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Tuesday, August 9, 2022



Issue Dated: September 5, 2010
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BLISS AT EVERY TURN.... As the Leh tragedy makes headlines, I, like many others I know, find the heart rending images of the disaster looming large over memories of visuals and vistas that had stunned us in refreshing and happier ways. A fortnight spent in the magical bliss of the Himalayan town a few years back is something to cherish now, more than ever. My intimacy with Leh began without the highly-recommended drive or the snow. My very first memory is that of slowly de-boarding the plane in a dazed state, held agape by the breathtaking landscape. The Leh airport situated at a majestic 3,250m overlooks an overwhelming carpet of stark-brown terrain, delicately bordered by soaring golden mountains.

We – a few dozen of us – were there on a mission: to organise the building of a monastery in the village of Ladakh for the locals. Fortunately, I could afford to spend a couple of sunny days in Leh before drifting into the wilderness of Ladakh.

Leh is almost a shy town, serene except for the ubiquitous commotion of tourists. It is a common sight to spot foreigners (Germans and Israelis particularly) on their bikes waiting to get a dose of the mountain roads. Street food is restricted to North-east Indian cuisine; the town does throw some surprises in the form of Gesmo Restaurant and II Forno for the ‘5-course’ aficionados.

After spending two lazy days in the beautiful town, I reached an anonymous spot in the mountains of Ladakh, laced with colourful tents and a half-built monastery – it was the construction site. Bang in the middle of nowhere, it was to be my home for the next week.

The week passed by sooner than I’d wanted; the stress of manual labour of the day was washed away every night by the sight of the glimmering sky embroidered with a billion stars so bright and clear that one was compelled to question the reality of the moment. Nights in the mountains of Ladakh are divine experiences that shine the brightest in the memories’ hall of fame.

It was customary for campers to visit the homes of locals. The indigenous people of Ladakh are the warmest you’d meet anywhere. A cup of salted butter tea – a warm, thick, vapid liquid derived from yak butter – was religiously offered to every guest, irrespective of their preferences! And the sincere hospitality is such that you fear offending them by refusing it.

Beyond the butter-tea, they escort you to the nearest monastery (Gompa, they call it). As young children clad in the traditional red Buddhist robes welcome visitors, an ineffable bond is forged across cultures and borders.

After an exhilarating trek in the mountains, it was finally my moment to be introduced to the Pangong Lake. A water body that looked unacquainted with the dimensions of space and time. A blue cocoon formed of the union of the sky and the mountains.

Paradise was the least of praise I could offer.

I remember driving back from Pangong to the airport with the feeling that the place had lifted me. There was also pain, in a wistful way, but nothing like what I feel now as I wince at the pristine landscape disfigured by flash floods and mudslides…
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017