Sunday 24 May 2015

Exploring the city I've been meaning to visit since 4 years.

I woke up with a feeling of accomplishment! Everyone back home doubted. Everyone thought it's stupid and suicidal.  People told me that though maiden solo voyage can be done, it shouldn't be attempted. But I went ahead, leaving all the detractors behind. And finally achieved what I had set out to do. 
 I got ready and stepped out of the hotel, making my way through the small garden. Right opposite my six-room hotel was a cafe – owned by the same owner. In order to enjoy the weather, instead of sitting at the ground floor, I decided go to the first floor terrace and cherish the outdoors. It's a quiet place mostly frequented by foreigners. The upper floor also has a library with more than a hundred books on topics ranging from travel to food and from fictional novels to India. The cafe wants you to sit for a while, read a book or two, sip on their lemon-honey tea and slow down time. 
If that's what they want, so be it. I took out my diary and started writing about my trip so far. At the same time, I was studying the maps about places to visit in and around Leh. I had earlier taken help, pertaining to stay and places of interest, from a friend who started his ride just a week ahead of me. He had given me the contact detail of this travel agent, Mr. Ismail, who would help me get permissions for travelling to places around Leh. Apparently, if you need to visit Pangong Lake, Tso Moriri Lake, Nubra Valley and other ecologically sensitive places, you need to take a permit from the government. 

One can go to the Superintendent's office (I guess) and get it done but I'm not sure how many hours you would waste. Some were saying that it's a 20mins job while others said that it would take half a day. I thought it would be a lot more convenient if I got it done via an agent. And that truly worked in my favour. 

For 500 bucks, not only did he managed to get permits for me but he also helped me chart out my itinerary and helped me quite a bit throughout my stay. He got me permits for four places: Pangong, Tso Moriri, Nubra Valley and Turtuk. I had no idea that a place like Turtuk even existed, it was him who informed me that it's worth going. More on that later.

After having clarity about my travels in and around Leh, for the first time on this trip, I, sort of, had a plan. Post lunch, I went looking for a bike mechanic; my search ended at Amarjit's garage. This guy was really friendly and looked genuine. He might've overcharged a bit, but he did his work properly. 

Prayer flags
I went there thinking that I only needed a new rear brake foot rest but as it turned out, a lot more things were in need of repairs. One of the seals on front shock absorbers were broken and it was leaking the hydraulic fuild. Must've been due to the infinite bumps that I encountered on the way. Since the rear brake foot rest was broken, my left foot kept slipping and foot kept on applying pressure on the brake till the Thane group's mechanic changed it at Pang. Due to this constant contact, the rear brake wore out. 

Something weird happened at Sarabjit's garage. He had this dumb mechanic who also happened to be his brother-in-law. He had employed him because he was good for nothing and back home in Punjab, he couldn't find any employment. It had already been an hour or so since reached the garage; I was getting a bit restless since I wanted to go out and explore the city. The foot peg that he got from the market in the city took a while to arrive. Then I saw his brother-in-law, leaving my bike and fitting that foot peg to someone else's bike. I asked Sarbjit "Why did he leave my bike and started working on someone else's? How long before my bike gets sorted?" That dumb fellow, by mistake, was fitting the part that was meant for my bike onto someone else's. 

Seeing that, Sarabjit got pissed, walked up to him and slapped him and started kicking. I intervened and stopped. I told him that that was no way to treat someone. I told him that I was feeling guilty that I it pointed out. Sarbjit replied angrily, "No, it ain't your fault. He makes these stupid mistakes daily just to bug me." I replied, "Why would he make mistakes on purpose? Right now he has to do 2X work of unfitting the foot peg from that bike and fit it on mine. Why would he want to increase his work load? Irrespective of how bad he is, you shouldn't beat him." He calmed down a bit but he still kept abusing him from the other end of the garage. I felt terrible for the poor fellow. I told Sarabjit that I wouldn’t pay for his services if he hit him again.

While they finished mending my bike, I kept looking out of the garage admiring the view. For people living in the cities, we have a much skewed notion about garages. We mostly think that it's a tiny place next to a dusty road, and one wouldn't want to spend more than few minutes there. But this place was different. Sure, it was a typical garage from inside with grease and oil smeared across the floor. But where it differed was in the views department. It's on this straight road that lead in/out of Leh. On the other side of the road, is the army cantonment. In the background you can see the giant mountains. If you look closely, you'll realize that one-third bottom of these mountains is not rocky, it's smoothened out. It's used as a military training ground.

Once the bike was mended, I left for Thiksay Monastery. I reached the place at 4.30. 

Thiksay Monastery
Thiksay Monastery
Thiksay Monastery
The steps leading up to the monastery works up your hamstring real good. You don’t take a step, you lunge. Just few steps short of the center courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a friendly Lama who’ll accept your Rs. 30 fee entry fee. Last few meters leading up to the center court are lined by prayer wheels to your right. The prayer wheels are typical of Buddhist monasteries. The custom is that you try to ensure that by the time you turn the last wheel, in the series of these wheels, the first prayer wheel (and all others in between) should still be moving. Frankly, a lot of this depends upon the rusted/free-flowing bearings of the wheels, more than the strength of your forearms but still, it’s an interesting thing to attempt.
Prayer wheels
Few steps above the courtyard, opposite to this series of prayer wheels lies this single, giant prayer wheel, the size of an industrial boiler. Surprising, it’s not too difficult to move. 
Prayer wheel
The courtyard is dominated by the 20 ft. tall prayer flag at the center while the outer wall features few century old paintings. 

