#8 India, July 19, 2012

Sometimes one just stumbles across interesting things by good luck.



I was walking down Main Bazaar Road, seeking and finding the Chowkhang Gompa.



Within, there was quite an assembling of people, who were spinning small prayer wheels or doing beads.






After a bit several monks went to the entrance of the gompa—one was wearing his big yellow hat. They looked like they were anticipating the arrival of a VIP.








Yes, two official-looking cars pulled up and several monks got out, including an old man whom they seemed to especially venerate.They escorted him in with a huge yellow satin embroidered ceremonial umbrella.





Later I learned that this man was Therimpoche, the head of the Gelukpa Sect of Buddhism. A street vendor said he was the number Three in rank, after the Dalai Lama. Anyway, there was lots of chanting, praying, and ‘oboe’ and drumming going on.

This must have been my lucky religious day since I also visited the Jama Masjid (mosque), asking by signs if it was OK for me to enter, and a man nodded that it was. I stayed unobtrusively in the back while the men (only) gathered for prayers. I’m so glad my new camera doesn’t make much noise when the shutter clicks.

From here I stopped into the Tibetan Refugee Market and wound up buying an amber and malachite and other semiprecious stones pitcher thing—I know there’s a name for these, but I don’t know it. (Jardinere?) Now to get it home in one piece!

I have read two really interesting books that certainly gave me pause. The first was “Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich, Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class” by Hacker and Pierson. Presuming their statistics are correct, the last 30 years has been devastating for the middle class, caused mainly by government policies that deliberately made the rich unbelievably richer, while the poor and middle class families only gained a bit of ground from working more hours than before. Hmmm.

The other book is “Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladekh” by Helena Norberg-Hodge. This linguist/anthropologist was the first Westerner to learn the language and the people. She spent half of each year in Ladekh for many years and witnessed that before this area opened to tourism, Ladekh people had had a very successful culture for a thousand years. They were unusually happy, ungreedy, had plenty of leisure time, lived a healthful lifestyle, cooperated totally in their small communities, had a stable population and had no crime. As ‘development’ transpired, all that changed. Hmmm.

This Dolma Guesthouse is turning out to be a great place to get acquainted. Four others and I engaged a taxi to take us to Stok, a nearby village. We visited the Stok Castle, which we all agreed was much more fun to see than the Leh Castle. It is still lived in part of the time by the former royalty who were stripped of their ‘royalness’ by the British in 1846. There was a very nice museum that displayed many royal things including a royal headdress of 108 pieces of turquoise (sacred number) and gold from the 1700s.


The palace kitchen had a stable of cooking utensils that demonstrated how many people there were to cook for in times past.






Later we sat on a lovely refreshment balcony where we took time for a cup of tea as we took in superlative Ladekh views. Len and Fam (brother and sister) are from Germany; Bob and Rowan are from England.

Across the way was the former house of the royal physician. Here we were invited to sit at their low cushioned benches while we were served chai in porcelain cups with biscuits.






Here too, we saw an ancient kitchen with all the traditional implements, including an ancient butter churn.

The views around Stok were awe inspiring, without any traffic noise and interfering electrical wires. Ladekh is certainly beautiful, whichever way you look!

When we got back to town, we five all had dinner together. It’s really fun to trade stories about our various backgrounds and experiences—one of the most fun things about traveling!

So the next day we did it again, hiring a taxi to take us to, this time, Phyang Gompa and Spituk Gompa. The day was so beautiful with the blue, blue sky and white puffy clouds.

There had been some earthquake damage at Phyang Gompa so there was a big construction project going on.A new Buddha was being built and painted; the ceilings were brightly decorated in all manner of religious themes; artisans were balancing on precarious scaffolding—it was a beehive of activity.








Yes, it is quite a project. Bob happens to be a carpenter so he especially noticed the difference in working conditions between here and England. Still, he thought it would be a fun project to work on—certainly different than anything he usually does.





The view from the Gompa overlooking the barley fields going way back into a mountain valley was superb. Cattle grazed and birds flew—a remarkable sight.


We were invited into the prayer room where monks were chanting. Some were reading the ancient texts. There were quite a few young monks about, as well. They seemed full of the usual high spirits of kids in general.





We moved on to the Spituk Gompa, which, for some reason was pretty much locked down with no monks present that we could see. This Gompa overlooks the Leh airport with its lone runway. My, it does seem to be surrounded by mountains.





The next day Fam, Len and I left about 7:30 to have an early breakfast so we could be on hand when the DALAI LAMA came to town! We got a taxi at 8:00 who took us to the south end of town where people were already lining the streets to greet him. Then we learned that his flight was late (he flies commercial!) and he would be arriving at 9:30. There were three large WELCOME banners across the road; women were wearing their best traditional clothing and many were carrying flowers; many of the people carried white scarves; it seemed the whole town had turned out!He finally arrived at 11:00. There were a couple of trucks carrying monks and other people followed by an ordinary car with the windows rolled up. The whole procession was going quite fast; I saw someone in the car waving, but it went by so fast that I wasn’t even able to identify him, let alone take a photograph. I was quite disappointed. I thought he might ride in an open car, or at least have the window rolled down. I also thought that they would process by very slowly so everyone could greet him (and I could get my photo!) I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I know he is about 77 years old and travels ALL the time. Also, maybe there are security issues—still I was disappointed. So Fam, Len and I walked back to our guesthouse, which took about an hour as it was all uphill! (at 11,600’ altitude!)

But! All was not lost about seeing the Dalai Lama. We learned from our landlord (and others, too) that the Dalai Lama would be lecturing for the next four days at his palace near Choglamsar, which is about eight km from Leh. Tourists can go, too—there is a special section for them to the side where there is English translation (and here he made a gesture of headphones) but we should go early to get a seat. So the next morning Fam, Len and I and another German couple set out by taxi at 6:30 AM. When we got there, a gate guard asked for our ‘pass.’ This turned out to be a special permission pass that we needed to enter. We could go back to the SP Office (Superintendent of Police) and get a pass, and then we would be allowed to enter. We did so (all the way back to Leh)—but of course the SP Office doesn’t open until 10:30, said the gate guard.  Well, every business establishment in this town has from one to five pictures of the Dalai Lama on display, so it isn’t as though I don’t know what he looks like! AND THEN—I discovered that, having charged up my camera battery to make ready for the big event, I had forgotten to replace the battery in my camera so I would not have been able to photograph him!!

Did you know that backpacker styles have changed? I hadn’t noticed, or maybe it’s only here in Ladekh. Of a couple of hundred backpackers that I saw here, I believe I was the only female wearing bluejeans. They were either wearing long, flowing cotton pants with shawls and scarves or some type of cargo/khaki pants, often kneelength. The men were wearing the khaki/cargos or Indian baggy cotton pants or maybe sport gym pants, but no bluejeans. The Indian male tourists wore blue jeans, but not the females. When did this happen? So be it—I’ll be wearing bluejeans, the only practical thing, it seems to me.

Well, tomorrow morning I am flying to Jammu and then taking a train to Amritsar for the last chapter of this trip. (Which is why I couldn’t plan to see the Dalai Lama tomorrow!) Leh has been great, but it’s time to move on!


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