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Leh, Ladakh and Lamas

It's rains snow where and it manages to be little outlined indefinite shape on the Indian map. The snowy breeze is dizen with skin-scouring aridness, the mark is still visible on my skin. I wonder what made people to settle here in the first place. But it is this very isolations that has done wonders to conserve the whole culture that has almost frozen in the past. As an avid traveller, I have had pleasure of going throughout several frozen headlands in the world from Jungfrauch in Europe to Lesotho in Africa. Each an unbeatable cynosure in itself, the mountains and hilltops in the whole world are a creation nonparallel but with something 'amiss'.

This 'amiss' is directly proportional to my Ladakh visit. Through out my entire encounter with Ladakh, Leh- The land of Lamas, I was arrested with the charm of big 'L'. Thanks to heaven above, the 'L' is known to have different influences on my understanding of this disputed land's culture, however, it stands for my being in 'Love' with the beauty and secludedness of the state.

In my initial meeting with the state Ladakh had found an audiences in me, providing with all the reasons to romance the state. To me Ladakh seemed like a mural painted out of thousands of mighty headland, different from those green field of flowers. It came to me as a real surprise as I am from a plane area accustomed to the fields and traffic roars. Predominantly, a Buddhist state, Leh and Ladakh comes out to be many times beautiful than its photographs. An awesome beauty, it is enclosed by mountains on all sides and occasionally intervened shallow rivers and watercourses with pebbles. But besides its water, sand, pebbles and dust, the drawing reason to me were its colourful Gompas and center of Indo-Buddhist cultures. Buddha lives in the heart of every Ladakhi.

Ladakhi Chimera........
Mountains have been my favourite halt for ages, especially in winters and summers. Thusly, my painful sojourn through steep seeps of dust and pebbles keep minutest of significance to me. The new Manali-Leh highway cut down the travel time from 16 to 2 days; bearing an indifferent burden on my ensurient desires to view the mountains in close quarters. The drive is without parallel. And there goes as a warning to future travellers as it passes through one of the most desolate areas covering four passes and second highest places in the world. My frequented infatuation to the mountains often mingled the traveller and driver in me, and tough was to keep myself cautious about the foggy mornings during the drive. Although, spellbinding to its deepest arid core, Ladakh is far more beautiful than imagined, the reason being my self driven approach (i was driving myself). Driving my own vehicle provided with the advantage of pacing the vehicle myself, stopping for a photo-op and getting edified by the Gompas on my way. Ya .......... a noticeable act of nature that I would present unto all- the scary altitudes didn't do injustice to my body metabolism. May be because I scathed it by oodles of water!! Instead, I was thrown to the task of getting permits for inner line areas as Nubra Valley, Phangong-Tso, Dha-Hanu valley, from the Collector's office in Leh. Involutions, guides and saffron clad lamas with blunt features, Ladakh is a chimera .........

A day with Buddha in Leh ....
The 17th century capital of Namgyal Empire is the epicenter of Ladakh. Leh is epicenter of Ladakh. A peace seeker I bumped into Leh for a reason particular, Leh is where the last glimpse of Mahayana Buddhism, a religion with fascinating rituals that are still practiced within the ancient walls of its monasteries, and a unique culture that walked through the tight rope of modern development, can be witnessed . Just one visit to the Gompas took me several years back., and, in moment of solitude, one cannot believe that such a place can exist. Sengge Namgyal is now seeing a second rise, I was updated on this by an elderly Lama of the Gompa. The present glimpse of Leh pressed an curiosity for checking out yesterday's Leh. And to satiate this escalation in me, I took a walk through the old quarters, under the Leh Palace, getting introduced to Leh which was yesterday. Looming above, overlooking the town is the Leh Palace with a imposing say in Ladakh. The Palace was built during the sixteenth century, and luckily the heritage edifice is supervised by the archaeological survey of India for its repair work. In a ensorcelled state of mind I got to see Tsemo Gompa, Shanti Stupa, Shey and Thiksey (ancient capitals of Ladakh ), staring with its calm and silent share of dilapidated ruins. Immediately after that I caught on the site of Spitok Gompa, the head Gompa at Leh. Gompa are synonymous to Leh as all that is visible here from a distance are Gompa perched atop the hill pinnacle. However, the most beautiful Gompa at Leh is Hemis Gompa built by Palden Sara under the patronage of King Sengge Namgyal on a site previously sanctified by the construction of a cave hermitage dating from the 12th century.

