By- Been There Doon That
In Almora, is hidden the mystical Crank's Ridge, where DH Lawrence holidayed and Uma Thurman got her name from! Philosophers, poets, scholars, painters, musicians, all flocked to this magical landscape in search of what George Harrison called “life divine”.
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. His troupe in Almora included celebrated film personalities Guru Dutt and Zohra Segal, wannabe choreographers, who ended up becoming great actors. Also part of his entourage was the legend, the Sitar virtuoso, Pandit Ravi Shankar.
From Falsima, walk up to Simtola where Uday Shankar dreamt of establishing a permanent centre 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. Walk few kilometres through a landscape of pine, interspersed with homesteads, to arrive at the Crank’s Ridge. During the walk enjoy captivating views of not just Almora town, but also the stunning Hawabagh Plateau and the five snow-capped peaks of the Panchachuli.
Amongst the earliest giants to arrive at the serene slopes of the Crank’s Ridge was 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 landscape. Also, to come was Timothy Leary, father of the hippie movement and Professor of Psychology at Harvard. 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, the stay on Hippie Hill was a great learning experience for him. Soon, the Beatles began to experiment with Indian sounds. For the song “Within You, Without You,” their arrangement featured tanpura, sarangi, jaltarang, tabla and of course the sitar. Another song, “India, India,” was soon released. 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 located in 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 hill at the Kasar Devi Temple, a shrine that dates back to the 2nd 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. Further up the hill from Kasar Devi stands a Shiva Temple, where according to the Puranas, Goddess Parvati assumed the form of Kaushiki to slay the demons, Shumbh and Nishumbh. A stone inscription placed here, dating back to the 6th and 7th century records that the temple along with another by the name of Rudreshwar was built by King Rudrak. No wonder, Swami Vivekananda arrived here in the 1890s, to meditate.
A kilometre’s descent leads one to the Drikung Kagyu Monastery, an order with its unique lineage of oral instruction. The Kagyu lineage has originated from the very essence of reality, and its philosophy of existence transcends notions of space and time. The monastery here was established by Lama Angarika Govinda and his painter wife Li Gautami. Lama Angarika later penned his fascinating journey from Almora to Tibet in a book titled “The Way of the White Clouds”.
As with other charged spaces in the Crank’s Ridge, the monastery was soon buzzing with activity, attracting the Buddhist scholar, 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 oneself. At Crank’s Ridge, time stands still. Perhaps, this is the one walk in the Himalayas you must experience, all by yourself!
To experience the walk, Contact us at Been There Doon That
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