Monday, June 30, 2014

In the mountains of Ladakh

"Valuing love and approval as a means to feel complete and pain-free will produce a lot of pain. Making efforts to get love and approval to be happy within yourself, will ensure many unhappy experiences. By the way, knowing all this is not going to make us cease wanting love and approval."
 ~ Bede Clifford

Greetings, abandoned ones! If I could get on the internet as I'm writing this I'd confirm my suspicion that I haven't written a newsletter since February. (January?) Wow, I must really be busy. I can't account for myself, as usual, but I can say that my life, such as it is, takes all of my time. I was reading an article about productivity by a guy who's written six books in the last six years, has a Big Job, travels extensively and gives many talks, and is married with two young children. He raved about how having an iPhone has allowed him to recapture the lost time of pooping on the toilet. I am SO not that guy.

On to my present, non-pooping moment: I'm sitting in a friendly restaurant in Leh, Ladakh, at 11,500 feet elevation, in the far north of India. It's fireplace-cold at night, blazing hot in the midday sun, barren and snow-capped mountainous except for the intermittent brilliantly green well-irrigated valleys. You'll see in the photos below, if they come through. Internet is so slow and unreliable I'm unable to confirm that this is all working. I flew here from Delhi, where it was 113 "real" degrees, (also called Fahrenheit; 45 Celsius), just after spending three nights in Kathmandu, Nepal to refresh my Indian visa, after spending a month in Dharamsala, India, (home of the Dalai Lama) after two weeks of trekking in the Himalayas (Uttaranchal state,) after a month near Varanasi and two months volunteering at the Anandwan leprosy community, which you may know all about. I might have some photos worth posting from the last six months. Hold not your breath.

Ladakh is a largely Buddhist region with centuries of ties to Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Unfortunately and inexplicably, it's part of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, famous for wars between India and Pakistan, Muslims and Indian occupation. Because of its geographical location, pinched between Pakistan and China, there's a massive Indian military presence. But it's not oppressive like it is in Kashmir, since Ladakhis seem happy enough to be considered Indian, though when asked, they'll say they're Ladakhi.

I met an energetic Scottish fireball named Fred, a tiny 65 year old full-of-life boat builder. Some might call him eccentric. My favorite story: he was on a bus a few weeks back in south India, and one of his front teeth was loose and really painful. He'd intended to go to a dentist but hadn't made it, and now it seemed too late. He tried yanking it out with his fingers, but couldn't get a good grip on it. Luckily(!) he had Leatherman pliers in his backpack, took them out, got a good grip on his tooth... and realized that the whole bus was looking at him. Whatever, the tooth hurt, and out it came. A little rinse with Listerine, spit out the window, and he was good to go and pain free. I knew him for two weeks before he told that story, like it was no biggie. I went hiking with Fred and a young American woman named Erika - photos below.

Love, even delayed, is still love,

There are 61 photos below. That's too many. Sorry-but-not-very. The first are from Leh, the capital, before the trekking. I love this photo of a Buddhist monastery high on a ridge above the center of town.

A different angle of the monastery to the left, and the former Royal Palace to the right.

The pizza in the rooftop restaurant where I took this is yummy!

A view of one of the big valleys of Leh.

This is called Shanti Stupa, and was built by Japanese as a gift.

I love these old houses that dot the landscape. Typically there's a stone foundation, and the walls are made of mud bricks.

A panoramic view of the valley.

I love these two.

Real or stuffed? I thought stuffed when I first saw him, but he's real. He's got some status to not be shorn or have his nails clipped.

This little beauty is the daughter of Stanzin, who works at my guest house.

Downtown Leh, with the Royal Palace in the distance, along with a Muslim mosque in the center.

I'm happy to say that I didn't.

This kid tried to not be photographed, but I was too quick for him!

Tin cans wrap these young trees to protect them from cows, goats, donkeys and yaks/cow crossbreeds.

