heal, vacations heal. Physiologist Gerhard Strauss-Blasche and his
colleagues, of the University of Vienna, have been researching "The
Vacation Effect". They found, according to Reuters, " ...
that 2 weeks of vacation boosted the workers' physical health for as
much as 5 weeks afterwards."
the electronic-and-cyber world intrudes into our lives we begin to
substitute `electronic reality' for the real thing. But we are
creatures of the real world. If we are deprived of it for long we
become sick: physically, mentally, spiritually, socially sick. This
is why you have to choose, and plan, your vacations carefully. You
must get away from your daily lives. Experience the wilderness to
balance the urban frenzy in which most of us live. Experience
alternative lifestyles, other faiths, little-known societies. We also
need the adrenalin-high of danger and the challenge of physical
exercise: build these into your vacation. And then, like a good
athlete resting, you must set apart time towards the end of your
holiday to rest in serenity and allow all these experiences to sink
in and become part of you. Only then will you feel the tingling
rejuvenation of a truly healing holiday.
is exactly what we discovered when we returned from our chosen
Healing Land: Sikkim.
this year we had been asked by two Internet portals to write six
articles for them every month. By the time we had got through
communicating with lawyers, accountants, editors and administrators
in Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi from our cottage in the Himalayas, we
were frazzled, irritable and bone tired. We decided that the only way
we could retain our sanity was to down tools and take off. This is
what we did and w're very glad we did.
the moment we drove into the little riverine town of Rangpo, in the
sub-montane lands of south Sikkim, weeks of tension began to
evaporate out of us. We stood on the balcony of our room in the
Tourist Bungalow and looked out. In the soft, blue, light of dusk,
the Raugpo River flowed like molten silver around a wooded promontory
met the river Teesta, and curved back around the feet of rising,
forested, mountains. Mist drifted down the valleys and wreathed the
peaks, hazed more mountains receding into the distance. It was like a
window opened into a fairy tale. All the weariness drained out of us
and we smiled for no apparent reason, and then we laughed like
children released from the drudgery of school. We were free, free,
free and a great, wide, world of unlimited wonder lay before us.
next morning, as happy as larks on a summer's day, we drove into
Sikkim and our haling began. The roads were often very good, often
rugged, always unforgettably scenic. The wilderness embraced us.
Springs and streams gushed down green hillsides, cascaded in
waterfalls down dusky canyon walls, starred ferns and orchids and
clumps of fragrant cardamom. The air was clear and cool as if the
Creator had just breathed over a new world. We began to feel hungry
as our bodies responded to the oxygen of new experiences. We drew up
at the side of the road and stopped for a picnic snack near a but
with bamboo-mat walls, rising on bamboo stilts, with a
bamboo-chicken-coop, a bamboo wood store, a bamboo grain-storage
basket. "Doesn't the rain seep in through all this bamboo?"
we asked. The lady-of-the-house beamed at our city-slicker ignorance.
"Not if you weave it properly", she said. Added her
husband, "And if the wind does blow in the rain, then we can
weave new mats. After cutting, new bamboos grow again in six months,
sometimes less." A guest, sitting in the doorway, contributed
his bit: "If you do it the way our ancestors did, then the wind
will not blow in the rain."
was refreshing: these people had not down-loaded their wisdom from
drove into the densely-forested hills around the monastery of Rumtek.
All the cottages and shops, even the smallest of them, were bright
with lillies and orchids bursting with bloom. We trudged up the rain
slicked path leading to the monastery. Fluted red columns rose out of
blue pedestals, flared to capitals in blue, red and gold. Yellow
balusters supported chocolate-brown rails. Blue windows were picked
out in red, green windows in yellow. White awnings had blue, mystic
symbols on them. The monastery rose tier upon tier like jewel-boxes
stacked on jewel-boxes. On the walls of the verandahs of the main
shrine, brilliant murals leapt to life: the guardians of the north,
south, east and west and even one of the elephant-headed god of
wealth. Visually, these murals are as appealing as stained-glass
windows in the old Catholic churches of Europe. But, in fact, they
carry a much deeper message clothed in symbolism.
Buddhism is a warm and appealing synthesis of spirituals exercises
and physical practices. It seeks to realise the fact that all
creation is, essentially, a network and that nothing, not even one's
most secret thoughts, are independent of everything else. This is why
Vajrayana appeals to people today: it offers a release from the
confines of hi-tech cyber.
even if you find Vajrayana to be too complex, do visit the
monasteries of Sikkim. They are deep reservoirs of quietness from
which you can recharge your depleted emotional batteries.
