Darjeeling: Mantra for the morning
“Good morning,” they sang like a group of schoolchildren welcoming Sir into the classroom. Good morning I replied with more geniality than I ever thought I could muster at 5.00 am on a rather chilly morning. The group in question were, in fact, five Tibetan pensioners crammed onto a single bench along the Mall Road, a footpath that runs around Observatory Hill in Darjeeling.
I had gone there in the hope of getting a photo of the rising sun lighting up the summit of Mt. Kanchenjunga and its surrounding mountains. The pensioners had been chattering quite happily before I arrived, now they were quiet, watching. I put my bag down and busied myself with the tripod. “One … Two …Three” they sang in unison, chuckling happily as the legs unfolded. They then settled back into contented silence.
I fiddled with the camera. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I’ve done it but fitting the camera plate into position atop the tripod in darkness is always a challenge. In most aspects of life, I find I’m equipped with too few arms. In this particular endeavour I have way too many fingers and on this particular morning, they were almost numb with cold.
Nevertheless, with perseverance, the camera and tripod came together. Height adjusted, screws tightened and aim. Just as the first rays of dawn traced a golden hem between the horizon and the sky.
“Auoomm.” I must have leapt three feet into the air. My companions had been so silent over the past few minutes I had quite forgotten they were there. “Auoomm” they sang the mantra again, deep and sonorous male and female voices blending together quite harmoniously. “Auoomm,” and it was, once I was over the initial surprise, quite a restful sound. I turned my attention back to the mountains and became one with the camera.
They continued chanting for five or perhaps even ten minutes, I got lost in the sounds and only noticed they had stopped when a chorus of “good mornings” greeted a passing jogger. As the curtain of night gradually lifted a music player and some local pop music were found. The group broke into their own individual exercise routines, some running on the spot, another doing an enthusiastic knees bend arms stretch repetition, still another practicing deep breathing. But none of them were so out of breath that they couldn’t offer morning greetings to the procession of joggers that had started to pass by.
I had begun the morning cold and grumpy. I was still cold but the charm of these people had put a smile on my face and, while the light hadn’t been great for photography, the memory of the morning is a keeper. I packed up my gear and waved as I left, “Goodbye,” they sang.