In my mind, I can still hear that Ladakhi greeting, though its been a few days since our return from Leh. There are stories of mountains and mountains of stories I could tell you. Of the trip that almost didn’t start because the taxi service got the day and month right, and booked us a cab for 2010!! Of the Delhi weather which over delivered on the warm welcome premise at 40 deg C.
Of the jovial captain of the Leh flight, who said that one third of our trip cost would be ‘made up’ by the first view of Leh. Of him being proven right by a sight so magical that one could hear a collective gasp as the lofty snowy peaks were seen for the first time through the windows. Of the mountains that for one moment looked the magnificent phenomena they were, and in another looked like clay models that kids made for school exhibitions. Of another statement the captain delivered on – a free camel ride, he called it – the landing at the Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport.
Of being on a high already and wondering whether one would be hit by the much written about high altitude sickness. Of being phlegmatic while popping pills and drinking bitter cough syrup at the first sign of phlegm. Of wandering through streets where tiny wrinkled old people chanted with prayer wheels in hand, and the next generation listened to heavy metal and peddled rock bands’ skull tees. Of wandering up mazes to see the ruins of the old palace and then lazing in the relatively palatial comforts of the hotel. Of waking up at dawn and setting out on journeys in which every view was click worthy, of getting tired of clicking and relying on the video mode far too much, even as the mind captured images. Of the visit to the gurudwara, where one was caught between the twin pleasures of the awesome sweet tea and the warmth from the cup.
Of gazing at the mighty river that spawned a civilisation, and wondering how much has changed for the nomadic tribes that live in tents and roam about with their Dzo (a hybrid of yak and cow). Of the noisy rush of air as one climbed up mountains to gompas (monasteries) that awed you with their silence. Of glass cases that carefully and lovingly stored centuries old manuscripts and a realisation of the tiny timeframe of six years of blogging. Of the excitement of staying in a tent, quickly followed by the realisation of how exactly one could feeze to death, and then feeling an intense thankfulness for one’s supple and warm bed companion, despite the rubbery exterior -the hot water bag.
Of boarding passes that got you to 35000 ft in no time, and mountain passes at half the height that made you crawl for almost three hours to get to them. Of being driven up narrow mountain roads, slipping on snow every now and then, and wondering if your final destination was going to be up or down. Of pitying the military guys who lived in the severe cold, and then muttering at them for making decisions that cost us an entire day. Of creating yellow snow after getting tired of holes in the ground and portable loos that cleared up the blocked sinuses in no time!! Of seeing a lake at 13500 ft- Pangong, shared by two countries, that competed with the sky for the shades of blue that could be displayed. Of a heavy snow fall that forced one to get out of the comforts of the push back seats in the vehicle and attempt to push the vehicle, which pushed back!! Of the disappointment of knowing that nature took only a few minutes to shatter one’s well laid plans. Of begging and pleading and cajoling cops to let us through after the official closing time.
But most importantly, of the wonderful wonderful person who took it upon himself to make sure that we got to see all the sights we wanted to – Tsewang. He, who confessed after much questioning, that he was having his first meal of the day at 3 pm after driving 9 straight hours through horrible conditions at altitudes above 14000 ft. And then proceeded to drive up to Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road at 18380 ft- all in a day’s work, he said. Nothing I said or did could assuage my guilt.
The long journeys through the mountainscape pushed random thoughts into my head- of heaven, and whether living at such high altitudes meant that one was closer to God. Of whether the milieu that nature offered in these places instilled the compassion and concern for fellow humans, that I saw in many around, and if that was the secret behind the peaceful and happy faces, despite the hard conditions and lack of even common facilities in several places. The great heights and its citizens gave me perspectives and a sense of harmony that I still seem to be carrying with me, hoping that the daily grind won’t take it away.
As I looked at Leh before I stepped into the airplane, I realised that this might be the only time I’d visit this place. I also realised that perhaps my memories would fade, and I might forget the images I could now easily recollect in my mind. But I like to think that there’s one picture that will never go away – the lofty peaks of the mighty Himalayas, glistening with snow, and a light breeze that causes the flags at the monastery to flutter silently, all of this can only make up the background for the innocent, peaceful joy on Tsewang’s face as he plays with the Lama kids, and as he sees me approaching, he asks me with his customary smile, if I’m ready to continue the journey.
until next time, a daily lama
PS. You can catch a few photos here.