Ten days past in the solitude of Spiti Valley. The most isolated place imaginable. There was still no sign of Murray and Anna and I started thinking that they were creations of my imagination (of course I had made them Capetonians). When this kind of silence and isolation envelopes you, you think about anything and everything and mostly in slow motion. I realized that it was the conversation with Murray and Anna (imaginary or not) that had finally given me the confidence to come to this exquisite place on a motorbike. I also realized that it was, initially, the fact that I would have the companionship of two experienced riders that convinced me to do it but that I was grateful that I had this experience all to myself. By now I was used to the bad roads, the icy rivers and the loneliness and I settled into my lone-rider persona with a sense of satisfaction.
This valley was turning out to be nothing like I expected and more than I could ever have hoped for and even though everything in me resisted the extreme solitude at first, after a few days the days seemed endless and my thoughts infinite. I started seeing clearly how, in the city, my mind was so distracted and I remembered feeling the same way when I went to Namibia a few years ago. In my solitude I saw myself appreciating the little unnoticed things and I knew that I wanted to take that with me when I leave this Valley. I also knew that solitude as a lifestyle was insane but in small installments it can be life-changing.
Like I said, everything in me resisted the solitude and silence at first. Without noticing I was always looking for something to entertain or occupy my mind and it wasn’t until I had nothing more to read (I’d finished Anna Karenina while on my sickbed in Manali and had lost interest in my Lonely Planet though the title had new meaning) and the batteries of my MP3 player were dead that I really started thinking. Don’t let anyone tell you different, it’s not easy to still your mind but eventually I managed to. I soaked up the silence and let my mind wander. Mostly I felt acutely aware of how well I am loved back home and my mind kept going back to random events from when I was younger. One such event was when I was about 10 years old. My brother was in high school and a bully demanded his maths homework to copy. My brother refused but said that, if the bully wanted, they could meet after school and he would explain it to him. Of course the bully refused my brother’s offer and beat him up instead. I realized then why that story visited me again, because it is such a perfect picture of my brother’s heart. I had lost track of time and days and places and was just riding and thinking when I noticed that I was passing more and more people and I had to accept that I was leaving this beautiful, silent valley and would soon be back in the chaos.
The first person I ended up speaking to again, after almost 10 days of solitude, was Babaji. Babaji is a title not a name, as he explained. Babaji has no name, no family, no wealth or possession (besides his dagga pipe) and no social standing. He has renounced all of it to live an isolated life of solitude and service. This old man, who lives in a two by two meter mud hut along the slope of a mountain pass, has a long grey beard and dreadlocks, wears white loin cloth and flip-flops. He spends his days smoking dagga, chanting and blessing the few passers-by with a short prayer and a handful of sweets (dried fruit, nuts and sugar crystals). Babaji must have heard the Yamaha coming up the pass and was waiting for me when I reached his hut. It was getting late and I still had an hour, at least, to ride before I made it to my next stop, Sangla Valley but I agreed to have coffee with him. Note, not chai but coffee; coffee is for special occasions, he said and this was a special occasion. Babaji’s English was very good and despite that he was living in isolation he seemed to know a lot about what was happening in the world. As we sipped our coffee Babaji looked at me and announced that I was a very powerful woman; ‘just like Shakira’ he said and then added a ‘waka waka!’ and a smile.
I told Babaji that I had to move but I would be coming back his way in a few days and would stop by for coffee again and a longer chat. A few days later I stopped at Babaji’s little hut again where he was again waiting for me. We sat in his humble hut, sipped coffee and talk about anything that came up. That day I started early because I knew I would spend a few hours with Babaji and so there was no rush.
For breakfast Babaji presented me with 4 of the most amazing mangoes I’ve ever seen and showed me how to eat them Hindi-style. After a while Babaji lit his pipe and started smoking. This made him talk a lot more and also made him switch over to Hindi. I tried to follow but had to tell him after a while that I didn’t understand. Everything he was saying sounded uber cool and significant and since I was writing a blog, I decided to write some of what he was saying down. Again, I couldn’t find my diary so I wrote on my hand. Babaji saw me writing and came over to inspect my hand. He didn’t understand the English words but said ‘oh, sister, you are already writing in your diary?’ I thought that hilarious; so I wrote it down, on my other hand.
I wanted to take a photograph of Babaji before I left but my camera was in my luggage and it was quite a procedure getting it out. As I untied my bag Babaji observed me and then let out a ‘ooh, wonderful sister’. No doubt he was commenting on the unique way I tied my luggage to my bike; creative yet functional. Before I left I took a photograph of Babaji and he took one of me and then he gave me a big bag of sweets for the road. He placed both his hands on my head and blessed me. I wish I could have stayed longer. Tomorrow I start making my way back to Delhi.