This statue of Buddha is in the monastery above the Royal Palace.

White-washing the monastery.

This old couple were carrying heavy rocks on wooden backpacks through the narrow lanes of town.

The trek begins! This is the Likir Monastery, where the Dalai Lama will be giving teachings in a few days.

Inside one of the rooms of the Likir Monastery.

Fred and Erika are ahead of me as we head up into the valley towards upper Likir.

Likir Monastery as we head back to our guest house.

I have this same photo from when I stayed in this guest house in 2006.

It's common here for kids to hang out with their parents as the parents are doing manual labor. The air is bone dry, and the sun is intense at this elevation, which accounts for his skin.

I love this kid. They're playing in the big shovel of the backhoe, as kids do. You know how they are.

The underlying message is "don't climb over this wall."

Our short walk, four days and three nights, was from Likir in the lower right, to Temisgam in the center left. It's called the Sham Trek, otherwise known as the Baby Trek. Not kidding.

Threatening weather and dramatically barren conditions.

This is a typical Ladakhi kitchen, with the big stove in the center, all the plates on display, and ringing the other walls are low tables where people sit on carpets on the ground to gossip and eat.


There was a special festival in the village of Yangthang, and this extended family let us stay in their guest house after first saying they had no room.

These two were relatively enthusiastic for me to take a photo, but also insisted that I send them printed photos.

Action Jackson and his crime-fighting tool belt.

The festival was a Buddhist ceremony led by a famous Tibetan lama. These sculpted butter offerings were part of the scene.

One of the ladies from our house, carefully picking some unidentified plant.

These two were carefully rinsing the barley, then laying it out in the sun, to make the local alcoholic beverage called chang.

More vegetable picking.

Making do with the sparse toys available in the high Himalayas.

After arriving in Yangthang at mid-day, I went for a hike high above the village.

This lengthy water trough might have been part of an electricity generation scheme, or perhaps just a way to get water distributed. They start high up at a stream them follow hillside, going slightly downhill. I walked along the edge of this for quite a ways, until dusk threatened.

I love the old ladies and their vegetable picking ways.

Just behind and downhill from our guest house in Yangthang.

This nun was chanting on and on. We were told that she's unable to read or write and learned the chants by hearing them over a 20 year period of going to the nunnery that's nearby.

The "great lama" approaches the festival grounds! That's how they referred to him, and I'm afraid I didn't catch his name.

Many older women were in the crowd as the monks chanted.

I like both Grams and Baby. Beautiful.

People came from all over for this event, and everyone (except us) sat unmoving in the hot sun for hours.

This is a beautiful example of traditional Ladakhi architecture, and it looks quite a lot like Tibetan architecture.

We came across a water-powered flour mill. The large cone holds the grain, while the stick on the left jiggles it just enough to dribble grains slowly into the center of the spinning millstone. The fine flour spills out underneath the stone.

This beauty was working the mill with her nephew.

Fred and Erika walking down into the valley. We'll be coming up the next pass that you can just see in the center left.

Fred was here once before and points out the way.

Beautiful colors in the rocks and sand. There's a small rainstorm in the distance, center top.

Coming up the pass that we'd seen in the other photo. It's hard to get a sense of scale as you hike, since there are no trees to give it perspective. It wasn't as hard as it looked, although it is at 12,500 feet.

The only photo I took of Hemis-Shoukpachan, where we spent one night.

From the impressive Temisgam Monastery you can see the valley that we walked down.

The ornate prayer room of Temisgam Monastery.

A long green valley on the other side of the monastery.

A statue of Padmasambhava in Temisgam. He brought Buddhism to Tibet in something like the 8th century.

Our taxi driver had a surprise for us: this narrow and apparently ancient passage led down underground...

... to this fresh water spring. It was steep and cold inside here, and we've yet to find anyone who knows anything about it. It's at the base of the hill below Temisgam Monastery. Amazing!

On the road back to Leh, following the Indus River.

(The End)