Dry winds and the bright sunlight of a cloudless sky reach my eyes. I am in a jeep that has left the green pines and deodars of Manali and has gone off to the rocks and dusty mountains of the Spiti Valley. For the first time in Asia, I see mountains covered in the white of snow. Five Spitian men keep me company as we listen to Bollywood music. They know the lyrics by heart, and keep repeating how beautiful Bollywood actresses are. I laugh with them, sense their presence and watch this high altitude weather, noticing too the presence of these mountains that are unafraid of silence, of change, of standing in stillness and being themselves fully.
The journey from Manali is long. Twelve hours in total. Yet, hours spent on the road in India are nothing like the same in the West: the lack of billboards and advertisements make a road trip here naturally beautiful, and time seems to fly as the birds we see in the sky.
Stupas and Tibetan wind flags representing the elements of the universe fill up my sight. Now I can tell why Tibetans unmistakably felt and studied the elements: here the elements are unmistakably themselves. The wind at this altitude is fearless of speed, the sun is fearless of heat, the earth is dusty, solid as rock, and water, flowing downstream by the Chandra river nearby, is strong. Space joins it all together, and there you have Tibetan prayer flags in full colors.
In this road across mountains, whitewashed houses of mud pass by our sight. These houses are covered with grass, to serve as pasture for the cattle in winter. Winter is hostile here, with temperatures of -30 Celsius degrees. Cows, sheep, and donkeys will still need to eat, so village people stock up, piling up the supplies starting the moment the snows of April melt. Life here is synced in precisely with nature.
Kaza is in sight. I sense that this small village holds an inner peace that transcends the harsh soil of which it is part. I begin to feel, for the first time, that merging with a smaller community is much easier for me. “Julê,” a man, woman, and child say upon seeing me. That’s their version of Namaste, I learn, and respond likewise. I am deeply touched by Kaza, and the friendly calm village lifestyle.
Being so close to Tibet, Kaza and the larger Spiti Valley are home to traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Monasteries here touch me too. At Kaza Monastery, drums and the sound of chants of monks, accompanied by the sweet melody of shells meet me on my morning walk. I enter this temple of beautifully decorated walls. Near me, about thirty little monks, as young as six years old, sit next to me and chant prayers they have learned in class.
As I sit next to them, we are served bread the size of pizza, and the sweetest chai I have tried in India. I figure the sweetness is to please the children. We eat lunch and chat in English, laughing over the simplest matters, as the guessing of the country I am from. “Pakistan,” “India,” “Japan,” one of them shouts, as these were all the names he remembered from school. We all laugh hard and realize: when we are present, content doesn’t matter as much.
Kaza has been teaching me by example that simplicity is one of the greatest virtues of a human being. The little monks, the friends we make in a village who teach me the art of carpentry simply to share, the neighbors in my homestay, the villagers in general, all live so simply and, to me, embody a lifestyle of contentment. Peace is apparent in Kaza as the Milky Way shows itself here at night.