Tuesday, September 30, 2014

...of the Once Mountains of Maharashtra.

Blue skies are the backwash of an increasingly dry and hot Mulshi valley. The river levels are dropping by a foot every three days or so and streams that a fortnight ago wetted one's knees are now shy rivulets. From high places one can see these last strings of silver coursing through the grasses, fleeing the hillsides for the safety of the mother Mulshi that flows below, as if they know the fate that awaits them if they linger any longer.

The earth has become a hard cracked pavement, muddy footprints frozen in time. The mud crabs--the unlikely sentinels of the earthen pathways--are seen less often, hiding in the cool depths where the soil is still moist. 

Solo Reflection atop Mount Wilko.

On Saturday I went on a second hike up Mount Wilkonson. Just a day hike, with some 25 students. On the way up we stop at Sacred Grove. A ten minute walk from MUWCI lies a grove of large trees, mango and others unknown to me. The grove sits alone on an otherwise naked hillside and is home to an ancient rock—these ground down remnants of the once-mountains of Maharashtra being much older than the Rockies, older than the Himalayas. This rock has been revered since pre-Hindu times, as a god, a spirit of nature and now as a holy host of Hindu deities. Some time in the last few thousand years, some people decided to honour the rock and build a one room temple around it, built in the likeness of the god. The rocks used for its construction are massive, and appear nowhere else in this region. How and why they were brought so far is a mystery, along with the origin of the architects who, using neither mortar nor joinings built this temple that has stood longer than most of the world's nation-states combined.

Today it is easily missed, surrounded by the dense vegetation of the grove itself. But it is still a holy place and fresh sticks of incense can be found scattered about its insides and outs, along with burnt down candles, a testament to the old saying that one must never let the gods sleep in darkness.

As we pass through the grove we stop, and between us share what knowledge we have of the place and its history. Two by two, we take off our shoes and barefoot, enter the mud floor to look up and marvel at the impressively simple geometry that has held this holy thing together for so long. An old man appears, sweating and baring a sickled machete.

Pani a he ka? He asks me. Water? I offer him my bottle and he drinks modestly. He is still working hard as we prepare to leave, cleaning the place of the trash that accumulates from local use. The switch from eating off of banana leaves to styrofoam is, in the scope of this place, a decidedly recent event. I give him a pomegranate and he gives me a smile. The gods will be taken care of tonight, he silently assures me.

Our time atop Mount Wilkinson is calm, sunny and reflective. We break into small groups and discuss how the shift in perspective of such heights changes one's way of perceiving things: our home in the distance, the meaning of service, our own journeys that have brought us here together. We end with an hour long solo, write letters to ourselves that I will safe-keep for one year, then head down the mountain, just in time for sunset. Looking back to the West half way into our descent, we can see the lone tree that marks the spot where we shared the shade, young people from Morocco, Ethiopia, Norway, South Sudan, Portugal, the Maldives and more. Drawn out sharply by the setting sun, the tree marks the spot well and reminds us of that moment of reflection. As the last rays grow dim, laughter lends rhythm to our quickening pace. Home is close now, and dinner awaits.

A setting sun makes silhouettes of Mount Wilkinson and the lone tree that marks our resting place.

1 comment:

  1. Ben this is a beautifully written, evocative post.
    Thanks for sharing!