Vagabonds have one and only one cardinal sin – rootedness. They find an uncharacteristic freedom in detachment, in the ability to navigate the world without being tied down to places, to people and least of all, to things. It seems to be an incredibly stoic existence, but there is an intensity of feeling often lacking in those who claim to be sentimental. There is an attachment, for adventure, for travel, and for new experiences.
As I sat on the couch listening with rapt attention to a man, in his early fifties nonetheless, I felt his maverick aura overwhelm me alongwith the scent of Moroccan incense. Of course not really incense.
“Our views of life don’t coincide. What does it really mean to share experiences, to bring happiness, and to connect people? Perhaps different things to you and me.”
“But isn’t it just about allowing people a peep through the window? Maybe they lack the opportunities we had?” I immediately retorted.
“No one lacks an opportunity. They just prioritize differently. To be able to indulge one’s consciousness completely one needs the space for thought that only isolation can allow. But people, they’re scared of being left alone with their thoughts. They prefer to drown their thoughts with the cacophony of the city or eviscerate them with alcohol. If you can’t stand yourself, then why would anyone want to tolerate you?”
“I recall, some years ago, I guess on my 40th visit to Leh I realized all of a sudden it was my birthday eve. The call of the parties at my house in Delhi, or even an evening with the community I have managed to build in my chosen destination (Ladakh) appeared outrageous. I wanted to do something different. Now different sounds like a meaningless and often used term in my experience.” He took a long drag of the Moroccan stimulant and chuckled.
“At random, I picked up a change of clothes and some gear. I had no destination in mind. The intent was only to explore I believe. After having spent hours walking, rather climbing around Hanle I reached a summit. One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever encountered, and trust me there have been many, made me feel I had come to the right place. I don’t know what drew me to it. Less even why the urge to just wander caught my fancy that particular evening. But just as I was about to turn around I heard hooves approaching.”
He makes a face, Mr. M, wonderfully exhibiting his shock and amusement as he reminisces about the figure. “It was a heavily built border security guard on a horse.” A few more rounds of smoke and laughter. “I wondered if he was going to chastise me for aimlessly walking around in such terrain. As he drew closer, I took a deep breath, set on avoiding any confrontation.”
“What are you doing here? He asked me. I looked around, I seemed to be the only one and looked harmless enough. I explained that I was visiting Hanle and decided to take a hike.”
“His gaze grew more piercing. I meant what are you doing here right now? Now that was a slightly different and a more targeted question. I contemplated a moment. I just told him, hey man, it’s my birthday and I wanted to spend sometime alone with my thoughts. So I just started walking till I reached a place where I could do it.”
“There was a soft smile on his face. He seemed amused at my choice of activity. Or so I thought. Do you know where you are? His question caught me a little off guard. I shrugged. Perhaps some district around Hanle, I told him. This time he actually smiled. You’re at Digpa Ratsa (Scorpion Hill in Ladakhi). There was moment of stunned silence as realization hit me. I had spent the entire day wondering where my feet were taking me. It seemed that my soul had its own compass and I was but a vessel that had to follow through. I figured the significance lay in just being left at peace with my inner musings. But that wasn’t just it. I asked him, why is it called scorpion hill?”
“The Legend of Digpa Ratsa has it that one of my ancestors, from 5 kilometers above the point you’re standing at at this moment, had a vision. He claimed this place looked like a scorpion. It has since been called the hill of the scorpion. No one really knows how he reached that conclusion but now they have proof. There are satellite images that corroborate his predictions. Apparently you can see the scorpion from the eye in the sky.”
“I couldn’t get over his local legend and as soon as my feet touched an Internet savvy point I jumped on to google earth. And there it was, a crystal clear satellite image of the Scorpion that had called me on Ocotber 31st. In the month of the Scorpion. The relation to my zodiac will seem strange to many. But that is what connection truly means. Connection is your soul seeking and receiving. There are no transactional values, no give and take. There is just that moment of complete exhilaration when two consciousnesses communicate. And mind you, they don’t do it in words.”
The haze around me thinned as I realized I myself had climbed Scorpion Hill in the fifteen minutes I spent listening to Mr. M. I has seen the claws, the sting, I had experienced that complete serenity with my inner self as every letter dropped into familiar sounds with The Doors playing in the background. That was the day I climbed Scorpion Hill.
Today Digpa Ratsa has been renamed Mount Saraswati and a telescope adorns its 4500m summit. The story was narrated by Mr. Viraf Mehta who climbed the hill on his 50th birthday.
(The featured image has also been clicked by Viraf Mehta)