Ju­ley! Travel to the land of the La­mas

With its snow-capped peaks, aqua­ma­rine lakes and post­card scenery made of wil­low trees, Ladakh is a par­adise for glamp­ing.

Alive - - News - by Ma­haraaj K. Koul

Vis­it­ing Ladakh is an ex­pe­ri­ence unto it­self. The mo­ment one reaches there, the bar­ren land seems to en­gulf the trav­eler with mys­tic charm. Ladakh, where tow­er­ing moun­tains reach up to clear blue skies, where the rhyth­mic chants of Bud­dhist monks fill the air, where time stands still, where the rush­ing wa­ters of the icy river surge down from a glacial height it in­deed is a mag­i­cal land. Tra­di­tional prayer flags in myr­iad colours are found strung on moun­tain ridges and peaks in the re­gion.

There are those who yearn to ditch all present­day lux­u­ries and camp with the ba­sics in God’s flaw­less set­ting of Ladakh. They are okay with rough­ing it out, sleep­ing on the cold ground, us­ing Mother Na­ture as a place of con­ve­nience and giv­ing up on warm, com­fort­ing show­ers. Unadul­ter­ated air and pic­ture-per­fect views keep them happy.

And, then there are some who want it all a good Wi-Fi con­nec­tiv­ity, Hi­malayan earl grey tea on call and a foam mat­tress for a good night’s sleep all with­out trad­ing the beauty of Ladakh. You call them ‘Glam­pers’. A far cry from the string of typ­i­cal white and ma­roon guest houses and ho­tels with dis­tinct dragon mo­tifs and wood carv­ings — that dot Leh (the main des­ti­na­tion), glamp­ing in the Land of La­mas is all about un­ri­valled un­der­stated luxury.

Though the cheer­ful peo­ple of Ladakh are dressed in bright colours and make an amaz­ing com­po­si­tion, the trav­eler is fas­ci­nated and awestruck by the bare­ness of the snow desert. The ‘Lion River’ In­dus flows in this desert through the Leh Val­ley, pass­ing through breath­tak­ing scenic ranges of canyons in the Ladakh and Zan­skar ranges. Along the banks of the river, an­cient ‘Gom­pas’ and monas­ter­ies that house price­less fresco paint­ings

leave you spell­bound.

Known as the land of the passes, this beau­ti­ful desert ex­tends from the Karako­ram Range in the north to the Hi­malayas in the south, in a sparse­ly­pop­u­lated re­gion of the Jammu & Kash­mir state. It is dom­i­nantly in­hab­ited by the peo­ple of Ti­betan de­scent. Though this cap­ti­vat­ing land has mea­gre re­sources and an ex­treme cli­mate, the Ladakhis have man­aged not only to sur­vive, but have pros­pered de­spite cen­turies of in­va­sions from the fear­some Mon­gols from Cen­tral Asia.

A par­adise

With its snow-capped peaks, aqua­ma­rine lakes and post­card scenery made of po­plar and wil­low trees, Ladakh is a par­adise for glamp­ing. It is a place where you slow down with­out be­ing told as the ever-chang­ing colour of the sky is too much to re­sist. You can curl up with a book, lie on your back in a

With its snow-capped peaks, aqua­ma­rine lakes and post­card scenery made of po­plar and wil­low trees, Ladakh is a par­adise for glamp­ing. It is a place where you slow down with­out be­ing told as the ever-chang­ing colour of the sky is too much to re­sist. You can curl up with a book, lie on your back in a farm field, lis­ten to the chirp­ing of Hi­malayan birds, smell the grass, med­i­tate in the open, in­dulge in yo­gic ex­er­cises and watch the sun set.

farm field, lis­ten to the chirp­ing of Hi­malayan birds, smell the grass, med­i­tate in the open, in­dulge in yo­gic ex­er­cises and watch the sun set, in si­lence.

