It takes time for our sensibilities to appreciate beauty in “nothing”. Yes, at that height- it is nothing that prevails. Miles after miles without any vegetation, bird, or flower. The freezing streams too match the colour of mountains with mud in them. The glazing sun burning your skin hardly helps the matter. But with all this – Ladakh is beautiful. It is hauntingly bare and stunningly enthralling. It lures different people for different reasons. The peace-seeking troubled souls for its gompas and the adventure junkies for its imposing passes and fast-moving rivers, scientists to study its ecosystem and the historian to feel the pulse of its rich silk road history. The place has so many shades and colours that at times one fails to appreciate all of them at one go.
Ladakh, like its neighbouring Tibet, is a land of dhamma. It is the land of gompas and prayer wheels, prayer flags and Buddhist paintings – even on the high mountains, these signs of Buddhism very defiantly declare the presence of this peace loving ideology. I always find it very intriguing, how this particular philosophy conquered some of the toughest terrains of the world and managed to rule the hearts of these people for centuries. Sometimes I feel that Buddhism in this region is very much like the gompas which stand high above every habitation almost hanging from the peaks. These monasteries are fascinating.
Some like Alchi and Lamayure definitely ancient places of worship. They bear such solemn and “knowing” look of their ancientness that even the most unobservant visitor would note of it. Others like Thiksey, Likir etc are very alive, very happy places to be. But the Monastery which stole my heart in first look was not one of these. Deep inside the Nubra Valley, while your eyes are still adjusting to the change of scenery from the snow peaked mountains to the white sand dunes, you find a huge Maitreya statue welcoming you to Diskit. In Diskit, next to a huge waterfall stands the beautiful Diskit monastery- the oldest and the biggest in the entire valley.
But Ladakh has much more to offer than these gompas. As a trekker I fell in love with the idea of a cold desert while trekking in Spiti. The place is magical. It shows you the power and the serenity of nature in the same canvas. A fragile eco system- where winds can recite poems in your ears and can also change the look of the mountains. Where streams provide a much-needed rest to the monotonous scenery and also play a role in flooding the habitations …where mountains make you philosophical about life and also fill you with ambition to conquer them.
The place filled me up with so many contrasting emotions. While rafting in the river Indus, I got a distinct sense of achievement, of riding the waves of life, of power of human race over the wild river. On another occasion, staring at the crystal clear blue water of Pangong Lake, I could not help feeling spiritual . What a beautiful reminder God left in the midst of high mountains of the sea which was there long time ago. A salty lake of 110 Km hidden from the eyes of civilisation …where only the deserving can reach through a strenuous path. The place also made me realise the folly of human nature – who in the race of “owning’ this beauty, end up ruining the peace of the region.
I came back from Ladakh promising myself that I will go back there. Alone. For a travel with myself – sans all baggage, all itineries, all maps and all thoughts of daily life.
Ladakh is in the extreme north of India. A cold desert in the Himalayan Mountain range, Ladakh is best approached by domestic flight from New Delhi. It is also connected by two picturesque highways – the Manali-Leh Highway, which goes through some of the highest motorable roads in the world and the Srinagar-Leh Highway, which runs along the river Indus. The best time to visit Ladakh is during the summer season – April to July. Hemis, Alchi, Lamayuru, Shey and Thiksay are some of the most popular monasteries of Ladakh. Pangong (half of it is in China) and Tsomoriri lakes, Kargil, Nubra Valley and its Bactrian camels and the highest motorable road in the world, Khardongla (18350 fts) are some of the top attractions of Ladakh.
Pictures- Subir Pal and Atoorva Sinha