|Dosas and cauliflower sabzi !|
We are up again at 6 am. G is attempting to make conversation with the Ladakhi kids. “How often do you have a bath ? ” she asks sweetly. ” When we go to Leh” they say. “When do you go to Leh ?” “Every six months”. I decide to brave the bathroom behind a couple of rocks and G and M refuse to go altogether. Below me, one by one, the inhabitants of the tents crawl out like lizards looking to sun themselves on the rocks. A is still looking dehydrated and ill. We eat omlettes fried in ghee and get into the car . Last lap. S has parked it facing east in the night and the engine is fairly warm now after a few hours of sunlight.
We drive in silence till the Morey plains, a flat plateau stretching for miles, flanked by low hills. It’s hard to believe we are so high, except for a little laboured breathing. Tanglang La is the last Pass on the way ( 17469 feet / 5325 m). Prayer flags wave on the mountain top, sending peace out to a world that is in dire need of it. It is freezing cold. The roads are broad and the curves wide and natural. S is feeling sleepy with the altitude so M takes over. The Border Road Organisation is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the roads and all the way we pass pitch black men working in that bleak landscape. There are off road short cuts down the mountain, but these are dangerous and many a truck lies toppled over along the way. The sparse pasturage we see is just enough to nourish the nomadic Chang Pa herdsmen.
Once over Taglang La, the descent to Leh starts and soon, the first village, Rumtse comes into view. We stop for lunch at the worlds highest Idly-Dosa point ! We eat neer dosas with cauliflower sabzi. Strange combination. A die hard South Indian like me feels deprived without my sambhar. The road follows the Gya river down to the Indus at Upshi and I am disappointed.The mythic river is only a stream here. There are no more peaks to scale now and we are in the Leh Valley. I feel a sense of longing for the altitudes, the silence and the isolation. It was liberating to not see civilisation, as we call it, for 3 days. We drive past Trishul, Karu, Chushul and then enter the Leh Valley. Upshi is about 2 hours from Leh.
|Leh Town, Main Street|
For a while we drive peacefully alongside the flat, passive Indus, and pass Choglamsar to enter Leh. After tea, we walk with some difficulty up to the Shanti Stupa with a magnificient view of Leh town below. We sit on the roof, legs dangling over, and watch the sun set over the mountains at the edge of the valley. Existential questions popp into my unsuspecting mind. We know that the horizon is where we just came from and what lies over it. We also know that we are back in the midst of mankind.
In the days to follow, I stare up at the terrifyingly still cobalt blue sky, rotate prayer wheels, watch ritual dances, smell the incense in ancient monasteries and take in every detail of the flat landscape around me, peacefully sheltered from the world, shut away till cable TV discovers it. I realise this is as life was was meant to be. In the words of a simple Zen poem ” Sitting quietly, doing nothing, the grass grows and Spring comes
|Monastery in Leh Town, waiting for the Cham to begin|
Things to do around Leh :
This is Pang Gong Tso. Tso means `lake ‘ in Ladakhi. Pangong Tso is at a height of about 4350 mt above sea level, and is about 134 km long. A large part of it ( 60 % ) lies in Tibet and is disputed territory. Our army escort told us that often, one can see burgundy glints in the mountains when the light hits just the right spots because garnets are mined here.
|Middle of the lake|
The Line of Control ( LoC ) runs right through it. In winter, despite having saline water, the lake freezes over completely. It is as close as one can get to a glimpse of Heaven. You can get to Pangong from Leh in about 5 hours, driving through Shey, Gya and the Chang La Pass. It was snowing on Chang La when we arrived.
|China occupied Tibet side|