After my visit to the Hemis Gompa, the only expression I could render is that of being 'speechless'. The biggest Gompa, it has awesome window colours and there onwards my camera didn't stop. The main Gompa building reached its zenith with the construction of the Dukhang Chenmo or large assembly hall, its adjacent building, the main entrance to the Gompa building, the large courtyard and its enclosing gallery decorated with painted stone reliefs. With paintings on all pieces of wood, the Hemis is dark inside and when entered just after the seeing the sunlight one's eyes take time to adjust to the shade. Further inside this beautiful Gompa, you can meet immediate Buddha idols arranged in rows before a glass case containing a life size idol of the Buddha. Before the altar are cushioned seats for the lama in constant attendance on the spirit of the Buddha. The walls are lined with carved and painted pigeon holes, each holding the manuscript of a scripture. These manuscripts are made of two boards joined together by a cloth, which holds the handwritten parchment. The war dance is held during the "Feast of the Snowy Heights" to celebrate the spirit of the demons. These Buddhists have incorporated some of the local folklore in their religion. It was getting very difficult to keep my hand on my camera as it was freezing cold out. I could not see the evening setting in as my meditation hours tranced me to my inner self and where I needed no interpretor to understanding the Buddha teachings, it got etched in my mind. Children to elders to ladies, Ladakh is god's chosen destination.

Trekking- A Slice Of Ladakh
It's all utterly beautiful at sunrise in Ladakh. An orange circle grows to red behind the mountains as the line of shadow recedes down the rocky slopes as the sun rises higher up in the sky, the veil is torn apart. Trekking was not at all a cake walk. Ladakh is for people with prior high altitude trekking experience. The area is full of trails that connect remote villages spread across the quondam trade routes. Heights do not please me much, so I took a short trekking expedition instead. Trekking was all the more interesting because you can use it as tool to meet the real Ladakh. Till the time I was halfway through, my expensive 'scarp' boot had refused to come along. I had to replace them with sandals. Up in the mountain passes, on our rest stoppages, I saw children who came running, asking for gifts, or pen and sweets, which I had none. Running short of all these gift ingredients I had to replace the pen and sweets demands with my leftover eatables, immediately paid back to me with innocent smiles, instead. Going through the massifs made me lighter by some pounds, I felt that at the next stoppage. On my trekking expedition I was accompanied by many co-trekkers from different nations. All along they kept bestowing the locals with gifts, and I was not surprised for being deprived of my eatables. But talking to these children was literally difficult as my Ladakhi couldn't go beyond "Jhule" so I resorted to sign language. Heights were making me paranoid but of course the interest stuck on me. It got dark and freezing just when clouds covered the sun. On my next and final halt I was greeted by the people there followed by a sumptuous rice and lentil dinner and camped for night. My next was as beautiful as the first and I decided to stay there for my swollen legs and thighs. The day ended with waving gud bye to Ladies who returned after their Buddhism class.

Shopping Zones
And finally..........to put end to my valley travel I glommed on shopping that came last on my list. One would wonder about shops at Ladakh. Curio shops and handicrafts emporiums, travel agencies and book stores are distributed throughout the main Leh area. During the season a Tibetian Market is set up of the Fort Road area with a complete array of curios, handicraft and jewelery. Bargaining is at par due to I could lay my hands on many of authentic jeweleries.

Writer's Account
Benjamin Allan
Benjamin Allan is a young and vibrant travel specialist who would guide you to a perfect location in most comfortable manner. Traversing to places, perfumes, food and luxury are his leading qualities and fascinations. Allan spills forth one such penchant in the following article. Know more about Allan and his discoveries in – 'Home on the shore-Majorda Beach Resort'.
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