Rumtek rises the capital of Sikkim: Gangtok. A fair amount of Gangtok
carries the ugliness of uncaring over-development. Even here,
however, a healing process has set in. Plastic has been banned and
the ban is being enforced. Orchid cultivation and floriculture in
general have become a major commercial activity and there is a
permanent Flower Show exhibiting seasonal blooms, in a natural
garden setting, all through the year. As the head of a visiting
Calcutta family put it: "There is nothing more therapeutic than
the sight of beautiful flowers in a beautiful setting. This has
rejuvenated my entire family!"
is, really, a walking town. The roads curve and rise and wind and
dip through the mountains on which the capital has been built. There
are a number of taxis which race around breathlessly but vacationers,
who seek a more leisurely pace, often stroll up to Enchey Monastery
along a long avenue of conifers and prayer-banners. Enchey has bright
trapezium windows with a colourful facade and, if you can persuade a
monk to open the doors to the verandah, you will be able to see its
murals. A young monk agreed to play his flute in front of one of the
windows and though he was no Zamfir, his soft refrain wove gently,
soothingly, through the soughing of the conifers.
walk to Enchey helps one to take in lungfuls of clean Himalayan air
but, if you really want to test your lung capacity, take the trip to
4,320 meter high Nathu La Pass on the Indo-Chinese border. Those with
dicky hearts should not attempt this drive; otherwise, if you begin
to feel a little breathless, it's probably all in your mind. As you
can see, we were in fine fettle in spite of the cold, the mist, the
rain and the reputed scarcity of oxygen. The Army does not allow
visitors to carry their cameras up to the Pass because it's a high
security area, but you can get a picture against a rock which
proclaims its WELCOME TO NATULA, a little below the top.
also the steel-grey changu Lake, 3,753 meters high. There are snack
bars and tea-stalls near the lake and you can take a slowly-jouncing
yak ride to a cave some distance around the shores of the lake. a yak
handler said that a dip in these frigid waters would give us robust
good health but we replied that we'd have to be in very, very, good
health to risk such a dip in the first place so why should we plunge
in? It is a fact, however, that once you make the trip to Nathu La,
and stop over at this icy Changu, you feel that you've never been
fitter. And you're probably right!
you really must put yourself to a slightly harder test: the 1/2 km.
hike up a steep little path to the monastery complex of Tashiding,
Even we, who live at a height of 2,000 meters in the Himalayas, found
ourselves puffing and panting with our camera bags slung over our
shoulders. The path, which is often little more than a goat-treck,
leads past a small homestead with cardamom fields, cows and a few
chickens; offers interesting views of distant hills seen through
breaks in the dense, damp, forest; and emerges on the fairly flat top
of the mountain.
legs will probably ache, and your lungs pump like bellows, but, once
you arrives, the complex is so enchanting that all the effort will
seem worthwhile. And there is that additional adrenalin-high of
knowing that you have done it and can pause and look around.
the greensward and down avenues of fluttering prayer banners, are a
number of monasteries, an exquisite little chapel, and a most
impressive group of stupas in a stone-walled enclosure. There are
old, crumbling, stupas and stupas with divine and semi-divine beings
painted around their base; some stupas have gold turrets and some
have images of Buddhas in jewel-bright alcoves.
most impressive stupa is covered in gold or, possibly, gold-leaf:
real gold beaten tissue thin. This, according to a local,
shaven-headed, monk is the stupa of the last Chogyal of Sikkim.
spent a long time here, our bodies and minds charged with elation
because we were here, and because it was so beautiful, and because
the stillness was somehow, enhanced by the soft, sonorous, chanting
of monks at prayer. This was, in all ways, another benign,
spiritually calming, world.
Tashiding there was only one stop left in our journey to holistic
healing: the stop that would knit it all together.
left Tashiding and drove up to the high valley of Yuksom. The road
was rough in patches but the changing views of the mountains made us
forget the often-bumpy drive. At the end of the journey, Yuksom
opened around us: a green valley with a tiny, sacred, lake; terraced
fields below little villages framed in bright prayer banners; rising
mountains threaded with silver stream; strolling, rambling, hiking,
trekking trails meandering into the wooded heights; and the historic
grove of the sacred throne. And, it all, permeating the valley like
the fragrance of incense, was an atmosphere of peace and serenity so
palpable that we breathed it in till it enriched every part of our
being. We were buoyed up in an ecstasy of contentment. It was an
unforgettable feeling of well-bring as if every cell in our bodies
had been charged with strength and was glowing with vitality.
did what was expected of us. We visited the grove around the stone
throne where the first Chogyal had been crowned by three revered
Lamas. We took photographs and spoke to people. But, for much of the
time, we just sat on our balcony and let the tranquillity of Yuksom
work its quit, sustaining, magic on us. clouds covered the sky and
rested gently on the crests of the encircling ranges. We were being
re-created in this soft, green, quiescent, womb and we could have
stayed here on and on, cosseted in this protected place against the
buffeting of the outside world.
that would have been dropping out.
next morning, a little before dawn, the clouds parted for a brie
moment and the white peak of Mount Kabur appeared between the rounded
masses of dark, enfolding, mountains.
left Yuksom and drove back, revitalised by the healing alchemy of