“Waking this morning I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to view all beings with the eyes of compassion.”
Thich Nhat Hahn
As I rise slowly from the darkness of slumber I hear the undulating thrum of a construction vehicle, already industrious, somewhere in the valley. Packs of dogs bark to each other from hillside to hillside – The Dawn Bark. Whether it’s 6am or 8am, the short, sharp blast of car horns gets me stirring. Sometimes the amplified drone of the monks chanting adds a bass accompaniment to this chorus – an accompaniment that ends with the clashing of cymbals.
Sat on the balcony above the main streets of McLeod Ganj I hear crows cawing to each other in a heated mothers’ meeting. I hear the melodious song of a bird that looks like a blackbird but with a white cap and a crimson tail that it wags up and down as it sings and hops from stone pile to water pump. Flocks of ‘Elvis’ birds (nicknamed so because they look like great tits wearing black Elvis wigs) alight on railings and just as quickly flit away. Hoverflies and butterflies come to visit. Sometimes a troop of monkeys proudly parades over the rooftop below. The mother cat and her three kittens, who make their home under the sheet of corrugated metal next to the water pump, stretch, flex, then return to snoozing in the light that spreads over the valley.
Walking down through the town, I see the Tibetan baker whose wares include the delicious Lhasa cookies (two oatmeal and yak butter cookies sandwiched together with a layer of buttercream and jam), or am drawn to meditate in the peace of the Tsunglakhang complex (where monkeys eye up the carefully left shoes), or wander the streets investigating what healing courses I can attend, or what volunteer opportunities there are both here and further afield.
Car horns announce “Get off the street! I’m driving here!” (never mind the foot wide, two foot deep drainage channel that runs along the narrow edges of the concrete road – that’s the pedestrian’s problem). Scooters hum, their engines silent as they coast down the hill, weaving through cars, dogs and pedestrians (if you value your feet you pay attention when you walk). Along Temple Road, the beautiful mantra Om Mani Padme Hum plays at a stall selling singing bowls and cds. It always lifts my heart (and gets stuck in my head).
Telephone wires tangle above the monks in burgundy robes dictating into their smart phones as they walk; above the Tibetan women dressed in their grey pinafores with brightly coloured blouses and striped aprons, malas flying through their fingertips; above the Indian women with dull eyes holding babies who pluck persistently at my elbow as they fall into step with me, lifting their fingertips to their mouths in mime requesting “No money, no money, just food.”
It can be hard to remember in this bustle of vehicles and people that just two minutes twisting and turning, or a quick shuffle down a flight of steps brings me within sight of the hills and mountains that nestle this town in their arms. Every time, every time, they take my breath away and I am filled with gratitude for being here.
As the sun is setting the moon is rising. Beside her are Venus and the slowly fading Saturn. Pigeons return to roost. Lights of dwellings start to sparkle in the shadow of the valley.
When the barking of startled dogs wakes me at 4am and, restless, I am drawn back to the balcony, I see Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades superimposed over a backdrop of more stars than I thought it possible to see. The sight takes away the breath of my noisy mind. A shooting star flashes. Then another one. I make a wish.
– McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh
“May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. Peace. Peace. Peace.”