By Supriya Suriyanarayanan
This was a trip many years in the making.
My plans for a Ladakh tour were always postponed in favour of comfortable holidays. I worried about handling the cold, the food, the long hours of driving on some of the world’s most dangerous roads, the erratic weather, the oxygen levels as we crossed some of the world’s highest motorable roads. I worried some more about being late to explore Ladakh after I heard about the sudden influx of tourists (thanks to a blockbuster called 3 idiots)..
And yet, I had to experience Ladakh.
Now I am often asked – “Why would you visit Ladakh twice in the span of a year?”
Ladakh is my test. Ladakh is my sanctuary.
I am mesmerised by the majestic presence of mountains,
the limitless blue skies and the sudden sighting of an oasis in an otherwise barren desert,
little settlements comfortably nestled in the loving shade of mountains,
monasteries placed precariously in austere addresses,
night skies with stars scattered like confetti at a parade,
the soundtrack of flowing rivulets; freshly melted from the gleaming path of glaciers,
waking up to the meditative chants of ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’,
faces crinkled by harsh weather and a happy state of being,
being greeted with a heartfelt ‘Julley!’,
where kindness is not just a quality, but a language & currency.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
For a place so close to recurring conflict, Ladakh exudes a sense of calm that many seek to disconnect from the madness of our respective cities. Everywhere you look is nature at it’s glorious best. Shaping mountains, skies, rivers and humans like a master sculptor tirelessly chipping away at a piece of rock, to create a masterpiece that none can replicate.
“Tranquil Ladakh, the northernmost corner of my vast country.
Frontier land. So unique.
Unforgiving terrain with forgiving people.”
A large prayer wheel at the entrance of Thiksey Monastery, with the mountains forming a scenic background.
A young girl looks out her window, with prayer flags flying above her home.
Left: While the Leh market area has everything a tourist generally needs, with loads of souvenirs, cold weather outfits & coffee, little shops like this one (selling the local style of shoes) can surprise you! The pictures at the back are of Indian gods & goddesses. Right: The ubiquitous prayer flags. The Tibetan word for the prayer flags is Dar Cho. “Dar” means to increase life, fortune, health and wealth. “Cho” means all sentient beings. The colors of prayer flags represent the 5 basic elements: yellow (earth), red (fire), white (air), green (water) and blue(space). The flags are tied outside for the wind to carry the beneficent vibrations across the countryside.
Lamps lit at the entrance to a monastery.
The scriptures & prayer beads used by a monk during prayer at the Spituk Monastery.
Left: Prayer wheels are usually found at the entrance to shrines for the devotees to spin it as they enter. Similar to the Mani stone, the prayer wheels are also imprinted with multiple copies of the mantra ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’ and other religious scriptures. Right: A monk calling out to his colleague. Don’t be surprised to find some monks being tech savvy and using their smart phones to communicate.
Tea shops such as these are the lifeline of road travel in Ladakh. Steaming cups of tea (whatever type you fancy!), with boiled eggs or maggi noodles were often our staple diet on the road.
A lady serving aloo parathas and chai (potato stuffed bread and tea), with the mountains reflected on her window.
Left: A mani stone carved with a mantra. Typically ‘Om Mane Padme Hum’ is the most common hymn found carved on the mane stones. Right: A novice monk outside Lamayuru monastery. Young children (typically the middle child or the youngest) are usually sent to monasteries / nunneries for myriad reasons. Families believe that they’ll collect good will & blessings by doing so. Sending their children to monasteries also reduces the financial burden on parents and guarantees their child an education.
A view of the Diskit monastery. I often wonder at the perseverance and hard work of the monks who founded some of the Tibetan monasteries. These monasteries are isolated & difficult to get to even now, despite airports and roads reducing the distance we need to travel. Monks traversed these harsh lands and found remote, isolated spots to build their monasteries. So the monks could be in harmony with nature, far away from the distractions of materialism.
Tourists ride the Bactrian camel (double humped camels) in Hunder, Nubra valley.
Stakna monastery, on the banks of the Indus river. Stakna literally means tiger’s nose, named . Look closely and you might see a resemblance between the tiger’s nose & the hill.
Yaks, on the way to Pangong Tso.
The sun shines it’s spotlight on a monastery while the mountains play hide & seek.
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