Feral Words

Blog posts/essays & photos by William A. Young, linking travel, hiking, mythology, and some associated odds-and-ends

The Dance in the Snow- Kalpa, Kinnaur

Sutlej Canyon
In the high valleys of the Himalaya, balanced between Tibet and the plains of north India, there lies a land called Kinnaur. It occupies the steep slopes of the Sutlej canyon, northeast of the old British summer-capital of Shimla. It is a place well worth a visit, with any number of wonderful things to draw you in; mountains, monasteries and, not least, moonshine cider. The culture is one of the best of reasons; an eclectic admixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and the older, primordial ancestors of both. Vajrayana monasteries are as common as Hindu mandirs, while in each village will be found a temple dedicated either to some aspect of the Goddess, or to the serpent-spirits called nagas.

The villages of the region lie scattered on the upper slopes of the valley. The depths of the Sutlej canyon itself are rarely suitable for human habitation; the walls of rock are too steep, the river too tempestuous and flood-prone for anyone to sensibly consider raising a family by its banks. Instead, the settlements are consigned to the middle-heights, where the slopes are shallow enough to allow the construction of dwellings and cultivation terraces. Above them rise the mountains of the Great Himalayan Range; the highest mountains on earth, whose peaks penetrate into a region of rarefied air and barren stone poised part-way between earth and space. Heights where the life of man or beast becomes impossible, and only spirits can walk amidst the snows.

Kinner Kailash

When I arrived in Kinnaur, I had spent months chasing the snow. I had slowly ascended further into the mountains as winter loosened its grip on the heights; journeying at once higher and deeper, snaking along the face of the Himalaya. Behind me as I passed, as the frost faded away and the blanket of snow cleared, the land awakened from its cold sleep and became again a part of India and of the world. Power cables, battered by the winter storms, were re-attached to the grid; roadways impassable since the autumn thawed sufficiently to allow a trickle of traffic to crawl up the slopes. The lights of modernity flickered on, and the darkness of winter receded into a memory of firelight and isolation.

Ahead of me, still buried under a sheet of pristine white, lay another world entirely. In the lands where the grip of winter still shut off the tap of modernity, severed the connection to the world outside, the isolation of the old years remained unchallenged. Each cold season the separation of antiquity is reincarnated in the high valleys, and each little region becomes once again an island in the sky, an isolated ship of souls cut adrift in a sea of white snow.

It is the frontier of this region that I was, in reality, chasing. As I pursued the retreating ice I pursued an ancient world that is also in retreat; something extraordinary and other that is melting away with increasing rapidity. The bright lights of the city burn hot, and the snows of the Himalayas are not so cold that they will be able to keep them out forever. For now, though, all is not yet lost, and there is still purpose in this pursuit. There are still wonders and horrors beyond the frontier, if you have the fortune to find them.


I arrived in Kalpa in the second week of March, 2012. The first experience of arriving in any Indian place of pilgrimage is usually one of fending off touts; like tigers lurking beside a deer-track, hoteliers know the times and routes that are likely to bring them guests, and lurk there, ready to spring the moment their quarry steps within reach.

Arriving in Kalpa was not in the slightest like this. The bus disgorged me onto an entirely empty street, still covered in a dirty, melting mass of snow hard-packed in place over winter. Not only were there no touts waiting to harass me, there were, in fact, almost no hotels open at all. I found a place in one whose staff had arrived a mere few days before, and were presently engaged in sprucing the place up, fixing pipes that had burst in the cold, and replacing paintwork that had been stripped away by the hail.

They looked surprised to see me. Visitors do make their way to Kalpa- and in increasing numbers- but they do so during the summer months, when it is possible to trek among the mountains, and when the climate is warm and balmy. In the frigid days of winter and spring, by contrast, the place shuts down; no outsiders wish come here to suffer in the cold. Hotel staff migrate south for the winter with the birds, and the locals pull down their shutters and huddle round their fires. I was the only tourist here; in fact, the first visitor of the year.

