In the early nineties, Srajan set out to visit Almora, located in the foothills of the Himalaya.
Where to begin – as if a story really has a starting point – so I shall start at a point in time during the early nineties when I followed Pravina to India after our first meeting on Mallorca. She was deeply involved in the Mystic ring at the Pune commune and I was drawn to Lucknow, controversially so, to see Poonjaji. I enjoyed my two weeks there but soon enough was enough, and I longed for mountain air. So after an uneventful goodbye with Papaji at which we talked briefly about Indian trains, I ventured to Almora.
Besides being a very old cantonment town founded in 1568, it is considered the cultural heart of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located at an elevation of almost 1,900 metres (over 6,000 feet) on a ridge at the southern edge of the Kumaon Hills of the Himalayan range. In the shape of a horse saddle shaped hillock, it is surrounded by thick forests of pine and fir trees and the snow-capped Himalayas provide a spectacular background.
It wasn’t that I knew anyone there or had even a goal in mind. Perhaps a view of Nanda Devi would be enough but alas even this was not to be. It was far too cloudy to catch a glimpse.
However, on my walks I did stumble upon a small Tibetan gompa. Upon entering the seemingly abandoned but very clean and bright temple, I noticed two Tibetan rugs on the floor to the side. I was particularly struck by the beauty of one of them; the one with a deep dark blue background and three circular designs in the center. It was odd that I was attracted to it as rugs had never been much of an interest previously.
Soon I met the caretaker of the gompa, a petite, round, happy looking Tibetan woman who exuded a quiet warm energy. I was to learn that she had been the caretaker for Lama Govinda, the German author of the book I had once read, The Way of the White Clouds; he had lived in the vicinity of the well-known Kasar Devi temple.
I was also introduced to her quiet 15 year-old daughter who was revealed to be the weaver of the rug I had taken a liking to. The mother spoke excellent English and I asked if the rug was for sale. The answer was affirmative. So began two days of negotiations towards the price of the blue rug sitting on the grass near the temple and over numerous glasses of chang (Tibetan rice beer). The mother (whose name I have forgotten) and I became quite close and we laughed a lot together, thanks no doubt in large part to the exceptional properties of the chang.
Finally we settled on a price equivalent to $125 US. However, the next day when I went to pick up the rug which had been properly packaged for me, I noticed as I pulled out my wallet that I had spent more money than anticipated in Almora and didn’t have but half the price of the rug. Since I was leaving that day, this put us in a gap. However, she looked at me, handed me the rug, and said, “Send me the rest of the money as soon as you can. We need the money to buy more wool!” I assured her that I would and felt honored that she would trust me to do so.
Of course as soon as the opportunity arose I managed to secure some cash at an Indian bank and sent her the funds by check in her name. I only hope that the funds reached her as we never communicated beyond that.
Unlike some stories whose truth grows distorted with passing time, details becoming uncertain, and who knows, perhaps born in the nether dark dream world and revised for this waking one, this story, at least this one, is woven upon cotton, strung with sheep’s wool of dyed rich hues by nimble fingers. It lies upon the floor as a living testament, and now, twenty-five years later, I remember the mother and daughter as each morning the first thing my feet touch is this beautiful blue Tibetan rug from Almora.
Srajan is a regular contributor
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