• Desert Bloom

Surprise Yourself 101

It all began with a few text messages going back and forth with a friend, about his brainchild – a cultural centre in Keylong. This would be the very first of its kind in the entire Lahaul valley and he asked if I would like to come and work on it. I had no idea about this place and a dozen questions clouded up my head. But the project was exactly the kind of work I enjoy, and an immediate ‘Yes’ left my mouth. It was, thus, decided that I would be there in the month first half of September and we would figure out the course of work from there on. He also mentioned something about a “local festival” taking place, which would involve a one-day trek, and that it would further help the research for the cultural centre. The bus tickets would only be have to be booked a few days in advance.

I had said Yes to a new adventure and that was it for now.


Knowing that I have a friend there, I did not bother with any planning or any Google-searches about the place. There was way too much going on in my work life anyway. and it left me with absolutely no time to even bother checking out anything about this place before leaving. On the day of my actual travel, I was still under the blissfully ignorant impression that Lahaul’s climate & landscape would be like that of Ladakh and Spiti, its more popular cousins. As the state transport bus from Manali drew closer to Keylong, I was in for the first of many surprises. Lush, green stretches with a variety of vegetation. Such instances continued to follow. And in hindsight, that was probably what made this trip quite amazing.

Without having built up any expectations, and by not having planned for this trip at all, I had probably ended up gifting myself a few days full of surprise and amusement.

To be honest, I felt more amused and attentive during my time in Lahaul than I did in a place as popular as Copenhagen.

Every corner revealed something new, about which I did not know at all.

This was all information that would have probably come up in quick internet searches

(Or maybe not?)

Information that would have made me feel extremely well-informed.

But perhaps information that would have somewhat reduced the joy of actually visiting the place?

Because of all the things that I didn't know, I paid more attention. And because I paid more attention, I felt present.

Present in the moment. Present in Keylong.

Every walk through the village revealed a new route, a new interesting tree and a hidden traditional building which I hadn’t seen earlier.

Every cup of tea (or chhang) could be relished without having to bother about a schedule.

Every evening, Drilbu-ri looked just as magnificent outside my window as the sun set behind it, turning the skies first a fiery red and then a dark inky hue brought to life with the shining stars on it.

How else would I have noticed that the colour palette of the much-loved marigold flower was the exact same as that of my woollen socks?

Oh, the beauty of the kettle with a flower up its spout. The twirling flat pieces of dough to be turned into fried snacks.

For the very first time, cut off from the internet and with no planning-worries, I could truly enjoying being where I was.

Oh, and the “local festival” that my friend casually mentioned to me earlier? That happened to be the highly revered Homage of the Dragons. It was being led by His Eminence Gyalwa Drukpa from Bhutan and being attended by devotees – young and old; from all across the Himalayan region as well as places as far as Vietnam. The days were unexpectedly full of activity and rituals that I was happy to witness for the first time in my life.

Who’s to say if this was an experience that I would have ever planned for myself even way into the future. But well, here I was in Garsha Khandroling – the land of the Dakinis! I can only thank my stars that I somehow landed up there to attend this fantastic journey to the most fascinating monasteries nestled in the hills, listening to chants that truly call out to the universe, testing my own self during the Drilbu-ri skora, witnessing the most talented young folks from across the Himalayas represent their culture through song & dance, finally, soaking up all the good energy throughout.

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