to drink a little water and catch our breath.

We had heard that in this place, dogs are known to approach pilgrims and if they are smiled upon favorably by the local 'gods' these dogs might accompany one on the upward journey.

Very soon our first canine friend joined us with a very wide grin and amiable air and our group grew to three.



We took this as a good omen and continued on our way.
The higher we climbed the warmer it became and very soon the cloud cover which had been hanging over the mountain began to thin and then lift revealing the summit very far above.

During the first part of our journey what lay above us was mostly obscured by trees, shrubs, ridges and the folds of the hills which surround Parvartimalai. It took us several hours of steady climbing to scale this section and finally emerge on the lower limbs of the mountain directly below the pinnacle of rock on which the temple and some new buildings are precariously perched. 


Neither of us knew much about what we should expect to find on the way so every view opened up a new sense of wonder and surprise.

We soon realized that we had not brought enough water with us. A mere 3 litres, even on a winters day, in the South of India could barely assuage our increasing thirst.

The higher we climbed the warmer it became and very soon all traces of the early morning mists had disappeared.

Until that point, our only encounter had been with the dog which was guiding us onwards and upwards, not a single human being had crossed our paths. However, once we reached the stairway below the cliff which rose directly above, a few other pilgrims, all of them climbing from a different path which merged with our own, suddenly came into view.



At the base of the cliff, we removed our sandals and gazed up at the series of steep steps and ladders. In previous times, these luxuries had not existed and one would have been confronted with chains by which to pull oneself from one platform to the next. It all looked rather doubtful to me.

However, I was in no mood to even consider not continuing on with the ascent.




This was where we parted company with our canine friend and began the even more arduous part of our journey.
I decided not to think about what lay ahead, just to deal with one step and then another and see where that might eventually take me.

RC is a good deal younger and more spritely, managed each stage without too much effort. At that time I had a torn ligament in my leg which made all kinds of movement painful and I had no idea how far I would be able to go, quite aside from the mental challenge of dealing with ladders and increasing heights and gaping chasms. But, sticking to my resolve, I simply moved onwards and upwards and decided to just focus on each step of the way.

It was not long before we had scaled all of the lower ladders and emerged onto a platform of rock which gave us a stunning view.


Our sense of increasing thirst began to play a little on our minds. We knew that it was very likely that some industrious shopkeeper would have carried a few bottles of water to the summit but we were also very sure that these bottles would be like liquid gold up there in the waterless realm in the upper precincts of the temple.

In this area, the enterprising priest had created a well. It was a very foreboding looking place that caught the rainwater in a crevice of the mountain. It was a black hole marked by ancient stonework which one hesitated to approach. Thoughts of tumbling into that well were ever-present as we skirted it gingerly on our way by. We tossed a stone over the side but failed to hear it land. This was not reassuring.

It would be doubtful that anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the well could ever hope to get out again. For all we knew, it may have been hundreds of meters deep. It was certainly wiser, at this juncture not to contemplate this matter too deeply so we continued on our way.



More ladders. I hung on grimly, trying not to look down or notice the wobbling and the rattling of the metal. A few other hardy souls passed us on their way down. They had to wait on platforms to let us pass. I was very relieved that I had worn trousers for this adventure and had nothing but admiration for the Indian woman who somehow managed to climb these ladders in their long and draping saris. 

On the final part of our ascent steps had been hewn out of the rock face itself. They were incredibly steep and narrow. I was grateful to have left my shoes at the base of the ladder as it greatly helped with our balance and movement not to be hindered by having anything between us and the bare rock surface.

At this point, I noticed that high cloud was forming around the sun. This was a very welcome development. It was inconceivable to me how one could climb in the full blaze of a tropical sun on that bare rock with unshod feet!

We passed a small hut which professed to house a tea stall but there was no sign of the owner that morning. On and on and up and up we climbed.



There were numerous shrines and curiosities along the way. However, without a guide, we would never know to whom or why these carvings and shrines had been built, or how old they might be.



The temple atop Parvartivmalai is said to have been built by Siddhas who stayed there to meditate. It is utterly miraculous in its location and would have been an ideal place for those seeking solitude. If this was, in fact, the motivation of those who built it, it certainly would seem like an extreme act and one that would have cost unimaginable suffering and toil in the construction of it. To all appearances, an edifice atop this sheer pinnacle of rock seemed quite impossible. However, this temple is not one of a kind, many such temples dot the landscape throughout Tamil Nadu and to this day no one can be sure as to exactly how they were made. There are numerous speculations, however.


Through a gateway and up one more flight of stairs and we were there peering up at the final lofty staircase. The temple had not really been visible to us throughout our climb. It was always hidden by the surrounding and rising cliffs.

But once we were able to skirt these it suddenly appeared in all of its South Indian magnificence, a monument to the skill and craftsmanship of artisans of yore.

One narrow summit of rock was the only platform upon which the temple was built.



To our surprise and delight, we discovered that the day we had chosen to visit this place coincided with a very auspicious twelve-year ceremony in which the temple was cleansed and re-energized. Special bamboo scaffoldings had been built around each of the temples three Goporums and the presiding priest had climbed these in order to pour a consecrated water over the cupola at the very top of each spire.

It was extremely gratifying to think that we had somehow, even though unwittingly, stumbled in on such an auspicious day.



The sun made its own proclamation with a bright rainbow circle appearing in the heat of the noon. After visiting the inner and outer precincts of the temple, making our offerings and partaking of the substances and blessings which were being distributed by a handful of priests and pilgrims we found a spot in a shady corner and gazed out over the surrounding landscape. It was a breathtaking sight. One that deserved time to savor.

I silently and inwardly rejoiced at having pushed myself to face my long-standing fear of heights notwithstanding my dicky kneecaps and somehow make it up to this extraordinary place. This achievement was rather unexpected and very satisfying.



One, unclad sadhu was sleeping calmly near the edge of a rock that hung out over a mighty chasm. He seemed oblivious to both the heat of the sun and the incredible drop that fell away beneath him.

In this timeless land, one encounters so many wonders which quite simply defy understanding...