Thursday, August 02, 2007

Leh: Gompaaaah!

Days 7 & 8- Leh, Day 9 - Tso Kar

After the strenuous journey to Pangong and our health-related misadventures, we decided to take it easy the next couple of days. We decided to do some local sight-seeing and SHOP :)

To sight-see as much as our hearts desired, we set off early. We decided to catch the Buddhist monks chanting their morning prayers at Thiksey monastery. It was a wonderful experience hearing them chant together, but what is really cute is the duty roster for the little boy monks. The kids, at a mere glance from their headmaster, run to fetch pails of butter tea(a typical Ladakhi concoction that is made with oodles of butter and salt, and is no where close to tea! Its like soup actually) and is served during the chanting at regular intervals. Ladakhis drink butter tea with 'sampa', a barley powder. This concoction preserves heat in the body and is favored by natives of the area especially during the harsh winters. It requires some effort to get used to, but hey, you persevered with (yucky) beer, didn't ya?!

A typical monastery would have an assembly room, where the monks gather and chant, hold meetings, discourses etc. This room would also contain Buddhist scriptures arranged in 4 levels - the highest level is for the enlightened masters, the one below for experts of Buddhism, the third level for people with some knowledge of Buddhism and the lowest for people like me, whose knowledge on the subject is negligible. A small room behind the assembly hall is a 'Pure Room' that houses a version of the most important deity and is usually not accessible to the public. Another room houses 'Protector Deities', sometimes their eyes are blindfolded so as to protect the common man from getting intimidated by their fierce expressions.

And then of course a separate living quarters for the monks. What is amazing in Ladakh (and possibly Buddhism) is the way the monks are part of the society. Coming from the South of the country, where holy men are put on a pedestal and on some days of a month women not allowed to meet them and a million other rules imposed, I was stunned by the 'accessibility' of the monks here. Yes, they are respected, even revered, but they do not hesitate to eat and drink at a local hotel(for instance) or flag a car for a lift or pose for a photo (unsmilingly sometimes!) and participate in archery competitions(yes!)

We proceeded then to Hemis monastery, which is easily the most-photographed gompa in Ladakh. A lovely place with a huge statue of Guru Padmasambhava.

We then drove to a place where we could dip our feet in the river Indus. Oh! it was heady, the thought of dipping my feet in the waters of the river that gave its name to our country. And yes, brrrr! def chilly even in the hot sun. We drove through fields to reach a Ladakhi home for lunch that day. We were offered butter tea(which strangely I quite liked) Being in good health that day, we decided to give the local 'spirit' a 'shot'.. 'Chang', made from barley tastes like fermented buttermilk (yes, difficult to imagine, fairly difficult to like as well!) Imagine me turning down a second drink (that was a first for me!) Food consisted of a dish made of radish leaf in milk with saffron thrown in for good measure, rice and 'sku' (a sort of stew with balls of barley dough) I was the only one who loved the experiment (all the men attacked the next tea shop for plates of 'maggi', talk of 'adventure'.. bah!)

To cut a long story short, over that day and the next, we also visited a local ladakhi palace or two, a stupa built as a symbol of friendship by the Japanese and a couple of other monasteries, which were also colorful, spiritual and beautiful.

On the second evening, we returned to Leh early to commence our shopping expedition(raison d'etre et al!) . G1 and I left our respective partners behind and ganged up with my friend R. The three of us bought earrings and beads till we were tired of seeing any more turquoise, jade or yak bone accessories. We also bought a 'singing bowl' used in incantations, a lock, some printed 'thankas'(paintings), t-shirts... basically the entire flea market. (Locally ladakhis feel that they are more scrupulous than the Tibetans who've set up flea markets EVERYWHERE!) Anyways, with our purses literally empty and our hearts happy, we had a wonderful dinner at 'Summer Harvest' (the best restaurant in Leh), walked back sated, little knowing the horrible adventure that 'leh' ahead.

The next morn, we decided to go to Tsokar, a lake about 3 hours away from Leh, popular for the salt deposits on its shores and some Brahmini ducks(which G insisted that he wanted to shoot). You guessed right, the weather turned the 'worst ever' that we had seen. By the time we hit the second highest pass (which we had to cross), we'd given up on reaching Leh alive. For the first time, we saw the guide and driver grim (and obviously it didn't add to my spirits at all) The last stretch of the road was HORRIBLE. We reached a huge field with just one tent and a man beckoned us inside - our own St.Peter showing us heaven, and he offered us hot black tea (read 'manna') We were shivering crazily. Barely could hold the hot glass without our hands shaking. With the tea inside, G1 and I decided on a crazy adventure, we decided to go out in the freezing snow and rains, to pee. Remember what Forrest Gump says? "when you gotto go, well, you gotto go". With that philosophy we bravely bore 'frozen backsides' (ye women of the world, do empathize!)

Stayed in that tent next to a kerosene stove for all of 4 hours till the rains decided to well, 'go away for another day'. As we sat there getting warmer, we bonded with teh simple villagers selling hot tea in the tent. Even danced to some vague Ladakhi music, much to their amusement! G in his foolishness decided to shoot the ducks. The ducks? Ha ha ha! Anyways, we left the minute we could. But to date, I thank that chappie in the tent, with his two consorts who saved my life and soul for another adventure another day with his hot black tea!!

Once we returned we packed our stuff. We had to leave Leh the next morning on our long journey to Sringar, through Kargil. More on that soon. Watch this space!!

In tough times, simple acts of kindness seem overwhelming. Little Acts, Great Joy!


  1. wow, your adventure in the bad weather and snow sounds really scary. and trust nature to call just when it shouldn't! for all the number of times that we poor men are chastised for treating the world as our loo, i see that you and G1 have taken revenge :)

    keep up the travelogue - most enjoyable!

  2. hey,
    loveleh n beyond! spend lot of summers and winters of my childhood there and reading about your adventures just brings back those lovely memories! We actually landed at pgangso (think i got d spellin wrong)just like dat... drove down from leh unplanned and thn got stuck there for 2days coz of heavy snowfall at changlla pass. funny thing,huh!!

  3. lovely reading, as always. keep going!

  4. I can't seem to say it often enough -- I'm sooo jealous!!

    Cant wait for what happened the next day :)

  5. superb...just keeps getting better...

  6. Hey!! Interesting account! Tres bien :-).

  7. Did you know that there are many people in America who believe that Buddhism (and yoga) were "invented" in Japan!! So much for Indian marketing! I was pretty outraged at the thought!

    Btw, the "minu" is too cool! Reminds me of "snakes" at the local dhabba! :) Oh, and I've heard that sampa is pretty bad tasting, so if I cant bring myself to drink beer, I guess sampa is out for me too! :( Such a cool adventure you had! I like the spirit that even bad weather didn't really get you down! :)

  8. manna does mean heaven literally :)