Saturday, 24 March 2012

The monk who did not own a Ferrari!

The monk was from Burma and had come over to India in the late 70s. A long flowing grey beard, a pleasant smile, broken Hindi and a constant peacefulness characterised him. People from far away come here to take his blessings. I was in Devakota, nestled in the verdant hills, encircled by the Yang Sang Chu river in the eastern section of Upper Siang. A bit of background.

Last year's January, Roy and I were headed to the Singha village at the edge of the district close to the Dibang valley district. The trek from Tuting to Singha was to take us about two days, maybe three. The 70 odd km is often traversed by the Membas, Adis and Mishmis in the region in a single day! At Tuting we crossed over the Siang to the other side on a long cane bridge and passed through a few Adi villages; Nyameng and Jido being the first.
Most of the first day's trek was along the Yang Sang Chu, a river that cared a little about directions; it is a river that owing to the terrain, flows from South Easterly to North Westerly direction to meet the Siang close to Tuting. Somewhere after the Jido village, Roy exclaimed “this much forest can hurt the eyes!”. And he was right, in all the directions we could see there were beautiful forested hills, some of them with snow toppings. Since in the landscape we were in settled cultivation along the Yang Sang Chu valley was more common than shifting cultivation along the hillslopes, the forests in the hills looked fairly contiguous.
We figured we had just covered a third of the distance to Singha in the first day and Togorey our Mishmi guide took us to his sister-in-law's place in Nyering where we would rest the first night. Nyering is a village that has a mix of Adis, Membas and few Mishmis. The following day, prayer flags welcomed us to the Memba village Payengdam from where the view of the Dibang valley side was stunning.
The mithuns reared by the Membas looked relatively smaller than the ones reared by the Adis, and as it is looked a bit different and there were horses here too.
As I climbed down from Payengdam gazing at the prayer flags of Mankota, my knees gave in and I decided that going till Singha may not be a possibility. And if the pain in the knees stayed the trek back to Tuting would be even more difficult.


Which is how I spent three days with the monk at Devakota, a little distance away from Mankota! Devakota has a Buddhist temple and two houses beside it where the priests stayed. The monk I stayed with, the head priest, was different in many ways. Firstly, his wife, he belongs to the sect of the Buddhist priests in which marriage is allowed, offered me a mug full of millet beer with a bamboo pipe to drink, which is the Memba style. Of course in the three days I was there I never saw him drink any.

Also, between his prayers at the temple, he often goes to collect firewood or to do some chores. One of the days I went with him and he was intent on clearing a path for bringing back a huge log of wood from the banks of the Yang Sang Chu. When I figured he was tired, I took over in clearing the forest path, and after five minutes he took the Dao back unhappy with the way I was doing the job!
We chatted about Buddhism, about life in Bhutan and here in India, life in Devakota and he also told me that the Government was not sending enough funds to maintain the temple. The monk's wife was very interested in the bird book I was carrying and spent more than an hour going through the pages and telling me the local names for the birds. Later that day the monk told me to take a picture of him wearing his priest robe with his wife and asked me to print it and send it over whenever next possible. This will be possible next month since Roy will be going back.
People from all over Arunachal and even from other states visit Devakota to the Buddhist temple here to do Kora of the temple itself and the hill on which it is located. For me the three days spent there taught me the importance of being idle! I had carried no books to read, there was no electricity and no one to talk much to. But I enjoyed that feeling too. Prayers of the monk in the temple, a constant hum of the river flowing closeby, calls of several birds in the background, colours sprinkled into the day by butterflies, conversations with the monk and his wife filled my days.