The Ladakh Reflections - Day 2

It does not feel like waking up, probably due to the coziness this cold weather brings and thought that you are on vacation. After a light breakfast, we are on the road for the monasteries nearby with Nawang being my guide, my driver besides being my friend. Out of the city center we take a turn left to what seems to be taking us out in the wilderness. The mountain range were running parallel to us and even though the sun is bright, it never bothered us. In fact, it felt nice. The traffic was low and we whizzed across a never ending row of military installations one after another. Most prominent being the ITBP and BRO camps until we had mountains on both sides of the road. The high peaks on the right and barren and unshapely rocks on the left, sometimes far and sometimes near. When far, the land between was one big slanting plain that you could see for miles and miles for there is no air pollution, until it is broken by the barren hills. I am glad that outsiders can not buy land here otherwise this quiet little place on earth would have become another outgrown and impersonal Shimla or Mussorie. This is Choklamsar, the first big village as you drive down the Leh-Manali road. Your eyes work overtime to make sense of this grandeur of the land, while your camera works overtime to capture for you to revisit it later and nostalgically recall that you fleetingly passed these fabled lands. The road ran along side the Indus river, and there was greenery on both sides of the river and there were huts. Civilization still follows the old custom here, where there is river, there is life. We drove past Shey village (15 Km from Leh) and the Shey monastery. Occasionally on the sharp mountains or cliffs you could see colored patches and numbering being done.My friend told me that this was probably done by army units for practicing and training rock climbing. Small water canals from Indus lined both sides of the roads and hence the dense foliage of poplars and willow on both sides. I never expected this much greenery in Ladakh, but hey! i am wrong sometimes. We approached Thiksay and i could see the monastery perched on the hills. Nawang told me that we will visit this on return and first we will visit Hemis Gompa. We drove further into this enchanting landscape where one mountain gave way to another but they never left us alone and in these mountains you could see huge alluvial fans on the slopes of the high peaks caused by rain or snow erosion. The peaks may look unmoving but then the elements have the last laugh. We whizzed past Rancho's school (of the movie 3 idiots fame) and reached Karu military station. Down from the road you could see the greenery down below of the Karu village and you can safely hazard a guess that there is a river down below hidden in the dense undergrowth. We took a right and crossed a small bridge on Indus on way to Hemis. Now it was a slow winding road up the hill into some hidden valley or place that i could not see. Suddenly just coming out of a sharp curve, we saw Buddhist monastery students lined up on both sides of the road with bright colored flags and waving at us. It felt as if they were there to welcome us, except that my friend told me that there are most likely waiting to welcome some senior lama who is visiting the monastery.

( mani-walls outside the village, the brown rocks above have chants carved on them)

(Guru Padma Sambhava at Hemis Gompa)

Hemis is the largest of monasteries in Ladakh and built around 16th century. Around 50km from Leh, it is rumored that Jesus Christ spent some time here. The big courtyard is surrounded by smaller building on all sides. Ever summer in the month of June, there is a annual festival to commemorate the birthday of Guru Padma Sambhava and a 3 storey tall thangka (a sacred cloth shaped like a calendar, that has an image of Buddha or someone holy embellished) is unfurled from the building overlooking the courtyard. We went to the museum in the basement that had old exhibits like sacred thangkas, wooden masks and elephant bones objects to be worn in rituals and dances. Beside it a small souvenir store was selling calendar, t-shirts and books. The prayer chamber had giant figure of Guru Padma Sambhava sitting holding a vajra(thunderbolt) in one hand. My friend told me that the Guru is second to Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism for his contribution is spreading the religion far and wide across the Ladakh/Tibet and due to this he is called the 2nd Buddha. He lived in 8th century, born somewhere in Afghanistan and taught Buddhism as he traveled from Ladakh to Spiti valley to western Tibet. He is the one who introduced the concept of Vajrayana or Tantrayana into Tibetan Buddhism which basically is shorter way or path to achieve enlightenment. In this school of thought instead of ritualistic mantras being chanted, instruments like trumpets, drums, vajra, bell and cymbals are used in invocation and initiation of prayers. As we drove back talking more about the mystique around Tibetan Buddhism, we stopped at a place where Nawang showed me mani-walls (literally jewel walls) which basically are walls that are covered with flat stones that have sacred text carved on it. These walls are constructed at the start of the village and at the end of it to guard the village from evil and evil spirits. We took some shots here of the walls, of the mountains that lay twisted in front of us by the forces of nature like an empty soda can. I marveled at it and thought about what a tiny speck we humans are in the face of this gigantic timescale that made these features. On the other side were mountains that looked like a sandwich for they had layers of different colored rocks running parallel. My friend told this region is part of the Hemis high altitude sanctuary which is home to the snow leopard and a person holds a world record for spotting four snow leopard together because this animal is so aloof and remotely seen in groups. I so wished to spot them and more so, to spot them more than four together.

