The Ladakh Reflections - Day 8

(The Disket monastery perched up the hill)

(Views of Nubra, Shyok, Sumur and Karakorum from Disket monastery)

(The interiors of Disket monastery)

I woke up 7am and packed up whatever little i had bought and in another hours time i was below the apple trees having my breakfast. The homemade apricot jam tasted particularly good. The Welsh told that their 3am wake up to see the milky way across the clear night sky was a disappointment. I was glad i did not tell them to wake me up as well. Around 8:30 we left to cover what remains of the Nubra valley. We drove straight to Disket along the river of sand and then curving up the rock to Disket monastery on the hill top. The monastery was just on the edge of a deep gorge whose depth i could not see. The main prayer hall had many images of deity and most had their faces covered with cloth. The central deity was an terrifying image of Guhya Samajya with three heads positioned slanting to one another. The other deities in the hall look fierce and menacing, but could not make out much and neither was Nawang here to help me out. In the other praying room colorfully decorated with thangkas and long ribbons there was a central image of Maitreiya Buddha. From here one can get some breathtaking views of the confluence of Shyok river and Nubra river with the giant figure of Buddha atop a hill in the foreground. The vast stretch of sand plains is just awesome. From here we went to the huge image of Maitreiya Buddha which is under construction on the smaller hill beside. This is Ghasyme Stupa (spelling maybe wrong) being built from Bhutanese contribution. A strong smell of acrylic paint was in the air. From here, one could get superb view of the Disket monastery structures rising up the hill. On the left,there is probably a hidden stream as the dense foliage moving down the hill would indicate. In front of us lay the vast river bed and the Sumur which we visit next. Now this place has some significant geography for the interested. Shyok literally means the river of death. The other river in the confluence, river Nubra gets most of its flow from Saser Glacier and Siachen Glacier that is around 50km (approx.) upfront on the Nubra river. Behind the Nubra river lies the Saser Muztagh range that is part of the famous Karakorum range. The piece of triangle between these two rivers is called Saltoro Range and this range is where the current actual ground positions of Indian and Pakistani forces are frozen atop Siachen(on Saltoro Ridge to be exact). This range also hosts the point NJ9842 which is the last point on Line of Control beyond which the LoC remains demarcated.

(Nubra, Saltoro range from the Samstangling monastery)

(The Samstangling monastery)

(Interiors of Samstangling monastery)

We left Disket and drove 20km towards Khalsar amid the blowing sand. A milestone stated the height of the valley was around 10,000ft which was even less than that of Leh town. Probably that accounted for the lushness of the trees here. Crossing the sand river and actual river we were now on the other side of the vast valley. After a little while, the small and dusty road was heavily decorated with prayer flags and banners. As we slowly approached the Sumur monastery there seemed to be lot of activity around considering the remoteness of the place. There were crowds of children and people roaming around. Behind the trees an array of vehicles stood parked. A group of people looked down across the wall to the other side. I joined them to see what was going on. A sea of humanity all dressed up for the occasion were seated beneath the trees listening to the sermons being spoken. Someone told that a senior lama was gracing the occasion. We left them for the monastery. The monastery at Sumur is called Samstangling monastery and it is relatively new and tidy compared to the image one gets in the mind about the monasteries. On the courtyard preparation were going for the big feast. The main prayer hall was riot of colors with big thankas and ribbons hanging. The walls had big colorful image of the fiery Vajrapani and Yamantaka holding the wheel of life between his teeth. The other halls were similarly colorfully arranged. From the roof of the monastery, i took some serene shots of the valley ahead.

It took us a while finding our taxi in such multitude of parked vehicles. I am surprised to find such a strength in so remote a place.There could easily be upward of 500 vehicles lined across the road. We drove out of the valley toward Khalsar village which took us 40 minutes to reach. We stopped at a nondescript eatery for lunch. The lunch was modest and very simple. A big dog was seated just besides me constantly touching his wet nose on my jeans. Now it was a constant drive up to the pass. The wasteland unending and the icy heights unforgiving and the terrain ruthless. I wondered what it must have felt to fight at such icy heights in Kargil. I shuddered at the thought of it. If we kept speed we should be at our home for the 5:30 tea i thought. The drive beyond Khardung village was slow. A huge convoy of civilian trucks carrying diesel and kerosene was coming from the opposite direction. Every few minutes we had to stop of give way to these trucks. Probably the army is stockpiling its winter reserves. The driver told me that pass is open in winters but only for military trucks. I wondered what it would be out here in winters when even the summer travel is so treacherous. I salute the brave men of BRO and GREF that keep such vital roads open against such insurmountable odds of nature and winning against them day in and day out. The sun was bright and hence the snow melt expectantly strong. These millions of small streams flowing across the road will trickle down and merge with Indus and flow couple of thousand kilometers into Sindh. The slopes near the pass were much smoother due to the heavy snow over them. On the pass which was empty at this time of the day a group of backpackers offloaded their bicycles for the ride down. One girl though wearing a helmet was in a very unorthodox pajamas which maybe comfortable but highly unfit for cycling. I wonder if she thinks the ride down from here would be same as ride across British country side. I hope she has good time going down. I check out the souvenir shop in the middle of the pass. There were several framed articles about the history of the pass and detail about its construction by the army. An small legend described what some common terms meant. Siachen meant a place of roses. Somehow the irony was not lost, it was indeed a place of roses but only upon the graves of the fallen. The rest of the drive to Leh town was fast and uninteresting and at times it felt as if i was dozing. By 5:30pm i was at home.

I reached home and found that Nawang had to rush unexpectedly for Hanle as some crucial office work came. He left me a letter explaining this. I was glad that his work came up pretty much on the last days of my trip and he was there for me all the time. I had still not decided on what i am going to do the last day. Nawang is not here so maybe roam and shop around. I caught up with the highlights on the previous day's Germany v/s Argentina clash. After a hearty dinner with Sami and Namgyal I took leave for sleep.

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