The Ladakh Reflections - Day 5

(The Leh-Kargil highway)

(The polished Leh-Kargil highway)

All the tiredness of yesterday is gone after a long good sleep. In the morning itself, Nawang and I go out to the narrow lanes behind the guesthouse to the Shiite muslim Kashmiri bread makers. They seem to be awfully busy given that all they make is this one bread. In their nondescript shop, all they had was bags of flour and one oven. There was a huge tree besides the shop and the placard said that this tree was planted by Guru Nanak when he came to Ladakh. After some basking in the summer sun during which my friend was completing some work that came up, we took off for Alchi which again is located Kargil highway some 40km beyond Nimu village. Just outside of the city en-route to Kargil, beyond the airport lies the Spituk monastery on the hill top besides the Indus. As we drove towards Nimu we stopped midway to a big gurudwara that was built in this wilderness. On the other side of road were flight of stairs leading to the hill top. This gurudwara (called Pattar Shahib) is now being maintained by some Sikh regiment of the Indian Army. Legend has it that a devil threw or rolled down a rock from the hill top to Guru Nanak who was meditating. Instead of harming, the shape of Guru Nanak's back was etched on to the rock when it hit Guru Nanak, and hence the name. I took a quick darshan, and continued on our sojourn.

(Basgo village and Basgo monastery)

(shades of Basgo village)

We crossed Nimu, towards the Basgo village. Just before Basgo village, the colored mountains became more multi-colored. I saw green and i saw rust red among others. It was such a sight to see so much color in a single frame. We drove past the lush green fields that was Basgo village and precariously perched Basgo Monastery. Nawang told that monastery is part of the UNESCO world heritage site and it has a gold and copper guild of the Maitreiya Buddha inside. The road beyond Basgo was full of places where you felt like to stop the car and take a shot or two for its unparalleled landscape and the multitude of shades. The road was very good considering the terrain, but some stretches were being constructed. The Indus meanwhile faithfully kept by our side. After a while, the village of Saspol came which seemed to be a big village as it had a bank in it. Just outside the village i saw 3 similar shaped stupas but all colored differently. Nawang explained that these 3 stupas signify the Buddha trinity, The first one and on the left is Orange, which is the Buddha of wisdom, the center one is white and called Buddha of compassion and the one on the right is colored blue and is called Buddha of power and energy. He also explained that the twelve main events in Buddha's life have been compacted into eight events and hence at places you will see set of eight stupas, also the eight stupas will be slightly different in the way the steps below the round dome is constructed. We turned left and got off the Kargil highway, to the Alchi village(70 km from Leh). Crossing the Indus, and another short drive you reach the small village located on Indus southern bank that has been put on the global map due to the murals and frescoes that the monastery has. Nawang told that foreigner make it a point to must visit Alchi due to its pre-eminence in Buddhist wall paintings.

(scenic Alchi village)

(copy of the mandalas at Alchi)

The Alchi-Chhoskhor as the whole complex is called is a set of small temples built mostly in 10th century and painted with thousands of miniature sized figures of Buddha. This is a fine example of Tibetan and Kashmiri arts and was built at a time when Buddhism was hardly known in Ladakh. Photography is strictly disallowed here. The first temple is Sumtsek temple (literally meaning 3 tier temple) for it has three storey, but it is not allowed to climb up to upper tiers due to weak structure. On three sides, there are large figure of Buddha with Buddha's life history meticulously painted on the drape that covers the legs. The rest of the walls are covered with thousands of Buddha miniature art. The pillar angles supporting the structures are also innately carved with mythological snow lions. There is a lot of detail in these miniature paintings as if built over a long long period of time, but the poor lighting is hardly a help here. The second temple is the Vairocana (who is central deity in the five Dhyani Buddha and is also called as Celestial Buddha) temple. This temple also has wall paintings besides extensive wood carvings. Another feature is the mandalas that have been painted on the walls here. Mandalas as Nawang explained is a microcosm of the universe and it has a cosmological representation, it looks like a square inside the concentric circle with brightly decorated art. The mandalas are used as an offering of the universe to the Buddha and each intricate detail has some symbolic meaning, often on more than one level. The other two smaller temples Lotsawa temple (dedicated to the translator) and the Manjushri temple (with the wisdom Buddha in all four directions holding sacred text and a yellow sword). Both these temples are in a state of decay and some of the wall murals are lost while others have been carelessly redone. We took leave of the temples and walked towards our car, the fields besides us had near mature wheat ripening in the summer sun.

(Where to stop, what to shoot.Every frame is worth capturing)

(confluence of river Zanskar and river Indus)

As we left Alchi and back to the the highway towards Nimu, the slanting rays of the sun made the hills look more spectacular. We drove past Basgo in no time, and took another route back to Leh. En-route, we stopped at the confluence of Zanskar with the Indus. What a sight that was! The small light green river merging with the cream colored and more larger Zanskar and yet Indus gets to keep its name despite being smaller. Probably Indus comes from a lot behind (in Tibet) and so it is longer that's why it gets to keep the name. Nawang told me that there is a perceptible temperature difference between these rivers with Indus being less cold than Zanskar. Besides Zanskar has lot of minerals dissolved in it and hence it is unfit for irrigation unlike Indus. We took some great shots and drove again until a small yellow sign announced that this was Magnetic Hill. I had heard of this place before, but was not willing to give it a try. So again couple of shots and we were off.

By the time we reached Leh, it was evening tea time. I took a small rest and we were out again in the market checking out the tour operators for shared taxi for Nubra valley or Pangong lake tomorrow. It did not took us long to confirm tomorrow trip to Pangong lake. Nubra can wait for now. We went back home where delicious mutton curry and delectable green vegetables were waiting for us for dinner.

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