Sunday, June 26, 2016

HOW I GOT LEH'ED: Day 2 Around Leh

Day1: LEH - Do Nothing
Day2: LEH-Around
Day8: LEH

Julley! It is the magic word of Ladakh which is used to greet people. That would be the first, and probably the only native word you will learn, apart from ‘tso' that means ‘lake’ and ‘la’ meaning ‘pass’. It is day two and finally we can get out of our rooms.

The second day was kept for half a day sight seeing around Leh. We were still getting acclimatised to the altitude. Climbing one floor felt like climbing three. It is common to feel breathless after even light physical activities. 

After breakfast we headed straight to Hemis monastery. Surrounding us was the rusty wrinkled mountains in their 50 shades of brown. Ladakh lies in trans-himalayan region, and is bounded by the great Himalayan range and the Karakoram Range. While the lifelessness was brutal, there is a dark beauty that is sensuous. That is what makes you fall in love with Ladakh. That’s how I got Leh’ed!

Ladakh is not just about the mountains, but also about the rich history, culture and the fusion of religions. One can still hear the echoes of the hymns of ancient buddhist saints, the footsteps of traders along the silk route, and the screams of the battles between the great kings. Buddhism is the dominant religion. Influence of Dalai Lama is all around Leh, not just in the monasteries. You can see his photo in the shops hanged on the walls along with the Bollywood heroines. Seeing his popularity in this sensitive part of India one can understand why Dalai Lama is politically so important to us. 

Hemis Gompa is 48 km away from Leh. It was built in 1630, with help from King Singge Namgyal. It is one of the largest and oldest monasteries of the region. There are three temples, two on the ground floor and one one upstairs. Don’t be surprised and shocked by the idol of Goddess tara who has been offered alcohol inside the monastery. Buddhism in Ladakh is different from the Buddhism that one generally relates to. Ladakh is influenced by Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayana, like Tibet and many other places in the hills. Tantric Buddhism became popular in India under the Palas of Bengal in 8th century where it incorporated rituals and idols from Tantric Hinduism. Tantric Buddhism probably spread to Tibet from Bengal. Ladakh came under the influence of Tantric Buddhism when Tibetan Buddhist monk Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) laid the foundation of 108 monastic elements in Western Tibet, Ladakh and Spiti.

Do not forget to visit the museum, for which you bought the tickets from outside. You have to cross the souvenir shop reach the museum entrance. It is a big museum having good collection of rare artefacts related to Buddhist cultural history of the region.

There is a restaurant in Hemis Monastery. It has lots of options, including eggs. Only here I came to know that some Buddhist monks eat egg omelette. But then, egg is probably veg here!

Our next stop was Thicksey Monastery. It is not a big as Hemis, but still pretty neat. It is 21 kms from Leh. There are 10 temples and a nunnery. This  twelve-storeyed building was built in 15th century. There is an interesting story about how the location of the monastery was decided. Jangsem Sherab Zangpo and his disciple Palden Sherab were performing for holy ritual in which they had to throw a Torma offering down to the valley. A crow suddenly appear and fly away with the Torma. The Torma was found on the top of a hillock in perfectly undisturbed condition. It was taken as a diving message and the Thicksey monastery was constructed over that sacred location.

We had our lunch in Chamba restaurant in Thicksey. It has similar menu and price like the one in Hemis, but better ambience.

Mani Stone...Mantras etched on rock...They are dedicated to local spirits, and are found all around Ladakh

Our next stop was Shey Palace, 15 kms from Leh. On the way we stopped at Rancho’s School, made famous by the movie 3-idiots. The special attraction is the place where Chatoor did mutra-visharjan and got the shock of his life. 

Shey Palace was actually a royal residence of Namgyals. Both the palace and the monastery was built in 1665. In 1842, when the Dogras of Jammu attacked Ladakh, the Namgyals fled to Stok. The palace was left to ruins. It has a large three storied copper and brass statue of Buddha. 

However, as you walk down towards your car do not get into the car. walk few steps on the main road towards Leh. Just before the dangerous u-turn, there is a sculpture of five dhyani Buddhas of Vajrayana (Consort/Direction/Element/Season): Akshobhya (Locana/East/Water/Winter), Amoghasiddhi (Green Tara/ Air/ Autumn), Ratnasambhava (Mamaki/Earth/Spring), Amitabha (Pandara/Fire/Summer), and Vairocana (White Tara/Space/NA). These are the five qualities of Buddha. Do not miss it. Vairocana is the key figure in the center. He represents Shakyamuni Buddha or the illuminator. Akshobhya, in the east, is the Unshakable. Ratnasambhava, in the South, is the jewel-born who transforms pride into equanimity. Red Amitabha is in the west, and represents infinite light. He is the Buddha of love and compassion. Green Amoghasiddhi, in the north, grants fearlessness.

After Shey we drove back to Leh, and went to the market. It is a busy place and is being renovated. 

We had mutton kabab from a street vendor. It tasted awesome, like most street foods. has fresh refreshing juices in Dzomsa, a small shop near Apple Tree restaurant.  No local can tell you the location. 

DIRECTION: Find SBI ATM, take right, t-point, cross road, right, keep looking for a small shavy shop.
The shop has trekking maps, old books, dry apple, tomato, mint tea and other souvenirs….

If you are in mood for authentic Kashmiri food, try Budshah Inn Restaurant near old Tibetan refugee market. 

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