Wednesday, July 09, 2014

On War and Mask Dancing

“O Lord our God,
help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst,
blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.
 ~ Mark Twain, "The War Prayer" (
shortened) An anti-war protest, published posthumously, rejected by Harper's Bazaar as "too disturbing."

"Most of the Gazans killed so far have died in their homes."
 ~ Washington Post, "New Hamas rockets reach deep into Israel"

Yesterday was the annual Hemis Festival that everyone-must-see. I'd already been warned by two people that it was worth a miss, but I went anyway. It turned out that there were more tourists in the audience than locals, which isn't a good sign. But it also looked to be an authentic festival, as if I would know the difference. Anyway, photos await.

The highlight of my day was figuring out how to get back to Leh from Hemis. I'd shared a taxi there with a nice group of Israelis and thought I'd hike down the hill and hitch a ride back for the 40km (25 miles) back to Leh. The Israelis passed me standing up in the back of a truck. Other friends drove past in a bus, yelling "what are you doing?" At the main road the first person to pick me up was a young local guy on a motorcycle. He said, "Don't worry. I'm in the military, and this is my place, so don't worry." Then he said it again. Then he kept saying it. By the time he'd said it about 10 times I really started to worry. I thought I smelled a bit of alcohol on his breath, but it wasn't strong as I leaned forward to hear him when he spoke. When we stopped and he insisted that I drive, I got the full breathy dose, I realized he may have been pretty drunk. So I'm driving without my glasses, the sun in my dust-filled, wind-dried eyes, on a new-to-me motorcycle in India on the wrong side of the road with my partially drunk friend and guide on the back. I loved it.

I realized that travel stories like this happen when you leave room for them to happen. If you always book things in advance, or take the easiest way out, you may have a more predictable time, but magic happens when you say, like I did yesterday, "something will work out." And it did! It was a great day.


I've seen this kind of ceremonial dancing before, and I didn't understand it then, either.

Definitely look like Mongolian costumes. Definitely don't know.

These cute young monks were collecting donations as we came in. I've never seen monk hats like these.

The monastery is set in a beautiful, rugged landscape.

Some of the masks are pretty elaborate.

These guys are freaking me out a little. Are they staring at me?

These photos with the intense colors are HDR pics - high dynamic range. It's a setting I can choose.

The two locals who came to watch. OK, there were more than two.

I like this photo.

The monastery itself is pretty impressive.

Come on everybody, give a big hand for the band. Weren't they great?!

I wandered into this kitchen, and like the light coming through the roof.

This black and white version is quite different than the color one above.

This massive pot is about 6 feet across (two meters.)

Monks watching the dance. I love the colors, the fabrics, and their poses.

Ya got me.

I walked the 10km (six miles) down to the main road that goes north to Leh. These prayer flags were between posts.

This bridge crosses the Indus River. More prayer flags.

I'm happy here because I don't yet realize that my new friend Sawang is inebriated. And maybe driving with his eyes closed. I took this as we're driving.

Sawang took me to Thikse Monastery. Beautiful.

Inside one of the prayer rooms.

Impressive architecture.

This is just the top part of a massive two-story Buddha statue.

The view from the monastery. You can see another monastery in the distance on the small mound. There are endless amazing monsteries in Ladakh.

Shey Monastery, with ruins on the very top of the hill.

A panoramic view of the Leh valley from yet another monastery that Sawang took me to.

(The End)