Center courtyard of the Thiksay Monastery

Century old paintings
 There are several temples inside the monastery, each one dedicated to a different god/avatar. 
Various chambers of the Thiksay Monastery
Thiksay Monastery and the Himalayan wilderness
  One of the highlights of the monastery is the 49 ft statue of Maitreya Buddha. Since it is indoors and covers two stories, it’s difficult to see the entire statue in one frame. You’re permitted visit to the top tier where the face and torso of Buddha is visible. Buddha’s colourful crown is its most interesting feature. 

A monk at the Thiksay Monastery
Giant Buddha statue at the Thiksay Monastery with the courtyard in the background
The calmness on Buddha's face is infectious
Bowls used in daily prayers
The holy bell
I also got a chance to catch up with couple of lamas both of whom were at the two ends of the spectrum. Lama Nhavang Thupthang is the main priest of the protector temple, and this 70-something lama is one of the most respected person at Thiksay from age as well as stature point of view. The 25-year-old Lama Chamba Slealzang belongs to the younger generation and has a long way to go. I had a bit of chat with Lama Chamba and just like any other 20-something, he too loves sports and is fascinated by cities like Mumbai. I clicked some of his portraits and he wrote down his name and monastery’s address in English in my diary so that I can mail him the pictures (I haven’t sent them yet, but I wish to hand deliver them to him, someday). I also managed to click few portraits of Lama Nhavang. The wise man is a picture of peace and love. Always bearing a smile on his wrinkled face, you instantly feel a certain warmth talking to him. He wasn’t fluent in Hindi but we understood each other. I left him to let him enjoy his evening tea in peace in company of couple of pigeons while snacking on the vast expanse of the Ladakh valley hoping to see him once again and have a longer conversation. 

Lama Nhavang sipping his evening tea and spending time with a couple of pigeons while overlooking the Ladakh valley

 By that time it was 6 PM – time for the monastery's temples to close their doors. Since these are peace loving monks, they don't ask you to leave like a security guard would at a museum, but they start closing the windows dropping subtle hints and wait for you to leave the sanctum so that they can close it too. 

A lama waiting for me to step out so that he can close the temple's doors
Windows mirroring the giant Himalayas
Since I spent time talking to the monks, I couldn't visit the temples on the second floor. I started walking down those big steps still in awe of the entire place. Half way down the staircase, I stopped to admire the view of the valley. I saw an Asian girl sitting in peace, reading her novel. If you're a bookworm, awesomeness of all the cafes you've visited pales in front of the beauty of this place. At first, I thought she was just another foreign tourists but I was mistaken. Upon asking where she's put up, she pointed out a bunch of houses at the foothills and told me "there." Apparently, it was a hostel. Upon enquiring further, she told me that she was a teacher at the local school, next door to the monastery. This 20-year-old had come all the way from Singapore under teacher-exchange programme to teach the poor kids of Thiksay village. 
She'd walk up the steep driveway every evening after the visiting hours and watch the sun go down while shuffling through the pages of her novels. It seems, she's rightfully rewarded by the nature for being a part of the noble profession of teaching. Reading a book while sitting at the steps of a monastery, overlooking the expanse of Ladakh valley, under the blue sky - even though I'm not a reader, I can tell you that there can't be a better way to spend your evenings.
Half-way between heaven and heaven
I asked her name, half expecting to get an unpronounceable Chinese name in answer. Much to my surprise, she said her name was Priyanka. I thought she adopted that name for her Indian students who couldn't pronounce her name correctly but she insisted that her real name, indeed, was Priyanka and that her parents are 100% Singaporean. Her mother liked this Indian name and hence, named her Priyanka. It's amazing the kind of stories you get to hear from people when you travel.
Imagine spending your every evening with a book and this view
Descended the monastery's steps and reached the souvenir shop and the canteen next to it. Thiksay is one of the most famous monastery in Ladakh and several movies have been shot here (you might remember it from Ducklips Sharma’s movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan). For this reason, a dedicated souvenir shop makes sense. I had skipped my dinner and I was starving by then. I ordered a Thukpa and sat down in peace observing the young 5-year-old lamas play around in the compound. On the next table was an American lady. The young lamas came and had food from her plate. Which was a bit odd since you don’t expect lamas to eat from a stranger’s plate. I started talking to the old lady and realized that she’s a teacher at the monastery’s school. She teaches them English and Mathematics. She’s an American and she came to India to teach young kids of the monastery. She’d leave by the end of the year (2013). What are the chances that in a span of 1 hour, you’d meet two foreigners who’re in India to teach the poor Ladakhi kids? Makes one wonder about the state of teaching, as a profession, in India. In India, teaching barely make your ends meet. 

A part of the monastery sizing up the mountains
After finishing my Thukpa, I made my way back to Leh – 15 km. from Thiksay. Leh has a very weird weather. During the day time, it’s bright and hot. But post 8 PM, as soon as it gets dark, the temperature suddenly false and it gets cold. If it gets dark by the time you return from your daily excursion and if you’ve made the mistake of not carrying a jacket, you’ll be in for trouble. Thankfully, I was wearing my riding jacket and hence made my way back safely.
Next day, I had planned to head out of the city and visit Tso Moriri.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to Posts | Subscribe to Comments

Powered by Blogger.

- Copyright © The Khardungla - Skyblue - Powered by Blogger - Designed by Johanes Djogan -