This fact worked in my favour. Like the first spring swallow to fly over the fields of Europe, my arrival was a harbinger of good, profitable times ahead. My appearance was a cause for some minor celebration. A room was quickly made ready for me, a discussion held over what dishes I was to be fed upon, and one of the staff dispatched to the market to buy the ingredients. By the end of the evening I was sitting around a table in the depths of the hotel, drinking local moonshine apple schnapps with the hotel manager, some Bengali workers, and a local shop-keeper who spoke very good English. We discussed our respective homelands, romance, and the surprising sartorial choices of tourists. We discussed the regions of India, its diversity, and the postal system of Great Britain. By the end of the evening we were all rather drunk, and I was able to stagger off to my bed feeling warm and happy.

As I made my way round to the back of the hotel, I stopped in the corridor to look at a picture hanging on the wall. It had caught my eye before as I filled in the registration forms required of foreigners in these parts. Its appearance had struck me, but I had not had time to inspect it closely; now, the evening’s events ended, with nothing further to disturb me, I was able to give it the attention its execution merited.

It was an image of worship in the villages of Kinnaur; ‘Worshipping the Goddess’, by William Simpson (click to view here). Simpson was a Scottish artist born into poverty, the son of a Glaswegian alcoholic. By virtue of his artistic talent he was eventually able to transcend the limitations of his birth and travel much of the world, working as a war-artist and producer of lithographs. In the latter half of the 19th century he travelled extensively in India, falling in love with the place, and in the process leaving behind a legacy of beautifully complex images, rich in ethnographic and historical detail.

‘Worshipping the Goddess’ depicts a little complex of wooden temples, their roofs slanted, their gables elaborately carved. Icicles of wood hang from the eaves, with a break in the centre to allow for a temple-bell. In the courtyard before the temples, a long line of dancers with interlinked arms frames a collection of musicians. These latter are grouped in pairs by their instruments; two types of large brass horn, cymbals, and a set of broad drums. Before them the idol of the Goddess rests on a litter; a construction upon which it is customary for the villagers of the Himalayas to transport their deities. Behind them all, framing the entire scene rise the jagged peaks of the mountains, snow-clad and pointed. It is a scene more than 150 years old; but it might as well have been a thousand, so little have the antique practices depicted changed in that time. The painting is a window into the ancient world I have come here to touch; a snapshot of the same spirits I am here to pursue, left behind by a long-gone compatriot as a waymark for those who followed after.

A little drunkenly, I saluted the Glaswegian explorer of yesteryear- and headed to bed.


The very next day, the drums started beating.

I had spent the morning wandering around the village, looking at mountains and temples. There were a host of the former rising around the valley, though today the clouds were too low to get a complete view of them. Of the latter, there were two; a Buddhist foundation with statues and stupas wrapped in prayer-flags, and a Hindu complex of intricately carved wooden buildings. When the sound of the drums began to throb through the cold air, just after I had finished my lunch, it was from the direction of the Hindu temples that it arose.

My curiosity was instantly piqued. I donned my snow-sodden shoes, wrapped myself in all the layers of warm clothing I possessed, and made my way out into the afternoon.

It was a cold day. No sun had made it through the layers of cloud that blanketed the valley to melt the snow; indeed, the very thickness of those clouds had brought more of it. Even now, as I walked, snowflakes began to drift down through the air, forming a thin white film upon the slate rooftops I passed.


I began to discern a split in the drum-beats. Some were clearly emanating from the temple complex; but a second group I could hear from the direction of the northern path out of the village. This was the uphill road; the route into the higher, snowbound tracts of mountain country above Kalpa. On impulse, I diverted from my intended route, and headed for the second set of drums.

On the edge of the village, I pause. Before me I can perceive the white-clad shapes of terraces rising into the clouds. Behind I know are immense, forested mountains rising higher still, but the snow is falling too fast and too thick now for my eyes to pick them out. All I can really perceive is the dark shape of the trackway stretching out into an obscuring mist of whirling white snowflakes, tumbling and turning through the still air.

Out of the white emptiness, comes the sound of the drums. Distant at first, they grow closer; and, as their volume rises, I begin, bit-by-bit, glimmer of detail upon twist of movement, to see shapes appear.

