“The world around me shifted the moment I took the road to the right, the one that led up to Kalimpong and then to Sikkim.”
It was getting darker, oranges and violets of the sky merging together; waters of Teesta turning into similar hues. During the ascend up to the town, the violets slipped into rich navy blues, And except for the tiny dots of lights strewn, all over the mountains, right up to the tip, the foggy grey of a mist was the only thing I could see.
In the dark, I was way short of being aware of the riot of colours I was walking into and that night, I curled myself up into a cocoon, trying to ward off a chill that was several degrees lesser than my body temperature.
I woke up the next morning to a single sliver of golden sunray coyly peeping at me through the clouds. In a while, that one single ray would be joined by several others, making it a bright sunny morning, minus the scorch that usually accompanies it. I threw my windows open and the sight had completely shifted from the dots of light that I had encountered the night before.
The mountainsides were now dotted with blocks, of pinks and blues and aster yellows; every house boasting of a different shade; on every balcony, a flower bed; forget-me-nots and fairy bells, in purples and whites and red; and from my vantage point, I got lost in an endless sea of them.
These mountains were where I had caught the first glimpse of a string of colours that I would come across at many and many more places, after this. These, as I would come to know later as prayer flags or Lung Dar or Dar Cho, were a repeating sequence of red, green, yellow, blue and white, that would fill me up with nostalgia every time I came across a combination of them.
In the course of my stay there, I found hoards of these flags; fluttering over river crossings and normal roadways, adorning the sides of bridges just like love locks, at the entrance of every door, on the sill of every window, on bikes and cars and cliffs of steep mountain slopes. And if there was a monastery or some other place of religious importance around, these five colours tangled and swirled in your vision until you finally accepted them as a part of your own self or grew so accustomed to them that you’d close your eyes and there they would be.
A few days ago, I came across an article that spoke of prayer flags; how each colour stands for each one of the elements, red for fire, green for water, yellow for Earth, blue for sky and white for the clouds; how the flags are meant to never stay still but to keep fluttering under the open sky or wherever there is a hint of wind; how the prayer flags are actually meant to carry every prayer that lands on it, into far off lands, so they could get fulfilled; and how the fading of the vibrant hues of these flags is a good thing because it means that the prayers have been carried off into the wind.
My mind instantly went back to those few days at the land that is nestled between the many hills and rivers. I could clearly remember how every face I met, had a smile plastered across it; every house I set foot in, an abode of warmth even when it was 5 degrees outside; how every job was respected, every human being content and a general feeling of peace gripped the air around, and just wouldn’t let go.
A few invisible yet picturesque threads were forming inside my head; of connections.
A prayer falling on the red flag and being carried onwards and back, to shower the fire of courage on the soldier across the border, in his shack.
A prayer on the green flag, blessing the terrain with abundance.
One on the yellow, spreading a cheer; sunny and mellow, across every face on the Earth on which it stands.
On the white, bringing every inhabitant under the cloud, of a single religion – of love and light.
And a prayer on the blue, protecting each one under a sky so huge.
And to me, it was a revelation, a subtle change in my atheist mind, a single trail of thought that altered my set thought process and forced me to believe in prayers, the power of the unknown, of tales long forgotten, in places that have developed in a certain way, with a hundred different colours, not just to look pretty, but to hold each person living there in a grip so tight that they keep coming back to it.
Five colours on a stretch of five pieces of cloth, and a vortex of another thousand on the mountainside, that I saw that day from the window of my hotel room, completely changed me for years to come.