As I walk down the dusty lanes of Calcutta, swarming with millions in hunt for a living, idea of Maitreya seems more possible than any other myth. Calcutta Coffee House lets me in into it’s own illusion of belongingness. I take a seat to the right of waiter’s passage, a place I seldom visit. My heart pumps faster as I pour into the map of Leh-Ladakh. I am planning for this 6500 km long road trip for quite some time now.
Srinagar to Leh is a 417 km stretch. We plan to enter Ladakh through Kashmir, the paradise on earth. This stretch includes some of the highest motorable routes in the world. The scenic beauty should be absolutely breath-taking. In literal sense too. High altitudes are bound take a toll on our lungs.
In the return journey we hope to visit Manali through Rohtang Pass, the hill station of Kasauli and the historic city of Lucknow. This should be trip of a life time, I tell myself.
The Srinagar-Leh route has a small town. Lying about 50 kilometer east of Kargil, is Mulbekh. It has a population of about 5000 people. Mulbekh is the last Buddhist town to the west of Ladakh and in some sense the entry point to the Buddhist empire that once ruled one third of this planet. Today Mulbekh is as unimportant as a pebble in sand but about two thousand years ago it was definitely not so. In the outskirt of the town, a gigantic statue of Maitreya Buddha curved out of the mountain, speaks of this glorious past. The statue hovers over an old trade route that once passed through this small town.
In Amitabha Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism, Maitrya Buddha is described as the future Buddha. When the world totally forgets the teachings of Buddha, when the last ounce of compassion disappears from human heart, Maitreya will come and order will be restored.
As I sit in the crowded hallway of Calcutta Coffee House and plan for this trip, arrival of Maitreya seems improbable, at least a thing of the far future. There is so much love, compassion and purity even in this commotion, Buddha must wait for a long, long time.