For most young people, life as they imagine, ends at 29. The dreaded thirty is the hallmark of change – jobs, engagements, marriages, babies, wrinkles – you are supposed to have them all beside relinquishing a few others like parties, booze, cigarettes and live-in relations – by the time you get ready to cut your thirtieth birthday cake. For me, it was just another day when I landed on one of the most peaceful place I have ever been.
What we covered:
- Bir-Billing for Paragliding
- Palpung Sherabling Monastery
- Norbulingka Institute
The last leg of our journey turned out to be both exhilarating and melancholy for us. Paragliding was one of my bucket-list-things, so we had planned to leave early in the morning for Bir Billing, which was about an hour’s drive from Mc Leodganj. We reached Bir at around 9:30 am and were transferred to the landing site at around 10 am. Early morning checkout did not gave us any opportunity for breakfast but I deferred in the fear of puking mid-flight.
The landing zone was stretched to about half a kilometer to the north and one could see the dazzling mountain peaks at a distance. I strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of the numerous multicolored chutes gliding down from the top of the cliff like graceful birds, and waited for our turn patiently, while sipping on tea. Our car arrived and the trainers loaded their equipments, while we got in the back seats. The ride to the cliff point at Billing took us 30 minutes and when we reached there, I was shocked out of my senses by the gust of wind that strove to knock us down. It was the first time I was to dive down the face of a cliff and had no clue as to what to expect. I was strapped on first, with N following me on another chute, and was told to run. At that time, all I could see in front of me was the edge of the cliff, hardly 10 mts away, so I asked somewhat foolishly, “run where?”. Before I could register the instructions they were barking in my ears, the wind had already lifted me and the next thing I know I was in the air, the cliff already behind me – a part of my past.
On retrospect, it was a good thing they didn’t give me a chance to register the steps. The initial moment of shock was over in 10 seconds, and I screamed – more because of what I saw than out of any kind of fear. And then a sort of peace descended. The entire flight duration lasted hardly 30 mins but it was the quietest 30 mins of my life.
After our descent, we hogged on Wai-Wai and eggs and were on our way to the Palpung Sherabling Monastery, a lesser known Buddhist retreat that is situated in an isolated stretch of pine forest of 30 acres. The monastery is built in traditional Tibetan architectural design and houses over 500 monks. It was Sunday, and we were lucky to witness one of their rituals in the great hall. The students, aged 10-20 were seated on the floor, on either side of the great hall, facing each other. The most distinct spectacle, among others, was a loud recurrent sound that came from an elderly monk who held a trumpet like device in his hands and threw amazing vibrations in the air. Apart from that , not a sound came from any other corner, not even a hushed whisper of a student. We felt as if we were trespassing the sanctity of the moment and withdrew rather hurriedly, in spite of repeated coaxing from the monks roaming outside to take part in the proceedings.
As we left the monastery behind, we came across a most beautiful stretch of road covered with prayer flags on one side and stupas on the other. I got down from the car and took a moment to bask under the afternoon sun and simply enjoy the moment.
By the time we reached the Norbulingka Institute, it was already 5 0’clock. The institute was closed, being a Sunday, which we didn’t know, and we were the only visitors, so we just took a stroll in the grounds and were impressed by what we saw. The entrance had a shrine made of stones and six different images of the Buddha. The upper levels consisted of the crafts section (closed for the day), where visitors can book classes on Thanga painting and wood sculptures in advance. A fountain gave way to a rippling stream that ran through an impeccably maintained Japanese styled gardens. Apart from that, there was the main temple, the library and a doll house – one of the most amazing Doll House I have seen in India. Sadly, it was soon time for us to retrace our steps and bid farewell to this slumbering and serene haven of the Himalayas where life is still unruffled by the giant steps of civilization.
Turning thirty has so far been an exhilarating experience in many ways. I have been dazzled, spooked, embarrassed, dejected, scared and happy all in the course of three days and found peace and comfort in the midst of nowhere. Age is supposed to be a bar that reflects our physical and mental maturity but perhaps all it does really is, help us deceive our true nature and conform to the boundaries of civilization. At the end of this wonderful journey, I realized a few things that Mc Leodganj taught me:
Success is perspective. No matter what they tell you, you don’t have to conform. A job is not necessary to define who you are. You can be a housewife and still rule the world (your world, that is).
Wrinkles are beautiful. They are your emotional souvenirs that tell your story as no one can. Like the wizened old monks in the streets of Mc Leodganj, you too would have a lot many anecdotes to share with the world.
Taking a risk is always worth it. Be it jumping off the cliffs or leaving your job to start a new venture – in the end you have to risk some to gain some.
And last, but not the least,
Happiness is in the “penny change” of life. Not in branded clothes or 5 star resorts but in piping hot roadside maggi and a stroll in the wilderness.
And as we were standing by the roadside, waiting for the Volvo to transfer us back home, I was reminded of Kerouac’s famous lines: Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.