They emerge from the snow like apparitions; ghosts from history stepping out of William Simpson’s painting and onto the cold ground before me. From between the snowflakes emerge forms familiar from the image on the hotel wall; musicians bearing cymbals and drums, wrapped in the enswathing plaids of the mountains, heads capped with the emerald-green hats characteristic of Kinnaur. Behind them follows a little train of villagers; men, women and children of the high villages, come down from the snows for some purpose I do not yet understand.

Villagers, Kalpa

After the villagers, in the heart of the group, come two figures strangely attired. There is a female form, tall and slender, her shoulders wrapped in richly embroidered blankets of purple, orange, pink and white. Her skirt is silvery in colour, and her head is topped by a broad crown of artificial flowers. From beneath the crown hangs down a cascade of silver medallions, flowing in such profusion over her features that her face is entirely invisible. Only the suggestions of its shape emerge from beneath the sheath of precious metal.

At the woman’s side marches a man. He is clad in a heavy, traditional jacket of light-brown colour, hanging down to his thighs. Trousers of a similar colour shield his legs from the biting cold of the air. Colour is provided by an elaborately embroidered sash that arcs across his torso, intricately picked out in checked patterns of purple, pink, white and orange; and also, above it, by his headgear.

Like his female companion, the man’s face is invisible. In his case, it is obscured by a garment somewhat less expensive, but no less impressive; a turban of a brilliant purple-pink enswathes his head, its fabric wrapped further down than normal to cover his entire face with its fabric. Not even his eyes can be seen through the cloth.

Dancers, Kinnaur

This unearthly cavalcade draws closer, then passes me by, heading inwards into the village, towards the temple. As the last of their line strides past my position, I nod to them and fall in behind. I am welcomed smilingly; for villagers such as these, I am an entertaining novelty, not an interloper.

We press on through the narrow streets of Kalpa; along little avenues between old wooden houses roofed with slate, too old to have been constructed with motorcars in mind. As we go, villagers join us, falling in behind as I have, following the drums inward. To the temple.

Kalpa Streets

I had first come to the temple in the morning. The clouds then had been higher than they were now, and the whole complex was framed by the outlines of white slopes furred with the dark shapes of pine-trees. I had taken my time inspecting the place, for there was here a profusion of carving of immense complexity, a gallery of the iconography of Kinnaur cut out of wood with great skill.

The temples are arrayed around an open, stone courtyard. On two sides, raised terraces of stone overlook the centre court, themselves bearing small temple structures. The slate clad roofs of the buildings are elegantly curved, sweeping outwards at the corners, tilting steeply upwards at their summits. Atop the ridges of the roofs rise steeples, pagoda-like layers of roofing culminating in the twinned, elemental images of sun and moon. At their corners are carved the heads of beasts, thrusting out from the eaves, while below them hung shapes like wooden icicles.

Kinnaur Temples

Beneath the shading expanses of the eaves, the wooden walls of the structures are alive with carvings. There are tight-coiled, interlinking patterns reminiscent of the art of the Celts. There are floral profusions, geometrically arranged in a rich patterning recalling the Arabesques of the Moors. There are peacocks and tigers; the faces of men and the forms of gods standing proud amidst the swirling patterns.


Some of the carvings are explicitly sexual in their content. Here, a woman sprawled naked, displaying her ‘private parts’ without a hint of shame; there, a couple are shown entwined in a passionate embrace, bodies thrusting together in the grip of the act of love. There is no attempt to conceal the biological details of the love-making process; no strategically positioned fig-leaves to obscure the anatomical facts. Actions hidden away in secret by the Abrahamic religions are here writ large on the temple walls; the act of the creation of life given a sacred character, and welcomed into the places of worship.


Temple Carvings- Naughty

Perhaps the most striking of all the carvings were two images that snaked around the twin columns of one of the temple gateways. They were dragons; carved from the wood of the Himalayas, alive with the detail of Indic art. They were not exclusively Indian, however; far from it. In form they resembled nothing so much as the serpentine dragons of China, which have over the centuries come to feature strongly in the art of the Tibetans. The close proximity of the Buddhist plateau to the east was here making itself felt even in the art of a Hindu temple; the mythic imagination of the two intimately connected religions and cultures combining to give birth to a new, hybrid form that partook of a little of the character of both. Once again, I was reminded that I stood on the border between two worlds.


