I have a clear memory of the first time I reached Khardung La. The thought of finally reaching the world’s highest motorable pass was exhilarating. Crisp cold winds swept through the pass unhindered. Gloved hands refused to leave the comforts of jacket pockets and thermals proved ineffective. However, that’s not my first memory of Khardung La.
It’s the sight of those colourful prayer flags flapping in the strong winds, carrying the prayers to the heavens above. The Buddhists believe so. They tie them to seek peace, for peace to be bestowed onto this world, our communities, families and our minds. The soothing, melodious, six syllable prayer of “Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum” reverberated in the air around Khardung La. The shrill, sharp music from the string instruments pierced the thin air at Khardung La with the baritone voices recited the words. The rhythmic loop of the prayer played to captivate the soul and kept it floating in a swirl.
That song has played several times on my car stereo since then and every time it plays, I feel soaked in that memory. Soothing, Soulful & Spiritual. Try it, Play it. See if you feel the vibes.
Steps carved into the side of the slope made its way further up through the flags, where the music was originating from. I wanted to follow my senses and venture further. However, the thin air was making me feel light-headed. Khardung La can be punishing if it is not respected. The need to explore was clouded by inability to process, or so it felt. It all felt surreal.
Composing myself, I tried to follow the instructions given earlier to us. I walked unhurriedly taking two steps in place of one. I took the customary pictures at the top.
The cold at the pass made me want to head straight to the car. The jeans had become ice-cold and I found myself walking straight legged to avoid any contact with the fabric. Taking the stairs was not a comfortable thought. The hair follicles on my body had become stiff and the friction with the fabric was causing a burning sensation. Climbing would aggravate that.
However, the scintillating music cast a spell on me as I felt drawn to it. I walked slowly up the stairs. The steps on the path were reinforced using recycled military metal sheets, soil and stones. The monastery, a tin shed, started coming into view and the three gompas rising over a hump on the right. Hundreds of prayer flag criss-crossed the place, played hide and seek with the view.
As I stood at the top of the stairs, the three gompas appeared to stand like guardian deities of Khardung La overlooking the valley beyond. The rich blue sky formed the backdrop. A kaleidoscope of colours – the green, red, white, blue & yellows of the flags, the soil in different hues of yellow, brown and black, the full yellow, white & blue gompas, a scene full of life in an otherwise seemingly lifeless terrain.
As I stood there taking in the sight of the landscape and the vastness of the space, an often-repeated phrase played in my head – we are but a tiny spec in this Cosmos. I stood there for a while to soak in the sight. It was a frame for a pair of eyes that stood there, nobody else. I turned feeling humbled.
Just a few minutes back, Khardung La below felt secluded and faraway. It gave a sense of accomplishment reaching here. After all, this was the world’s highest motorable pass. But now, from this vantage point, I could see many vehicles and chatter of people, folks calling out to one another, groups jostling for space in front of photo-spots. The buzz of the place was a reminder of the cacophony in life.
I wanted to stay back for a while longer. It was soulful and spiritual.
The spirits at Khardung La have beckoned me four more times since then, and I have a feeling they will summon me again.
Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum…
Follow PhotoStory section of this blog for more such photography stories and perspectives from our authors on various photographs.