Nyoma, Ladakh, April 2017
A difficult terrain and challenging weather conditions should be enough deterrent for most travellers and yet, there are those who will keep visiting this beautiful land. My first visit here in 2011, left me awestruck. I had never seen such sights and had never come across such warmth. My husband and I stayed in a place that was run by Tibetans and as a result we were lucky to witness and participate in the annual celebrations of HH The Dalai Lama’s birthday on 6 July. The celebrations are held in the grounds adjacent to the Photang Monastery in Choglamsar, 11 kms from Leh, which falls on the Leh-Karu road.
A few days later, we stood in silence before the ethereal beauty of the Pangong Tso lake. We spent the night at Pangong Tso ( there are a few options for a night halt) and awoke early the next day to see a very different visage of the lake. To witness the sun rise over this lake and to see this calm lake come to life with every wave that touched its bank was enough to awaken the Spirit. Experiencing this lake, alone, without the milling and excited crowds of the day before, was something that I have internalised forever. For me, this was the true embodiment of the nature of the lake – Strong and Calm, all at the same time.
August 2013, saw us back in Leh and staying with our Tibetan friends. This time, my husband and I, hired a motorcycle and explored Leh with no aim in mind. Since, we’d covered most of the tourist circuit in the previous visit, we had no objective to any of our explorations. It was just wonderful to sit quietly together under the shade of a tree, or in the lunch room or at a restaurant. What we did not know at the time was that we were establishing a strong bond that was going to help us, together, face the next four years and the challenges that our extended family was about to face. Looking back, I feel I drew on these moments many times whenever I felt overwhelmed.
It’s Easter Sunday today. April 16, 2017. I have been in Ladakh for 12 days now. I have had no access to the Internet, no whatsapp and only made sporadic telephone calls. The well-known restaurants and bakeries are not yet open in Leh market, so I have not eaten my share of hot cross buns, easter eggs or easter cake. I am not sure I could have accessed these goodies even if the bakeries had been running full-scale.
Yet, I experience a sense of celebration today.
Yesterday, we spent a wonderful evening with a group of people we had never met before. They welcomed us to their dinner table and into their hearts as if we were long-lost family. I was taken aback by such warmth. In the afternoon, when we were travelling to our present destination, I was waved to by the local Ladakhis – men and women alike who were working in the scorching sun to build roads in an unforgiving mountain side. I waved back, shouting the local greeting ‘Juley’.
Now, as I sit for breakfast, watching the roaring Indus, with the sun shimmering on its teal green waters, pass me by, I am surrounded by wonderment. What makes the people here so welcoming? How are they ever-smiling when they see a stranger? What makes us come back to this land time and time again?
And in this quiet and peaceful setting, the answers come to me. Ladakh is a place for the strong-hearted. You could be a mountaineer, a soldier, a health freak, an intellectual but you will be humbled time and again by the Spirit of this place. You don’t decide in Ladakh…it is this place that decides for you. It decides how easily you fit in when you first reach here, it decides which places you see and what you see at those places. It decides who you meet and what you experience. It even decides how long and how many times you visit. And if you really wish, it will help you experience who you really are.