Now, later on that same day, I stood again in the temple. Before it had been empty; but now it was occupied by the swirling shapes of snowflakes and of people; of villagers gathering to worship in a fashion most unexpected.

There were times in the course of my journey when it felt I was stepping forth into a dark abyss, risking a fall into the unknown, that might have terrible consequences. The risks I was taking frequently seemed absurd; the possibility of unearthing the hidden things I sought, of finding the experiences and the situations that would bring them alive for an audience back home, seemed unlikely. Yet, so many times as I stepped forward into the darkness, it seemed that stepping stones arose out of the night to bear my weight, and to carry me onwards. As I watched the scene unfolding before me in that temple in Kalpa, I knew that just such luck had again been gifted to me; for all around, quite unexpectedly, now whirled the spirits of ages past.

Kinnauri Dance

At first, the dancers were few. There were a couple of men, heads encased with the same purple-pink turban garment I had seen on the road into the village. Alongside them moved the same number of female forms; again, replicating the head-dress I had observed before. They circled one another with dignified, circular motions; slowly turning their bodies, in apparent imitation of the gentle spinning of the snow.


Presently, more dancers arrived, bringing with them there attendant trains of villagers; and the two groups of dancers were reinforced by yet more copies of the two original archetypes. They joined the others, describing the same elegant, twirling patterns across the courtyard. In their hands the men bore knives, the blades glinting in the white light as they rotated.

Still the numbers grew; new contingents arriving from yet more distant villages, packing the terraces with an ever-growing audience, reinforcing the dancers with new, fresh feet. Soon, where before only a few dancers had circled one another in stately fashion, a crowd of spinning forms had taken shape. They circulated and flowed like cells in the bloodstream, spinning past one another in ever more complex patterns.

Kalpa, Kinnaur

At this point, as the crowd grew larger, more densely packed, a new element arrived in the dance. The initial pair of two archetypes was supplemented by a third; a new kind of dancer poured into the mix. Where the previous two had exhibited in their costumes a stylistic uniformity, a consistency within their choices of dress, the new arrivals were more anarchic. Their faces were still entirely covered- but in this case with a range of fearsome animal masks, furred, fanged and horned in ways that recalled a diverse range of wild beasts. Where the first dancers had dressed in traditional, ceremonial clothes, these new ones were clad, contrastingly, in heavy modern jackets and military-style combat gear. Embroidered clothes of haphazard pattern were slung over their trousers, forming skirts beneath which protruded bulky winter boots. The aesthetic they conjured occupied the meeting point between the guerrilla fighter and the Wicker Man; a sinister, pagan militarism that brought with it a scent of savagery from the lonely pinewoods. In their hands they gripped weapons; long, heavy sticks, machetes, and heavy-bladed Himalayan kukhuri knives.


The new arrivals formed with their movements a chaotic counterpoint to the steady, graceful intertwining of the first dancers. They leapt arrhythmically around the courtyard, hurling their bodies into energetic, discordant patterns. They waved their weapons at the watchers, and even rushed out of the confines of the courtyard into the crowd itself, scattering the audience before their onrushing blades. In the drama that was unfolding, they personified aggressive, animalistic spirits whose role was to spread mischief and trouble.

I had taken up a position on one of the terraces above the courtyard, where I had a good vantage point over the patterns the dancers described. It seemed a position relatively distant from the action; and so it never occurred to me, as I watched the devil-dancers leaping across the stones, that I might become involved.


When it happened, it happened so quickly I had little chance to react. One of the figures leapt up onto one terrace, then the next, a cluster of children scattering in squealing excitement before him. He capered along the ledge-like rim of the terrace, waving his arms at nearby villagers, gesticulating wildly with his machete. Then his eyes lit upon me.

Within a trice he had hurtled over. His arms dropped to his sides, and he looked me up and down. He was shorter than I, but the great mask of white animal fur he wore over his face added to his height considerably. He was clad in a bulky green combat jacket, his knife gleaming, well cared-for. Through the ragged holes in the fur, his eyes glared out at me; wild, staring, the irises a brilliant green.

The moment passed, and he sprang into motion. He capered before me, his feet describing an irregular jig. Then he stopped, and waited.

