How about walking through a part of heaven that inspired a million eccentricities?
Rambling up the eastern edge of Almora town in the Kumaon Himalayas of Uttarakhand is a maddening yet romantic trail that could only be described as, believe it or not-Crank’s Ridge. In the world of art, rebellion often becomes mainstream when humans meet nature, as witnessed at Crank’s Ridge. So, if you really want to get possessed, just put on your walking shoes and head straight to Almora.
Your walk in the footsteps of the mystics begins at the Uday Shankar Academy at secluded Falsima, for this is where during an extended stay from 1936 to 1942, the dance maestro Uday Shankar invented a unique dance form that was a blend of Indian classical dance and the Kumaoni Ramlila. He experimented with classical dance and music during this time, experiments that gave him worldwide renown. He established the Uday Shankar Cultural Centre, which opened in 1940 and soon became the converging point for experts from Tanjore, Malabar, Assam, Gujarat, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Kathiawad. Out of the first hundred applicants, only twenty-one were selected for a three-month probation. They were instructed by the maestro to understand the body, understand and observe art. His troupe in Almora included celebrated film personalities, Guru Dutt and Zohra Sehgal, wannabe choreographers, who ended up becoming great actors. Also part of his entourage was the legend Baba Allauddin Khan, along with his family and disciples consisting of Sarod Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, daughter Annapurna Devi and the Sitar virtuoso, Bharat Ratna recipient Pandit Ravi Shankar.
From Falsima we can walk up to Simtola where Uday Shankar dreamt of establishing a permanent center for the arts. This beautiful ridge, today, houses an eco-park with some remarkable flora and fauna. Surrounded by Granite Hill and Hiradhungi, literally meaning diamond hill, Simtola really prepares us to walk the trail. We walk few kilometers in a landscape of pine, interspersed with homesteads, to arrive at the Crank’s Ridge. During the walk we witness captivating views of not just Almora town, but also the stunning Hawabagh Plateau and the five snow-capped peaks of the Panchachuli.
Philosophers, poets, scholars, painters, musicians, all flocked to this magical landscape in search of what George Harrison called “life divine”. Amongst the earliest giants to arrive at the serene slopes of the Crank’s Ridge was the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence, who spent two summers here, lured in by his artiste friends Earl and Acshah Brewster. The Brewsters built a beautiful home and studio on the Crank’s Ridge. While Acshah painted, Brewster utilised his stay here to compile a book on the life of the Buddha. Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, on a tour of Asia, came and fell in love with this crazy landscape.
Also to come in was Timothy Leary, father of the hippie movement and Professor of Psychology at Harvard, who was once found streaking on the hill slopes of Crank’s Ridge! Beat generation poet, and Leary’s friend, Allen Ginsberg arrived soon after in 1962 and felt the ridge was a “little like the Catskills in Upstate New York, only more spiritual”.
George Harrison of the Beatles arrived soon after. Travelling from Rishikesh, their stay on Hippie Hill was a great learning experience. Soon, the Beatles began to experiment with Indian sounds. Interestingly, John Lennon was also inspired by Allen Ginsberg and included his chants of “Hare Krishna” in the song I am the Walrus.
Buzzing with unrestrained creativity, Crank’s Ridge emerged as a fulcrum of counter-culture in the swinging seventies. Amazed at the pull this hill exerted on great minds, NASA trained its radars on to the Crank’s Ridge, only to find it bang on the gap in what is called the Van Allen belt, a collection of charged particles that stick together due to the earth’s magnetic fields. There are only two other spots on earth, Machu Pichu in Peru, South America and Stonehenge in England where such magnetic fields are experienced, making the space conducive to transcendental experiences.
The Van Allen belt gap situates itself on the Kashyap Hill at the Kasar Devi Temple, a shrine that dates back to the second century. An enchanting site of worship and meditation, it was built by ancient Kassites who migrated to the region in 900 BC from West Asia. This group lends the deity, Kasar Devi, her name. Around the temple are rock shelters that may have provided refuge to pastoralists and seekers. No wonder, Swami Vivekananda arrived here in the 1890s, to meditate.
Walter Evans-Wentz, a pioneer in Tibetan Buddhism who translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also lived at Kasar Devi for some time. Another famous mystic who stayed here, was Alfred Sorensen, better known as Sunyata Baba. A kilometer’s descent leads one to the Drikung Kagyu Monastery, an order with its unique lineage of oral instruction. Established by Lama Angarika Govinda, it attracted Buddhist scholars Robert Thurman and his wife Nena von Schlebrugge. Accompanying them was the three-year-old Uma Thurman, who would grow up to be a celebrated Hollywood diva. Naturally, the name Uma was acquired here.
Walking this ridge gives us the perfect opportunity to introspect and dwell within. At Crank’s Ridge, time stands still. Perhaps, this is the one walk in the Himalayas you must experience, all by yourself!
Almora and Kasar Devi are also home to a robust walking group consisting of local youth known as Chalmora, who, along with the district administration are organising a heritage and arts festival from 22nd to 24th June, at the Uday Shankar Academy in the region.
(The writer is an anthropologist, author, traveler and activist who also runs a public walking group called Been There, Doon That?) read more post…
Monday, 18 June 2018 | Lokesh Ohri | Dehradun–
Author: Lokesh Ohri
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