(Written in early June 2009)
The days here are gentle. I guess we’re at a little over a thousand metres, not many degrees south of the equator, and yet it’s surprising cool in the valley. In the mornings, the sunlight is warm and strong, angling where it strikes the flowers in the garden, and casting the terraces into stratified relief, the bright fields broken by the shadows of the steps that seperate them. As the day warms, butterflies flit among the gardens. Everything is very green.
By early afternoon the cumulus is building above the ridgelines. Sometimes we hear thunder rolling back and forth between the ghostly grey-white columns above, although the sunlight stays strong. Occasionally we have a light shower, although it’s only really rained once here. The sun is strong but not overpowering. The air is warm and pleasant, and still maintains a freshness to it that is quite invigorating. The walk up the hill from my room to the main complex causes me to breathe a little harder than I ought.
But it’s the evenings that are most evocative here. Around six, the light has grown soft. Clouds have settled in, but they’re broken enough to allow the hues from the setting sun to paint them in pastel pinks and oranges, making the sky glow with soft colour, giving the valley an otherworldly cast. The call to prayer sounds from the minarets of at least a dozen little mosques dotted up and down the communities, and like a round, they pick up the refrain one after another, until they’re all singing out together in disjointed unison, Allahu akhbar, God is greater. The sound rings back and forth between the valley walls and grows just a little hollow, like an echo in the mist, and the strains hang in the air for many minutes as the light gradually fails. Finally, they fall silent, and like the curtain closing on the stage of the day, the valley seems to take its cue from the fading song and comes to rest. We’re in the heart of modernity, a highly sophisticated and rapidly developing region in one of the most populous corners of the world, but somehow, come evening time, this little pocket feels very isolated from all the bustle I know is going on just around the corner. I can almost imagine that it didn’t sound all that different a hundred years ago. Now that’s a trip I’d love to be able to take someday…