It seemed that he was inviting some movement on my part, asking me to follow him in his movements. I did not wish to antagonise him, or to disrupt the gathering by behaving in an inappropriate fashion; as well as I could, I did a little jig back at him.

He howled with glee, and waved his arms in the air. Before I knew it, a fierce grip had clamped itself around my arm and I was being hauled bodily down from my terrace in the direction of the courtyard floor. Leaping and jerking my arm, the devil-dancer hauled me towards the swirling bodies. Before me coruscated the swirling brilliant colours of the costumes; the flash of metal discs on the faces of the women; the glinting of the blades of knives. I remained there for the briefest of moments; I had no wish to spoil the occasion by an exhibit of inept dancing. As soon as his grip on my arm eased, I began to back away. Behind me, the villagers laughed good-naturedly; it was all a part of the general havoc the animal-figures interwove through the dignified patterns of the dance.

Seeing me in retreat, however, the white-faced figure who had pulled me down reacted in a fashion most unexpected. He leapt up at me, wrapping his arm around my neck. As my head was thrust in towards his chest, I caught a distinct whiff of strong alcohol. Evidently, whatever spirit the dancer was channelling had been summoned up with the assistance of moonshine.

So it was that I found myself being held in a headlock by an inebriated, cavorting demon-figure. I must admit, it was not an experience I would have forecast at the start of the day!

When his grip loosened again, his attention diverted by some distraction, I eased myself free and drew back up to my full height. The dancer spun towards me again, looked me up and down, and sprang towards me with his weapon raised. For a fraction of a second it almost seemed he might strike me; but then he checked the forward motion of his arm and, desire for havoc satisfied, spun off into the crowd to seek his next amusement. I breathed a momentary sigh of relief, and found a new place among the crowd from which to observe the goings on.

Dance in the Snows, Kinnaur, Kalpa

The numbers of dancers in the courtyard were now considerable. The male and female forms had assembled themselves into a line; arms interlinked, they circled around the perimeter of the courtyard, marking out its boundaries. In the central space they had vacated, the devil-dancers frolicked wildly, waving their weapons in the air, gambolling chaotically. Amongst them walked musicians, thumping out the rhythms of the dance on their drums, clashing their cymbals to emphasise some particular juncture in the movements.

Presently, the line of dancers abandoned its circling motion, and began instead to snake out of the courtyard and round the perimeter of the temple buildings. The crowd and I followed after them.


The snow was falling less thickly now, and, behind the temple, more of the hillside had emerged into view. Terraces ascended steeply into a chill mist, the trees and dwellings that rose therefrom freshly blanketed in white. Up there, winter still reigned, the world sleeping under the silent spell of the cold.

Before us, the line of dancers began to sway back and forth around the edge of the temple complex. In front of the line, the musicians paced back and forth, calling forth the rhythms of the dance with the thundering, shivering concatenations of their music. Over it all watched the old forms of the temples, ancient and still, clad in the iconography of eras past and in the chill mantle of the snow.

The image before me resembled in almost all respects that depicted in William Simpson’s painting of one-and-a-half centuries before. Those differences that there were, were minor; the presence of an electric lamp sat high against a wall, the blue of denim wrapped round the legs of one of the younger villagers. The form of the dance, the instruments played, the setting itself; all the key elements had been preserved perfectly, hibernating in the cold to awaken, once a year, and dance beneath the final snowflakes of winter.

Kalpa Dancers

Incarnated in the dance were the spirits I had come here seeking; the spirits of religions so different to that of the land of my birth. In the delicate, regal interplay between the masked shapes of the male and female dancers, there was expressed a view of the world in which both male and female had a role in creation. No single, jealous god ruled over this cosmos; rather, it was born of inter-weaving opposites, the union of opposing, contradictory polarities.

In amongst the swirling patterns of this universe moved chaos; spirits of a feral, wild nature dancing destruction through the organised movements, scattering plans by the wayside. This is the world of the Indic religions; a polytheistic world in which many forces, some of them inimical to man, shape events through their inter-relations and confrontations. All these forces are honoured, for all the forces are powerful; good or evil, kind or fearsome. Just as the world can be cruel, so it is necessary to appease the cruelty in the world. War and famine cause no dilemma in such a system, provoke no crisis of faith- for in this religion the divine order is not one of mercy, it is one that partakes of the merciless character of the world. Earth is the mirror of the heaven that bore it.

