A little update/thought on our upcoming Ladakh trip.
It is presently snowing in Ladakh, so we expect the temperatures to be cool. Daytime around the low 20’s and nights will be cold, even nearing 0 degrees. The hotel has heating so you will be plenty warm.
Do carry adequate warm clothes; a nice thick jacket or shawl is great for sitting outdoors under the star-lit skies. Early morning is chilly too. Before the sun comes up. Under the sunshine, the UV rays are very strong, and you need proper sun factor lotion. I recommend ‘SunBan.’ Available at any local chemist.
My feeling is not to plan this visit like a standard tour guide Ladakh holiday that crams in daytime visits to the monasteries every consecutive day. Many are at least 2 hours away, so the day ends up feeling more like a bumpy, winding car ride to and fro rather than anything else!
Also, given the Covid situation, many monasteries aren’t allowing visitors inside the main hall where you actually get to see the ancient wall frescos. Hate to say it, seen one monastery, you’ve kind of seen them all!
What I have in mind is a more intimate, authentic experience that allows you an opportunity to meet, interact and get to see the inside workings of a traditional Ladakhi family. Almost every family has given over a son or daughter to their local monastery. In this respect, Ladakhi Buddhism is similar to the Christian tradition of one child often becoming a priest. Indeed this system is in flux. The young kids do not want to adopt a religious life and prefer to leave Ladakh searching for a more urban existence. The grass is always greener on the other side. So too in this community. The younger generation has long forgotten their priceless farming methods, water irrigation methods, storing food, and surviving winter without being dependent on the daily army flights that bring in fruits and vegetables from Srinagar though at exorbitant prices.
So day one after we fetch you from the airport we can just go to the hotel, get you’ll a nice breakfast and allow you to rest as long and as much as you need. Even if you feel a bit energetic, it is advisable to simply remain in and around the hotel grounds. Alternatively, as our home is just across the road, you could walk over for some hot mint tea and just put your feet up in the sun. You’ll have taken an early morning flight, so I’m sure you could use a few hours happily curled up under a warm duvet.
I thought dinner at the home of a local vegetable pasta soup and some momos would be a simple finish to the first day of travel. Of course, for Div, we will cook his special favorites.
I know Anirudh wakes early, he can have his morning walk just down the road, or I can walk with him up to the main market area. A leisurely breakfast and then the chance for each of you to decide what you feel like doing with the day ahead …
For Udbhav, D&D, they can wander up to Changspa, Div knows his way around some nice little coffee shops, and they can do a little of their own exploring. Perhaps check out the notice boards for the evening parties and music events. Again, the pandemic means that the usual melting pot of Western tourists will be missing. Still, the young Ladakhi’s are quite the eclectic breed too.
Anirudh can spend a little time with my friend Namgyal and plan a mini trek for a day or two later when he’s properly acclamatized to the altitude. Kev and I will gladly join him on the trek. Several close-by sites holding a combination of astounding natural beauty and a monastery at hand. Depending on your energy level, we can take off to any of these places at short notice.
I would really like to take you’ll to a monastery school. Not sure how many little monks are around, but it’s a delight to meet these naughty boys with their snotty noses, mischievous smiles, and a hundred questions!
Equally, the joy of sitting out in the garden overlooking the snow-clad peaks is not an experience to be underestimated. The vastness and scale of the Ladakhi mountains are a perfect antidote to the racing city mind. The peaks and valleys both calm and challenge our usually busy-body thought process and can nudge one to a more introspective space of a quiet peace and content if one allows oneself to be guided by their strong, majestic presence.
Dinner at Bon Appetite ( if they too have suddenly shut down doors), there is an ample choice of locations for a wood oven pizza huddled around a bonfire.
So on the days can unfold, leaving a little gap for a serendipitous encounter or a drive out into the countryside as the heart wishes at the moment. There are walks into the market, a little shopping, a piece of hot freshly baked bread and tea at the local stalls frequented by the taxi drivers, etc., etc., etc.…
Would be super if you’d let me know of any special requests in advance. Udbhav, anything, in particular, you’d like to try – kayaking, ATV?
Also, your choice of drink would be great to know so I can stock up accordingly. Archana, I know, Anirudh tea, just Udbhav if you tell me your favorite spirit, that will be super.
A few monk friends I would like you’ll all to meet. They are simple wise men. Probably will be a tad shy at first, but if you spend a bit of time disarming their reservedness, you get a special insight into the life of a monk. We will go to some of their homes, and you can see how wonderfully they live and function from the tiniest of hermitages.
Some rooms are pristine and immaculate, while others are as messy as that of a teenage university student. Full of junk, tins of condensed milk, and a big fat TV! An iPhone too! Yes, the internet is well entrenched into Ladakhi society, and like all technological advancements, it has its plus and minus. Overall I’d say a visit to Ladakh is a win-win experience. Some of its hardships, like the inhospitable weather, lack of basic infrastructure, allows us to appreciate our creature comforts when we return to our busy city lives. But it is the generous, warm, open hearts of the people that leaves an indelible mark and a host of incredible memories. At least it did on mine. I first visited in 2003 and have never stopped since.
On the unfortunate chance that our country goes into a lockdown and we can’t make the trip this year, we can just save all of this away and revisit it again. As T.S Eliot famously said –
“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Jullay, God bless and see you soon.
This series of blogs has been reviewed by Drishya Warrier, Aditi Iyer, and Pratishtha Bagai, of Symbiosis Centre of media and Mass Communication, Pune. We are students that have completed our first year. Through this NGO Internship Project at MHAT, we explored the field of mental health while pursuing our interest in creative writing.