A Rainbow Above the Himalayas
A cool breeze blows through the darkness, buffeted from biting into my skin by the lining of my blue and gray jacket. Overhead planets and stars dance in the night sky, unfathomable in their brilliance. Their shimmering lights are reflected by the specks of civilization below, fathomable in their light source yet I know nothing of the inhabitants relying on that light. A djembe booms and pings from up the mountain, laughter echoes from below. Birds rest their singing voices among the pine trees as leopards stalk unseen in the night.
As I lie still facing unending space, I feel a stirring from somewhere deep inside. In times like these I wonder what it was like to sleep every night under the watchful gaze of the moon, to wake up to the warm kiss of the sunrise on my cheek, to live and struggle by the bounty of nature. To be a member of a tribe, a community working for the well being of one another, knowing all of my neighbors and all my surroundings. To sit on the ground and eat with my hands. To dance and stomp in celebration around a roaring fire…
These thoughts came to me one night sitting on the rooftop of my guesthouse in Dharamsala, the mountainous city in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Dalai Lama has made his home in exile from Tibet. They manifested in my mind after experiencing the beauty and raw power of nature firsthand. Arriving in Dharamsala it was immediately apparent I was in a place like none other I’d experienced in India. Dusty shades of brown were replaced by shifting shades of green.
A few hour trek from my guesthouse in the town of Bagsu, up and over the pine trees littering the mountains resides a magical place called Triund. Upon ascending the last few rocky steps over the last hill, I stopped in wonder and did a slow pirouette to soak in all the views. Magnificent snow capped mountains, both regal and ominous in their sheer power, loomed in front of me. Rolling hills descending down the mountains to my right, the tiny spattering of houses and buildings extended from the lowland. Eagles arced in overlapping vision trails, swooping and rising gracefully with the air currents. I had a feeling of deja vu, envisioning myself running down these hills as a child, then as a young man wearing a wolfskin pelt and howling to the heavens.
In Dharmsala I passed the time on the balcony of a great group of friends, where we also threw some killer parties. I also attended a really amazing kundalini and crystal healing workshop. During the week of the workshop I had some of the deepest meditations to date. Our final meditation included an enormous mandala made of sacred symbols and crystals as we all meditated for peace for all beings across the world. In my mind I was at the core of the earth, dancing hand in hand with a smiling bear, as other friends and animals joined the merriment.
During passing conversation my friend Jason said, “The Parvati Valley makes Dharamsala look like Delhi” referencing the infamous beauty of the sacred valley to the east. At the time I thought this bold claim must be a massive exaggeration. That opinion changed a month later when I arrived along with some friends to the town of Vashist and was astounded by undisturbed views of mountain peaks, trees that have been around for centuries, and some of the most magnificent waterfalls I’ve seen.
A few hour ride brought our crew to The legendary Parvati Valley. This area actually is involved in many legends, the most popular of which accounts for the pervasive amount of high quality marijuana that grows naturally in the valley.
Every year the god Shiva disappeared for a little while to destinations unknown. His wife Parvati became curious and hunted him down. She discovered him in a state of stoned serenity, meditating and enjoying the lush nature. She saw the happiness the plant had provided her husband and blessed the valley so the best marijuana would grow here. Hence the name the Parvati Valley. What a cool wife if you ask me!
That desire I mentioned before about wanting to live off the land and stomp around a fire in celebration…it became a reality in the Parvati Valley.
Our tribe hiked up the valley to Kheerganga where a Rainbow Gathering was being held. We soaked in the natural hot springs, absorbing the heat in contrast to the crisp mountain air. The 4-5 hour hike was one of the most beautiful day hikes I’ve taken, through ancient forests that contain an air of purity and wisdom.
The Rainbow Gathering itself is an interesting concept. The gatherings spread through word of mouth and people congregate for up to a month, creating their own community. Everything runs on donation, with the magic hat going around after each meal for you to put your love or money into. With no electronics announcements are made in the old messenger style, shouting loudly so that messages reach from the base camp to higher up the mountain with each person repeating the call for those farther away to hear.
Before each meal everyone makes a circle around the main fire and sing songs. Then servers carry enormous pots and serve the food, which is eaten in the circle. The ashes of the main fire are used as soap to clean the dishes.
Each day a few workshops are offered as people share their skills with everyone. I lead some acro yoga and Thai massage workshops, it’s always nice to teach outside and to very eager participants. My favorite moments from the few days spent at the gathering were waking up to the sunrise over the mountains from the camp I shared with my friend Louie, dancing furiously to bagpipe and saxophone music around a roaring fire, and trekking up to an amazing plateau with views of the glaciers from where the river flow starts.
The rivers may start here but these days in the mountains marked the end of my favorite season in India so far. Six months soaking up nature, meeting amazing new people, and developing more into the person that I envision myself becoming.