The dance before me bore witness to this truth, incarnated these spirits and gave them form. On the borderline between Hinduism and Buddhism, ancient and modern; on the snowline frontier between worlds, where truth and myth balance precariously upon the limits of perception, a simple truth as old as the hills was expressed. I watched it dance to the beat of an ancient drum and, as I did so, gazing into the face of the alien, the exotic, and the frightening, I saw reflected back from the mirror of its countenance the face of the world; beautiful, hungry and wild.

                                                                                                     * * *

Apple Orchards, KalpaIn the morning, from out of the darkness emerge the stirrings of consciousness. The inrushing of memory activates it, restores the foundation stones upon which identity is built, and personhood reawakens. Upon its heels follows perception…

I push my head out from beneath the blankets, and perceive ‘cold’. I immediately retract my head, like a tortoise whose nose has just been slapped. My consciousness would, if permitted, retreat back into the warm darkness from whence it had just emerged; but the slap administered by the Himalayan air has been too sharp, and I am now irrevocably awake. Damn it.

A number of minutes pass, during which a kind of raised mound may be observed shifting beneath the pile of heavy blankets laid out atop the bed. The impression is similar to that given by a mole, burrowing just beneath the surface. At certain junctures, a pale arm snakes forth from under the covers, groping in a blind, subterranean fashion across the floor for its prey; trousers, a jumper, a balaklava. Seizing them, it retreats back into its layer; and a rapid acceleration in the motion beneath ensues, punctuated by a muffled muttering sound.

At last, the roiling motion of the covers ceases, and I emerge a fully clad man into the frigid air of the early morning. My form is basically a ball of warm clothing; every layer of clothing I possess is now on my body, all swaddled in a heavy blanket/shawl. My breath hangs before me in the air, a mountain fog in miniature taking up residence in my bedroom. In Kalpa, the electricity lines have not yet been reconnected, and without power there is no heating. Instead, I deal with the cold in the old way; with blankets, fortitude, and no little swearing.

In the normal run of things I would not emerge so early. I would await for the sun to progress higher in the sky, to fill the air with a little more of its energy, to banish the bone-aching chill from the hillsides. Today, however, I have been called forth by a notion; a little trace of wonderlust, demanding the investigation of a possibility.

It is the day after the dance in the snows. I had gone to bed early; a second bout of apple schnapps would have seemed wasteful, however enjoyable, for it would almost inevitably have involved sacrificing a large chunk of the day to a hangover. Instead, an examination of the geography of the place, and a hint given by forecasts of the weather, had planted the seed of an idea in my mind.

Across the valley from Kalpa, beyond the canyon of the Sutlej and on the opposite bank, rise more mountains. These are even higher and more jagged than those that loom immediately behind the village; a ridge of pointed extremities that soar above the other peaks of the region, dominating the valley. The highest of them all is a great horned monster of a peak, a giant among giants whose immense presence inevitably makes it the centrepiece of all views of the region- when, that is, the enveloping clouds have risen high enough to unveil its form.

The night before I had heard that the expectation for the next day was of clear weather. Aware that, since the great mountain lay to the east of Kalpa, the sun would come up behind its ridge, I had decided to arise early. The prospect of glimpsing the dawn rise from behind such a tremendous body of rock was too much to resist; if the circumstances were right, it could prove an unforgettable sight.

As I pushed the door open and stepped out into the bracing cold of the pre-dawn air, the predictions were proven correct. Not a single cloud cut across a sky that glowed the deep, intense blue of the early morning. The traces of emerging light were there already; I could tell that the sun was, even now, climbing up behind the mountains on its way to its seat in the sky. As yet, however, it had not emerged from behind the mountain to cast its light on Kinnaur.

In the light of the morning, the ridge before me was cast into stark relief. The snows reflected back the dark blue of the sky, spreading some measure of illumination upon the shadowed slopes. I could glimpse the forest climbing up the mountainside, before eventually fading away to nothing at a ragged treeline. Beyond rose up barren slopes clothed with nothing but snow and jagged stone, jutting up in lines of steep cliffs and prominences of towering rock to an ultimate pinnacle of terrible height.