Your luxury tent lets you do all this and much more in style. Chamba Camp,

Thik­sey and Diskit make for good op­tions. Be greeted by the cheer­ful Ladakhi women dressed in tra­di­tional fin­ery. Set­tle in your gypsy can­vas tent with rus­tic in­te­ri­ors, vin­tage four-poster bed, wooden chan­de­liers, a pri­vate sitout area with camp-style chairs, com­fort­able du­vets to snug­gle into and a heated shower area.

Ladakh is sit­u­ated in the rain-shadow area where the only source of wa­ter are the glaciers. The glaciers ac­cu­mu­late snow dur­ing win­ter that melt in small streams of wa­ter in the sum­mer, which are used for ir­ri­ga­tion and fill up tiny lakes scat­tered on the way.

Si­achen Glacier

The fa­mous Si­achen Glacier in all its ma­jes­tic pres­ence, oc­cu­pies the east­ern Karako­ram Range of the Hi­malayan moun­tains. Si­achen, the long­est glacier in the Karako­ram Range also has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the sec­ond long­est in the world’s non-po­lar re­gion. A great wa­ter­shed formed by the Karako­ram Range, called the ‘Third Pole’, di­vides China from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent.

In the ex­tremely dry land with rocky ter­rain, veg­e­ta­tion is at a bare min­i­mum and oc­curs along wa­ter cour­ses and on high al­ti­tude ar­eas that have abun­dant snow­fall. Se­abuck­thorn, wild roses of pink and yel­low hues,

tamarisk, mint and other herbs grow in pro­fu­sion. Ju­niper trees, con­sid­ered sa­cred by the Bud­dhists, are found grow­ing in abun­dance.

At an al­ti­tude of 12,000 feet, the jour­ney to Hemis monastery isn’t rec­om­mended for the faint­hearted. About two km be­fore the monastery, all traces of a mo­torable road dis­ap­pear. Then on, it is a travel on foot. For those fond of trekking, the climb up to the monastery is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. For oth­ers, the steep slopes and peb­bled paths can prove to be ex­haust­ing.

Hemis

Over the years, Hemis has be­come syn­ony­mous with the monastery. Most of its lo­cal pop­u­la­tion choose to re­side in Leh and the sur­round­ing vil­lages lo­cated at a lower al­ti­tude of 11,000 feet. The only in­hab­i­tants are the 350-odd monks who live and train here in aus­tere sim­plic­ity. There is lit­tle by way of com­fort, and the tem­per­a­tures bor­der on the ex­treme.

Hemis monastery was es­tab­lished in 1672 by the Drukpa lin­eage, a sect of Bud­dhism that owes its ori­gin to Naropa, a Ben­gali Pan­dit. It is now the old­est and wealth­i­est monastery in In­dia. Most monks are brought to the monastery when they are about five, the age at which they be­gin learn­ing Bud­dhist scrip­tures. Over the next 10

– 15 years, they live here in com­plete iso­la­tion ex­cept for a few trips to Leh to stock up on es­sen­tial com­modi­ties. De­spite their train­ing, the lone­li­ness gets to them.

One of the most awaited days on the cal­en­dar, there­fore, is the Hemis Fes­ti­val, held each year in the last week of June or early July. It marks the birth an­niver­sary of Guru Pad­masamb­hava, who is said to have taken Tantric Bud­dhism from In­dia to Ti­bet and Bhutan in the 8th cen­tury.

When the fes­ti­val per­for­mances be­gin, tourists from In­dia and abroad climb on to the rooftops over­look­ing the monastery’s court­yard to get a bet­ter view. There is a riot of colours as the monks, who train for months for the spec­ta­cle, stream out into the court­yard, danc­ing to in­voke the spirit of Lord Bud­dha. About mid-way through the fes­tiv­i­ties, a ‘Thangkha’ (Bud­dhist em­broi­dery on a patch of silk) de­pict­ing the im­age of Guru Pad­masamb­hava is low­ered from one of the high win­dows.