( view from the Thiksay monastery and the village below)

(The Maitreya Buddha at Thiksay)

As we took the road back, a Singaporean woman hitchhiked with us up-till Thiksay. She had been staying here for over a month and does art conservation for a living. What an exotic career choice! The Manali-Leh (or for that matter any road here) has some unusual road signs warning travelers about the difficult terrain and asking them to exercise caution. But they do make an amusing read every minute or so as you travel in these mountain highways. Another 20km and we reach Thiksay, had a little lunch in a roadside restaurant (that only serves fried rice, while Nawang has a sudden craving for rajma-chawal). Finishing it fast, we drove a long curve to reach the Thiksay monastery again perched up on the hill. The monastery makes an impressive camera shot like a perfect postcard. It is a pretty big monastery with multiple chambers and lot of artifacts to see. The main is a very high figure of Maitreya Buddha which means the Future Buddha, and he is supposed to come when the teaching of the current Buddha have all been lost and forgotten, then the Maitreya Buddha will come and live the same life as the current Buddha and impart new direction and inspire people. Nawang told that Maitreya Buddha images are big and large to signify his knowledge when humanity is degraded in size due to inherent vices and is mostly sitting (as if about to stand) just to show that his time has come. I wondered why every religion has this return concept, maybe just to make it easier for everyone to not mend their ways and wait for something supernal to set all wrongs right. Back to Thiksay, another prayer room had 21 images of Tara(symbolic mother to all Buddhists) in different colors. In the other room, they were figures wearing long yellow hats, because this monastery belongs to the Yellow Hat sect to the Tibetan Buddhism. We climbed up to the roof and the landscape was exhilarating from here even though i was out of breath climbing the stairs probably due to the rarity of the air. Straight down was the Thiksay village, lush and green, beyond that the river and the peaks. On the other side is the vast barren plain until the foot of barren hills and the clouds and the blue sky and the dark shadows of the clouds on the hills. As we climbed down to our car,I stopped couple of times to turn the large prayer wheels. My friend told me that they need to be done clockwise and these wheels have religious scrolls inside them and written on them and when we rotate them, we imbibe all the good things and wishes in them. pretty easy, eh?

(monastery at Shey)

We left Thiksay continuing for the Leh city and on the way stopped at Shey, to take some shots of the Shey monastery again built over the hill top. The sacred chants "om mani padme hum" were painted bold on the rocks above. Unlike other monasteries, the one at Shey is not as colorful with a brown color building camouflaging nicely with the hills. Just some steps away, on a big rock the five Dhyani Buddhas are carved on stone. We drove again, along the Indus to the Sindhu Darshan site where an empty structure with tin roofs awaited us with some red sand stone arches that looked so out of place. Some other Indian tourists who were frolicking in the river asked us which river it is and where it goes. I mean they ought to be kidding, for how can one be Indian and not know Indus (the name India came from Indus) or be a Hindu (the name Hindu came from Sindhu). I marveled at their ignorance, or rather was irritated at it. Couple of shots here and there on the river, we left the abandoned site. I wonder why this site has been left to misuse, probably its politics because this whole Sindhu Darshan charade was started by the BJP government, which lost priority with the new dispensation at the center. Anyways, the concept need not have to be politicized, this is the river that defines India more than the Ganges and rightly so. I am glad that i saw Indus and i felt Indus. We drove back to Leh city with an overcast sky overhead. Football will keep us busy for the rest of the evening and the night today!

(Thiksay monastery)

1 comment:

  1. Hey, from the bit of knowledge you gathered in such a short stay in Leh amazed me here as you very much resembles how foreign tourist comes here to practise religion after getting all the theoretical teachings from some high lamas in the west.
    And Yeah, those silly ignorant people haha ;) Cant help recalling the sight of it "Some other Indian tourists who were frolicking in the river asked us which river it is and where it goes. I mean they ought to be kidding, for how can one be Indian and not know Indus (the name India came from Indus) or be a Hindu (the name Hindu came from Sindhu). I marveled at their ignorance, or rather was irritated at it." hahaahaaa ;) withered