I stood, on the terrace before my hotel room in Kalpa, three-thousand metres above sea level. The mountain that rose before me matched this and more; for the summit of Kinner Kailash sits six-thousand four-hundred and seventy-three metres up among the heavens. Unobscured by even a tracery of mist, the largest mountain I had ever seen stood unveiled before me.

In the mythology of the land of Kinnaur, Kailash occupies the place of Olympus. It is the axis, the World Mountain; Meru. Atop its summit, in a place of cold and rarefied air where human feet do not tread, dwells Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. On the heights he meditates, imagining the world in his vast, terrible mind, and thus sustaining its existence- for, in this conception, all the world is a figment in the mind of God. At the end of days he will arise from his contemplations and dance a dance called the Tandava; the dance of destruction. Then the heavens will fall, and all will be nothing.

For now, however, Shiva remains in his place upon the heights, and the world in all its diversity continues to spin below him. For this, I was at that moment profoundly grateful; to Shiva, to God, and to all and whichever gods had chosen to give me this moment for, as I watched, the plan I had marked out was coming to glorious fruition.

The sun had slowly been rising from behind the curve of the turning world for some time now. As I emerged from my slumber it had emerged from the blackness of night, and as I had stepped forth from my room onto the terrace it had risen close to the crest of the ridge of the mountains.

It was at this moment that I understood perhaps why the dance of the gods and the devils of the day before had been held at Kalpa; why it was that this spot, at this moment, was considered sacred. On this day of the year, from this precise point on the mountainside, when the sun rose and broke into the blue of the sky it did so from the gap between the twin horns at the summit of Kinner Kailash. In that moment, all the sacrifices I had made, all the expenditure and all the hardship I had endured to get here were justified in a single vivid second of sight; for in that moment, as the sun rose from behind the Mountain, I witnessed all the light of heaven explode from behind the abode of god.


This post is built around part of a rejected chapter from my forthcoming book, “The Hidden Gods”. If you enjoyed it, keep an eye on this blog for details of how to get hold of the book- it contains material significantly far better than this.

© William Young and Feral Words, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to William Young and Feral Words with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


6 comments on “The Dance in the Snow- Kalpa, Kinnaur

  1. roenx
    January 24, 2015

    What an unique and awesome blog, and what a great and interesting article of an uncommon part pf our world-wow ! Keep up both the great writing and photography, looking forward to seeing more from you. Cheers, AP

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lexklein
    January 28, 2015

    As I read, I could not imagine an ending beyond the snow dance, in itself a magical event, it seems. But the sunrise behind Kailash had to have been amazing … I was jealous of you just reading it! For me, the horrible emergence from a warm bed into the Himalayan morning air is a critical component of my enjoyment of those jagged, sun-warmed peaks, so I especially enjoyed that description! Finally, details … how long were you wandering in that area overall, and were you traveling alone? It sounds both exciting and awfully daunting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. williamayoung
    January 31, 2015

    It was indeed exciting- but not too daunting. The people in that particular portion of India are very friendly and welcoming, which makes all the difference. Some of the roads are a little hair-raising, but over-all it’s very achievable.
    I did travel alone, and I spent about two months in Uttarakhand & Himachal Pradesh. I moved around a lot, and poked my nose into most of the larger valley systems in the latter. They are utterly fascinating; each one’s like a little country in miniature, with its own unique culture and atmosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lexklein
      January 31, 2015

      Did you get to Leh, the Nubra Valley, the Spiti Valley, and/or Nanda Devi? I know those are not all in the same area, but all are on my list to possibly hike near/through this summer or next.


  4. williamayoung
    January 31, 2015

    I went to precisely none of those! At the time of year I was travelling, all would have been heavily snowbound, difficult to access and short on accomodation options. In summer, though, I hear they are utterly stunning- and the road up to Spiti is actually the road that runs past both Kalpa & the Sangla valley, so, should you wish, you’d be able to drop in on them en route.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jo Woolf
    February 1, 2015

    Wow – and that sunrise is just beyond words. What an incredible experience. I shall keep an eye open for your book! 🙂


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This entry was posted on January 24, 2015 by in South Asia and tagged , , , , , , , .
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