A Day in Ladakh

Wednesday 13th April 2005

This morning, there is a clear blue sky, with just a couple of clouds sitting on top of the Stok Mountain Range. It doesn’t seem quite as cold in the morning as it has been recently.

I go for breakfast at the Budoshah. I don’t really know why I eat here (I certainly don’t always), unless it’s because the morning sun warms the corner that I’m sitting in. I’m the only person here and when I walk in, the waiter always seems frightened to see customers. When I’m eventually given a menu (and everything is always ‘off’ – it’s a Kashmiri restaurant, so two thirds of their dishes are chicken or mutton. The day before yesterday, people were being told ‘no chicken no mutton’.), I ask for scrambled eggs on toast.

I’m told no, they can’t do it. Fried, boiled or omelette, yes. But the cook obviously can’t scramble them.

And black coffee.

‘Pot?’

How big is the pot? I ask.

‘Ah…I get one’. He disappears back into the kitchen, never to return. I sit back and contemplate the Ladakh Mountains in the sunshine, prayer flags waving lazily beside the temple. With luck, it will be another warm day. I think I’ll catch a bus to Thikse Gompa.

My coffee arrives. In a glass.

The toast arrives with heart-stopping chunks of Ladakhi butter – like everything here that calls for butter. I thought at first that it must be cheese. It seems to be the Ladakhi/Tibetan way. I made a mistake and had a cheese sandwich the other day – the cheese is just like butter, so you can imagine what it was like for my poor western tastebuds. I had to scrape most of it off.

leh street

It’s 12.45, and I’m sitting on a rock in hot sunshine at the foot of Thikse Gompa. The bus ride here was remarkable (and where else in India would you find that the driver would wait a few minutes whilst a passenger nipped off the bus to buy some bread?). All the way here, we passed through this wonderful desert scenery, with fairy-tale castles and palaces and the like clinging precariously to the tops of cliffs.

The Ladakhi buses are like all Indian buses, though. Today’s had plenty of pictures inside and on the windscreen (The Dalai Lama, Buddha, etc.), two vases of flowers and a fancy piece of wooden scrollwork on the dashboard, and several drawers incorporated into this.

At the moment I’m having my apricot and water lunch to the accompaniment of drumming in the background; a ritual going on somewhere. There are so many gompas here, and every private house performs their own pujas, that it could be coming from anywhere.

We passed through Shey on the way here. More of this tomorrow, I think. I intend to spend the day there.

I ‘strolled’ up to the gompa, and was shown around by a monk. We chatted in a mixture of Ladakhi, Hindi and English. He is a Ladakhi, in fact all of the monks here are. There are no Tibetans. In fact, despite the large Tibetan population here, he says that there are only two monasteries with Tibetan Lamas.

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We watched a group of young monks kicking around a football, a hundred metres or more below us.

Do families still send one son to be trained as a monk?

No, but there are still many coming.

I was first shown the giant statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is fairly modern, then the fourteenth century gompa, which is very dark and unlit, which made it difficult to properly see the wealth of thankas and statuary. I had to tell him about my family, job and anything else he could think of. That was quite hard going, and I don’t think we totally managed to get through. A pigeon flew into the gompa and started a discussion (not literally, you understand). In Ladakhi, pigeon is (I think) Po-ro, fairly onomatopoeic. In Arabic, I told him, it’s Bulbul, also onomatopoeic. Possibly it is the same in Hindi and Urdu.

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Back for tea and a bucket shower.

Later, I’m walking around the market. How strange to go around market stalls and shops in India, not getting pressured and hassled at all. At times it seems almost unreal. You wonder whether suddenly it’s all going to crash around you and normal India will be resumed as soon as possible. The longer that you spend here, the more laid back you become. I don’t think you can help it! Everyone strolls around smiling and Julay-ing you and each other. I know that Ladakhis consider it the height of bad manners ever to lose one’s temper, but it really does seem unreal. I think it would be easy to just sink into the ambience of it all and find you’d suddenly missed your flight out and had overstayed by weeks, or months…

Andrew Harvey said, and I’ll have to paraphrase because I can’t remember the exact quote, ‘The wonder of Leh is that there is absolutely nothing to do. Nothing to do except slow down, switch off and just observe. Just be.’ I understand that, now. I realise that that is what I have been doing the last few days without realising it.

trees

I had Phung Sha and rice for supper at the Amdo -a Tibetan dish. It is a sort of thick vegetable stew, which I shall certainly have again.

I have always wanted to read Rumi, the thirteenth century Persian mystic and poet, and I picked up a copy today from the little bookshop. I am now wrapped up in my blanket reading it by the light of my candles.

Downstairs, my hostess is singing again. Last night, I tiptoed out to the landing to listen to her singing what I was told this morning were Ladakhi folksongs, and I creep out again to listen now.

This time it’s ‘Bob the Builder’.

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36 thoughts on “A Day in Ladakh

  1. This post is absolutely beautiful!

    I loved reading it.

    I used to think Bulbul is a different bird and not pigeon. Po-ro is new word for me.

    Thanks for sharing. I am going to share it on social media 🙂

    May I reblog it as well?

    Love and light ❤

    Anand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked the second picture…which I believe is Thiksey monastery..a different angle from the one one usually comes across on the blogs. The reason I liked this post is that there is some ‘X’ element in the “flashbacks” moments! I’m sure that is something you will experience whenever you come across pictures of places you’ve been! Looking forward to more of your flashback moments! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it was ten years ago, but I don’t suppose that’s what you mean! When I was there, it did feel a little like going back in time; Although there were cars and lorries and consumer goods, it had an old fashioned feel to it which I think had a lot to do with the politeness and good manners of the Ladakhi’s, as well as their relaxed attitudes. Incidentally, I just went across and had a quick look at your Kodai trip post – I will go back and read it fully, later. We stayed there a few years ago and really loved it.

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      1. Rahul

        Actually, quite to the contrary – your photos show barely any crowds and only a few vehicles. Today, in Leh, you’ll find more taxis and Royal Enfield motorbikes and leather-jacketed bikers and even more dust kicked up by all of them per square kilometre, compared to a decade ago. Traffic jams are not an uncommon sight. Tourists are plentiful and so are souvenir/curio shops, restaurants and motels.

        The good thing is, tourism has helped the Ladakhis a great deal but there is also a local taxi mafia that manages everything and sullies their legendary hospitality a bit. However, most of the locals still retain their helpful nature and cheerfulness.

        I am curious about one thing though, if you had stayed there in April, did you reach there by road ?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No, I flew in. I had hoped to go by road, but it was far too early in the season. It was presumably why there were so few tourists there, as well. I only saw one or two others throughout my entire stay in Ladakh.

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  3. Pingback: Ladakh (2) – Mick Canning

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