Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ladakh: The Land of High Passes

There is a saying in Ladakhi that roughly translates as ‘The land is so barren and the passes so high that only our fiercest enemies or our best friends would want to visit us’.

It’s only after you actually visit the land, do you fully realize it’s meaning truly. Ladakh is a cold dessert at an impossibly high altitude.

But if you look closer, you notice something more. You realize that Ladakh has really the soul of a chameleon. If you have an unbelievably high pass like the Khardong-la, you also get to soak in the beauty of quaint villages, laden with apricots and apples.  

You see a vast expanse of sand dunes at one end and yet, there are green pastures where sheep, horses, and yaks graze beside streams of fresh water.

You have to brave the cold of Chag-la pass to enjoy the serenity of  Pangong Lake. You have the strangeness of a moon like terrain (aptly called moonland), but also have gardens with vegetable patches and beautiful flowers. 

And then, you experience the warmth of Ladakh, when a bunch of giggling women dress you in Ladakhi attire and teach you their traditional dance. Or when a group of women monks invite you to sit with them for a quick chat. Or when ruddy cheeked kids wave at you as you pass by them. Or when the local people smile at you and say ‘ Julley’ ( that’s ‘hello’ in Ladakhi ).

You swell with pride when you see the awe inspiring Indian Army and even stop briefly to watch a volleyball match between 2 regiments. You chuckle as you read the witty safety slogans on milestones installed by the BRO. (e.g.: A little sip, a little slip, a hospital trip).

As you eat hot Maggie and sip aromatic Kawah in small dhabas, you wonder about the life of a Ladakhi, who must work all summer to prepare for the harsh winter when the land is covered in snow for months.

You climb the steps of many monasteries, gaze at the gazillion prayer flags and cross the numerous cairns alongside roads.

You hear the furious beating of the wind on the side of your tent when you go camping at Pangong, you feel the soft snowflakes of an unexpected snowfall at Chang-la, you bathe in the warm sunlight at Leh, you stargaze on a clear night at Hunder, you dip your feet in a refreshing stream at Sumur and you breath in the fresh air everywhere.

As you do all that, you realize Ladakh shared a piece of it’s beautiful soul with you. And for that, you are filled with gratitude.

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