Art­works

Vis­i­tors to the fes­ti­val go on a hunt for sou­venirs. Lo­cal Ladakhi peo­ple put up stalls sell­ing arte­facts, sil­ver and gold tur­tles, ex­otic Ti­betan jew­ellery and an­tique can­dle­sticks. But the real art­work lies in the Hemis mu­seum, one of the old­est repos­i­to­ries of an­cient Bud­dhist art. The mu­seum, which opened to the public only in 2007, dis­plays ar­ti­facts pre­served by the monastery for more than 400 years. Some of the in­tri­cately em­broi­dered Thangkas dis­played in the mu­seum are said to be a thousand years old.

As the day’s fes­tiv­i­ties come to an end, Bud­dhists from South-east Asian coun­tries make a bee­line for the 12th Gyal­wang Drukpa. At 55, he is a per­fect blend

Those who have vis­ited Ladakh have ex­pe­ri­enced the awak­en­ing of the spirit in this mys­tic land. This cross­road of dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tions and cul­tures from many cen­turies has the rare dis­tinc­tion of mak­ing you feel the pres­ence of the in­vis­i­ble In­fi­nite. You be­come aware of the pres­ence of all the five el­e­ments that en­com­pass you in har­mo­nious uni­son.

of the mod­ern and tra­di­tional. When not in Hemis, he blogs to reach his dis­ci­ples all over the world.

You can also visit

Tur­tuk. The place was cap­tured from Pak­istan in 1971. This place in re­mote Ladakh was opened to tourists for the first time in 2010. To reach Tur­tuk from Leh, you cross Khardung La and across the Nubra Val­ley you reach Hun­der. Here the land­scape changes dra­mat­i­cally and the Shyok river gur­gles along­side the nar­row road till the val­ley turns into a deep gorge.

Af­ter driv­ing for an hour, the val­ley opens up and the river, dressed in shades of blue and aqua­ma­rine, meets the tourists again when they cross the Durga Bridge. The area ahead is Baltistan, which was ear­lier a part of Pak­istan-Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir. A lit­tle drive fur­ther and you are in Tur­tuk vil­lage.

The peo­ple of Tur­tuk have im­bibed many Bud­dhist cus­toms and tra­di­tions, in­clud­ing the use of the Bod­dhi script. There is also a monastery in the vil­lage. For the ad­ven­ture­seek­ers, there are treks which take you to Dhomkar and Dharchik, which of­fer splen­did views of vir­gin ter­rain. The area boasts of rare wildlife: mor­muts, ure­als, ibex and the elu­sive snow leop­ard. The av­er­age sight­ing of the snow leop­ard here is said to be one a day!

Prayer wheel

When in the land of the la­mas, make a hum­ble be­gin­ning to your jour­ney by spin­ning the prayer wheel clock­wise for some pos­i­tive en­ergy. The des­ti­na­tion has its own charm and a bliss­ful vibe, cour­tesy its cher­rycheeked lo­cals al­ways ready with a smile and ‘Ju­ley’ (a lo­cal word that means ‘Hello’, ‘Good­bye’, ‘Please’, and ‘Thank You’).

Just smile back at the lo­cal peo­ple and they will be happy to re­veal ev­ery­thing about the Ladakhi way of life. The next thing you know, you are sip­ping a cup of but­ter tea with ‘Tsampa’ (cookie made out of roasted bar­ley) and a dish of ‘MokMok’ (steamed mo­mos) in a tra­di­tional Ladakhi kitchen. Visit the ru­ins of old chort­ens, walk around the farm fields, take a cy­cling trip to the nearby quaint monas­ter­ies or try your hand at a game of archery.

Those who have vis­ited Ladakh have ex­pe­ri­enced the awak­en­ing of the spirit in this mys­tic land. This cross­road of dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tions and cul­tures from many cen­turies has the rare dis­tinc­tion of mak­ing you feel the pres­ence of the in­vis­i­ble In­fi­nite. You be­come aware of the pres­ence of all the five el­e­ments that en­com­pass you in har­mo­nious uni­son.

The Gate­way to Si­achen Glacier.

Beau­ti­ful Monas­ter­ies in Ladakh.

One of the big­gest and most pop­u­lar fes­ti­val in Ladakh is Hemis fes­ti­val.

The Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies built cen­turies ago bring globaltourists to Leh and Ladakh.

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