Thursday, April 2, 2020

Unconditional Love – A Day In The Lives Of The Nuns At Pin Valley

All of us have days in our lives that we are grateful for – days that end up having a strong impact on us and in some way change something within us. This was one such day in my life. During my volunteering term with Ecosphere – Spiti Valley, I got a chance to visit the Pin Nunnery. Even though it has been over a year and half since this experience, it still holds a special place in my memories. During my month long stint in Spiti, I visited many villages and monasteries, but this was my first experience in a nunnery. I was more than excited to interact with the nuns and understand their lives. On this particular day we had gone to install solar panels at the nunnery that would in turn generate electricity there for the very first time!

The roads to Pin Valley had opened only a day prior and I was so grateful that on my last day of the trip I was finally making it to Pin. Having seen a large part of Spiti, Pin still left me awestruck – the landscape and the view were beyond magnificent. There is a traditional family rule in Spiti, where the third child of each family is sent to either a nunnery or monastery depending on the gender of the child. I would be lying if I said I had not made prior assumptions or judged the lives of these children. I thought to myself- What if they wanted to do something else with their lives? What if they did not believe in this institution or way of living? Why didn’t these children get the right to choose? I had so many unanswered questions in my mind.
On our arrival, the team started with a recce to understand the best place to install the panels so as to ensure full coverage. The new building was still coming up and sadly, a storm earlier that year had destroyed a large part of where they were currently taking shelter. Despite these circumstances, there was not a sign of remorse or complaint in any of their faces – they greeted us with genuine warmth and smiles.
As the day progressed, my impressions and understanding about them kept evolving. The group of youngest nuns aged 9yrs onwards smiled and giggled as they saw us working. They ran around, spoke to each other, and made their set of impressions about us. Slowly, they opened up to us. They asked our names and discussed their lives and schedule at the nunnery. Two young ones came and chatted with me about my whereabouts, my camera, why I was there and where I “belonged”. We spoke about their homes, since when had they been here and if they were happy or missed their families back home? I was pleasantly surprised to hear about how happy they were here and how this was their ideal life. It seemed that nothing but gratitude, prayers and smiles were present in their daily lives.
Even though they had no electricity, just a couple of rooms to sleep, study and eat in, no real protection from the chilly cold and regular supply of water or food! They were strangely satisfied- happy and infused with passion and an inexplicable zeal for life. Studies, daily chores and prayers formed a large part of their day – but they were aware, smart and had a dream that they believed in. Later, the elder nuns helped us with all the raw materials and the set up required for the installation. They served us a delicious meal and we all got back to work.
This day broke down a lot of my concepts – of how I perceived life to be for myself and others. It truly showed me simplicity and faith could be all that is needed to be happy. The choice of how to lead our lives is purely ours and how we deal with the consequences is also our decision. Along with the installation of the solar panels, I was also documenting the work and making videos of this process for Ecosphere. This gave me a chance to interact with the nun in charge of the place. The love and appreciation she had for Ecosphere and for us working on the installation is not something I can describe in words. I was touched by her gratitude and the regard she had for each one of us with this initiative.
As the day came to an end, we were almost done with the cabling and connections, I then had my “Swades” moment- seeing the switch being turned on and the bulb flickering to life. The build-up to the moment was deeply moving. The older nuns sat together in the rooms and conducted prayers. They chanted and finally, the moment we were waiting for, THE LIGHT. Along with it, happiness and joy flooded the place. The smiles on each of their faces were priceless. That moment is etched in my heart forever.
Following that, I ended my last day in Spiti Valley with a lovely dinner and some more time with the nuns. I am forever thankful to the team at Ecosphere and all the others involved, for giving me a chance to be a part of this experience. I also feel an immense sense of gratitude for their efforts at providing solar power to so many parts of this region and adding a little light to all the lives around.

About the author: Sonali Gupta volunteered with Ecosphere in 2013 as one of 2 volunteers that ventured onto a program called Inner Space Adventures. This piece was written post her time on the program but the adventures obviously continued !

She loves the mountains, and believes nature is her calling and continues to seek unexplored and explored destinations. You can read more about her journeys on her blog where she shares the world through her eyes and lens. 

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