Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Remembering Leh

Since morning, i have tried to start doing two different tasks, given up each for the other, attempted to start learning four different things, actually make that five, and given up each one for the very next wandering thought. Also, made three different plans for the near future, and day dreamed about them one after the other. The only feat accomplished is getting past half a day at work. I find myself quite hopeless, can something just snap please; and get me out of this lazy spell.

In other updates, we had a good long holiday in Leh. It is undoubtedly an experience of a lifetime. Every time i looked at the different shades of brown of the hills, and the blue and white skies, i was overwhelmed with the vastness. Funnily enough, i felt just the opposite, when the flight was descending to give a peek of the snow capped mountains. They looked small and yet within reach, like i could hop from one peak to the other, easily, if only i wasn't bound in an airplane. The flight was full of tourists from other nations, the backpackers mostly, who looked roughed out from similar prior expeditions. The two of us as usual were sitting seperately, so there's no name calling involved in the claim for a window seat! And that is advice number 1, if you're taking a flight to Leh, do anything to make sure you have the window seat. I'm sure the road trip from Manali must give you gorgeous views enroute, but you do make up for those views once you're in Leh. What you don't get on that road trip is this bird's eye view, which is just something out of this world, and it very literally feels that way.

In Leh, the first feeling to hit me was; 'awestruck', with the beauty that surrounded us. But quite annoyingly, like a song that you can't stop singing in your head, the next thought that got stuck in my head for most of the next few days was that there are no trees. Yes, i knew it was a desert that i was going to, and i knew not to expect trees, but you see, those barren mountains weren't talking to me like the sea does or the trees do. And i could not think past it whenever i looked into an expanse of brown and blue without a speck of green. I could look at the ocean all day and be completely engrossed in the rythm of the waves forever; or look out of a window to a blanket of trees relaxing my eyes for hours together. I am one of those people who can sit and do nothing as long as my surroundings have a calming effect on me. Which wasn't the case in Leh. So, we walked endlessly in Leh. So much so that we did not even take a cab from the airport to the guest house. Trekked down to the guest house with google maps directions written down on a piece of paper.

Spent time getting familiarised with the market, ordered too much to eat as i wanted to eat everything from soup to momos to chopsuey, all that just for me. Ru was eating his usual mutton curry + roti. The good thing being that most restaurants, just like this one, were multi-cuisine giving you a wide variety to choose from, not letting any of their visitors feel left out. And that included people from Spain, China, India, Israel, most parts of Europe, which if you notice is a lot of cuisines in one menu. The best part about that being, that every single item listed on the menu was actually available. We booked ourselves a rafting trip in the Indus river for the next day and headed back to the guest house.

Every time i looked up into the sky from the raft, it made me feel dizzy, as my mind would get confused if the river was flowing or the sky, or was it the mountains. Fun neverthless, you see there was a flowing river, i don't need much more than that to forget everything else. And it did not look like it was a very strong current, until that one moment when i looked back at Ru, and drifted away in a matter of that one moment from happily swimming in the calm water to the strong current. The kayak had to come rescue both of us, but even that was fun :)

We were back in the market, and that's really where you spend all your time in Leh. Pick a good spot overlooking a busy crossing or some shops, the vibrancy of the place leaves you feeling happy inside. We walked into a travel agency to find out if they could arrange a shared cab for us to Pangong Lake, and were introduced to these two mountaineers who were just waiting for such an arrangement themselves. In no time was that done, we went back to eating and people watching, our favourite thing to do there.

We left early morning next day for Pangong Lake, and had planned to camp there for the night. Our driver, Tashi, kept us entertained all the way with his twisted humor, which Ru enjoyed a lot since that's the exact kind of joking around he does too. You know the kind where you make up fake but believable stories in front of gullible audience. The journey was really long and some of patches of road were in bad shape, so my back went for a toss. The roads were so narrow that it looked like there was enough space for just one vehicle, but Tashi was a fabulously skilled driver. He said that the hills were dangerous to drive on, and sadly there are a few people who've started drinking and driving rashly there. Thankfully for us, we had Tashi, forget alcohol, he did not even drink water. It's hard to believe how he survived without water because the weather is extremely dry and i had a water bottle with me constanly. But the other two guys, V and T, the mountaineers who were with us, informed us that the locals indeed drank very little water. They both had been in Leh for many days, and had some very interesting insights for us.

Tashi told us about all the "historic" locations, related to the shooting of 3 Idiots, and well the China war also. There was also a jade hill on the way, where we could've found some gems if only he had stopped. We reached the lake almost by evening, but the sun was still shining, which made the lake really blue. As the sun set, the blue water now looked clear and colourless, but gorgeous neverthless. We looked at the home stays available there, but then decided to go for the tents by the waterside to camp for the night. The mountaineers chose the home stay as they were on a backpacker's budget, and really sleeping in tents was nothing novel for them.

With nightfall the temperatures fell really low, and gave Ru a cold-stroke and he had a severe headache the whole evening. But the sky, oh the sky, it had a million stars in every square yard of the sky. And we just looked up in every direction, and the sky, it was bright without even the moon. It was the starriest, most beautiful sky that i have ever seen. I wish there was the moon. I suspect i even saw a shooting star, it was gone too soon for me to know if i really saw it. Did not make any wish as i wasn't even sure :|

We woke up early so we could see the sunrise. The morning calm made the place look even more serene. It was a slightly cloudy day, and we could see the sun playing hide seek among the clouds. The lake turned bluer as the sun shone and came out of the clouds. And then as we had to leave, it turned darker and prettier the farther we got from it, the lake's way of holding our gaze as we tried to leave it behind and go. The heart almost wants to turn around and give it some more of the attention that it's seeking.

The next day we went to two of the monastries, Hemis and Thiksey. Hemis is the oldest and largest monastery in Leh, and as legend goes Jesus Christ also lived there for some time. Although there is a lot of mystery surrounding this, and nobody in the monastery admits to it; there are quite a few people who have researched this and found evidence for the same. I can give you a starting resource here http://www.kashmirfirst.com/articles/other/hemis_manuscriptl.htm

The monastries were my first brush with Buddhist rituals, and the museum was a very interesting peek into their history. An aura of calm and peace surrounds the place and the people there, which is such a beautiful experience on a holiday. The people of Leh are so positively influenced by the religion that in our whole stay there, we did not come across even one aggressive person. The only time we heard someone honking on the roads was when a car with a Delhi registration wanted to overtake on a two lane road with oncoming traffic. Leh is a tourist place, which is open for only a few months every year, this is the only time the locals do any business here, but still they are not fleecing any tourists. The locals who come out to talk to you with a smile and offer help without you having to ask. It's hard to believe them at first, because we're not used to niceness without any motives. But here we leart to just trust them and respect the bonds that they're trying to build with us.

The next day happened to be the a bandh in remebrance of the victims of the cloud burst that happened last year. The shops, restaurants, everything was closed. Which gave us a day to sort out the photos, a task that usually gets pushed around if not done in time. And yes it took us a whole day to do this, there were so many pictures clicked. A photographer like Ru could just go crazy here. Next day, we were walking around the market when i saw a couple of people looking at the sun. Curious, i look up to see this amazing full circle rainbow around the sun. Now, that's like a perfect cherry on top isn't it!

1 comment:

Anu said...

Wow! visited your blog after a long time and loved reading that post... you have described your experiences beautifully! I've always been fascinated by Leh/ Ladakh and it is on my list of places to visit before I die... dunno when it will happen though!
You should keep writing... as should most of us who've stopped and even otherwise lost touch with each others' lives!